White House aide Rob Porter—whose title was “staff secretary” and who was reportedly tasked with, among other jobs, filtering all the written material that Donald Trump sees—resigned Wednesday after two publications reported that his two ex-wives have both accused him of physical abuse. One of the strange aspects of Porter’s resignation is that, at least when the first story about the allegations broke Tuesday night, top Trump officials issued statements vouching for Porter’s character and seemingly implying that his job was not at all in danger. Wrote chief of staff John Kelly:
Rob 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.
And press secretary Sarah Sanders:
I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.
This statement was issued by the White House at the same time and attributed to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Porter’s former boss:
It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on any publication that would print this — and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name. I know Rob. I’ve known him for years, both as a close friend and as a personal advisor. He is kind and considerate towards all. The country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter, which is why I hope that this cynical campaign to discredit his character ultimately fails.
(For his part, Porter says the allegations against him are “simply false.”)
All these statements—particularly Hatch’s!—seem like the kind of things officials say when they’re closing ranks around someone who intends to counterattack against a storm of bad PR—and, in fact, the Washington Post reported Wednesday that “many senior officials, including Kelly, urged Porter to stay” in his job at the White House rather than quit. It’s a stance seemingly incompatible with the extent of the allegations made by Porter’s ex-wives in interviews with the Intercept, which the site corroborated via other sources. Both the Intercept and the Daily Mail also published graphic photos of a bruise that ex-wife Colbie Holderness says she sustained after Porter punched her in the face; the Intercept moreover says both women told the FBI about Porter’s alleged abusive behavior “last year” when they were contacted in reference to his prospective security clearance.
We don’t know when and if the FBI conveyed the results of its investigation to White House officials. However, Politico reports that chief of staff John Kelly was aware of a 2010 protective order that one of Porter’s accusers applied for, while CNN reports that the White House was “generally aware” of “the nature of these allegations … for months.” In sum, the administration not only left Porter in his job after finding out at least some of what he was accused of, it was prepared to stand by him from a public-relations standpoint even when it knew at least some of those accusations—which are credible and detailed—were going to be aired publicly. What gives? Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has one plausible-seeming theory:
For its part, Orrin Hatch’s office has done a total 180. Here’s Wednesday’s statement:
I am heartbroken by today’s allegations. In every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional, and respectful. My staff loved him and he was a trusted advisor. I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable.
That’s less than 24 hours after calling Porter’s ex-wives “morally bankrupt character assassins”! It would seem that there’s more to come about who in Washington, D.C. knew about Rob Porter’s history, and when they knew it.