COLUMBUS — Rachel Crooks’ allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump have been dismissed by the president and his supporters, so she has a new approach to ensure her message is heard: She’s running for office.
The 35-year-old university administrator launched a campaign this week for a seat in the Ohio Legislature. The first-time candidate, a Democrat, said she was motivated in part to run because Trump has escaped consequences for the harassment alleged by her and other women.
“I think my voice should have been heard then, and I’ll still fight for it to be heard now,” she said.
Crooks is one of 14 women who have accused the Republican president of inappropriate behavior in the past, allegations Trump has denied.
Her candidacy comes as women are speaking up about harassment in the workplace through the #MeToo movement and as state legislatures across the U.S. take steps to strengthen their own harassment policies. An Associated Press tally shows 15 state lawmakers across the country have left office since the start of 2017 after being accused of sexual misconduct.
Crooks said her interest in running for office goes beyond her experience with the president. She sees herself as someone who will fight for others struggling for representation.
“Like many Americans, I have become disgusted with politics today and the corruption that is rampant with donors and corporate interests,” Crooks told the AP. “My situation with Trump and him not being held accountable by politicians, him not being willing to acknowledge his actions and his willingness to ignore what we had to say, that was sort of the last straw for me.”
Crooks’ bid for office is part of a wider anti-Trump undercurrent in elections since the president’s inauguration. The state legislative arm for Democrats says the party has flipped 35 seats previously held by Republicans in contested state legislative elections across the country. At the same time, a record number of women have expressed interest in running for office.
Some 30,000 women have approached EMILY’s List, a group that tries to elect women who support abortion rights, to learn about running for office this election cycle. By comparison, the group was in contact with 960 women last time around.
Democrats in Ohio view Crooks’ candidacy as an outgrowth of surging activism by women nationally. It’s a race that mingles the party’s two biggest anticipated 2018 turnout engines — anti-Trump sentiment and #MeToo momentum.
Aaron Fisher, executive director of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus, said women are running as Democrats in half of this year’s Ohio’s state House races. The Democratic field also includes more young people and minorities.
“We have a lot of people who have never held or run for office before, and they’re saying now is the time to stand up for action,” he said.
Republicans question how well the Democrats’ message will play with the general electorate.
“What we’re seeing in Democrat primaries is that Trump is the convenient target from Democrats who want to show the far left base how anti-Trump they can be,” said Mark Weaver, an Ohio-based Republican strategist. “In a general election, this sort of strong anti-Trump attacks will be less effective.”
Crooks went public with her story during the 2016 election. She said she was a 22-year-old receptionist at Trump Tower in New York in 2005 when Trump kissed her repeatedly on the cheeks and then “directly on the mouth” during an introductory conversation.
After he was elected and the Harvey Weinstein scandal intensified the nation’s focus on sexual misconduct, Crooks and two other Trump accusers went to Washington to ask Congress to investigate his actions. The White House repeated Trump’s denial of any wrongdoing and the investigation request went nowhere.
Trump tweeted at the time that he’d been targeted by “false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met.”
Crooks said she has email exchanges from the time that corroborate her story, but Trump’s denial didn’t surprise her.
“He is a pathological liar, as I’ve said before, but the truth is that a lot of people in my life knew about that encounter before I was ever a candidate,” she said.
Uncontested in the primary, Crooks is challenging Republican Bill Reineke for Ohio’s 88th House district, which sits southeast of Toledo in a region of small towns dominated by farming and manufacturing. She grew up in nearby Clyde, where she was a decorated high school athlete in volleyball and basketball, and now works as an international student recruiter at Heidelberg University.
Reineke, a 63-year-old auto dealer, has held the seat since 2014. He was elected handily in that year and ran unopposed in 2016.
He said he will be pleased if the race draws more attention to the sexual harassment issue, but said the debate needs to be broader.
“Sexual harassment has no place in our society, and I am glad to see that the discourse around the issue is beginning to change. Every victim deserves to be heard,” he said in an emailed statement to the AP. “This campaign is not about the individuals running; it’s about the people they would ultimately represent.”
The district includes Sandusky County and the bulk of Seneca County. As with all of Ohio’s current legislative districts, it was drawn using a Republican-controlled redistricting process — one that Ohioans have voted to replace in 2020 and beyond. A Democrat last held the seat in 1994, but the party thinks it has a shot at winning what it considers a swing district.
Sandusky County went for Trump in 2016 but before that favored Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Seneca County has been reliably Republican for two decades.
White House advances idea of military parade
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is pushing ahead with the idea of throwing a grand parade to honor U.S. armed forces, brushing aside Democratic criticism.
In response to Sen. Dick Durbin’s comment that such a parade would be a “fantastic waste of money,” White House legislative director Marc Short tells MSNBC: “I’m not sure honoring the military is a waste of money.”
Short says it’s too early to know how much the parade would cost.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Trump’s request for a parade on Tuesday. She says Trump wants the Pentagon to “explore a celebration” that would allow Americans to show appreciation for the military.
A Pentagon spokesman, Charlie Summers, says Pentagon officials are aware of the request and are “looking at options.”
As stocks plunge, Trump hits Dems for non-support on economy
By KEN THOMAS and DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Tuesday, February 6
BLUE ASH, Ohio (AP) — President Donald Trump accused congressional Democrats on Monday of being “un-American” and perhaps even treasonous for refusing to cheer positive economic news during his State of the Union address. As he spoke, the stock market was plunging toward its largest single-day point drop ever, erasing its gains for the year.
Trump has frequently showcased the strong market as a barometer of his economic success and as a boon for everyday Americans and their retirement accounts. He did not mention the stock market during his speech, nor when reporters shouted questions as he returned to Washington after the markets had closed for the day.
At its close, the Dow Jones industrial average had fallen more than 1,150 points.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders stressed that the nation’s long-term economic fundamentals “remain exceptionally strong,” adding that Trump’s tax cuts and regulatory reforms would “further enhance the U.S. economy and continue to increase prosperity for the American people.”
During his wide-ranging remarks, Trump took special aim at House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for describing as “crumbs” the bonuses of $1,000 or more that some companies, including the one where he was speaking, are giving their workers as a result of the tax cuts.
He also accused Democrats of being “un-American” for not clapping, even for positive news during his address to the nation last week, in contrast to fellow Republicans, who he said were “going totally crazy wild” over everything in the speech.
“They were like death. And un-American,” Trump said about the Democrats. “Somebody said treasonous. Can we call that treason? Why not?”
“They certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much,” the president said. He said Democrats “would rather see Trump do badly than our country do well.”(backslash)
Earlier Monday, Trump had gone after California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee that is investigating possible connections between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
On Twitter, the president labeled Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.” He added that Schiff “must be stopped.”
Schiff retorted: “Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or … really anything else.”
As for Pelosi, Trump, who boasts that he is worth billions, said: “She’s a rich woman who lives in a big beautiful house.” He said the “crumbs” talk was not a “good day” for Pelosi. He referred to her as the Republicans’ “secret weapon” and predicted his party will fare well in November’s congressional elections.
Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, responded on Twitter, writing: “Every American should be alarmed by how realDonaldTrump is working to make loyalty to him synonymous with loyalty to our country. That is not how democracy works.”
Trump’s wife, Melania, accompanied him to Ohio aboard Air Force One but peeled off to visit a children’s hospital. She was briefed on the state’s opioid epidemic while he pitched the tax cuts he signed into law just before Christmas.
The president’s political broadsides contrasted with the softer touch employed by his wife on her visit to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where executives briefed her on the opioid crisis in Ohio. She also visited some patients in an activity room, handing each child a Valentine’s Day card.
“Children will always be my top priority,” the first lady said in a written statement after the visit.
Mrs. Trump has accompanied her husband on numerous domestic trips, to introduce him at events or as they decamp to one of their own establishments for the weekend. Mrs. Trump also joined her husband on several trips to survey damage after hurricanes slammed parts of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, where she attended briefings by emergency management officials and helped console storm victims.
But Monday’s journey had a different twist in that it marked a less-typical instance in which she split from the president for a policy event separate from his.
The trip also followed a period of public speculation about the first couple’s relationship after The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s personal lawyer brokered a payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to keep her from publicly discussing an alleged years-old affair with Trump.
The attorney, Michael Cohen, has denied any relationship between Trump and Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Cohen gave the Journal a statement from a person identified as Stormy Daniels denying she had received “hush money.” Daniels has also issued statements denying a relationship with the future president.
As they headed out on Monday, the president and first lady chatted as they walked from the Oval Office to the helicopter that would take them to Joint Base Andrews for the flight to Ohio. She patted her husband on the back at the top of the stairs to Air Force One.
At the hospital, Mrs. Trump took a toddler in her arms briefly before moving to tables where children were making crafts and playing games.
The first lady smiled as she watched two young boys playing the game “Sorry,” occasionally pulling cards for them. She also sat down with Maya Baughman as the little girl showed her a play castle where she was arranging small toy figures. Nodding approvingly, Mrs. Trump observed a little girl painting a watercolor.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich did not attend Trump’s event, not surprising given Kasich’s vocal opposition to Trump and his stances on health care, immigration and the Russia investigation.
Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell contributed to this report from Cincinnati. Superville reported from Washington.
Senior White House official to resign after ex-wives’ allegations of abuse
Ex-wife of White House aide alleges emotional and physical abuse
By Josh Dawsey, Beth Reinhard and Elise Viebeck February 7
The Washington Post
A senior White House official said Wednesday that he would resign after his two ex-wives accused him of physical and emotional abuse, with one presenting pictures of her blackened eye.
The official, Rob Porter, served as the staff secretary, a title that belies the role’s importance in any White House — but especially in President Trump’s. Porter functioned as Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s top enforcer in their shared mission to instill discipline and order in what had become an extraordinarily chaotic West Wing. He was the gatekeeper to the Oval Office, determining which articles and policy proposals reached the president’s hands and screening the briefing materials that his visitors shared with him.
Aides had been aware generally of accusations against Porter since late last year, White House advisers said, but learned of the specifics late Tuesday when approached by a reporter from DailyMail.com, which first detailed many of the allegations. Porter’s ex-wives said they informed the FBI in January 2017 of their allegations against him while they were being interviewed by agents as part of Porter’s security clearance review. It was unclear when or whether the FBI informed the White House. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.
Porter said on Tuesday that he would resign, after the allegations were first published, people close to him say, even as he told White House officials he had never physically abused women. But he was talked out of it by Kelly and others, according to these people, with Kelly saying he believed Porter’s denials and saw him as a valuable ally in the White House. Kelly continued to press him to stay in his job Wednesday, saying he could weather the storm, but Porter decided the controversy had become too much after the photos of his ex-wife’s blackened eye appeared Wednesday morning.
In interviews with The Washington Post and other media outlets, Porter’s ex-wives described him as having a dark side and, at times, a violent streak that White House aides say they did not see.
Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, said in an interview with The Post that he was continually abusive during their marriage. She alleged he punched her in the face during a trip to Florence in 2005 and provided photos showing her with a black eye.
“He threw me down and punched me in the face,” she said. Holderness said she had insisted that he take pictures of her bruised eye after the assault and he agreed. “He was trying to make it up to me, and I said I wanted evidence if this should happen again.”
Porter denied the accusations but said he was stepping down from his job, although it was unclear when he will officially leave the White House.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” he said in a statement. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”
On Wednesday night, Kelly issued a statement condemning Porter’s alleged abuses while still expressing support for his aide.
“I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said. “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming Chief of Staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.”
Porter’s second wife, Jennie Willoughby, received a temporary emergency protective order in Arlington in June 2010 after saying he refused to leave her residence, in violation of their separation agreement. She said he broke her window, causing his knuckles to bleed. The document, a copy of which was obtained by The Post, concludes that “reasonable grounds exist to believe that [Porter] has committed family abuse and there is probable danger of a further such offense.”
Kathryn Hughes, a 36-year-old public relations consultant who lives in Kamas, Utah, said that in 2012, Willoughby confided in her about another violent incident, in December 2010, in which Willoughby alleged that Porter grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her from the shower during a fight. Hughes said that she and Willoughby met in 2010 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alexandria and that they struck up a close friendship.
“She told me that he had been screaming at her while she was in the shower and yanked her out and bruised her,” Hughes said in an interview with The Post, corroborating Willoughby’s account. “She also told me he was verbally abusive, and I witnessed some of that.”
Willoughby and Holderness said they talked to the FBI about Porter twice last year, once in late January and then again months later. Willoughby provided the contact information for the FBI agent she spoke with, who declined to comment when reached Wednesday. Holderness said that when the FBI asked her whether Porter was vulnerable to blackmail, she answered affirmatively, because of the number of people aware of his abusive behavior.
“I thought by sharing my story with the FBI he wouldn’t be put in that post,” Holderness said. “I’m telling the FBI this is what he’s done, and Jennie Willoughby is telling them what he’s done, and the White House says, sure, this is okay? I was let down by that.”
Willoughby said Porter angrily called her when she wrote a blog post about him in April — without naming him — and asked her to remove it, concerned about his image. She said Porter demanded again in the fall that she take down the blog post, citing delays in his security clearance. In January, he asked her again to take it down, she said, telling her that reporters were looking into his past.
“He has never faced repercussions that forced him to confront his issues,” Willoughby said in an interview Wednesday at an Alexandria restaurant. “I care about him and want what’s best for him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean him keeping his job, because he needs to face these underlying issues.”
White House officials said early Wednesday that Porter could continue working for several weeks, but as the backlash grew Wednesday night, a senior White House official said he was expected to leave within 48 hours. Porter is an ally of Kelly, and in addition to serving as staff secretary, he oversaw and sought to streamline the White House’s policymaking process, working with Cabinet members and other agency officials and leading meetings about issues including immigration and trade. He played an integral role in crafting Trump’s State of the Union address last month.
Kelly saw in Porter a partner in professionalizing the operation. Porter is one of the few senior White House staffers with past government experience, having served as chief of staff to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). Though many of his colleagues have eclectic backgrounds, Porter boasts a classic pedigree as a Harvard University-educated Rhodes scholar whose father, Roger B. Porter, held senior positions in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses.
In a White House known for its ever-evolving personnel dramas, Porter kept a low profile, only rarely agreeing to be interviewed on the record and never appearing as a surrogate on television.
But he was a highly visible figure in Trump’s orbit. He was seemingly omnipresent in the Oval Office for key meetings and events, and regularly traveled with the president — often being one of only a handful of aides to accompany him on the Marine One helicopter before joining the larger staff entourage aboard Air Force One. When Trump spent weekends at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida or his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey, Porter often was along for the trip, tending to the president’s needs and briefing him on developments.
When the allegations were published Tuesday, the White House mobilized to defend Porter.
White House communications director Hope Hicks is dating Porter, according to people familiar with the relationship, and was involved in the White House’s defense of Porter on Tuesday evening. “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said in a statement Tuesday night. “He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
The White House also distributed a statement from Hatch defending Porter. “It’s incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man,” Hatch said in a statement. After the release of the photos of Holderness’s bruised eye, Hatch released a new statement.
“I am heartbroken by today’s allegations. In every interaction I’ve had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional, and respectful,” he said. “My staff loved him and he was a trusted advisor. I do not know the details of Rob’s personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent. I am praying for Rob and those involved.”
Porter’s most recent ex-girlfriend, who also works in the administration, reached out to the White House last year to express her concerns about him after she discovered his relationship with Hicks, according to a senior administration official. She told the White House counsel’s office about allegations from his ex-wives, this person said. That development was first reported by Politico.
The decision by Kelly and other top White House aides to defend Porter from domestic-violence allegations is in keeping with Trump’s modus operandi. Throughout his life, Trump has refused to apologize for alleged misdeeds, believing any such concession to be an admission of guilt and a sign of weakness.
During the 2016 campaign, more than a dozen women accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, but the then-candidate denied them all outright. He fought back against the accusers, calling the women liars and even threatening to sue some of them.
Trump’s posture and inclinations have shaped the culture of the West Wing, where aides often hunker down and try to fight back against accusations or scrutiny from the media or other outside forces.
Asked Wednesday whether Trump had any concerns about the allegations against Porter or with the photos of Holderness, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I don’t know.”
Vice President Pence, who is traveling in Asia, said he was unaware of any of the allegations against Porter until he learned of them Wednesday while in Tokyo.
Porter had a reputation in the building for his fastidious work and was liked by the president, who sometimes rages at other aides. His ex-wives said that Porter directed his abusive behavior toward them in private.
“In my experience, his anger and his lashing out is very much limited to intimate, personal romantic relationships,” Willoughby said. “He has the ability to compartmentalize and maintain his integrity and professionalism at work… . He is charming and intelligent and fun and chivalrous and — in capital letters — angry and deeply flawed.”
Willoughby, a writer and former high school teacher, said she was unaware of the abuse alleged by Porter’s first wife while she was with him. But Holderness reached out to her through Facebook in late January 2017 after she was contacted by the FBI and anticipating the background-check interview.
The two met for lunch in Arlington in March and shared their stories — months before they were contacted by reporters and shared those stories publicly this week.
Philip Rucker, Tom Jackman and Ashley Parker contributed to this report.