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With key questions unanswered, Porter scandal jolts White House

It's not quite right to say the White House knew about Porter's alleged violence and did nothing. They actually gave him access to highly classified materials.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Porter hands document to Trump during signing ceremony in the Oval Office in Washington
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

Donald Trump's White House is many things, but it's not apologetic. It was therefore a little surprising when Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah held a briefing yesterday and struck a conciliatory tone when asked about the scandal surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned this week in the wake of allegations that he was violently abusive toward both of his ex-wives.

"I think it's fair to say that we all could have done better over the last few hours — or last few days in dealing with this situation," Shah conceded to reporters, on a day in which the White House struggled to keep its story straight.

It's a welcome sentiment, I suppose, though it's worth asking what, specifically, the White House believes it did wrong in this "situation."

For example, one of the things Trump World "could have done better" is take action long before this week. The Washington Post  reported overnight, for example:

White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew one year ago that staff secretary Rob Porter's ex-wives were prepared to make damaging accusations about him that could threaten his security clearance but allowed him to serve as an influential gatekeeper and aide to President Trump without investigating the accusations, according to people familiar with the matter.Chief of Staff John F. Kelly learned this fall about the allegations of spousal abuse and that they were delaying Porter's security clearance amid an ongoing FBI investigation. But Kelly handed Porter more responsibilities to control the flow of information to the president.

When the FBI alerted the White House to some of its findings about Porter, Team Trump didn't act. When Porter's security clearance was delayed, Team Trump didn't act. When one of Porter's accusers contacted the White House with alarming claims, Team Trump didn't act.

What's more, Politico  reported that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "was told several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying full security clearances to multiple White House aides," including Porter. And yet, Kelly not only failed to act, he also vigorously defended Porter when the controversy first came to the public's attention this week.

The allegations of violence toward women weren't a secret. It's just that no one in the West Wing decided to do anything about them.

That said, it's not quite right to say White House officials knew about Porter's alleged violence and did nothing. They actually gave him access to highly classified materials.

As Rachel explained on last night's show, the White House staff secretary is responsible for, among thing, screening every document that reaches the president's desk. In other words, Porter had access to highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis.

That said, he didn't have, and apparently couldn't get, a permanent security clearance. In fact, while he was handling highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis, Porter's ex-wife was telling the FBI that he was a potential target for blackmail.

The White House's position is that Donald Trump had no idea about the allegations surrounding Porter. If that position is a lie, then the president has some explaining to do about why he kept Porter at this position. But if it's true that Trump didn't know, then maybe someone at the White House can explain who cleared Porter to handle secret information as part of his duties. Was it the president?

When Donald Trump, Republicans, and major American news organizations spent two years telling the public that Hillary Clinton's email server protocols were the single most important issue in the nation, they didn't characterize it as an i.t. scandal. Rather, the argument was that Clinton, by receiving sensitive communications through a private email server, was careless with classified information.

Two years later, Trump and his team apparently can't stop being careless with classified information.