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‘I beg to differ’ — Rob Porter’s ex-wife reacts to White House comments

Rob Porter’s ex-wife Colbie Holderness says Porter gave her a black eye on an Italy trip in 2005. Photo courtesy of Colbie Holderness (left)/New York Times file photo (right)

WASHINGTON — Colbie Holderness, the first wife of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, pushed back on recent comments made by presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway that seemed to suggest strong women can’t be victims of domestic violence.

Conway, in a weekend interview on CNN, said she had no reason not to believe accounts by Holderness and another ex-wife that Porter had abused them. But when asked if she was concerned for top White House aide Hope Hicks, who reportedly was dating Porter, Conway said no because ‘‘I’ve rarely met somebody so strong with such excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts.’’


In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Holderness wrote that Conway’s statement ‘‘implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong. I beg to differ.’’

‘‘Recognizing and surviving in an abusive relationship take strength,’’ Holderness wrote. ‘‘The abuse can be terrifying, life-threatening and almost constant. Or it can ebb and flow, with no violence for long periods. It’s often the subtler forms of abuse that inflict serious, persistent damage while making it hard for the victim to see the situation clearly.’’

Holderness also wrote that she “never imagined myself in the situation I’m in now.”

“[Jennifer] Willoughby and I didn’t seek to tell our stories in such a public way. Rather, others sought us out in the course of investigating Rob,” she wrote.

Porter resigned from his post at the White House last week after Holderness and Porter’s second ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, came forward with allegations of emotional and physical abuse. Porter has denied harming any of his former partners.

Rob Porter's ex-wife Jennie Willoughby, pictured last in Alexandria, Va. John McDonnell/Washington Post

President Donald Trump did not comment on the former wives’ allegations last week. He voiced support for Porter, publicly thanking him for his service and wishing him good luck in his career. In a Tweet on Saturday, Trump lamented that ‘‘people’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.’’


White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump ‘‘and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly.’’

Last week Willoughby said in a television interview that she was worried that Porter would soon begin abusing Hicks.

‘‘If he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope, he will,’’ she said, ‘‘particularly now that he’s under a lot of stress and scrutiny. That’s when the behaviors come out.’’

In her op-ed, Holderness wrote that she never thought she would ever be in an abusive relationship.

“Being strong — with excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts — does not inoculate a person against abuse,” she wrote. “It doesn’t prevent her from entering into a relationship with an abuser. Abuse often doesn’t manifest itself early on — only later, when you’re in deep and behind closed doors. The really ugly side of Rob’s abuse only came out after we married, following three years of dating.”

Amid the swirl of allegations against Porter, a second White House employee resigned last week after domestic violence accusations from a former partner. Speechwriter David Sorensen left the White House on Friday after his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett, detailed physical abuse that included being thrown into a wall and burned by a cigarette.