White House Chief of Staff John Kelly may have deliberately misled the American people about what he knew about Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s history of spousal abuse.
The London Daily Mail broke the story about Mr. Porter’s spousal abuse on Tuesday and that evening, in a statement from his office, Kelly said, “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.”
Even the next morning, when more details were learned about Porter’s behavior, White House staff told reporters that Kelly remained in support of Porter and requested that he remain in his position. Later, Kelly misrepresented his actions, telling West Wing staff in a meeting that he took decisive action about Mr. Porter within 40 minutes of learning that Porter’s former wives stories of abuse at his hands were credible.
In a damning statement on Wednesday, when the Trump White House no longer had any plausible deniability, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders told reporters that, “I can tell you that Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary, and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.” The questions directed to her from journalists, was not about Porter’s “abilities” or his “performance”. They were about what the administration knew about Porter’s personal history of battery and psychological abuse of former wives.
Senior White House aide Rob Porter physically assaulted two ex-wives, they tell @theintercept. Full story to come in the morning.
His first wife, Colbie Holderness, provided these photos from a vacation they took together in Florence, Italy: pic.twitter.com/tl3TbyGA8Y
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) February 7, 2018
Mr. Kelly and other White House officials, had seen pictures of Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, with a black eye that was the result of Porter punching her in the face and had seen the restraining order that Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby had to file against Porter, secured from a court on an emergency basis.
Yesterday, a report by Beth Reinhard and Josh Dawsey at the Washington Post, disclosed information indicating that John Kelly had known about Porter’s domestic abuse for months and that White House Chief Counsel, Don McGahn had known about it for at least a year.
Adding credence to the information Reinhard and Dawsey reported was White House spokesperson, Raj Shah’s refusal to tell reporters specifically when John Kelly first became aware of the abuse charges. But it was considered curious that Shah added the statement that Kelly, had only become “fully aware” of the allegations yesterday. “Fully aware”, in the view of administration critics, implies some state of awareness prior to the revelations in the Daily Mail account on Tuesday.
The FBI commenced a customary background investigation of Porter in January of last year, that is part and parcel of providing the high level security clearance that is considered essential to the job of organizing and routing paperwork to the Chief of Staff’s office – material that often includes classified documents. What might have been a routine investigation, hit a snag shortly after it began, because both of Porter’s ex-wives reported domestic abuse episodes committed by Mr. Porter.
In April 2017, Jennie Willoughby, on an online journal, described the abuse as “insidious” and the “terror” as real – and further detailed the treatment she received from Porter during her marriage to him, including this summary:
“The first time he called me a ‘fucking bitch’ was on our honeymoon. (I found out years later he had kicked his first wife on theirs.) A month later he physically prevented me from leaving the house. Less than two months after that, I filed a protective order with the police because he punched in the glass on our front door while I was locked inside. We bought a house to make up for it. Just after our one year anniversary, he pulled me, naked and dripping, from the shower to yell at me.”
An ex-girlfriend of Porter’s, who has also communicated with Porter’s ex-wives, backs up their accounts of Porter’s demeanor with women he is in a relationship with. In a letter to Porter’s ex-wife, Ms. Willoughby in February 2016, she said that, “Rob was abusive, degrading, a liar and a cheater and during the course of my relationship with him, I found out that he was to others, too.” Later, corresponding with Ms. Holderness in December 2016, the former girlfriend revealed, “I work in politics, and despite Rob’s repeated abuse, some of which I think many know about, he continues to rise and I’m afraid to go against him.”
Rob Porter never received anything other than an interim security clearance – a red flag to national security experts. But the Washington Post added that Jared Kushner doesn’t have a full clearance either and that dozens of other White House officials are in the same boat.
The issue with Kushner, involves the fact that the president’s son-in-law, has amended his SF-86 disclosure form several times, after being confronted with evidence of meetings with Russian officials that he did not originally disclose.
Bradley Moss, legal specialist on federal law dealing with security clearances, told Politico that ,“The concept of interim clearances was created for somebody in a position of importance to be able to come on board and start working right away while the investigation ran its course. I’ve never heard of somebody just being allowed to sit on an interim clearance indefinitely. It runs contrary to the entire concept of the clearance process.”