White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, as the guy largely responsible for information flow to President Trump, wasn’t a household name until this week when he suddenly resigned. Very quickly, it became known that he stepped down over domestic abuse allegations (supported by a widely-circulated black-eye photo). Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah tried on Thursday to mitigate the damage by saying that they could have handled the matter better this week, but Shah insisted that Chief of Staff John Kelly did not know the full extent of the allegations until a few days ago.
Somewhere in that last sentence is an admission that Kelly knew something was amiss, and indeed, reports suggested that Kelly may have known a lot and shielded Porter. Shah had mentioned that an ongoing FBI probe was preventing Porter from receiving full security clearance, and now, the Washington Post reports that White House Counsel Don McGahn knew that Porter’s ex-wives were preparing to come forward with “damaging accusations.” Yet McGahn denied to WaPo that he knew this involved domestic abuse — until fall 2017, and Kelly reportedly learned what McGahn knew last fall but increased Porter’s responsibilities.
Essentially, the timeline adds up to one public-relations mess for the White House, and McGahn and Kelly are now saying they feel “misled by Porter”:
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 spokesman said that McGahn — who had access to the FBI’s background investigation file conducted for Porter’s security clearance — and Kelly feel misled by Porter, saying he downplayed his ex-wives’ accusations in conversations with them.
Another odd wrinkle to this mounting scandal: White House Communications Director Hope Hicks has been dating Porter, and she had a hand in crafting John Kelly’s statement, which went out mid-week, that acknowledged Porter’s resignation. Hicks, sticking to her reputation as a close-lipped comms director, did not issue comment to CNN when contacted. However, former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski was perfectly cool with talking to Fox News about Porter, who he didn’t really know, but he felt comfy with speculating about the whole scandal anyway. Watch below.
Finally, Kelly has issued a memo on domestic violence to White House staff, who are reportedly experiencing low morale as a result of this scandal. The memo reads in part: