WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence spoke out about the Rob Porter scandal on Wednesday, declaring that White House officials “could have handled this better.”
“This administration has no tolerance for domestic violence,” Pence said in a wide-ranging interview with Axios at a Washington hotel. “The White House could’ve handled this better, and I still feel that way.”
Porter left the Trump administration last week after accusations of physical abuse by two ex-wives surfaced. The former White House staff secretary’s departure raised questions regarding how much White House chief of staff John Kelly knew about the contents of Porter’s FBI background check.
The controversy blew up on Tuesday after FBI Director Christopher A. Wray contradicted White House officials’ explanations of how long they knew that Porter was having trouble getting national security clearance to handle sensitive presidential documents. Kelly insisted that he fired Porter within hours of publication of a report that Porter had physically abused his two former wives and gave one a black eye.
However, Wray told the senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had completed a background check on Porter last July and closed out the case entirely last month.
Pence called Kelly a “good man” Wednesday at the event and said he has done “a remarkable job” as chief of staff.
“I look forward to working with him for many months to come,” Pence said, adding that he and President Trump still have “great confidence” in Kelly.
Pence’s stance on the Porter situation – indicating that he thought the matter was seriously mishandled – contrasts sharply with that of Kelly. Kelly told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Monday the situation “was all done right.”
President Trump broke his silence on the Porter scandal just hours after Pence’s statement, telling reporters in the Oval Office that “I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind.” He added that “it almost wouldn’t even have to be said.”
Before now, Trump had been strongly supportive of Porter, even after his departure from the White House, and said that Porter’s denial that he abused his two former wives had to be considered. However, Trump has been widely criticized for failing to express any concern about Porter’s abuse.
At the media event Wednesday, Pence also condemned North Korea, calling it the “most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.” However, he did say the U.S. Is open to “communicating our policy to the regime” of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, clarifying that talking to North Korean officials is not tantamount to negotiations.
“The President has made it very clear that all options are on the table,” Pence said. “The United States has viable military options to deal with the threat of nuclear ballistic missiles.”
Pence also said that while there is evidence of foreign intervention in the 2016 presidential election, “none of those efforts had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 elections.”
He said he hopes the intelligence community and Congress can work together to develop technologies that block meddling in future elections, by Russians or otherwise, to “ensure and maintain the integrity of our electoral system.”
The nation’s top intelligence officials have been virtually unanimous in concluding that the Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election, despite Trump’s insistence that he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton without the aid of outside forces.
On Tuesday, many of those intelligence chiefs declared that Russia was once again attempting to interfere with the 2018 mid-term election, during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.