At least two top White House officials, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Counsel Don McGahn, knew for months that former staff secretary Rob Porter had been credibly accused of abuse by his two ex-wives, The Washington Post and CNN report, and they not only didn't follow up on the allegations but elevated Porter's responsibilities and access to President Trump. Kelly, especially, is facing withering criticism over the mishandling of the Porter scandal.
Kelly reportedly learned about the spousal abuse accusations last fall when McGahn told him they were holding up Porter's security clearance. Kelly "agreed that Porter should remain and said he was surprised to learn that the 40-year-old had ex-wives," the Post reports. He urged Porter not to resign even after The Intercept published photos Wednesday of a black eye Porter's first wife says he gave her, according to White House officials. Trump is not inclined to fire Kelly, yet, CNN reports.
McGahn also has some explaining to do, the Post reports:
In January 2017, when McGahn learned of the allegations, he wanted Porter to stay put because he saw the Harvard Law-trained Capitol Hill veteran as a steadying, professional voice in the White House, according to people familiar with the matter. His view didn't change in June when the FBI flagged some of its findings to the White House. Nor did he act in September when he learned that the domestic violence claims were delaying Porter's security clearance, or in November when Porter's former girlfriend contacted him about the allegations, according to these people. A White House spokesman said that McGahn — who had access to the FBI's background investigation file conducted for Porter’s security clearance — and Kelly feel misled by Porter. [The Washington Post]
The White House had rallied support for Porter Tuesday by arguing that the allegations were part of a "smear campaign" led by, among other people, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, two sources tell The Daily Beast. Lewandoski flatly denied any role in Porter's downfall. Peter Weber
Syrian government strikes have killed some 500 civilians, including about 120 children, over the course of a week in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The activist group says Russian planes are assisting with the attacks, but Russia denies direct engagement.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces reportedly used barrel bombs and artillery shells to target the area where some 400,000 people have no option of escape. Civilians are "being forced into bunkers and many of them can't even find the time to bury their dead," reports NPR's Lama Al-Arian. The Assad regime says its goal is to liberate civilians from a nearby rebel enclave.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for a U.N. resolution implementing a 30-day ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to East Ghouta. "I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population," he said, describing the situation as "hell on Earth." If the resolution passes — Moscow is demanding edits in exchange for its support — its prospects for enforcement are dubious.
Delta and United Airlines on Saturday announced they are cutting ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— Delta (@Delta) February 24, 2018
United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— United Airlines (@united) February 24, 2018
The airlines join the Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National car rental brands as well as First National Bank of Omaha, Best Western hotels, MetLife insurance, and more than a dozen other companies in ending deals with the NRA. Delta previously offered discounted airfare for NRA members, and United offered discounts on flights to and from the organization's annual conference.
Companies are distancing themselves from the NRA in response to outrage following last week's mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Customer responses to the tweeted announcements were predictably mixed. Bonnie Kristian
A daring squirrel narrowly cheated death Saturday while attempting to sprint across the course of the women's parallel giant slalom competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Austrian snowboarder Daniela Ulbing just barely maneuvered around the animal, which appeared to reconsider its choices after she passed. Watch the squirrel's moment of destiny below. Bonnie Kristian
WATCH OUT SQUIRREL. pic.twitter.com/rtQ94MQeDj
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 24, 2018
Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday. Berkshire's net worth grew by $65.3 billion in 2017, Buffett said, but $29 billion of that gain came from savings effected by the Republican tax plan passed in December. The new tax law lowered the nominal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent.
For individual investors, Buffett cautioned against going into debt to purchase stock because the market may drop. "There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period," he wrote. "Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren't immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions."
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday began soliciting public input on restoring work requirements for food stamp recipients in high-unemployment areas where rules were waived in recent years.
"Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "USDA's goal is to move individuals and families [using food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty."
Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) are eligible for only three months of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) unless they spend at least 80 hours per month working or at a qualified training. In five states — Alaska, California, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico — and economically struggling localities in 28 other states, that rule is currently suspended.
No changes have been formally proposed at this time, but the USDA estimates about 2.9 million ABAWDs are currently unemployed and would therefore be affected if the waiver were rescinded. They make up about 7 percent of the 43.6 million people who used food stamps in 2017. Bonnie Kristian
Heavy rains over the weekend are expected to exacerbate deadly flooding in the Midwest and southern Plains regions. Hundreds of people have evacuated their homes in affected areas from eastern Texas through southern Indiana, and at least three people, including one child, have been killed in connection to the floods.
***There is now a HIGH RISK of flash flooding from the Arklatex region into the Ohio Valley for SATURDAY*** pic.twitter.com/fa4yxMW433
— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) February 23, 2018
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has declared a 30-day state of emergency, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has issued a disaster proclamation for three counties. The National Weather Service advises caution of flash floods and tornadoes throughout the weekend. Bonnie Kristian
The United States men's curling team took its first-ever gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Saturday. After nearly being eliminated from the competition, the team made a comeback win, besting both the Canadian team — prior to this victory, no American team in men's or women's curling has ever beaten Canada at the Olympics — and the Swedish team, which was ranked first in the world.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 24, 2018
"During the entire end we could kind of feel it building," said team leader John Shuster of the gold-medal victory over Sweden. "Their margin for error got really small."
Also Saturday, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic became the first woman to take gold in two separate events at the Winter Games. Last Saturday, she was the surprise victor in Alpine skiing, and this week, Ledecka triumphed in her primary event, women's parallel giant slalom snowboarding. Bonnie Kristian