The resignations of two high-level White House staffers within a week require an explanation on how the Trump presidency sees women and values their words. When the public learned that the staff secretary Rob Porter allegedly beaten up his two ex-wives, the president praised Porter the way of a satisfied employer.
“He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him,” Trump said before cautioning the press that Porter “also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that.”
Porter, though, got more than the presumption of innocence. One way to address the issue without any appearance of bias or favor is to put the accused staffer on administrative leave until the investigation clears up. But the White House Counsel Don McGahn let Porter kept his job of preparing intelligence briefings to the president despite knowing Porter failed to obtain proper security clearance due to such allegations. Porter’s boss, John Kelly, too, learned about the allegations last fall but just handed more responsibilities to the deputy anyway. These acts went beyond the usual votes of confidence—they painted a dark portrait of a White House willing to pursuit its mission at any horrid cost.
That mission, if we’re willing to see through Kelly’s military-discipline viewpoint, was to stabilize the White House after the turbulence of the early months and wrestle control away from the warring factions that spawned dozens of unflattering leaks so that the Trump agenda can advance. He was supposed to be that “adult” in the room but as months passed, Kelly’s flaws became apparent when he was caught smearing a congresswoman with lies. That episode happened because Trump needed that “adult” to defend another lie about Wilson herself “totally fabricated” the story of Trump telling a soldier’s widow that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Kelly said that it “stuns me that [Wilson] would have listened in on that conversation…And I thought at least that was sacred.” To hear him tell it, there was nothing in Kelly’s life that could help him imagine that maybe the widow actually wanted Wilson to be there.
What weird but revealing came next, when Kelly began an off-message monologue on what else he considered sacred: “You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.” Would that list of sacred things included words of Porter’s two ex-wives? One of them not only told her story, but submitted photos of her bruised face to bolster the claim. When Kelly spoke about Porter last Wednesday, he condemned any act of domestic violence but went on to praise Porter as “a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Porter, then as now, remained steadfast in calling the allegations as part of a “coordinated” smear campaign. The White House Council McGahn, for his part, chose not follow-up on these allegations, mainly because he took Porter’s denial as good enough—the same way Trump saw Roy Moore’s denials against numerous claims of sexual assaults. “He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen,” Trump concluded. “You have to listen to him, also.”
The right question to ask is the value of a man’s words against a woman’s words. Or put it another: How many women must provide their accounts for a claim to have equal weight? Over the weekend, the president elaborated on this equation. “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he wrote, “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Is this the official viewpoint of the Trump administration? If so, who asked Rob Porter to resign and why did he? ♦