The White House’s response to allegations of domestic violence against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter has so stunned reporters that the whole episode has become an exemplar of the total disorganization of the Trump administration.
“Abuse Case Exposes Fissures in a White House in Turmoil,” The New York Times intones. Axios’s Jonathan Swan writes, “This is crazy. Even in a White House that’s famous for chaos, I’ve never seen anything like this.” Politico’s Playbook simply announced, “CHAOS at 1600 Pennsylvania.”
This is peculiar, not only because it is difficult to imagine what would rise to the level of notable chaos relative to the standards of this White House. It’s strange because the focus on disorder has overshadowed the more salient feature of the moment: Insofar as the administration is engulfed in chaos, it is a result of its inability to tell the truth. The Trump team doesn’t have a chaos problem so much as it has a dishonesty problem. Of course this is not new, either—in fact, the serial dissembling of the White House has become so banal that it goes almost unremarked in this case—yet it is on particularly dramatic display here.
It might be useful to rehearse the basic chronology. Early last week, the Daily Mail reported on allegations of physical and verbal abuse lodged against Porter by his two ex-wives. Tuesday night, Chief of Staff John Kelly issued a statement standing firmly behind Porter, who worked closely with both Kelly and the president. Wednesday morning, The Intercept published photos showing a black eye Porter had allegedly given one ex-wife, Colbie Holderness. Later that day, Porter resigned. The time since has seen investigation and recrimination about who knew what. Both of Porter’s ex-wives had told the FBI about their allegations during the background-check process, and White House Counsel Don McGahn reportedly knew about allegations as early as January 2017. Politico reports Kelly also knew of a 2010 protective order against Porter this fall. The White House had also learned, well before the Daily Mail stories, that the FBI would recommend Porter not be given security clearance. (The FBI’s recommendation is non-binding on the president.)