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EARLY START

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 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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 on it just yet. Will enough vote in favor or could the government lights go out at midnight again? And oh yes, what happens to the little thing called the deficit?

BRIGGS: Forget about it. Let the games begin. The Pyeongchang Olympics are under way with the first events a day ahead of the opening ceremony.

I'm all geared up. Yes, of course, mixed doubles curling made its debut last night but it was a show of force from North Korea is the story right now.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, February 8th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East in the U.S.

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 Rob Porter will be out of the West Wing as early as today. He's the staff secretary, effectively a gate keeper to the president whose reputation had been on the rise. Multiple sources tell CNN Chief of Staff John Kelly and other top aides to the president, well, they've known for months about these domestic abuse claims which Porter, we should note, denies.

BRIGGS: Mm-hmm. 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, Jennie Willoughby, told the "Washington Post" why she thinks more people didn't know. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

BRIGGS: Now Politico reports an ex-girlfriend of Porter's contacted the White House counsel Don McGahn. She was concerned about a romantic relationship between Porter and White House communications director Hope Hicks. She 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 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. Thank you so much for that.

Joining us this morning CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University.

Just quickly, what is your take on John Kelly and the role of General Kelly in this White House given this Rob Porter drama? He was supposed to be the guy who was the grownup, right, in the room? And this is just the latest sort of potentially misjudgment on his behalf here.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that myth of John Kelly has been exploited for a long time. And since he took over this job, we have had a number of controversies with the president, moments when the president is certainly not controlled, and instances like this, of terrible judgment where it shows he's not the John Kelly everyone makes him out to be.

ROMANS: Here's what Walter Shaub, who used to be the chief ethics officer in the government, said -- he said, "So John Kelly often touted as the White House's adult falsely smeared a congresswoman," that's Fredericka Wilson.

[05:05:07] "Tells us a failure to compromise on slavery caused the civil war." Historians' heads were popping off there. "Called Dreamers lazy and protected a wife beater. Tell us again, Press Secretary, how we're never allowed to criticize a general?"

ZELIZER: Right. Look, he has been an attack dog for the president. That's the reality. These moments of controversies. It's not just that John Kelly can't control the president. He's often gone a step further in aggressively defending the president for decisions that many people are not happy with. And this is one more example in a long list.

BRIGGS: He's had a bad week even by Trumpian standards. But it is a good week for bipartisanship. We have heard very little of any of that over the last year. This deal in the Senate. Chuck Schumer called it the real -- first real sprout of bipartisanship.

Here's what's in the Senate deal. Funds the government for two years. It is the first real sprout. But sometimes as parents know, their kids try to grow plants and it only turns into a sprout. It never actually turns into a plant. Are you optimistic that this is a path forward? That these two parties working together? Can it even get through the House?

ZELIZER: It's not a path forward to bipartisanship in the long term. That's not going to happen. Partisanship runs deep in Washington. That said this deal can certainly happen. The question is what do House Republicans do? Do they complain and actually take action because of the levels of spending. I'm not sure this would be a huge victory for the Republicans and for the administration.

Even if Democrats are getting a lot, this is a budget deal. It would take some of this off the table for two years.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ZELIZER: And you can hear the tweets or imagine the tweets coming out of that heat when this is done.

ROMANS: And there is opioid money in there, too, which is something that's really important for members of both parties. But what about the deficit hawks? Where are they? I mean, remember when the Obama administration, he had $3 trillion deficits because we were fighting the wildfires spreading around the globe, there was a financial crisis, and that was ridiculed. You know?

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: And now you've got a strong economy, and deficits, rising interest rates, a tax plan and a budget deal that could add to deficits.

ZELIZER: Yes. I think the commitment is often paper thin. I think many of them in the House are willing to go along with deficits if it serves their political interests. Look, we just saw it with the corporate tax cut. That was also a deficit busting measure. And many House Republicans and Senate Republicans said OK. So you can always justify why it matters.

ROMANS: They argue it's going to grow the economy so much that it will eventually --

ZELIZER: Right.

ROMANS: You know.

ZELIZER: You'll hear similar kinds of arguments, you know, with a bit of a different spin with this. Again, House Republicans will see if they get some adjustment that they can tell their constituents we cut some of the spending from the Senate.

BRIGGS: Right.

ZELIZER: They'll take this.

BRIGGS: Democrats aren't sure about this deal either. And with that, a reminder that women are tougher than men because 77-year-old Nancy Pelosi spoke for eight hours on the House floor, a record. Mind you she did this wearing four-inch heels the entire time.

ROMANS: I know. You can only go like 10 minutes with four-inch heels. BRIGGS: Yes. She deserves those high fives. She read some

compassionate stories about Dreamers. But here's what the National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted, "Every minute you're in front of the cameras, you make our job easier." She in reality didn't do much for Dreamers. And in reality, Republicans love to run against the image of Nancy Pelosi.

How effective were those eight hours? Would it have been more effective to Netflix?

ZELIZER: Well, look, she is one of the toughest partisan fighters in Washington. And it's effective to show the Democrats are fighting. The problem isn't her, the problem is Democrats have no leverage on this. They really don't. And in the end, they are now in the position somehow of saying we either want DACA and the Dreamer program to continue, or we will let it shutdown? Even though they don't control either branch of government. So the speeches are fine. They might rally supporters. But I'm not sure they're going to be effective. The Republicans really have the Democrats in a box.

BRIGGS: Be honest. How long could you speak at one point?

ZELIZER: I can speak for a long time. Just ask my students.

ROMANS: He's a professor.

ZELIZER: Ask my students. Right.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: I couldn't -- I couldn't make it five hours with a commercial break wearing Nikes. I don't know about the two of you, but he is a Princeton professor.

ROMANS: He speaks twice as much as his students. All right. Thanks. Nice to see you, Julian. Come back in a few minutes.

ZELIZER: All right.

BRIGGS: 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, rather unusual in and of itself, says it reflects the president's affection for the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Congressional Democrats are largely opposed to the idea. Republicans looks like they're mixed. Here's noted Defense hawk, Senator Lindsey Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

2SEN. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:10:04] BRIGGS: Cheesy and weak. Leon Panetta, Defense secretary under President Obama, is raising his own concerns about the president's motivations for a parade. He says, 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."

ROMANS: All right. 10 minutes the hour. To money now, full disclosure. I think that term rollercoaster to describe the markets is just overused. It's a terrible cliche. I never say it but I just said it because this week it actually fits and more selling could be ahead.

Wall Street's bond market headache won't go away. It's where all the trouble started. And bond yields, as you know, move opposite to price. Heavy selling of the bonds yesterday lifted the 10-year treasury yield to a four-year high. Wiping out what had been a 381- point surge for the Dow. Instead it closed lower, so did the Nasdaq and the S&P 500.

U.S. stocks had been on the rebound. The Dow alone on track for a two-day gain of 1,000 points before all this.

Now there are two reasons why 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 foster interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.

Some good news here. Volatility has eased a bit. At least for now. They fear gauge on Wall Street fell 15 percent after -- as you can see -- exploding earlier this week. And then anxiety overseas has mostly eased right now. If you take a look at where global stocks at right now, they're mostly mixed and right now futures are higher.

It has just been crazy. Hasn't it?

BRIGGS: It has been wild. We heard the term bond-cano earlier this week from Wall Street.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes.

BRIGGS: And it's been an interesting ride.

Ahead, shows of force by the Americans and North Koreans on the eve of the Winter Olympics. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: And of course Vice President Mike Pence speaking to American troops just as North Korea wrapped up a military parade including a missile they say could hit the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[05:16:05] 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Vice President Mike Pence speaking to American troops at Yokota Air Base in Japan overnight. He's now arrived in South Korea ahead of the Olympics' opening ceremony tomorrow. North Korea now making a final show of force before the games.

CNN's Paula Newton live for us from Seoul with the latest.

Paula, always a distraction ahead of the Olympics. Sochi, it was the housing wouldn't be down. Rio, it was contaminated water. But this one feels awfully different.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no one could have made up this script, Dave. And here we are, Mike Pence, the vice president, landing here in Seoul, went over to the Blue House, the -- South Korean version of the White House, to meet with Moon Jae-in. And split screen, North Korea begins to broadcast its military parade. That happened this morning. Several hours later, they had a full edited version of this military parade.

And a few weeks ago they told CNN that it was meant to scare the hell out of America, in their words. One thing of course that we noted is just a few minutes ago, (INAUDIBLE) was trotted out in the square. The reason is that is the ICBM that is capable now, and many experts agree, of hitting anywhere in the continental United States. And yes, think about that platform meeting into the Olympics.

Mike Pence has come here to say he will not allow North Korea to hijack the Olympic agenda. But in the meantime, South Korea wants this to be, in their words, the Peace Olympics, which means, they invited North Korea, they've accepted that invitation. The high level delegation here from North Korea includes the sister of Kim Jong-un. She will be here along with Mike Pence during the opening ceremonies.

And the day after that, South Korea will have a bilateral meeting with that high-level delegation. One thing Mike Pence is very clear, though, that he wants to make it clear to North Korea and anyone else that they cannot divide South Korea and the United States in terms of their military posture when the Olympics are done.

BRIGGS: Sure some fascinating optics ahead of the games. Paula, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, 18 minutes past the hour. 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.

BRIGGS: Just when you're ready to give up on LeBron and the Cavaliers, King James is stepping up big.

Andy Scholes with what a finish in the "Bleacher Report" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:23:23] BRIGGS: All right. The city of Philadelphia bracing for one of its largest crowds ever for today's Super Bowl parade.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, guys.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

SCHOLES: You know, officials believe more than 2 million Eagles fans are going to brave the freezing temperatures today to celebrate the team's first Super Bowl title. The parade is going to go through downtown and end at the art museum on the iconic Rocky steps. Fans are going to be treated to all kinds of free stuff along the way. Bud Light providing free beers to those 21 older along the route. One per person. Some establishments also giving out free ice cream, which is a nod to Eagles' coach Doug Pederson who loves ice cream. Now school is cancelled in Philly today so people of all ages can attend the parade. It's going to get going around 11:00 a.m.

And the Cavs and Timberwolves playing a thriller last night. Tied in overnight, one second on the clock. The Cavs get the ball to LeBron. And he's buried the fade-away at the buzzer. Cavs win 140-138. LeBron, 37 points. The Cavs snapped their eight-game losing streak on national television. The NBA trade deadline is today at 3:00 Eastern.

Team USA announcing that luger Erin Hamlin will be the flag bearer at tomorrow's opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. Hamlin who's from upstate New York is a four-time Olympian and won bronze in Sochi. Being the flag bearer, of course, a huge honor for any Olympian and Hamlin, just the sixth female to do it for Team USA at the Winter games. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN HAMLIN, TEAM USA FLAG BEARER: The nerves will be flying, for sure. I'm -- I slide. That's what I do. I can -- put me at the top of the track and that's my happy place. So walking out in front of a lot of people and with even more watching from home, having to not trip over my own feet or drop a flag is going to be way more nerve racking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:25:10] SCHOLES: The opening ceremony tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. Eastern and will replay in primetime. The games are actually underway already with mixed doubles curling.

All right. Finally yesterday was the National Signing Day. Wide receiver prospect out of Pensacola, Florida, Jacob Copeland is picking between Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. But clearly Mom advising him to pick either Tennessee or 'Bama based on her wardrobe but Copeland went with Florida and as you can see mom was not happy. She gets up and just walks off during the broadcast. Now she did eventually come back and gave him a hug and signed his letter of intent.

But guys, clearly her heart was set on Tennessee or Alabama. And it makes you wonder why was she so intent on him going to one of those two schools?

BRIGGS: You tell us.

ROMANS: I'd -- well --

(LAUGHTER)

SCHOLES: I don't know. Maybe she was promised good seats at the game?

BRIGGS: Maybe more. We see this every day. Parents making their kids' sports more about them than their children. Just a reminder, folks, it's not about you, parents.

ROMANS: Yes. I felt badly for him.

BRIGGS: The kids.

ROMANS: But I think he's -- you know.

BRIGGS: He's going to be a star. He'll be all right.

ROMANS: Best of luck.

BRIGGS: Thank you. Appreciate it, Andy.

ROMANS: Mom's on board.

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 those injuries went public?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)