Journalists surround White House counselor Kellyanne Conway while she speaks outside the West Wing on Jan. 19. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Senior White House aides insisted Sunday that President Trump remains confident in Chief of Staff John F. Kelly amid staff turmoil and said the president is not looking to replace the retired four-star general hired six months ago with a mandate to corral chaos.
“I spoke with the president last night about this very issue, and he wanted me to reemphasize to everyone, including this morning, that he has full confidence in his current chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, and that he is not actively looking for replacements,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
She added that Trump also remains confident in communications director Hope Hicks, a long-serving aide under scrutiny for her role in the White House response to spousal abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter, with whom she had a romantic relationship.
Porter resigned or was fired Wednesday, a day after Kelly had defended him as “a man of honor” in a statement in which Hicks apparently had a hand.
Kelly did not offer his resignation over criticism of his handling of the Porter case, White House legislative director Marc Short said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Numerous news reports had said that Kelly offered to quit or was ready to do so Friday, but the chief of staff had denied in a separate NBC interview Friday that he had ever offered his resignation.
“John Kelly knows that he serves at the pleasure of the president,” Short said. “And he will step aside anytime the president doesn’t want him to be there. But John Kelly has not offered his resignation. John Kelly is doing an outstanding job.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Conway defended Trump’s response Friday to the accusations against Porter, in which the president praised Porter’s work and said “we wish him well” in his career. Trump had also stressed to reporters that Porter denies the allegations from his two former wives that he was physically and emotionally abusive. Trump did not mention the women or address the substance of their claims in those remarks or in a tweet Saturday that decried how “lives are bring shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
Trump, Conway said, “is sympathetic to women and men that are victims of domestic violence.”
On ABC, Conway elaborated that Trump believes “you have to consider all sides. He has said this in the past about incidents that relate to him as well.”
That was a reference to allegations by more than a dozen women that Trump had sexually abused or harassed them. Trump denies the allegations and has said they were fabricated to sunder his political career.
“I have no reason not to believe the women” who accuse Porter of abuse, Conway said. “And a week ago, I had no reason to believe that that had ever happened.”
“We do give people the benefit of the doubt,” she continued. “I don’t walk around the White House wondering, ‘Who is this person really?’ And we work in very close quarters together, and we’re trying, as just small pieces of this, to do good for the country.”
Conway was asked on CNN whether Kelly and White House counsel Donald McGahn had known about the abuse allegations for several months.
“Well, there is no way for me to know what those two men knew, because I’m not in that line, and nor should I be,” she replied.
Asked the same question about Kelly on ABC, Conway replied, “General Kelly has said otherwise, and you would have to ask him the question squarely.”
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, whose name has surfaced as a potential replacement for Kelly, denied Sunday that he is under consideration.
“Absolutely not,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.”