In Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, former senior Trump aide Rob Porter is featured prominently, but the scandal that led to his exit from his top administration job goes almost unmentioned.
In Woodward’s account, the scandal is reduced to little more than a footnote.
The Porter drama was one of the most explosive scandals to date in a White House that is constantly beset by turmoil. This makes its absence from the Woodward book, in which Porter is a central character, all the more conspicuous. In fact, Porter, Trump’s former White House staff secretary, comes off strikingly well in Fear (except to, perhaps, Trump’s loyalists and MAGA diehards), as one of the few supposed adults in the room.
In a pre-publication copy obtained by The Daily Beast, Woodward references the scandal that toppled Porter in the White House towards the end of the sprawling tome, page 336 of 357 pages.
(For further reference, Porter first appears in the book in the prologue, and is then mentioned, according to the index, on pages 138-139, 140, 141-142, 143, 155-158, 159, 160-161, 165, 166, 174, 175, 176, 190-191, 193, 204-206, 210, 211, 212, 216, 229-231, 233, 240-44, 247, 252, 261-263, 265-271, 273, 276, 278, 284-287, 300, 314, 315, and 334-336.)
When the reason for Porter’s departure is finally mentioned, it’s neatly summarized in two paragraphs:
“Porter left the White House on February 7 after two ex-wives went public with allegations that he had physically abused them,” Woodward writes. “One released a photo showing a black eye that she said Porter gave her. Each, one to the press and one in a blog post, gave graphic descriptions of domestic abuse. Porter quickly concluded it would be best for all—his former spouses, his family and closer friends, the White House and himself—to resign. He wanted to focus on repairing relationships and healing.”
Woodward notes that Trump’s former top economic adviser Gary Cohn lamented Porter’s fall from grace, writing that “Cohn saw that one of the main restraining influences on Trump was now gone.”
The president, according to Fear, took a strong liking to Porter, even asking if he was interested in being White House counsel and telling him, “You’ve got a better resume than Neil Gorsuch,” referring to Trump’s first pick for the Supreme Court.
Throughout most of the book, Porter is shown to use that influence with the president to moderate his positions inside the White House.
For example, during the efforts to clean up Trump’s initial remarks about a violent white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Porter tells the president he needs to fix the situation.
“You don’t want to be perceived the way in which you’re being perceived now. You need to bring the country together,” Porter said, according to Woodward’s telling.
In another scene, Cohn and Porter are working closely together to “derail what they believed were Trump’s most impulsive and dangerous orders.”
This culminates with Cohn swiping official documents, including a notification letter to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), off of Trump’s desk in the Oval Office, in the hopes the the president would forget about them. (Cohn was terrified of the potential economic repercussions of Trump pulling out of NAFTA.)
“A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas,” Porter told an associate, according to the book.
The underlying message over and over is that Porter was one of a handful of senior officials standing between the country and Trumpian calamity.
Woodward did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Neither did Porter.
Shortly after the first excerpts of Fear were published by The Washington Post, numerous West West officials and outside allies immediately suspected that both Porter and Cohn were main sources of information for Woodward, according to several who spoke with The Daily Beast about the book in recent days.
In fact, it would make sense for any author of a book on the Trump administration to want to cultivate Porter as a top source. He is known to have an “exceptional” memory, one of Porter’s former West Wing colleagues told The Daily Beast, and has a deep reservoir of knowledge of what went on in the White House in the senior ranks, and of what crossed Trump’s desk.
Unfortunately for Porter, one of the West Wing officials blaming both him and Cohn is, apparently, President Trump himself. Axios reported on Sunday that Trump is “privately furious at Gary Cohn and Rob Porter,” and cited sources with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking who conveyed that “it's possible he publicly attacks Porter and Cohn this week.”
In the aftermath of the reports on Porter’s alleged abuse of his former spouses, the president publicly and repeatedly defended his former staff secretary.
“It’s obviously a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters at the time, adding that Porter “says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that… We absolutely wish him well.”
Perhaps less well now.
“Attacking Bob Woodward is a strategy that is sure to fail… [but] in order to figure out how to move forward after this book, we need to understand who the sources are,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser who says he is currently reading Fear, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “And the first places you look are the people who don't get bad press out of it. And from my perspective, it is almost a metaphysical certitude that Rob Porter was a very big source for the book, especially if you look at how his own personal scandal was treated as a by-the-by and minimized."