More troubling questions have arisen about Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who resigned yesterday in the wake of stories that he physically abused his two ex-wives and that they suffered bruises because of it and had photographs documenting them. Although his title of ‘staff secretary’ makes him sound like an underling who merely typed memos, did the photocopying, and made coffee, that is misleading. The job is actually a very important one because all information to the president passes through the staff secretary. As such that person has to work very closely with the president’s chief of staff. People who have held this position before Porter have subsequently gone on to other important positions.
The reason that few have heard of the post of staff secretary and the names of the people who have previously held the post is because the person is supposed to be neutral about the issues and is tasked with ensuring that the material that gets to the president fairly represents the views of all the relevant parties. Thus they are expected to keep their opinions to themselves and so never give interviews to the media. But because they see everything that the president sees, they must have the highest security clearance. I heard an interview on NPR where a former staff secretary said that at least 20% of all the material that passed through her hands required the highest level of security clearance for her to be allowed to read them. She could not imagine how she could have done her job without that level of clearance.
And that is where there is a problem with Porter, as Alleen Brown, Ryna Grim, and Matthew Cole report, because his abuse resulted in the FBI not giving him the necessary permanent clearance.
Doing that job without proper security clearances borders on impossible, said a former senior White House official who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about an internal matter, and Porter’s temporary clearance should not have allowed him to view sensitive documents he would need to keep paper flowing. In at least one case, Porter requested documents but was refused, because he did not have clearance, according to the former White House official. The situation raises questions about whether the White House allowed to Porter to handle highly classified information — Porter’s reported temporary clearance should not, for instance, have allowed him access to “top secret” material.
At the time, last summer, that Porter was denied the documents, the source said, the reason for the lack of clearance — the abuse allegations — was known to White House officials.
Yet Porter remained in his position, operating on an interim clearance, and accumulating more and more responsibilities even as high-level officials learned about his former partners’ allegations of abuse.
So how could Porter have done his job properly? Was he given access that he should not have had? If so, who allowed it? The most obvious target is John Kelly, the chief of staff. The article goes on to allege that powerful people in the White House, including Kelly and chief counsel Don McGahn, were aware a long time ago of the abuse allegations but worked to protect Porter.
There is also, as so often seems to be the case with the Trump White House, a soap opera element to the story. Porter is the current boyfriend of White House communications director Hope Hicks, a Trump favorite, who crafted the initial response providing strong support for Porter before the whole thing quickly crumbled. But before that she was having an affair with Corey Lewandowski, a former White House aide and now unofficial advisor to Trump, and he has been accused of leaking the information about Porter’s abuse to the media as part of a smear campaign, possibly out of jealousy of his rival.
So will Kelly be fired? Will Hicks dump Porter now that he is out of a job? Will Lewandowski seize his chance to win over Hicks again by leaving his own wife and their four children?
Tune in tomorrow for another episode of As the White House Turns!