If There’s a Woman to Blame, Donald Trump Will Find Her


For a few hours earlier this week, it seemed the blame would be laid at the feet of John Kelly.

It was under his watch, after all, that the White House had for months covered for a man known to be accused of domestic violence. It was the chief of staff who’d issued an initial statement in lavish support of that man, despite multiple women’s claims. (“He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional,” Kelly said of Rob Porter in his first statement. He went on to release at least two more memos to better explain his “position” on domestic violence. It’s bad, he concluded.)

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And so the pressure was on. Vanity Fair‘s Gabriel Sherman reported that Trump hadn’t been pleased with Kelly, with this latest situation just aggravating his ire. He cited sources that said that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner wanted Kelly out. Later, Axios predicted a “glut of stories” on Kelly’s character and motivations, “along with speculation about consequences for him.” Rumors swirled. Would he be fired? Who would replace him? Had Trump really reached out to Reince Preibus?

But alas, it soon became clear that Kelly wouldn’t have to deal with the blame alone. Some of it would land with Hope Hicks.

Let’s back up: news that prominent White House staffer Rob Porter had been accused of domestic violence broke in the Daily Mail—Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, two women who’d been married to him, submitted to separate interviews with the newspaper. Holderness went on to provide pictures of the alleged abuse to The Intercept; one photo shows her with a black eye, her face battered and swollen.

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But it soon became clear that the accusations weren’t really a surprise—not to the FBI, which learned of the abuse in recent interviews with both Holderness and Willoughby, and reportedly considered their accounts credible enough to hold up Porter’s permanent clearance at the White House; not to John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, whom CNN reported was aware of a 2010 protective order against Porter; not to Don McGahn, the White House counsel, whom a third woman, an ex-girlfriend, reportedly approached to warn him of Porter’s pattern of behavior, and not to us, who have at this point come to expect that the White House will continue to attract the absolute dregs of the human race.

What we don’t know is whether the claims were news to Hope Hicks, the White House Communications Director and a woman who has attained near familial status in Trump’s inner circle. Hicks, the Daily Mail reported last week, is dating Porter. And whatever her prior awareness, once the stories were published she is said to have jumped into action. Sherman wrote in Vanity Fair that Hicks didn’t secure Trump’s approval on the initial White House statement that defended Porter, and one source noted that Hicks has continued to stand with Porter in private, telling people she doesn’t believe the claims against him. It provoked the president, Sherman reported. And yet, given her sacrosanct position, Sherman anticipated she wouldn’t face serious consequences.

That may still be true, but new reports from CNN suggest the President’s wrath has indeed intensified—because if there’s a woman to blame, Donald Trump will find her.

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“The President has grown increasingly frustrated with the way Hope Hicks has handled this situation,” CNN reported earlier this afternoon. “Bottom line,” the newscaster continued, the president feels that “Hope Hicks has put her own priorities above his and above the White House.”

This is the ultimate crime. For Trump, an allegation of sexual harassment or assault or child molestation or racism or xenophobia or white supremacist affiliations or domestic violence isn’t enough to turn on a man. But a hint of insubordination from a woman, and the president has his new fall girl.

This afternoon, Trump echoed his previous remarks about Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate whom several women said assaulted them when they were in their teens. At the time, Trump noted that Moore “totally denies” the allegations and said, with no small amount of protest, that “you have to listen to him, too,” as if men are the ones who have been disbelieved for centuries, whose voices and experiences are so often dismissed. (To claim he waved it off as a “he said, she said” would be too generous. It wasn’t one man’s word against one woman. It was three women, plus evidence. With respect to the claims against Trump himself, it’s almost 20 women, to one.)

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Within minutes of the report that Hicks had angered Trump, the President addressed reporters at the White House: He wanted to make clear that he wished his now former aide the best. He heralded Porter’s “hard work” and seemed to speak for the full White House when he said “we hope he has a wonderful career.” He extended no such warm regards to the women who said Porter has hit and abused them—no great departure for Trump, who tends to be reluctant to acknowledge women, unless he can call them names or remark on their looks. He did not mention Hicks.

“He [said] he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that,” Trump said. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent.”

In an interview on Thursday with Anderson Cooper on CNN, Jennifer Willoughby said that Porter’s relationship with Hicks “worries me for a lot of reasons.”

“[I]f he hasn’t already been abusive with Hope,” she added, “he will.”



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