The Rob Porter scandal continues to plague the White House with a new report from Axios saying that the former White House Staff Secretary is telling friends and associates that “some senior White House officials strongly encouraged him to ‘stay and fight,’ and claims he ‘never misrepresented anything’ to Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Depending on which story you believe or what day you heard it on, Porter either resigned or was fired after allegations — and incriminating photographs — of physical and psychological abuse of his two ex-wives surfaced.
The story may have just been a minor blip in the litany of horror stories that unfold from the Trump administration on a daily basis were it not for a couple of salient details in the bungled response from the White House.
Firstly, there’s the ever-changing story of what White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly knew about Porter’s behavior, when he knew about it, and how he reacted to the public disclosure of the allegations.
Then, there’s President Trump’s public display of dismay at the fate of his aide, with the President wishing Porter well and expressing sorrow at the fact that careers can be ruined by mere allegations while completely ignoring Porter’s victims and the photographic evidence of physical abuse, and declining to use the opportunity to denounce domestic violence.
With General Kelly under scrutiny for his handling of the matter and with President Trump reportedly displeased enough with his Chief of Staff to be complaining to his coterie of billionaire buddies about him and soliciting ideas for a replacement, Kelly has clumsily attempted to shape the narrative of his response to Porter’s misdeeds.
Kelly reportedly instructed his staff to say he took “immediate and direct action” once he learned the details of Porter’s ex-wives’ claims, but according to Axios the stories told by Kelly and by Porter are now differing significantly.
According to Kelly, Porter lied to him about the contents of the story published in the U.K. tabloid The Daily Mail, which first broke the story of the abuse allegations. Porter told Kelly about the upcoming story in advance of its publication, describing its contents as an account of messy divorces that would include claims of abuse. Kelly swears that he specifically asked Porter about whether physical abuse was involved and that Porter denied it.
In Kelly’s account, he believed his subordinate and then issued a statement praising Porter enthusiastically as a person with great integrity. Once the Daily Mail story was released, however, and the extent of the allegations was as clear as the black eye that Porter gave to his first wife, Kelly says that he then told Porter that he had to resign and informed the President of his decision.
Porter’s version of the story is somewhat different.
He claims that he told Kelly that The Daily Mail story “would be bad,” but that the allegations of physical abuse were untrue, and yet he also claims that he “never misrepresented anything” to Kelly.
Porter says that he offered to resign as soon as the Daily Mail story was published, but that “some senior White House officials urged him to ‘stay and fight’.” Porter then offered to either leave immediately or after a brief transition period, whichever Kelly and Trump preferred. He says that he only learned of his final fate from the news reports since no one at the White House contacted him to confirm when his last day would be.
With conflicting accounts of the White House reaction to the revelation of the Porter scandal and Kelly’s continued role in the administration uncertain, the credibility gap in the White House has gone from a Grand Canyon-sized rift to the size of the Mariana Trench.
If senior White House officials did indeed urge Porter to “stay and fight,” something that President Trump’s comments on the matter seem to indicate was not an unthinkable scenario, then the misogyny and hypocrisy of the Republican party in terms of sexual abuse and misconduct will be an albatross they’ll be wearing around their necks throughout the mid-term elections. And women voters are not particularly attracted to candidates with the rotting corpse of a dead seabird draped across their shoulders.