Who, exactly, in the White House knew? Because I’ll tell you what. If Kelly knew and Trump didn’t and Kelly allowed this live grenade of a scandal to sit there in the West Wing, month after month, knowing that it might detonate at any time, POTUS would be within his rights to fire him for it. The chief of staff is supposed to clean up messes, not make them.
And another thing. When was Hope Hicks told? Did she need to find out from the papers this week that her new boyfriend is credibly accused of abusing both of his ex-wives? I’d like to think that someone in the White House would have pulled her aside and told her what they knew from the FBI background check once word got out that she and Porter were together. I’d like to. But I don’t know.
Trump himself first learned of the allegations this week, two sources familiar with the matter said. He was upset when shown reports of the abuse, which first emerged on Tuesday. His daughter Ivanka Trump, serving as a White House senior adviser, was also deeply disturbed by the allegations, particularly by photographs of the alleged abuse, the sources said…
By early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff John Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff.
Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week’s State of the Union address. He traveled instead of Kelly to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. And he was one of a select group of aides who shook Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hand during a state visit to Beijing in November.
Kelly’s first statement about Porter on Tuesday was garbage. He issued a stronger statement last night after the photo of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye started circulating, claiming that he was “shocked” by the allegations. But that’s an exaggeration, if not an outright lie, assuming CNN has the timeline right in the above excerpt. He already knew. They’re not the only outlet reporting that people in the White House knew months ago about Porter, either. CBS claims some staffers were aware in November; Politico reports that one of Porter’s ex-girlfriends (presumably the same one mentioned in the update here) contacted the White House counsel’s office weeks ago about Porter after discovering that he was dating Hope Hicks. The ex-girlfriend apparently knew about Porter’s behavior with his ex-wives, long before the Daily Mail or the Intercept went public with allegations about it.
Assuming the above excerpt is accurate and that sources aren’t lying to protect the president, Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn left Trump — and Hope Hicks — vulnerable by refusing to disarm the grenade. The Times claims that Kelly was duped by Porter but that excuse only goes so far:
Two White House officials, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about the internal deliberations, insisted that Mr. Porter had misled Mr. Kelly and several other aides about the severity of the allegations. He had portrayed the women as making up stories to cause trouble, and few, if any, aides in the White House considered conducting their own investigations to discover what might have taken place, the officials said.
After initially saying that Mr. Porter would remain on for a period of time, one of the White House officials said that he would be gone by the end of the week, as the West Wing faced blowback for standing by him.
Why did Kelly take Porter’s word for it when there were multiple women alleging abuse to the FBI and, in one case, to McGahn? He should have been alarmed enough to at least have reviewed the FBI’s evidence, which surely included the protective order obtained by Porter’s second wife and the photograph of his first wife’s black eye, and maybe to call Porter’s ex-wives and hear it straight from them, so that he could judge their credibility for himself. Even if he ended up undecided about what really happened, it’s bananas of him to have accepted the political liability of credible abuse allegations against a top deputy. Especially with Porter’s first wife saying things like this:
Porter's ex-wife Colbie Holderness said that when the FBI asked her whether Porter was vulnerable to blackmail, she answered affirmatively, because of the number of people aware of his abusive behavior.https://t.co/jaMYywPiAe
— erica orden (@eorden) February 8, 2018
The fact that Porter persisted for months in his job without a permanent security clearance might have been a clue to Kelly that the FBI was worried enough about his blackmail exposure to refuse to sign off on it, even knowing that he was an important deputy to the White House chief of staff.
As for the mood inside the West Wing right now:
One unreported detail: Tuesday night as I went to Sarah Sanders' office to review the White House's response to our story about Rob Porter, Porter himself appeared from down the hall. He audibly growled at me. I stared him down. He exhaled loudly and walked into Sarah's office.
— David Martosko (@dmartosko) February 8, 2018
Martosko isn’t some left-wing hatchet man. He worked for the Daily Caller before joining the Daily Mail and was considered for the job of White House press secretary. He’s not a hostile reporter looking to embarrass the White House for the sake of embarrassing them. He’s just not willing to sweep the accusations against Porter under the rug, as John Kelly was evidently willing to do for months.
And now, maybe, Kelly will pay for it:
Ppl close to White House I spoke with are speculating that Kelly could be in danger of being fired if Porter scandal gains steam. CNN reports Kelly didn’t inform Trump of allegations of Porter’s abuse, leaving Trump exposed https://t.co/Iy9HPqQ66j
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) February 8, 2018
I doubt it. Every time a right-winger has tweeted something critical of Kelly or the West Wing in the past 24 hours for mishandling the Porter charges, some left-winger has tweeted back that this is what happens when your boss has been accused of sexual assault himself and decided to go all-in on an accused child molester in the Alabama special election. There’s something to that. Trump may have been victimized this time by his chief not moving quickly enough to protect him from scandal, but Kelly may have come to the conclusion that Trump wouldn’t have much cared even if he’d known about the abuse allegations against Porter. “In Trumpworld,” notes the Daily Beast, “nothing is more convincing than a man’s denial.” Right. Moore denied the allegations against him, Trump denied the allegations against him, and now Porter denied the allegations against him. In each case there were multiple women on the other side telling similar stories, but it didn’t matter. Deny and your job, and the White House’s support, is usually safe. Why should Porter be any different, Kelly might have wondered?
But that wouldn’t absolve him from his own terrible moral judgment here. Whether or not Trump would have been bothered by the evidence against Porter, Kelly should have been. And he should have cared enough about it to investigate it himself. As it is, I don’t know what other conclusion we can reach here except that Porter would have continued to work in the West Wing forever, possibly rising to the role of chief of staff himself, if the Daily Mail hadn’t finally aired his dirty laundry. The White House wasn’t embarrassed by his behavior. They were embarrassed by people knowing about it. Disgraceful.
Here’s Porter’s second ex-wife describing her years with him and her interaction with the FBI.