Turbulence in this West Wing is typically generated by President Donald Trump, but for the past week, it’s been chief of staff John Kelly—the man brought in to be a steadying hand—who’s inspiring what one White House official described as a crisis of confidence.
While the president often makes a hash of the truth, aides took Kelly’s word at face value until they were confronted with zigzagging accounts of the events leading up to former staff secretary Rob Porter’s resignation—and Kelly’s role in them.
In the hours immediately after the Daily Mail published a photograph of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off-the-record meeting in the West Wing with Porter and four reporters: the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender. In that meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.
Kelly told staff two days later that once he’d been briefed on allegations of abuse against Porter by his two ex-wives, “he was gone 40 minutes later.”
The White House declined to comment on Porter’s meeting with reporters, including whether or not Kelly was aware it took place. But two White House officials said the mixed messages are symptomatic of the extent to which the White House has left Kelly to shoulder the blame for the Porter mess.