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From A Blocked Memo To 2 Staff Resignations, Here's The Week's White House Recap

Feb 10, 2018
Originally published on February 12, 2018 11:13 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've often talked about how tumultuous the White House is in the Trump era and how it's hard to know what to focus on because every day there's another story more explosive than the next. Well, this past week has been another example of that. On Wednesday, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who was responsible for the flow of paperwork to the president's desk, resigned after two former wives both accused him of physical abuse. Then on Friday, Trump speechwriter David Sorenson resigned after his former wife disclosed similar accusations against him. The president was also in the news on Friday for refusing to release a classified memo drafted by Democratic staffers that we are told challenges Republican claims that the FBI abused its power in its investigation of the link - the possible link, the alleged link - between Trump and the Russian hacking of the 2016 election.

That's a lot to follow. So we called NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley to help us understand what this all means. Scott, thanks so much for joining us once again.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good evening.

MARTIN: First, could you talk about what the latest is today? On Twitter, President Trump sounded like he was defending the aides who had resigned.

HORSLEY: Yeah. It has been a rainy day here in Washington, so the president has been stuck indoors. And he's been tweeting on a range of subjects, including his departed staff secretary, Rob Porter. Porter has denied the allegations of two of his ex-wives concerning domestic violence. And Trump tweeted - people's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Is there no such thing any longer as due process? Now, this echoes comments the president made in the Oval Office yesterday and also comments he made in November about then-Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who had denied allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenagers. In each of these cases, Trump seems to be giving heavy weight to the men's denials and considerably less weight to the multiple consistent women's accusations.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, what are the possible implications of this? I mean, inside the White House, President Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, has been receiving a lot of flack for defending Rob Porter, who, as we said, is accused by two women of domestic abuse. And according to The Post, top White House officials knew about the allegations for months and took no action. So are we going to see any fallout from this? I mean, is Kelly's own job on the line?

HORSLEY: Certainly Kelly's credibility has suffered through this episode. He, at first, vigorously defended Porter when the allegations became public, then said he was shocked by the allegations even though, as you point out, he'd reportedly known about them for months. Finally, he told White House staffers he had acted swiftly to dismiss Porter even though that dismissal was actually dragged out over about 24 hours.

You know, former Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who served in the Clinton White House, told my colleague Tamara Keith this week - anytime the chief of staff is in the headlines, it's trouble. And Kelly has been in the headlines a lot this week. Earlier in the week, he had drawn fire for disparaging some young immigrants as lazy because they failed to apply for an Obama-era program offering protection from deportation. So certainly his political antenna have been questioned.

MARTIN: And I do want to get into this Democratic memo. Last week, the president released the Republican memo despite pleas from the FBI that he not do so. So how did the president justify not allowing the Democrats to release, what we are told, is their answer to what they consider partisan cherry-picking in a very misleading document?

HORSLEY: The White House says it declined to release the Democratic memo because it contained too much classified and sensitive information, and that worried the Justice Department and the FBI. As you point out, the president showed no such restraint when he OK'd the release of the GOP memo, even though the FBI said they had grave concerns about that document because they said it painted an inaccurate picture of the process that agents had used in getting authority to conduct surveillance on a Trump campaign aide. The Democrats are complaining about this double standard, but they have promised to work with the FBI and the Justice Department to see if they can produce a sanitized version of the memo that would not compromise classified information.

MARTIN: That's Scott Horsley. He's NPR's White House correspondent. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.