White House strug­gles with abuse vet­ting mess

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Christi Par­sons Tri­bune News Ser­vice

WASHINGTON >> Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump broke his si­lence on the sub­ject of spousal abuse Wed­nes­day, declar­ing pub­licly that he is “to­tally op­posed to it” — but spoke out only as a scan­dal con­tin­ued to fester over the White House han­dling of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence al­le­ga­tions against a for­mer top aide.

For more than a week, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has proven un­able to con­vinc­ingly an­swer ques­tions about how of­fi­cials failed to re­spond to ac­cu­sa­tions of phys­i­cal abuse levied by two ex-wives against Rob Porter, who un­til last week served as a key White House of­fi­cial.

On Wed­nes­day, Congress en­tered the pic­ture as Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., an­nounced that his House Over­sight Com­mit­tee was launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find out what and when the White House knew about the al­le­ga­tions. He vowed that he’d ei­ther get an­swers or “a re­ally good rea­son” why there weren’t any.

“I am in­ter­ested in how some­one with cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic abuse, plu­ral, can be hired,” Gowdy said.

He added that he had ques­tions about the in­terim se­cu­rity clear­ance Porter had re­ceived, which al­lowed him to con­tinue to work in the White House and han­dle highly clas­si­fied ma­te­rial even af­ter the FBI had in­di­cated that he would be un­likely to re­ceive a per­ma­nent clear­ance.

A con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion could keep the con­tro­versy in pub­lic view for weeks or months, an unattrac­tive prospect for the White House.

Within hours, the pres­i­dent, who had shunned ques­tions all week, was talk­ing, con­demn­ing all forms of vi­o­lence within fam­i­lies.

“I am to­tally op­posed to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence of any kind,” Trump said. “Every­one knows that, and it al­most wouldn’t even have to be said.”

His choice to say it any­way in­di­cated that Trump rec­og­nizes the harm the Porter case has done to his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Of­fi­cials had wanted to spend this month claim­ing credit for the econ­omy and push­ing Trump’s in­fra­struc­ture plans.

In­stead, the news has fo­cused on whether his chief of staff, John Kelly, had known of the ac­cu­sa­tions against Porter and ig­nored them or had been neg­li­gent in not ask­ing why Porter hadn’t re­ceived a full se­cu­rity clear­ance.

Un­til Wed­nes­day, Trump’s only com­ments had been to lav­ish praise on Porter and ques­tion whether men ac­cused of mis­con­duct were be­ing de­nied due process. Those re­marks and tweets height­ened out­rage among women and many men across the coun­try.

AS DAY AF­TER DAY passed with­out the pres­i­dent per­son­ally ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, GOP strate­gists be­gan to voice con­cern about the po­ten­tial ef­fect on this year’s midterm election.

The Porter case raises par­tic­u­lar prob­lems for Trump be­cause of his own his­tory of hav­ing been ac­cused by mul­ti­ple women of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

On Wed­nes­day, a for­mer porn star, Stormy Daniels, who re­ceived a $130,000 pay­ment from Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, said she now felt free to talk about her his­tory with Trump be­cause the lawyer had pub­licly con­firmed mak­ing the pay­ment. The lawyer, Michael Co­hen, said Tues­day that he had made the pay­ment shortly be­fore last year’s election, but said the money did not come from the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Daniels has pre­vi­ously said she had an af­fair with Trump that be­gan when his wife, Me­la­nia, was preg­nant.

If Trump didn’t see trou­ble com­ing, his fel­low Repub­li­cans seemed to have sensed it. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said he con­sid­ers it Gowdy’s “proper job” to look into the Porter case.

And Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence told a re­porter that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has “no tol­er­ance for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, nor should any Amer­i­can.”

In a rare break with ad­min­is­tra­tion practice, he ex­pressed re­gret and sug­gested that feel­ing hadn’t come upon him sud­denly.

“I think the White House could have han­dled this bet­ter,” Pence said. “I still feel that way.”

Oth­ers in the White House ad­mit­ted the same thing, though no of­fi­cials have of­fered to spell out what they think a bet­ter course of ac­tion might look like.

THERE WERE SIGNS that the White House vet­ting process was sud­denly tougher, but in an un­ex­pected man­ner. Ge­orge David Banks, an of­fi­cial at the White House’s Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil, an­nounced he was step­ping down. He said he was do­ing so af­ter dis­clos­ing that he had used mar­i­juana sev­eral years ago. Like many other em­ploy­ees in the White House, Banks was work­ing on an in­terim se­cu­rity clear­ance while in­ves­ti­ga­tors ex­am­ined his back­ground.

Also on Wed­nes­day, an in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port said that Veter­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin had im­prop­erly ac­cepted tick­ets to the Wim­ble­don ten­nis tour­na­ment and brought his wife on a Euro­pean trip at tax­payer ex­pense. Shulkin was an un­der­sec­re­tary in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — which was proud of its vig­or­ous vet­ting — for 18 months be­fore Trump took of­fice.

NEW YORK TIMES / AUG. 4

One week af­ter White House Staff Sec­re­tary Rob Porter re­signed amid spousal abuse al­le­ga­tions, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day said he was “to­tally op­posed to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,” his first con­dem­na­tion of the al­leged con­duct be­hind a scan­dal that has en­gulfed the White House. Above, Porter, left, Chief of Staff John Kelly and se­nior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner walk to­gether at the White House in Washington.

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