White House chief of staff may be the second toughest job in Washington and surely never more difficult than in the current administration where knowledge, experience, expertise and even decorum are in short supply. John F. Kelly was hired for the job last summer when it become clear that Reince Priebus wasn’t able to bring discipline to perpetual West Wing dysfunction. Now, Mr. Kelly has to go because he’s committed a cardinal sin for someone in his job — in the matter of Rob Porter, he’s acted wholly incompetently, not only failing to address the abuse allegations against the staff secretary but knowingly allowing classified documents to be funneled through someone who lacked security clearance and then misrepresenting to the public what he did and did not know.
It gives us no joy to call for the former Marine Corps general’s resignation. This should not be regarded as a political “gotcha” moment but part of a national reckoning. If the #MeToo movement and recent resignations over sexual misconduct have taught the nation anything, it’s that abusive behavior is not limited to any political party, income level or profession. The Porter case, however, hits all the most infuriating buttons — the allegations of physical abuse by his two ex-wives were ignored until a photograph of one of them with a black eye recently surfaced; there were considerable efforts made to sweep the matter under a rug; and Mr. Porter’s failure to pass a security clearance didn’t cause much concern to Mr. Kelly (or apparently anyone else in the White House).
Initially, Mr. Kelly issued a statement last week praising Mr. Porter, calling him a “man of true integrity and honor” after Mr. Porter announced he would resign. Then came the photograph of ex-wife Colbie Holderness, and within hours, Mr. Kelly was singing a different tune: “I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society.” Yet Mr. Kelly reportedly knew about the allegations weeks, if not months, ago — or at the very least should have. Should it not have occurred to the chief of staff that there’s a problem when the staff secretary, the person in charge of funneling sensitive materials to the president, could not pass a security clearance after 13 months on the job?
Meanwhile, this caused President Donald Trump to unwisely step into it, too, posting on Twitter that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation” in obvious reference not only to Mr. Porter’s situation but to that of speechwriter David Sorensen who also resigned last week over allegations of domestic abuse. What about their victims’ lives being shattered? President Trump surely would have explored that topic had the men in question been political enemies such as Al Franken (having called him “Al Frankenstien” in a November tweet after a photograph of the then-Minnesota senator pretending to grope a sleeping female journalist surfaced).
Sexual impropriety is obviously not a winning topic for the president, who faces his own numerous accusers and has a history of defending male allies from Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes at Fox News to Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and former campaign manager Corey R. Lewandowski, all of whom allegedly have hurt women. Now, Mr. Kelly has reopened those wounds while also suggesting he has no firm grasp on what’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — or perhaps any real curiosity about why underlings can’t pass a background check. And now his mishandling of this episode is going to get renewed attention every time there’s a fresh sexual impropriety scandal, which is just about the last thing this administration needs right now.
It appears Mr. Trump doesn’t want Mr. Kelly to go — at least if Kellyanne Conway is to be believed. That only makes the situation worse given the president’s past behavior. It’s far better for Mr. Kelly to tender his resignation and leave the job with or without Mr. Trump’s support. Nobody is irreplaceable. But if Mr. Trump wants “positive things” to make headlines in the media, as he also recently wrote on Twitter, he’s going to have to take the bad things off the table first. That means not only must a key aide like Mr. Porter leave but so should the chief of staff who could not spot a problem he should have dealt with weeks or months ago.