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A Domestic Abuser Leaving the White House; John Kelly Under Fire for Protecting Porter; Democrat's Rebuttal Memo Not Sure to be Released; Lewandowski and Bannon Pushing Lawmakers to their Limits; Trump Wants Military Parade. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 7, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Problem is, this is not a reality show. This is the actual Trump White House. And this is extremely serious.
A top aide to the president, Rob Porter, resigning amid allegations of domestic abuse by not one, but two ex-wives.
Sources telling CNN that senior White House officials knew about the allegations for months and scrambled to protect Porter once they became public.
Think about that for a minute. Scrambled to protect an alleged domestic abuser. The White House pushing back tonight, as a matter of fact. An official saying that Porter misled everyone in the West Wing.
Plus, will President Trump approved the release of a democratic rebuttal to the controversial Nunes memo? The White House hinting he will providing there is no threat to national security.
I'm going to talk to a democrat who is a member of the House intelligence committee. There's a lot of ground to cover here tonight and we got it all for you.
I want to bring in CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger, White House correspondent Jim Acosta, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis, as well. This story, Gloria, is really unbelievable. I understand you have some new reporting tonight before we dig into more details on this Rob Porter story, the outgoing White House aide to President Trump accused of domestic abuse. When did the president find out?
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, just very recently within the last day or so. My colleague Dana Bash and I have done some digging on this. And he didn't know about this until the Daily Mail article which started all of this was brought to his attention and he was, let's just say, not very happy about it. He was furious about it.
We also know that his daughter Ivanka was very unhappy about it. And as you reported before, Chief of Staff Kelly knew about it. We're not sure to what extent, however. But he knew about it this fall, Dana and I are told by two sources, because his security clearance wasn't coming through, and he knew that there was something that was keeping it from going through.
So, Kelly had some form of knowledge about this. And the problem I think, Kelly has grown to like Porter. He's dependent upon him. Because he's the sort of staff secretary that makes the trains run on time. They had each other's back. They trusted each other. And he was acting more like a deputy chief of staff in many ways than just the staff secretary.
And so I think you put all of this together, and it becomes this kind of situation where it makes you wonder in fact how long the chief of staff can survive this if the president is so upset about this.
LEMON: Especially reportedly saying, giving him advice not to resign, saying that he could weather this. And again, this is an accused...
LEMON: ... domestic abuser.
BORGER: Right. You have to question -- you have to question Kelly's judgment. And, you know, people inside the White House say, look, many of them like Kelly, some of them don't like Kelly because he silos everything and keeps them away from the president.
But one thing most people seem to agree on is that he doesn't have any political sense. And, you know, he doesn't understand...
LEMON: Political? Gloria, listen.
LEMON: I mean, listen.
BORGER: No, in terms of...
LEMON: I don't want to be insulting.
BORGER: No, no, no, but I'm not saying on the abuse stuff, but I'm just saying, like it's a priori, this is such a terrible thing, get rid of him.
LEMON: Yes. Why is he even still there after all of this time?
BORGER: Well, that's a good -- that's a good question.
LEMON: I want to get to Jim. Because the Chief of Staff, John Kelly, we're talking about him. I want to read an initial statement and then there's another statement afterwards, Jim and then we'll go through this.
JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Sure.
LEMON: So, he said, "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, he is a confidant and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him."
And then he just put out a new statement tonight saying, "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 -- of Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff and believe every individual deserves a right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today and I will ensure a swift and orderly transition."
LEMON: He didn't say...
ACOSTA: It's baffling.
That's like a non-statement statement, you know what I'm saying?
ACOSTA: Well, it really is, Don. And one of the things that caught our eye earlier today was why John Kelly would even put out a statement as it was being announced that Rob Porter was resigning with these very serious allegations facing him.
And, you know, that statement from John Kelly that came out as these allegations were coming forward was pretty glowing. And it's sort of odd, a senior White House official told us this evening, Don, that one of the reasons they were putting out these glowing statements not only from John Kelly but also the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is that those statements were drafted and written in response to the initial Daily Mail story that broke all of this
[22:05:04] And that they did not respond quickly enough when these other reports were coming out including from CNN that featured a photograph of one of Porter's ex-wives with a black eye.
And that essentially, I'm told, the photograph of the black eye changed everything. Now there are many things wrong with that on multiple levels.
First of all, it should not take a photograph of somebody with a black eye to prompt the White House to take action. The White House should be a shining example of what's tolerated in the workplace, not having to spin itself out of control the way it's doing tonight.
The other thing, Don, and this gets to what Gloria was saying, on the face of it, obviously domestic violence should not be tolerated and that should be grounds enough for dismissal.
But there is sort of a political tone deafness, a political malpractice that was going on with John Kelly, to think that he could keep Rob Porter on despite all of this is kind of mind-boggling. And it leaves me with the impression that there are sort of two Trumps over here at the White House, the president himself and the chief of staff, and that both of them sometimes don't listen to reason.
LEMON: I have to say this, because there's all this consternation about, you know, the memo, the memo, the FBI, the FISA warrants and all this stuff, and this classified information. Rob Porter was seeing classified information and didn't have a permanent security clearance.
LEMON: And that was...
BORGER: So did Jared Kushner.
LEMON: So did Jared Kushner. But this is because in part, I would believe because of the allegations of domestic abuse that John Kelly allegedly knew about.
You know, you guys know who Walter Shaub is, right, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Here's what he tweets tonight, and I think he has a very good point here.
And Matt, I want you to respond, and everyone if you can. He said, "John Kelly, often touted as the White House -- the White House's adult, falsely smeared a congresswoman, tells us a failure to compromise on slavery caused the Civil War, called DREAMers lazy and protected a wife beater. Tell us again, press secretary, talking about Sarah Sanders, how we're never allowed to criticize a general."
What do you say to that, Matt? I think he has a terribly good point there.
MATT LEWIS, COMMENTATOR, CNN: I do too. Look, I think it's incredibly disappointing. I was hopeful and optimistic that John Kelly could not only bring some order out of the chaos in the administration, but also bring some class, some character, some integrity.
And I think he has probably helped the former. Things have been a little more smooth, as smooth as things can be in Donald Trump's world, you know, that's difficult.
But in terms of bringing -- being the adult who brings maturity, not so good. I think it's been disappointing.
Look, and I would even say that statement he released tonight, you know, where he tries to walk back and clarify, and then he has to -- why do you have to say but I stand by my argument that he was a great guy?
It's very politically tone deaf. I think when you juxtapose it with that picture, the black eye, you know, look, it's reprehensible, it's horrible, but, you know, Gloria was talking about the optics and the politics of that, yes, I think it's a lack of character, it's a lack of decency. But it's also political malpractice.
BORGER: Well, you know, and I also think that Kelly may be having a difficult problem understanding that the person he knows, whom he says is integrity and honorable and all the rest and did a great job, could also be an abuser.
I mean, those two things happen a lot, right?
BORGER: I mean, people who do their jobs and go about it every day and seem to be just perfectly fine can then go home and hit their wives.
BORGER: And so, you know, maybe Kelly...
ACOSTA: And Don, I think...
BORGER: ... is trying to get his head around that.
LEMON: Hold on, Jim.
BORGER: I don't want to make excuses for him.
LEMON: Hold on, Jim.
LEMON: But it makes me wonder how disconnected from reality, the reality of the moment, especially when you have the Me Too moment, right, and you have women now standing up for their rights, women who have been abused, not only sexual abuse, but this is domestic violence, you see a bruise on a woman's face, that he is not only tone deaf but ignorant of where the culture is now, he is ignorant of society.
Especially, remember during the David Johnston, the gold star widow, when she lost her husband and then president had this tone deaf conversation and then Kelly defended the president and then also talked about I remember when women were respected, talking about the congresswoman in Florida. Remember that? Let's play the sound bite and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred. Looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But when we're at home, I hate to say this, barefoot, pregnant, cooking dinner for their husband, women, you know, not too long ago got the right to vote.
[22:09:58] He is -- what is wrong with him to think that women were respected in that time? It's just not true. He's living in an alternative reality. It does not -- what he's saying is just not happening. Can he survive this, Gloria? Should he survive this?
BORGER: Well, look, I think -- I think this isn't the only knock against him, to be honest. And if I -- you know, I wouldn't be surprised if he is gone pretty quickly. I mean, I don't know.
But I think that, you know, there have been stories, and we've done some of them over the past month, that Donald Trump has had some problems with the general.
And I think that our reporting shows, and I know Jim knows this as well, that the president was very upset when he heard about this. And so I'm assuming they're going to have a very tough conversation. I mean, Jim, wouldn't you assume that?
ACOSTA: Absolutely, yes.
BORGER: And you know, and again, there are people inside the White House who don't have Kelly's back. And some of the president's closest friends have been kept from talking to the president by General Kelly, so they don't like him very much. So, we'll have to see where this -- you know, where this takes us.
LEMON: The bigger point I'm trying to make is that women are fighting for equality and have been through sometime, I know they've had the right to vote for a hundred years, but still fighting for equality, especially in this day and age, when it comes to abuses of all sorts.
So, Jim, when did John Kelly know or I don't know, when did he find out about this, do we know for sure?
ACOSTA: You know, Don, from what we understand, this was not known in the initial months of the administration. I heard that from a senior White House official earlier today, but that this was becoming known, this was becoming common knowledge as John Kelly was taking command of the staff inside the West Wing.
LEMON: Was he keeping it from other people?
ACOSTA: And he was aware of these problems -- well, and then he was aware of these problems with the security background check and that others were aware of the problems with the background check. And to not take action on that also raises questions about Kelly's judgment that I think he's going to have to answer eventually. Whether he knew about all of these allegations, I don't think that has
been -- that has been shown at this point. He does say in this statement tonight something about these new allegations, he was shocked by these new allegations.
But again, when they put out that statement, when the White House press secretary came into the briefing room earlier today, they put out a statement, from John Kelly, from Sarah Sanders, from Orrin Hatch, all praising Rob Porter.
And the question is, how could they possibly think that's a good idea when this person was already saying, Porter was already saying I'm stepping down, I'm resigning, and by the way, I know about these pictures because I took them.
It would seem to me at that point that you would have to -- everybody in the White House would have to do a gut check, hit the pause button, and come up with some new statements. And they just didn't do that. And it raises major questions about their competence, I think, in terms of handling a crisis of this magnitude.
LEMON: You've got a pained look on your face, Matt, why is that?
LEWIS: Look, this is just -- you know, this is a really, really bad story on so many levels. You know, you've got a guy here, you've got not one ex-wife, but two.
LEWIS: And then a third...
LEMON: And anyone who say -- hold on. Anyone who says this is some conspiracy by the media by the poeple, you would have to go back in time, predict that the president, that Donald Trump would become president, and then come up with this story in order to get him out of office. So none of that makes sense.
LEMON: But go on.
LEWIS: I believe the women. And then you've got that picture. And you've got a third woman who is coming forward, a girlfriend. And look, John Kelly is entrusted to, you know, protect America in terms of the sensitive information that staffers are exposed to.
You know, it just boggles the mind. This is a huge, huge problem. And they just compounded it by their statements. I just -- I don't see how anybody could possibly defend this.
LEMON: I've got to ask you...
BORGER: And I don't know -- let me ask, what is the new information that has come out?
BORGER: I mean, it seems to me that -- is the new information the picture? Because there was a restraining order against him. So does the picture make that much of a difference? I know Jim made this point earlier this evening.
I don't see how a picture should make a difference when you have the FBI report that says that this man's ex-wife had to get a restraining order against him and then he was accused of, you know, punching in a glass door.
LEMON: I agree with you, Gloria, but I think the picture is very powerful just as it was...
BORGER: It is, but if there is a domestic abuse report against somebody in the White House...
LEMON: Yes, absolutely.
BORGER: ... I don't think you need a picture. That's my point.
LEWIS: The other -- the other thing I would say about John Kelly's judgment here, this is a guy, he's not a young sort of naive quixotic person.
[22:15:03] The fact that he wouldn't realize that it's entirely possible for somebody to be -- to appear to be good at their job, and yet to be a horrible untrustworthy person. That is a huge flaw. This is somebody who has seen a lot of the world.
LEWIS: For him not to see that, that's problematic.
LEMON: Yes. And I want to ask, I had a panel coming up, I want to ask...
ACOSTA: Don, I was just going to say very quickly, if it's possible, just to bounce off what he was just saying, I talked to a general who had served with General Kelly, chief of staff Kelly, in Iraq, who said to me this evening, I don't recognize this John Kelly.
LEMON: Well that was my question. Who is this John Kelly? Is this the person we thought he was?
ACOSTA: Exactly. Exactly. And I think that that is what I think a lot of people are saying right now. You know, they thought John Kelly was going to be the adult in the room over here at the White House and they didn't expect this. You know, just yesterday he was in hot water for saying that some DREAMers were too lazy to get off their asses so sign up for protections under the DACA program, and now this. You know, this general I was talking to this evening was saying, who is this guy.
ACOSTA: This is not the John Kelly that I knew on the battlefield in Iraq.
LEMON: That's what Ana Navarro has been saying that she knew him in Florida.
LEMON: But I do have to say, Gloria, just talking about, yes, you shouldn't have to have a picture.
LEMON: But the picture I think made all the difference when it came to Al Franken, right? It was right there in our faces.
BORGER: Yes. Yes.
LEMON: And now we're looking at this Rob Porter story, it's right there in our faces for us to see. And I think that makes a huge opinion, especially in the court of public opinion. Thank you all, I appreciate it.
Just ahead, more on our breaking news. Sources telling CNN a senior White House official, even Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about domestic abuse allegations against top aide Rob Porter for months. What happened to the White House hiring? Only the best people, remember that?
[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Here's the breaking news tonight, sources telling CNN that top aides to the president including the Chief of Staff John Kelly found out top White House staffer Rob Porter was hitting roadblocks with his background check months ago, the reason being allegations of domestic abuse. Why did no one tell the president, and how did he get hired in spite of that?
Remember, only the best people? But Porter abruptly resigned today and he denies the allegations.
Let's discuss now with CNN political commentators Scott Jennings and Alice Stewart. And I think, listen, we've gone awhile. I just want to put up -- let me put up the -- this is what Porter says.
He denies the allegations, he says, "These outrageous allegations are simply false, I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago. And the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign." So he's calling it a smear campaign. Quickly, Scott, respond to that,
do you think it's a smear campaign?
SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, frankly, I don't understand the strategy of defending someone who's already decided to resign. I mean, Rob Porter has a version of the story, the ex-wives have a version of the story. The FBI clearly investigated it and brought it to the attention of top White House officials.
Here's the deal. No matter what the story is, you have to ask yourself, what's best for the president? Number one, what's best for the president is to not have people with this in their background working in the White House.
Number two, how can you have a staff secretary who can't get a security clearance when they handle the most sensitive documents, all the documents? And number three, again, at the end of the day you're there to serve the country and the president. And if this is going to hurt the president and his agenda, you have to act on it at that point.
So right now, there's no defense of this. You can't defend it. You have to let it go and move on. And frankly, they're going to have to admit a mistake, which is they should have fired him when they found out about it months ago.
LEMON: But you're not making an excuse saying that in his defense, saying that this, that this is some smear campaign? I just want to get that...
JENNINGS: Look, I don't -- I'm sure -- I mean, to him it probably sounds like a smear campaign. And clearly, he's got a version of this that doesn't match the version that his ex-wives are telling. But he had a restraining order against him, and he knew that they were going to make these allegations.
And clearly he knew they were going to tell the FBI. Anybody who gets a background check in this kind of a job knows they're going to interview people like this. So he would have known.
LEMON: Do they need...
JENNINGS: There's also an element of personal responsibility.
LEMON: ... to admit that they made a mistake?
JENNINGS: You have to disclose on your forms and frankly, to your superiors. Look, this is back in my background.
LEMON: Do they need to admit that they made mistakes, Scott? If so, does Kelly need to own it and should he keep his job? JENNINGS: Yes, look, I think at the end of the day, they're not --
they're not going to be able to skirt around the timeline. The timeline is going to have to come out. They're going to have to be transparent about this. You can make mistakes in judgment. It does happen.
But this is a pretty big one, frankly.
JENNINGS: And the job is big. The White House staff secretary handles all the paper flow in and out of the Oval Office. This isn't somebody who is in some far-flung agency. They're near the president all the time. And I just don't think they're going to be able to not answer some questions about the timeline here.
I didn't think the second statement, frankly, cleared it up. I understand Chief of Staff Kelly feels personally loyal to Mr. Porter. But at the end of the day, he's got to decide what's best for the president right here and what's best is not to defend this.
LEMON: OK. All right. So Alice, this photograph is really damning, I think, and we talked about that last segment. So there it is. So, I mean, you see that. He said, you know, Porter is saying I took the photograph or whatever, but there you go.
I want to read the statement it's from his wife. His ex-wife Colbie Holderness she told the Washington Post, "I thought by sharing my story with the FBI, he wouldn't be put in that post. I'm telling the FBI this is what he's done. And Jennie Willoughby is telling them what he's done. And the White House says, sure, this is OK? I was let down by that."
What do you say about this, what do you think about what the White House has done with this?
ALICE STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I think they clearly dropped the ball here. Look, Rob says that this didn't happen. He says he's innocent. He says it's a smear campaign. But the fact that he can't categorically deny this leaves many questions.
And look, I don't care if this guy has all the Ivy League parchment on the wall and he has a tremendous work ethic and has great character at work.
[22:25:00] If he's facing mounting allegations of spousal abuse, that raises question. And to Scott's point, what's in the best interests for the president? Obviously, to get rid of him. But what's in the best interests of the American people if we allow someone like this to be in such a high level of importance in the White House?
And look, I think everyone can agree that, look, there is a special place in hell for people who abuse their spouse. And if we don't take this as an opportunity to stand up against domestic violence, I think this is a tremendous statement on where we are as a country. And look, I think it's really important for the White House to push
back even further. The fact that they let him go without shoving him out the door is unfortunate. And I hope that we hear much more about this from the White House as to why he was allowed to stay as long as he was.
LEMON: But Alice, wasn't this a concern with, pardon my language, with the grab them by the pussy tape, that someone who would possibly make an excuse for that or people who would make an excuse for that or still support someone who would use language like that and would admit to doing it, that they may not take allegations like this seriously, and that is in fact a reality that's happening now?
STEWART: Look, from what it sounds like, the president didn't know the gravity of this until late today.
LEMON: Well, it's the people around him, some of the same people who defended him on this tape, who supported him after that tape came out, are still in the White House, and some of his top advisers.
STEWART: Yes, and shame on them. I think as soon as the president understood the gravity of this, I think he made sure swift and decisive action was taken. I think they need to continue to do so.
I would like to hear more from the president on this. I think we need to make more of a statement on standing up for these women and making sure that there is a better vetting system for people that have this close access to the president of the United States.
LEMON: Thank you all. Thank you both, I appreciate it.
STEWART: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, White House officials are saying they expect the president to release the democratic rebuttal memo by Friday unless it risks national security. They didn't say that about the republican one.
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: CNN has learned that President Trump will most likely authorize the release of that democratic House intelligence memo by Friday, unless, officials say, there is a grave threat to national security.
The ten-page document is expected to directly undercut allegations of abuse by the FBI and Justice Department which were leveled in the -- those -- that were leveled in the Nunes memo.
I want to bring in now Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley, he's a democrat who is a member of the House intel committee. Thank you, sir, for joining us. We appreciate it.
MIKE QUIGLEY, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you, glad to be here. LEMON: So let's talk about this democratic memo, OK? We don't know
what if anything will be redacted in there. Is anything less than a full release acceptable to you and to democrats?
QUIGLEY: Look, I have real suspicions that the White House will attempt to neuter the memo. I will be surprised if they release it. But they could use their efforts to redact as an excuse to take out the most meaningful parts. It's easy to be suspicious of this White House who has done nothing at this point in time but suppress and make this investigation as difficult as possible.
LEMON: How big of an impact do you think that this memo will have on countering the Nunes narrative?
QUIGLEY: I think it effectively counters point by point the Nunes memo. I think it will do a lot to restore the integrity of the investigation. I don't know that it can restore the damage that's been done between the relationship between the intelligence community and Congress, or to restore the faith that people have in how this process works. I think there's still going to be real damage to how we keep our country safe.
LEMON: Yes. Congressman, I want to talk to you about the Trump campaign chiefs, Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, refusing to appear before your committee now. Are you going to subpoena them if they continue to refuse?
QUIGLEY: Well, look, there is an existing subpoena on Mr. Bannon, apparently because they don't like him either. So he was asked questions, but when he said there was a gag order from the White House, they didn't press him. So that remains to be seen.
Mr. Lewandowski simply said he's not going to answer questions with this extraordinary expansion of a privilege that the White House has yet to exert. So we don't have the power to subpoena. This is clearly Mr. Nunes' power. So that's a great concern.
It should be noted, when we talk about the midnight ride, there's much more that he's done to suppress the investigation. He's refused to issue subpoenas. He's gone along with this gag order. So, you know, he is not really the only one to blame.
None of these things could happen, including this latest escapade with rogue investigations and the memo that came with it. None of these things could happen without the speaker of the house involvement.
So, before we get to a constitutional crisis, I think we're just at constitutional clashes now, he has to step up. The only republicans I've seen who have spoken out about this memo and what should be done with it on the minority and majority side are members who are planning to leave Congress.
QUIGLEY: Where are the profiles in courage? LEMON: Well, you're talking about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the
house. I mean, can you really count on him? Because to many people's estimation, so far when it comes to this administration, he has no backbone.
QUIGLEY: He hasn't shown a willingness to step up. I was talking to a group earlier tonight, indivisible. And I said, at some point we have to get past the talking points we've had so far. Let's talk about what the speaker and Chairman Nunes are doing. They are not only facilitating the suppression of this investigation.
By doing that, they're putting the president above the law. We are a co-equal, separate branch of government.
[22:35:01] In effect, what they're really doing is they're advocating and allowing the president to rise to an autocracy.
LEMON: Yes. Congressman Quigley, President Trump tweeted this today. He said, "New FBI texts are bomb shells." A bombshell, really?
QUIGLEY: Look, the president I think is in somewhat of a desperation mode. The Mueller investigation is getting closer and closer. It's found its way inside the White House. They must be especially concerned about General Flynn's cooperation.
After all, he had a lot of exposure, he was only indicted and pled on one count, his son wasn't pled at all. So this is his reaction, a desperate move.
What we've seen from the chairman, unfortunately most of the republicans and the speaker of the house is it they are more concern with protecting the president, his political career and the legal challenges he faces than in protecting this country and then moving toward a very real threat of an autocratic president.
LEMON: Congressman Quigley, late at the capital for us, and we do appreciate it. Thank you, sir.
QUIGLEY: Any time. Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, what's behind Steve Bannon's and Corey Lewandowski's refusals to testify in front of the House intelligence committee? And, could they be forced to do so?
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The top democrat on the House intelligence committee says two of the president's former top advisers are refusing to go before the committee and answer questions about the transition. Is the White House telling them to stop cooperating?
Let's discuss now with Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice, and Kim Wehle is a former associate independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation. So good to have both of you on. You're very knowledgeable in all of
this. Michael, I'm going to start with you. So, former Trump confidantes Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski are now indicating that they won't to appear before the House intel committee. Again, they're saying it.
Adam Schiff who is the top democrat on the committee is saying it's time now to play hard ball. This is part of the statement that he released. He said, "Over the past several weeks we have seen a developing pattern, some witnesses have been postponed, others cancel and two specifically have refused to answer questions about the events in the period following the election of Donald Trump as president. It will therefore be necessary for our committee to enforce the subpoena on Bannon and now move to compel Lewandowski's testimony."
Do you think, Michael, it is possible that they are doing this at least in part in coordination with the White House?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, it's hard to know. With respect to each, they in their earlier rounds of testimony, or Lewandowski I think didn't remember much during his earlier rounds of testimony, but Bannon specifically said that he wasn't going to answer questions because the White House had instructed him not to.
Chief of Staff Kelly said there weren't any communications of that sort. McGahn and his lawyers seem to say that there were conversations of that sort.
But the reality is of course that the president seems, if they are coordinating, to be asserting privilege that does not contemplate what the privilege provides for, that is policy making between the president and his chief officers.
Bannon, they want to talk about a whole host of things that took place before the election, and then after he left the White House. There is no executive privilege to be asserted there. So if it is a coordinated effort between the White House and Bannon or Lewandowski, it's obstructionist behavior as far as I'm concerned.
LEMON: Kim, I think I mispronounced your name, it's Kim Wehle. Let me ask you, do you think Bannon and Lewandowski are intentionally stonewalling the committee, and what can be done if they are doing?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, they're obviously not cooperating very easily so stonewalling, I'm not so sure. I think this comes down to the sort of, schoolyard question of can you make me? And that is, at what point is Congress actually going to pull some levers of power to get some of these witnesses to actually testify?
And it's not that clear what Congress can do. I mean, it has implied power to investigate in order to legislate. So in theory, the sergeant at arms of the House could actually physically bring a witness before the chamber and hold them in contempt and put them in jail. But that hasn't happened in a long time, if they don't cooperate. Then there's a criminal route that can be taken. But in order to do
that we need cooperation from Donald Trump's Department of Justice. And then there's a civil route for the Senate. But that only works if you get, if you have a resolution of the Senate.
So this really ideally would be resolved with some kind of negotiation. So my guess is, it's more likely they're trying to work out the kinks, hopefully in a negotiation, rather than flat out stonewalling and then we would be in some kind of drama again.
ZELDIN: But Don, may I add something, and Kim is exactly right on the three ways by which Congress can assert its power here. But what Congressman Schiff is saying is, we went round one with Bannon and he wouldn't cooperate, and so the full committee voted to bring him in by subpoena.
And now he's dishonoring that subpoena. So Schiff is saying, it's time to hold him in contempt. And I think that is the right course of conduct. Lewandowski is in another place in the timeline because he hasn't been subpoenaed.
So I think what the committee needs to do to show it's serious about this investigation is hold Bannon in contempt and subpoena Lewandowski for a future appearance and see whether he also resists.
LEMON: Yes. So Kim, a source tells CNN that the president thinks that he can handle an interview with Robert Mueller because of his experience in prior lawsuits. That source tells CNN that he thinks he can work this out. He doesn't realize how high the stakes are.
Do you think this is part of a negotiation tactic or does he think he can really prevail with this strategy?
[22:44:55] WEHLE: Well, I mean, I think your question does he think is an important one. Probably for a psychologist more than for an attorney, in that, you know, to the extent to which he believes that he is innocent and that he's even perhaps in a victim posture, he might want to win the battle by actually telling what his truth is.
Now I think most lawyers, defense lawyers would say that's a bad idea for him personally. But maybe there's a silver lining to that strategy for the American public, in that we can actually just get to some kind of resolution and have the president actually participate in this process in a way that brings some transparency and closure, ultimately.
LEMON: So if the president thinks he can or tries to smooth talk Robert Mueller, Michael, and his team, how do you think that's going to go?
ZELDIN: Well, if he's truthful, it will go just fine. If he's not truthful, it won't go quite as well for him. Mueller is not going to, you now, take lightly lying about material matters that he is investigating. And so the president has to be sure that he can tell a coherent, truthful narrative. But with respect to whether or not he should or he shouldn't, this is
an interesting situation, because I don't think legally there's any way he can in the end not testify.
I think the power of the grand jury subpoena under the facts of this case would necessitate his testifying. So if he forces the issue and says I am not going to testify, and Mueller issues him a grand jury subpoena and takes him to court, and the court forces him to testify because that's what the law requires, it makes it look much worse than if the president just goes in as Bill Clinton did, you know, sort of not happily, but purposefully, so that he could try to, you know, put an end to this in the same way that Kim said would bring closure to the matter.
LEMON: Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Kim. I appreciate your time.
WEHLE: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, the president says, I want a parade. So the Pentagon is now trying to figure out the logistics from that. But will the pushback even from his own party stop it from becoming a reality?
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House grappling tonight with news about a top aide who is facing domestic abuse allegations. Sources saying senior officials knew about it and didn't do anything.
I want to bring in now Max Boot, he's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "The Road Not Taken." Max, good to have you on. Thank you so much.
You know, I first want to get your take on this disturbing -- this disturbing allegations over domestic abuse against White House staff secretary Rob Porter, Chief of Staff John Kelly coming to his defense. At one point today Kelly called Porter a man of true integrity. What are your thoughts?
MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well this is appalling. But it's part of a pattern with the Trump White House which had a lot of very questionable characters like Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Michael Flynn, now Rob Porter. People who would not pass any kind of muster in any kind of ordinary White House have nevertheless been allowed very close to the center of power in the United States government.
And I think that's ultimately on Donald Trump and also on the people who work for him, including General Kelly. I think that's a very disturbing pattern.
LEMON: Several things I want to talk to you about tonight. So on a different topic, and I know you heard about the president -- President Trump now wants a military parade, that's according to the Washington Post.
The president was apparently inspired by the Bastille Day parade in France last year. He told the Pentagon that he wants to -- I see you smiling already. What do you make of this request, and what's behind it do you think.
BOOT: Well, what I make of it is I think we have a president with the mental age of about eight. And he thinks that military gear is really neat. And I think we could actually save a lot of money because, you know, a parade is probbaly going to cost something like $20 million which the military doesn't really want to throw away, truly a waste of money.
We could save some money if somebody would just buy the president some toy soldiers to play with and maybe, you know, a really neat field marshal uniform that he could parade around the White House in. Because this is really a -- you know, this is like a little boy love of military gear with no idea of what real war is like, what real soldiering is really, what troops actually do and what they need to prepare for.
This is also utterly divorced from American traditions because we are not a militaristic society. We certainly celebrate the military and we have parades when soldiers come home from a victorious war like the Gulf War. But we're not North Korea, we're not the Soviet Union. We don't glory in displays of military hardware.
Our glory is our Constitution, our rule of law, our free and open society. And unfortunately, Donald Trump is doing great damage to all of those even as he claims to celebrate what makes America great.
LEMON: If he really wanted to pay tribute and honor to our men and women in uniform who are fighting for our freedoms overseas couldn't he just visit a war zone, Afghanistan or Iraq?
BOOT: That would be a great idea. He could also make good on his pledges that he made during the campaign to greatly expand the size of the active duty army, of the navy, of the air force, because they're too small for the missions they face.
I mean, I was just this week at Fort Benning, Georgia, giving a talk there and meeting with some of the army leaders there. And their viewpoint is the army is vastly overstretched having to deal with this growing Russian threat in Eastern Europe. Having to prepare for contingency in the North Korean peninsula.
They have real issues. They certainly don't have money to throw away on the parade. They could use more support from the president rather than being tasked with trivial missions like a parade.
LEMON: You wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post which I find very interesting. And you said, "Trump is no Adolph Hitler and it does a disservice to the victims of Nazism to suggest a comparison. He is more of budding Benito Mussolini, Juan Peron or Hugo Chavez- a garden variety of strong men not uniquely evil. And if Trump ruled in Italy in the 1920s, Argentina in the 1950s or Venezuela in the 2000s he would undoubtedly be a dictator by now."
So those are pretty strong words. Do you think that's what the president actually wants to be seen as authoritarian to flex his muscles on the global stage?
BOOT: Absolutely. And I think that this military parade is part of it. Remember just a few days ago he was saying that democrats were treasonous for not applauding during his speech. I mean, there is a consistent pattern where he calls the press the enemy of the American people.
[22:55:01] He calls the judiciary a laughing stock. He basically is making war on all the norms of American democracy and all the -- all the checks and balances on his power, including of course the FBI and the Justice Department.
And so I think the parade is part and parcel with that. Now the good news is of course is that Trump does not rule in an earlier Italy or Venezuela or Argentina, that he rules in a constitutional republic with a very strong tradition of checks and balances. And those balances are keeping him in line to some extent at least.
But it's a constant struggle. And you kind of see him wanting to break out and wanting to imitate some of the dictators he greatly admires like Putin and Xi Jinping and Erdogan. They all have these vast -- these cheesy military parades and he wants one of his own.
LEMON: Yes. That's what Senator Graham said military parade is kind of cheesy. It shows weakness. Thank you, Max Boot. I always appreciate your time and your perspective.
BOOT: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: When we come back, new details on the resignation of a Trump -- of Trump top aide -- a Trump top aide. Sources telling CNN that senior White House officials knew about domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter. The White House is pushing back tonight saying Porter misled everyone in the West Wing.