For President Donald Trump, the allegations that his now-former staff secretary was a serial domestic abuser are another #HimToo moment.
Never mind the FBI background check that found the allegations and restraining order credible enough to delay Rob Porter’s security clearance, or the close-up photos of the black eye Porter’s ex-wife says he gave her on vacation in Italy.
To the president, sitting in the Oval Office on Friday, the victim here seems to be Porter.
“It was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he’s also very sad now,” Trump told reporters. “He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent so you have to talk to him about that.”
Trump made no mention of the women. No denunciation of domestic abuse to line up with Vice President Mike Pence, who initially told reporters he’d catch up with the Porter drama when he gets back to Washington from his trip to the Winter Games in South Korea, only to later clarify in an interview with NBC News: “There’s no tolerance in this White House and no place in America for domestic abuse.”
Trump has been down this road before—many times— starting with two dozen women who’ve alleged he sexual harassed or assaulted him. His ex-wife Ivana Trump claimed once in a deposition that he raped her, in a rage over bad hair plugs. She later said she didn’t mean “rape” literally.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), a former district attorney and one of the more outspoken members in Congress about women’s issues, said she isn’t surprised, given Trump’s handling of accusations dating back to the 2016 campaign that he himself groped or assaulted women.
“Of course he never believes the women—he can’t,” Rice said. “Donald Trump’s presidency is built on people not believing women. If people start believing women, maybe they’d think about believing any of the dozen-plus women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment.”
But Trump has said their stories don’t matter. The White House has adopted that as its official line too.
“The people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in December. “The American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process.”
Trump took the position that the women who stepped forward last fall to air decades-old abuse claims against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore were just up to partisan tricks. For days on private phone calls last November, Trump fumed to supporters and allies in Congress about how strange he found it that women were stepping forward 40 years after the fact to accuse Roy Moore of child molestation.
Then he let loose one day on his way onto Marine One.
“Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said 40 years ago this did not happen.”
It’s part of a pattern in which Trump only defends one side in disputes between men and women over sex and violence: the men.
When a female reporter said Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed her arm and threw her to the ground, Trump’s response was, “Who said they were bruises from that? How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?”
He said he’d reviewed the video of the incident.
He went on: “To me, you know if you’re going to get squeezed, wouldn’t you think that she would have yelled out a scream or something?”
He did not express any sympathy for the female reporter or regret about the incident.
The week after Roger Ailes resigned from Fox News in the summer of 2016 when the sexual harassment allegations became overwhelming, Trump rallied to his defense: “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them.”
Trump’s response to reports of payouts over sexual harassment by fired Fox News host Bill O’Reilly: “He is a good person.”
His assessment was that O’Reilly, “a person I know well,” shouldn’t have settled. Because, Trump said: ‘“I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
They’re not alone.
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon was accused of abuse by his ex-wife. That didn’t stop him from getting his job in the White House, wasn’t the reason why he left and didn’t have anything to do with why he was excommunicated from the Trump orbit (at least for a stretch) after “Fire & Fury” came out.
Andy Puzder’s nomination as Labor secretary was derailed by decades-old allegations that he beat his former wife, but that hasn’t stopped him from coming back into consideration for a West Wing job currently that doesn’t require confirmation. White House officials say they don’t see why it would stand in his way, privately saying he’s a great guy and widely respected. They point out the ex-wife recanted.
The exceptions: a 2012 tweet in which Trump wrote “If @rihanna is dating @chrisbrown again then she has a death wish. A beater is always a beater—just watch!”
Then, of course, in the case of Al Franken. The difference between Trump and Franken, Sanders reasoned at a press briefing last fall, was that Franken had apologized, and therefore admitted his guilt.
That made the scorn that led to his resigning his Senate seat reasonable, she said.
Porter hasn’t admitted anything or apologized. But he has resigned. Or maybe he was fired. The White House story has changed over the week, along with its account of who knew about the complaints, and how Kelly found a man who was known for beating women in fits of rage to be a stabilizing force in this White House.
In a moment when “believe the women” has become a rallying cry, a new mentality for the country, Trump does not.
So what was his message to women at this pivotal moment in the country’s history, Trump was asked in November.
“Women are very special. I think it’s a very special time because a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society, and I think it’s very, very good for women. And I’m very happy a lot of these things are coming out, and I’m very happy it’s being exposed.”
But other than declaring to Piers Morgan in an interview last month that he isn’t a feminist, Trump hasn’t mentioned anything about women since.
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