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CNN: John Kelly Knew of Abuse Allegations for Months; White House Official: Government Shutdown Vote Will Be "Close". Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: North Korea is already preparing its next moves, given that the United States will kick off joint military drills with South Korea after the Olympics. In the past, North Korea has launched missiles, or conducted nuclear tests surrounding drills like this. What will be Kim Jong Un's next move after the Olympics is really anyone's guess -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's it for me. Thanks for watching. The news continues right now, right here on CNN.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf, we'll take it. Thank you so much.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

Soon, White House briefing will begin.

Officials will no doubt be confronted with more questions about how accused abuser Rob Porter could have kept his job at the White House, often right by the president's side. What's more, the accusations of beating his two ex-wives kept Porter, the White House staff secretary, from getting this full security clearance, a fact known since last fall by senior White House officials, including Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to our sources. And now, yet, in a just released statement, the chief of staff said he was, quote, shocked by the new allegations against Porter.

Porter's star was on the rise in the administration until he announced his resignation just Wednesday. He helped draft the president's State of the Union. He attended the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, with the president. And Porter was one of the select few who shook the hands with the Chinese president when he traveled overseas to Beijing.

So, one of the key questions, why did it take until now for Porter to leave? Just a day after these images of this alleged abuse against his first wife went public. Porter denies all of the abuse allegations against him.

So, let's start this hour with a woman who has been breaking news on this one, left and right, MJ Lee. She is our CNN national politics reporter.

And talking about the timeline, MJ, I know we're saying the chief of staff knew about some of this as early as last fall. I understand you have a new timeline that dates even farther back than that.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, and I have to say my colleagues at the White House have been doing some terrific reporting on sort of who knew what and when, because that's really important. What we're learning is that the White House aides, multiple White House aides knew about some of these allegations of domestic abuse from Porter's two ex-wives going back months. And President Trump only knew about it for the first time last week.

But, again, multiple aides knew about these allegations going back months and one of the reasons - and this is really important to talk about why this may have become a bigger issue at the White House and gotten people's attention, is the issue of the security clearance. I know based on talking to the two ex-wives yesterday that they were interviewed by the FBI regarding, too, Porter's security clearance. They interviewed them as people who were obviously married to him. And they told me that they were, frankly, very honest with the FBI about detailing to them the troubles that they had in their marriages, the abuses that they say they received from Porter.

And so when this became an issue, that is our understanding of why more people at the White House would have become aware of the fact that Porter had these problems. Now, as you were pointing out, though, even despite all of this being widely known at the White House, his stock, Porter's stock at the White House was rising.

You mentioned that he went to Davos, that he was involved in drafting the State of the Union address.


LEE: You know, this was someone who was clearly viewed as being talented, having a lot of potential and was even sort of being groomed by the chief of staff to sort of be the next big guy. So, the fact that a lot of White House folks knew about these allegations but nonetheless continued to sort of have this political rise, that's potentially very problematic.

BALDWIN: Yes, indeed. I've got more with you, I want to fold you into a bigger conversation in just a second. So, hang with me.

But the second ex-wife of Rob Porter explained why she stayed with him in a blog post from April of last year. Little bit of the back story. You know, they have been married for nearly four years before divorcing back in 2013.

And I want to read something for you today, because this is Jennifer Willoughby's reasons. And forgive me, there's a little bit of language here, but this is all part of Jennifer's point. So, this is what she wrote in her post.

The first time he called me an f-ing bitch was on our honeymoon. I found out years later he had kicked his first wife on theirs. A month later he physically prevented me from leaving the house. Less than two months after that, I filed a protective order with police because he punched in the glass in our front door while I was locked inside. [14:05:03] We bought a house to make up for it. Just after our one

year anniversary, he pulled me naked and dripping from the shower to yell at me.

Everyone loved him. People commented all the time how lucky I was. Strangers complimented him to me every time we went out but in my home, the abuse was insidious. The threats were personal. The terror was real and yet I stayed.

When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how, what I said, might affect his career. So, I kept my mouth shut and stayed. I was told, yes, he was deeply flawed. But then again, so was I. And so I worked on myself and I stayed.

If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would have been easier to leave but he could be kind and sensitive and so I stayed. He cried and apologized and so I stayed. He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups and so I stayed. He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence and so I stayed.

I felt ashamed and trapped and so I stayed. Friends and clergy didn't believe me and so I stayed. I was pregnant and so I stayed. I lost the pregnancy and became depressed, and so I stayed.

Abuse is indifferent to education level, socioeconomic status, race, age or gender and no one can ever know the dynamics of another's relationship. My cycle continued for four more years. Afterward, I let go and welcomed the hard work of healing and forgiveness. My experience made me stronger and able to love more deeply but my heartbreaks for him. In the end, who is the real victim of his choices?

Let's have a conversation about this. MJ is back with me. Also here, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, and CNN anchor Christi Paul, an abuse survivor, who wrote the book "Love Isn't Supposed to Hurt".

And just, Christi, let me just start with you and I think it's just -- listen, I have never been a victim. I think it's just -- it's difficult as a woman to read words like that and know that someone still stayed and I know you can relate.

CHRISTI PAUL, ABUSE SURVIVOR: Yes. I have people all the time telling me they read my book and feel like I'm writing their story. Her story is essentially mine. And it's every woman who has read it, because we -- all of those reasons she talked about staying, that's why we stay. Either somebody doesn't believe us -- she made a very important point. She made some very important points here.

The shame and humiliation, first of all, holds you back. That's why you don't talk to people. You don't talk to people because you're ashamed that you're allowing this to happen. And then you reach out and somebody is not only not believing you, but maybe they're judging you for it.

So, this makes it really difficult. One thing she said in a "Daily Mail" piece that struck me was that she made a point of saying he never showed his anger to anybody else. It's something that happened behind closed doors.

And that's how it works. It happens behind closed doors. You see all of it. You are afraid nobody is going to believe you.

And I am so grateful that if all of this is true, of course, that she and her -- his first ex-wife, they had the courage to leave because not everybody does. I've had so many people write to me and say I didn't know I had a right to leave. Because when you are bombarded by somebody telling you you're a liar and horrible and selfish and calling you names for so long and it's somebody that is supposed to love you more than anything, it's hard not to absorb that and to have it consistently happened over and over again, it's very hard to pick yourself back up.

BALDWIN: I so appreciate you speaking up. And I have adored you and loved you and our friendship, and just thank you for bringing that to this conversation. And this is -- listen, this is -- again, he said no, this never happened. And so, we have to talk about who else knew.

Jamie Gangel, here's my question for you, because like we're reporting months ago, you know, the chief of staff knew that there was some issue with the security clearance, he couldn't get this full security clearance, that there was -- and no action was taken. There was knowledge about these ex-wives and allegations of abuse.

[14:10:00] Knowing what, you know, you know about John Kelly, why do you think nothing?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, we don't know what Rob Porter said to John Kelly --


GANGEL: -- assuming they have a discussion. But you can imagine he might have said it's not true. It was an ugly divorce.

BALDWIN: That that would have been told him what that from the get.

GANGEL: Correct.


GANGEL: The problem is John Kelly heard what he wanted to hear in that case. As someone said to me, John Kelly should have known better. And when you look at the timing of this in the fall, first of all, this is the White House. Second of all, this is a pattern of abuse here. This is not just one charge that someone might dismiss.

Where were we this fall? We were in the middle of Me Too.


GANGEL: If nothing else would have raised a flag, that should have raised the flag as well.

So, I think looking back, whatever Rob Porter may have said to him, John Kelly should have known better.

I will say this. I know people who have known Rob Porter for 20, 30 years, and they cannot reconcile this with the person they know. But as his wife said, it was never in public.

BALDWIN: Maybe that is the case, MJ, to you, that Rob Porter said to his chief of staff the entire time, this isn't me. This never happened, which would perhaps begin to explain then. I mean, that second statement from John Kelly was shocked by, you know, the allegations and yet, you know, as you've been reporting, sources knew for months and months and he's objected to Porter's decision to resign.

LEE: Well, can I first say about the second statement that John Kelly released?


LEE: Yes, it started off by saying he was shocked by these revelations. He also said the words I stand by. He said he stands by the previous statements he had made about Rob Porter's character, even after the photos surfaced, even after these details came out. He said that he stood by the characterizations that he had given of Porter and the man that he had known prior to these allegations.

The other thing that John Kelly said in that statement was that he believes everyone has the right to defend their reputation. That, to me -- I was personally surprised to see that statement, especially because it was supposed to be a redo. You know, we're calling it sort of the statement that John Kelly put out, damage control.

Doesn't actually sound like someone who is actually saying, you know what, given the seriousness of these allegations, I can't stand by the things I said about Porter, at least until I know the full story or have had another conversation with him. He's sort of complimenting him or at least supporting him for his decision to say this is a smear campaign and these things didn't happen.

BALDWIN: Let me play more sound. This is from Porter's second wife. This is what she told "The Washington Post" about what she shared with the FBI.


JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, SECOND EX-WIFE OF FORMER WHITE HOUSE STAFF SECRETARY: I told them all the details of my marriage, including verbal and emotional abuse, and including the incident when he pulled me out of the shower. They were also made aware of the protective order that I signed in June of 2010. And they were also made aware of another time when I called police to our home after a domestic disturbance.


BALDWIN: Christi, did it really take a photo of a black eye to make people at the White House believe? PAUL: Apparently it did. I don't think that's -- the sad part of it

is, I don't think that's necessarily unheard of. It's hard to believe. You know, as we've been saying he had a public persona, he had a personal persona. And he -- to blame it on his ex-wife and say, oh, well, you know, I was like this, you know, to Jennifer Willoughby because my former ex-wife was who she was and it was toxic, it's just a classic tactic of somebody who is an abuser and the fact is, look, there are men who are abused too. We're not trying to downplay that at all.

BALDWIN: Of course.

PAUL: People are abused, male or female. It's happening behind closed doors right now. What she went through, what I went through, it is happening to people who are possibly watching this. If nothing else -- yes, there's fear to go forward because you're afraid of the judgment. You're afraid of not being believed. You heard it there in her own statements, that she was counseled by saying he's flawed but you're flawed too. It's B.S. at the end of the day.

If you're in danger, you need to get out. It's hard to do that, because you've been so broken down. But the truth of the matter is the most dangerous time for anybody who's in an abusive relationship is when they try to leave because an abuser wants control.

[14:15:01] And if they think they have control and now they're backed into a corner because you're walking out the door, that's when things can get really violent. And that's why people stay.

And it's time that we give a little more credence to what people say. I'm not discounting the fact that some people say things that aren't true. But if this is what it took, maybe this is what it takes to have more of these conversations and for these two women to come out and be telling their situations now and their stories.

That's important, because one of the hardest things about being in that situation is that you feel so alone. And by hearing somebody else's story, you know that you're not, for one. And, two, you know it's survivable.

And that -- words matter. Words can shape you. They can lift you up or they can tear you down. And if they're coming from somebody who supposedly loves you more than anything, and that's supposed to be your safe haven, you know, that's supposed to be your safe place, we need to start giving more credence to people who have the courage to come forward.

It's not easy to talk about. It's not easy to admit you allowed yourself to live like that with anybody. It's hard enough to admit it to yourself. But then to admit it publicly, we just have to start listening more.

BALDWIN: Thank you for allowing me to listen to you and all of you.

And, Christi, just from all of us, ladies, we admire you. Thank you so much for using your voice in such a powerful way. And Jamie and MJ, and all your reporting. Thank you so much.

We have a lot more to talk about on that story. The White House will be facing some pretty tough questions about this just a short while from now. It's not Sarah Sanders who will be behind that podium. First up here it's Raj Shah, her number two, her press secretary deputy. We're going to take that live, momentarily.

Also ahead, another volatile day on Wall Street. At one point, the Dow tumbling more than 650 points. What's going on?

And just in, former White House adviser Omarosa making pretty interesting comments about her time in the White House, describing being haunted by tweets every single day. We're going to play that clip for you, next.


[14:21:31] BALDWIN: Time is quickly running out for lawmakers to reach an agreement to avoid another government shutdown. Senate leaders have struck a bipartisan deal, but there is bipartisan opposition to this whole thing on the House side. A senior White House official now telling CNN the vote in the House will be close because some Democrats as well as some Republicans just aren't on board.

The top Democrat in the House says her vote is no until House Speaker Paul Ryan agrees to hold a floor vote on the future of the Dreamers.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's not just about the Dreamers, it's about the United States of America and who we are as a country. I hope that the speaker will man up and decide that we can also have a Mitch McConnell guarantee in the Senate, a vote -- a vote on the floor.


BALDWIN: Now, the assumption has been that the whole thing will pass. But the massive amount of spending in this deal really underscores a real, shall we call it, metamorphosis of the Republican Party. Under President Obama, this was the party of fiscal discipline, of deficit hawks. But today's Republican Party -- they are raising budget caps by $300 billion in the next two years and grant more than $80 billion in disaster relief to hurricane-ravaged areas.

Here is House Speaker Paul Ryan.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's hurricane relief. I mean, we're not going to rebuild Houston? We're not going to rebuild Florida? We're not going to help Puerto Rico or the fires in California?

The other domestic spending is something that we all agree on. We have an opioid crisis in America. Let's get on with fixing it. We think we can get pretty darn close on cancer research and getting some cures, so let's keep that going. We all know we want to work on infrastructure, so we're getting a good down payment on infrastructure.


BALDWIN: Let's talk to CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza, and CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.

Chris, you know, yes, disaster relief, yes, much needed. But as you point out in your piece, the $300 billion comes on top of the $1 trillion Republicans added to the deficit, you know, approving the tax cut legislation the end of last year. So, how do you square that with the Republican Party of yesteryear?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Right, I mean, yesteryear? Five year. I mean, it's not like we're talking about 1880.

BALDWIN: Well, a week is like a year lately so --

CILLIZZA: True. I mean, Paul Ryan rose to national prominence, Brooke, rose to the speakership on the strength of what the Ryan budget, what was the underlying principle there? Our debt, we were spending too much. Our debts were getting out of control. We needed to make hard choices to reel those in. That was in 2010.

BALDWIN: We've got some of that sound. Let me play some of that. This is from a few years ago, aka yesteryear.


PAUL: So, what we have here is a spending gusher that's going to keep on gushing and they have no plan to get this fiscal house in order.

We are cutting spending. You ever heard that type of statement around this town before? We really do believe that the value of this Republican majority has been a change to this culture.

We want to balance the budget. They don't. We want to restrain spending. They want to spend more money. We think taxpayers have given enough to Washington.


BALDWIN: Who -- who -- who is leading the charge on the spending spree?

CILLIZZA: I mean, that's the whole thing. First of all, great throwback to the old Paul Ryan haircut, 2010 style.

BALDWIN: I knew you were going to go there.

CILLIZZA: I've kept my hair the same style since 12, so kudos to him for changing.

But, look, this was the reason -- this was the organizing principle around which Paul Ryan sort of led the rebirth of conservatism in the Obama era, Obama spending too much money.

[14:25:13] He was the alternative to it. It's in some ways why he wound up on the ticket with Mitt Romney. To see him say deficit is fine, it tells you one thing, Donald -- this is Donald Trump's party. Donald Trump doesn't care a wit about debt and deficits.

BALDWIN: Do you agree, Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: I think that's right. I mean, he is the king of debt. He was very much talking about, for instance, not touching entitlements. That was one of the pledges that he made and talked about spending, that debt and deficits don't really matter.

Very deep departure, as Chris was talking about, from Paul Ryan. That wing of the party, from the Tea Party wing of the party, that very much I think pushed Republicans into a majority in both the House and the Senate. And now, that is a distant memory as they urge, at this point, those members in those districts, in those conservative districts to essentially do away with all this idea about a balanced budget, about restraint in spending.

Their argument is essentially if you love the troops, you will support this bill. If you want to see more military spending, you will support this budget and it will likely work. We'll see, you know, what the numbers are in terms of whether or not Republicans actually abandon this. They have been saying that they might and stick to their principles in terms of limiting spending, but we'll see.

BALDWIN: Yes, we've got one Republican congressman who is a big fat hell no, to quote him on this. We'll talk to Mo Brooks next hour.

In the meantime, I've got to ask both of you about the president's former adviser, Omarosa, who just left the White House last month. She is now back into dipping her toes into reality TV. She is on "Big Brother" and she shared some of her White House experiences. Listen.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I was haunted by tweets every single day, like what is he going to tweet next?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does anybody say to him, what are you doing?

MANIGAULT: I tried to be that person and then all the people around him attacked me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should we be worried?

MANIGAULT: Don't say that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we are worried. But I need you say, no, it's going to be OK.

MANIGAULT: No, it's not going to be OK. It's not.


HENDERSON: That is dramatic. My god, it sounds like a ghost story or something. I mean, there's lowered voices -

CILLIZZA: The whispering.

HENDERSON: Yes, the whispering, the hushed --

CILLIZZA: Nia, no one will hear us, tell me whatever you need to tell me now because we're on television.

BALDWIN: National TV.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, this is what Omarosa is brilliant at, right? Making good TV, reinventing herself, being relevant in whatever way she needs to be. She jumped on the reality show bandwagon early on with Donald Trump and jumped on -- jumped off the Hillary Clinton bandwagon and on to the Donald Trump bandwagon in the context of 2016.

And here she is, reinventing herself and saying to jump off the Donald Trump bandwagon and making herself a kind of relevant and interesting to watch.

CILLIZZA: And, Brooke, just to add, Nia is exactly right. I take issue with dipping her toe back into the reality TV world.

HENDERSON: Did she ever leave, right?

CILLIZZA: I don't think she ever got out. I mean, that's who she is. Her time in the White House was largely spent sort of playing, sort of a -- playing a character named Omarosa, which she continues to do. And, you know, you can hate her but, man, can she get headlines.

BALDWIN: She sure does. Chris and Nia, thank you, guys, both very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about the president now. Mike Pence arriving in South Korea today for the Winter Olympics and sending a pretty tough message to the game's host on nuclear threat of neighboring North Korea. Pence warning the U.S. wants a peaceful dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons but quoting him, all options are on the table.

This comes as we're hearing that the South Korean president, President Moon, will meet with the sister of the North Korean dictator. The two planning to actually lunch on Saturday.

So, now, the world wondering, will President Moon try to broker any kind of meeting between Vice President Pence and North Korea while these games go on?

Let's talk it all over, Gordon Chang. He is back with us today, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

You know, you can comment on whether that may be brokered or roll your eyes. But to me, you know, what's interesting is how this whole President Moon meeting with the member of the Kim dynasty, first time ever on South Korean soil. And that seems to be upstaging the vice president.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD: Yes, certainly. But we also know that Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, is going to try to broker a meeting between the United States and North Korea, because it was reported a couple of days ago in South Korea that they're trying to get Pence to meet Kim Jong Nam. Sorry.

BALDWIN: The sister.

CHANG: No. The head of state, the head of state of North Korea.