When Jennie Willoughby first met her ex-husband, former staff secretary at the White House Robert Porter, she said he was “charming, chivalrous and romantic”.
She had no idea of the anger that he was hiding inside, she only knew the successful, impressive public face he put forward. Willoughby, 39, would eventually be allegedly abused by him. She learned later that Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, 37, was also an alleged victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the man they both, at one time, loved.
Since the allegations against Porter, 40, were made public last Wednesday, the senior White House staffer has announced his resignation while denying the accusations. And his immediate superior, Chief of Staff John Kelly, who answers to the president, says he’s willing to resign, also.
It’s unclear how much Kelly, or President Donald Trump, knew of Porter’s past. To appoint Porter his (pending) security clearance, vetting should have uncovered the protective order filed by one of his ex-wives against him and – one would think – given the White House reason to pause.
Both the president and chief of staff were quick to defend Porter’s character and professionalism after the allegations were published in Daily Mail last week. And on Sunday evening, after yet another staffer – this time a speech writer – resigned amid domestic violence allegations, the president tweeted:
“People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
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Now, in an open letter for Time, Willoughby says it doesn’t matter to her that the president is calling her a liar.
She’s speaking out to help other women realise what domestic violence looks like and how it can escalate from “charming chivalry” to a “low-grade constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set things off,” as she told CNN.
Willoughby and Porter were married in 2009 and she said the verbal abuse started soon after. She filed a temporary protective order in June 2010 when Porter allegedly punched a hole through the glass door of the apartment she was living in after she’d asked him to leave.
“Up until that moment I didn’t realise I was in an abusive marriage,” the writer and public speaker told CNN.
Speaking to Daily Mail, Willoughby said the pair “bought a house to make up for it”.
“He offered to get help and even went to a few counselling sessions and therapy groups. And so I stayed,” she said. “He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence. And so I stayed. I felt ashamed and trapped. And so I stayed. Friends and clergy didn’t believe me. And so I stayed.”
Soon after their one-year wedding anniversary, the violence reared once more. Porter allegedly dragged Willoughby naked out of the shower, screaming in her face calling her a "f**king b***h".
The couple divorced in 2013.
Listen to Jennie Willoughby, Rob Porter's ex-wife, speak to CNN about the alleged abuse.
Willoughby came forward to accuse Porter publicly alongside his first wife, senior analyst for the US government, Colbie Holderness.
Holderness and Porter were married in 2003 in England. Similar to in Willoughby's claims, Holderness can only see the 'red flags' in hindsight. "Rob is very intelligent - that's what drew me to him," she told Daily Mail.
"He was never physical with me while we were dating and now I see there were red flags, left and right. He was verbally abusive and emotionally abusive all during that time, which I understand now, and we were fighting a lot."
The alleged physical abuse began when they were on their honeymoon. Porter allegedly kicked Holderness while they were celebrating their marriage on the Canary Islands because she didn't want to have sex.
"It was a really odd thing that he did," she told the Daily Mail. "He was angry because we weren't having sex when he wanted to have sex and he kicked me. It seems such a juvenile thing at the time."
From there, the violence allegedly escalated.
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He allegedly began choking her - something she doesn't describe as life-threatening, instead "humiliating and dehumanising". And once, while vacationing in Florence, Italy, he allegedly punched Holderness in the face leaving her bruised.
The pair divorced in 2005.
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Now, as the whole world is learning her story, Willoughby is calling out the White House - the President, in particular - for adding to the stigma victims of domestic violence face in coming forward and naming their accuser.
"The tendency to avoid, deny, or cover up abuse is never really about power, or money, or an old boys’ club. It is deeper than that," Willoughby wrote for Time. "Rather than embarrass an abuser, society is subconsciously trained to question a victim of abuse."
"Ultimately, this is not a political issue. This is a societal issue, and the tone has just been reset by the White House. If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence, then what hope do others have of being heard?"
Porter, who continues to deny the allegations, is reportedly in a relationship with White House Director of Communications Hope Hicks, 29. Speaking to Daily Mail he said the allegations are "slanderous and simply false".
He has no explanation for the photograph of Holderness' black eye or the restraining order filed against him by Willoughby.