Kelly in harsh spotlight after senior aide’s resignation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressure mounted on White House chief of staff John Kelly Thursday as questions swirled about his defense of a senior aide he fought to keep in a highly sensitive West Wing job despite accusations of spousal abuse from two ex-wives.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a member of President Donald Trump’s inner circle and arguably Kelly’s closest aide, cleaned out his desk on Thursday. But the aftershocks of his resignation reverberated amid concerns about his access to classified information.

Kelly himself faced criticism for defending Porter only to belatedly reverse course hours after the publication of photos showing one of the ex-wives with a black eye.

“It’s fair to say we all could have done better over the last few hours or last few days in dealing with this situation,” said White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who faced a barrage of questions about Kelly during a press briefing.

Though the allegations against Porter became public this week, Kelly had previously been given an indication that something was amiss with the staff secretary’s attempts to get a security clearance, according to an administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The chief of staff had sought information about the status of security clearance applications for top aides, and it was then he learned there were allegations against Porter from his ex-wives, said the official.

But when the allegations first emerged against Porter, a number of senior aides rallied around him. Kelly was Porter’s loudest defender, including in the first hours after the photos of alleged abuse emerged.

Only later did the chief of staff, who had argued for Porter to keep his post, release a second statement in which he said he supported Porter’s resignation.

Shah said that Trump was not aware until Tuesday of the accusations against Porter, who was a frequent presence in the Oval Office and helped craft last week’s State of the Union address.

A number of lawmakers criticized Kelly, and a leading women’s group called for the chief of staff to resign.

The president, for his part, has not signaled to allies that he is on the verge of making a change. But his frustration with Kelly has grown in recent weeks.

Trump has long chafed at the controls placed on him by Kelly and in recent weeks has privately fumed about the chief of staff to his circle of informal advisers, according to two people who speak to the president regularly but are not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Trump also was angry that Kelly did not bring the Porter allegations to him sooner, according to one of the people.

Kelly also drew Trump’s ire last month when he seemed to suggest that the president was flip-flopping on his call for a border wall. Trump complained to aides that the chief of staff had portrayed him as a child who had to be managed, a contention that particularly irked the president in the wake of the way he was portrayed in the recent Michael Wolff book, “Fire and Fury.”

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