President Trump with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) at Salt Lake City in December. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
Media critic

The Daily Mail on Tuesday night published a damaging story about White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s alleged abusive treatment of his second wife, though the piece included a strong statement of support from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, for whom Porter formerly served as a top aide.

“Over the course of the years of our marriage, I can think of several times where I was collapsing on the ground in tears and saying, ‘just leave me alone, just stop,’ ” Jennifer Willoughby told the Daily Mail for its explosive piece. At one point, she is quoted, Porter “pulled her naked from the shower by the shoulders and yelled at her.”

There to provide a character reference was Hatch, who is among the ten longest-serving senators in U.S. history.

It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.

I know Rob. I’ve known him for years, both as a close friend and as a personal adviser. He is kind and considerate towards all. The country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter, which is why I hope that this cynical campaign to discredit his character ultimately fails.

On Wednesday morning, the Daily Mail followed with another story adding in the experience of Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, whom he married in 2003. A couple of years later, Holderness told the Daily Mail, they took a vacation to Italy. “We were arguing and he punched me in the face,” she said. “He left visible marks when he punched me and I have pictures of that. I didn’t go the police because I was scared, I was in Italy alone and I didn’t know what to do.” Photos show Holderness with bruising around her right eye.

The Daily Mail had previously reported that Porter was in a romantic relationship with Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. He announced his resignation on Wednesday, and denied the claims against him. “These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter’s statement on Wednesday explained, in part. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

The reporting upended a strong Washington career. Prior to his White House position, Porter had served as general counsel to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and, more recently,  as chief of staff to Hatch.

Also on Wednesday, Hatch’s office issued a new statement about the proceedings:

From clueless to more appropriate, in other words.

What happened here? Why did Hatch initially stand by someone accused of brutality by a woman on the record? An informed source tells the Erik Wemple Blog that Hatch learned on Tuesday there was an “orchestrated campaign under way to discredit Rob,” said the source. As Hatch’s office understood it, the “orchestrators” were not the Porter’s ex-wives, but rather his opponents in the Trump universe. Since Hatch had a close relationship with Porter, he issued a statement “attacking this smear campaign.” The senator was under the impression that the dirt on Porter related less specifically to his two divorces. Hatch’s office provided the statement to the White House — at its request — before the Daily Mail story was published. “He had no idea about the accusations or about the details,” said the source.

“Sen. Hatch largely trusted Rob and he felt that there was no possibility that a smear campaign would be effective in part because he presented himself as such an honest — a person with so much integrity,” said the source.

The blind trust, in this instance, runs in more than one direction. Why would Hatch trust the White House to apprise him of all the reasons it needed a defense of its staff secretary? Doesn’t anybody learn in this town?

The White House hasn’t provided a response to questions about the matter.

Hatch continued to strike a supportive tone toward Porter on Wednesday. “I encouraged him to keep a stiff upper lip and work out his problems,” Hatch told Porter, according to CBS News. “And I would prefer him not to resign, just work his way through and do what’s right.”