Kathleen Parker: 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.”
Meanwhile, comments from the White House, where Porter’s 29-year-old girlfriend, Hope Hicks, is director of communications, have been all over the lot. First, Porter was fired, then he wasn’t, next he resigned, cleaned out his desk and was leaving, but not yet. Porter denied all allegations and claimed he was the target of a smear campaign. But by whom?
Not by his two ex-wives, one of whom had sought a restraining order against Porter during their marriage. Neither of them sought out the Daily Mail, which broke the story. Rather, reporters pursued them, according to the women. But who tipped off the reporters and why talk to them if not for revenge? Or something. The plot doesn’t so much thicken as gurgle and ooze the way swamps sometimes do.
Rumors abound, needless to say. One goes that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who author Michael Wolff claimed once dated Hicks, is behind the smear. Another story line in the Daily Mail involves a former girlfriend warning the White House of allegations against Porter. Pending further revelations, I’ll leave you with a quote from the late, great Kate O’Beirne, pundit emeritus, who used to say, “Never cheat on your mistress.”
Ultimately, assuming you’re feeling disgusted by now, this unfolding story isn’t about bad marriages, philandering or romance. The shock and awe emanating from the White House about Porter aren’t so much a commentary on the man, but are testament to the surreal and potentially perilous incompetence surrounding the president. Nearly every day reconfirms the reality that having once been a chief executive (or a reality TV star) is no recommendation for governance.
P.S. Kushner hasn’t cleared security yet, either.