Sources close to the White House say chief of staff John Kelly has suffered a serious blow to his standing from the bungled resignation of staff secretary Rob Porter, who has been accused of domestic abuse.
Kelly’s most vehement critics even suggest the episode could herald his demise within the administration.
“We’ll see this as an inflection point when he is fired,” said one source within President Trump’s orbit. The source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, blasted Kelly as “tone deaf and politically inept.”
A second source close to the Republican Party complained, regarding Kelly, that “everybody knows he limits access and information flow to POTUS on a daily basis; this could be the beginning of the end of that — and maybe Kelly as chief.”
Such predictions can be motivated in part by personal rivalries. Some people who had become accustomed to having relatively free-flowing access to Trump have found their contact sharply reduced since Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff last July.
But Kelly’s woes deepened late Thursday when The Washington Post reported that White House counsel Donald McGahn had first informed Kelly of the abuse allegations against Porter last fall. Instead of firing Porter, according to the Post, Kelly gave him a bigger role.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah insisted that Kelly retained Trump’s full confidence during a media briefing on Thursday.
But Shah had a thankless task in trying to defend a White House, and a chief of staff, that had expressed total confidence in Porter amid allegations of domestic abuse by two ex-wives — only to cut him loose within hours.
In a statement sent via the White House pool reporter at 3:54 p.m. Wednesday, Porter was praised as “effective in his role.” The statement added that, “the President and Chief of Staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance.”
At 9:31 p.m., a statement under Kelly’s name was released, noting that he had accepted Porter’s resignation and that “there is no place for domestic violence in our society.”
The furor is so politically explosive in part because the allegations are so disturbing. Both Porter’s ex-wives have alleged that he was physically abusive to them.
The Daily Mail’s website published photos of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a bruised eye. She said the injury had been inflicted by Porter, whom she accused of punching her while they were on vacation in Italy. His second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the same news organization that Porter had pulled her from the shower to scream at her.
In a statement that was read aloud at the White House media briefing on Wednesday, Porter called the allegations “simply false” and “vile.”
But those allegations also seemingly stopped Porter from getting a security clearance, even though he had daily access…