Donald Trump has finally broken his silence to explicitly denounce domestic violence amid allegations that a senior White House aide abused two ex-wives.
Chief of staff John Kelly, under fire for mishandling the matter, stayed largely out of sight, his future in doubt and the White House in tumult.
The chaos surrounding the departure of aide Rob Porter put a harsh spotlight on Mr Kelly, the retired general who was brought in last summer to instil military-like discipline in the free-wheeling West Wing.
Questions persisted about what and when he knew about the abuse allegations against Mr Porter, who resigned as staff secretary last week after the accusations became public.
This White House scandal erupted initially without the president’s involvement, but he fed the fury last week when he defended Mr Porter and questioned the #MeToo movement that sprang up in recent months to protest over the mistreatment of many women.
In Mr Trump’s first comments after Mr Porter resigned, he praised his former aide. Next, he appeared to cast doubt on the ex-wives’ allegations by tweeting: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
Finally, on Wednesday, he said the words Democrats and Republicans alike had been listening for.
“I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So now you hear it, but you all know it.”
The denunciation of domestic violence was greeted with relief by some West Wing aides, but a sense of unease about Mr Kelly’s fate persisted.
That has eroded in a week as accounts about the handling of the Porter matter continue to shift and some aides come to believe Mr Kelly lied to save face and save his job.
Mr Trump has complained to confidants that Mr Kelly let the scandal spin out of control and that the constantly shifting narratives make the White House — and, by extension, Mr Trump himself — look amateurish and incompetent, according to a source.
The president has floated names of possible replacements for Mr Kelly, including National Economic Council head Gary Cohn, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, budget director Mick Mulvaney and businessman and Republican heavyweight Wayne Berman.
Mr Kelly has indicated he would step aside if he lost the faith of the president, but he has not offered to resign, according to a White House official and an outside adviser.