Return to Transcripts main page


Two of Rob Porter's Ex-Wives Say He Abused Them; Congress to Vote on Spending Bill to Avoid Shutdown. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 06:00   ET



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

[05:59:21] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kelly says he's shocked by the allegations. But CNN has learned he's known for months.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to compliment Senator McConnell and Schumer for reaching an agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support this Senate budget deal?


SANDERS: Nancy Pelosi should not hold our military hostage.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Our DREAMers hang in limbo. The Republicans' 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 8, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

President Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, is under fire after saying that he is shocked by domestic abuse allegations against a top West Wing aide. Here's the problem. Sources tell CNN that Kelly knew for months that Rob Porter was accused by his ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse, but John Kelly protected him.

This latest crisis raises serious questions about the president's chief of staff. Why did it take a photo of Porter's ex-wife with a black eye for Kelly to distance himself, finally, from Porter? Why did Kelly not take disciplinary action sooner?

CUOMO: They may have a tough situation to deal with. Why did he have temporary intelligence clearance? He had been there so long. What was it that was holding it up? It kind of just cast light of the fact that somebody knew something.

The scandal now overshadowing a major bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill. You've got Senate leaders reaching a two-year budget deal that could prevent the federal government from shutting down tonight.

But in the House, a different situation. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats, says she will not support that deal without Paul Ryan committing to an immigration debate next week.

Now, what's the history to this? You'll remember, Senate Majority Leader McConnell had promised a debate next week on the DACA deal. The Democrats now accuse Ryan of playing games with that commitment, which was always a risk and why some Democrats wanted to stand firm during the shutdown.

We also have breaking news overseas. South Korea's president says he will meet with the sister of North Korea's dictator at the Winter Olympics. This comes as Kim Jong-un staged a large military parade in Pyongyang with hundreds of missiles on display, including its newest intercontinental ballistic missile.

We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House with our top story -- Abby.


Well, there are new questions this morning about the judgment of White House chief of staff John Kelly after revelations that he knew about these allegations against his right-hand man, senior White House official Rob Porter, and domestic abuse and seemingly did nothing about it.


PHILLIP (voice-over): White House chief of staff John Kelly expressing shock over what he calls, quote, "new allegations" of domestic abuse against White House staff secretary Rob Porter.

But sources tell CNN that Kelly learned about the accusations last fall and continued to the elevate Porter's profile in the West Wing despite also knowing that he had trouble obtaining a security clearance due to the alleged abuse. Kelly is standing by an earlier statement calling Porter "a man of

true integrity and honor, even after "The Daily Mail" published these shocking images of Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness.

Holderness tells CNN that Porter choked and punched her during a 2005 trip to Italy. Porter denies the abuse allegations from both of his ex-wives. But he resigned on Wednesday, saying in a statement, "These outrageous allegations are simply false. I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

Two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that President Trump only learned about the allegations against Porter this week and was upset by the reports. A senior White House official blaming Porter for, quote, "misleading the staff after the White House rushed to defend Porter after the initial report.

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

PHILLIP: Press secretary Sarah Sanders also calling Porter a person of "the highest integrity and exemplary character."

Porter's second ex-wife telling her story to "The Washington Post."

JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, EX-WIFE OF ROB PORTER: I'm not at all surprised that people could work with him in a professional capacity, could see him as a model of discretion and integrity and character. Because like I mentioned, I believe that he is. And in his personal life, he's also abusive and angry.

PHILLIP: Two sources tell CNN that White House communications director Hope Hicks has been romantically involved with Porter and helped draft Kelly's initial statement.

Politico reports that an ex-girlfriend of Porter's recently contacted White House counsel Don McGahn to voice her concern after discovering that Hicks and Porter were dating. The scandal another blow for General Kelly, who sources say was at odds with the president last month. Kelly already coming under fire this week for saying this about undocumented immigrants who did not sign up for President Obama's DREAMer program.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The difference between 690,000 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up.

PHILLIP: Since taking the reins of the West Wing, Kelly has also been criticized for falsely claiming that Congresswoman Fredericka Wilson took credit for securing funding for an FBI building.

KELLY: Even for someone that is that empty of valor, we were stunned. in a statement.

PHILLIP: Kelly also sparking outrage by saying that it was a lack of ability to compromise rather than slavery that caused the Civil War. (END VIDEOTAPE)

[06:05:07] PHILLIP: Well, Chris and Alisyn, after the White House initially said that Rob Porter would take his time leaving the White House, CNN has learned that he's expected to leave as early as today.

Meanwhile, President Trump will see and hear from him at the national prayer or breakfast in Washington.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for all of that reporting. Let's get into it. We want to discuss it with CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN political commentator Margaret Hoover. Great to have both of you.

OK, so they protected him. They knew some of this stuff. Here is the history of Rob Porter and what was known. And summer of 2005, the first wife says that he physically abused her. In June of 2010, the second wife takes out a protective order against him. In January 2017, both ex-wives share their stories with FBI, according to "The Washington Post."

In the Fall 2017, John Kelly and top aides become aware of this, these abuse allegations. And his security clearance issues. But he remains and they continue to protect him.

In recent weeks, according to Politico, an ex-girlfriend contacts the White House counsel after learning that Hope Hicks, the director of communications, is having a relationship with Porter.

CUOMO: And he never got final intel clearance approval, which tells you something.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, this is the part that is really most shocking to me as someone who had worked in the White House. You know, if you work in a White House, staff secretary as a position is an incredibly important position, because it -- all of the information. Incredibly, the -- all of the insensitive, top secret secure compartmentalized information the president sees goes through that one person through all of these channels of government. So that one individual is privy to incredibly sensitive, top-secret materials, in order for the president to see it in an orderly way.

That that individual didn't have a security clearance, first of all, sets off huge alarm bells in terms of, you know, the systematized White House that was supposed to be running under John Kelly. All right. That, just for me, as someone who worked in the White House, I can't -- that's hard, really hard to understand.

CAMEROTA: I agree. Also, I guess you don't need a security clearance. He's at the president's side. He's writing speeches for him. He's shaking the hand of President Xi of China. I guess you don't really need a security clearance for all of that access.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Well, he looks the part. And that's important in this particular reality show. CUOMO: He does have a good pedigree if you don't look at his


AVLON: No, no, no. And clearly, everyone who worked with him was impressed. No one knows what goes on unless there was a police report. And that was on obviously overlooked by very powerful people.

HOOVER: And it was intentionally overlooked. And here's the problem. If you have, as we've seen, on the Republican side of the equation, sometimes there has been a -- a willingness to overlook behaviors that are simply unconscionable or untenable.

And there are, I think, too many times there's a little bit of forgiveness or an easiness with behaviors that aren't right in front of you. And I think Rob Porter probably excellently performed the duties of staff secretary. You know, he's a Harvard J.D. He's a very smart guy. He's been chief of staff in the Senate office. I'm sure he was incredibly capable at streamlining the flow of information to the president.

CUOMO: Yes. I mean, look, he has been -- he has been trumpeted as being a bright light on that staff. And now they have a new problem. Porter kind of moves to the background. And their biggest problem moves to the foreground, which is they just can't tell the truth out there within this White House when they get called out.

And look, let's just -- let's just trace it right here. The truth matters so much, because it bleeds into everything else. OK? So let's put out this first statement from John Kelly when word about Porter came out.

CAMEROTA: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and trusted professional. I'm happy to serve alongside of him."

CUOMO: That was your opportunity to say "but" and all that. But so there's, like, some kind of statement there of either not knowing or not wanting to deal with it. And then what was the second one?

CAMEROTA: OK. Give me a minute.

CUOMO: You are the keeper of the statements.

CAMEROTA: I am the keeper of the...

CUOMO: He put out a secondary statement where he said, "But allegations of domestic abuse have no place in the administration." And there was a suggestion. "I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There's no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today, and will ensure a swift and orderly transition."

So here's the problem, John. OK? This is what they do. We're going to deal with it later this morning with the vice president and what's going on with the story about meeting the Olympian. They get something wrong or they don't like a story. They either call it fake news or they lie. OK?

Now, I am not accusing chief of staff John Kelly of mendacity. But if they knew, he's in trouble both ways. "So you really didn't know? But the FBI knew in 2017, and the rest of the staff knew, and you're supposed to be the head? Or you did know and you're lying." Either way, no good.

[06:10:09] AVLON: Chris, tone comes from the top. Unfortunately, we have a president who is fast and loose with the truth reflexively. That gets filtered through the organization.

Now, John Kelly is supposed to be the guy who instills professionalism on this White House. And there has been improvement. But when you go from insane to crazy that's not necessarily reassuring.

And so I think what we're confronting of the fact is, it appears that the White House counsel's office did know, particularly the chief of staff, did know about the domestic violence. But they were not confronted with public photos and they therefore chose to overlook it. That is really serious. That is really serious.

CAMEROTA: Walter Shaub, who was part of the ethics office, as you'll recall, he put up a tweet that just sizes it up. "So John Kelly, often touted as the White House's adult, falsely smeared a congresswoman," whom we remember, Fredericka Wilson, "tells us a failure to compromise on slavery is what caused the Civil War, called DREAMers lazy" -- they don't get off their asses -- "and protected a wife beater. Tell us again how we're never allowed to criticize a general."

HOOVER: Right. I mean, this is the part that's really tricky, is that John says when you go from insane to crazy. I think that's a bit flippant and hyperbolic. I think we need to be serious about, you know, four-star generals who are -- who are helping the president executive his duties.

And what John Kelly brought is a systemization and regularity to the White House. And even there, this is very, very upsetting and disturbing and bad and not how we would want the highest in the office -- the highest office in the country to run. And so it just shows you how far. You know, that this is an improvement.

CUOMO: Have you ever heard of another chief of staff having two problems, let alone the four that he's had? And we're just enumerating what's obvious and what's known. When other chief of staff has survived anything close to this?

HOOVER: Well, you're doing the right thing by not normalizing this, but truth is, we've never had a president of the United States who has done what this president has done, said the kinds of things this president has done.

CUOMO: That he even enforces for the straight agent in there, which is what Kelly was.

HOOVER: Against the back drop of Donald Trump, he's still the straight agent. And that's where we are. I mean, that's the difficult part about this.

AVLON: And then there's the bizarre subplot of all this, which is these statements that are being put out of the White House presumably were being crafted by Hope Hicks, who's having a romantic relationship, being chased by the paparazzi outside, you know, Georgetown restaurants.

CAMEROTA: It's all tawdry. I mean, just really -- really -- listen, the problem is -- we talked about it earlier this week. Not only does the White House have a huge vetting problem where they don't Google people before they're...

HOOVER: Or they choose to overlook it.

CAMEROTA: That's a great point.

AVLON: I'm assuming they...

You have Walter Shaub's tweet there. They just named their ethics person yesterday or today.

CAMEROTA: And all sorts of the nominees have problems that could have been discovered with vetting, even a Google search. But they also have a judgment problem. Thank you both very much for talking about all of this.

CUOMO: Senate leaders, as we said, they have struck a bipartisan budget deal. It will be a two-year deal. But will it get done? The woman on your screen, Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats and the House, says no. No votes from her caucus until they promise a debate and a vote on immigration. We have a live report from Capitol Hill, next.


[06:17:23] CAMEROTA: Congress will vote today on a spending deal to avoid a shutdown of the federal government tonight. Senate leaders reaching a two-year budget deal that would add half a trillion dollars in spending.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live on Capitol Hill with more. What's the latest, Suzanne?


Well, this really could be a very big victory for both Democrats and Republicans. The Senate deal, bipartisan deal, has some goodies for both sides, making it tough for lawmakers to say "no" to.

First and foremost, $160 billion for defense spending, $128 for non- defense spending, domestic spending. Eighty billion dollars for disaster relief for those hurricane-ravaged areas. A debt ceiling hike until March 2019, ticking out the midterm elections, of course. A $20 billion investment in infrastructure, $6 billion for opioid substance abuse programs, as well as a 10-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

And the president has reversed course. Before he was taunting Democrats, saying he welcomed a government shutdown, while overnight tweeting saying that, yes, this would be important and good for the military. So he is signing off on this.

The Senate is expected to vote on this today and then hopefully take it to the House before midnight for passage. The House is really where it gets tricky. The big question is whether or not you're going to get support. On the Republican side, you've got the Freedom Caucus saying this is too much money and adds to the deficit.

On the Democratic side, they are livid that this does not include any kind of immigration reform or a plan for the DREAMers. And we saw that yesterday on the House floor. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi underscoring that point in a marathon eight-hour speech, more than eight hours that she gave, breaking records, talking about the DREAMers. In four-inch heels, I might add.

She wants to make sure at least House speaker Paul Ryan promises to bring some sort of bill to the floor. Ryan says he is not going to do that unless the president signs off on it first.

And the big question here is how many Democrats are going to follow Pelosi or break away and actually support this budget bill without the immigration reform -- Chris, Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Suzanne.

Let's get into it. We have CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN political analyst John Avlon. Let's start with the mechanics. The vote today, what do we expect to happen?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the Senate is clearly there and the House is kind of a mess.

CUOMO: They have a deal. So they will do the 60 votes, you think?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Look, I mean, this is a continuation of a movie we have seen before. People should understand these spending caps on on both domestic and defense spending are the remnants of the attempt at the grand bargain between Barack Obama and John Boehner back in 2011. And spending caps were a doomsday machine that were put in, designed to be so onerous that it would force them to make a comprehensive deal. Well, even the doomsday machine couldn't get them to make a deal, and they were left with the spending caps, which they had voted twice before to lift.

[06:20:17] CUOMO: Thirteen and fifteen.

BROWNSTEIN: So this is a continuum of what we have seen before. And I think -- I think the lesson of both 1995 and 2013, and the last few weeks is that it's really hard to use -- it's basically impossible to use a government shutdown as a threat to leverage policy concessions out of the president, and that's why -- or the majority party. And that's why I think, in the end, the House will find a way to pass this. Because this is not the battlefield on which they want to fight immigration.

CAMEROTA: So where does that leave Nancy Pelosi's battle on immigration?

AVLON: Well, that becomes the critical next step. This was always the problem and the deal the Democrats struck when they agree -- with the shutdown. They have in good faith with Mitch McConnell. And look, this bipartisan deal from the Senate is a big, big deal. It is actually going to stabilize the government in many respects. It will certainly fund the government in many respects.

And Democrats can hold their heads high, most of them, and vote for it. But the key question is, can Nancy Pelosi get -- and Paul Ryan, because Paul Ryan is really a critical figure, find a way to work together to get a vote that passes the House.

BROWNSTEIN: The immigration issue has always turned on the same question is, is there any possible deal that can both get 60 votes in the Senate and not only 218 votes in the Senate but a majority of the majority. That has always been the issue. There are 218 votes in the Senate for a deal that could -- I'm sorry, in the House, for a deal that could pass the Senate that could tie protection for the DREAMers to some sort of border security. I think that could -- that would have a majority in both chambers. It might not -- it probably would not have a majority of Republicans. And as a result, Paul Ryan may not -- you know, has committed to on immigration.

AVLON: But let's be real here. Nothing has gotten done in the House of Representatives in the last several years unless the Hastert -- so- called Hastert Rule was ditched.

BROWNSTEIN: He's pledged not to do it on immigration.

CUOMO: What is the Hastert Rule?

AVLON: The Hastert Rule is the majority of the majority.

BROWNSTEIN: And that's a problem.

AVLON: And that's always a stumbling block. So when anything's gotten done recently, it's because the speaker of the House said, "I've got to ditch it, because I can't control my own party."

BROWNSTEIN: And you know what's really important here also is that, look, the House Republicans are -- have largely barricaded themselves away from the increasing diversity of the country. They are -- they represent the parts of America that are least touched by diversity, least touched by immigration. Eighty-five percent of -- 85 percent of the House Republicans are in districts with fewer immigrants than the national average.

And so they have been pulled toward the president's position on trying to be tough, not only on undocumented immigration but a huge escalation in the battle by proposing significant reductions in legal immigration. The problem, though, is they still have about 35 members from districts that do have a large immigrant population. And...

CUOMO: Well, they have another problem, too, though, Ron. Immigration is real. But I would suggest that that's a bigger swallow for the Democrats. Because, you know, we had Joe Biden the other day. There are a lot of Democrats who believe you do DACA, you do it clean. Don't give him the wall. It's an absurd waste of money, and it's a political defeat that -- and a victory for him that he doesn't deserve. That's politics.

But on the Republican side, look at all this spending. Jim Jordan said to me yesterday, you know, member of the House Freedom Caucus, one of its founders was like, "Well, you know, this is what we promised to do." Five hundred billion in new spending? I mean, how are they going to get their guys to swallow it?

AVLON: This is completely insane. It's because President Trump is king of debt in private life before he was president, is now the king of debt as president. And the new slogan of the Republican Party should be "deficits don't matter unless a Democrat is president.

BROWNSTEIN: It's in hibernation. The Republicans who are concerned about deficits are not gone. It's in hibernation. It often goes into hibernation to pass a tax code. If a Democrat becomes president in 2020, you can be assured that in 2021, Paul Ryan or his successor will be out there saying, "We have to cut Medicaid. We have to cut entitlements because we have this massive tsunami of debt that is threatening the country." This is kind of a very situational thing.

CAMEROTA: It's been remarkable to see how bold the switching of positions is on both sides. You know, some people, the hue and cry about debt switches parties depending. It's been fascinating.

Let's talk about the latest text message scandal if that's what you want to call it. So this one text message has been revealed between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. They -- the FBI agents, officials, who had the anti-Trump bias, it appears, in their text messages. Then a new one that says about "POTUS wants to know everything. POTUS wants to know everything."

And that was so scandalous that it got Senator Ron Johnson's attention. Because once again, this must show the deep state conspiracy until it turns out what they were referring to was that he wants to be kept abreast of Russian meddling, which is what they were looking at.

BROWNSTEIN: And the text was right before his meeting with Vladimir Putin.

CUOMO: And it was suggested heavily that it was about Obama's interest in the Clinton e-mail investigation. Why -- this is his second one now. OK. He was with the whole secret society B.S. and now this. [06:25:13] Now, this Ron Johnson was supposed to be this level-headed

businessman. We came on, we let him be at the magic wall, for God's sake, to point out how insurance wants and what it means. He was supposed to be level-headed.

But now, John, he seems to have thrown himself in with the silliest, most absurd and embarrassing suggestions.

AVLON: This is one of -- it seems like the black lung disease of Republican-elected officials, which is that they may be smart, but they feel a need to act stupid sometimes to appeal to their base.

This was clearly taken out of context. This is something that is a replay of the secret society, you know, text message problem, which blew up in his face only a few weeks ago.

And, you know, the president should be interested in what's going on with Russian meddling in an election. That's utterly reasonable. But of course, there's this deep desire to find something nefarious in anything, because the deep state is the new sort of security blanket.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, you talked in the last segment how the tone is set from the top. The same thing is evident here, where you have a Republican Party that is following the Trump lead of kind of losing interest in talking to the broad country and feeling, particularly anything to do with Russian and the Russian probe that is simply enough to just throw out anything that will provide talking points for conservative media.

This is all about just kind of energizing the base. Look, and there is evidence in polling that they are turning portions of the Republican base against the FBI. The deterioration of the FBI's position among Republicans. It is an alternative reality. There is just a -- facing the wrong incentives. The more outrageous you get, the more coverage you get in that kind of conservative...

[06:26:47] AVLON: That's a -- that's a profound and important point. The way they're feeding the conservative media to get their name I.D. up, to keep the base engaged. But you know, when senators and the president both seem politically determined to further destroy trust in civic institutions, that's incredibly dangerous for the country. And that's what we're witnessing right now.

CUOMO: Surprised by Ron Johnson of all people. Look, you know, we used to have him on here. He would be a voice of reason. He would check with the president. Was saying, you know, he's in Wisconsin. You know, he's not in Louisiana or something like that. You have a state like in Louisiana, this kind of talk, that's what makes it so hard for Senator Kennedy down there. Is that there is much more of an appetite.


BROWNSTEIN: Another marker that Donald Trump is changing the Republican Party much more than it is changing him. They thought to moderate his behavior. He is, in many ways, radicalizing their behavior.

CUOMO: Johnson is a touchstone of that. You're right, Ron.

CAMEROTA: Ron, thank you.

John, thank you.

CUOMO: Cajun over there. Honorary Cajun.

CAMEROTA: History is unfolding on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea's president said he will meet with the North Korean dictator's sister at the Olympics. We have a live report from Seoul for you next.