White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (L) reminds U.S. President Donald Trump he had a bill to sign after he departed quickly following remarks at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Team Trump still can’t get its story straight on Porter scandal

It’s now been a week since the public first learned about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s alleged violence toward his ex-wives. In theory, Donald Trump and his team have had plenty of time to examine how they handled the matter and get their story straight.

It’s not going well. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced this question during yesterday’s briefing:

“Tuesday night, when the initial story came out, the White House praises Rob Porter. Wednesday morning, photos come out. The White House stands by its statement. Wednesday afternoon, the White House continues to praise Rob Porter. And Chief of Staff John Kelly says he acted 40 minutes within knowing the allegations. Can you explain that?”

She couldn’t explain that. White House officials have given competing explanations of when they learned about the allegations and when they responded to the allegations. At different times, they’ve said Porter chose to resign and was forced out. Their timeline, meanwhile, lacks any kind of consistency.

Politico  reports this morning, meanwhile, that after reports of Porter’s alleged domestic violence reached the public, the White House arranged an off-the-record briefing between the aide and several reporters, allowing him to push back against the claims. This appears to be completely at odds with John Kelly’s “40 minutes” claim, which was already a mess.

Making matters slightly worse, the L.A. Times  reported yesterday, “Over and over again the past few days, various White House aides have buttonholed reporters to tell them – anonymously – that they think Kelly either lied to them or tried to get them to lie about what he knew when.”

Fine-tuned machine, indeed.

There is, of course, a broader significance to this that extends beyond one former West Wing aide who’s been accused of violent domestic abuse – allegations he denies. There’s also the fact that Trump World doesn’t exactly have a reservoir of credibility it can lean on when confronted with controversies like these.

A Washington Post reporter asked rhetorically over the weekend, “What happens when there’s an external crisis and the White House needs the American people to believe what it says?” The answer, I suspect, is that much of the public would respond with justifiable skepticism.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/12/18, 9:24 PM ET

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Chris Lu, who ran the 2008 Obama presidential transition, talks with Rachel Maddow about how a normal presidential transition handles necessary security clearances ahead of taking office.
Complicating matters, as Rachel highlighted on last night’s show, is the fact that Trump World’s handling of the Porter matter is only part of the controversy: there’s also the fact that this White House gave Porter day-to-day access over highly sensitive, classified materials, despite the fact that he couldn’t get permanent security clearance because of his alleged violence toward women.

How exactly did the former staff secretary get temporary clearance? From whom? Were the rules waived? Why? Was the president involved?

A week into the scandal, the number of questions the White House hasn’t answered is going up, not down.

Scandals and White House

Team Trump still can't get its story straight on Porter scandal