Jennifer Willoughby, the second ex-wife of former senior White House official Rob Porter, sat down with Today on Friday to discuss the physical and emotional abuse she allegedly experienced during their four-year marriage.
Her appearance came days after Porter resigned from his position in the Trump administration. The 40-year-old had denied Willoughby’s claims and those of his first wife, Colbie Holderness — who alleged to The Daily Mail that he choked and punched her.
Willoughby had also spoken to The Daily Mail, where she first revealed her allegations, telling the site she filed an emergency protective order against Porter following his threats.
“For my marriage, I would say it was very strongly verbally and emotionally abusive,” she told Today’s Savannah Guthrie on Friday. “A lot of attacks on my character and my intelligence and things that I felt to be true about myself were systematically and receptively attacked so that it was an emotional breakdown.”
“Abuse is a really tricky thing,” she continued. “It starts slow and it starts in a cycle where you don’t really see it for what it is. I don’t think I even realized that I could even call my marriage abusive until about a year in.”
That moment, Willoughby said, came during an argument.
“We had been fighting and Rob followed me to the shower and pulled me out of the shower to continue the rage,” she recalled. “[He] immediately saw how scared I was and recognized what he was doing and released it. That was the moment when I realized he didn’t have control.”
Her decision to take out a temporary protective order came after an incident where Porter had allegedly punched in the door of a home she was staying in during their separation. “The police officer pointed out if he’s able to do that even though I didn’t expect it, I really didn’t really know what else he’s capable of,” Willoughby said.
In a statement read by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at a press conference on Wednesday, Porter denied Willoughby and Holderness’ allegations — including photos The Daily Mail published showing Holderness with a bruised right eye, which she claims was the result of Porter punching her in the face during a trip to Italy in the mid-2000s.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter wrote. “I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described.”
He also alleged that Willoughby and Holderness were conspiring against him.
“I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign,” the statement read. “My commitment to public service speaks for itself. I have always put duty to country first and treated others with respect. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House.”
Asked about the alleged “coordinated smear campaign” on Today, Willoughby denied working with Holderness.
“There was no coordination of this. This was unexpected that I would have to be speaking about this and mentioning his name and describing the details of my marriage is nothing that I wanted,” she said. “I have only recently been in contact with Colbie to discuss it at all.”
As to whether Willoughby believes Holderness, Willoughby got emotional. “Of course I believe her,” she said, tearing up. “I believe her.”
Talking with Holderness about Porter has been cathartic for Willoughby.
“I think anybody who has been in a toxic or abusive relationship recognizes that on some degree you feel as though it’s your fault and you carry that shame with you,” she said. “I’ve realized as I’ve started to speak out more about it that even now years later after I’ve done the healing and the forgiveness that I felt that I needed, I still felt shame in sharing that story.”
“It’s so isolating,” Willoughby added. “You don’t really feel like you can talk to anybody about it or that anyone can understand. So to meet Colbie and to hear her story and to recognize that we both had that experience was a relief. It was a recognition [that] we really were in this together.”
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Elsewhere in her chat, Willoughby claimed that she had told the FBI about Porter’s abuse during his background check (Holderness had claimed do to the same thing when speaking with The Daily Mail).
Porter was chosen as White House staff secretary and needed security clearance for his job. He never received permanent security clearance, for reasons not released.
“I was completely honest with what my experience [was] in the marriage, including telling them instances of abuse or police contact,” Willoughby said. “He definitely let me know that I was going to be contacted by the FBI once he was tapped for the White House. And he was curious what I was going to say. He really wanted to know, ‘What are you going to tell them?’ And I told him I was going to tell them the truth … I think he knew my character and knew that was what I was going to share.”
Though Porter — whose job entailed spending hours a day with Trump, controlling the paper flow to his desk and Trump’s schedule – is no longer at the White House, Willoughby said she never intended for him to lose his job. “I think he is good at his job and I liked that he was in that administration,” she said. “But this is a consequence of his actions. ”
“I’m really hopeful that he can face the reality of these issues that he’s dealing with,” she said. “I really hope that now in the wake of losing his reputation and his career, the things that he valued most, that he’ll be able to really go inside and find the things that actually do matter most about him. ”
Porter is also romantically involved with White House communications director Hope Hicks, The Daily Mail, Vanity Fair and CNN all reported. Both Holderness and Willoughby also told CNN they were contacted by a woman who claimed to be Porter’s girlfriend in 2016 with similar allegations of “repeated abuse.”
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told PEOPLE in a statement, “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.”