Former Trump aide subpoenaed to testify before House Judiciary Committee

Alexander Nazaryan
National Correspondent
Robert R. Porter (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Robert R. Porter, the influential former aide to President Trump, has been ordered to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, in the latest sign that congressional Democrats will continue to press the Trump administration on questions related to electoral fraud and obstruction of justice.

Porter’s subpoena, announced Monday by the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., demands that Porter testify at a Sept. 17 hearing.

As Trump’s staff secretary from January 2017 until February 2018, Porter had daily access to the president and served as an Oval Office go-between to other high-ranking officials in the executive branch. He is also routinely mentioned in the second volume of Robert Mueller’s 448-page report, a redacted version of which was made public in April, in connection with Trump’s possible obstruction of justice.

Neither Porter nor his attorney was available for immediate comment. Members of the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee would also not comment for the record.

His subpoena is the latest of several issued by the influential committee, which has engaged in zealous oversight of the Trump administration. Earlier this month, the committee subpoenaed Corey Lewandowski, who served as Trump’s first campaign manager during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Rick Dearborn, who was a White House deputy chief of staff in the early days of the administration.

Subpoenas have also recently been issued to Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s most trusted advisers, former White House counsel Don McGahn and McGahn aide Annie Donaldson.

Nadler has also moved to subpoena the unredacted version of Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia and, subsequently, the efforts of the Trump administration to hide evidence of that collusion.

Supporters of Trump have echoed his complaints that Nadler and his Democratic colleagues are engaged in a protracted “witch hunt” animated by a lingering disappointment that Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, left, with Porter in November 2017. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Porter has largely remained out of public view since leaving the White House amid allegations by two ex-wives that he had been abusive toward them. He has denied those allegations but has not discussed them at any significant length. He did, however, publish a Wall Street Journal op-ed on trade policy in March. In response, one of his ex-wives wrote in the Washington Post that “Rob’s sudden return to the public eye” was “deeply troubling.”

The committee’s interest in Porter is likely limited to potential obstruction of justice charges against Trump. The former Trump aide is absent from the first volume of the Mueller report, which focuses on electoral interference, because he was not affiliated with the Trump campaign. At the time of the 2016 election, he was a senior aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has since retired.

Porter joined the Trump presidential transition and later became Trump’s staff secretary, meaning that he controlled the flow of information in and out of the Oval Office.

According to White House sources who spoke to this reporter for “The Best People,” a book about the Trump administration, Porter’s stock rose as McGahn’s fell. Trump was impressed by Porter, who has degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and who was a Rhodes scholar. He was also a favorite of John Kelly, who succeeded Reince Priebus as the White House chief of staff. By mid-2017, Porter had considerable access to — and influence in — the Oval Office.

If he complies with the subpoena and testifies before the House Judiciary Committee, Porter will almost certainly be asked about several potentially obstructive incidents described in the Mueller report.

In one such incident, Trump asked Porter to “sound out” Rachel Brand, an associate attorney general, for her views on the Mueller investigation. The Mueller report says Trump wanted to see if Brand was “on the team.”

“Porter did not reach out to her because he was uncomfortable with the task,” the report says. “Porter did not contact Brand,” it continues a little later, “because he was sensitive to the implications of that action and did not want to be involved in a chain of events associated with an effort to end the investigation or fire the Special Counsel.”

Porter was also present for a Dec. 6, 2017, meeting between Trump and Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general. Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation because of his own contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. That recusal was a source of great irritation for Trump.

The Mueller report cites notes Porter took at that meeting. “I don’t know if you could un-recuse yourself. You’d be a hero,” Trump told Sessions, according to those notes.

The House Judiciary Committee will likely seize on Porter’s recollections of the Dec. 6 encounter as further evidence that Trump attempted to hamper the Mueller investigation.

Porter and President Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., in August 2017. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Also of interest to congressional investigators will be Porter’s recollection of an exchange with the president in his residence on Jan. 27, 2018, just days before Porter left the White House. According to the narrative in the Mueller report — which is based on Porter’s notes — Trump “said that one of his biggest failings as President was that he had not surrounded himself with good attorneys, citing Sessions as an example. The President raised Sessions’s recusal and brought up and criticized the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

An institutionalist who has worked in all three branches of government (before becoming a Hatch staffer, he was a clerk on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit), it’s difficult to imagine Porter either defying the subpoena or turning his testimony before Congress into a pro-Trump diatribe.

But it is just as difficult to imagine him turning on Trump. The president expressed sympathy for Porter as the allegations of domestic abuse became public, the two continued to communicate after Porter left the administration, and there have been occasional rumors that Trump would like him to return in some capacity.

Nor is Porter likely to be the last current or former Trump official to be summoned to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. In July, the committee voted to authorize potential subpoenas for Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, former top adviser Stephen Bannon and 10 others, Porter among them. Some of those subpoenas have been issued, while others could be on the way.

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