The story of Rob Porter has escalated from a personal and domestic trauma to one about failed White House vetting, and this time President Trump seems to be blameless. The damage would be compounded if it blows up the vast improvement that Chief of Staff John Kelly has brought to the West Wing.
Mr. Porter resigned this week after news broke that he was accused of abusing two former wives during their marriages. The truth of the accusations is impossible for an outsider to know at this point, and Mr. Porter has denied the allegations as “vile” and part of a “coordinated smear campaign.”
But by all accounts the allegations were holding up Mr. Porter’s security clearance, which he needed in the crucial job of staff secretary who controls the daily paper flow to the President’s desk. Both ex-wives say they shared this information with the FBI a year ago, and the Daily Mail is reporting that Mr. Porter’s former girl friend spoke to Mr. Kelly about the allegations in October.
The White House review process served the President poorly. The FBI typically takes such charges, and its impact on a security clearance, to the White House counsel’s office, whose job is to determine if those charges are disqualifying. They are automatically so if a clearance is denied, unless the President himself overrules the FBI.
One issue is whether anyone told any of this to Mr. Trump, who brought reporters into the White House Friday to wish Mr. Porter well and say his former aide had denied the accusations. We also don’t know what Mr. Porter told White House counsel Don McGahn or Mr. Kelly when confronted with the charges. But they ought to have recognized that sooner or later such allegations would become public—and that when they did it would embarrass the President.
Already New York Democrat Nydia Velazquez tweeted that the Porter affair exposes “a culture of misogyny” at the White House. But even before the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, such serious accusations from three women would have driven someone out of such a prominent White House job.
The White House also handled this badly, issuing shifting and even contradictory explanations about who knew what and when. It didn’t help that an early statement of support from Mr. Kelly was drafted in part by Hope Hicks, the White House communications director who is dating Mr. Porter. Mr. Kelly initially said, “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Part of the tragedy is that this description seems to have been true about Mr. Porter in his White House role. A Rhodes Scholar and former senior aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, the 40-year-old has helped Mr. Kelly bring order to the White House after the first six chaotic months of what amounted to the Steve Bannon Presidency.
Mr. Trump has to decide if he’s lost confidence in his senior staff, but we hope he knows that stability is crucial as he navigates a perilous second year. The Robert Mueller probe may soon reach a crescendo, and Democrats are in single-minded pursuit of House and Senate majorities that would cripple his Presidency. At least until this episode the McGahn-Kelly team has been part of this White House that has worked, and Mr. Trump won’t find it easy to replace them.