EDITORIAL: On domestic abuse, no White House leadership
The issue of domestic abuse landed with a thud in the Oval Office last week as it was disclosed that White House staff secretary Rob Porter had been accused by not one but two ex-wives of domestic assault.
In its reaction to these allegations, the White House revealed itself to be about, oh, 15 years behind the times. Concern has centered thus far not on the alleged victims, or a vetting process that evidently allowed Porter access to highly classified information, but … on Porter himself.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stood by his charge when the Daily Mail of London first broke the story last week. And then some. He issued a statement saying, in part, “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him. … I am proud to serve alongside him.”
That’s running some serious defense, considering Kelly is reported to have known, at least broadly, for months that the abuse allegations existed. In fact, concerns about Porter's ex-wives’ accounts prevented him from obtaining a full security clearance from the FBI — some 13 months into his duties.
That the person in charge of managing what information lands on the president’s desk does not have full security clearance is bad enough. (And it is bad; there may well be national security complications ahead.) That his boss has a good idea what was preventing that clearance and gave a full-throated defense in the wake of such heinous allegations is stunning — and raises additional questions about White House operations in general and Kelly’s judgment in particular.
So does the fact that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks reportedly helped craft Kelly’s response. She and Porter have been dating — another distracting relationship in this anything-goes White House.
It wasn’t until a later story included a photo of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye that Kelly and Co. showed Porter the door. (He had resigned following the initial public disclosure but — in another display of the White House’s ham-handed handling of this entire affair — was to stay on for the foreseeable future, purportedly to help groom a replacement.)
Added to this drama was the resignation of a second White House staffer, speechwriter David Sorenson, also amid domestic abuse allegations.
It is, frankly, one big mess. And President Trump didn’t help on Saturday when he took to his favorite 280-character social media platform to seemingly defend Porter and Sorensen.
"Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation," the president wrote ungrammatically on Twitter. "Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"
No mention of the alleged victims. That’s disappointing but it’s not surprising. Facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct himself, Trump is not exactly a disinterested voice in the ongoing #metoo conversation.
And that’s the problem. The leader sets the tone and, when it comes to domestic abuse and sexual misconduct, the president by his own word and the words of many alleged victims is, at best, tone-deaf.
So he continues to defend Kelly, whose judgment is being called into question even by fellow Republicans. He continues to lament the damaged reputations and careers of men accused of barbarous behavior while offering nary a scintilla of concern for their victims. He continues to offer reflexive cries of “fake news” to stories that document past and present misdeeds by himself and his administration.
And he continues to lord over a White House that worries more about managing fallout and protecting its own than about addressing, or even fully acknowledging, serious issues like domestic abuse.