Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah had an impossible job in Thursday’s press briefing: Go to the lectern and explain what happened with the resignation of Staff Secretary Rob Porter. Sure enough, Shah struggled.
In a rare step for this administration, Shah acknowledged errors in the White House’s approach—“We all could have done better over the last few days in dealing with this situation”—but he wouldn’t say what those missteps were, and he left only more questions about what the White House knew and what led to Porter’s exit.
Fundamentally, the question remains what top staffers, and especially Chief of Staff John Kelly, knew about allegations of physical and verbal abuse made by two of Porter’s ex-wives; what changed between Tuesday, when the White House made supportive statements, and Wednesday, when Porter resigned; and what standard the White House uses in hiring.
Here’s a brief timeline of the Porter story. On Monday and Tuesday, the Daily Mail published interviews with both ex-wives detailing stories of choking and punching. Tuesday night, Kelly issued a statement calling Porter “a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.” Wednesday morning, The Intercept published photos of Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, taken after he had allegedly assaulted her. During the day, Porter resigned, though his departure date was unclear. (Shah said Porter’s last day was Wednesday, though he returned to the White House to clean out his desk Thursday.) Wednesday night, Kelly partially walked back his comments. “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” he said, while adding, “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.”