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Abuse Charges, Military Parade Put White House on Defensive

Trump still has confidence in Staff Secretary Rob Porter despite ex-wives’ allegations

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees on July 14, 2017, in Paris. (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images file photo)
President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees on July 14, 2017, in Paris. (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images file photo)

The White House moved one step closer to achieving its goal of a two-year budget deal that increases military spending, but was dogged Wednesday by questions about a possible military parade through the streets of Washington and a senior adviser accused of multiple assaults on ex-wives.

As Senate Republican and Democratic leaders announced a spending deal that includes several White House priorities, senior aides in the West Wing spent much of the day holed up in meetings about allegations Staff Secretary Rob Porter punched and kicked — and otherwise abused — his two ex-wives.

The allegations came via on-the-record interviews the women gave to The Daily Mail and to The Intercept, which published photographs of Colbie Holderness, now 37, with a black eye she said Porter gave her during a vacation in the mid-2000s.

Rather than use the day’s press briefing to celebrate the budget deal, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was peppered with questions about Porter. And it became apparent the president stands by Porter, even though he accepted the 40-year-old Rhodes Scholar’s resignation.

“Rob has been an effective in his role … and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance,” Sanders said.

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She then read aloud from a statement attributed to the outgoing staff secretary in which he called his ex-wives’ charges “outrageous” and claimed to have taken the photos The Daily Mail published. “The reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” Porter said in the statement. (Porter plans to leave the White House after staying on to ensure a “smooth transition,” she said.)

Sanders uttered no denunciation of domestic abuse, nor did the White House issue a statement attributed to her or Trump doing so. Instead, she read from the statement, in which Porter praised his own “commitment to public service.”

Minutes before, Defense Secretary James Mattis had defended the commander in chief’s directive to the Pentagon to plan a military parade in Washington akin to one held annually on Bastille Day in France.

“The president’s respect, his fondness for the military is reflected in his asking for the options,” Mattis said.

The defense secretary, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, said Pentagon officials are “putting together some options.”

“We’ll be sending those up to the White House for decision,” Mattis told reporters.

But he declined to answer questions about how much it might cost to ship massive military platforms and perhaps thousands of troops to Washington, then secure and hold the actual event.

Congressional Democrats are raising concerns about the possible military spectacle, a date for which, White House officials say, has yet to be solidified.

House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith said the event “would be a grave misuse of military time and energy, and it is a disturbing indicator that President Trump apparently does not understand or care about the military’s actual readiness needs.”

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“The military is not President Trump’s personal toy set,” the Washington Democrat said. “A military parade like this — one that is unduly focused on a single person — is what authoritarian regimes do, not democracies.”

The George H.W. Bush administration staged a military parade in 1991 to celebrate the end of the Gulf War, and others have been held to mark the ends of America’s successful armed conflicts. But Trump’s own on-the-record remarks indicate he wants to hold one because he was impressed last summer when he was the guest of French President Emmanuel Macron for France’s parade.

“It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” Trump told reporters in September, standing next to Macron at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “It was two hours on the button, and it was military might. And I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France.”

“We’re going to have to try to top it,” Trump told his French counterpart.

For Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the possibility of a military parade hits close to home — literally. She represents Washington, D.C.

“President’s Trump’s desire to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a military parade in the style of authoritarian leaders he admires would feed his ego and perhaps his base,” Norton said in a statement, “rather than serve any legitimate purpose or keep with any long-held American traditions.”

Norton said the U.S. was better than that. “Unlike less powerful nations, the United States has no need to show off by strutting our soldiers and equipment to prove our strength and leadership,” she said.

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