Don McGahn’s handling of the Porter fiasco may have been even worse than Kelly’s
McGahn is the White House counsel, the man who allegedly blocked Trump’s attempt to fire Bob Mueller last summer by threatening to resign if he followed through. He, like John Kelly, is regarded by the press as a “grown-up” in the West Wing trying to protect POTUS from his worst instincts.
According to WaPo, he was warned four times — four times — about the allegations against Rob Porter over the span of a year and evidently did nothing. This is a grown-up?
In January 2017, when McGahn learned of the allegations, he wanted Porter to stay put because he saw the Harvard Law-trained Capitol Hill veteran as a steadying, professional voice in the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. His view didn’t change in June when the FBI flagged some of its findings to the White House. Nor did he act in September when he learned that the domestic violence claims were delaying Porter’s security clearance, or in November when Porter’s former girlfriend contacted him about the allegations, according to these people…
A White House official said McGahn was only aware that ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him but did not ask what the accusations were because Porter said they were not true.
Natural reaction, I suppose. Not one but two women who were married to the chief of staff’s right-hand men tell you that they have information that might blow him up, but he tells you to ignore them and so you say “okay,” no questions asked. That’s a man who’s going the extra mile to make sure that his boss, the president, isn’t buried under some staffer’s dirty laundry out of the blue.
One of the fears about Trump’s White House before he took office was that it might not be able to attract quality professionals from the right and would be reduced to lowering its standards to staff up. What we’re seeing in McGahn’s and Kelly’s handling of Porter, I think, is that even the people who are quality professionals are willing to overlook *a lot* in the name of bringing in other quality professionals. Because that’s what Porter is, make no mistake. Even his second ex-wife, Jennie Willoughby, has said in interviews that he’s intelligent and measured on the job and would be an ideal person to serve in the role he occupies. He’s capable. And maybe capability is in such short supply in the hiring pool open to McGahn and Kelly that they’re willing to look the other way even at very credible charges of wife-beating. Repulsive, but duty calls.
And now the question: Who else in their employ has a checkered history and is being allowed to work in the West Wing despite their vulnerability to blackmail? WaPo reports in a separate piece this morning that “dozens” of White House aides still haven’t received their permanent security clearances yet. That’s the same problem Porter faced — the FBI wouldn’t clear him because of the domestic-abuse allegations so he lingered in limbo with an interim clearance while McGahn and Kelly hemmed and hawed. There’s nothing necessarily nefarious about aides lacking a clearance temporarily, as the process takes time and some have never worked in government before. But according to Politico, Kelly was warned weeks ago by the FBI that several would be denied their clearances outright, which is ominous. What did he do? Nothing, apparently:
The White House chief-of-staff told confidants in recent weeks that he had decided to fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported this week…
Those close to Kelly say they’re puzzled about why the former Marine general, whose singular focus since joining the West Wing in July has been to eliminate irregularities and chaos, failed to follow through on his determination to push out aides denied a permanent clearance.
“He knew it was a problem having people who would never be granted permanent clearances and he was preparing to deal with it. And this blew up in his face,” said a senior administration official familiar with Kelly’s plans.
One White House employee who’s currently stuck in limbo with an interim security clearance is someone you might have heard of. That would be Jared Kushner, son-in-law to the president and one of the most powerful people in the federal government given the breadth of his policy portfolio. Kushner’s still waiting for a permanent security clearance after *a year*, which WaPo’s sources claim is almost unheard of. Typically a permanent clearance takes no longer than three months to obtain. “That just tells me that somebody’s uncomfortable with the information that they have in his background,” said one of WaPo’s sources. This is a guy who’s not only in the innermost ring of the president’s inner circle, he’s a key player in Russiagate. And evidently he’s so exposed to blackmail risk that the feds won’t clear him despite the obviously heavy pressure from the White House to do so.
As for POTUS himself, he’s cleared by dint of his office but “If Donald Trump were not president, he wouldn’t be able to get within 100 miles of a security clearance,” a former official told HuffPost. Which makes sense. Between the secret tax returns, the corporate bankruptcies, the sexual assault allegations, his “colorful” personal life, and probably another thousand things the public doesn’t even know about, he’s got blackmail exposure in virtually every conceivable way. His lawyer apparently paid hush money to a well-known porn star not to discuss their affair and no one paid much attention to it because it doesn’t rate in the top 50 embarrassing things Trump has been accused of. Maybe that factored into McGahn’s and Kelly’s reasoning too in how they handled Porter, just as POTUS’s support for Roy Moore must have. If the president’s worthy of a security clearance despite the dozens of black marks on him, why can’t Porter be given a pass in one specific — but unspeakably ugly — matter?
Oh, speaking of black marks, WaPo claims that the FBI interviewed Porter about how his first wife came to have that shiner around her eye. There’s no word on what he told them but “He has privately told others that they were arguing over a vase, and she was somehow hit with the vase.” Somehow. You know how vases are.
Because our politics is now a combination of a reality show and a third-rate soap opera, here’s Porter’s second wife warning the White House communications director on national television that she’s going to end up being abused by her ex-husband, the former White House staff secretary, if she continues to date him. Exit question via Tim Miller: “If there was an FBI deep state conspiracy against Donald Trump why didn’t they leak that they told the White House a top advisor is a wife beater and the WH response was to give him a promotion?”