Reince Priebus, President Trump's former chief of staff, said he was "as surprised as anyone" to learn that White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter had been accused of domestic abuse.
"I was as surprised as anyone when that Daily Mail article came out," he said on MSNBC in an interview that aired Saturday morning. "I didn't know Rob that way. He was always what everyone described."
The Daily Mail broke the story that both of Porter's ex-wives had accused him of choking, punching, and dragging them. A copy of a protective order, as well as a photograph of abuse, have emerged. The information was said to have come to light as Porter was seeking a security clearance from the FBI, and some reports concluded that the allegations had caused a delay in him receiving clearance.
But Priebus said that lack of a security clearance wouldn't necessarily raise red flags for White House officials. Priebus, who was at the White House for six months, said he didn't get a full security clearance until April.
"We had other clearance issues where people hit a brick wall, and they weren't going to get a clearance," Priebus said. "Some people smoked pot, things like that."
Asked whether current chief of staff John Kelly had made a mistake in the way he handled the situation with Porter and whether it was a fireable offense, Priebus replied that he didn't know the specifics of what had happened since he left the White House. Porter resigned Wednesday, and Kelly initially praised Porter's work. Trump did the same and noted that Porter had denied the accusations.
"What I know, though, is the Rob Porter that we always knew in the West Wing," Priebus said. "It was one of those sort of moments where people just said, 'You're kidding me. We're not talking about Rob Porter, are we? The Eagle Scout, Rhodes scholar, Harvard undergrad. There is an incredible resume, but he was also meek and polite and diligent."
"I'm not saying that's an excuse for anything," Priebus continued. "I don't want anyone out there watching this thinking I am. I'm not. I'm just telling you it was very surprising."
It's unclear when White House officials learned about Porter's past allegations of abuse, but some reports have claimed some officials have been aware for months. Priebus denied reports that Trump had called him to complain about Kelly.