“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said in an initial statement Tuesday about allegations that the top White House aide had abused an ex-wife.
By Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned amid allegations that he had abused another ex-wife, who produced photographs of her black eye. And Kelly was suddenly “shocked.”
“I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said. But, he added: “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”
Kelly was the man brought in to restore order to a White House in chaos. The Porter controversy has displayed once again how rudderless the West Wing remains.
It would be one thing for the White House to keep its powder dry as Porter faced allegations — to say what Kelly said at the end of his Wednesday statement: That “every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.” The RNC recently has said it would let an investigation play out before returning money raised by its now-resigned former finance chair, Steve Wynn, who faces multiple sexual assault allegations.
But the White House decided to, instead, provide Porter a ringing endorsement. It opted to provide the kind of statements you would expect if they were convinced of Porter's innocence.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just as effusive.
“I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year, and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character,” Sanders said. “Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”
Exactly how these statements found their way into the public domain is something we're likely to see reporters dig into Thursday. Could it have been steered by communications director Hope Hicks, who is reportedly dating Porter? Was it merely an overreaction spurred by a siege mentality? Did Kelly, who has earned growing criticism for his comments this week about how young undocumented immigrants were “too lazy” to sign up for DACA (and then doubled down after a backlash), decide he wasn't going to bow to media pressure?
Whatever the case, and whether this was emotion or calculation, it is remarkable just how wrong the White House got this one. Porter has reportedly not received a full security clearance, despite his high-ranking role as staff secretary — a gatekeeper serving closely alongside Kelly. Both ex-wives told The Post that they informed the FBI of Porter's abuse during background interviews. And one of his ex-wives, Jennie Willoughby, told The Post that after she wrote a blog post about the abuse in April — without naming Porter — he repeatedly asked her to take it down and cited delays in his clearance process.
Assuming all of that is accurate, it's an indictment of how the White House handled Porter's entire employment and an even bigger indictment of the staff's initial reactions to the news Tuesday. It's tough to believe nobody was asking questions about why Porter hadn't received a full security clearance. But even if nobody cared to ask before, you have to believe they would ask once the Daily Mail confronted them with the allegations from the first ex-wife.
And if all of that is true, it's impossible to understand how Kelly was truly “shocked” by any of this. It's also really, really hard to understand why the White House didn't check to make doubly sure that their initial statements about Porter wouldn't come back to bite them — especially on an issue as sensitive as domestic abuse.
President Trump has repeatedly assured that he only hires the best people. This episode suggests the White House staff is either incompetent or has way too much hubris.