The Rob Porter scandal has undermined the credibility of top officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly

The Rob Porter scandal has undermined the credibility of top officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly

Eight days in, it’s beginning to look like the storm set off by the surfacing of allegations by two ex-wives of the former presidential aide will never abate, absent a decisive intervention by President Donald Trump in moment of accountability and self-criticism that seems alien to this White House.
On a day of shifting explanations and damaging revelations Tuesday, pressure built inexorably on chief of staff John Kelly, who presides over a West Wing flailing amid farcical crisis management and an inability to take a moral stand.
The White House has repeatedly lied about Rob Porter. Here's a timeline
Trump has been calling friends to ask them when the scandal ends and what he can do, sources told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, offering a picture of a dysfunctional administration led by a President who barges headlong into trouble and a staff that appears unable to rescue him.
Multiple sources told CNN that Trump has not yet decided whether to replace Kelly but that conversations about who could succeed him have heated up. One source said the chief of staff had been damaged by calls from Trump allies outside the White House for him to go.
In many ways, the Porter scandal is emblematic of the wider story of a White House that often hides the truth, blames others for its messes, appears internally divided and simply can’t get its story straight.
The fallout from the Porter scandal is now into its second week — an unusually long time for Trump — and a new outrage has yet to take over the news cycle.
It is about more than a now-departed White House aide, and has expanded to undermine the credibility of top officials, including Kelly, White House counsel Don McGahn, press secretary Sarah Sanders and her deputy, Raj Shah.

From bad to worse

FBI director contradicts White House's Porter timeline
The crisis lurched from bad to worse on Tuesday when FBI Director Christopher Wray blew a hole in Sanders’ claim that decision-making delays in the bureau’s security screening process explained delays on a final decision on Porter’s security clearance.
His explanation in a congressional hearing that the FBI had completed its background check on Porter in July, offered additional information in November in response to White House requests and closed the file in January meant that Sanders had either lied with her account of events on Monday — or was not fully in the loop about what is going on inside the White House.
A day after hanging the FBI out to dry, Sanders instead singled out career officials in the White House Personnel Security Office, saying they were to blame because they had not finished “their process” on Porter.
But Sanders, diminished by her debunked narrative of the day before, also repeatedly distanced herself from her superiors, giving the impression that she was not fully convinced of the truth of information she was telling the press.
“I can only give you the best information that I have,” Sanders said at one point.
She added to the impression of a divided and rudderless White House ship by saying: “The press team’s not going to be as read-in, maybe, as some other elements at a given moment on a variety of topics.
“But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have.”

‘It was all done right’

John Kelly stands by handling of Porter scandal: 'All done right'
Kelly, who has not yet offered a public accounting of what happened, told The Wall Street Journal for an article published on Tuesday that “it was all done right” regarding Porter, raising questions about whether senior officials in the White House truly appreciate the gravity of the scandal enveloping them.
By the end of the day, the White House had still not answered the key questions about the saga. When did Kelly or McGahn learn about allegations that were preventing Porter getting his clearance? If they knew, did they actively decide to keep him on, with his interim clearance anyway?
Late Tuesday evening, a White House official made yet another attempt to clean up the story, telling CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that McGahn had not shared sufficient information about the situation with top officials, including Kelly.
The White House counsel knew that there were issues with Porter’s background in July — the same month, Wray testified, that the bureau completed its background check on the former White House staff secretary.
But the official also faulted Kelly, saying he has “been reluctant to dig with Don to find out what he really knew.”
The new explanation, by an anonymous official, is unlikely, however, to make the days-long fallout from the Porter affair go away — and may only serve to fuel the media feeding frenzy engulfing the White House.

Trump’s role

Such is the confusion and mess of shifting explanations, it looks like a situation that only a robust presidential intervention can cure. The problem, however, is that Trump already has made the drama worse, by publicly defending Porter and complaining that those deposed by the #MeToo movement have been denied “due process.”
One way for the President to stop the bleeding would be to appear before the press, admit that things could have been handled better and pledge to overhaul the entire background check process. Some crises can be quelled only by a demonstrable exercise of presidential power.
But that kind of personal accountability seems highly unlikely for a President whose personal code precludes him from admitting mistakes. And were Trump to field questions on the issue he would inevitably then face scrutiny over the multiple sexual assault allegations that have been leveled against him.
The President did not respond to shouted questions in two photo ops on Tuesday about whether he believed Porter’s ex-wives, allowing the scandal to gather momentum and disappointing even some of his top supporters.
“I think the President needs to be more forceful here, I do. I think he needs to be more explicit; he needs to be more deliberate in talking about this issue,” said Steve Cortes, a former Trump campaign adviser, on CNN.
“My humble advice to him is he has created an unnecessary distraction here. Let’s acknowledge the real pain of these women. Let’s acknowledge the reality that they were abused,” Cortes said.
If Trump ignores that advice, perhaps Kelly could do the job himself, by appearing in public and accepting that the buck stops with him, and perhaps pledging lessons of the Porter debacle after a full White House review.
The problem with that approach is that it might not work, since Kelly is an integral player in the saga after actively promoting Porter as a key force inside the West Wing in recent months.
And though the chief of staff can be a compelling performer before the cameras, he can also be abrasive — as witnessed when he went after Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, who had complained about Trump’s attitude in a call with the widow of La David Johnson, a US soldier killed in Niger last year.
If Kelly is unable to clean up the mess, the question must then be asked whether it will ever be quelled with him still at the White House.
Although Trump still has confidence in Kelly, according to Sanders, the Porter debacle has clearly made the chief of staff’s grip on his job far more tenuous. The President, moreover, has a history of seeking someone to blame when he slumps into political trouble. It may not be long before Trump eventually concludes that he could sweep the scandal away completely if he replaces Kelly.
That’s why, the longer the pattern of obfuscation, blame shifting, lies and chaotic crisis management continues, it gets harder and harder to see the White House emerging from it with Kelly still in charge.

Published at Wed, 14 Feb 2018 07:16:52 +0000

WH has repeatedly lied about Rob Porter. Here's a timeline.

Top Trump aides, seeking to explain their decision not to immediately take action against senior White House official accused of abusing both his ex-wives, have repeatedly tried to obscure facts about what the White House knew about staff secretary Rob Porter and when they knew about the allegations.
Porter has denied all the allegations against him.
FBI director contradicts White House's Porter timeline
The staff secretary, who has since resigned, was accused earlier this month of abusing both Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby. Holderness, Porter’s first wife, said she was punched in the face by Porter in 2005 and shared photos of the black eye with CNN and other outlets. In an extensive interview last week, Holderness said Porter repeatedly choked her and threw her on the bed while putting his body weight on her using a limb. She revealed that she did not realize the severity of the situation until years into the marriage, when a trained counselor told her Porter’s behavior was unacceptable.
Senior White House aides did not immediately dismiss Porter and claimed that few knew about the allegations against the top aide before the details were published in the media.
Many of those claims were debunked on Tuesday by Wray, the FBI director, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had made the White House aware of the allegations against Porter throughout 2017 and that their investigation into Porter had been closed in January 2018.
Here — based on CNN’s reporting from more than a dozen sources with knowledge of the Porter fallout and public statements made by top Trump officials — is what Trump’s team actually knew when they were trying to clean up the Porter controversy:
  • Tuesday, February 6

    What happened: The Daily Mail publishes its first report on the allegations leveled by staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, at 7:09 p.m. The ex-wives allege physical and emotional abuse, but no photos of the abuse are published in the news article.

    What the White House said:

    • White House chief of staff John Kelly tells the Daily Mail that Porter “is 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.”
    • White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tells the outlet that Porter is “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.

    What they actually knew:

    • Top White House aides knew this story was coming and many — including communications director Hope Hicks and Kelly — worked to prepare a response to the story before it was published.
    • But even though Kelly and Sanders lauded Porter, the White House had months earlier received both Porter’s partial and full background investigation, FBI Director Chris Wray told senators on Tuesday. Wray said the partial report was sent to the White House in March, while the full report was completed in July.
    • Additionally, CNN has reported previously that it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the security clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. Kelly took no action on this information and, instead, saw that Porter’s standing inside the White House was elevated.
    • And Porter told White House counsel Don McGahn in early 2017 that his background check could include derogatory information from the ex-wives, Holderness and Willoughby.
  • Wednesday, February 7

    What happened: Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, tweets a photo of Holderness’ black eye, which she says Porter caused while on vacation in Florence, Italy. The photos were tweeted at 1:53 a.m., marking the first time the disturbing photos were made public.

    What the White House said:

    • The photos sent the White House scrambling, even as some top officials remained staunch supporters of Porter. The Daily Mail then published another story — with the photos — at 10:47 a.m.
    • Sanders, less than 24 hours after issuing a glowing statement about Porter, announces at the afternoon press briefing that Porter had resigned, but that his departure “won’t be immediate.”
    • Sanders — at a briefing that started at 1:32p ET — maintains that “Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the President and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.
    • Sanders reads a statement from Porter that includes a forceful denial: “These outrageous allegations are simply false.”
    • Kelly did not revise his glowing statement of Porter until 9:28 p.m., when he issued a new statement that said he was “shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter.” The statement includes a condemnation of domestic violence — “There is no place for domestic violence in our society” — but Kelly continues to stand by his previously positive comments about Porter.
    • Kelly would later say that it took only 40 minutes for him to see the photos and get Porter out.

    What they actually knew:

    • By this point, the White House had seen the photos and was well aware of the gravity, but Porter, who had resigned, was allowed to stay on at the White House until a successor could be named.
    • Though Kelly would later claim that it took him less than an hour to take action on Porter, it took him close to 24 hours to revise the glowing statement he issued about the now-departed Trump aide — and Porter was not dismissed immediately in light of the photos.
    • Additionally, Porter sat down for an interview with the FBI in the fall of 2017 and the domestic abuse allegations against him were brought up. After the interview, Porter provided more detail to McGahn about what his ex-wives are claiming, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
    • McGahn later learned in September, the source said, that the domestic violence allegations against Porter were causing his full security clearance to be delayed.
  • Thursday, February 8

    What happened:

    What the White House said:

    • At the White House briefing that started at 3:40 p.m., Shah announced that Porter’s last day at the White House was Wednesday — despite the initial plan for him to stay on to find a replacement — and that he cleaned out his desk on Thursday morning.
    • Shah also claimed that Porter’s background investigation “was ongoing” when he resigned.

    What they actually knew:

    • Wray’s testimony on Tuesday undercut Shah’s claim that Porter’s background check was “ongoing” when he resigned.
    • Wray told senators that the FBI delivered its final report on Porter in July and closed its file on the aide in January, well before the White House claimed to have first learned of the gravity of the allegations against Porter.
  • Friday, February 9

    What happened:

    • During a regular morning meeting on Friday, Kelly tells aides that he was responsible for securing Porter’s decision to step down from his position and claims he took action within 40 minutes of seeing the photos that had surfaced overnight showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye.
    • The timeline Kelly provided is countered by how top White House aides acted on Wednesday.

    What the White House said: Trump, during a meeting in the Oval Office with a supporter, makes his first on-camera statement about Rob Porter around 1p.m. ET:

    “We wish him well, he worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now. Now he also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House.”

    What they actually knew:

    • Trump’s claim that he “found out about it recently” is undercut by a wealth of reporting that shows the FBI informed the White House about its concerns regarding Porter, including information that it obtained during interviews with his ex-wives.
    • In March 2017, when the FBI delivered its first report about Porter to the White House, the FBI flagged concerns over Porter’s clearance, two law enforcement officials told CNN on Tuesday.
    • And Kelly’s claim that it took him only 40 minutes after seeing the photos on Wednesday to force Porter’s resignation is also untrue, given the facts known. Porter was initially expected to stay on until a successor was found — a process that could have taken weeks — and Kelly left his glowing statement about Porter unedited for nearly 20 hours after the photos were first published on Twitter.
  • Saturday, February 10

    What happened: Trump laments — via a tweet at 10:33 a.m. — that people’s “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” an apparent reference to Porter.

    What they actually knew:

    • By Saturday, Trump’s top aides were aware of the details and the seriousness with which the FBI and others had treated the allegations against Porter.
    • Trump, though, decided not to mention victims of domestic assault in his tweet, and instead focused on people like Porter, whose “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
    • Sanders said on Monday that “the President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously, and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.”
  • Sunday, February 11

    What the White House said:

    • Marc Short, Trump’s top legislative aide, tells NBC that the White House “had not received a final investigation” when Porter resigned.
    • “The FBI has the ongoing investigations,” Short says. “They have not completed that investigation.”
    • White House counselor Kellyanne Conway adds that Trump is “very disturbed” by the allegations against Porter.
    • “I think he’s very disappointed,” she tells CNN. “I think he believes that the resignation was appropriate.”

    What they actually knew:

    • Wray told the Senate on Tuesday that the background investigation into Porter was, in fact, complete well before Porter resigned.
    • He told the senators that the FBI completed its background investigation in late July. He also said that the FBI was asked for follow up information on Porter in November and closed the file on Porter in January.
    • And though Conway said Trump was supportive of Porter stepping down, his tweet one day earlier seemingly expressed sympathy for Porter.
  • Monday, February 12

    What the White House said:

    • Sanders, again, declines to answer key questions about how the White House handled allegations against Porter, but she does claim that the White House “learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening.”
    • “We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening,” she said. “And within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced.”

    What they actually knew:

    • Wray’s testimony on Tuesday — along with CNN’s reporting since Porter’s resignation — calls Sanders’ claim into question.
    • The FBI says it informed the White House about its concerns regarding Porter in March and later in July.
    • Additionally, around Thanksgiving, Porter’s ex-girlfriend called McGahn to express concerns about his romantic relationship with Hope Hicks and detailed the ex-wives’ abuse allegations.
    • And McGahn was told by the White House Security Office in November 2017 that there are “domestic issues” in Porter’s background, according to a source familiar with the matter. Kelly and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin were also made aware of the domestic issues, the source said, but the White House contends that the “full nature” of the allegations did not come out until later.
  • Tuesday, February 13

    What happened:

    • Wray, in brief comments about Porter before the Senate Intelligence Committee, contradicts the White House’s suggestion that the delay in processing Porter’s security clearance was with the FBI.

    What the White House said:

    • Wray’s comments meant Sanders would have to change her story, so on Tuesday, she admitted that the FBI did complete their investigation. But, she added, the White House Personnel Security office — which Sanders said was staffed by “career officials” — “had not completed their process” on Porter yet.

    What they actually knew:

    • This directly contradicts what Sanders said 24 hours earlier, when she looked to blame the FBI for the backlog in security clearances. “Look, this is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House,” Sanders said. “It’s handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.”

Published at Wed, 14 Feb 2018 04:21:03 +0000