Rob Porter Shows That in Trumpworld, Nothing Is More Convincing Than a Man’s Denial

From sexual assault to spousal abuse, if you just insist it didn’t happen, that’s good enough for this White House.


Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beas

“He denied it” is a pretty flimsy defense.

No judge in a criminal court would dismiss a case simply because the accused entered a “not guilty” plea. No suspicious girlfriend would accept a lover’s easy-to-debunk denial of infidelity. No parent would allow his child to avoid punishment by claiming it wasn’t they who put their Furby in the dishwasher and broke it.

And yet, it’s the first line of defense for a White House that can’t seem to stop aligning itself with men credibly accused of sexual misconduct, predatory behavior, and misogynist bullying. When you’re a man in Trump’s orbit, a denial counts as exoneration.

Today, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned after a pair of stories alleged that he had a history of domestic abuse. The first story ran last night, after two ex-wives came forward to The Daily Mail. Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness told the British tabloid that Porter “was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive and that is why I left.” Porter’s second wife Jennifer Willhoughby gave the Mail a similar story. Willhoughby filed a temporary protective order against Porter in 2010, when he refused to leave their apartment and punched through a glass door.

Porter told the Mail that the allegations were “slanderous and simply false.”

And, at least publicly, that appeared good enough for the White House. Chief of Staff John Kelly called Porter “a man of true integrity and honor.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Porter was “someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character.”

Today, Porter resigned right before The Intercept ran its own version of the story: Holderness’s account of abuse at the hands of Porter, who she says punched her in the eye when the couple was vacationing in Florence in 2005. Holderness provided The Intercept with photos of the injury. The Intercept also spoke with one of Holderness’s friends, who says she confided in her while the abuse was ongoing.

The Intercept further reported that the FBI knew about Porter’s abusive past. The FBI knew because both of Porter’s ex-wives told law enforcement about the abuse during his pre-White House background check. (He has yet to receive a full security clearance, according to reports.)

At today’s press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement from Porter that didn’t deny the abuse whole cloth, but said that said the accusations against him were exaggerated and  “vile” parts of a “smear campaign.” Sanders further clarified that Porter hadn’t been pressured to resign; he did it himself.

If Porter were a one-off, his would be a sad footnote in a flailing administration. But the Trump political machine has been plagued with accusations of sexual misconduct, bullying, and misogyny since long before Trump was elected.

Campaign manager-cum-professional sycophant Corey Lewandowski was seen on video yanking then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields’ arm. Lewandowski claimed he “never touched” Fields and Trump stuck with Lewandowski even amid his easy-to-debunk denials. (Pro-Trump singer Joy Villa would later accuse Lewandowski of slapping her on the butt. No word from Trump on that.)

Former Trump campaign chair Steve Bannon was accused of domestic violence by an ex wife back in the mid-1990’s. He denied it and ran the campaign to its successful conclusion.

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The White House threw its support behind Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore even after a smattering of deeply-reported stories alleged that he had preyed on teenage girls while he was in his thirties. From the White House podium, Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed out to reporters that their support of Moore was fine, since he’d denied the allegations. Trump himself said Moore “totally denies it.”

On Saturday, January 20, casino mogul Steve Wynn cohosted a fundraiser for his good friend Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, alongside Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the RNC. Less than a week later, the Wall Street Journal ran a bombshell of a story detailing decades of alleged sexual abuse, including a $7.5 million settlement to a manicurist who says Wynn pressured her into sex. Wynn resigned as CEO of the publicly-traded Wynn Resorts today, saying the “negative publicity” made it impossible to do his job. He still denies the allegations, saying that his ex-wife Elaine Wynn somehow engineered the story in a dispute over the business.

Donald Trump has not yet disavowed Wynn. The RNC said today that it will not donate the hundreds of thousands Wynn gave to the party in the last decade. Instead, they’ll wait for the results of an investigation from the Wynn Resorts board to determine his guilt or innocence. (An investigation already happened. The famously liberal rag Wall Street Journal did it. It found that Steve Wynn is essentially the Harvey Weinstein of Vegas.)

Which brings us to Trump. The President has been accused of sexual misconduct and abuse by 19 women. He denies he did any of that, and his denial has been all the proof the White House thinks any of us should need.

Looking at the big picture, it’s hard to ignore the pattern that’s emerged. Porter, Moore, Bannon, Wynn, Trump, Lewandowski-- at every turn, the Trump campaign or White House has taken a man’s denial over a woman’s word, even if that woman’s word is backed by reputable news reporting, video footage or contemporaneous pictures.

Everyone speaking on behalf of or in defense of Trumpland abusers is being poisoned by the absurd misogyny of it all. It’s never he-said-she-said; it’s he-said, she-said-they-said, and team Trump has always given more weight to the former than the latter.

This, mind you, doesn’t appear to be just a Trump-thing either. According to Axios, Porter’s resignation today came after some in the White House encouraged him to “stay and fight,” including John Kelly.

That’s the same John Kelly who, back in October, took to the White House podium to defend President Trump’s condolence call to the grieving widow of LaDavid Johnson. Johnson’s widow (and the family’s congresswoman, Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson) had claimed that Trump didn’t even know her husband’s name during the call. Trump said he did. Wilson said that she was in the car with the woman, and that he did not. Kelly defended Trump by outlining how it feels for grieving families receiving condolence calls (Kelly’s son was killed in action). He then condemned Wilson’s comments, saying the phone call should have been “sacred.”

“You know, when I was a kid growing up,” Kelly said, “a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.”

No, it’s clear not the case anymore.