Maybe. Or maybe this is smart White House spin to protect Trump (and the Kushners) as headlines about an accused wife-beater in the West Wing proliferate.
Like I said this morning, though, POTUS would have every right to feel this way. It sounds like his deputies, starting with John Kelly, blindsided him with a political problem that they could have and should have solved for him months ago. An unusually ugly problem too.
On Wednesday night, Donald Trump vented to advisers that Kelly had not fully briefed him on Porter’s issues with women until recently, two sources told me. Trump was also not aware of the severity of the alleged abuse until yesterday, when Ivanka walked into the Oval Office and showed her father a photo published in the Daily Mail of Porter’s ex-wife with a black eye. “He was f***ing pissed,” said one Republican briefed on the conversation. According to a source, Ivanka and Jared Kushner have been discussing possible chief-of-staff replacements. The problem is there’s not an obvious candidate waiting in the wings…
There is a sense that the Porter situation may finally push Trump to move against Kelly, according to several Republicans close to the White House. Last night, a source said, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski called Trump and urged him to fire Kelly.
That’s from Vanity Fair, which is also hearing what various other outlets have heard about the timeline: “Porter’s history with women had been known to Kelly for months, a source familiar with the matter said.” As for Hope Hicks, who’s spent much of her adult life working for Donald Trump, allegedly dated Corey Lewandowski, and is now coping with the real possibility that her new boyfriend gave his ex-wife a black eye, she reportedly continues to display good taste and sound judgment:
According to a source, Hicks did not get a sign off from Trump for the White House’s initial statement defending Porter, in which Kelly was quoted calling Porter a “man of true integrity.” She drafted the statement with her close friend, Kushner’s White House spokesman Josh Raffel, whom she’s known since their days working for Manhattan P.R. strategist Matthew Hiltzik. This morning, Hicks continued to defend Porter in private, a source said, telling people she thinks the allegations aren’t true. In recent weeks, Trump has been angry at Hicks for her role in approving interviews with Michael Wolff, a Republican close to the White House told me.
Neither Hicks nor Kelly is going anywhere. Hicks is family, no matter how many times she screws up in major ways, and firing Kelly for his handling of Porter (or ostensibly for his handling of Porter) would put Trump in an awkward position. Why is Porter guilty until proven innocent, reporters will ask him, when you yourself are supposedly innocent until proven guilty on accusations of sexual misconduct? Porter’s facing three accusers, Trump is facing a dozen. Why is Porter guilty, they’ll add, when Roy Moore was allegedly innocent enough to warrant a presidential endorsement in Alabama? You can’t have a standard in which some denials are deemed conclusory while others, from less important political players, are grounds for summary dismissal. How can Trump fire Kelly for upholding the White House’s own “believe the accused” logic in sexual/domestic abuse cases?
I don’t know what he’ll say when he’s inevitably asked about Porter being forced out, having backed Moore on grounds that there was no hard proof of wrongdoing. I assume he’ll say that accusations from ex-wives are inherently more credible than accusations from women who have no solid evidence that they’ve even met their alleged abuser. The West Wing brain trust had better huddle and come up with a logical standard that somehow places Trump and Moore on the “innocent” side of the line and Porter on the “guilty” side.
Here’s White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah doing the honors at today’s briefing, a surprise given media interest in the Porter story. You’d expect Sarah Sanders to be out there when the questions are sure to be extra squirm-inducing. Shah is obviously unaccustomed to Trump-style PR, too, given his willingness to deliver this surprising admission:
Raj Shah on abuse allegations against Rob Porter: "I think it's fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few days in dealing with this situation." pic.twitter.com/Nq9Xlwv3Wz
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) February 8, 2018
Rule one of TrumpWorld: Do not apologize. Do not admit fault. Shah’s strategy is smarter since a bit of conciliation, which is very much in order here, will help turn down the press heat but it’s anathema to Trump’s approach to the media. I wonder if Shah will suddenly find himself in hot water with the boss too, especially in light of this New York magazine scoop from a few days about Shah allegedly calling Trump a “deplorable” in 2016 as a Jeb Bush alumnus. The day that the “Access Hollywood” tape appeared that fall, Shah supposedly emailed a friend to say that “I’m kinda enjoying this, some justice. I honestly don’t think it’s the worst thing he’s done but he somehow got passes for the other acts.” Now here he is trying to spin Trump out of a political headache involving a top Kelly aide punching his then-wife in the face. What a world.
Oh. He was asked about Omarosa too. Exit quotation, to remind you that American politics is now just an unusually silly, tawdry reality show:
“Omarosa was fired three times on ‘The Apprentice’ and this is the fourth time we let her go,” Deputy Press Sec. Raj Shah says. pic.twitter.com/Am5wNM67UJ
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 8, 2018