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Who in White House Knew of Abuse Claims Against Top Aide Rob Porter; Senate Budget Plan Boosts Military and Non-Defense Spending; North Korea Holds Military Parade Ahead of Winter Olympics Opening. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, ROB PORTER'S EX-WIFE: And he came and he grabbed me by the shoulders here and pulled me out of the shower in a rage.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Those allegations were not enough to force Rob Porter out of the White House, but these pictures are. But why wasn't action taken months ago when the president's chief of staff learned of abuse claims against the top aide.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A two-year budget deal is done but House Democrats not sold yet. Will enough vote in favor or could the government lights go out again at midnight Thursday?

ROMANS: And let the games begin. The Pyeongchang Olympics are underway with the first events a day ahead of the opening ceremony.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

Yes, mixed doubles curling made its debut last night. I'm a big curling fan.


BRIGGS: But there was a military parade that kind of took all the attention away.

ROMANS: In North Korea. That's right.

BRIGGS: From what happened. That was in the North. We'll talk about that shortly.

It's February 8th. 4:00 a.m. in East. We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. And we start this morning with major questions about who knew what and when after a top White House official is forced to step down over allegations he abused two ex- wives. We're told staff secretary Rob Porter will be out of the West Wing as early as today. Multiple sources telling CNN Chief of Staff John Kelly and other top aides to the president have known for months about the domestic abuse claims which Porter denies.

ROMANS: Sources say President Trump was upset when told about it this week. His daughter Ivanka Trump said to be deeply disturbed especially by photos of the alleged abuse. Porter's ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse during a routine FBI background checks which held up his permanent security clearance. One of the exes, Jenny Willoughby told the "Washington Post" why she thinks more people did not know.


WILLOUGHBY: I'm not at all surprised that people who work with him in a professional capacity see him as a model of discretion, integrity and character because as I mentioned I believe that he is. And I think professionally he is intelligent and he is measured, and he is certainly someone that I would trust in that professional position, and in his personal life he is also abusive and angry.


BRIGGS: And official says Porter also misled West Wing staff including Kelly by accusing his ex-wives of trying to smear him. In a statement Kelly says he was shocked by the new allegations, but he also says, quote, "I believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation."

Well, Politico now reports an ex-girlfriend of Porter's contacted the White House counsel about Porter.

ROMANS: She told Don McGahn she was concerned about a romantic relationship between Porter and White House communications director Hope Hicks. It was Hicks who helped draft an initial statement from Chief of Staff Kelly declaring his support for Porter.

We get the latest on all of this drama inside the West Wing from CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is scrambling to deal with the damaging scandal involving one of its top aides, staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned from his position. Porter stepped down after his two ex- wives accused him of abuse.

Porter released a statement saying quote, "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."

Now despite the allegations, the White House released glowing statements about Porter from the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and others. But a senior White House official told CNN those statements were written in response to the first story that broke in the matter in the "Daily Mail" but before other reports that included one of the ex-wives of Porter featuring a black eye. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters earlier in

the day the president had confidence in Porter.


SARAH 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.


ACOSTA: But CNN has learned one year into the Trump administration Porter never obtained a permanent security clearance to work here and that last fall it was widely known that Porter was facing trouble in obtaining that clearance and that there were allegations from his ex- wives about abuse -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks.

General Kelly was touted as a moderating influence when he first joined the White House as chief of staff. That reputation certainly evolving. One retired general who served with Kelly in Iraq says he no longer recognizes his former colleague.

ROMANS: Ex-White House Ethics chief Walter Shaub says, "So John Kelly often touted as 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, how we're never allowed to criticize the general?" Shaub is a CNN contributor.

The Rob Porter issue appears to be part of a larger vetting problem at the White House. All of these nominees and appointees had to withdraw or lost their jobs over issues that were missed or overlooked or ignored in the screening process.

BRIGGS: A bipartisan budget deal reached by the Senate faces an uncertain future in the House. The measure would head off a government shutdown at midnight. It covers Defense and domestic spending for the next two years adding substantially, though, to the deficit. House Democrats are not all on board just yet. Their leader Nancy Pelosi opposing the plan on a marathon eight-hour speech.

ROMANS: A record, right?

BRIGGS: Over Dreamers and immigration. It was a record going back to 1909, my friend.

Capitol, Phil Mattingly has more.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, we know the deal. We have all of its components. We have the $300 billion in increased spending over the course of two years. You got $80 billion plus in disaster relief for Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico, ravaged by hurricanes. You've got an increase in the debt ceiling until March 2019.

Several other key items as well. An extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program from six to 10 years. All of these are key things that members in both parties actually want. Now they just need the votes. But first, you talk about where leaders actually stand on this, at least in the Senate, optimistic and pleased with where they are. Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: No one would suggest it is perfect. But we worked hard to find common ground to stay focused.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: After months of legislative log jams, this budget deal is a genuine breakthrough. After months of fiscal brinksmanship, this budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship.


MATTINGLY: Despite those remarks, despite the work that's gone in behind the scenes to actually get this done, the votes are still very much in question. Mostly in the House the issue is immigration, it's DACA. It's what Democrats have been holding onto to essentially block the spending deal up to this point. They know the Defense spending increase is something the president wants, it's something the Republicans want.

And that is exactly why you saw Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader, on the House floor for more than eight hours. The longest continuous speech on the House floor in more than a century potentially ever.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We have to be strong as a country and be strong as a country. We have to be true to our values. And to be true to our values is to respect -- to respect the aspirations of people who are our future. Our young people are our future. And these Dreamers are part of that.


MATTINGLY: Stressing the DACA issue, trying to get commitments from Speaker Paul Ryan to bring up some kind of bill, saying that they would withhold votes if they don't get that commitment.

Well, here's the thing. I'm told that Speaker Ryan does not plan on giving that commitment. His commitment is they will take the issue up if the president supports it. And when the president supports it. And Democrats don't have a lot of trust on where the president is going to end up on this.

The real question is, how many House Democrats will split away from their leaders, split away from the DACA issue all together, and come on board. Keep in mind, there are a lot of very important Democratic priorities in this spending deal. The domestic spending alone more than $130 billion to fund things like opioid treatment, the issues that Democrats have been pushing for, for a long period of time.

How many of them will come aboard? That will decide whether or not they actually get this thing done across the finish line and onto the president's desk by midnight tonight -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: Phil, thanks. High fives there for Nancy Pelosi. She had 4- inch heels on that entire time.

ROMANS: Did she really?

BRIGGS: Incredible.

President Trump's call for a grand military parade has drawn support and skepticism from several people in Congress but Defense Secretary James Mattis appearing at Wednesday's White House briefing which is very unusual in and of itself says it reflects the president's affection for the troops and he says the Pentagon is looking at various alternatives for an Armed Forces parade through the nation's capital.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm heartened and putting together some options. Will send them up to the White House for decision. The president's respect, his fondness for the military I think is reflected in him asking for these options.


ROMANS: Congressional Democrats are largely opposed to the idea. Republicans appear mixed. Here is one noted Defense hawk Senator Lindsey Graham.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't mind having a parade honoring the service and sacrifice of our military members. I'm not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display. That's not who we are. That's kind of cheesy and I think shows weakness quite frankly.


BRIGGS: Leon Panetta, Defense secretary under President Obama, is raising his own concerns about the president's motivations for parades, saying, quote, "Any other president you would assume that it would be to honor our men and women in uniform. With this president, it's just worrisome as to what exactly he has in mind."

A Pentagon report says the U.S. Air Force Academy mismanaged its sexual assault prevention and response program during the 2017 academic year. The report says the Colorado-based school was out of compliance with Defense Department policies.

[04:10:07] The problems were revealed in an annual assessment of the three major service academies. It cited 112 reports of sexual assault in Air Force up from 86 the year before. The undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness says they are absolutely committed to making the academy safe. The report says more oversight of response, programs and personnel is needed.

ROMANS: All right. Shows of force by the American and the North Koreans on the eve of the Olympics.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You, the instruments of American power, know all options are on the table.


ROMANS: The vice president speaking to American troops just as North Korea wrapped up a military parade. Kim Jong-un in attendance.

We're live in Seoul, next.



PENCE: We will continue to intensify this maximum pressure on North Korea until it abandoned its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all. But until that day arrived --


[04:15:09] ROMANS: The Vice President Mike Pence speaking to American troops at Yokota Air Base in Japan overnight. He has now, we are told, arrived in South Korea ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony tomorrow. Now North Korea is making a final show of force before the games with its own big military style parade.

CNN's Paula Newton is live from Seoul with the very latest. And, you know, the first daughter Ivanka Trump will be headed there. You've got the Mike Pence, the vice president there. And we know that Kim Jong-un's sister will be an emissary for the North.

Remarkable. We'll be watching to see who could potentially be in the same room together.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Gosh, all at the opening ceremony. So sure, Vice President Mike Pence, it's been a busy few hours here, guys. I mean, the vice president just landed. He is about to start a bilateral meeting with the president of South Korea and they will be discussing, guess what, the nuclear security for the Korean peninsula.

At the same time, Kim Jong-un, we were just on now with the microphone, they now are broadcasting that parade that happened several hours ago in North Korea. Showing off of course their military prowess. And Kim Jong-un basically saying to the United States we have proven that we now have world class technology and military that is up to the task. You know, South Korea wanted this to be the peace Olympics. But this

is turning into something completely different. North Korea rebuffing any kind of suggestions that they will meet with Vice President Pence or anyone else. But at the same time, South Korea announcing that they will meet with the North Korean delegation, including Kim Jong- un's sister the day after the opening ceremony.

And that will be a very interesting meeting indeed. Again the vice president, though, making it very clear that he is here and that at every stop will make it clear that North Korea will not be hijacking these Olympics.

ROMANS: Of course, he invited the father of Otto Warmbier, someone who was imprisoned by the North and came home in a -- just in a vegetative state and ultimately died. So that sends a message I think to the North as well about the American position.

Paula, thank you so much. And keep us posted.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, the Winter Olympics in South Korea officially begin Friday. But competition already under way. Ski jumping and curling on the schedule today. Mixed doubles curling debuted last night. It was a hoot. The first joint tae kwon do performance featuring North and South Korea takes place tomorrow as part of the pre-opening ceremony events.

Erin Hamlin, a four-time Olympic luger and Olympic bronze medalist has been selected as Team USA's flag bearer for the opening ceremony. She was chosen in a vote by her teammates.

ROMANS: All right. U.S. military strikes have killed 100 pro-regime fighters in Syria. The U.S.-led coalition says it launched air and artillery strikes in response to what it called an unprovoked attack by pro-Assad troops on the headquarters of the U.S.-backed Syrian democratic forces. U.S. military officials say some 500 pro-regime troops carried out that attack using artillery, mortar fire and Russian made tanks. They say no coalition or U.S. personnel were hurt in that fighting.

All right. Breaking overnight. A police officer shot and killed in Texas. Another person is wounded. The suspect is in custody.


[04:22:45] ROMANS: All right. To money now. Full disclosure, everyone. I think that the term rollercoaster to describe markets is overused and a terribly cliche. But it fits this week. This has been a rollercoaster week and more selling could be ahead. But Wall Street's bond market headache just won't go away. It's where all the trouble started.

Now bond yields move opposite to price, of course, and heavy selling yesterday lifted the 10-year treasury note yield to a four-year high wiping out a 381-point surge earlier in the Dow, to push it lower along with the Nasdaq and the S&P 500. The U.S. stocks had been on the rebound. The Dow alone on track for a two-gain of a thousand points until all that happened in the bond market.

But there are two reasons why the bonds yields make investors nervous. First as bonds offer better returns, they make risky stocks less attractive. Second, a rapid rise could signal inflation and faster interest hikes from the Federal Reserve. And good news here. Volatility has calmed a bit at least for now. Wall Street's fear gauge, that's what we call the volatility index. It fell 15 percent after simply exploding earlier in the week.

And anxiety overseas appears to have mostly eased. If you look at global stock markets right now, they're mixed and U.S. futures are higher. Anything could happen on the Opening Bell. It has been a rollercoaster of a week.

BRIGGS: All right. Some breaking news out of Texas. A police officer shot and killed while responding to a disturbance. It happened in the Dallas suburb of Richardson around 7:00 p.m. local time. The officer later died at the hospital and he has yet to be identified. The suspect is in custody after a standoff that lasted hours. They say one civilian was also shot. That person's condition unknown right now.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott says the state will honor the fallen officer with the dignity he deserves.

ROMANS: A former U.S. Olympic coach is a subject of a police investigation. Law enforcement would not comment on the nature of the complaint but John Geddert is the former owner of an elite Michigan gymnastic club Twistars where Larry Nassar has admitted to abusing young female athletes. Last month USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert and neither his attorneys nor Twistars have not responded to a request for comments. Geddert is no longer listed on Twistars' Web site as the club's owner.

BRIGGS: College football's National Signing Day is always memorable for students and athletes, their families.

[04:25:04] This year produced one of the more awkward moments you'll ever see. Four-state wide receiver Jacob Copeland was choosing between Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. He's from Pensacola. Chose the hometown Gators. The crowd loved it but as you could see Mom did not. She was wearing an Alabama hoodie and a Tennessee hat. She didn't just get up. She straight walked out of the room. She left.


BRIGGS: See you, mom. But in true mom fashion, she did come back, give him a hug. Here's Jacob answering questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who just got up and left there in -- to your right? Who got up and left?

JACOB: That was my mom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did she walk out and leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't know exactly why -- why she walked out, but yes. I don't know.


ROMANS: She came back.

BRIGGS: She came back. She gave him a hug but anyone wondering how serious SEC football is --

ROMANS: There -- there we go.

BRIGGS: There -- exactly. There's the hug from mom.

ROMANS: In the SEC, football is thicker than blood. Is that what you're telling me?

BRIGGS: That is a terrific saying. That should be a T-shirt.


ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: Good stuff.

ROMANS: Well, congratulations to him. He's a got a real bright future there.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: All right. White House chief of staff John Kelly knew for months about abuse claims against a top White House aide. Why didn't John Kelly act before pictures of the injuries went public?