ALBANY — New York Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney criticized the continued focus on domestic violence allegations against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter in a radio interview earlier this week, making comments that could give congressional Democrats fresh fodder in one of their top 2018 pick-up targets.
“I’m not saying he’s innocent, but I’m saying we don’t know,” Tenney, a freshman member of the House, said in the interview Wednesday on Utica’s WUTQ 100.7 FM. “He could be the worst guy in the world, but now we’re getting into prosecution as far as I know. I guess there was an issue about, maybe the FBI knew about it, but really, is this what we’re talking about at this point?"
Porter has been accused of abuse by his two ex-wives, leading the FBI to block his application for a permanent security clearance — key for the person tasked with overseeing the flow of papers to the president’s desk — and a maelstrom that’s brought chief of staff John Kelly under fire for his handling of the situation.
Tenney acknowledged the grave nature of the domestic violence allegations but questioned why it has gripped Washington for close to two weeks.
“Once they found out about it, they let the guy go,” she said. “Why are we still talking about it?”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said Tenney’s remarks during a radio interview were “shameful and, frankly, disgusting.”
“Survivors of domestic abuse have a hard enough time coming forward without members of Congress casting doubt on their stories,” Kelly said in a statement. “Tenney’s disturbing smear of two women confronting their abuser shows why she needs to be replaced.”
The DCCC — which has made Tenney and fellow upstate freshman Rep. John J. Faso high-priority targets in the upcoming midterm elections — took particular issue with Tenney asking why Porter hasn't been charged with crimes if the allegations against him are true.
Tenney said part of the problem that led to the appointment of Porter, a Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar, was Trump’s outsider status in the Republican Party over which he now presides.
“When you don’t have anyone supporting that’s part of the structure, you’ve got to find people that aren’t always the best, and you find that out later because you literally just need someone to do the job,” Tenney said. “I’m not apologizing for them, but I do think getting into this, is this the most critical part of running the most important government in the world, where we have huge issues, and we have huge national security interests?”
Tenney, a conservative firebrand during her time in the New York state Assembly, succeeded former Rep. Richard Hanna in New York's 22nd District. Hanna, a moderate Republican, was the first sitting GOP member of Congress to publicly state he would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
The 22nd District stretches from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border and includes parts of central New York and the Southern Tier, including the cities of Binghamton, Cortland, Utica and Rome.
Through the end of last year, Tenney had $573,486 in cash on hand, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, but still owed $170,000 from her previous campaign.
Her top challenger, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica), ended the year with $581,851, according to FEC filings.