White House: Trump has 'absolute confidence' in John Kelly

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By Kailani Koenig

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump still stands by Chief of Staff John Kelly after his handling of abuse allegations against a former aide, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said Sunday.

“He has absolute confidence in Gen. Kelly” Short said on “Meet The Press.”

“Gen. Kelly, in my mind, is an American hero,” Short said, adding that Kelly also did not offer his resignation following criticism of his handling over the departure of White House staff secretary Rob Porter.

Porter left the White House last week after news reports that two of his ex-wives accused him of being physically abusive. He has denied the allegations, calling them “simply false" and part of a “coordinated smear campaign.”

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Kelly reportedly indicated he was willing to step down over his handling of the Porter accusations, but he denied to NBC News on Friday that he ever offered that resignation.

“John Kelly knows that he serves at the pleasure of the president,” Short said. “And he will step aside any time the president doesn’t want him to be there. But John Kelly has not offered his resignation. John Kelly is doing an outstanding job.”

Kelly, a retired military general and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, has served as chief of staff for more than six months. He assumed the position last summer from Reince Priebus, one of a slew high-profile departures from the Trump administration in its first year in office.

While speaking with reporters on Friday, Trump praised Porter, who served in the White House with the president since the inauguration, pointing out that Porter “said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent."

Short said on Sunday morning that Trump's reactions to allegations of misconduct by other men have been influenced by the accusations of misconduct against the president.

“I think the president is shaped by a lot of false accusations against him in the past,” Short said after watching a video montage of Trump questioning other accusations against different prominent men in news and politics like Roy Moore and Roger Ailes.

“But in talking with the president, I think he’s sad about what happened with Rob. I think he’s very disturbed by it and he’s very disappointed in it. I think he thinks the resignation was appropriate,” Short said.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, also on Sunday's "Meet The Press," called admissions from the White House that they could have handled the situation better "a bit of an understatement."

It remains unclear who in the White House knew about the allegations against Porter, who administration officials say was operating with a temporary clearance. Flake said he would like to see the Senate Judiciary Committee review the process of background checks for high-level White House personnel.

Flake added that he is also worried that the president's defenses of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past could instill long-term damage on the GOP.

"I do think if you put on a political hat, that is a big problem," Flake said. "Certainly how we are viewed as Republicans in the next election. I think that that is a big problem, and certainly, substantively, it's a big problem, not to show any concern or empathy for the potential victims of these incidents. That is a problem. And that's something I think the president ought to correct."