President Donald J. Trump and his White House Chief of Staff, former General John Kelly each came to their current position from different places and a different time.
When Marine General John Kelly was commanding American and Coalition forces in battle in Western Iraq, if he heard that an exceptionally effective aide or company commander had been accused of domestic abuse years before by a former spouse, he probably would not have given it much thought.
Likewise, if real estate mogul Donald Trump while developing a Manhattan property, heard that a talented and loyal employee had been so accused, he would not have thought it any of his concern, so long as the issue did not interfere with job performance.
Some months back Kelly learned that Porter’s permanent security clearance at the White House was held up by accusations of domestic abuse from not one but two ex-wives. In addition to alleged emotional abuse, the first wife reported that Porter had kicked her in 2003 and punched her in 2005, 13 years ago. The second wife obtained a restraining order in 2010, eight years ago, stating that Porter after their separation had come to her home and punched a window.
Kelly held on to Porter until this month, when additional information surfaced, perhaps the photo of an ex-wife with a black eye connected to the 2005 incident. When Porter resigned Kelly called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor.” He added “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.”
Trump also expressed regret at Porter’s departure. He wished him well and said “He did a very good job while he was at the White House.” White House aide Rob Porter was apparently a personable and very useful assistant to Kelly and the President. They were not alone in being impressed by Porter. According to a front page story in the Boston Globe, “Porter was ‘golden boy,’ say Harvard classmates,” a lot of very smart people around Cambridge thought Porter was a pretty spectacular guy during his eight years as a student at Harvard and Harvard Law and a Rhodes Scholar.
Porter still contests the ex-wife’s version of how she got the black eye and says that he was in fact the one who took the photo. There does not seem to have been any criminal charges brought nor has it appeared the allegations were adjudicated in either divorce. In his present line of work, however, Trump was ham-handed to refer to Porter’s troubles as “just allegations.”
Public opinion is a very different environment than a court, however. Multiple complaints and a “confirming” photo, however remote in time, are more than enough to make a point in the forum of public opinion. Trump, Kelly and the White House have dealt very ineffectively with the allegations. Ironically the White House response was probably hampered in part because the Director of Communications, Hope Hicks, was currently dating Porter and recused herself from participation in any discussions of the Porter issue.
Both Trump and Kelly have made the obligatory denunciations of domestic abuse but it is pretty obvious that neither Trump nor Kelly saw the incidents of physical abuse, occurring 13 and eight years previously, as relevant to their assessment of Porter’s usefulness.
This will come as no surprise to Trump’s supporters or detractors. No minds will be changed. Trump will not fire Kelly or accept his proffered resignation. If Trump ever does let Kelly go, it would not be because of the Porter affair but because he chafes at the constraints Kelly has put on Trump’s intuitive and disruptive management style.
Trump’s opponents in the media and elsewhere are in full-throated, outraged pursuit of General Kelly. Make no mistake about it, however. They do not want Kelly out because they think a new Chief of Staff would do a better job. They want Kelly gone because they want the Trump Presidency to fail