Melinda Henneberger

Rob Porter and the Team Trump men’s club: Accused of mistreating women? You’re hired

Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, right.
Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, right. The Washington Post

It’s almost as if domestic violence allegations are a résumé enhancer for the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump’s staff secretary, Rob Porter, who had the power to decide what information would cross the commander in chief’s uncluttered desk, was the second top Trump aide to have been accused of past spousal abuse. A third was out before week’s end.

Back when Steve Bannon was the new CEO of the Trump campaign, the news broke that he had been charged with domestic violence in 1996. But that in no way diminished his influence with the candidate.

Can Team Trump’s indifference to allegations of wife-beating endure in the #MeToo moment? It can, it has and it continues to. White House officials didn’t fire, suspend or otherwise signal they thought any less of Porter after reports that two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend had accused him of physical abuse. Why would they flinch when that was not news to them?

After all, the longtime Republican senatorial aide had been through “a thorough and lengthy background check,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Porter’s ex-wives had told the FBI investigators doing that background check all about the alleged abuse. Porter’s boss, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, reportedly was aware of a 2010 protective order against him.

Yet Porter remained a White House favorite, and even when Porter resigned last week, after calling the allegations “simply false,” Sanders said he hadn’t been pressured to leave.

And if he punched one wife and dragged another out of the shower, oh well?

On Friday, Trump openly bemoaned the tough time Porter’s having, said how sad he is for him and how sad Porter must be, too. He did not happen to mention that years of abuse might make a person sad.

Later that same day, White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned over similar allegations, also denied, that he’d abused one of his two ex-wives.

And on Saturday, Trump remained sad for his former aides, tweeting that men can be “shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”

Presumably, the president can relate. His first wife, Ivana, later withdrew her allegations that Trump had raped her and ripped a handful of her hair out around the time of their divorce. Some 19 women willing to be quoted by name have accused him of harassment and assault in the years since.

Trump, who has bragged about grabbing women but denied all specific allegations, is reportedly still looking for a job for former Carl’s Jr. head Andy Puzder, who took himself out of the running to be labor secretary after reports that ex-wife once went on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and accused him of abusing her. Like Bannon’s ex-wife, she has taken it back.

The president also remains in a mutual admiration society with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was charged with assaulting Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. Like the charges against Bannon, those were dropped as well.

How did all these alleged hotheads slip past the filter? They didn’t.

One of the niceties that this White House has no patience for is the vetting process. “A man of true integrity and honor,” Kelly called Porter after he resigned, and a “friend, a confidante and a trusted professional.” That’s not boilerplate, but protectiveness undimmed by a protective order and red flags from the FBI.

It’s wholly in keeping with Trump’s habit of standing up for alleged abusers, including Mike Tyson, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore and Bill O’Reilly, of whom he said, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

Voters knew all about Trump’s reputation, and waved him in anyway. But after all we’ve been forced to recognize about sexual assault since then, will that collective shrug hold, particularly among women?

Maybe. At this point, every last Democratic woman would walk to the polls in a hail storm. But in my own completely unscientific poll of women who supported Trump last time, six of nine said abuse allegations would never trump policy.

One of the six noted that Bannon, Lewandowski and Puzder are all out now. The only problem being that the president remains all in.

This column originally appeared in USA Today.

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