The president, it turned out, had other ideas. Trump’s reaction is reminiscent of his handling of Roy Moore, the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, who was credibly accused of sexual harassment or assault by multiple women. As the rest of the GOP backed away from Moore, Trump stood by him, saying, “Well, he denies it.” Trump’s decisions about who to believe and who not to believe are notable; in two cases, he has assumed the credibility of men accused of abusing women.
Trump’s choice to side with Moore and Porter is inseparable from the many accusations of sexual harassment and assault lodged against him, as well as a recording in which he boasts about sexually assaulting women. The president has denied any wrongdoing. Yet while he grants the presumption of innocence to men like Porter and Moore, he does not grant the same presumption to others—such as the Central Park Five, young men of color who Trump wanted executed in the 1980s, and whose innocence he has refused to accept.
Given the president’s comments, can anyone believe Kelly’s claim that the White House takes domestic abuse seriously? Similarly, can anyone believe Porter would have been fired absent press reports and especially the publication of photos?
As the public learns more about the allegations against Porter, the story begins to look like another manifestation of the same troubles that have long plagued the White House: disorganization, a lack of accountability, a struggle to recruit competent employees, and a president who tends to blow up the official message.
Note how Trump’s view of the situation is at odds with what his aides are saying. No one else in the administration has argued that he is innocent, though spokesman Raj Shah on Thursday defended the decision not to fire him by saying the White House wanted to take his denials seriously. Nor has anyone in the administration made the argument that even if Porter is guilty of assault, it should not disqualify him from working in the West Wing.
Several reports have focused on what the White House knew before news reports earlier this week revealed that both of Porter’s ex-wives had accused him of physical and verbal abuse; The Intercept also published photos of one of them showing a black eye. The White House declined on Thursday to say what administration officials knew when, but Politico reports that Kelly learned several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying security clearance to Porter. The Washington Post reports that Kelly learned of accusations against Porter in the fall, and that White House Counsel Don McGahn knew about them in January 2017:
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.
This is perhaps a morally indefensible stand on McGahn’s part, but it’s not an irrational one. Porter was, according to most accounts, one of the few truly competent people in the White House—a rare professional on a team comprised largely of hacks, novices, and, uh, Omarosa. (This is perhaps unfair: Manigault-Newman was actually one of the few staffers with previous executive-branch experience.) McGahn made a cold calculation that amid infighting, incompetence, and chaos, Trump simply couldn’t afford to lose someone like Porter.