What’s unique that catapulted this story to the front page are three factors:
1) The Third Woman.
Both Holderness and Willoughby were contacted by a woman claiming to be Porter’s girlfriend in 2016 [February]. In Facebook and text messages reviewed by CNN, the woman, described “repeated abuse” from Porter and sought help from the ex-wives on how to leave him.
“I work in politics, and despite Rob’s repeated abuse, some of which I think many know about, he continues to rise and I’m afraid to go against him,” the woman wrote to Holderness in December 2016. “I’m sorry to bother you. I wanted to reach out and hear your story if you are willing to share — as well as how you broke out of it with him and mostly, how you recovered.”
2. Black-eye photo of Holderness (first wife):
3. 6/19/2010 Emergency Protective Order (Willougby v. Porter).
In general, people don’t freely talk about psychic abuses by a former partner if they believe that they are the only such victim of that former partner, particularly if that partner has some formal status. This form of abuse knocks the hell out of mental health. Making it difficult for most to recognize and articulate it as abuse while it’s on-going and too often after the fact as well. That accounts for why a current partner rarely reaches out to exes and why exes only slightly more often do so. Also why I placed the “third woman” as #1.
From a CBS timeline, it’s revealed Willoughby was interviewed in January 2017 by the FBI in performing its Security Clearance investigation of Porter. An obvious interview starting point given that Protective Order. (Porter likely disclosed that as it would have been too easy for the FBI to find it.) It appears that Holderness was interviewed in February 2017, and according to Willoughby, Holderness contacted her shortly after her interview. Did either of them disclose that they had been contacted by the “third woman?” If so, did the FBI interview her? Were any of them interviewed more than once?
On 4/24/2017 Willoughby that she wrote and posted Why I Stayed on her blog. There were no comments as of three days ago. It has now struck a nerve with many people who are sharing their own similar stories. (I’ll add a few more below.) While it’s a powerful piece, Willoughby appears to be less conscious than many of those that began speaking out in the past few days. First, she views Porter as well-qualified for that WH position. Second, her piece was written four years after her divorce and two years after creating her blog, she doesn’t identify the man, even as an ex-husband, she only mentioned the existence of an ex-husband once in her blog posts before 4/17 and none since then, and “my heart breaks for him.”
My heart doesn’t break for Porter or any person that has similarly abused a significant other or child, including my ex-husband. Most don’t leave physical bruises or broken bones, but the injuries they’ve inflicted on others are very real.
Two years ago as Annamarie was approaching her seventieth birthday, the DMV declined to renew her driver’s license and yanked it on the spot. As toddling around in her luxury sports car had become one of her greatest joys, this was devasting for her. She reported the loss to her children and friends but was unable to disclose why or if she would reapply for it. As the months went on she spoke less and less often about it and more and more often that “he’s mean.” (“He” being her husband.) Meaningful only to her and the very few that had recognized his frequent belittling of her over their forty-five year marriage. As she lost more and more of her English second language, she held onto this one phrase. She continues to retain and repeat it even as he’s been dead for four months.
Five years after a final split from Alex, Lisa still has moments of longing for him. When she sets aside the abuse and recalls the good bits (mostly the hot sex). Unfortunately for Lisa, it’s not possible for to avoid all contact with Alex; so, seeing him out and about prompts some of that longing. Fortunately, family and friends are more around to remind her of the years of Alex’s abuse. How threatening and scary his frequent out-of-control rages are. (Alex is a Trumpster.)
It was a whirlwind romance for Barbara. A re-connection with a long-lost (twenty-five years) high school boyfriend. First via the internet and then he blew in from out-of-state. Barbara’s children are grown and doing well, she’s on good terms with all of her exes, and she is professionally and politically connected. The mayor officiated at her wedding. Barbara could have written this:
The first time he called me a “fucking bitch” was on our honeymoon. A month later he physically prevented me from leaving the house.
Three days later, his rage spent and it was safe for Barbara to leave the apartment, her first priority was a restraining order against him. Next stop, an annulment. And finally, contacting all his prior spouses (the four his mother knows of). The stories are much the same and Barbara was the only one that had taken the step to contact any of them. Now at least four women and a couple of children know that it’s him and not them, but that’s just one step in healing from such abuse.
Everyone loved him.
A common feature of such abusers. They are very good at controlling their rages. (Particularly other men that have status and/or wealth.) That control contributes to the SO’s sense of craziness and increases the abuser’s credibility with others. (Not surprising that John Kelly and Orrin Hatch believed Porter, but very heartening that the FBI didn’t.) Rages they feel entitled to. Like Steve who felt free to attack his wife’s sister (any woman in a professional position is also fare game for him) who since the third attack refuses to have anything to do with him. Steve’s wife stays. For all the same old reasons and often reports to her sister that she and Steve are getting along much better. Her sister is not open to reconsideration.
Update – 2/13/18
Who knew and when?
Interview with Lynn Dombek, a longtime research leader at The Associated Press and TIME and now research director of The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media. On the Rob Porter story:
An editor reached out to our investigative researcher, Sheelagh McNeill, saying he’d gotten a tip that a Facebook post [an online journal and not Facebook] existed with allegations of spousal abuse against a named White House official. That was it. Could she help?
As “tips” go, there wasn’t much to work with on this one. (Did the “tip” suggest more about Bannon?)
Sheelagh and Margot Williams, our semi-retired research editor for investigations, then started the drill: identify, connect, verify. They went back and forth with each other on our internal Signal chat channel. They used an arsenal of tools, from open web searches to social media to public records, identifying key people, connecting them to other people, and verifying that what they found was accurate.
Running down Willoughby’s post from that “tip” wasn’t an easy task, but here’s the difference between first rate and second rate investigative journalism. The Intercept researchers didn’t run with a “she said” story but dug further for confirmation which they found with Holderness, the first ex-wife, who provided The Intercept her correspondence with the FBI.
It now appears to me, and contrary to my original impression above, that The Intercept investigation was more fully developed when it got scooped by The Daily Mail. Unfortunate because once the WH was in damage control mode, it became much more difficult to develop the WH cover-up part of the story. So, there remains blanks in who knew and when.
Early 2016 the “third woman” (reportedly the then current girlfriend of Rob Porter) reached out to Porter’s two ex-wives and received confirmation of his domestic abuse of both of them. At that time Porter was Senator Orrin Hatch’s Chief of Staff and had previously worked for Senators Rob Portman and Mike Lee. Did this girlfriend stay?
(Note: Hatch originally endorsed Jeb Bush and secondarily endorsed Rubio. After Trump secured the nomination, he endorsed him.)
Late 2016 the third woman again contacted one or both of the ex-wives.
January 2017 Porter appointed to a WH position. FBI interviewed Willoughby (Porter’s second ex-wife) who reportedly told the FBI of the abuse. (The protective order that she secured in 2010 was a public record.)
February 2017 FBI interviewed Holderness (first ex-wife). After her interview and reported by Willoughby, she reportedly contacted Willoughby.
April 24, 2017 – Willoughby’s Why I Stayed post.
June 2017 – FBI declined WH/Porter’s request for Security Clearance. Who at the FBI communicated that decision to whom at the WH? Had there been communication between the FBI and WH before then? Who else at the FBI and WH were informed? (WH Counsel Don McGahn knew of the allegations in January 2017 and believed Porter’s denials) Did this rise to the level of the FBI Director? Comey until May 9, 2017 and McCabe, as Acting Director until August 2, 2017. Reince Priebus as WH CoS from January 2017 until July 31, 2017. McGahn, Bannon, Stephen Miller, and the Kushners were all also there during this period along with many others.
September 2017 FBI interviews Porter a second time. In August Wray had become FBI Director and Kelly had become CoS. Now known that Kelly wanted to keep Porter in his position, but he could hardly have been alone on that by September.
November 2017 the “third woman” contacted McGahn.
Thus, for a year (from the time of Holderness’ FBI interview) more than one person in the FBI and more than one person in the WH KNEW that allegations of Porter’s spousal abuse had been verified. And Porter remained on the WH team.
Yet another example of why whistleblowers and real investigative journalists are important.
Update #2 – 2/13/18. From The Guardian – FBI head contradicts Trump White House over Rob Porter Background Check.
In Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray said that the FBI submitted its final report on Porter’s background check in July 2017 and later submitted to follow-up reports that presumably didn’t substantively alter the original report.