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Sources: White House Officials Knew About Porter's Abuse Allegations and Scrambled to Protect Him; White House: Democrats' Memo Still Being Vetting Facing Same Scrutiny as Nunes Memo; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut; The Dueling Memos; WH: Democrats Memo Still Being Vetted, Facing Same Scrutiny as Nunes Memo; Schiff Force Lewandowski Bannon to Testify In Russia Probe Keeping Them Honest; One Issue, Two Answers; Pelosi Delivers Record-Breaking 8-Hour Immigration Speech on House Floor; Did U.S. Olympics Skater Decline Meeting With VP Pence? Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired February 7, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:06] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with breaking news. New details in the abrupt departure of White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Now, you have probably never heard of him before today, but he was Chief of Staff John Kelly's right-hand man. He quit today in a cloud of spousal abuse allegations from two ex-wives, allegations he's denying.

Now, if the White House hoped this story would disappear quickly, it has not. Now, questions are being raised about who in the White House knew about the allegations, when did they know and what did they say to the public about them?

Also, there are questions about how Porter got access to classified material, despite being denied a security clearance.

We begin our coverage with Jeff Zeleny from the White House.

So, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Porter worked very closely together. What do we know about how much the chief of staff actually knew?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, they worked very closely together. Rob Porter's job, quite simply, was to control what the president sees and what he doesn't see in the Oval Office. He was a way to instill discipline in John Kelly's West Wing.

Now, we are told that Chief of Staff John Kelly had known about this for months, dating back to last fall. Now, Rob Porter today said it was part of a coordinated smear campaign. He said that as the White House was trying to explain and contain the fallout.


ZELENY (voice-over): Few people stood closer to President Trump, from the White House colonnade to the Oval Office, even a handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The White House scrambled today to defend staff secretary Rob Porter. As CNN learned, some top officials knew about the abuse allegations for months.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that Rob has been effective in his role as staff secretary and the president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.

ZELENY: Porter was responsible for nearly every document that came into the president's hands, even some classified ones, despite not having a permanent security clearance.

Tonight, CNN has learned the FBI denied his security clearance last fall after reports of abuse were discovered during a background check. Yet, Porter was still able to keep his post through a temporary waiver authorized by the White House.

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, one of the most influential advisers in the West Wing, has been in a romantic relationship with Porter, aides tell CNN. Despite that, CNN has learned, Hicks was involved in crafting the initial denial to the abuse allegations first reported Tuesday night by

Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, told CNN the abuse started shortly after their wedding in 2003. She said she was choked, punched and emotionally abused. She showed us these pictures of her bruised eye from a 2005 trip to Italy.

In a statement of resignation today, Porter said: These outrageous allegations are simply false. He acknowledged the authenticity of the photos but said the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described.

But his second wife Jennifer Willoughby sought an emergency protective order against him a year after their 2009 marriage. She wrote this after he refused to leave their apartment: He wanted to hug and make up, but was angry when I asked that he get his things and leave. I asked him several times to leave with his things. I took his clothes and put them in a suitcase on the front porch. 2

When he returned a few minutes later, he punched in the glass on the door. I called the police, afraid he would break in. When he heard me on the phone with the police, he apologized and begged me not to involve them. When he heard me give my name and address to the 911 dispatcher, he drove off.

The White House today side-stepped questions about his security clearance.

SANDERS: As has always been the policy at the White House, we don't discuss security clearances one way or the other.


COOPER: And, Jeff, in the fallout of these allegations, Porter's former boss, Senator Orrin Hatch released statements, one that came through the White House.

What happened there?

ZELENY: He did indeed, Anderson. And Rob Porter worked as the chief of staff for Senator Hatch for a long time before he came here to the White House. And this was when it was clear the White House was trying to put a positive, if you will, spin on this.

Look at this first statement from Orrin Hatch, released by the White House, trying to defend Rob Porter. It says this: It's incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on think publication that would print this and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man's good name.

But then, a statement from Senator Hatch's office himself did not include any of those famous attacks on the media so common here at the White House. This is what Senator Hatch actually said. He said this: I do not know the details of Rob's personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent.

Anderson, what this points out here, that Hope Hicks, the communications director at the White House, who had a personal relationship with Rob Porter, was, we are told, in charge of crafting the response for this. So, she was collecting positive responses, if you will, to push back on that report last evening.

Well, the comment from Senator Hatch was, you know, was issued, but the Hatch office tells us, they did not know the specifics of the allegations and certainly did not see those photographs that were released earlier today.

[20:05:06] So, that underscores the White House trying to contain this, it turns out, Anderson, they spent all day explaining it.

The question now, Rob Porter is expected to stay on until his replacement can be found here, but it is unclear how long that will be, or how long he'll stay here in the West Wing.

COOPER: And, Jeff, just to be clear, you said that General Kelly knew about this, what, starting this fall?

ZELENY: Right, that's what we're learning. That General Kelly, the chief of staff, of course, knew about this early in the fall, perhaps October or November or so because of that background check. He was alerted to the fact that the staff secretary, who, again, is a key position here in the West Wing, did not have his permanent security clearance.

So, that's why this was brought to his attention here. In fact, Rob Porter was -- he's been sort of rising in the ranks here, if you will. He's taken on a lot of other responsibilities, was talking about leaving the West Wing at the end of last year, John Kelly, we're told, urged him to stay on in this position. And it's one of the reasons that it looks like he tried hard to keep him, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, appreciate that. Now, of course, the allegations against Rob Porter are disturbing, if true, albeit, not a surprise to the White House, as Jeff just reported, at least to General Kelly.

At a time when there's a national conversation about harassment and abuse, there are also draw attention to other allegations that have been made against Trump associates and against the president himself.

More on that from Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 2016, in Jupiter, Florida, following then-candidate Donald Trump's press conference, a bizarre altercation caught on tape.

MICHELLE FIELDS, REPORTER: I can't believe he just did that. That was so hard. Was that Corey?

KAYE: That's then "Breitbart" reporter Michelle Fields claiming Trump's campaign manager at the time, Corey Lewandowski, had grabbed her tightly by the arm and yanked her down.

Lewandowski denied it ever happened, calling the reporter delusional on Twitter.

Despite several angles of video shows the incident, then candidate Trump also insisted the reporter fabricated the whole ordeal.

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps she made the story up. I think that's what happened, OK?

KAYE: In the end, Jupiter, Florida, police charged Lewandowski with simple battery, a misdemeanor, but those charges were later dropped.

Trump's pick for labor secretary Andy Puzder withdrew his name in part after claims of spousal abuse came to light. The fast food executive's ex-wife had aired the couple's dirty laundry on the Oprah Winfrey show while on disguise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once I made that break and once I made it public and remember my ex-husband was a public figure, everyone knew him and knew what he was doing and once I made that public, he vowed revenge. He said, I will see you in the gutter, this will never be over, you will pay for this.

KAYE: Later, Puzder's wife sent a letter to the senators, calling her ex-husband a kind man, saying he was not abusive. Mr. Puzder denied it all.

(on camera): The man Trump chose to be his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also once faced charges for misdemeanor domestic violence, as "Politico" first reported. A Santa Monica, California, police report from January 1996 details an altercation between Bannon and his then- spouse that left her with red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck. The report also said the woman complained of soreness to her neck. (voice-over): The responding police officer described the woman's

eyes as red and watery, saying she appeared to have been crying. A spokesperson for Bannon told "Politico" that Bannon had a great relationship with both his ex-wife and their twin daughters. The case was later dismissed.

And the president himself had also once faced accusations of domestic abuse. His first wife, Ivana, alleged in a divorce deposition that Donald Trump had raped her back in 1989. The accusation was first revealed in a 1993 book about Trump, written by a former "Newsweek" reporter.

Just before publication, Ivanka composed a statement for the book, saying: I felt violated, as the love and tenderness which he normally exhibited towards me was absent. I refer to this as a rape, but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.

After Trump announced his run for the White House, Ivana said, the story is totally without merit. Donald and I are the best of friends.

Donald Trump has always denied the allegations.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Joining us for more in the departure of Rob Porter, Dana Bash, Tara Setmayer, Kirsten Powers and Paul Begala.

Dana, you have new reporting on the Rob Porter situation?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Gloria and I have been digging tonight on kind of what has really gone on there, and a couple of things we've learned in addition to what Jeff reported at the top of the show.

First, that the president himself, we are told by two sources, did not know about these allegations, about the fact that the FBI clearly found this information when they were doing the background check of Rob Porter.

[20:10:09] He didn't -- the president didn't know until "The Daily Mail" was presented to him. So, he didn't become aware until it was in the public sphere.

And the other thing is, Ivanka Trump, we are told, was quite upset about it when she found out, particularly when she saw the photos that we all saw of Rob Porter's ex-wife and the bruises. And it's interesting and it's a very complicated dynamic, not just for Hope Hicks, the communications director, who, as Jeff was reporting, helped sort of lead the defense of Rob Porter, helped draft statements of support, but also people like Ivanka Trump and others, who in the White House have come to really know and rely on Rob Porter.

But there's also kind of a sense, I'm told, of protectiveness of Hope, despite the fact that she's -- again, it's very complicated, you know, concern because she's become almost a member of the Trump family, that if this guy, if it is true, he did it to his two ex-wives and M.J. Lee is reporting, allegedly a girlfriend, as well, would Hope be next?

COOPER: General Kelly has called him a man of, quote, true integrity and honor, and there's a reporting from the White House that they've been scrambling to defend Rob Porter.

BASH: That's exactly right. And he's called him -- as you said, a man of true integrity. That was part of the statement that Kelly drafted along with Hope Hicks and Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, Josh Raffel, who is a spokesperson for Jared Kushner and Ivanka, and so, that is true. And it is certainly noteworthy, now that we're learning more information, about the fact that Kelly, in the fall, was made aware of these allegations by his ex-wives, by the FBI.

COOPER: Paul, as someone who has worked in the White House, does it surprise you that the president would not have been informed of it, if his chief of staff knew and this is a guy that's handing the president documents and next to the president?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The president should have learned about it when the chief of staff fired Mr. Porter. This is on General Kelly. He knew about it, according to Dana's reporting and he did nothing.

He either didn't believe the charges, or he didn't care. Either one, I think, is problematic, because they're certainly credible. The women have photographs, multiple women, a restraining order. Maybe he just didn't care, which is shocking, it's just outrageous.

It's -- so, this -- I think this is where the story goes this terms of White House management. The staff secretary, just so people know, is one of the most sensitive jobs in the government. The staff secretary is the point of entree for all information to the president. So, the staff secretary receives information from the intelligence community, from the Justice Department, from the Pentagon, the most sensitive material, and then circulates to make sure they get pickup, gets pickup from each of these agencies. It's really critically that person be trustworthy.

To know that that person has been accused of domestic violence means he's subject of blackmail.

BASH: Exactly.

BEGALA: He can't get a security clearance, nor should he get one, because you have to get him out of the building.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Why the FBI brought him to the attention.

COOPER: Was it wise to have Hope Hicks involved in the statement?

SETMAYER: As a former communications director for a congressman, I can tell you, absolutely not. If that had been a circumstance where I was involved with someone on our staff who was in trouble and was facing these types of accusations, I would certainly recuse myself from that process and let the chief of staff or someone else or the deputy work that out. I just think that it's a huge conflict of interest and what she was doing involved in that, instead of -- there are plenty of other people in the white house press shop that could have handled this, instead of her.

So -- but this entire episode is really disturbing to me, because of the decision not to do anything about this when the FBI went to General Kelly about this. As the chief of staff, that is dereliction of duty, in my opinion. It is his job is to protect the office of the presidency and the president and to manage the staff.

And to find out something like this during a security clearance review, I can tell you, my husband is a federal agent, a lot of people know that. He's gone through the security reviews, they knock on, you know, your neighbor's door from third grade. These are very thorough reviews.

So, the fact they let this go, it's -- it's concerning to me, to Paul's point, they either didn't care or they were just negligent.

COOPER: Also, Kirsten, the idea that people in the White House knew and that the idea this information would not get out seems naive or just ignorant.


SETMAYER: Arrogant.

POWERS: The bigger issue that this is kind of -- this is what the Me Too movement was about. It's a lot of people don't understand that women, when they come forward and tell these stories, are almost always telling the truth. I think that there are a lot of people -- and I would put General Kelly in this basket, I think he probably believed because he had a good relationship with this person, this was a person that he respected, that this is not the kind of person that beats women.

[20:15:08] BASH: Right.

POWERS: And they don't understand that all kinds of people do that. And so, all kinds of men rape women, abuse women, and they afternoon see often seem like very upstanding, wonderful people, they might even be a good son or a good coworker, but they have this part of their life. And I think that they're just -- they still don't get it in this White House.

COOPER: I think back to remember General Kelly, at one point, when he was sort of trotted out to the White House podium, he -- I think he was attacking a congresswoman for a statement she made and one of the things he said is, back in my day, women were respected and obviously, be interesting to know if at that point, he already knew about the allegations.

BASH: Well, that's a good point. That's a good question. I do think, Kirsten, you're exactly right, that it's a cultural thing,

but it's something else. It is that you have to remember what this White House is like and what it has been like. And John Kelly found, he thought, in Rob Porter, somebody he could rely on, somebody who could do all the very, you know, important tasks of a staff secretary, which was his actual title, but also take on a really elevated role, which Rob Porter has done in the last couple of months, acting almost as a deputy chief of staff, representing Kelly when Kelly isn't there.

I mean, he did so in Davos, in a really unusual high profile way for a staff secretary. So, that's something to really keep in mind.

And, I -- talking to sources, and I know Gloria has, as well, our understanding is that Kelly kind of had his head in the sand on these allegations because he felt that Porter was so valuable and the day- to-day operations of keeping the White House ship afloat.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody on this.

Coming up next, the dueling Russia memos, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee joins to talk about that.

And what the president calls a new bombshell, newly released text messages between those two FBI agents and the conspiracy the president and others seem to think they reveal. However, there's something you need to know about the bigger picture, as well as the senator behind this all and his record when it comes to these alleged bombshells. Keeping them honest, next.


[20:20:17] COOPER: Bombshell or bunk? That's the question being asked about new FBI texts just released.

Tonight, the answer according to the latest reporting seems to be bunk. This morning, the president tweeted, in all caps, new FBI texts are bombshells. He was talking about texts between the by now familiar FBI pair, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. They were released as part of an interim report from Senator Ron Johnson, the senator who previously raised alarms about an alleged secret society within the FBI plotting against the president, secret society turn out to be something of a joke.

According to Johnson's new report, Page texted Strzok on September 2nd of 2016 about preparing talking points for then FBI Director James Comey because, quote, POTUS, meaning President Obama, wants to know everything we're doing. The senator's report alleges that the text, quote, raises additional question about the type and extent of President Obama's personal involvement in the Clinton e-mail scandal and the FBI investigation of it. Cue the conspiracy theories, cue the hyperbole, like the president calling a bombshell.

Keeping them honest, though, Johnson's report omits context that not only could provide an alternative explanation, a source familiar with the context says it, in fact, does exactly that. Three days after Lisa Page sent that text, President Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin about his meddling in the election. That would be one explanation of why President Obama was so interested in what the FBI was investigating. And that's what associates of Strzok and Page have told "The Wall Street Journal," which puts Senator Johnson on familiar ground when he was sounding the alarm about that secret society.

Johnson said on Fox News, what this is all about is further evidence of corruption more than bias. He then went on to say, corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, the secret society, we have an informant talking about a group that was holding secret meetings off- site. The frenzy he whipped up lasted for a couple of days, turned out sources tell CNN the full exchange had to do with a gag gift of Vladimir Putin-themed calendars that was basically a joke, the whole idea of an informant seemed to disappear from Senator Johnson's mouth.

When that was finally disclosed, Senator Johnson's response when asked if it could have all been a joke, said, quote, it's a real possibility . In other words, the senator's last claim was bunk and his latest one might be, as well. We should note, we asked Senator Johnson, of course, to come on the broadcast, we never heard back from his office.

However, we're happy to welcome Democratic House Intelligence Committee member, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut.

Congressman Himes, this is the second time Senator Johnson has made a claim alleging basically some conspiracy based on these text messages, only for it to turn out to be either not true or not in context. What's going on here?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, you know, it feels like just a week ago, I was standing right here talking about how sad it was that a United States senator would trade his legacy and his dignity, his integrity, for this crazy idea of a secret society, which, of course, as you said, pretty rapidly debunked.

Now, of course, he has done it again. And, you know, it's worth stepping back here so that, you know, so that the American people understand what is happening in this building. There are a number of individuals who will sacrifice any desire to be loyal to the truth, concern about their own credibility, sadly Chairman Nunes and the memo and the White House experience and the unmasking scandal, these are all faux scandals that are thrown out there to cause some Americans to say, golly, I wonder whether the FBI is on the up and up, because at some point, Bob Mueller may come through with some conclusions. It's important to the president's supporters to have that uncertainty out there.

COOPER: There probably won't be a rush obviously from Republicans to come out and talk about this publicly. I'm wondering, are you hearing anything from your Republican colleagues privately?

HIMES: Well, yeah, a great deal of concern. And it's not just private, Anderson. As you know, subsequent to the release of the Nunes memo, which, you know, the president characterized as vindicating him, a number of Republicans, including Trey Gowdy, who is not exactly thought of on my side of the aisle as, you know, kind of one of the guys who reaches across the aisle, he of the Benghazi investigation, he said this in no way vindicates the president or damages the Mueller investigation in which he has 100 percent confidence.

Speaker Ryan said that, four members of the -- Republican members of the Intelligence Committee did that. So, quite publicly, a number of Republicans, not enough, but a number of Republicans, are carefully questioning this daily effort to create a sense of whether, you know, I mean, Ron Johnson said it, corruption, all at the expense of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the fine people that work there.

COOPER: Regarding the Democratic memo, we're expecting the White House to authorize the release of it by Friday, they say, unless there's a grave threat to national security. Now, we don't know what if anything may be redacted. Is anything in your opinion less than a full release acceptable to you, or would you be OK with some redactions?

HIMES: Well, to me, who probably has more information than most, no.

[20:25:02] I don't expect to see any redactions. I mean, you know, Devin Nunes and the White House collaborated to do something that had been never done before, which was to actually confirm that an American citizen had been subject to a FISA warrant, and to talk about how that process works and, of course, to cast doubt on the integrity of that process, in my mind, without any evidence whatsoever.

So, everything in the Democratic memo makes reference to the exact same FISA warrant, so, I'm really worried that redactions, you know, the horse is out of the barn with respect to -- the horse is out of the barn with respect to classified information, so, any redactions, I fear, would be done because this memo is a pretty strong point by point reputation of the Nunes memo.

COOPER: It's much longer, almost 10 pages, I understand, and some Republicans, one that's come on the show, others have also raised questions about whether the -- Trey Gowdy, in fact, was one of those who raised questions, was saying that Democrats were, quote, smart enough to put sensitive information that would have to be redacted, which would then allow Democrats to claim that things are being hidden from the American people.

Is there any truth to that theory, the idea that you're putting sources and methods in there, knowing they're going have to be redacted and then you can say, aha, look, they're censoring this?

HIMES: No, of course not. Again, everything in the Democratic memo makes reference to the exact same FISA application that the Republicans and the president decided to put out there and to describe.

COOPER: But it is much more detailed.

HIMES: It is much more detailed because we feel some allegiance to the truth, so, unlike the Nunes memo, we have 38 footnotes, so that when we make an assertion, when we make an allegation, you can look at the footnote and you can look up, in my cases, where the notion comes from.

No, the idea that somehow the Democratic memo is puts sources and methods at risk after what's happened, that would be simply a pretext to take things out that would -- look, this memo is a refutation of the Nunes memo. I will be astonished, it may happen, I will be astonished if the Trump administration does something that it's never done before, which is voluntarily allows a fact pattern that is not necessarily conducive to the president's interests out there. So, I do expect redactions, but I'm almost 100 percent certain they will be political in nature.

COOPER: The White House says they're following the same procedures with the Democrats memo as they did with the Republican memo. Do you believe that's accurate?

HIMES: Well, if that is accurate, remember, at the State of the Union, the president leaned over to a Republican and the Republican said, release the memo, and the president, before the process was over, said 100 percent. So, when the president comes to my office and I ask him to release the memo, and he says 100 percent, I'll agree that the process is exactly parallel.

COOPER: Steve Bannon was supposed to testify in front of your committee today. Now, has another week to comply with a subpoena. Corey Lewandowski said he's not going to reappear in front of the committee without a subpoena. What are the next steps, and where is this resistance coming from?

HIMES: Well, so, with Bannon and Lewandowski and some other individuals who worked or do work at the White House, we are involved in a very complicate and legalistic dispute with the White House. And when I say we, it's not just the Democrats. It's Mike Conaway and the Republicans on the committee about getting these people to come and testify, making room for legitimate executive privilege.

And, Anderson, as you know, executive privilege means the president has an expectation that the advice that he or she gets from his advisers will not subsequently be made public. But the White House, in a number of instances, has claimed that executive privilege should extend into the transition, before the president was even the president and that it should extend to conversations that don't involve the president. This would be breaking new legal ground and, you know, we are in an argument with the White House over the nature of executive privilege on that basis.

COOPER: All right. Congressman Himes, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

HIMES: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Let's discuss this with Carl Bernstein, renowned journalist, known for its "Washington Post" coverage, the Watergate scandal. Also, Anne Milgram, a former federal prosecutor and former New Jersey attorney general and a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. Chairman Rogers, the Republican -- the argument being made by Trey

Gowdy and other Republicans that the Democrats may have, you know, put sources and methods in this with the idea that they should be -- that they will be redacted and therefore they'll claim, they'll cry foul. Does that ring true to you?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, you know -- whatever's in that memo, they're going to have to scrutinize. And if you recall, the FBI did say they didn't want the first one.

COOPER: Right.

ROGERS: So, I would be interesting to see if the FBI comes out and says, I really don't want the second one, either, what the president would do.

I will say, they're going to have to scrub it. There may be some things, as a part, as Congressman Himes talked about, the fact pattern that should not be disclosed, at least in the way they've done it and they may have to redact it. I don't know.

I think that you're never going to get to the truth, as long as both sides are shooting from the hip, and this is battle of the memoranda like I've never seen it, round 52. And I don't think any of it is helpful.

They are trying to conduct their political position through these classified memos and then release them -- that's -- no one's going to win in that, and I'll tell you what, people will go to their corners. In America, if it's the Republican version is out, they'll say I love it if you're a Republican. If the Democrat is out, they'll say I love that because it's the Democrat version.

. And what's going to be the victim here I think is the troops.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Carl, what do you make Senator Johnson coming now forward again with another story abut these text messages and other interpretation?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is a continued effort by Donald Trump, his White House and his eco- whites (ph) in the Congress of the United States, to obscure a legitimate investigation into the conduct of the President of the United States, his family, his businesses, and his organizations in the campaign and having to do with the most serious business imaginable, the undermining of our elections by the Russians. That's what everybody's eyes should be on now.

And all of this is distraction to keep your eyes, my eyes off of it and to create the impression of a partisan equal battle between two sides here. Smear the FBI and the President of the United States an authoritarian demagogue in the mold of Joe McCarthy, smear the FBI just as McCarthy smeared the Department of the Army or the voice of America or the State Department. We are watching a side show here about a President invoking treason. That's where we are. COOPER: It's so interesting Anne that a lot of these things that are happening these days, it seems like it is just about getting a news hit or the first impression and it doesn't matter if it doesn't hold up to the light of truth after several days as long as a couple of days of stories have run that there's a secret society and then its reveal oh, it's actually joke and the whole thing look silly.

ANNE MILGRAM, FMR FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well the -- the most amazing thing about Senator Johnson's report today talking about, you know, with this premise that the text messages related to the Hillary Clinton investigation, when that investigation was closed in July by then FBI Director Comey on September 2nd when the text messages were issued, the investigation wasn't open, it was not reopen until October.

So very simple factual time line really does answer the question I think of, it would have been and we don't know for certain, we do know that President Obama saw Putin three days later and that he said, he did raise Russian interference in the election at that time. So it appears to me just on its face, when you pull the facts out to be just an incredible story that was put out about the text messages.

BERNSTEIN: Facts have little to do with the approach of the White House and those Republicans in Congress who continue to carry the water for the White House instead of being interested in a legitimate investigation.

COOPER: But Chairman Rogers, does the time line of people wanting to just get an impact on -- on, you know, whatever news channel they wanted to have an impact on? And then even if it unravels over the course several days doesn't seem to matter?

ROGERS: No, I use as a very young FBI agent, I had a senior agent used to tell me when we get into these investigations he said, you know, context matters, I'm sorry and my bad mean the same thing unless you are at a funeral. Different context, that's where the drum (ph) should come in.

COOPER: Right.

ROGERS: Right there, you suppose to help me out.


ROGERS: And so context does matter. What worries me here is that we are so quick to run to the microphones, that you don't have time to absorb all the information of which you have.

COOPER: Right.

ROGERS: There are some 50,000 texts. It would be good to have someone goes through all 50,000 --

COOPER: Right.

ROGERS: -- before you drew a conclusion about what those tax meant. COOPER: I will -- the panel is going to stick around. We had to take a quick break. More on the ongoing partisan warfare of the releasing Nunes memo and rebottle memo from Democrat is still being vetted by the White House. More ahead.


[20:36:27] COOPER: Back now with our panel. White House Press Secretary Sanders insisting the vetting process for the Democratic response, the Nunes memo will be fair and similar.


SARAH SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: We're still going through the process that we went through with the Republican memo, we're going to continue to do that and once that's completed, we'll have something further to add that as to this point we don't.


COOPER: As Congressman Himes pointing out few minutes ago President Trump said on camera that after the State of the Union he fully intent to release the Nunes memo all along 100%.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's release the memo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Oh yes about -- don't worry, 100%. Can you imagine that?


COOPER: According to reports he had not even read the memo at that point. Carl, is it fair for the White House to say that is going through the same process that the Nunes memo went through?

BERNSTEIN: No. That really let them, that -- the thing left the FBI -- let the security agencies determine what can be released without revealing sources and methods of collecting information and then let the memo go. But it's all a side show. We are finding ourselves in this country now because of such conduct as we're seeing in that committee, and by the White House, we're showing ourselves to be incapable with investigating the President of the United States and those around him to determine whether or not he and those people have engaged in a conspiracy or broken the law.

And if we can't have an investigation in this country, such as we had in Watergate to determine that the President of the United States is or is not above the rule of law, we need to have the precedent and the continuation of the precedent that the President is not above the law. And what we're seeing here is a disintegration of that President by trying to smear these legitimate investigations and take us into the side show. This is not about the FBI. This is about Donald Trump, his family, his organization, his business. COOPER: Anne, the committee has threatened to hold Steve Bannon in contempt. Do they really have -- I mean what options do they have if he is refusing to respond to a subpoena.

MILGRAM: So the committee absolutely does have the option to hold Bannon in contempt. But remember, it is a majority vote. And so right now the breakdown I think is 13 Republicans, nine Democrats. A majority of that committee would be 12 people. And so this is a question of will the committee actually do that. And if they were to vote that, it would go to a full House, the full House would vote also majority vote and then it would be referred to the U.S. attorney's office if twice it was voted out. But also, in the fact that they given an additional week, it seems to me, like they're trying to get Bannon and his lawyer to walk in the door to basically say look, this is going to go. You know, I don't know whether they're willing to actually issue contempt. But I don't believe Bannon has a legitimate privilege here, has invoke to a legitimate privilege that we've heard again.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, when you hear -- you know, it seemed like were going to lot of Jeff Sessions among them appear before committees refusing answer questions, sort of invoking privilege even though the White House hasn't actually invoked privilege that we know about in the case of Jeff Sessions but just saying I just don't think I want to answer that, because this is a conversation I just don't believe I should have to answer that. Was that -- I mean is that something that commonly happen when you were chairing the committee?

ROGERS: No. And again, it's how you conduct yourself in the course of that investigation matters. And so if the people that you are bringing in they know that their comments are going to be kept in a classified setting -- on the record in a classified setting. I think you get much better cooperation. If think about what -- how they're doing this investigation.

[20:39:57] I don't know who would want to go in for any particular reason without some thought that its going to end up on CNN or Fox News or fill in the blank within about 30 seconds. And I think that is hindering their ability to do an oversight legitimate investigation insight. I will say that Mike Connoway very calm, rational. He is doing at the right way, you don't see him on TV, he's trying to put together the elements of the investigation. And of course these folks are coming in and they're not necessarily going to be cooperative to that end. There are other tools and I think by the way Holder was held in contempt by the House.

BERNSTEIN: That's right.


BERNSTEIN: Usually both parties in the Congress of the United States are very zealous of their prerogatives of the congressional branch to bring people before their committees. And when those people refuse and make superius claims of executive privilege and other privileges, they have held traditionally those people in contempt and with good reason because they have the power to bring in witnesses, and again, when you go to the partisan ropes, this is what results and that's where we are now.

COOPER: Carl Bernstein, Anne Milgram, Chairman Rogers, thanks very much.

We have more breaking news in the Rob Porter departure bringing, that's after the break. The President said he'd shutdown the government if a budget deal is missing one key thing. Now he's supporting the deal and guess what's missing. Well keeping them honest, next.


COOPER: We (INAUDIBLE) key late development in the sudden departure of White House staff Secretary Rob Porter and the spousal views allegations against him. I want to go to Jim Acosta with the very latest, he joins us now. What have you learned Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well Anderson, one of the outstanding questions we have from the day was why the White House would think it would be a good idea for the chief of staff John Kelly and others here at the White House to release statements praising Rob Porter in light of these allegations, these very serious allegations of abuse. And we got an answer. Senior White House official just told me a few moments ago that those initial statements were drafted and written in response to that first "Daily Mail" story that detailed some of these allegations, but did not include that photograph of one of Rob Porter's ex-wives with a black eye. I'm told that when that story emerged that included the photograph with one of Rob Porter's ex-wives with a black eye that that changed everything. But that simply the White House was not responding quickly enough to this fast moving story and obviously the photograph did really change everything for this White House.

[20:45:01] Now, you know, you can take a look at some of the statements that were put out earlier today. We're going to put this up on screen. One from John Kelly and one from Sarah Sanders, here's John Kelly, Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, the statement goes on to say, a confidante and a trusted professional. I'm proud to serve alongside him.

Then Sarah Sanders also release a statement the White House Press Secretary, talking about her year working alongside Rob Porter, says I've worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year and the person I know is someone in the -- the statement goes on to say, of the highest integrity and exemplary character. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.

So Anderson, the White House is saying that well we put those statements together in response to this first story, obviously they thought they could weather the storm, but that everything changed once that photograph came out, that very disturbing photograph came out. Of course Anderson it goes without saying and people are going to be saying this, I'm sure they're saying this right now with their TV screens, you shouldn't need a photograph --


ACOSTA: -- to know that domestic violence is a very serious issue and that --

COOPER: Right, because I mean there --

ACOSTA: -- reporter should done -- right working at the White House in the first place.

COOPER: There were -- there was an extemporaneous account to when after the police recall by one of the women about the incident, you know, there was an order of protection I believe. And so there was history of this in documentation. It's not as if --

ACOSTA: Right.

COOPER: -- they -- this, you know, came out of whole cloth. It was only -- it's interesting that they're saying it was only the photo that somehow changed the perception.

ACOSTA: And I think that's the -- that might be because Porter and perhaps some of his very loyal allies inside the White House were maybe circling the wagons around him and saying, listen, you know, this is -- this stuff isn't true. Putting aside the fact that there was documented evidence and so on. But when the photograph came forward and then Rob Porter himself was saying in that statement, hey, I know that photograph. I took that photograph. It became very obvious to people here at the White House that he could no longer stay here. But it just goes to show you they were not responding quickly enough or appropriately enough to the damaging and disturbing allegations in this story and it took a photograph to really move them in the direction that we saw things end up today. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. I'm not sure they're helping themselves by using that as their explanation that it took the photo to --

ACOSTA: I'm sure --

COOPER: -- yes. Jim Acosta. Yes, thanks very much.

More news, the Senate today reach the shutdown of burning (ph) bipartisan budget deal, something for everyone but nothing for either the White House or Democrats on immigration. This evening the President tweeted out his a-OK." The budget agreement today is so important for our great military. It ends the dangerous quester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America great. Republicans and Democrats must support out troops and support this bill.

Keeping him honest, that is interesting, because just yesterday the President said that without a deal addressing his immigration agenda, he'd welcome a shutdown.


TRUMP: I would shut it down over this issue. I can't speak for everybody at the table, but I will tell you, I would shut it down over this issue. If we don't straighten out our border, we don't have a country. Without borders we wouldn't have a country. So would I shut it down over this issue? Yes.


COOPER: So that was yesterday. And here is today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he said yesterday is now no longer operative? He is going to support a two year spending bill without funding for the wall?

SANDERS: Look, as I said yesterday, the focus for us has always been to get a two year budget deal. We've also laid out the priorities that we want to see in any immigration legislation. And we expect to see that we do want -- that we made no secret the President wants funding for the wall, he want border security. And we expect to see that reflected in the budget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he wanted to shut the government down if he didn't get it. Now, that's no longer operative, is that no longer the position?

SANDERS: No, the position hasn't changed and I addressed this yesterday. The President is making a point. The only people that have shut are the Democrats. We haven't shut the government down, we've laid out exactly what we want to happen and we're working towards achieving those goals.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he said -- he is the one who said he wanted to shut the government down. I'm not understanding.

SANDERS: Look --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said I want a government shutdown.

SANDERS: The point he is making when you put it in the context is that if we are going to have that fight, it's a fight that the Democrats started last time and they lost and we think that we would win again.


COOPER: So that was today. If that answers seems kind of like a world solve that still leaves you confuse and someone hungry. Let me justreplay what the President himself actually said just 24 hours ago.


TRUMP: Without borders we don't have a country. So would I shut it down over this issue, yes.


COOPER: Sounds pretty clear. The senate budget agreement in addition to not dealing with immigration especially DACA also adds greatly to the budget deficit, the first guarantees trouble with Democrats, the second with Republican budget hoax. Phil Mattingly joins us with more and how the deal came together? How it may move from here. Phil, where the thing stand?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have the deal, $300 billion in increases and spending over the course of two years, more than $80 billion in disaster relief for ravage Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico. Even an increase in the debt ceiling, taking that usually self- imposed crisis off the table for Congress until March of 2019.

[20:50:13] We have the deadline as well. Obviously midnight tomorrow night, the government shuts down. What we don't have yet or we don't know is where the votes are. Anderson, you hit the key issue right now. There are going to be Republicans that vote against this. There are fiscal hoax from the House premium caucus, who've already said they're completely opposed to this. What that means is that Speaker Paul Ryan in the house is going to need Democratic votes and that's a problem.

The reason? Exactly what you laid out. DACA, immigration, for a long period of time this deal has been held up because Democrats recognize that Republicans want defense spending so much, the increases in defense spending, that it's a key piece of leverage for a party that's in the minority in the House and the Senate. Decoupling those two items without any guarantees of a House debate on the immigration issue, that would be problematic. Because of that, there are real questions right now and how many Democrats Speaker Paul Ryan can bring aboard.

Now, it's worth noting, aides that I'm talking to Anderson say they feel like they will be able to get there, they feel like there will be enough Republicans support this deal. They're not going to need an enormous amount of Democrats, but it's still an open question going into tomorrow. And that obviously is quite the high wire act given how little time there until that deadline, Anderson.

COOPER: And the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had a record breaking speech on the House floor today. Will it have any impact?

MATTINGLY: Yes. Look, I think it's an open question to some degree, right? But it was an important moment for the leader, who has come out against this bipartisan deal, which is interesting in and of itself. Her staff was integral to actually getting this done. They were in the room every single step of the way. But the leader's issue was DACA. It was immigration. It was the fact that what Senate has -- or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has committed to, an open debate, no fingers on the scale, everybody who has an amendment can put it up, has not been committed to yet in the House. Speaker Paul Ryan making clear he wants to deal with this, but he also wants to deal with it if it's something that President Trump supports. That's the trust deficit right now. And that's why you saw Leader Pelosi on the floor Anderson, as you noted, eight hours, the longest continuous speech on the House floor in at least a century perhaps ever. Reading letters from Dreamers, reading a bible verses, trying to make clear to her caucus and also in general how huge an issue is. I think the big question right now when I'm talking to Democratic aides is will that have the effect of getting the entire caucus or at least more than they need to keep the votes from going over the 2016 threshold Speaker Paul Ryan is to actually shut this down altogether, to get some kind of commitment for an open debate.

Right now that still an open question. Again, Anderson I'm hearing they feel like they'll be in good shape towards the end, there's no question about it. Leader Pelosi rallied the Democratic caucus today, rallied the outside advocated that have been so forceful on this issue. What that means going forward, well, we're going into just about 24 hours till a shutdown, and that's still an open question, Anderson.

COOPER: Phil Mattingly, appreciate it. Thanks.

Coming up, did U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon turn down a meeting with Vice President Pence, because the Vice President stands on equality for gays and lesbians? Details ahead.


[20:55:10] COOPER: "USA Today" is reporting that U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon declined an invitation by Vice President Pence to meet with him during the winter Olympics after criticizing the Vice President on his stance for gays and lesbians, the newspaper says that after reading remarks by Rippon a couple weeks ago, the Vice President through his aides wanted to set up a face to face meeting to talk about it. CNN's Will Ripley is in South Korea for us tonight. Will, what are you learning about this?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we know that Adam Rippon gave that interview on January 17th with Christine Brennan from "USA Today," very well source reporter, who said that he didn't feel -- Rippon didn't feel that Vice President Pence should represent the United States delegation at the Olympics given his track record of being unfriendly to the LGBT community. There was a statement up on a congressional website back in 2000 where some people perceived to indicate his support of gay conversion therapy, and Rippon, out as a figure skater, said he didn't want any part of it and said he had no interest in meeting with Vice President Pence at the Olympics, which is customary for the U.S. athletes.

COOPER: So what is the Vice President -- what is his office now saying about all this?

RIPLEY: Well, the Vice President's office is disputing "USA Today's" reporting that he was so disturbed by this article that he tried to set up a meeting with Rippon, which Rippon then denied. There's a tweet out from the Jarrod Agen, the VPs communications director, reads, the "USA Today" report is false and should be corrected. The Vice President's office did not reach out to set up a conversation with Mr. Rippon. As we've said before, the Vice President is supporting all the U.S. athletes in the Olympics and is hoping they all win medals. But, again, Christine Brennan, very well sourced, standing by her reporting, says there will not be a correction.

COOPER: It's not just the figure skater who has concerns about the Vice President leading the delegation. I want to play something that Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy told Ellen Degeneres just the other day.


GUS KENWORTHY, OLYMPIC FREESTYLE SKIER: Myself and Adam Rippon are the two first openly gay males competing in the Olympics and it's just incredible to see how times have changed. But then to have someone leading the delegation that's like directly attacked the LGBT community and just a cabinet in general that just sort of stands against us and has tried to do things to set us back, it just seems like a bad fit.


COOPER: Has Gus or Rippon said more about this?

RIPLEY: Yes, Gus Kenworthy, the freestyle skier and Adam Rippon have both said they have no desire to meet with President Trump at the White House after the Olympics. And if you think about it Anderson this is really a sea change for Olympic athletes who are out. You think about Johnny Weir the two-time Olympian who was criticized by judges for the way he dressed, for his behavior. You think about Brian Boitano he won the gold in 1988, he didn't come out until 2014 because he was afraid he would lose sponsorship deals, perhaps he would be penalize by the judges. So to have now Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy, two openly gay Olympic athletes who's are taking a political stance like this, it's really an extraordinary change for the Olympics.

COOPER: Will Ripley, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Up next, a key White House aide denies domestic abuse allegations against him but resigns. Sources say White House officials, at least some knew about the allegations and protected him. The latest from the White House when we continue.