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.


Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

Updated 20 August 2018
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Focus shifts to rescues as rain abates in India’s flood-hit Kerala

  • An estimated 800,000 people have taken shelter in some 4,000 relief camps across Kerala
  • 800,000 people have been displaced and over 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century

KOCHI, India: Torrential rain finally let up in India’s flood-hit Kerala state on Sunday, giving some respite for thousands of marooned families, but authorities feared an outbreak of disease among around 725,000 people crammed into relief camps.
Incessant downpours since Aug. 8 have caused the worst floods in a century in the southwestern state, and close to 200 people have perished in the rising waters and landslides.
The India Meteorological Department forecast heavy rainfall in only one or two parts of Kerala on Sunday and withdrew a red alert in several districts.
Using boats and helicopters, India’s military led rescue efforts to reach people in communities cut off for days, with many trapped on roofs and upper floors, in desperate need of food and clean water.
A Reuters photographer on a naval helicopter said water levels had receded in villages around the city of Kochi.
Rescue teams were focused on the town of Chengannur on the banks of the Pamba River, where about 5,000 people are feared to be trapped, officials said.
Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said the total number of people taking refuge at the 5,645 relief camps had risen to 725,000.
Thirteen deaths were reported on Sunday, he added, taking the total number confirmed to nearly 200.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at Kerala’s health department, said authorities had isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, nearly 250 km (155 miles) from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
He said the department was preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps.

DESTROYED
Kerala, which usually receives high rainfall, has seen more than 250 percent more rain than normal between Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. State authorities have had to release water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into the main river.
As the rain abated on Sunday morning, 60-year-old T P Johnny visited his home in Cheranelloor — a suburb of Kochi situated on the banks of the Periyar river — to see when he and his family could return.
“The entire house is covered with mud. It will take days to clean to make it liveable. All our household articles, including the TV and fridge have been destroyed,” he told Reuters.
The beaches and backwaters of Kerala are top destinations for domestic and international tourists, but far fewer visit during the monsoon season.
Kochi’s airport is closed due to waterlogging, and Jet Airways has arranged additional flights from Thiruvananthapuram for passengers holding confirmed tickets from Kochi.
India’s national carrier, Air India, will operate ATR flights from the naval airport in Kochi to Bangalore and Coimbatore, starting Monday.
Late on Saturday, the chief minister had said that there was no shortage of food in the state as traders had stocked up before a local festival.
“The only problem is transporting it,” he told reporters. “The central government and public have cooperated well in this effort to fight this disaster.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, where many Keralites work, has also offered assistance to the state. Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani has also announced $5 million aid.
($1 = 70.09 Indian rupees)