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Columnists
COMMENTARY
Kathleen Parker: No security clearance, no problem

When White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday amid allegations that he abused his two ex-wives and a former girlfriend, he parted the curtains on a Trumpian-scale personnel and security disaster.

kathleen parker

Bottom line: You don’t keep people in the White House who’ve been credibly accused of domestic abuse. I’d be the first to argue that an allegation doesn’t necessarily constitute guilt, and there’s been no adjudication of these charges. But there are sound reasons for security checks and, based on what the FBI discovered, Porter didn’t qualify.

Indeed, he never did receive full clearance and remained in the White House as the president’s right-hand man on a temporary permit dating back to his first day on the job. That he remained onboard for more than a year is surprising to all but the White House staff, who, given their cumulative inexperience, may not have realized that people usually are denied employment in far-less significant jobs if they can’t pass security checks.

Exceptions can be made, of course. And the president has the authority to waive a security clearance. But what possible reason could there be to keep someone inside the classified world of the White House under such circumstances? Not only is there reason to question his character, but the overarching message here is that this White House isn’t much concerned about domestic violence.

The simple answer may be that Porter is one of only a few people over on Pennsylvania Avenue who knew how to do anything. For one, he’s well-connected in Republican circles. His father, Roger Porter, worked in three administrations and was, I’m told, top-drawer. The younger Porter, now 40, is a Rhodes scholar who worked for Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Rob Portman and Orrin Hatch, for whom he was chief of staff.

Moreover, at Harvard, he was a classmate of Jared Kushner, who took a class from the senior Porter, who was teaching a class on the American presidency.

Washington, if you haven’t heard, is a small town.

Most likely, Porter was deemed too valuable to the White House given that he, and virtually no one else, including the president and chief of staff John Kelly, understood how the legislative branch of government works. Whatever his military achievements, Kelly may be the least-qualified chief of staff in recent history, including his lackluster predecessor, Reince Priebus, who is Jim Baker by comparison.

It is unclear how events related to Porter unfolded — or didn’t unfold — or who knew what and when. If these questions sound familiar, they shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant. Republicans who were offended by the lack of governing experience of Barack Obama should be equally outraged by this administration’s.

Kelly has pleaded ignorance about Porter’s alleged abusive background, saying he only recently found out about it. But it appears that Kelly was informed last fall and that White House Counsel Don McGahn knew a year ago. The Washington Post reported Thursday: “When McGahn informed Kelly this fall about the reason for the security clearance holdup, he agreed that Porter should remain.”

Meanwhile, comments from the White House, where Porter’s 29-year-old girlfriend, Hope Hicks, is director of communications, have been all over the lot. First, Porter was fired, then he wasn’t, next he resigned, cleaned out his desk and was leaving, but not yet. Porter denied all allegations and claimed he was the target of a smear campaign. But by whom?

Not by his two ex-wives, one of whom had sought a restraining order against Porter during their marriage. Neither of them sought out the Daily Mail, which broke the story. Rather, reporters pursued them, according to the women. But who tipped off the reporters and why talk to them if not for revenge? Or something. The plot doesn’t so much thicken as gurgle and ooze the way swamps sometimes do.

Rumors abound, needless to say. One goes that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who author Michael Wolff claimed once dated Hicks, is behind the smear. Another story line in the Daily Mail involves a former girlfriend warning the White House of allegations against Porter. Pending further revelations, I’ll leave you with a quote from the late, great Kate O’Beirne, pundit emeritus, who used to say, “Never cheat on your mistress.”

Ultimately, assuming you’re feeling disgusted by now, this unfolding story isn’t about bad marriages, philandering or romance. The shock and awe emanating from the White House about Porter aren’t so much a commentary on the man, but are testament to the surreal and potentially perilous incompetence surrounding the president. Nearly every day reconfirms the reality that having once been a chief executive (or a reality TV star) is no recommendation for governance.

P.S. Kushner hasn’t cleared security yet, either.


Columnists
COMMENTARY
Celia Rivenbark: There's still no pet in the White House

There is something mysteriously absent from the White House these days and people are starting to talk about it.

No, not Melania, although that’s a solid guess.

I’m referring, of course, to the lack of a White House pet for the first time in more than 150 years.

Even Vice President Mike “Bonecrusher” Pence has famously installed two cats, a rabbit (with its own Instagram account) and a snake in the official residence on the U.S. Naval Observatory grounds. (You can see the bat signal better from there, I guess.)

Shortly after his election, there was speculation Trump, who reportedly has never had a pet, would welcome to the White House a goldendoodle that had been offered to the family by a Palm Beach pal. A goldendoodle, to those of you who aren’t familiar, is half golden retriever and half cheez doodles. But Patton, named for one of Trump’s “very strong” generals, actually never moved in. The press, following up on the absence of a dog of any kind in the White House, was told Patton’s owner had “fallen in love with the dog” and decided to keep him, despite widespread reports that young Barron Trump was already besotted with the pup.

Hey, I’m not the monster here.

This isn’t as bad as Mitt (“Mitt”) Romney tying the family dog to the top of the station wagon that time but it’s not great.

And, yes, I know that Romney story has a few holes in it. I think the dog was actually glued to the top but whatever.

The only other mention of pets in the Trump White House came early in his first year when Trump reportedly referred to the Pence family’s menagerie as “low class.”

Which makes me think there will never be a White House pet during the Trump years, which are like dog years in that each one feels more like seven years, amiright?

Truth is, with Trump’s personal approval ratings at a record low in January, he may want to reconsider bringing Patton to Washington. Studies have shown dogs make people seem more likable. George W. Bush, faced with growing animosity from a war-weary public, practically used Scottish terrier Miss Beazley as a shield when striding from the White House to hop onto the “whirly riding thingamabob.”

The same tactic was embraced by Bill Clinton, who was hounded by the press before, during and after impeachment proceedings. During that dark time, Clinton was often shown with Buddy the Labrador retriever or Socks the cat. Although, studies have also shown when it comes to generating the most favorable optics, cats are less successful because “dog owners are believed to be less neurotic than cat owners.”

As a lifelong cat person, I find this off-putting and a tad ridiculous. Now please place the “oregano” jar to the left of the “parsley” just as you found it. Must I remind you, once again, that alphabetized spices are all that separate us from the savages?

My work is never done.


Calendar
THIS DATE IN HISTORY

In 1542, the fifth wife of England’s King Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, was executed for adultery.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln was officially declared winner of the 1860 presidential election as electors cast their ballots.

In 1914, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, also known as ASCAP, was founded in New York.

In 1920, the League of Nations recognized the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland.

In 1935, a jury in Flemington, N.J., found Bruno Richard Hauptmann guilty of first-degree murder in the kidnap-slaying of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., the son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Hauptmann was later executed.

In 1939, Justice Louis D. Brandeis retired from the U.S. Supreme Court. He was succeeded by William O. Douglas.

In 1945, during World War II, Allied planes began bombing the German city of Dresden. The Soviets captured Budapest, Hungary, from the Germans.

In 1960, France exploded its first atomic bomb in the Sahara Desert.

In 1965, during the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized Operation Rolling Thunder, an extended bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese.

In 1975, a late-night arson fire set by a disgruntled custodian broke out on the 11th floor of the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center; the blaze spread to six floors, but caused no direct casualties.

In 1980, the 13th Winter Olympics opened in Lake Placid, N.Y.

In 1988, the 15th Winter Olympics opened in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

In 1991, during Operation Desert Storm, allied warplanes destroyed an underground shelter in Baghdad that had been identified as a military command center; Iraqi officials said 500 civilians were killed.