On Thursday afternoon, Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah made his first-ever appearance at the televised White House press briefing. There, he was immediately faced with an onslaught of questions regarding the Trump administration’s handling of former top Trump aide Rob Porter, who resigned on Wednesday after two former spouses accused him of verbal and physical abuse.
It marked a new low in the White House’s increasingly sordid defense of its handling of the situation.
Shah paid lip service to the idea that things were not perfect. He admitted that the White House could “have done better” in its hiring, vetting, and subsequent defense of Porter, and described the horrific allegations of Porter’s spousal abuse as “serious and disturbing.”
But Shah hedged his criticism by insisting that the alleged violence occurred “long before [Porter] joined the White House” and stressing repeatedly that Porter had denied the claims. Shah also struggled to explain why Porter was given employment, and an interim security clearance, in the Trump administration, with the allegations hanging over him. He claimed that Chief of Staff John Kelly—one of Porter’s fiercest defenders—only became “fully aware” of the seriousness of his former colleague’s alleged abuse after photographs of Porter’s ex-wife’s injuries were made public, but declined to say whether he had been at least partially aware of them for months, as reports have claimed.
“The White House was prepared to defend Rob Porter based on initial accusations that we heard about, and his denial,” Shah stammered at one point. “That was based on our experiences with Rob Porter.”
Those “initial accusations,” of course, were that Porter beat his wives, meaning the official position of this administration is that it’s fine to defend a guy accused of spousal abuse, as long as there are no pictures to back it up.