Governing with the enemy
WASHINGTON -- When White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday amid allegations that he abused his two ex-wives and a former girlfriend, he parted the curtains on a Trumpian-scale personnel and security disaster.
Bottom line: You don't keep people in the White House who've been credibly accused of domestic abuse. I'd be the first to argue that an allegation doesn't necessarily constitute guilt, and there's been no adjudication of these charges. But there are sound reasons for security checks and, based on what the FBI discovered, Porter didn't qualify.
Indeed, he never did receive full clearance and remained in the White House as the president's right-hand man on a temporary permit dating back to his first day on the job. That he remained onboard for more than a year is surprising to all but the White House staff, who, given their cumulative inexperience, may not have realized that people usually are denied employment in far-less significant jobs if they can't pass security checks.
Exceptions can be made, of course. And the president has the authority to waive a security clearance. But what possible reason could there be to keep someone inside the classified world of the White House under such circumstances? Not only is there reason to question his character, but the overarching message here is that this White House isn't much concerned about domestic violence.
The simple answer may be that Porter is one of only a few people over on Pennsylvania Avenue who knew how to do anything. For one, he's well-connected in Republican circles. His father, Roger Porter, worked in three administrations and was, I'm told, top-drawer. The younger Porter, now 40, is a Rhodes scholar who worked for Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Rob Portman and Orrin Hatch, for whom he was chief of staff.
Moreover, at Harvard, he was a classmate of Jared Kushner, who took a class from the senior Porter, who was teaching a class on the American presidency.
Washington, if you haven't heard, is a small town.
Most likely, Porter was deemed too valuable to the White House given that he, and virtually no one else, including the president and chief of staff John Kelly, understood how the legislative branch of government works. Whatever his military achievements, Kelly may be the least-qualified chief of staff in recent history, including his lackluster predecessor, Reince Priebus, who is Jim Baker by comparison.
It is unclear how events related to Porter unfolded -- or didn't unfold -- or who knew what and when. If these questions sound familiar, they shouldn't be dismissed as unimportant. Republicans who were offended by the lack of governing experience of Barack Obama should be equally outraged by this administration's.
Kelly has pleaded ignorance about Porter's alleged abusive background, saying he only recently found out about it. But it appears that Kelly was informed last fall and that White House Counsel Don McGahn knew a year ago. The Washington Post reported Thursday: "When McGahn informed Kelly this fall about the reason for the security clearance holdup, he agreed that Porter should remain."