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White House chief of staff John Kelly said Friday that he had "absolutely nothing to even consider resigning" over, after weeks of speculation about his job security stemming from questions about how he had handled security clearances for dozens of top staffers.
The issue came to the fore after allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter forced him to resign as staff secretary, with lawmakers and political experts wondering why Porter was allowed to handle top-secret information regularly with an interim security clearance.
Fielding questions from a small group of reporters, Kelly spoke Friday about the White House's response to the initial news on Porter.
"We didn't cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that on Wednesday morning," Kelly said, referring to the day after The Daily Mail broke the Porter story. Kelly said he first learned of allegations against Porter the day before, on Tuesday, Feb. 6.
Kelly said Porter denied the allegations, which the chief of staff initially believed to be about "some level of emotional abuse" in relation to a "messy divorce."
The allegations, however, were also of physical abuse — and eventually pictures were published to support claims from Porter's two ex-wives.
"(Porter) resigned," Kelly said, walking reporters through his timeline. "I put out a statement of support for him, and an hour later find out now there's a second report still not in the press, still no pictures. Just an inquiry. ... He had already resigned. I talked to Rob again to make sure he knew he had resigned."
The claims were a "shock" to staff at the White House.
"He presented himself and conducted himself as the ultimate gentleman," Kelly said of Porter. "I never saw him mad or abusive in any way."
As for the overall issue of security clearances, Kelly said he became aware last September of the large number of staffers working under interim security clearances — "more people than I was comfortable with," he said Friday. (He was named chief of staff in late July.)
Kelly said he asked for help from the FBI about the process with the aim of getting clearance issues resolved.
The questions about the security clearance process escalated in the weeks after Porter's resignation, culminating in Kelly issuing new guidance that those staffers still working on interim "top secret/sensitive compartmented information" clearances would be downgraded to "secret."
Among the aides affected by those new rules, which went into effect last week, was Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, who saw his clearance downgraded.