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.


Death toll nears 400 in India’s flood-hit Kerala, dozens missing

People rescue their goats in a country boat at Kuttanad in Alappuzha in the southern state of Kerala, India, Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. (AP)
Updated 21 August 2018
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Death toll nears 400 in India’s flood-hit Kerala, dozens missing

  • Kochi’s airport has suspended operations until further notice
  • The insides of many homes will have about 60 cm of mud

KOCHI/NEW DELHI, India,: The death toll in India’s southern state of Kerala rose on Monday to nearly 400 after its worst flood in a century, as authorities handed out medicine and disinfectants to ward off disease in thousands of relief camps.
Dozens of people are missing and 1.2 million are sheltering in the camps, state officials said, as water receded and a huge clean-up gathered pace.
“The death toll has risen to 373,” an official of the state’s disaster management authority told Reuters.
Kerala received rainfall more than 40 percent greater than normal for the monsoon season, which runs from June to September. Torrential rain in the last 10 days forced officials to release water from dozens of dangerously full dams.
The Indian government classified the floods as a “calamity of severe nature.” Kerala has pitched it as a national disaster, which if accepted by the federal government, is likely to prompt greater commitments of funds for relief and rebuilding efforts.
But, without a yardstick for such a declaration, it could be an uphill task, state officials involved with disaster management said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the flood one of the worst in India’s history, displacing more than half a million people.
Federal health minister J.P. Nadda said more than 3,500 medical camps were set up across a region roughly the size of Switzerland, where rains since Aug. 8 have swelled rivers and triggered landslides.
“There is a requirement for 90 different medicines and the first instalment has reached,” he added.
“The biggest challenges immediately ahead are cleaning of the flood-hit houses, rehabilitation, and prevention of water-borne diseases,” said Mahesh P., a village official in Rayamangalam, about 45 km (28 miles) from Kerala’s financial capital of Kochi.
Mahesh oversees four relief camps in his village, which itself escaped flood damage. The camps accommodate people rescued from neighboring areas, which were among the worst affected.
The villagers had all pulled together to rescue people and prevent an even bigger disaster, Mahesh said.
“The flood has bonded the people like never before, sharing whatever they had.”
Chlorine powder to disinfect water and other cleaning material are distributed by the camps Mahesh oversees, along with a basic survival kit consisting of a five-day supply of rice and food, toiletries and clothing.

LONG QUEUES
Light to moderate rain was expected across Kerala on Monday, promising respite to rescue workers, who have battled rising waters and mudslides to reach tens of thousands of stranded villagers.
In one of the worst-hit areas, Chengannur, about 100 km (62 miles) from Kochi, a long queue of women snaked out of a medical camp at the main relief center.
As a helicopter hovered overhead, doctors checked elderly men and women lying on wooden benches in an engineering college.
“People are being screened for respiratory infections,” said a camp doctor, Rajesh Parameshwaran, adding that another infection doctors were targeted was leptospirosis, which can strike people wading through stagnant water.
Those returning home from the camps as the waters recede face a difficult clean-up.
The insides of many homes will have about 60 cm (24 inches) of mud, officials said. Wells, commonly used in Kerala, are contaminated and few places have electricity to pump water.
Kochi’s airport has suspended operations until Sunday. National carrier Air India on Monday began flying turboprop planes from the city’s naval airport to the cities of Bangalore and Coimbatore in neighboring states.
To assist passengers, India’s aviation regulator asked domestic airlines to cap maximum fares to and from Kerala and nearby airports.
Kerala faces no shortage of food, at least. Traders had stocked up before the Hindu harvest festival of Onam on Saturday, the chief minister said.
Kerala has canceled all official celebrations of what is usually its biggest festive event.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party, urged Modi not to discriminate between states controlled by his Bharatiya Janata Party and those such as Kerala, which it does not rule.
The state, ruled by the communist party, has received just a third of the immediate assistance of 20 billion rupees ($285 million) it sought from the federal government.
($1=70.0900 Indian rupees)