A morally compromised White House staffer may have had access to America’s top secrets. Chief of Staff John Kelly has some explaining to do.
The allegations against Rob Porter, the recently departed White House staff secretary, are morally disturbing. Multiple ex-wives have accused him of abusive behavior, and while he disputes those accusations, the FBI found them credible enough to deny him a security clearance – and there are pictures of one of his exes with a black eye that she claims was delivered by him.
At the time, Sorensen’s career was on the fast track. On Nov. 18, a month after Lauren LePage’s wedding, the governor hired Sorensen as a policy adviser whose portfolio included domestic violence. Gov. LePage has called domestic abuse, which he suffered as a child,“the most heinous of all crimes in society.” Domestic violence accounts for roughly half of Maine’s homicides, according to state statistics.
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For White House and the National Security Council staff veterans, the revelation that Porter did not have a full security clearance raises a number of real questions that must be answered. Those questions speak directly to the safety of America’s most sensitive intelligence officers and most dangerous operations.
Having worked at the White House — including both at the National Security Council and alongside the staff secretary – I believe Porter-gate has all the markings either of a very high security breach or a highly unusual staff structure. It also raises real questions about how Trump White House staff under both Reince Priebus and John Kelly managed sensitive information, and what both of them knew about the allegations against Porter and when they knew it.
As staff secretary, Porter held one of the most important, and under-appreciated, positions at the White House. The staff secretary normally is responsible for managing all information that flows to the president – usually including the secrets known only to a small handful of people – principally, President Trump and Chiefs of Staff Priebus and Kelly, and National Security Advisers Michael Flynn and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
News reports indicate that Porter was granted an “interim security clearance.” That certification is, indeed, quite common in the early days of an administration. Likewise, almost any new government employee who comes in contact with classified information – Secret, Top-Secret, and Top-Secret/Code Word intelligence – goes through this “interim” phase.
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If an employee receives an interim security clearance, he or she is allowed by law to serve in positions designated “National Security/ Non-Critical Sensitive” or “National Security/Critical Sensitive.” They cannot, however, be given a “Special Sensitive” job, which requires a different level of clearance: Top Secret/Special Compartmentalized Information – also known as TS/SCI or TS/CodeWord.
Only employees with TS/SCI or CodeWord clearance can see our government’s most important secrets. Typically, the staff secretary is one of those very few people. One of the most important.
It means that the most highly classified secrets in the U.S. government are limited to a very finite group of people. U.S. human intelligence sources may be embedded deep in the government offices in Beijing, or Tehran, or Moscow or Pyongyang – capitals that the Trump administration has identified as America’s prime competitors. If we have sources in those places, they are likely transmitting secrets back through secure channels to Washington. They would typically be given code words — say, Panda, Minaret, Ballerina and Kimchi.
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Within each of those channels, only a handful of people has access to top secret information. Those pieces of information are the high holy data of intelligence. Like the Host in a Catholic mass, they are the flesh and word of our all-knowing government — literally, the lives and intelligence of our deepest and most sensitive sources. Each channel is “compartmentalized.” That is, there are very few people who have access to both the Panda channel and the Ballerina channel.
Only a very, very select group of people has access to all of those channels, and the information that flows through them. That intelligence gets pulled into a daily intelligence summary that goes to the Oval Office – the President’s Daily Briefing – and to a select small group of people. Agents and sources in the field are willing to put their lives at risk only if they believe that the information will be limited to a very limited group of people – among the most trustworthy in the world.
In the White House, other than the president, it likely to only be the national security adviser, his or her deputy, their chief of staff and the NSC’s staff secretary. It would also include the White House chief of staff, perhaps one deputy, and the staff secretary — the job Porter held. Press reports also indicate that Jared Kushner had access to that information.
The staff secretary is the person who manages the paper flow to the Oval Office. It is hard to imagine that person does not have TS/SCI level clearance, as that would require the NSC staff to navigate around the staff secretary, rather than through him/her.
In Porter’s case, the interim security clearances had been temporary: 180 days with the option for extension (another 180 days). Porter appears to have started on January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day. Assuming he was given that “interim” clearance on Day 1, it would have expired on January 15, 2018.
He said that while he had hoped never to have to discuss his ex-wife and their tumultuous marriage, “this incident is an opportunity to highlight the grossly underreported and unacknowledged issue of female-on-male domestic violence.”
The fact that Chief of Staff Kelly — a former military officer and former secretary of homeland security — would not have seen this as a problem is staggering. He would know better than anyone that managing highly restricted information is essential to American national security.
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Every person who has access to the most sensitive pieces of intelligence must be supremely trustworthy — capable of being kept in the highest cones of silence. If they leak information, they potentially jeopardize lives of intelligence agents or sources in the field.
So, in essence, Kelly either (a) allowed a key aide in the chain of information access to TS/SCI information without a clearance, (b) waived the process entirely or (c) created a system that worked around him.
If Kelly knowingly allowed Porter access to TS/SCI information without formally approving it, that’s an extraordinary security breach.
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If Kelly waived off the TS/SCI restrictions, he likely would have done that formally — including either with the White House counsel, the FBI, or the president himself. That would require understanding fully the reason Porter was still “interim” – a restraining order preventing him from contacting a former wife who alleged that he physically abused her.
Most defendable is that Kelly allowed a system for moving information — from August 2017 through February 2018 — that simply worked around the staff secretary. Porter needed to have been kept out of the loop for any truly sensitive material going into the Oval Office. That would have required a highly disciplined NSC staff which, in essence, would have had to have final control over all Oval Office paper flow.
So, in the coming days, it will be critical to know whether Priebus and Kelly, Flynn and McMaster, and/or the president himself knew about Porter’s security clearance status. Based on that knowledge, did they allow him access to Top Secret/CodeWord intelligence, including the President’s Daily Briefing? If they did know, and they allowed it, what made them feel so secure about Porter?
If they did not know, then who exactly at the White House is protecting our national secrets?
William J. Antholis is CEO & director at UVA’s Miller Center. He served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration, and served as deputy to Todd Stern, who headed up the White House climate change team while serving as staff secretary.
Jennifer Willoughby, the second wife of President Trump’s staff secretary Rob Porter has spoken on the record to DailyMail.com about her abusive marriage to the man described as one of the most important players in the Oval Office.
Willoughby, 39, told DailyMail.com she was ‘walking on eggshells’ during their marriage due to his explosive anger.
Porter’s first wife Colbie Holderness confirmed to DailyMail.com: ‘He was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive and that is why I left.’
Last week, DailyMail.com revealed that Porter has been dating White House Director of Communications Hope Hicks.
When reached for comment, Porter told DailyMail.com: ‘I will not comment about these matters, beyond stating that many of these allegations are slanderous and simply false.’
Trump’s “incredible cocoon of privilege and ego … blinds him to the sheer horror of his statements in defense of Mr. Porter,” Rather said.
John Kelly, Chief of Staff, commented: ‘Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.’
‘I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character,’ Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told DailyMail.com.
On Friday, White House speechwriter David Sorensen also resigned after his ex-wife accused him of physically abusing her.
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‘Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.’
Willoughby – who bears more than a passing resemblance to glamorous Hicks – claims that on December 22, 2010, Porter pulled her naked from the shower by the shoulders and yelled at her.
Jennifer Willoughby, the second wife of President Trump’s staff secretary Rob Porter has spoken on the record to DailyMail.com about her abusive marriage
Porter has been described as one of the most important players in the Oval Office
Hope Hicks, 29, was spotted stepping out of her D.C. apartment with White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter ten days ago
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‘I want to be very clear when I say this,’ Willoughby said. ‘I don’t want to be married to him. I would not recommend anyone to date him or marry him. But I definitely want him in the White House and the position he is in. I think his integrity and ability to do his job is impeccable. And the majority of the issues he suffers from are very personal and intimate.’
Mr Sorensen has been accused by his former wife of being violent and emotionally abusive, while Mr Porter faces allegations of domestic abuse involving two ex-wives.
He called her a ‘f**king b***h’ on their honeymoon at Myrtle Beach between Christmas and New Year, she says.
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‘We had already been fighting. I had already seen more extreme versions of the overreactions of anger that I had seen back in August,’ which was before they were married.
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Willoughby continued: ‘I can’t remember what triggered it. He lashed out and was really angry, and both under his breath and explicitly to me called me a ”f***ing b***h” and ”f***ing ridiculous”. He accused me of not caring about him or not caring about his needs.
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‘That whole week, or however long it was, several days, [of honeymoon] was spent with me trying not to make him upset.’
Jennie, as she’s known to her friends, said that his anger would be unpredictable.
She said: ‘I frequently would do favors for friends, like watch their dog or go pick up their daughter, and he would be angry that I would do that.
‘In the first weeks and months, his explanation for his anger was that his first marriage had been very toxic, rooted in arguments, accusations and manipulation and he was carrying over from that relationship.
“I’m going to keep standing with them, and trusting them, even if the president won’t,” she said.
‘He would say that he was so used to being treated this way by his ex-wife that he was projecting that on to me. That was the explanation.’
‘He’s very intelligent, extremely good with his words and is a lawyer by profession and is able to take words that I had said and use them in a way that it would confuse me as to what I meant,’ she told DailyMail.com in the bombshell interview.
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‘He would challenge my intelligence or a statement that I had made by implying that I couldn’t have possibly come up with it on my own and that I must have been influenced by someone.
‘I would start to doubt myself. He was using words against me. It was his norm in dealing with behavior he didn’t like.’
Jennie said that she never saw Rob take his anger out on other people – ‘not even road rage’ – but that is was all behind closed doors.
‘That was something that was interesting to me, from a case study perspective. It does seem to be very much focused in an intimate, romantic relationship. It’s almost as though the anger that could have been placed on his father was placed on the romantic partner.’
‘Fairly soon after New Year in 2010, I started seeing a therapist and requested that Rob see a therapist because I was so distressed about his anger,’ she revealed.
‘I also had met with a bishop in the Mormon Church about his anger. It came to a head and in February or March 2010. I was so worn down and exhausted by the anger that I requested we have a separation.
‘I never received specific threats from Rob, he was just often angry and it was oppressive. I started to take on the blame and the weight of his lack of self-worth.
‘Over the course of the years of our marriage, I can think of several times where I was collapsing on the ground in tears and saying, ”just leave me alone, just stop” because the anger and the insults were too much.
‘[He would say] that I was worthless, that I was a liar. This is not one instance, these are things that he might have said in a rage. That I always got my way, that I was selfish, that I didn’t care about him, about his needs. Any version of those types of statements, heard enough times, with enough force behind them are devastating.’
Not just a White House staff secretary, Porter was Hatch’s former chief of staff as well as former counsel to Sen. Mike Lee. He previously taught at Brigham Young University and served a Mormon mission in London.
She had a miscarriage at six weeks pregnant towards the end of their marriage.
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‘The stress of being pregnant in that marriage was hard and then the shame and depression of not being pregnant anymore was also hard,’ she said.
On June 19, 2010, she filed a protective order against Rob because he violated their separation agreement at the time, and would not leave their apartment.
According to a complaint filed with the police, he punched the glass on the door to their home, cutting his hand in the process, at which point she called the police. He then left and following that she filed a temporary protective order.
Willoughby claims that on December 22, 2010, Porter pulled her naked from the shower by the shoulders and yelled at her: ‘[It happened] just after our first anniversary….It was a glass shower door, he opened it and dragged me by my shoulders out of the shower to yell. Immediately upon seeing my reaction to that, he released me and apologized but it doesn’t take away that he was angry enough that that happened’
On June 19, 2010, Jennifer filed a protective order against Rob because he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave their apartment
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Willoughby wrote in a criminal complaint that Porter would not leave after she asked him to leave her apartment
In other words, the White House did not care that a top official had been accused of similar abuse by two ex-spouses.
She claims Porter punched the glass on the door to their home, cutting his hand in the process at which point she called the police
Willoughby said: ‘[It happened] just after our first anniversary. I cannot remember what the fight was about but I excused myself from the fight in a way that was typical at that time. I certainly was not meek and mild and said, ”I’m not going to fight you anymore” and stormed off and went to take a shower.
‘He was not done fighting with me. It was a glass shower door, he opened it and dragged me by my shoulders out of the shower to yell. Immediately upon seeing my reaction to that, he released me and apologized but it doesn’t take away that he was angry enough that that happened.’
The attack upset her so greatly that she refused to join his family on a Christmas vacation that they were leaving for the following day. She also asked him to leave their home.
‘He was very contrite and apologetic at that point. In all of the anger and all of the name-calling, he had never been physical with me.’
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Willoughby tells DailyMail.com that Porter called her last year and demanded she take down her blog posts that referred to their marriage – she did not name him.
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He asked her what she had told the FBI about their relationship during her interview with the agency over his security clearance in February 2017.
‘My experience of our entire marriage was being with a man who could be both charming and romantic and fun – and even thoughtful and kind; and horribly angry and manipulative. It was the duality of both of those things existing at the same time and not necessarily knowing what in his life would trigger the anger,’ Willoughby said
At that time they talked, she claims, she spoke with his first wife Colbie and she said that they had both experienced the same abuse.
Willoughby also received a message from his previous girlfriend, before Hicks, telling her that Rob was considering hiring a private investigator to look into her and ’employ’ a journalist to write about her.
‘My experience of our entire marriage was being with a man who could be both charming and romantic and fun – and even thoughtful and kind; and horribly angry and manipulative. It was the duality of both of those things existing at the same time and not necessarily knowing what in his life would trigger the anger.
‘Or what in his life would draw out the kindness and the chivalry. That’s a crazy-making space for a spouse to be in, that I somehow have no control over the quality of my relationship.
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‘The terminology is ”walking on eggshells” – you don’t know which man is going to walk in the door. Or you don’t know what seemingly innocuous comment is going to be interpreted differently.
‘I had a friend’s daughter over to carve pumpkins for Halloween and he sulked and pouted and didn’t join us. And of course after she left, he was angry – ”why would I have someone over, why would you help her [my friend] out when she could be doing this herself?” There was no rational explanation as to why that would make him angry at that particular moment.’
Porter is a Massachusetts-born Harvard graduate who went to the Ivy League school with presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Hicks and Porter were seen smiling and laughing over drinks as they enjoyed each other’s company at Rosa Mexicano in Washington D.C., hours before they went home together
He also went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and spent two years as a Mormon missionary in London.
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Before being tapped to join the new administration, he had been chief of staff for veteran Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. He has also worked for Republican senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mike Lee of Utah.
His job has been described as one of the most important in the Oval Office as he, working with Chief of Staff John Kelly, controls the information that reaches the president.
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‘Porter, a little-known White House aide who has avoided getting caught up in any of the West Wing drama that has plagued the administration for the better part of seven months, serves to review everything before it makes it to the president’s desk,’ Business Insider wrote in September.
‘Given how the president has shared dubious information at times when aides have presented him with reports from less-than-credible sources, Porter’s role has an outsized importance,’ the paper added.
‘Talk to people who worked with him in the past, and they’ll repeatedly mention his intelligence, experience, and team-first attitude.’
Hope Hicks, 29, and Porter had doing their best to keep their romance under wraps when they were spotted together with friends at low-key restaurant Rosa Mexicano near downtown Washington two weeks ago.
They did not show any sign of affection and did not sit next to each other at the restaurant.
But the moment they got in the cab to go back to Hicks’ D.C. apartment they started cuddling and kissing in the back seat.
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At the end of their evening together, Hicks and Porter hailed a cab, but as soon as it took off, the pair moved from their sides of the car to the middle and began kissing
During the taxi ride the secret lovers Hicks and Porter could be seen cuddling in the back seat. One eyewitness said Porter could be seen kissing Hope’s neck
Hope exited the taxi while Rob pays for the ride before they both enter her D.C. apartment at the end of the evening
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‘As soon as the taxi took off they both moved from their sides of the cab to the middle. Rob was kissing Hope’s neck all the way home,’ an eyewitness to the red-hot White House couple said.
Porter had been living with a willowy blonde political appointee, sources say before he began dating Hicks.
Public records document that the woman was living in his apartment in Arlington, Virginia.
The woman split with Porter around Thanksgiving, a White House source tells DailyMailTV exclusively.
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Senator Orrin Hatch, commented: ‘It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on any publication that would print this—and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.
‘I know Rob. I’ve known him for years, both as a close friend and as a personal advisor. He is kind and considerate towards all. The country needs more honest, principled people like Rob Porter, which is why I hope that this cynical campaign to discredit his character ultimately fails.’
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On April 24, 2017, Jennifer Willoughby wrote a blog about her marriage, but she did not name Porter. Willoughby tells DailyMail.com that Porter called her last year and demanded she take down her blog posts.
The first time he called me a ‘f*****g bitch’ was on our honeymoon. (I found out years later he had kicked his first wife on theirs.) A month later he physically prevented me from leaving the house. Less than two months after that, I filed a protective order with the police because he punched in the glass on our front door while I was locked inside. We bought a house to make up for it. Just after our one year anniversary, he pulled me, naked and dripping, from the shower to yell at me.
Everyone loved him. People commented all the time how lucky I was. Strangers complimented him to me every time we went out. But in my home, the abuse was insidious. The threats were personal. The terror was real. And yet I stayed.
When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed. I was told, yes, he was deeply flawed, but then again so was I. And so I worked on myself and stayed. If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would have been easier to leave. But he could be kind and sensitive. And so I stayed. He cried and apologized. And so I stayed. He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups. And so I stayed. He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence. And so I stayed. I felt ashamed and trapped. And so I stayed. Friends and clergy didn’t believe me. And so I stayed. I was pregnant. And so I stayed. I lost the pregnancy and became depressed. And so I stayed.
Abuse is indifferent to education level, socio-economic status, race, age, or gender. And no one can ever know the dynamics of another’s relationship. My cycle continued for four more years. Afterward, I let go and welcomed the hard work of healing and forgiveness. My experience made me stronger and able to love more deeply. But my heart breaks for him. In the end, who is the real victim of his choices?
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