WASHINGTON — John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told officials in the West Wing on Friday that he was willing to step down over his handling of allegations of spousal abuse against Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned this week over the accusations, according to two officials aware of the discussions.
The officials emphasized that they did not consider a resignation imminent, and that Kelly — a retired four-star Marine general from Boston, who early in his tenure often used a threat of quitting as a way to temper President Trump’s behavior — had made no formal offer.
But his suggestion that he would be willing to step down if the president wanted him to reflected the degree to which the scandal surrounding Porter has engulfed the White House.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported Friday night that a second White House official departed amid allegations he abused his wife during a turbulent two-and-a-half-year marriage. He denies the allegations.
The departure of speechwriter David Sorensen came as the Post was preparing a story about abuse claims by his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett. Corbett told the Post that she reported his behavior to the FBI last fall as the bureau was conducting a background check of Sorensen, who is a former top policy adviser to Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage.
In the wake of the Porter revelations, two West Wing advisers and a third person painted a picture of a White House staff riven and confused, with fingers being pointed in all directions and the president complaining privately about Kelly, his chief of staff.
Some complained that Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, who learned in January 2017 that Porter had been accused by two ex-wives of abuse, had not been forthcoming enough about what he knew. Others faulted Hope Hicks, the communications director, who had been romantically involved with Porter, for soliciting defenses of him when the accusations became public.
And many, including the president himself, have turned their ire on Kelly for vouching for Porter’s character and falsely asserting that he had moved aggressively to oust him once his misdeeds were discovered.
For all the turmoil, Trump on Friday warmly praised Porter, saying it was a “tough time” for his former aide and noting that Porter had denied the accusations.
“We wish him well,” Trump said. The president added, “He also, as you probably know, says he is innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”
“He worked very hard,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office when asked for a comment about Porter. The president said he had only “recently” learned of the allegations and was surprised.
“He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him,” Trump said. “But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now.”
The glowing praise of a staff member accused of serial violence against women was in line with the president’s denials of his own alleged sexual impropriety despite accusations from more than a dozen women and his habit of accepting claims of innocence from men facing similar allegations.
Among them was Roy Moore, the former Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, who is accused of molesting teenage girls.
Trump’s comments came as a new timetable emerged indicating that top officials knew much earlier than previously disclosed that Porter faced accusations of violence against women.
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, McGahn, the White House counsel, first learned from Porter himself that there were abuse allegations against him, according to two people briefed on the situation. McGahn’s knowledge of the accusations in January was first reported by The Washington Post.
Porter told him about the allegations because he was concerned that what he characterized as false charges from aggrieved women who were out to destroy him could derail his FBI background check, according to one of the two people briefed on the matter.
Six months later, the FBI told McGahn that accusations had indeed surfaced in Porter’s background check. McGahn opted at that time to let the FBI complete its investigation. Porter assured McGahn, another person briefed on the matter said, that the accusations from the former wives were lies.
The emerging timetable illustrates the degree to which Porter, a clean-cut and ambitious former Rhodes scholar and Harvard-educated lawyer, concealed troublesome episodes from his past that would normally be considered disqualifying for a senior White House aide.
Those efforts appear to have succeeded for months, at least in part because of the willingness of a virtually all-male staff in the top echelons of the West Wing to believe a talented male colleague over women they had never met.
On Friday morning, Kelly instructed senior staff to communicate a version of events about the departure of Porter that contradicts the administration’s previous accounts, The Washington Post reported, citing two senior officials.
During a staff meeting, Kelly told those in attendance to say that he took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse allegations from two ex-wives were credible, according to the officials.
‘‘He told the staff he took immediate and direct action,’’ one of the officials said, adding that people after the meeting expressed disbelief with one another and felt his latest account was not true.
That version of events contradicts both the public record and accounts from numerous other White House officials in recent days.
Kelly issued a glowing statement of support for Porter’s personal character after the allegations first surfaced publicly Tuesday and privately urged him to remain on the job until the next day, when his resignation was announced.
It is unknown is whether Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who became strong allies of Porter and sought to promote him wherever possible internally, were aware of his troubles.
There were a significant number of people who were aware that there was something unseemly in the ether about Porter, and none appear to have sought more information.
At least two weeks ago, members of the White House communications office were alerted that journalists were beginning to ask questions about Porter and his ex-wives and his security clearance, according to three people familiar with the discussions. There was no effort made to try to address the issue, and White House aides tried to wait it out.
One person who appeared unaware of what was taking place was Trump, who was livid when he learned of the allegations, according to two advisers. He referred to Porter in one phone call as “bad garbage,” according to the advisers, and expressed his frustration with both Kelly and Hicks.
Hicks had been dating Porter and was one of the officials behind initial White House statements supporting him.
The president, has now sounded out several people about possible replacement chiefs of staff. Those possible replacements include Mick Mulvaney, the budget director; Representative Kevin McCarthy of California; and Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser.