Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET
President Trump said he was surprised and saddened by allegations of domestic violence against a top aide who resigned this week. Trump praised Rob Porter’s work as White House staff secretary and said he hopes the former aide goes on to a successful career elsewhere.
“We wish him well,” Trump told reporters during a hastily arranged photo opportunity in the Oval Office.
Trump noted that Porter has denied the allegations of domestic abuse leveled by two of his ex-wives.
“He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that,” Trump said.
The president used similar language in November to discuss charges of sexual misconduct against then-Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
“He totally denies it,” Trump said of Moore, even as other Republican leaders called for Moore to step aside. “He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him.” The White House had called the allegations “very troubling.”
Porter resigned abruptly this week when the allegations of spousal abuse were made public, initially by the Daily Mail. A background check for security clearance was in progress at the time of his resignation.
At first, White House officials rallied around Porter, who described the allegations as false and “vile claims.” But their public support for Porter quickly evaporated, once a photo surfaced showing one of his ex-wives with a black eye.
By Thursday morning, Porter had cleaned out his desk near the Oval Office, where he supervised the flow of paperwork to the president. Meanwhile, questions were swirling about how long his White House colleagues had known about the alleged abuse.
Trump said he was not aware of the claims before this week’s news reports.
“I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it,” the president said. He later added that “it was very sad when we heard about it. And certainly he’s also very sad.”
Of Porter, Trump said, “It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House and we hope he has a wonderful career.”
The president’s praise for Porter’s job performance drew a rebuke from former Vice President Joe Biden.
“That’s like saying, ‘That ax murderer out there, he’s a great painter,’ ” Biden told an audience of fraternity and sorority students in Indianapolis. “Is there any other crime — and it’s a crime — where there would be an explanation that the reason why we shouldn’t pay attention to the transgression is because they’re good at something?”
Vice President Pence also seemed to draw a tougher line against the former staff secretary than Trump did, telling NBC’s Nightly News he was “appalled” by the allegations against Porter.
“There’s no tolerance in this White House, and no place in America for domestic abuse,” Pence said in an interview with Lester Holt.