Trump praises aide amid White House abuse scandal

In this file photo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (L), White House chief of staff John Kelly (C) and ousted White House staff secretary Rob Porter look on. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Trump praises aide amid White House abuse scandal

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Friday praised an former aide accused of battery, amid a scandal that called into question the president’s judgment and tainted his chief of staff John Kelly and long-time aide Hope Hicks.
Allegations against ousted staff secretary Rob Porter prompted a litany of questions about the president’s recruitment and the ethics of the group of people running the world’s only superpower.
Porter — who denies abuse alleged and documented by two ex-wives, one of whom released a photo of herself with a black eye — worked at the heart of the White House throughout Trump’s administration, despite being denied full security clearance.
He only stepped down from his post Wednesday when the accusations became public.
Trump fueled the scandal Friday by praising Porter and suggesting he had a bright future.
“We certainly wish him well and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
“He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him.”
“As you probably know he says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that.”
Chief of Staff John Kelly was aware of the allegations and also praised Porter’s conduct in the White House, maintaining “every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”
Hicks, perhaps Trump’s most trusted aide, had helped craft the response to the scandal as White House communications director, despite being romantically involved with Porter.
“It’s alarming Rob Porter remained in an influential role” said Democratic Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster “even as revelations about his domestic abuse were apparently known among senior Trump staffers.”
“Photos of his battered ex-wife are deeply disturbing. We must know who knew what when.”
Trump was elected promising to bring “the best people” with him to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
In reality, he has struggled to hire high caliber staff, with many experienced Washington operatives keeping their distance.
“A lot of us could have done better,” deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters when asked about the situation — a rare statement of contrition from the Trump White House.
Shah refused to give details about when and how Chief of Staff Kelly in particular became aware of the claims.
“He became fully aware about these allegations yesterday,” said Shah. “I’m not going to get into the specifics, regarding who may have known what pieces of information.”
Shah also refused to give details on the involvement of Hicks — who was reportedly dating Porter — in shaping the White House response.
Until hours before the Harvard graduate left his post, the White House was praising him as an upstanding and integral member of staff.
“Rob Porter has been effective in his role as staff secretary. The president and chief of staff have full confidence in his abilities and his performance,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders.
In an interview with CNN, Porter’s ex-wife Jennifer Willoughby detailed allegations of abuse, saying that during her marriage she lived under a “low-grade constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set something off.”
Asked if she thought allegations against her ex-husband should have stopped him from working in the White House, Willoughby called it a “greater question... for society today.”
“Can we separate a man’s work from his private life?” she asked, calling it “concerning” that the central discussion had been “what did Rob contribute? What was his work?“
“As opposed to, you know, this is a troubled man with issues that needs help.”
Trump’s administration has been beset by scandal and staff departures.
Porter had been a rare staffer inside the White House who knew Washington, was widely respected and was seen as good at his job.


Irish PM urges voters to see through last minute abortion referendum ‘tactics’

Updated 8 min 53 sec ago
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Irish PM urges voters to see through last minute abortion referendum ‘tactics’

  • Leo Varadkar: “What I see now in the final days of this campaign is a tactic by the ‘No’ campaign to try and make out that there is some sort of alternative amendment that we could put into our constitution.”
  • ‘No’ campaigners, which include more than half of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, say the government’s proposals go too far.

DUBLIN: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar accused campaigners opposing a referendum on liberalising Ireland’s abortion regime of trying to dupe voters into thinking the government could still change the laws even if they voted ‘No’.
Voters will be asked on Friday if they wish to repeal a constitutional amendment inserted following a 1983 referendum that enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child, and to enable parliament to set the laws.
Some politicians appealing for a ‘No’ vote have suggested in recent days that if the referendum fails, the constitution could instead be amended again to allow for abortions in cases such as rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.
A complete ban was lifted in Ireland five years ago for cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
“What I see now in the final days of this campaign is a tactic by the ‘No’ campaign to try and make out that there is some sort of alternative amendment that we could put into our constitution,” Varadkar, who is campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote, told parliament.
“I would ask those people 30 years after that amendment was put into our constitution, why has nobody put forward an alternative that would deal with all these hard cases? Why only three days from the vote are people only suddenly raising that?“
“It’s not a realistic alternative. It is just a tactic and I believe the Irish people will see through that.”
While not on the ballot paper, much of the campaign has focused on the legislation Varadkar intends to bring forward if the referendum is carried, which calls for terminations with no restrictions to be allowed up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
That was in line with recommendations made by an all-party parliamentary committee, which came to a more liberal position than some had anticipated after concluding that legislating for termination for reasons of rape and incest was too complex.
The leaders of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, the two largest opposition parties, backed Varadkar in saying amending the constitution for such cases was impossible.
However ‘No’ campaigners, which include more than half of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, say the government’s proposals go too far.
“The government has used difficult, tragic cases to push through extreme abortion on demand. This is why people are increasingly voting “NO” to abortion this Friday,” Clare McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the LoveBoth group said in a statement.
Opinion polls have put those who favor liberalising one of the world’s most restrictive regimes in a clear lead and while there has been some tightening in the margin, two surveys on Sunday showed the ‘Yes’ side pulling further ahead.