Public servants must meet minimal standard of decency
I’m having trouble understanding why Rob Porter had to resign his job as White House staff secretary (the person who manages the paper flow in the West Wing). Yes, he was credibly accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. One produced a photo of her black eye and bruised cheek; the other had phoned 911 when he allegedly punched through the glass of her front door (they were separated) in an effort to break into her house. She obtained a protective order against him.
Well, come on, nobody’s perfect. We don’t expect saints to work in the White House, do we? He was a staff secretary, not a pastor. It’s a tough business. Besides, by all accounts, Porter performed his job very well. Chief of staff John Kelly vouched for him (at first), telling the Daily Mail, “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.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders was equally effusive: “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. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”
I cite these encomia not to point fingers at White House officials for condoning Porter’s private behavior. They may in fact have been unaware of the charges against him. Some sources have said that Porter skillfully minimized the accusations when explaining to his colleagues why his security clearance was withheld. After praising him to the skies on Tuesday, Gen. Kelly revised his position on Wednesday, saying that he was “shocked” by the allegations. “There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly added, but “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”
But still, isn’t it obvious that the people making accusations against Porter were biased against him? One described him as “abusive and manipulative and toxic in his personal relationships.”
That is clearly anti-Porter. You don’t get a restraining order on someone you have an open mind about. And isn’t it odd that both of his ex-wives came out with their stories in the same week? That sounds like a conspiracy. Sen. Ron Johnson might want to investigate.
Besides, the media are making a big fuss about this, so that’s discrediting.
And while the White House may not have known the full measure of Porter’s behavior, they, and the Republican Party, have established the precedent of excusing equally abhorrent behavior. If defeating Democrats can justify supporting Roy Moore, then why is Porter a bridge too far? Surely he was helping to pass the president’s agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and nominating conservative judges: Do we want to risk having a less effective official in his critical post?
In fact, one of Porter’s ex-wives actually endorses this view. “I don’t want to be married to him. I would not recommend anyone to date him or marry him,” Jennifer Willoughby told the Daily Mail. “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.”
Even assuming that Porter’s public behavior has always been “impeccable,” to permit him to serve in a position of honor diminishes all of us. We demand some minimum level of decent (to say nothing of legal) behavior from those in positions of trust because that’s one way we uphold our standards. We cannot consider ourselves an ethical people if we elect squalid leaders on the grounds of “toughness.” What does it say about our priorities when we enforce stricter standards in nearly every other realm of American life? The bar is set higher for business leaders, sports figures, teachers, members of the military and even (recently) entertainers.
When John Adams, the first president to reside in the White House, moved in, he wrote to his wife Abigail: “I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.