Friday Reads: The Days of Palace Intrigue

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

You have to wonder what fresh hell we’ll wake up to each morning.  We continue to find out how deeply the men in this administration hate women and how deeply the women that side with them must hate themselves.  Sarah Sisterwife may still be in good stead, but Hope Hicks appears to be taking heat for dating not one but two serial wife beaters.  What did the men in charge know about these duds and when did they know it?  

A day after White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned amid allegations he physically abused his ex-wives, the Trump administration is still struggling to contain the fallout. The question of who knew what, and when, is being hotly debated in the West Wing. Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose relationship with Trump has been strained in recent weeks, is taking the lion’s share of the blame, as I reported yesterday. On Wednesday night, Donald Trump vented to advisers that Kelly had not fully briefed him on Porter’s issues with women until recently, two sources told me. Trump was also not aware of the severity of the alleged abuse until yesterday, when Ivanka walked into the Oval Office and showed her father a photo published in the Daily Mail of Porter’s ex-wife with a black eye. “He was fucking pissed,” said one Republican briefed on the conversation. According to a source, Ivanka and Jared Kushner have been discussing possible chief-of-staff replacements. The problem is there’s not an obvious candidate waiting in the wings.

West Wing staffers continue to wonder why Kelly would keep the Porter allegations from the president, and why he defended Porter so aggressively when presented with allegations by the Mail. Porter’s history with women had been known to Kelly for months, a source familiar with the matter said. (Porter has been working with a temporary security clearance because the allegations surfaced in an F.B.I. background interview.) According to a source, Kelly at first pushed back when White House officials wanted him to issue a second statement walking back his initial strong defense of Porter. Kelly ultimately wrote that he was “shocked by the new allegations.”

The crisis also raises questions about Hope Hicks’s decision-making, and whether her romantic relationship with Porter clouded her judgment. According to a source, Hicks did not get a sign off from Trump for the White House’s initial statement defending Porter, in which Kelly was quoted calling Porter a “man of true integrity.” She drafted the statement with her close friend, Kushner’s White House spokesman Josh Raffel, whom she’s known since their days working for Manhattan P.R. strategist Matthew Hiltzik. This morning, Hicks continued to defend Porter in private, a source said, telling people she thinks the allegations aren’t true. In recent weeks, Trump has been angry at Hicks for her role in approving interviews with Michael Wolff, a Republican close to the White House told me. (The White House did not respond to requests for comment.)

Kelly is an appalling racist and misogynist who continually outs himself in public. But, why on earth would Hicks defend Porter?  

President Donald Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Hope Hicks, his communications director and one of his closest confidantes, amid the fallout from the Rob Porter scandal, people familiar with the matter say.

Meanwhile, the President has told associates he’s dismayed at how the allegations involving his former staff secretary accused of domestic abuse were handled, but he isn’t certain how to solve the mushrooming controversy, a person familiar with the conversations tells CNN.
Trump was not consulted when Hicks and several other aides drafted a White House statement defending Porter, and he is under the impression that Hicks has let her romantic relationship with Porter cloud her judgment, a source familiar said.
In the aftermath, Trump has told associates he feels that Hicks put her own priorities ahead of his. However, there is little to indicate that Hicks’ standing is in jeopardy.
Speaking during the White House briefing on Thursday, spokesman Raj Shah said Hicks had recused herself from some matters related to the Porter fallout. Porter was in the building for a short period to clean out his desk, Shah said.
Hicks continued to privately defend Porter to her White House colleagues Thursday, a source familiar said.
General John Kelly stands clearly in Trump’s cross hairs.  It appears that it’s more for bringing more unkind press to his life than for actually making a series of bad decisions and announcements.

The Rob Porter crisis has become a John Kelly crisis, and it has now totally engulfed the West Wing. White House staff — especially Porter’s close friendship circle —are shell-shocked by the allegations of domestic abuse by the departing aide. President Trump is enraged about the situation, though he still feels that it hasn’t touched him.

The bottom line: Trump’s affection for his chief of staff is gone, and Kelly has lost the goodwill of much of his staff. The president is mulling potential replacements, though aides doubt he has it in him to actually fire the retired general.

Where it stands: Kelly still has not adequately answered when he became aware of the horrific allegations against Porter. Nor have the other senior officials who should have had visibility over this: White House counsel Don McGahn and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin.

The official White House line — that Kelly only became “fully aware” of the domestic assault allegations when the Daily Mail story broke — doesn’t pass the smell test.

  • Both of Porter’s ex-wives told the FBI about their claims.
  • There was a police report.
  • There was a restraining order.
  • There are photos.
  • All of this was part of his background checks which never passed muster.

The big picture: In any major corporation in America, Porter would have been escorted out the door the minute senior officials learned of these allegations. Everyone is entitled to their day in court, but in no normal corporation or White House could somebody continue serve under these conditions. And there is no organization in America more important than the White House.

Yes, but: It’s probably not enough to get Kelly fired — because unlike other Trump aides, Kelly never wanted the job in the first place and would never fight to save it. And as a source close to the president told me, “That changes Trump’s calculus.”

What we’re hearing: It’s not surprising that Trump would make noises about getting rid of Kelly. But sources close to the president don’t believe he has it in him to actually pull the trigger.

  • Yes, Kelly frustrates Trump. Yes, Trump complains about him. Yes, the two have never developed the  personal chemistry — full of off-color jokes and nicknames like Hopey (Hope Hicks) and Reincey (Reince Priebus) — that Trump has formed with some of his other advisers.
  • And yes, there’s not a ton of personal affection for Kelly across the White House staff.
  • But everyone respects the service of a man Trump calls “a tough cookie.” And Kelly’s four star status inoculates him from the normal reaches of Trump’s wrath.

“Trump is not going to fire him,” the source close to the president said. “And does Trump have the stomach to do what he normally does when he’s fed up with them? He usually makes their lives miserable, publicly humiliates them. But now he’s up against somebody who doesn’t care and would happily leave.”

Others in the White House knew of the abuse allegations.  They knew Porter was unable to get any kind of security clearance.

White House counsel Don McGahn knew a year ago that Rob Porter’s two former wives were preparing to testify to the FBI that he had abused them. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about the domestic abuse allegations as early as November 2017. Other powerful administration figures may have been aware earlier than that.

No one took action.

Porter resigned this week as the allegations become public, including a photo of one of his wives with a black eye. But the White House defended him again and again, and President Trump told reporters today that Porter has claimed to be innocent and “will have a great career ahead of him.”

The White House’s inaction — and recent defense of Porter — bring to light a major conflict within the conservative movement in the age of Trump. While House Speaker Paul Ryan touts his support for bipartisan legislation to end harassment and misconduct committed by members of Congress, and other Republicans make changes within their own offices, the Trump White House is not even paying lip service to reform.

Instead, they’ve housed Porter, accused of spousal abuse, and Steve Bannon, also accused of spousal abuse (whom Trump nicknamed “Bam Bam” because of it), and backed an Alabama Senate candidate accused of molesting or assaulting minors.

It’s even said Kelly knew about Porter and knew he’d never get clearance.

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 who had been working in the West Wing on interim security clearances.

Those aides, according to a senior administration official, included former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left the White House on Thursday after reports that he physically and verbally abused his two ex-wives.

The White House chief-of-staff told confidants in recent weeks that he had decided to fire anyone who had been denied a clearance — but had yet to act on that plan before the Porter allegations were first reported this week.

Kelly’s inaction has produced what may be the deepest crisis of his seven months on the job, unleashing a cascade of questions about whether Trump – who was accused by multiple women during the 2016 campaign of sexual impropriety – and his closest advisers take violence against women seriously at a time when the #MeToo movement has called other politicians, media moguls and entertainment icons to account.

The revelations about Porter included photographs of his first wife with a black eye she said he gave her on a trip to Italy. Kelly initially defended Porter, who has been romantically involved with White House communications director Hope Hicks, before expressing shock over the allegations on Thursday.

Those close to Kelly say they’re puzzled about why the former Marine general, whose singular focus since joining the West Wing in July has been to eliminate irregularities and chaos, failed to follow through on his determination to push out aides denied a permanent clearance.

Still, a lot of gossip is still circling Hope Hicks too. What was she thinking?

President Trump‘s communications director Hope Hicks has now been romantically linked to not one but two ousted Trump aides who have been accused of violence against women.

The Daily Mail reported last week that Hicks, 29, has been dating former top aide Rob Porter, 40, who resigned on Wednesday amid allegations of abuse from his two ex-wives.

The newspaper published photos of Hicks and Porter recently enjoying dinner and drinks with Ivanka Trump and others at Rosa Mexicano in Washington, D.C., before appearing to return to Hicks’ apartment alone together.

The Daily Mail said Hicks and Porter did not sit next to each other at the restaurant but that an eyewitness spotted them kissing and cuddling in the back of a taxi on their way home.

According to The Daily Mail, speculation that the two were romantically involved started last month, after Hicks and Porter were seen at a Washington, D.C., area church service on Jan. 7. Though Hicks is Roman Catholic and Porter is Mormon, they were reportedly seen praying together.

This is what happens when you let a man of low values and character with absolutely no skill set or emotional maturity surround himself with people that he doesn’t feel threatened by. I’m really tired of the chaos, the bigotry, and the daily outrage.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

and for something a bit more uplifting …

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