Explaining and defending actions of the Trump administration is not an easy job. Sean Spice found that out on Day 1 when he overstated the size of the president’s inauguration crowd. His successor Sarah Huckabee Sanders engages in verbal gun fight with the White House press corps almost on a daily basis.
On Thursday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah had a baptism by fire when he subbed Sanders at the famed podium. And the debut performance of the Indian American was anything but smooth.
Unfortunately for Shah, the first Indian American to brief the White House press corps, his opening act happened to be on the day the White House was on the defensive over spousal abuse allegations against the recently resigned White House staff secretary Rob Porter.
He resigned on Wednesday after the Daily Mail and The Intercept published accounts of two ex-wives of Porter. Initially, White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly had strongly defended his former aide, calling him a man of “integrity.”
The 32-year-old Shah stepped into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at 3.40 PM EST, after the briefing was delayed a couple of times. He started with a statement on the resignation of Porter.
Shah said that Kelly was totally unaware of the statements from Porter’s ex-wives. The deputy press secretary said Kelly “became fully aware about these allegations yesterday.”
Late in the evening, it emerged that Kelly was aware of the allegations earlier, and the reason for the changed statement was the publication of a photo one of Porter’s ex-wives with a massive black eye. Shah also failed to give an answer to the question “how the chief of staff did not know” about the allegation, which was made to the FBI during the vetting process.
Porter did not get the full clearance. Many of the questions at the briefing were related to the vetting process.
Shah said that the background check for Porter was never completed.
“The background investigation process is the process for evaluating allegations about a White house staffer’s conduct prior to joining the White House,” he said. “It’s run by the federal law enforcement and intelligence communities. It’s used throughout the US government. It’s thorough, it’s complex, and it takes time. It takes time because we want to get it right. It’s also costly, but it’s absolutely worth it.”
He also added that the allegations “as we understand them involve incidents long before he joined the White House.”
Shah even said Porter was “terminated” instead of resigned.
“He offered his resignation and it was accepted,” the deputy press secretary then corrected himself.
“I think you’ve got to take allegations seriously,” Shah said. “You’ve got to take denials seriously. And again, the statements reflected out experience with Rob Porter and other officals’ experience with Rob Porter.”
CNN described Shah’s briefing “disastrous” while The Washington Post raised the question, “Will he ever again appear at the podium?”
Later, CNN reported that Trump wasn’t very pleased with Shah because he appeared admitting a mistake during the briefing.
The only silver lining for Shah was his debut wasn’t as bad as that of Sean Spicer’s.
Indian American Raj Shah gets key post in Trump’s communications team (September 12, 2017)
Media hostile to Donald Trump, says Raj Shah (February 20, 2017)
Trump is India’s friend: Raj Shah (February 16, 2017)
Trump appoints Indian American Raj Shah to key White House position (January 5, 2017)