By MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
© 2018 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told officials in the West Wing on Friday that he was willing to step down over his handling of allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned in disgrace this week over the accusations, according to two officials aware of the discussions.
But his suggestion in private that he would be willing to step down if the president wanted him to reflected the degree to which the scandal surrounding Porter has engulfed the White House.
Two West Wing advisers and a third person painted a picture of a White House staff riven and confused, with fingers pointed in all directions and the president privately expressing dissatisfaction with Kelly.
Some complained that Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, who learned in January 2017 that Porter was concerned about potentially damaging accusations from two ex-wives, had not been forthcoming enough about what he knew. Others faulted Hope Hicks, the communications director, who had been romantically involved with Porter, for soliciting statements of support for him when the accusations became public.
And many, including the president himself, have turned their ire on Kelly for vouching for Porter’s character and falsely asserting that he had moved aggressively to oust him once his misdeeds were discovered.
For all the turmoil, Trump on Friday warmly praised Porter, saying it was a “tough time” for his former aide and noting that Porter had denied the accusations.
“We wish him well,” Trump said of his former aide, who was accused of physical and emotional abuse by two ex-wives.
The president said he had only “recently” learned of the allegations against his former aide and was surprised.