On Tuesday morning, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said there’s no justification for the White House’s handling of abuse accusations against former top aide Rob Porter.
During an interview on CNN, Ernst was asked specifically about a new Politico report indicating the White House’s initial response to a photograph showing one of Porter’s ex-wives with a black eye was to convene a meeting with reporters where Porter shared his side of the story.
“I think you can’t justify it,” Ernst said, “You can’t justify that.”
According to Politico, “In the hours immediately after the Daily Mail published a photograph of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off-the-record meeting in the West Wing with Porter and four reporters: the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender. In that meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.”
Politico’s reporting is at tension with the White House’s talking point about how the photograph provided the impetus for officials to quickly to terminate Porter, including comments Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made during Monday’s news briefing.
CNN confirms that Sarah Sanders and Rob Porter huddled with reporters last Wednesday, which the White House saw as an opportunity for Porter to tell his side of the story. It was before he quit, but after both Daily Mail stories had been published. What Sanders said yesterday: pic.twitter.com/8KC2Fq0CCn
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 13, 2018
This is the statement that Sarah Sanders issued last Wednesday, after the Daily Mail first reported on the allegations against Rob Porter and after the photos of his ex-wife’s black eye had already surfaced. pic.twitter.com/l7nkq7WJE2
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 12, 2018
Ernst criticizes Trump
Despite the photographic evidence and accounts of verbal and physical abuse from both of Porter’s ex-wives, it’s not clear whether President Trump believes the accusations against Porter.
On Friday, Trump praised Porter, ignored his alleged victims, and said “we hope he has a wonderful career and he will have a great career ahead of him.” The next day, Trump — has denied each of the 14 sexual assault allegations against him — lamented on Twitter that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
During the CNN interview, Ernst indicated she’s unsatisfied with Trump’s response to the Porter accusations, and said she thinks “he needs to send a stronger message.”
“We need to allow women and men that have been abused to come out, make sure their stories are heard and believed,” she said.
While White House officials refuse to say if Trump even believes Porter’s accusers, Ernst said she does.
“I do believe the women, yes I do,” she said.
Ernst isn’t the first Republican senator to criticize the Trump administration’s handling of the scandal. During an appearance on Meet The Press last Sunday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said “the White House said they could have handled the situation better. That’s a bit of an understatement, yes.”
“If you put on a political hat that that is a big problem. Certainly how we are viewed as Republicans in the next election, I think that that is a big problem,” Flake added. “And certainly, substantively, it’s a big problem not to show any concern or empathy for the potential victims of these incidents. That is a problem. And that’s something I think the president ought to correct.”