White House aide with Utah ties accused of domestic abuse

Posted at 6:45 PM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-09 08:06:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Senator Orrin Hatch faced serious criticism when it looked like he responded to serious domestic violence allegations against a former aide by forcefully defending Rob Porter against his two ex-wives.

As allegations of prolonged physical and verbal abuse came out, news outlets received a statement in which Hatch said it was "...incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man."

Hatch's office tells Fox 13 the senator made that statement at the urging of the White House, without getting the full picture of the allegations.

"Senator Hatch was informed on Tuesday of a coordinated effort to smear Rob," Hatch Spokesman Matt Whitlock said. "The smear was being coordinated by Rob's political rivals, and Senator Hatch was told it would be a baseless attack using details from his two divorces."

Whitlock tells Fox 13 that Hatch released a very different statement when he learned the allegations were serious charges directly from both of Porter's ex-wives.

"Senator Hatch, despite knowing Rob for a number of years, had never been aware of any of the disturbing details of his personal life," Whitlock said. "After the two accounts were published he drafted the second statement [Wednesday morning] clarifying that domestic abuse is unacceptable," Whitlock said.

After Hatch released the second statement, the White House sent news outlets the first statement.

While Hatch didn't know of the allegations, it's becoming clear a number of people did.

Both women say they told FBI investigators during background interviews for Porter's security clearance. That information was likely available to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Porter never received that security clearance.

Porter's second ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, also wrote a blog post in April of 2017 saying that she had confided with others who encouraged her not to report the abuse because such reports would hurt his career.

"When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career," Willoughby wrote.

In an unusual twist, Whitlock also says Hatch was led to believe former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, Corey Lewandowski, was responsible for the story.

Lewandowski, Hatch was told, was jealous because Porter was dating Trump communications director Hope Hicks. Lewandowski and Hicks were said to have had a stormy relationship during the presidential campaign.

Porter resigned Wednesday.

Porter served as Chief of Staff to Hatch for one year before taking his job at the White House. Before that he served two years on Senator Mike Lee's staff. Porter was a visiting scholar at BYU before going to work in Washington.