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White House Advisor Accused of Abuse; Obama Role in Clinton Probe; Congress to Vote on Spending Deal; Bill to Curb Payments to Deceased People; Story of Patty Hearst. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired February 8, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:33:48] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, White House officials this morning trying to get their stories straight, frankly, over the news that a key adviser is accused of physically abusing two former wives. Rob Porter resigned yesterday, a day after the allegations -- the stories of them broke.

We should note, as far as we know, he is still in the White House this morning. He has not left yet. The FBI learned about Porter's past from his ex-wives more than a year ago while doing a routine background check and he was never granted permanent security clearance. That has interesting implications.

Joining me now, CNN national security commentator, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers.

Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for being with us.

The fact that he didn't have a permanence clearance, just a temporary one, it's unusual there, but shouldn't that have raised red flags inside the West Wing?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, what should have raised the red flags is apparently the FBI came to them last year and said, can't get a clearance, or I would not recommend getting a clearance.

BERMAN: This isn't going to happen ever basically?

ROGERS: That should have set off all kind of alarm bells everywhere, that they had something they're going to have to deal with. And apparently it looks -- at least on the surface of it -- somebody didn't deal with.

Now, could John Kelly make the argument, well, I want involved in that? Maybe. But somebody had to go around that decision by the FBI not to grant a clearance based on these particular problems in his background and say, we're going to waive it and give him a clearance anyway.

[09:35:10] BERMAN: It might be obvious to some people, but why do these accusations matter when it comes to security clearance?

ROGERS: Any time that you have -- well, first of all, there were police reports filed, right? And so if you have things that aren't fully disclosed, number one, or, two, represent behavior that is inconsistent, right? So he had one persona in the office, another persona at home, clearly. And that is the kind of wedge that foreign intelligence services love, right, because you look like the guy that everybody could trust at work and at home you're beating your wife. Those are weaknesses and those are profiles that they would do to be able to say, I'm going to go try to recruit that guy because I know some trouble that he's not sharing at work.

BERMAN: Serious compromising information on the guy who puts the papers, you know, on the president's desk. That's why it's a security concern right there. But the FBI knew about it in 2017. The White House apparently knew about it this fall, yet didn't act on it. Interesting. We're going to watch how this develops over the course of the day.

ROGERS: Can I just say one thing.


ROGERS: This is one of those examples where the cover-up might be worse than the crime.

BERMAN: Right.

ROGERS: They'd be smart to say, hey, we made a bad decision, here's how we made it, or, we're going to have a review of all the holders of clearances and anybody that couldn't get a clearance is going to be under review and maybe asked to leave. There's nobody that's at -- in that White House that's more important than the standing of those -- what those clearances mean and it sets an example for every other clearance holder across the federal government.

BERMAN: A couple other major national security developments I want your take on, Mr. Chairman.

Former President George W. Bush speaking at Abu Dhabi overnight. He told this crowd, there's pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election. Whether they affected the outcome or not is another question.

But, look, the important line there is, there's pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled. That's from a former Republican president. The clarity of that statement is something we just, frankly, haven't heard from the current president.

ROGERS: Yes. And, again, I completely agree with George W. Bush on this. There really shouldn't be an argument if the Russians tried to meddle and did meddle. They were trying to get into state election systems. That ought to send alarms everywhere.

Did it have an impact on the election? I do agree, there's -- it's almost impossible to tell. But we all ought to be in agreement that they did it. And, guess what, they're coming back in 2018.

BERMAN: Right. ROGERS: We better get our act together.

BERMAN: On that note, there is now politicization on both sides of this Russia investigation right now. Republican Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee, you know, was in a lather yesterday over new texts that he chose to release between these two former FBI officials involved who were involved in the investigation, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. This is from September 2, 2016, Page wrote Strzok, POTUS, the president, wants to know everything we are doing.

Now Republican Ron Johnson made this sound like President Obama then wanted to know everything about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. The problem is, is that investigation, as far as anyone knew, was over in July when James Comey spoke. The date of that apparently means that President Obama wanted to know as much as he could about the Russia investigation, which you would think a president should want to know about.

ROGERS: Well, if the Russians were engaging in meddling in the election, which I believe that they were, it would -- of course the president would. And, of course, if you take the text as it was, I would be a little upset if the commander-in-chief was not trying to figure out --

BERMAN: Right.

ROGERS: What are we doing to try to stop the Russians from getting into these campaign -- excuse me, these -- the voting stations and voting machines and other things to try to fix the outcome of an election. That should be his job.

And this is the problem between taking -- what should be classified investigations until they're complete into basically campaigns. And, you know, in a political gun fight, where there is shooting back and forth, there's always one victim for sure, and that's likely the truth.

BERMAN: Chairman Rogers, always a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you very, very much.

ROGERS: Thanks.

BERMAN: The Senate back in session very, very shortly to vote on this big budget deal. Do they have the votes? I'm going to speak to a key Republican senator, next.


[09:43:10] BERMAN: This morning, the Senate poised to vote on a major spending bill. The White House doing damage control after a key aide is accused of domestic abuse and resigns.

Joining me now, Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Mr. Senator, always a pleasure to have you here with us. Rob Porter, the staff secretary inside the White House has resigned.

CNN has learned that these accusations of domestic abuse were known to key White House officials, including John Kelly, you know, as early as last fall, yet they let Porter stick around.

What's your reaction to that?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Well, they are allegations. They appear to be the truth. If they're not, I'll come back and apologize. If you want to serve the public, particularly as a member of a president's staff, I don't care who you are, even if you're a Rhodes Scholar, you can't beat the hell out of your spouse. It's wrong. And if it happened, and there are serious allegations, some honestly believe that it did happen, then Mr. Porter did the right thing.

BERMAN: Chief of Staff John Kelly, in his second statement after saying he was a man of honor and integrity, said he was shocked by the information, or at least about Rob Porter yesterday. Again, he had been told about some of this stuff last fall. He also says he stands by his previous comments on Rob Porter as a man of honor and integrity.

What message does it send if the chief of staff is talking about the honor and integrity of someone accused of domestic abuse?

KENNEDY: I think General Kelly has done an extraordinary job as chief of staff to President Trump. I think he's a good man. And sometimes good people make bad decisions. It doesn't mean they're bad people. It means they're human. I've got full confidence in General Kelly.

BERMAN: You're talking about -- you're talking about General Kelly here?


[09:45:11] BERMAN: You're saying that he made a bad decision?

KENNEDY: Yes. I mean I have complete confidence in General Kelly. And just because he might -- I say might because of the allegations -- just because he made a bad decision doesn't mean he's a bad person.

BERMAN: All right. Again, we've seen pictures now --

KENNEDY: He's human.

BERMAN: I understand. No, I understand what you're saying there. I do appreciate your candor always, senator, and thank you for being so candid with us.

Let's move on to the other news that you're facing right now, which is this big budget deal, right?


BERMAN: You know, up to $500 billion in additional spending. Do you intend to be a yes vote on this? KENNEDY: I don't know yet.


KENNEDY: This will be -- I do not know yet.

BERMAN: How do you not know? How do you not -- what's going to make up your mind?

KENNEDY: Allow me to explain.

Well, number one, we got the bill in the middle of the night. So I'm still reading it. This will be one of the more difficult decisions I've had to make in terms of allocating scarce resources. And in some respects, I feel like I'm between the hammer and the anvil.

On the one hand, a no vote would shut government down. A yes vote would allow us to end this budgeting by continuing resolution. A yes vote would provide about 80, 85, maybe $90 million, a billion dollars rather a year for our military. Every single senator knows, based on the classified information they've seen, that our military needs help.

This bill would also provide about $90 billion of relief for the states, and one of which is my own, that have been ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires. Bad things happen to good people and we help -- we help our fellow Americans.

On the other hand, the Freedom Caucus in the House has a point. I mean this is going to add to the deficit. And it is a -- it is a natural fact that the federal government borrows $1 million a minute, not an hour, not a day, $1 million a minute to operate this place. $1.4 billion a day -- yes, a day. And taking care of our generation should not require robbing the next generation. We have a $20 trillion deficit.

BERMAN: And it will go up.

KENNEDY: So it's going to be -- it's going to be a difficult vote for me. And I've got -- I've got -- I feel like I'm having to choose between love and honor. You know, they're both important.

BERMAN: Love and honor. You can't have it all, senator, let me just tell you that. In life in general, you can't.

But let me ask you about something you're actually -- you are proposing also. And we like the name of it and I want to know what's behind it.


BERMAN: The Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People's Act. You know, stop government funding of dead people. What does this mean?

KENNEDY: Senator Carper (ph) and I, Senator Warner, others, have introduced this bill. I call it Stop Paying -- the Stop Paying Dead People Act. We pay, as best we can tell, between $10 billion and $20 billion a year to dead people. And the checks are being cashed, obviously by fraud. In some states in America, you can vote if you're dead but cashing checks is carrying a good joke too far.

Here's the problem. The Social Security Administration keeps the death file. It's inaccurate in some respects, but it's the best we have. The problem is, that the Social Security Administration will not share that file with its sister agencies throughout government.

We're telling Social Security, do it. Do it and do it now. And then we're telling the agencies, now that you have the information, stop paying dead people. And while we're at it, we're telling the Social Security Administration to update your death file. The Social Security Administration lists 6.5 million people who are 112 years old or older. I think it's outdated.

BERMAN: Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana, risking losing the dead's people's vote, but a very interesting proposal and one worthy of discussion.

It's always a pleasure to have you with us, sir.

KENNEDY: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right, her kidnapping stung the world, but what came next was even more shocking. Patty Hearst. You don't really know the half of it. A sneak peek at the new CNN series, next.


[09:54:10] BERMAN: Really was one of the most bizarre kidnappings in U.S. history. Heiress Patty Hearst seemingly turning into terrorist Patty Hearst. This Sunday, CNN airs a new original series taking a look into the life of Hearst before and after her kidnapping.

Our justice reporter Laura Jarrett has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Orenthal James Simpson --

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER (voice over): Before the O.J. Simpson trial captivated a nation, there was Patty Hearst. As the granddaughter of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, her kidnapping in 1974 considered the crime of the century.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was so extraordinary.

JARRETT: Born into wealth and power, Hearst grew up in Hillsborough, a quiet affluent suburb of San Francisco. For college, she headed to Berkeley, where she walked the streets that bore her name. She lived off campus with her boyfriend, Steven Weed (ph), a former teacher at her high school.

[09:55:02] JARRETT (on camera): It was the couple's engagement announcement in her family's newspaper, "The San Francisco Examiner," which first drew the attention of a small radical terrorist group that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They pushed me back, shouting, get your face on the floor.

JARRETT (voice over): Hearst was kidnapped from her apartment by the SLA on February 4, 1974.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Patricia Hearst was a symbolic target. She was an heiress.

JARRETT: Locked in a closet for nearly two months, Hearst says she was blindfolded, beaten and raped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But what did it do to a 19-year-old mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it just completely -- it was gone.

JARRET: Hearst reappeared in April of 1974 on surveillance footage holding a rifle. She and the SLA robbing a bank in San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was still a kid. Patty Hearst was a survivor.

JARRETT: The heiress turned terrorist was no longer seen as a victim, but a fugitive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Patty Hearst emerged from the closet as Tonia.

JARRETT: Nineteen months after she was kidnapped, Hearst was arrested, along with the few remaining members of the SLA. Six others had died months earlier in a blazing shootout with the Los Angeles Police, broadcast live on TV, very new for television.

Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison for her role in robbing Hibernia Bank. The public remains divided as to whether Hearst was a victim of brainwashing or a willing participant.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN HEIRESS": She was on the run for a year and a half with many opportunities to leave and escape. And she didn't.

JARRETT: Yet she would serve just under two years in prison before President Carter commuted her sentence in 1979.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there any doubt that none of this would have happened if she hadn't been kidnapped?

JARRETT: After Hearst was leased, she married the man tasked with protecting her during her trial. President Clinton issued her a full pardon in 2001.


JARRETT: Now, not everyone was in favor of pardoning Hearst. During the 1990s, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco actually opposed it, writing a scathing letter saying Patty had rewritten her own history. That U.S. attorney, well, was Robert Mueller. We should also mention, CNN has repeatedly reached out to Hearst. She

declined to comment for this series, John.

BERMAN: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you very much. "The Radical Story of Patty Hearst" premieres Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern only on CNN. The book it is based on is also just phenomenal.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about a top aide's abuse allegations for months, but just last night said he was shocked by them. What was he shocked by if he knew already? We're going to look at the timeline and it doesn't look good. Stay with us.


[10:00:11] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.