The second wife of a disgraced former White House aide said on Thursday that she doesn’t think he has changed since the end of their marriage and warned his current girlfriend, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, that “if he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will be.”
In a lengthy interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Jennie Willoughby said that while she initially had no intention of publicly detailing her marriage to former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, she felt compelled “to share my experience with other people and talk about the shame and the guilt that’s associated with it—and also the strength and resilience.”
Porter resigned on Wednesday after allegations surfaced that he had abused both Willoughby and his first wife, Colbie Holderness, during their marriages. In a statement, Porter said the “outrageous allegations are simply false,” calling accusations of physical and emotional violence a “coordinated smear campaign.”
“This is a troubled man with issues that needs help,” Willoughby said of her former husband, who she said began verbally abusing her within the first two weeks of their marriage in 2009. “It was a low-grade, constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set something off—what mood he would have.”
Willoughby expressed frustration that White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had initially defended Porter after the publication of Willoughby’s accusations in the Daily Mail on Tuesday. In a statement, Kelly called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor”—a statement may have come to regret after The Intercept published photographs of Holderness with a black eye, taken after he allegedly punched her during a vacation in 2005.
Asked to pinpoint when Kelly had first learned that a top aide to the president had been accused of domestic violence by multiple former spouses, White House spokesman Raj Shah on Thursday refused to say.
“I wish that my interview had been enough,” Willoughby said.
Seeing the photos of Holderness, Willoughby said, made her feel lucky “that the abuse I endured wasn’t like that.”
After Porter refused to leave the home she was staying in during their separation, Willoughby said, he punched in the glass on the front door, prompting her to call the police. “I didn’t know what he would do next,” she said. “Even in that moment—I didn’t realize the extent of what I was dealing with.”
On another occasion, following an argument “where we were both yelling in each other’s face, which unfortunately had become the norm in our marriage,” Willoughby said Porter “came to the shower and opened the door and pulled me out to continue yelling at me.”
“I think up until that moment, I didn’t realize that I was in an abusive marriage,” Willoughby said, growing emotional. “That I was with a man who was capable of something like that.”
“He’s deeply troubled, and angry, and violent.”
The couple divorced in 2013.
Willoughby also said that in February 2016, she had been contacted on Facebook by a third woman, who was dating Porter at the time and said she was experiencing similar abuse. “She was in a relationship with Rob, she had been for several years, and was experiencing abuse and feeling crazy,” Willoughby said. “She wanted to know if she was. ‘Am I alone? Am I crazy?’ I think were her exact questions.”
After the publication of the photograph of Holderness’ black eye, CNN reported that numerous senior White House aides, including Kelly, had known for months about Porter’s history with women—in part because both women had told the FBI about the abuse during the screening process for Porter’s security clearance in 2017. Porter, who as staff secretary was responsible for managing the paper flow to the president, was never granted a full security clearance.
Asked whether she felt Porter should have been allowed to work in the White House with his marital history, Willoughby said the question needed to be broadened to every workplace, in every industry.
“We need to have a conversation that anyone who is manipulative or abusive of power or abusive in any way is held accountable, regardless of what they contribute,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby said that, in advance of the publication of stories detailing his alleged abuse of his first wife, Porter asked her to “downplay” the abuse she endured in their marriage.
Cooper noted that Porter is currently dating Hicks, the longest-serving senior aide in President Trump’s orbit, and asked Willoughby if she was worried about Hicks.
“It worries me for a lot of reasons,” Willoughby said. “If he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will be.”