WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Friday praised former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who left the White House Thursday amid a domestic abuse scandal involving allegations from two ex-wives.
"We wish him well, he worked very hard. We found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well and it's a tough time for him," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "He did a very good job when he was in the White House."
Despite images handed over to media outlets from his first wife showing her with a black eye she says Porter gave her on their honeymoon in the early-2000s, the president said White House officials "hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him."
The president, breaking his silence on the matter, said he was "very sad" when he learned about the charges, which Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly knew about months ago.
Porter also is "certainly ... also very sad now," Trump said.
The president again defended Porter near the end of his remarks about the former staffer.
"He also, as you probably know, says he's innocent and I think you have to remember that," said the president, who has faced sexual assault charges from multiple women. "He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House."
On Thursday, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah announced Porter had left the White House staff for good. "His last day was yesterday," Shah said. "I know he came in today to clean out his stuff."
Shah called the assault allegations "serious and disturbing," ramping up the White House's reaction after defending Porter much of Wednesday.
"They're upsetting," Shah said.
He described the allegations as still being reviewed as part of an extensive background check process that Porter was still in the midst of when reports made the charges public this week.
Asked what caused the White House to change its tone on Porter, Shah replied the images of one of Porter's ex-wives' black eye were "upsetting."
He declined to say whether Kelly knew about the allegations long before the reports were published.
Trump's defense of the alleged wife abuser comes after he encouraged "lock her up" chants about 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal server while secretary of state. He also has called on other political foes and some of those looking into potential collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia to be the subject of federal probes and possible prosecution.
The president did not comment on the fate of his embattled chief of staff. Some women's organizations, for instance, have called on Kelly to step down for reportedly knowing about the Porter allegations for months but keeping him on staff -- even allowing him to become his right-hand man.
Kelly's repeated defenses of Porter earlier this week and his allowing Communications Director Hope Hicks, Porter's current girlfriend, to craft a number of Thursday statements about the matter has again made the chief of staff a lightning rod for Democrats. (He has caught their ire also over his hard-line comments about illegal immigrants.)
For instance, Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington called Kelly's role in keeping Porter on as a White House staffer even after learning of the allegations "very, very disturbing."
"Clearly, WH Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about Rob Porter's history of abuse directly from FBI and chose to ignore it," Jayapal tweeted Thursday morning. "#MeToo is as much about those who protect the abusers with their silence as the abusers themselves."
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