Goldberg: Rob Porter is Donald Trump's kind of guy

Goldberg: Rob Porter is Donald Trump's kind of guy

February 12th, 2018 by Michelle Goldberg/New York Times News Service in Opinion Times Commentary

In this Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, center, hands President Donald Trump a confirmation order for James Mattis as defense secretary, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, watches. Porter is stepping down following allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Last Wednesday, we learned that during a 2017 background check for the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, his two ex-wives both told the FBI that he had abused them.

The White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly knew about those allegations, which are said to be the reason the FBI never gave Porter a full security clearance, ordinarily a prerequisite for his job. Nevertheless, Porter's past was apparently not considered a problem inside the White House until it became public. This tells us quite a bit about how seriously this administration takes violence against women.

Even after The Daily Mail broke the story, Kelly reportedly urged Porter not to resign, though he did anyway. In the White House briefing room Wednesday, President Donald Trump's press secretary, Sarah Sanders, read a statement from Porter calling his ex-wives' accounts "simply false" and part of a "coordinated smear campaign."

The staff secretary reads everything that goes to the president's desk; it's one of the most sensitive jobs in government.

It's hard to see why Kelly, who was supposed to be the disciplined adult in this administration, would cover for Porter. Unless, that is, he genuinely couldn't grasp that domestic violence is a big deal.

To be fair to Kelly, this administration has made it clear that it's not. Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness after a 1996 altercation with his second wife; the case was dismissed when she didn't show up to testify against him.

Then there's Andy Puzder, the former head of Carl's Jr. and Trump's first nominee for labor secretary. He withdrew after a tape emerged of his ex-wife, in disguise and using a pseudonym, speaking about being abused on a 1990 episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" titled "High Class Battered Women." (She later retracted the claims.)

Trump himself was accused of domestic assault by his first wife, Ivana Trump, in their 1990 divorce deposition, obtained by one of Donald Trump's biographers, Harry Hurt III. In "Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump," Hurt wrote that Donald Trump became enraged after scalp reduction surgery left him in pain, and blamed his then-wife, who had recommended the doctor. Hurt describes Trump pinning back Ivana's arms and ripping out her hair by the handful "as if he is trying to make her feel the same kind of pain that he is feeling." Then, she told friends, Trump raped her. (Ivana Trump later issued a statement saying she hadn't meant rape in a "literal or criminal sense.")

It's fair to think that Trump sets the bar for what's considered acceptable in this White House. Porter's father, Roger Porter, a Harvard professor who worked for presidents including Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, once wrote of how presidents create administrative cultures: "Scholars of management today write much about the 'tone at the top.' Like all presidents, Gerald Ford established a tone that permeated the executive branch." Trump, evidently, established one as well.

Porter once worked for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and in The Daily Mail, the senator categorically dismissed the accusations and, whether he meant to or not, the women making them. "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," he said.

Later, after a photo of one of Porter's ex-wives was made public, Hatch issued a statement saying that domestic violence is "abhorrent." But after that, he gave an interview in which he said he hoped Porter would "keep a stiff upper lip" and not resign.

It's not really a surprise that Hatch, who once said that Trump's presidency could become the greatest ever, would treat serious allegations of abusing women as a personal foible unrelated to one's professional capabilities. You basically have to see things that way to support Trump in the first place. The reasons that Porter didn't belong in any White House are the reasons he fit in in this one.

The New York Times

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