Often one of the most insidious elements of domestic violence is the secrecy. The abuse occurs behind closed doors. The abuser is adept at concealing. The victim — out of shame or fear or both — stays mum. But not knowing is an excuse that is not available to the White House in explaining why it shielded and defended a top presidential aide credibly accused of domestic abuse. The White House knew of disturbing allegations involving staff secretary Rob Porter. Apparently it just didn’t much care.
Only when a photograph of the battered face of one of Porter’s ex-wives was made public Wednesday did Trump administration officials recognize that his continued employment was no longer possible. Even then, the acknowledgment was somewhat begrudging. “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know,” said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after accepting Porter’s resignation. Those comments: “A man of true integrity and honor. ... I can’t say enough good things about him.” This, after the Daily Mail published harrowing accounts of abuse — denied by Porter — from former wives Jennie Willoughby and Colbie Holderness.
The White House, as has become clear from numerous news accounts, had known about the allegations against Porter since late last year. They contributed to a delay in his receiving a permanent security clearance. But no one seemed to be fazed — neither by an accused wife beater working in the Oval Office nor, almost as startling, by someone lacking a full security clearance working for a year in the high-ranking, sensitive job of presidential gatekeeper.
Congressional Democrats have been trying for months to get information about the administration’s security-clearance process, including the number of aides granted interim clearances because of issues uncovered in background checks by the FBI. On Thursday, three Senate Democrats called for an investigation into how the administration determines access to classified information. Republicans need to join in that effort and insist on answers from the White House about the process as well as the particulars of Porter’s case.
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Given this president’s history on women’s issues — the “Access Hollywood” tape, accusations from women who say they were manhandled by Trump, his embrace of an alleged molester of teenage girls for a U.S. Senate seat — it is not particularly surprising that there was not a greater revulsion at the horror of domestic violence. White House officials professed shock about the allegations against this smart, charming and diligent man, but the sad fact is that domestic violence is all too common. On average, nearly 20 people per minute — more than 10 million a year — are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, estimates the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
No doubt there will be political fallout from these events. Kelly’s critics already see an opening to get the knives out. What hopefully will not get lost is the need for women to speak up — and an urgency that, when they do, they will be listened to, as they were not, for too long, in this case.