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White House Aide Resigns Over Abuse Claims; Senate Unveils Bipartisan Budget Deal; North Korea Holds Military Parade Ahead of Winter Olympics Opening; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:36] 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.


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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A two-year budget deal is done but House Democrats aren't sold at it yet. Will enough vote in favor or could the government lights go out at midnight again?

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

I was fired up because mixed doubles curling made its debut. But there's also a military parade in the North that got all the attention.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour, 4:31 a.m. in the East. We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

Major questions this morning 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 tell 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.

BROWN: Sources say President Trump was upset when told about it this week. His daughter Ivanka said to be deeply disturbed especially by the photos of the abuse.

Porter's ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse during a routine FBI background check which held up his permanent security clearance. One of the exes, Jenny Willoughby told the "Washington Post" why she thinks more people didn't 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.


ROMANS: An official says Porter also misled West Wing staff including Kelly by accusing -- he accused 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."

New this morning, Politico reports an ex-girlfriend of Porter's contacted the White House counsel about Porter. She told Don McGahn she was concerned about a romantic relationship between Porter and White House communications director Hope Hicks.

BRIGGS: It was Hicks who helped draft an initial statement from Chief of Staff Kelly declaring his support for Porter.

The latest now from 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.

ROMANS: All right. Jim, thanks for that.

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

[04:35:08] BRIGGS: Ex-White House ethics chief Walter Shaub says, quote, "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 a general?" Shaub is a CNN contributor.

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

ROMANS: All right. To that budget deal. 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 to the deficit. House Democrats are not on board just yet. Their leader Nancy Pelosi opposing the plan in this, you know, historic marathon eight-hour speech over immigration.

Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill 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.

ROMANS: All right. Phi, thank you.

Here is something the deficit hawks -- are there any out there?

(LAUGHTER) ROMANS: But here's something the deficit hawks if there are any won't like. Congress' budget deal means deficits will cross $1 trillion sooner than expected. Originally the Congressional Budget Office said the deficit would pass a trillion dollars in 2022. But a new nonpartisan analysis offset us to next year 2019. That's because in 2018 the government will need to borrow twice what it did in 2017.

Why? Well, first, the new tax law. It will add more than $1 trillion to deficits over the next 10 years then Congress delayed three Obamacare taxes costing $31 billion in revenue. Now U.S. congressional leaders reached a two-year budget deal allowing $300 billion in additional spending that's not paid for.

And let's not forget higher interest rates. Fear of a hike has fueled a wild week on Wall Street. Rising rates could mean a strong economy. It also drives up the cost of U.S. debt which currently stands at $20 trillion.

We're talking about deficits we haven't seen since early on in the Obama administration when there was an economic crisis where this is being fought. This is a strong economy. Adding to deficits in a strong economy.

BRIGGS: But you make a good point. What happened to deficit hawks?

ROMANS: There's a few of them.

BRIGGS: In the Republican Party. There are a few. Dave Brett called it a Christmas tree on steroids, Jim Jordan a monstrosity, Rand Paul a terrible no good way to run your government. But they are an endangered species in the Republican Party.


[04:40:03] BRIGGS: White House officials expect President Trump to release a Democrats memo that rebuts the Republican memo alleging surveillance abuses at the FBI. The Democratic document still being reviewed by the Trump administration. Unless it is deemed to be a grave threat to national security, White House officials believe it will be made public. One aide telling CNN there is concern about a negative backlash if the memo is suppressed. The question now, according to another official, is less about whether the memo will be released and more about what will be redacted from it.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump's call for a grand military parade has drawn scorn and skepticism from some in Congress. But Defense Secretary James Mattis appearing at Wednesday's White House briefing he says it reflects the president's affection for the troops.


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.


BRIGGS: 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.


ROMANS: Leon Panetta, the Defense secretary under President Obama, raising his own concerns about the president's motivations for a parade. He says 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.

BRIGGS: All right. Shows of force by the Americans and North Koreans on the eve of the Winter Olympics.


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


BRIGGS: Of course the vice president speaking to American troops just as North Korea wrapped up a military parade.

We're live in Seoul next.



[04:46:16] 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 arrives let the world know we are ready for any eventuality.


BRIGGS: The Vice President Mike Pence speaking to American troops at Yokota Air Base in Japan overnight. Pence has now in South Korea ahead of the Olympics' opening ceremony tomorrow. But now North Korea making a final show of force before the games. CNN's Paula Newton live for us in Seoul with the latest. Good morning to you, Paula.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey there, Dave. It has been a busy few hours here. Just as Mike Pence is arriving North Korea decides it's going to run its military parade on a loop -- we've been watching it now in North Korean state TV. Military parade the day before the opening ceremonies.

Vice President Mike Pence has said that he would not allow North Korea to hijack these Olympics. He is at the Blue House, the U.S. version of the White House, right now meeting with Moon Jae-in. They will have a dinner. And at it Mike Pence has vowed to say that he and South Korea are as one in terms of what happens after these Olympics. That they will continue to put the toughest pressure possible on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

One thing we weren't expecting. It has been announced in the last few days that the high level delegation that North Korea will be sending here along with its athletes is the sister of Kim Jong-un who apparently we've seen at these military parades. She will be here for the opening ceremonies along with Mike Pence.

North Korea saying there is no way we are talking to the United States, but South Korea will be speaking to North Korea after the opening ceremonies. Quite a twist of diplomacy here. I Mean, these were supposed to be called the peace Olympics. They certainly will be a different kind of Olympics. And you have to feel for the South Koreans trying to tap dance around all of this. Many of those still skeptical that will change anything in terms of what North Korea will do with its nuclear weapons program.

Kim Jong-un, we were just listening to that parade, saying that North Korea is now, in his words, a world class military power, and Dave, I know you have a sporting pedigree and I'm sure you're wondering by now where are these games going to start so that we can talk about sports.

BRIGGS: Yes. Typically the sports kind of wash away all of the alternative buzz leading into the Olympics. It's not clear that will happen this time. We shall see.

Paula, thanks.

Speaking of the Winter Olympics in South Korea officially begin Friday, though competitions are already underway. Ski jumping and curling on the schedule today. Mixed doubles curling started yesterday. Debuted actually. The first joint tae kwon do performance featuring North and South Koreans 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: Former Pope Benedict XVI says he is on a pilgrimage toward home. An Italian newspaper asked the Pope emeritus for a response to readers who wondered how he's doing. He responded with a rare public letter saying, "In the slow waning of my physical forces, inwardly I am on a pilgrimage toward home. It is of great grace for me to be surrounded on this last part of the road sometimes a bit tiring by such loving goodness that I could never have imagined." The 90-year- old former Pope has been living at the Vatican since his surprise resignation back in 2013. All right. As one of Elon Musk's companies is celebrating, launching

the world's most powerful rocket, another is fighting for liftoff. The Tesla is reporting huge losses.

CNN Money Stream next.


[04:54:16] BRIGGS: 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. 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: The FBI now says there is no evidence to suggest an attack in the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez. He died in November after he was found with blunt trauma to the head in West Texas. The president used his death to promote his border wall. The FBI says it has conducted 26 searches, 650 interviews.

[04:55:03] According to an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo, a lack of third party blood and DNA evidence on the agent's clothing, the lack of any defensive wounds and the lack of unidentified footprints has been found at the scene.

BRIGGS: The FBI, the agency, is investigating several possibilities including an altercation between Martinez and his partner, Stephen Michael Garland. Garland, who was injured in the accident, says he still does not remember what happened. A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson telling CNN they have no official comment. The Border Patrol Union says it believes Martinez was killed by rocks in an ambush.

ROMANS: All right. 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 gymnastics club Twistars where Larry Nassar has admitted to abusing young female athletes. Last month USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert. Neither his attorneys nor Twistars responded to a request for comments. Geddert is no longer listed on Twistars' Web site as the club's owner.

BRIGGS: All right. College football's National Signing Day always memorable for student athletes and their families. This year produced one of the more awkward and memorable moments you'll ever see.

Four-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland was choosing between Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. He's from Pensacola. Chose the hometown Gators. The crowd loved it but Copeland's mom clearly did not. She was wearing an Alabama hoodie and a Tennessee hat. She got up and left the ceremony as soon as he committed. The mom's departure leaving Jacob alone to answer questions.


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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did she walk out and leave?

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


BRIGGS: In true mom fashion, though, she came back to give her boy a big hug after the announcement.

ROMANS: So football is thicker than blood.

BRIGGS: It is in the SEC. Yes.

ROMANS: All right. All right. I'm glad they could reunite over that.

For the first time in its history, the Gerber spokesbaby is a child with down syndrome. 18-month-old Lucas Warren from Georgia beat out 140,000 other kids to become Gerber's spokesbaby of the year. Oh my god, he's adorable. Look at this little tie. This is the contest's 91st year. Lucas' parents will get a $50,000 price and Lucas will appear on Gerber's social media channels and ads throughout the year.

All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Full disclosure. I think the term rollercoaster to describe markets is overused and it's a terrible cliche. This week I will use it because it fits. It's a cliche that actually fits and more selling could be ahead.

Wall Street's bond market headache just won't go away and heavy selling yesterday wiped out a 381-point surge for the Dow close lower, along with the Nasdaq and the S&P 500. Two reasons here. Rising bond 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 rate hikes from the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, anxiety overseas has mostly eased at least for now. Global stocks are mixed. London and Paris have turned a little bit lower here. Right now U.S. futures are a tad higher.

As one of Elon Musk's companies is celebrating, launching the world's most powerful rocket this week, another is fighting for liftoff. Tesla lost $675 million in the final three months of 2017. It's biggest quarterly loss ever. Blamed production delays of the Model 3, Tesla's more affordable electric car. Tesla is pinning all its hopes of becoming a mainstream carmaker on that Model 3. But Tesla only delivered 1,500 Model 3 cars in the quarter, barely a dent in the reservation list. The reservation list is 500,000. Dunkin' Donuts is going green. It plans to ditch Styrofoam cups by

the year 2020, replacing the foam with a recyclable double-walled paper cup. Dunkin' has more than 9,000 stores nationwide so it matters what it does. It's already using the paper cup in some locations. It estimates the move will remove one billion foam cups from the waste stream per year. Dunkin' not the first fast food chain to end its relationship with foam. Remember when McDonald's started it, got rid of those clam shells first long time ago and now it says it will remove all of it from its packaging by 2025.

BRIGGS: Social media was not happy. Coffee tastes better out of the foam cup, as my wife taught me.

ROMANS: Oh my god.

BRIGGS: I save those Dunkin' foam cups.

ROMANS: Really?

BRIGGS: Taste a little bit better.

ROMANS: We're going to poison Mother Earth so that --


BRIGGS: No. We'll put the environment first. I'll deal.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the allegations toward a key White House aide.


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.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Those allegations were not enough to force Rob Porter out of the White House, but these pictures are.