There are so many problems in making a charge of sexual misbehavior and even more starkly when it comes to accusations of domestic abuse. Not the least of this is when Person No. 1 (usually, but not always, a woman) points the finger at Person No. 2 (usually, but not always, a man). When the man denies the allegations, we often are left with uncertainty over which one to believe. That’s exactly what the administration faced with two key people on the president’s staff — Rob Porter, the man who handled all the presidential paperwork and the most classified material, along with speechwriter David Sorensen. Both were accused by various ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse; both adamantly reject the charges. We are left with the classic “she said, he said” situation.
Unfortunately, it’s what their bosses, particularly chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn, did NOT say that is the problem here. Each should have said, “No way,” as in there’s no way the men should have such critical roles until they could dispose of these matters that are so severe that they were denied full-fledged security clearances, as they nevertheless dealt with state secrets. Both Kelly and McGahn were well-aware. The FBI, which conducts the investigations, made sure they knew. But, for whatever reason, they decided to bring these guys on even with these serious questions about their past.
They’d still be there, except media reports suddenly blew up in their faces. Porter and then Sorensen quickly resigned. There wasn’t even a whimper about “fake news.” There was, however, a discernible roar about the way Kelly, in particular, handled it. Even after the stories spread, he lauded Porter: “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.” The moment a picture was subsequently published showing one of the exes with a black eye, Kelly, the war-hero-turned-Trump-tough-guy, went into full CYA mode. First, he expressed “shock,” then he tried to revise history by saying he had acted immediately.
Why all the hesitation? Was it because such accusations aren’t taken seriously by Trump higher-ups? All POTUS complained about via Twitter was that, “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by mere allegation.” He continued, “Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
What was noteworthy was what was missing from that tweet. There was no indication that he was the slightest bit concerned about what the women who made the claims might have endured. That is widely explained by Donald Trump’s own past with dozens of sordid charges against him.
Another explanation might be that Porter is now dating White House communications director Hope Hicks, who is very close to the boss and exerts tremendous influence herself. There also is a suspicion that normal discussion about full-fledged security clearances are verboten around this president, because son-in-law Jared Kushner doesn’t have one. As with the others, Kushner’s portfolio constantly exposes him to the most classified material.
Much of the glaring focus is on Kelly, the stern Marine general who was brought in to restore as much order as possible to the chaos.
While he certainly has imposed routine where there was none, he’s also revealed himself as a harsh right-winger. He called Robert E. Lee “an honorable man” and expressed the thought that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” That begs the question: What kind of “compromise” over slavery would he have favored? But he is an equal-opportunity bigot, disparaging immigrants whenever he can. No wonder President Trump admires him. Obviously this president is not a huge fan of the “Me too” movement. He’d be more in the “Him Too” category.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.