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Rep. Trey Gowdy

White House: Art of the Lie

Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 15, 2018

Disclosure that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has opened an investigation into the Rob Porter saga, actually provides the first note of sanity in the out-of-control and seemingly pointless lie-fest going on at the White House.

Gowdy said that he was “troubled by almost every aspect” of Porter’s employment at the White House as secretary to the president, and wanted to talk to all involved to determine the timeline for decisions made and those avoided in putting a domestic abuser without a permanent security clearance in possession of the country’s most secret documents.

Please remember that Gowdy is a tough, intimidating prosecutor, with previous notable outings in the Benghazi affair targeting Hillary Clinton’s decision-making, and, recently, as the only Republican to actually have read the documents behind the memo issued — and oversold — by Rep. Devlin Nunes (R-CA) about possible FBI and Justice Department missteps in getting special approvals for surveilling Trump associate Carter Page.

Gowdy, who recently announced that he will not seek re-election to return to courtroom work, is bound to bruise more than a few egos in this effort, including those of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly Jr., White House counsel Donald McGahn and possibly the president himself. He said that he was also interested “in what the F.B.I. learned and, perhaps connected with that but also perhaps separately from that, who at the White House knew what, when did they know it and what, if anything, was done about it.”

Now this particular political soap opera, with its barrels full of public lying, finger-pointing and, actually, some actual worry about security in the White House, just refuses to go away. Personally, I’ve watched it, and waited in vain for the president to speak out against domestic violence and, just for show, to express some concern about who’s seeing top secret documents. Remember, Trump was adamant that Hillary be jailed for allowing a handful of documents classified after the fact to be copied onto a non-secure computer.

Apparently, none of that professional confessing is going to happen.

The summary line for those who have been at sea for the last couple of weeks is that word arose from two ex-wives of Porter (and a former girlfriend), saying that Porter serially abused them. One even had photos. Porter, meanwhile, had won “golden boy” status from Kelly and President Trump as the official presidential secretary, handling every paper that the president sees. But he never was granted the clearance levels allowing him to see those papers, and therein were the seeds for a nice, delicious little operetta about who said what to whom and when.

Kelly apparently tried to get White House staff to lie for him to cover the fact that Kelly had intentionally ignored entreaties from the FBI that Porter was a candidate for blackmail because of his abusive past; everyday this last week, the White House has offered a different explanation until on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray nailed them for squirming.

The White House messaging has been a particular casualty of the week. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been widely criticized for uttering a series of untruths; just for icing on the cake, Communications Director Hope Hicks, who participated in drafting the original White House statements, actually is now dating Porter.

Nevertheless, other than finding a daily personal moment of exquisiteness in seeing White House folks wriggling on the rotisserie, I do wonder which of the various issues involved actually is keeping the issues front and center. For myself, for example, I’d like to think that the notoriety following the prominence of the violence done to these women, was central. But then, the White House might have to acknowledge that there have been allegations about the president himself, which is unlikely to happen.

Then there were the words uttered aloud by the president, leaning heavily on worry about men accused in sexual assaults rather than on women who said they had been assaulted. As offensive and ill-timed as the presidential remarks have been, those too are mostly being seen as just another Trump-ist back of the hand for women. Nevertheless, the president finally spoke yesterday, saying he was “totally opposed to domestic violence,” his first condemnation of the alleged conduct behind the Porter scandal. As such, the remarks were seen as too little too late.

More than most other issues the easiest explanation for its continued prominence is the concern in the case about Porter’s missing security clearance, as well as that for Jared Kushner and maybe dozens of others. The idea is that Trump and Kelly, the former four-star Marine general, are deciding who can see top secret documents based on whether they like the person rather than on passing the required FBI background check. In so doing, Kelly and the president are seen as less than truthful about the chronology involved, or about how the processes of vetting those handling the nation’s secrets get approved in this White House.

Also yesterday, a third White House staffer who lacked a permanent clearance quit. George David Banks, who had been a special assistant for the National Economic Council, was told by the White House counsel’s office that past marijuana use disqualified him from getting the clearance. Earlier, speechwriter David Sorenson had quit over domestic abuse allegations.

All of this has put Kelly’s job in jeopardy, with Trump apparently sounding out others about a possible successor. While I don’t really care if Kelly stays or goes, my mind spins a bit at the thought that it was Kelly who was brought in to keep things in the White House operating on a rational, calm, business-like basis. Of course, Kelly came in to replace Reince Preibus, and, among his first acts were to undercut Stephen Banning, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci and Kellyanne Conway.

If it were not the Oval Office, you might find all of this akin to a Moliere parody.

In any event, those looking to Make America Great might look elsewhere.

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