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White House Aide Resigns Over Abuse Claims; Senate Unveils Bipartisan Budget Deal; V.P. Pence Arrives In South Korea; FBI: No Evidence Of Ambush In Border Agent's Death. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:45] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, ROB PORTER'S EX-WIFE: He came and 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 a top aide 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 staff secretary Rob Porter?

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's lights go out at midnight again?

BRIGGS: And speaking of games, let the Winter Games begin. The PyeongChang Olympics are underway with the first events a day ahead of the opening ceremony. An interesting military parade taking attention off of the sports.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour. Nice to see you all --

BRIGGS: And, you.

ROMANS: -- this Thursday morning.

There are 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 are told Rob Porter will out of the West Wing as early as today. He's the staff secretary -- effectively, gatekeeper 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 have known for months about the domestic abuse claims, which Porter denies.

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

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 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 like 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: 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.

ROMANS: 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 the White House communications director Hope Hicks. She helped draft an initial -- Hope Hicks helped draft an initial statement from Chief of Staff Kelly declaring his support for Porter.

We get the latest now 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: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

[05:35:00] Joining us here this morning, CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer. Historian and professor at Princeton University.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning to you, sir.


BRIGGS: All right. So, Gen. Kelly was -- is a highly-decorated, highly-respected four-star general who, at one point, was thought to be the real adult in the room -- that was coming in to instill discipline. He's had a bad week even by Trumpian standards considering the knock on Dreamers earlier and now this.

He had two statements come out yesterday and it was like the two memos regarding FISA applications. The first one called Rob Porter a man of true integrity and honor. Now again, CNN's reporting suggests that John Kelly knew about these allegations.

Statement two says, "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society."

How has all this happened?

ZELIZER: Well, John Kelly, since he took over as chief of staff, has not been the other John Kelly that you discussed. He has been an extension of the president, he has been an attack dog for the president, and he has often been the justifier-in-chief for the various things that the president does or problems that emerge in the White House, like Porter.

BRIGGS: Is there an honest explanation for missing this?

ZELIZER: We don't have all the facts but it seems like the information was there and it doesn't seem (audio gap) information that was front and center for him when making a decision.

ROMANS: Our reporting is that he was close to Rob Porter. Rob Porter was telling people inside the White House this was a smear campaign against --


ROMANS: -- his two ex-wives. Now, there's a former girlfriend.

There was a story in the newspaper -- some -- you know, some paparazzi pictures of Hope Hicks and him and that's what sort of, I think, brought this to the public attention.

Vetting -- this is the extreme vetting administration.


ROMANS: What about the extreme vetting on the people who are working in the White House?

ZELIZER: Well, the vetting isn't very good in this White House. How many stories have there been in the past year of key personnel with big problems, whether you're talking about this or whether you're talking about conflict of interest? This is part of the ad hoc nature --


ZELIZER: -- of the Trump presidency where these kinds of problems are lurking right beneath the surface all the time.

BRIGGS: And the damage done there is not just to the White House and these women who are believed, but overshadowing what Republicans did accomplish was a two-year deal passing the Senate to fund the government, to move these distractions beyond 2018.

ROMANS: That's a good point.

BRIGGS: This is a huge deal. A huge win, some might say, for Senate Republicans. "The first real sprout of bipartisanship," said Chuck Schumer.

How big a deal is this? Will we see more like it? Will Democrats and Republicans coalesce in the House?

ZELIZER: If they can get it through the House it's a very significant deal. It increases domestic spending on many key issues the Democrats wants, and Republicans --

ROMANS: Opioids, substance abuse, very important.

ZELIZER: -- can say that defense spending is going up which is something they've been pushing for. And, you take the budget off the table in some ways --


ZELIZER: -- for a long time. That would be a huge victory.

So the question is, will the House Republican coalesce behind the president, put their fiscal conservatism aside, and say yes? If they do, there's nothing the Democrats can do to stop it. ROMANS: So, when the Obama administration had trillion-dollar deficits it was --


ROMANS: -- it was evil and the end of the world. But when Republicans have trillion-dollar deficits it's OK?

ZELIZER: That is correct, and so fiscal conservatism is always put aside when it's your party that's committing the deficits.

ROMANS: And you could spend more money for a big parade, we think, right? Is there going to be -- what do you make of this military parade?

ZELIZER: Yes. Look, we've had military parades after specific military conflicts like World War II or like the Persian Gulf and at the same time, we have parades to honor veterans. The difference is many people think Trump is enamored with the hardware display --

BRIGGS: Right.

ZELIZER: -- like we see in authoritarian governments, and we traditionally have not done that. We show our power, at least symbolically, through ideas and values rather than our tanks.

ROMANS: Do we have --

BRIGGS: Yes. I think everyone's supportive of honoring the troops --

ROMANS: Of course.

BRIGGS: -- but Lindsey Graham --

ROMANS: Of course.

BRIGGS: -- talked about the latter, if this is a display of hardware -- listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: 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: You know what's interesting is Trump state media, that other network, they were bashing this idea. The Pentagon reporter over there said it was met with a collective eye roll.

ROMANS: The Pentagon.

BRIGGS: That Pentagon leaders thought it was a joke. The "FOX & FRIENDS" host said it was a waste of money. This was not met with welcome arms.

ZELIZER: No, true. Many Republicans and conservatives rolled their eyes at this idea.

That said, Sen. Graham has gone back and forth on many issues, criticizing the president, saying well, I support his idea. And if the president really moves forward with this I can imagine many Republicans saying well, maybe it is a good idea and we'll have that parade after all.

ROMANS: I mean, it could be crafted nicely to really honor the troops.

ZELIZER: Right -- no, that's exactly right.

ROMANS: Not to honor big missiles going down Pennsylvania Avenue.


ROMANS: And, you know, we do do this. We -- every year on Fourth of July there are small-town parades all over the country with the VFW, and with the high school band, and with little kids on their bikes, and that's sort of traditionally how we have celebrated American freedom and pride --

[05:40:09] ZELIZER: Sure.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: -- in our military and law enforcement.

So we do do this but I guess maybe we'll see something big and bombastic in Washington.

Thank you, Julian.

BRIGGS: Julian Zelizer, thank you.

All right.

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. The annual assessment of the three major service academies cited 112 reports of sexual assault at Air Force, up from 86 the year before.

The Under Secretary 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 Americans 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: That was the vice president speaking to American troops just as North Korea wrapped up a military parade for its leader. We're live in Seoul, next.


[05:45:53] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: We will continue to intensify this maximum pressure campaign on North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all. But until that day arrives let the world know we are ready for any eventuality.


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. That's tomorrow.

Now, North Korea, though, making a final show of force before the games.

CNN's Paula Newton joins us live from Seoul with the latest. Good evening, Paula.


And you saw Mike Pence and the second lady get off of that airplane headed straight to the Blue House, the South Korean version of the White House. They are there for talks right now.

And guess what? At the exact same time, Kim Jong Un -- a military parade was being broadcast on North Korean state T.V. In that broadcast, there was a lengthy speech in which he declared that North Korea is a world-class military power and they remain vigilant against what they call the U.S. imperialists.

Not exactly the kind of platform you want for the Olympics, especially an Olympics that South Korea says should be the peace Olympics. You've got to hand it to South Korea here. They are tap-dancing around a lot earlier in the day.

They announced that that high-level delegation from North Korea here at the Olympics, which includes Kim Jong Un's little -- baby sister -- will be here for high-level talks. And after those opening ceremonies -- the same ones that Mike Pence will be at -- they will have talks -- some of the first talks that we have seen.

It's his younger sister's first time to South Korea. In fact, the first time that anyone from that Kim dynasty has been here in South Korea and all eyes will be on that.

Again, unfortunately, politics really dominating. While South Korea wanted these to be the peace Olympics, athletes are really not sure what to make of it. And I can tell you here, even on South Korean T.V., there's been a lot of time spent on the politics as opposed to the Olympics.

Games get underway Friday night -- Friday morning, back home, and with any luck, we will be through these politics within the next 24 to 48 hours.

BRIGGS: Generally, the games take over. We haven't seen that quite yet. Paula, thanks.

We should add there were 1,200 military personnel affected by a stomach virus. Forty-two new cases of that today.

ROMANS: Yes. They had to swap out a bunch of security personnel --


ROMANS: -- and find new security personnel because of that stomach virus.

So, as Paula said, the Olympics in South Korea officially begin Friday but competition already underway. Ski jumping and curling on the schedule today. The first joint Taekwondo 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.

BRIGGS: 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. U.S. military officials say some 500 pro-regime troops carried out the attack. They say no coalition or U.S. personnel were hurt in the fighting.

The Syrian regime is calling U.S. air strikes an act of aggression.

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.

"In the slow waning of my physical forces, inwardly I am on a pilgrimage towards home. It is a great grace for me to be surrounded, on this last part of the road, sometimes a bit tiring, by such love and goodness that I never could 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 celebrating launching the world's most powerful rocket -- a very good week for Elon Musk -- another one of his companies is fighting for liftoff. Tesla reporting huge losses.

"CNN Money Stream," next.


[05:53:58] BRIGGS: Breaking news out of Texas where 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 Gov. Greg Abbott says the state will honor this fallen officer with the dignity he deserves.

ROMANS: The FBI now says there is no evidence to suggest an ambush in the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez. He died in November. 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 and 650 interviews.

According to an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo, Martinez' body had no defensive wounds. There was no third-party DNA. There's no footprint evidence.

BRIGGS: The FBI 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.

[05:55:10] A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson tells CNN they have no official comment but the Border Patrol Union says it believes Martinez was killed by rocks in an ambush.

ROMANS: A former U.S. Olympic coach is the subject of a police investigation. Law enforcement would not comment on the nature of the complaints, 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 attorney nor Twistars responded to request for comment. Geddert is no longer listed on Twistar's Website as the club's owner.

BRIGGS: This year's college football national signing day produced one of the more awkward but memorable moments. You'll see four-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland choosing between Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida. He's from Pensacola and 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 up and left the ceremony as soon as he committed. The mom's departure leaving Jacob alone and a bit disturbed to answer questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who just got up and left there 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 she walked out but, you know, I really don't -- I don't know.


BRIGGS: What was supposed to be one of the best days of his young career. In true mom fashion, though, she did come back to give her boy a hug after the announcement.

For the first time in its history, the Gerber spokesbaby is a child with Down Syndrome. Eighteen-month-old Lucas Warren from Georgia beat out 140,000 other kids to become Gerber's spokesbaby of the year. This is the contest's 91st year.

Lucas parents will get a $50,000 prize. Lucas will appear on Gerber's social media channels and ads through the year.

If that smile doesn't make you smile, you're missing something.

ROMANS: Yes. I'm going to keep that smile right there all day today.

All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning.

A full disclosure -- the term rollercoaster, I never use to describe markets because it's a terrible cliche. This week I'm using it. It's been a rollercoaster and there could be more selling ahead.

Wall Street's bond market headache just won't go away. Heavy selling yesterday wiped out a 381-point surge for the Dow. It closed lower then. Nasdaq and the S&P 500, too.

Two investors were -- two reasons, rather, investors are nervous. Better returns on bonds make risky stocks less attractive and a rapid rise in yields could signal inflation and faster interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, more anxiety overseas. Right now, global stocks and U.S. futures have turned lower. Anything could happen, everybody, on the opening bell.

All right. As one of Elon Musk's companies is celebrating launching the world's most powerful rocket, another of this companies is fighting for liftoff. Tesla lost $675 million in the final three months of last year, the biggest quarterly loss ever.

Blame production delays of the Model 3, Tesla's more affordable electric car. Tesla is pinning all of its hopes on becoming a mainstream carmaker on the Model 3 but it only delivered 1,500 Model 3 cars in the quarter, barely a dent in the reservation list of 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. It estimates the move will remove one billion foam cups from the waste stream per year.

McDonald's has also said it will remove foam packaging from all of its packaging by 2025.

You're going to have -- you think that it tastes better from a foam cup.

BRIGGS: I don't think, I know it tastes better from a foam cup.

ROMANS: You're going to have to start hoarding them. You're going to have to start hoarding them.

BRIGGS: I do have a stack.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: We do got to save the environment.

I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus -- will they support this two-year deal?

We'll see you tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am disappointed that Chief of Staff John Kelly continues to say Rob Porter is a man of integrity and honor.

SANDERS: The president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a lack of character, it's a lack of decency, but it's also political malpractice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that somebody couldn't get clearance should have been a huge red flag.

ROMANS: Kelly says he's shocked by the allegations but CNN has learned he's known for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is on Gen. Kelly. He knew about it and he did nothing.

GRAHAM: I want to compliment Sen. McConnell and Schumer for reaching an agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support the Senate budget deal?


SANDERS: Nancy Pelosi should not hold our military hostage.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Our Dreamers hang in limbo. The Republican moral cowardice must end.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: We didn't campaign on growing government. This is not consistent with what we told the voters.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, February eighth, 6:00 here in New York.

Here's our "Starting Line."