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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Sources: White House Officials Knew About Porter's Abuse Allegations and Scrambled to Protect Him; White House Aide Resigns Amid Domestic Assault Allegations; GOP Senator's Accusations About Pres. Obama's Involvement in Clinton E-mail Investigation Called into Question; John Kelly Releases Statement on Porter's Resignation; GOP's Graham: Military Parade "Cheese and a Sign of Weakness". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 7, 2018 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:00:33] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the second hour of "360".

On the table tonight, a West Wing scandal, the departure of a key aide, a central aide to the President with access to classified material, leaving in a storm of allegations of spousal abuse. Also Corey Lewandowski, will he talk to the House Intelligence Committee and what happens if he doesn't? And the President wants a parade, and Washington wants to know about the price tag.

We begin, though, with that scandal. The sudden departure of Rob Porter, White House Staff Secretary, Chief of Staff John Kelly's right hand man, an alleged spousal abuser two times over. CNN Jim Acosta has late details. He joins us now from the White House.

So what do we know about Rob Porter's resignation and how it came about?

Jim Acosta: Well, essentially, Anderson, they were starting to work on this over the last 24 to 48 hours when this Daily Mail story broke. They knew they had to respond to this. And essentially what they've been saying up until really late today was that, you know, there were some thoughts that Rob Porter could weather the storm.

And, you know, Rob Porter himself put out a statement saying that much of this is not true. Of course he resigned earlier today, and the White House had to deal with this at the daily briefing. But this is the statement from Rob Porter, talking about these allegations of abuse from two of his ex-wives. "These 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."

Anderson, the photos they are referring to, one of the ex-wives is photographed with a black eye. CNN has obtained that photo as well as other news outlets. It obviously demonstrates that there are some very serious questions about Porter's behavior in both of his marriages.

COOPER: And how does his security clearance come into play here?

ACOSTA: Well, security clearance is something that's been going on for a year now, even up until this point. From what we understand, he has not been able to obtain a permanent security clearance. And that over the course of that process, the FBI does background checks and so on, these allegations of domestic abuse surfaced. And the White House really did nothing about it.

From what we understand from our sources, the White House, top officials including John Kelly, knew about some of these allegations and some of these problems with Porter obtaining this security clearance last fall and that Porter was allowed to stay on, and he actually saw his stock rise inside the West Wing. As you know, as the staff secretary, he has very close access to the President, and that was not limited.

COOPER: And we're learning new information about the White House's response to this.

ACOSTA: That's right. One of the curious things, Anderson, was right before Sarah Sanders came out of the press briefing, they issued these statements of support for Rob Porter, one from the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly and another from the White House Secretary Sarah Sanders. Sarah read some of those statements at the briefing today. Here's what she had to say when she was asked about this earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, Anderson, it's odd that a White House would say something like that with so many damaging and disturbing allegations swirling around Rob Porter. We talked to a senior White House official earlier this evening who said that some of those statements that Sarah Sanders was reading in the briefing room and that were also released to the media today, including from the Chief of Staff John Kelly, were drafted and written in response to the initial Daily Mail story in all of this, but that those statements were not changed when this other story came out and the other report surfaced, including from CNN that included a photograph from one of Porter's ex-wives with a black eye.

And according to our sources, that really changed everything. That was when the White House realized that Porter really had no future here. Anderson?

COOPER: Again, though, I mean you and I talked about this a little bit in the last hour when this story broke. It's sort of odd that it took a photograph of a black eye as opposed to the extemporaneous accounts of both these women. I mean there was handwritten documentation about him punching a window in her front door, about calling police and him taking off, her being frightened, that none of that was enough to convince them, but it took a photograph.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. They were circling the wagons around Rob Porter. They've been doing this for months. They thought they could weather this storm that came about after the first Daily Mail story.

And, Anderson, obviously the White House, it should be the shining example to all the world in terms of what is accepted behavior by its staffers, that clearly was not demonstrated by this staff over the last several months when it came to rob porter.

[21:05:08] You shouldn't need a photograph to be able to deal with allegations of abuse like this, especially when they interfere with his security clearance. A security clearance was not obtained permanently by Rob Porter over the last year, and yet he had this very close, high-level access to the president of the United States.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, appreciate that.

I want to bring in the panel, Dana Bash, she's got more reporting on this, Kirsten Powers, Jack Kingston, Tara Setmayer, and Paul Begala.

The new reporting you have is about whether the -- what the President knew.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are told -- Gloria Borger and I are told he didn't know about these allegations until it got into the paper, until it got into the Daily Mail yesterday. Unclear if it was yesterday or today when the pictures that Jim was talking about actually came out.

And that is sort of by way of context, despite the fact that his Chief of Staff was aware of the allegations because it was -- they were presented to him by the FBI as part of the background check that they were doing on Rob Porter.

COOPER: And it was considered serious enough I guess by the FBI to not allow a permanent background check?

BASH: Apparently. Yes. I mean that's certainly what it seems to be. You know, it's unclear if the FBI said, you know, we're not going to do this or if it's even -- if the FBI made a recommendation. We don't know the exact detail of how it worked.

But what we do know and what really matters is that the FBI found all of this basic information about his ex-wives, about the allegations of abuse, and that came up readily apparently during the background check.

What John Kelly didn't do was not only not tell the President, but obviously just we are told, told Porter to kind of sit tight because Kelly felt like he needed Porter because there was -- no surprise -- a feeling that there was a chaotic atmosphere in the White House. Rob Porter was very important to Kelly in terms of doing the regular staff secretary job, which, you know, Paul talked about and can talk about more. But also acting as a de facto deputy chief of staff and really stepping in for Kelly on a number of occasions. So he had become very valuable.

COOPER: Kirsten, does the White House do themselves any favors by saying, oh, it wasn't until we saw the photo then that's when we --

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: No. I mean this looks like something that they treated as a P.R. problem, not as an actual moral issue, you know. This is kind of the way things used to be done, which is if you are important and you matter to people in power, you are allowed to be accused of rape or accused of beating a woman. That's what the whole Me Too Movement has been about, about changing that mentality.

And so they still seem to be trapped in that mentality and thinking just as long as this doesn't cause us any problems in the outside world, we know about this. We've been informed by the FBI. It's not like it was gossip, you know. Actually, we're told by the FBI, there was a police -- you know, some sort of a -- not restraining order, but some sort of protective order with the police.

COOPER: And a call to 911.

POWERS: Yes. So I mean there was -- there's these two people, there was a lot of different information and then you hear Sarah Sanders saying this, you know, he's been in effective in his role as staff secretary. Well, nobody said anything about that. There's nothing to do with it. No one is accusing him of being a bad staff secretary. They're saying that he is accused of beating two wives, and they don't feel like this is a problem.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But this is an example, though, of what happens in corporate America or in the private sector to Kirsten's point where you can just sweep those things under the rug. Well, you know, it doesn't matter if you're a horrible person.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: Sweep it under the rug. It doesn't matter if you're horrible person. But if you are our top trader or you're the CEO, then, you know, as long as you're capable and effective, we'll protect you. That's not how it works in politics, in government, especially when you are being paid by the taxpayers. That should not be OK. Character matters. And in this administration, we see over and over again excuses being made for bad behavior. There is nothing normal about this.

What happened to Donald Trump being the person who hires the best people? We can go down the list of all of the best people that are no longer there, that have either resigned in disgrace or were pushed out or fired for a number of things.

And here's another perfect example of that. And the fact that the Chief of Staff, whose job it is to manage the staff, protect the office of the presidency and the president, and make sure the best people are there was a willing participant in sweeping something as serious as this under the rug. And I think that's shameful.

JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Or it's possible that they were taken in as Hillary Clinton was with her spiritual adviser, who was accused of sexual harassment. Often people who do these sort of things are con men. They have maybe a split personality, and it's obvious that he was popular in the White House for whatever reason.

The second thing I want to add is --

SETMAYER: What does that have to do with anything?

KINGSTON: Everything.

[21:09:59] SETMAYER: No, really, what does that have to do with anything? The FBI told --

KINGSTON: OK. Let me --

SETMAYER: -- maybe that was the case until the FBI told the Chief of Staff in the fall. Then there's no excuse for that.

KINGSTON: Let me say this. There's possibly another side to the story. John Kelly, as we all know, has had a very distinguished military career. I can say this having served on the Armed Services Subcommittee of Appropriations and representing five military installations, the military doesn't put up with stuff like this. And so if he had this information, there's no way in the world he could have sat on it.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: No, we've got to stop. That's just not true. There have been so many stories of the ignoring of sexual abuse.

KINGSTON: Let me round the corner here. But what I'm saying, it's appalling that he would have had this kind of information and sat on it. The military would not have put up with it. I'm not saying that they ever have --

POWERS: They have --

KINGSTON: -- but the minute that it's known, then heads roll.

COOPER: Well, that's --

SETMAYER: That's the point I just made. He knew in September and didn't do anything about it.

KINGSTON: Well, we don't know what he knew and what he didn't. And that's all I'm saying.

SETMAYER: There is a police report.

KINGSTON: Well what do you know all about what he got clearance on, but I don't because I --

SETMAYER: If I know that I know how that security clearances work. Yes, I do know how security clearances work, and you do too, Jack.

KINGSTON: I'm saying there is a --

SETMAYER: The FBI --

COOPER: Does it make sense to you that they are now coming forward and say, well, it's the photograph. We didn't see this photo. We put out all these things.

KINGSTON: No, that doesn't make sense. That's why I'm saying there's got to be something else here. I'm willing to think that there is something else here because where was that photograph? Why didn't they react earlier?

COOPER: Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: General Kelly, as Jack points out, defended America in uniform for decades. He should be respected for that. He did not defend America in this case. He let down his guard. He let down his country. He let down our President.

The police report alone said this. It's a temporary emergency protective order from police in Arlington, Virginia, and it says there are reasonable grounds -- that reasonable grounds exist to believe Porter has committed family abuse, and there is probable danger of further such offense. That's a police report.

The FBI, according to the reporting, brings that to the Chief of Staff. This is an instant firing offense, and the fact that -- just a second, the fact that General Kelly did not protect our country from someone who is a wife beater and as potential victim of blackmail. If the Daily Mail found out, don't you think North Koreans knew? Don't you think they are running --

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: And I agree with you on all of the above. But one that you also say based on what we know about John Kelly doesn't this seem way out of line?

SETMAYER: Well --

KINGSTON: And that's what I don't quite understand.

SETMAYER: -- according to Jim Acosta, he said that generals that have served with him said that this is not the John Kelly I know. So perhaps there's something going on.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Wait a minute. Let me just stop. This is the John Kelly who came in front of the White House podium saying, back in my day, women were respected. SETMAYER: And call --

COOPER: But that's not true. I mean women didn't have the right to vote. Women were treated as --

SETMAYER: Here's --

COOPER: -- second class citizens.

SETMAYER: -- what I --

COOPER: So the idea that he lived in this halcyon world as a kid where women were respected, that's just fantasy. So the idea -- so it's not that surprising that he might also now live in some fantasy world.

BASH: And unfortunately for John Kelly, the past 48 hours have painted a very different and not so great picture. And it started yesterday with his own words, not once but twice, denigrating people who, you know, were brought to this country --

COOPER: This lazy Mexicans were --

BASH: -- rebel call to their own kind of they didn't come out the shadows because first that they were lazy, they couldn't get off their ass, and then corrected it just by saying, well, they couldn't get off the couch. And then -- and now we don't have all the facts. There could be a side of the story we just don't know, and we have to say that.

But if what we know is representative of what you were saying, Paul, that the Chief of Staff knew about this, got the police report, heard from the FBI, and didn't act, it also is bringing another aspect of John Kelly and who he is that is not necessarily a great thing.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. We have a new reporting to bring you on this next. Also later tonight, the Russia investigation where the President today called a bombshell, keeping them honest, could be something else entirely.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:17:31] COOPER: Talking about the growing scandal at the White House over how former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, the plan was for him to stay on to ensure a smooth transition, now that seems to be changing. There's this from our Jeff Zeleny. A White House official says Rob Porter will be out of the West Wing as early as Thursday. The transition that Sarah Sanders talked about was the plan before things blew up today and is no longer operative.

Also an official tells Jeff Zeleny that Porter misled people in the West Wing, including Kelly, by saying his exes were trying to smear him. This official disputes the assertion that Kelly knew all of these details for months. It wasn't until last week that Kelly knew he had been twice married, the official said. Jeff also reports that Kelly will be putting out a statement soon. So obviously we'll bring that to you as soon as it happens.

Back now with the panel.

SETMAYER: This is why you don't put out an official statement. This is putting me -- putting my communications director hat on. You don't put out an official statement if that unequivocal that he, you know, integrity, and he was wonderful. You don't do that until you have all of these facts done. They should have said, we are looking into this and, you know, if the allegations are true, we will take action.

COOPER: It's so interesting to see the Orrin Hatch --

SETMAYER: Right.

COOPER: -- statement. It was one that was sort of funneled through the White House that --

SETMAYER: Yes.

COOPER: -- didn't sound like it came from Orrin Hatch.

SETMAYER: Kind of like it was written by Donald Trump.

COOPER: Right. Correct. Or by, you know --

SETMAYER: Or Hope Hicks.

COOPER: -- Hope Hicks or whoever. The actual Orrin Hatch statement they put out, which was like two lines, was to the effect of we knew nothing about Rob Porter's home life and sexual abuse, you know, is --

POWERS: Well, apparently ---

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: -- led to believe, I think, that he was just -- he was under some sort of attacks on his character, and they didn't say exactly what it was. And once he -- I guess, he was told what it was, he actually gave a very appropriate statement.

SETMAYER: Right.

KINGSTON: But I think there's going to be a real interesting back- story here because if I'm the president right now I'm talking to John Kelly and saying, tell me what you knew, who kept this information from you if you did not know, Why in this atmosphere would you sit on something like this?

COOPER: Paul?

BEGALA: Well, let's watch him throw the FBI in the grease again. From the reporting, the FBI did their job, right? They did the background check and they are exhaustive, believe me, I've been through.

SETMAYER: Yes. BEGALA: And they brought the information and it wasn't acted on. Remember at the very beginning of the Trump presidency when the Justice Department brought the information to the President's counsel that General Flynn was compromised and they didn't act on it. This is part of a pattern. And the first week or two, maybe they didn't fully understand the responsibilities ahead to protect our country, but by now --

[21:20:00] KINGSTON: Well, that was brought to them by Sally Yates, DOJ, who was a partisan.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It's interesting to find out what in fact John Kelly knew because I mean if the FBI -- certainly, the FBI knew he had had two wives. The FBI had access to all of that. So if question -- you know, did Kelly raise any questions like, well, why can't he get a security clearance? And, you know, let me see the information of why he can't. You would -- you would want -- if your employee can't get a security clearance in a job that you need a security clearance, you would ask questions about, well, why?

BASH: Absolutely. And look, he -- if he -- when he puts out a statement, we'll see how he explains those questions. Right now what we are told -- myself, Gloria, and a whole bunch of other members of the CNN team is that he did -- he -- John Kelly, did know about the basics, certainly enough about the basics about these allegations and police reports.

But I do think that if you kind of take a step back, this is a snapshot of what we have seen a pattern of in business, in media, and elsewhere in politics where somebody is told they're not really sure, you know, if -- they don't really -- they don't handle the information correctly. But meanwhile, other people who work with the person accused of these terrible things see the person as a completely different being.

And I think that's the point you're making, Congressman, is that I'm sure you all know people who know Rob Porter. I certainly do. Women and men, particularly women in the White House who thought of him until today and yesterday as somebody who's very nice, a very sort of boy scout kind of guy, even soft-spoken to the point where he was the kind of person who you would be sitting in a meeting with and you couldn't -- you'd ask him to speak up because he's that kind of anti to the alpha male or the, you know, aggressor that we're seeing now.

So it just is a reminder that even people who you think you know well can surprise you in a very, very tragic way.

POWERS: It's based on two things. It's that, and it's also the idea that women make up stuff. And so it really -- the two things come together. It's the idea of that bad -- you know, bad people always -- are always bad, and they look a certain way or, you know, somebody who beats his wife, I'm going to know that because of how he interacts with me at work. But it also includes that women go around making up stories about men raping them or abusing them or beating them, even this idea that these were women that were trying to smear him. I'm not saying it never happens. It does happen occasionally. It's extremely rare. This is two people. This is also the FBI. This isn't gossip. It's not something that was heard through the water cooler. This is the FBI who are trained to tell whether people are making things up.

And so the fact that they should just give it a little -- a lot more credence than they would if it was just something they overheard or someone made up some gossip.

KINGSTON: The other thing is that photograph actually looks like an official police file or something. It doesn't look like a selfie. It doesn't look like some --

COOPER: Well he said he took that photograph.

KINGSTON: Yes. And then he says in a statement that the photograph was not because that it was like out of context or something like that. And he is vehemently denying everything --

POWERS: Yes.

KINGSTON: -- which falls in line with your point.

SETMAYER: Except that there's three women. It's the two ex-wives and then a girlfriend that he lived with who reached out according to reporting, who reached out to the ex-wives because he was abusive to her and she was asking them because they were the only people she could turn to who would understand. How do they handled it?

I believe her -- the quote the story it, how do I escape this? And she made to mention that it was almost like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation where he said -- we could just go from being the nicest person to this monster in a matter of minutes. So that go -- that speaks to how people and kind of the silent suffering that a lot of domestic abuse victims suffer from that I think is so important, which is why shows like "Big Little Lies" on HBO was so critically acclaimed because of this story line where you think someone is living this perfect life. Meanwhile in silence they're suffering from domestic abuse.

And I think this is a perfect example if all this is true where that happens to people on a daily basis and unfortunately it's the tabloid Trump White House that's playing out on the taxpayer's dime.

COOPER: Lets we'll see if Kelly's statement comes out within this hour or this evening.

Up next, in the latest in the Russia probe. And later the military parade the President wants and the questions that lawmakers and so many others have about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:26:49] COOPER: Welcome back. This morning the President tweeted in all caps by the way, "New FBI texts are bombshells." He was talking about exchanges between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page famously now of course of the FBI. They were released as part of an interim report from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. According to Senator Johnson's new report, Page texted Strzok on September 2nd of 2016 about preparing talking points for then FBI Director James Comey because, "Potus," meaning President Obama, "wants to know everything we're doing."

Now, the Senator's report alleges that the text, "Raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama's personal involvement in the Clinton e-mail scandal and the FBI investigation of it." Keeping them honest, though, Johnson report omits context that could provide an alternative explanation. Three days after Lisa Page sent that text, President Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin about his meddling in the election.

A source familiar with the context tells us that this was why Mr. 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" as well. Senator Johnson, you'll remember, seized on another Strzok- Page exchange referring to a secret society, suggesting it was evidence of corruption and secret off site meetings. He even claimed to have an informant on this.

It turns out sources tell CNN the full exchange had to do with a gag gift to Vladimir Putin themed calendars. I mean that was finally disclosed. CNN's Manu Raju asked Senator Johnson whether it could all have been a joke, he said, "It's a real possibility."

We asked Senator Johnson to come on the program but never heard back from his staff or any secret society. In our last hour, I asked the member of the House Intelligence Committee about it, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HIMES, (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: These are all faux scandals that are thrown out there for the sole purpose of causing 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. And it's important to the President's supporters to have that uncertainty out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Back now with our panel. Joining us also is Mike Rogers and Carl Bernstein.

Dana, I mean this is the second time now we've heard from Senator Johnson. The first time you would think after, you know, kind of floating this secret society idea and then having it really kind of turn out to be a joke and also making claims about an informant backing up the claims, that informant seemed to have disappeared or not been in on the joke. You might be a little bit more cautious about jumping to get on camera to talk about a new conspiracy.

BASH: This is exhibit 174,000 of the Trumpization of Washington, I think really. I mean this is -- a classic case of politicians who know better and were different frankly in many ways pre-Trump and before the culture changed, who wouldn't think of making a mistake to never mind three times, and -- or approaching something in the way that he has. And that's the only explanation I have --

COOPER: But maybe it doesn't matters --

BASH: -- which is not an excuse.

COOPER: Right.

BASH: That's exactly.

COOPER: It doesn't matter if what you're saying is not true, because you've --

BASH: That's my point.

COOPER: -- taken up the news cycle for two or three days.

BASH: That's my point, which is, you know, which is why we need, you know, keeping them honest on a loop because we have to keep saying that over and over again. But the fact of the matter is that I think that that notion and the atmospherics that start with the President is seeping into the rest of Washington, even people who didn't behave that way.

[21:30:08] COOPER: Was it always like this, Chairman Rogers? I mean just -- like jumping -- obviously, look, you know, politicians want to get on a camera, they want to get on their local news in their districts and stuff. But does it seem to be in kind of warp speed now?

MIKE ROGERS, (R) FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yes. You know, there's a consequence so overtime for this and some notion that there isn't. So your credibility starts to erode. And so if you become this kind of joke that, you know, that goes around after you make several of these, you can do one and make a mistake, and sure and say, oops, I jumped the gun. But if you continue down this road, it will hurt your credibility.

I think the chairman of the intel community is paying a price for this now, where his credibility is really not great on this since there are people back home are going to have questions, people in D.C. are going to have questions. That will take its toll overtime. So I do think there's some self-policing in this.

COOPER: Do you think the confidence in the FBI is being eroded in the public mind?

ROGERS: I mean -- I've served in both places. I was an FBI agent and I was a member of the House of Representatives, and I was chairman of that committee. And it's sad to me to watch both of this. I mean I think they're destroying the credibility of one of the most important committees because it deals with such sensitive information and so few people get it. Not every member of the House gets it.

And it's really important that you do that accurately and same with the FBI trying to, I think, at least raise questions that they were engaged in politics in a way that was suspicious, even though the information you can't quite get there from what they gave us. I mean those are serious charges.

If you're going to make that serious of charge out of the premier law enforcement agency in the world, then you should have an investigation, refer it to the I.G., and get something done. This battling of the memos will serve to detract from the FBI'S mission.

Remember, when you're out on the street, I worked organized crime in Chicago, the whole goal here is when you walk up and try to get somebody to cooperate with you when it is not in their best interest necessarily, right, they could get killed. All kinds of bad things could happen to them. But the one thing that they do is they come through at the end and say but I trust the FBI. I know you'll take care of us.

That's the part they don't see they're eroding. They think they're engaged in a political fight. You're actually talking to that source who's out in Chicago or New York City or somewhere else, who's thinking about, I have something that can help my community. And the FBI? Maybe I don't do it.

COOPER: Kirsten, I mean is the point of this just to muddy the waters so much that it sort of becomes like a he said he said, you know --

POWERS: Yes. I mean, I think Trump has been pretty -- he's won that battle frankly. That's where it is. I think people now think this is just -- it's just like a disagreement that Democrats and Republicans have about any issue, you now. And everyone will just go to their sides and they're like -- and so they believe that it's just, yes, a bunch of -- it's a political witch hunt.

But, look, we've talked about this from the very beginning. This is not an accident. Donald Trump is doing this systematically with every institution that we have. We see with the media what he's done. The goal is for people to only believe what Trump says. And everybody else that says anything that goes against him is suspect. They're fake news or they're politicized FBI or whatever it is. And I think that he's been largely successful at that.

BEGALA: It's true. The federal judiciary is stacked with fake judges. Obviously the media is fake news. You guys can't be believed.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: The intel.

BEGALA: The intel community is like the Gestapo, he once said.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: He has done it in every institution.

KINGSTON: And I remember Hillary Clinton calling something a right- wing conspiracy. So, let's go home --

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: When Hillary Clinton called the Whitewater investigation, led by Henry Hyde, who wasn't exactly a partisan zealot, when she kind of --

BERNSTEIN: He was the most partisan zealot.

KINGSTON: Well, if you know --

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: I don't think Mike Rogers will go with you on that.

COOPER: Well, Jack, Jack if you have any --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- that president has gone after the intelligence community, the FBI, the media to the extent and tried to destroy all these --

(Crosstalk)

POWERS: She wasn't president.

COOPER: -- to the extent that Donald Trump has? Do you agree? Nobody else has done it to the extent Donald Trump has?

KINGSTON: I can't answer that question with authority at this moment, sir.

COOPER: Why because you won't be allowed back in the White House?

KINGSTON: No. I've just got to do a little more research. But, no, let me go along. Listen, I'm going to concede the point. But here's the point that I want to make, when Hillary Clinton said, this is a vast right-wing conspiracy, we Republicans all got a good chuckle about it but she changed Whitewater to a political investigation. Peter Strzok and Lisa Page have changed this to a political investigation because now you can look at there --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you believe there is a secret society?

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: Wait a second. Calling the people of Virginia ignorant hillbillies, saying, oh, my god, I don't know what we're going to do now. Saying that -- I don't know what they meant when they said our task, when they referred to insurance policies. I think these are legitimate questions.

[21:35:02] COOPER: Do you believe there was a secret society leading outside --

KINGSTON: I don't think there was a secret society at all, but I think that their prejudice and anti-Trump feelings were absolutely blatant in these e-mails.

COOPER: Right.

KINGSTON: But their 50,000 ---

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What about their anti-Chelsea Clinton feelings, were -- did that impact their --

KINGSTON: I think they should look the at the 50,000 --

COOPER: Didn't she say something about Chelsea Clinton at some point?

POWERS: I think you're out.

KINGSTON: I don't know, but I can say this --

POWERS: I just had to look at your face.

KINGSTON: Here's to me the biggest takeaway of them all is that they had the Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin e-mails September 28th.

COOPER: Right.

KINGSTON: And then James Comey said he did not know about them until October 28th. Doesn't that bother anybody?

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: Can we talk about Russians? Can we talk about the Russians, the election? Hillary Clinton is not the president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We've just got to take a break.

BERNSTEIN: She lost.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- to the Rob Porter departure when we come back, there's more information Chief of Staff Kelly has just weighed in. Breaking news on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's more breaking news in the sudden departure of White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter after allegations of spousal abuse came to light. He was White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's right hand man. Kelly is very much on the spot tonight.

Just moments ago, Kelly issued a statement I'm going to reads it to you it says, "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. 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."

I'm going to go back to the panel. But before we do, I just want to play a piece that Jeff Zeleny did -- I want to play a piece that Jeff Zeleny did which kind of gives you a sense of the timeline on the view and specifics on the abuse allegations.

Before we go to that though, Kirsten, I'm wondering when you read that statement, it doesn't seem like it's kind of a non-statement. He's not actually addressing any of the specifics.

POWERS: I mean he's addressing it more than he was before, I guess, right? And so the implication is that he just sort of found out about it. I mean that's sort of -- the reporting shows that that's not really the case but actually they've known about it for a while, that FBI told them.

[21:40:00] So, you know, I don't think it really rises to the level of probably the condemnation that it should have. But at the same time, he has a relationship with this person and he is reiterating that he respects some of his -- I mean, I just keep saying this over and over, it's like just because you like somebody doesn't mean that they didn't do this.

COOPER: And, Dana, that's the information --

POWERS: Yes.

COOPER: -- that you and Gloria Borger -- that he had heard of this in the fall?

BASH: That he had heard about it in the fall and that the President didn't know about it until now, which is what was so sort of striking and puzzling about the statement that you just read, which is it's so carefully crafted saying that he was surprised to learn about the new allegations --

COOPER: What are the new --

BASH: -- what are the new allegations --

COOPER: The photo.

BASH: -- and what did he know beforehand?

COOPER: Right. BASH: We don't know the answer to that question.

COOPER: Right. And we don't know if the new allegation is the photo --

BASH: Exactly.

COOPER: -- which the White House, to Jim Acosta's point --

BASH: Precisely.

COOPER: -- someone from the White House was saying, well, we haven't seen the photos until after we put out the statements. So I just want to play that just to give you context -- we do like to give you context about who Rob Porter is and the allegations against him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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.

SANDERS: I can tell you that Rob has been an effective and his role as Staff Secretary and the President Chief of Staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.

ZELENY: Porter was responsible 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 dailymail.com.

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. 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny reporting.

So I mean, again, what's not clear from Chief of Staff Kelly's statement is what information he knew when the security clearance was denied. You would think if the security clearance was denied, someone would ask, well, why?

BASH: Absolutely. Look, this statement that John Kelly put out raises more questions than answers, and this is not over for him, not by a long shot.

COOPER: And that is the last thing you want in a statement to just have a statement that then raises more questions.

BASH: Ask the politicians about that.

COOPER: Yes.

ROGERS: I will just again, the FBI will come in and they'll normally show for cause why they reject it. Obviously, this is a person that would be in the White House, rises to a high level. They're paying attention to these files. And so if they come in and say we can't give this person or we recommend that this person not get a clearance, some notion that somebody wasn't scrubbing through that and say why defies logic.

COOPER: Well, also it seems like the White House themselves have to apply to get this special temporary clearance, which --

ROGERS: Those are easier to give than you think.

COOPER: Right.

ROGERS: You know, the President has the ability to delegate that and say, you get a clearance for a month or a week or a year. And there are others who are still operating under these temporary clearances at the White House today. And so, you know, I think what they should be concerned -- they should try to get ahead of this. And if -- you can see in a bureaucracy where somebody says, I don't think it rises to the level, maybe Kelly didn't know. If Kelly didn't know, then he's not the one that's processing why these people -- when these people are getting hired, why, in fact, they might not be qualified for a clearance.

[21:45:05] Either way it's -- this is really sloppy if that's the case. If you have that many people operating in an environment where there is all kinds of classified information and they can only qualify for temporary waivers, you know, they need to go back through. I think I'd rescrub all of that if I were them.

POWERS: But also, you know, in Jeff Zeleny's reporting, I think it was just reporting. It was -- they believed that this was going to blow over. That's sort of what we keep hearing. So even once this information had become public, I mean they still wanted to dig in and protect him. So it doesn't quite jibe with the idea. It feels almost like the pressure has just become too much to bear. And so now they have to get, you know, have to say this. But they thought that they were going to get away with keeping him there, and they were OK with that.

BEGALA: Going back to that statement, it's remarkably tone deaf in terms of what the allegations were. Senator Hatch, very close to Porter, Porter was his chief of staff, included in his statement, his second statement, his real one from him, that domestic abuse is abhorrent, and it always is.

In general Kelly's statement, you get the sense he's a little more concerned about Mr. Porter. You know, everyone has a right to defend their reputation. No one is saying that. If he has been maligned, he has a perfect right to sue these women now. If he has been maligned, but those women didn't have any ability to defend themselves if in fact they were beaten. These allegations are really serious, and it still seems to me that General Kelly doesn't get it.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. And we'll turn to another. Washington controversy next over the parade the President wants, add questions about his marching orders as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:00:17] COOPER: Some Republicans tonight are raising concerns about President Trump's request for a military parade to the streets of Washington. Senator Lindsey Graham says it would be, "Cheesy and a sign of weakness." There are also questions about the cost. According to the reports, the President suggesting a parade that he witnessed last summer in Paris and later called it "One of the great parades."

Today in a rare appearance in White House briefing room, Defense Secretary Mattis said, the Pentagon is putting together some options. He believes the proposal for a parade reflects the President's fondness and respect for the Armed Forces.

Back now with our panel. Congressman Kingston, is a parade a great idea?

KINGSTON: I think it's a great idea. And I'll tell you why. We have seen so many news clips of the Korean and the Russian military.

COOPER: You got envy?

KINGSTON: We're not the audience, that's an international message to other nations. We know as long as ISIS's win and they were able recruit, I think sending a signal internationally is not a bad thing.

COOPER: Wait, wait. So let me just stop you there. So you want to send the same kind of signal that the Chinese military and the Russian military sends to the world?

KINGSTON: No. I want people around the world to be reminded of what a great military we have. And I also want to say --

COOPER: Because to me when I see the Russian and Chinese military, to me the message is, we can crush you.

KINGSTON: But you're an intelligent guy. And you're not the audience.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: Just think about this. ISIS --

BERNSTEIN: Who's the unintelligent audience?

KINGSTON: ISIS could recruit when they were seen as winning. And I think it is good for the world to see what a strong military we have.

POWERS: Does anybody really think that we don't have a strong military?

KINGSTON: Yes, I think they do. Let me say this, having served on the committee and having represented five installations, there are a lot of people who do not know soldiers personally. You know, in my part of the country we do. Many of them were deployed. We've been to some of the funerals, very sadly.

I think there's still a big gap between what the military does, who they are, and the common citizens in America. And I think it's a good thing. I don't think this horrible thing.

COOPER: OK.

KINGSTON: When you see how the military spends money sponsoring NASCAR or sponsoring military flyovers and domed stadium, they do a lot to promote their brand. And they do it in the name of recruitment. Remember when the Vietnam veterans came back and people booed? This --

POWERS: But Jack, nobody is -- you're talking about military parades, which I think most people would say if you -- I mean, for troops, like, if you want to honor the troops, that's not what Donald Trump is talking about. He's talking about how the French do it, where they bring out, you know, the tanks and --

KINGSTON: Used to be the force --

POWERS: Yes. And that's an entirely different thing. And look, France, it's kind of interesting because France actually doesn't have a really major military. They used to, and so they're probably doing it to kind of hearken back to a time when they were strong. Strong countries don't usually do this, actually. It's why the Soviets did it, because they actually didn't have an amazing military.

KIGSTON: I think it would be a great recruitment. I think it would give people a great feeling of patriotism.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, what do you think?

ROGERS: You know, I don't think it's the end of the world. I just don't think it's a great idea. It's going to cost a lot of money. You're going to have a lot of time and talent in the building, the Pentagon, figuring out how this thing is going to work, when we're trying to figure out military contingencies for North Korea.

They're looking at what do they ramp up or ramp down in Afghanistan. They've got significant deployments in places, you know, special capability forces around the Middle East that are doing their work. You have Africa that's kind of a little bit hot right now.

I just -- I'm arguing, is there probably a better way to do this than have a big military parade? You know, but I will say, and to Jack's point, we have separated ourselves. They call it the warrior society.

COOPER: Yes.

ROGERS: And the odds are, if you're in the military, you knew personally someone or someone from your family was in the military. That's really not a sustainable way to maintain a strong and healthy military force.

So a broader experience is probably OK. You know, that is why they do the flyovers for stadiums because you want kids in there going, boy, that is cool, I want to be a pilot of that.

BERNSTEIN: Maybe we want to look at who is advocating for this and why. And this is a president of the United States, with all his draft evading, who nonetheless wants to appear as a strong man. That is his appeal to his base. This is constant and consistent with his message throughout, his muscular message to the little Marco, to little this, to little that. We are strong, I am strong, watch how big and strong I can be. That's really the message here.

The idea that we have to look like Red Square is just absurd. We have really come so far in honoring our military the way that our military people ought to be honored, by their service, by their humanity.

[21:55:08] We don't need to show how many big weapons we have and march them down Pennsylvania Avenue to do that.

COOPER: Paul?

BEGALA: Rogers, I just lost five bucks because Jack didn't blame Hillary Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: What President Clinton said is that the world is always more impressed by the power of our example than the example of our power. And that's why the United States doesn't have to parade --

KINGSTON: There is no example in parading.

BEGALA: But I'm -- I just -- I wouldn't want to put the troops out. It seems to me a whole lot of work and hassle so that President Trump -- look, we'll buy him a pair of sunglasses and some epaulets and, you know --

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: Yes. I wouldn't --if I was the Democrat Party I'd be very careful about this because I think --

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: -- baited into a position that's not a good one.

COOPER: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We're going to be right back. More news ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. We had planned to bring you The RidicuList tonight but breaking news got in the way. We didn't have enough time to bring you no kidding, a military parade taking place right now in the North Korean capital. We'll ask the news gods to ease on up us a little bit tomorrow so we can bring you The RidicuList.

That does it for now. I'm very happy though to once again welcome Don Lemon back for another edition of "CNN TONIGHT".

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is "CNN TONIGHT". I'm Don Lemon.

Every day brings more drama in this show. The worst reality show. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In today's episode, accusations that a key insider had a history of domestic violence. Problem is, this is not a reality show. This is the actual Trump White House. And this is extremely serious.