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White House Aide Rob Porter's Ex-Wives Accused Him of Abuse; Interview with Congressman Mark Meadows. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 8:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But I can say that you will lose this race.

ARTHUR JONES, FORMER LEADER OF THE AMERICAN NAZI PARTY: Persistency paid off. Now I'm going to be on the ballot for the March 20th primary and on the ballot for the November election.

CAMEROTA: Mr. Jones, we're going to go.

JONES: I keep running because I'm a better man than most of these people in Washington, because I don't --

CAMEROTA: We'll see what the voters think about that. We'll see if the voters think that you are the person --

JONES: I believe in standing for the truth --

CAMEROTA: -- to represent them. Arthur Jones, we heard your opinion and we'll see what happens. Chances are you'll go down in flames.

We're following a lot news. Let's get right to it.


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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is 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 be a huge red flag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kelly says he's shocked by the allegations, but CNN has learned they've known for months.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support the Senate budget deal?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nancy Pelosi should not hold our military hostage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our dreamers hang in limbo. The Republican moral cowardice must end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't campaign on growing government. This is not consistent with what we told the voters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is New Day with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your New Day. It is Thursday, February 8th, 8:00 in the east.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly under fire after saying that he is shocked by domestic abuse allegations against top West Wing aide Rob Porter. But sources tell CNN that Kelly knew for months that Porter was accused by his ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse. Kelly, though, protected him. Amid this fire storm, we will hear from President Trump in just minutes when he speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. John Kelly, we should let you know, is with the president at that event. They traveled there together.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Will he mention that? Probably not, but you can always be surprised. Will the president take an opportunity of prayer to pray for the victims of domestic abuse, a form of torture that is underreported and underrepresented in this country? We'll see. The scandal certainly overshadowing a major bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill. Senate leaders reaching a two-year budget deal could prevent a federal government from shutting down. That would happen tonight.

But remember, that is only half of congress. Nancy Pelosi, who represents the Democrats in the House, says no votes from her caucus unless Paul Ryan commits to an immigration debate the way Mitch McConnell did, the GOP Senate leader. If he doesn't, she doesn't get that, she says she's not going to vote on this bill.

Let's being. We've got CNN's Abby Philip live at White House. Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Well, today we are learning that there are new questions about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's judgment in the wake of these disturbing allegations about a senior White House aide and his righthand man Rob Porter who has been accused by two women of domestic abuse. Now we've learned that John Kelly knew about these allegations for months and apparently did nothing about them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIP: 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 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 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 Colby 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.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and chief of staff have had full confidence and trust in his abilities and his performance.

PHILLIP: Press Secretary Sara 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, ROB PORTER'S EX-WIFE: I'm not at all surprised that people who work with him in a professional capacity 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 is 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 and 1.8 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 Frederica Wilson took credit for securing funding for an FBI building. KELLY: Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

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


PHILLIP: Well, when Porter first announced his resignation yesterday afternoon, he said he would leaving the White House in a matter of weeks. Now CNN has that learned that his departure could be moved up, he might be out of the White House as early as today as the fallout over this incident continues, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Abby, appreciate it.

Joining us now is the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Congressman Mark Meadows. Good to have you, sir.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) CHAIRMAN, HOURS FREEDOM CAUCUS: Chris, great to be with you. My good friend Jim Jordan sends his best to you.

CUOMO: He is always a treat to have on. We appreciate you taking the opportunity, making the case to the American people dealing with policy and politics. So let's do that this morning, sir. We're watching the prayer breakfast right now. Forgive me if I have to dump out of this interview to hear the president if he makes his remarks on our watch.

PHILLIP: As you should.

CUOMO: We know he is traveling there with Chief of Staff John Kelly, a sign that obviously his faith in him remains strong. Does yours, given this latest accusation about what the White House knew about Rob Porter, when they knew it, and what they did or didn't do about it?

MEADOWS: Well, obviously my wife and I are involved in a number of different ministries, but one in particular where it deals with abuse and there can be zero tolerance for this. And so as you look at the reports that have come out, they are very troubling. I must confess, I've dealt with Rob Portman (ph) before. It came as a real shock when I read the reports. I know it came as a shock to the president as well. And so you deal with this -- we need to make sure that you deal with any situation as quickly as you possibly can, but certainly in this his resignation is welcomed. I don't see the confidence in General Kelly being diminished at all within the West Wing. But we can have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.

CUOMO: So if it is true that the allegations made against Porter by two ex-wives were reported to the FBI as early as in January, 2017, and CNN has sources that confirm that the White House did know about this, if they did nothing all that time, and as we saw General John Kelly's first statement did not mention the domestic violence abuse allegations, and when he did mention them, he said they were new to him, if that is not true, congressman, what kind of accountability should there be? MEADOWS: Well, obviously there should be accountability. But Chris,

there is two things. One is the FBI and their knowledge of it and certainly security clearance issues, we deal with those all of the time. And there is a myriad of reasons why somebody may or may not get a full security clearance. And yet at the same time, obviously if they know that those individual accusations had been made and were verified, then certainly there is no excuse to ignore that, and I think you and I both agree on that particular thing.

It is real easy to rush to judgment already and say this is what they knew when and where. And yet at the same time, I believe his resignation not only will be received but it comes as a shock to many of us who have worked in and around the West Wing and certainly know Rob to be someone who is not only efficient, but gives the demeanor of being the last person you would suspect of this kind of behavior.

CUOMO: And Porter denies the allegations. He does have a sterling pedigree academically. Harvard law school, he's a Rhodes scholar, we get it. And to be clear, Congressman, it is not your job to vet him, but it is the chief of staff's.

MEADOWS: It is the chief of staff --

CUOMO: The security clearance.

MEADOWS: And there needs to be accountability.

CUOMO: He still had temporary clearance a year in. He didn't have permanent clearance, and they get those files -- we just had Walter Schaub on, the former ethics czar for the ethics office there in the White House, he said they would have seen it. They would have known. So if they did know and they did nothing, what does that tell you?

MEADOWS: Well, I know Walter well. He's appeared before our hearings before. I would say in this particular case to say that they would know everything that goes into that is probably going a bit far. Would they know that he didn't have full clearance, would they have some issues that they could have investigated further, certainly they could. But Chris, to spell it out and suggest that they had pictures and all of the kind of testimony that you are relaying out today is just not accurate.

CUOMO: All right, we'll let the facts lie. I'm not going to chase you on it because in fact it is not your responsibility. Once we know more we'll tell you.

Right now we see the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, entering here. He traveled there with his chief of staff, a vote of confidence in Kelly there. He's saying hello, so let's keep talking until he actually starts to make his remarks.

The budget, Mr. Meadows, to hear that Republicans may get behind this bill that is being put in the Senate right now, pops the eyebrows because of all of the spending. What happened to justice for the deficit that means so much for you and your caucus? MEADOWS: Well, as you know, we took an official position last night

to say we can't support this. It is eye-popping and eyebrow-raising, and yet we have got to figure a way to not only fund the military but we've gotten to a point, Chris, where we hold our military men and women hostage, so we have to figure a way to correct that.

CUOMO: I get the problems with sequestration when it comes to the military, I've heard it from the men and women there who are trying to make the most of the dollars and cents they get, and of course there is a lot. Paul Ryan himself has said we spend more than whatever, 10 of the next countries, why can't we do it for less. It seems to be a different tune now.

But look at what we saw in the tax bill. I was shocked. I lost money -- I didn't lose tax money, because I'm in that top bracket so you guys took care of me. But I lost money on bets that you guys would allow that tax bill given how it explodes the deficit. What has happened to you guys on this?

MEADOWS: Well, I can tell you on the deficit, it is interesting we get all of these deficit hawks that were Democrats and everybody coming out when we were talking about giving the American taxpayer money back in their pocket. But they were not anywhere to be found yesterday here on Capitol Hill. All of a sudden when it comes to spending that same dollar, which is not their money, it is the American people's money, they're very liberal with that.

And I can tell you that when we look at the kind of numbers that we're talking about right now, Chris, we talk about $1 trillion deficit over a 10-year period and it would pay for itself over 15, this is money that actually won't happen that way. When we're looking at increasing it, we could give three different tax cuts the size of what we just gave if we would just get our spending in line. So I think it is incumbent upon us, we don't have a revenue problem, Chris. We have a spending problem and it is time we get that under control.

CUOMO: Well, you may have both now, because that is a giant if that this tax cut will pay for itself. You will certainly --

MEADOWS: I don't know that it's a big if. I'll be glad to come back at some other time and we can debate that back and forth because I can give you real numbers. But right now when you look at economy growing hopefully as much as five percent in this next quarter, it is good for the American people. And so to suggest that that was the wrong move actually would be to discount three million people that have gotten bonuses and wages that are going up, and that is good for the economy.

CUOMO: It could be. We know this is -- we know this discussion.

MEADOWS: It is good right now.

CUOMO: But five percent -- did the government come up with a cure for cancer I don't know about?

MEADOWS: No, you may make the argument it may not be good in the future, but today it is good for the American people. We're seeing it in their paychecks.

CUOMO: It is good politically, but Paul Ryan is bragging about somebody getting an extra buck-50 a week, I don't know that that's going to --

MEADOWS: I don't brag about that.

CUOMO: He did.

MEADOWS: I'm talking about thousands of dollars in bonuses each and every day. In my district people getting more money in their pocket than they would just a few months ago. And it is not a $1.50. It is $1,000. It's $500 bonuses.

CUOMO: It depends on who you are. Unless you are in the top echelon and then life is certainly good. I was surprised if you cared about the companies giving back savings to labor, to the workers, you didn't mandate that. You could have. You could have put it in the tax bill that you are going to get certain money back and you have to give a certain percentage to your workers. You didn't do that.

MEADOWS: No. We didn't do that. We have another bill coming out, Chris, that hopefully you'll follow on April 15th, Rodney Davis and I, were we make these tax cuts permanent for individuals. So I look forward to seeing how many Democrats we get on board for that, and hopefully we can come back and talk to you about that particular issue when we really talk about helping the moms and dads and aunts and uncles on main street.

CUOMO: And that is an important conversation. And you know, you know these aren't empty words from Jim Jordan in my discussions. You are always welcome here to discuss what matters to the America people.

MEADOWS: I'll be one of the few conservatives. You know, you are a worthy opponent, a good debater and a good journalist and so Jim and I have a high regard for your ability to banter back and forth with the facts, and so I'll be glad to do that.

CUOMO: High praise. high praise. I appreciate it. Let me ask you one more thing, so you guys have to deal with the spending part of this. You don't like it. I get it. Nancy Pelosi says her caucus isn't going to move on it unless Paul Ryan commits to have the same immigration debate and timing and substance as McConnell did.

So, do you think there is a chance that should happen and do you think it should happen?

MEADOWS: Well, I can tell you the same promise that Mitch McConnell made to his group, I don't see the speaker making that. Now, she is not seeing...

CUOMO: You do not see it happening? Why not?

MEADOWS: I do not. I do not see that commitment. Now, I do see a commitment to actually bring an immigration bill to the floor. Will it be on Nancy Pelosi's terms? Absolutely not. I believe, at the end of the day you'll see a hundred Democrats or more come across and vote for this bill either tonight or Friday morning, but yes, there is going to be an immigration debate. There is going to be an immigration vote

The President is committed to that. The Speaker is committed to that, and certainly, we have to get that done. But on Nancy Pelosi's terms, that is certainly not going to happen no matter how long she stands on the House floor and speaks.

CUOMO: Don't make her break her own record. That is a long record to break, she owns the record now.

MEADOWS: We may have to.

CUOMO: Congressman Meadows. Appreciate you making the case to the American people and your willingness to be tested on it. Appreciate it.

MEADOWS: Same here. Thanks, Chris. Good to join you. Be well.

CUOMO: Awesome.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, ANCHOR, CNN: Okay, Chris, we are standing by for the President at the National Prayer Breakfast. People are being introduced right now. So, we're keeping an eye on that and we'll bring it to you as soon as the President begins speaking.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly's judgment has been called into question today after he defended this top West Wing aide amid allegations of domestic abuse. Is Kelly now -- is his job in jeopardy? Is his judgment impaired? We discuss all of that next.

So, a top aide to President Trump, Rob Porter resigned yesterday amid allegations of domestic abuse by two of his ex-wives. Sources tell CNN that senior White House officials knew about those allegations for months and scrambled to protect Porter once they became public.

But the White House claims that Porter misled everyone in the West Wing. So, let's talk about all of these and more. We have CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN political analyst David Gregory.

So, John Kelly isn't casting a different light. I mean, John Kelly is the person who is supposed to be overseeing all of this. Rob Porter obviously hid it, yes, these allegations from people.

CUOMO: How do we know?

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm taking them at their word that they didn't know originally.

COUMO: Both wives told the FBI...

CAMEROTA: They did, so we have the timeline somewhere about how all of these happened...

COUMO: FBI organizes the vetting.

CAMEROTA: And furthermore, he didn't have full security clearance or permanent security clearance and our reporting says that John Kelly knew for months.

DANA BASH, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Look, we don't know how specific the information that John Kelly got was, but our understanding from sources, I am talking to Gloria Borger and others at the White House team -- our White House team is that he certainly had a head's up and information that there were problems with the background checks and we're told even to the point where he understood that there were issues of domestic violence.

And that John Kelly, who very much relied on Rob Porter -- Rob Porter has become until yesterday, an integral part of the Kelly machine at the White House, didn't do anything. So -- what we don't know is how specific it got, but at the end of the day, this is a question of leadership. It is a question of ownership.

We know from our reporting that the President himself was furious. He didn't know about the specifics until he saw it in the paper, and this is so complicated on so many levels because -- we have to remind people that Rob Porter is dating Hope Hicks who is probably the most important aide in the White House.

CAMEROTA: The communications director.

BASH: The communications director who was...


CAMEROTA: Who helped craft the -- originally, sort of misleading or at least, it omitted important facts about Rob Porter.

COUMO: And the second one from Kelly said that these were new and really that becomes the issue for me at least, David Gregory. I don't care who is dating whom in the White House. I really don't.

BASH: But it matters here.

COUMO: It only matters if it winds up affecting the performance and the truth to the American people. But it is a big if. And that is the problem that they have, and I think it is going to reside right now in the person of John Kelly because you knew he had temporary clearance. The FBI is doing the check. Walter Shaub is on the show with us, he was ethics guy. He oversaw those kinds of things and involved with them and he says, they would have known. They would have seen.

So, if he wanted to make a decision, David Gregory, that you know what, I've talked to Porter. I believe his side. There was no real judicial proceeding other than some early emergency work, I'm good with it. That is one thing.

DAVID GREGORY, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Right. COUMO: But if he says, "These are new to me," that is something very

different and it goes to Mike Pence saying fake news when Christine Brennan accurately reports why he got pushed back from the Olympian who didn't want to meet with him. Fake news from the President when they don't like things -- that has to be called out.

GREGORY: Yes, no doubt. And so, if this was known and they are not saying. That is a huge issue. If they didn't know at all, you have to say why, because this is not a situation where there is just an accusation and he can be in a position to deny it. There is an FBI background check. There are interviews done. There are records, including restraining orders and hospital records that one can check and vet and ask some questions of.

And by the way, Hope Hicks unfortunately is quite relevant. Why? Why would you have someone who might be romantically involved with the person involved who is doing her job, which is to craft a statement about all of this. There is no way she should be anywhere near this. And that speaks to when you have a big public relations problem, it is not just a problem of optics and all the rest because it gets to how the place is run and what is really true and the fact is that they put out a statement saying from John Kelly, "This is a great guy. I just can't say enough nice things about him," and then he has to put out a statement late last night and saying, "Oh by the way, domestic violence accusations are really serious and shocking."

So, they are acting in a way like they don't know what they are doing, and that is the problem. And so, there is a lot to get to as to what happened here, and I think we're just at the beginning of it.

CAMEROTA: And David, I will just add to what you were saying about Hope. I asked somebody last night who was in the White House for a long time and is no longer there, is there any chance -- is there any scenario in which Hope would have recused herself from the situation and the answer was laughter. No. Hope tells people what to do. Hope is the one who decides, you know, what happens in the White House with these things. She doesn't get told what to do because she is a powerful force. She is as close as they come to the President and to the President's family.

GREGORY: This is damaging on that score because you know, as we all know, when you cover politics, people look to shed blame real fast and this is bad for John Kelly.

BASH: Well, I was just going to say, and that is the other thing that we have to keep in mind here. I have heard, my colleagues have heard and I am sure you guys have heard the President sort of erupting every now and then about John Kelly from the interview that he gave on Fox, where he called the President uninformed about immigration to a whole host of things that have really rubbed the President the wrong way.

And that John Kelly has some enemies and growing important enemies in the White House, however, up until yesterday, I was told explicitly there is no way John Kelly is going anywhere because the White House can't take another trauma. Well the question now -- and we have no reason to believe that has

changed right now, but let's see how this goes. Because the question is going to be -- is the trauma of this going to be bigger than the potential trauma of a shake-up again? We don't know the answer to that.

The other thing I just wanted to say is, Rob Porter on paper, you know Rhodes scholar, I believe...

COUMO: Harvard Law. Academically, he has got some pedigree.

BAHS: And just personality-wise, I've not talked to anybody who didn't say he is a sweet guy, a soft-spoken guy, a Boy Scout is the word -- having said that, they did promise -- the President promised as a candidate, he was going to hire the best people.

And when you hire the best people, it means across board and you have to be able to rely on the character.

CAMEROTA: And you have to vet them.

GREGORY: But also, look, you know, there should be a process here, right? I mean, you know, there are some very damaging stuff. It has reported, but there should still be a process here. The point is the absence of a process, right? We could talk about, "Oh, if they just rushed him out of the door, you know, that there wouldn't be -- there had been a due process, but here, to be so inept in the way they responded to this and catalogued what they knew and when they knew it and these kinds of things speaks to just disorganization.

And I'd say this about General Kelly.

CAMEROTA: Yes, quickly.

GREGORY: He's a controversial Chief of Staff. He does some things the President really wants and you know, he's a civilian now and he can reel off some remarks that are controversial, and you know, put people in a bad way. There is a lot of good and bad that I think the President would evaluate him on.

COUMO: Right. He went with him to the Prayer Breakfast this morning. The President was with John Kelly, so that means something too.

CAMEROTA: Okay, David Gregory, Dana Bash, thank you both very much.

Joining us now to talk about all of this is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. Good morning, Congressman.


CAMEROTA: I know you've been listening to our conversation. Do you still have faith in Chief of Staff John Kelly?

SWALWELL: Well, no. There are a number of individuals who have come into this White House or who are still at this White House that have issues. Jared Kushner for example, failure to disclose multiple contacts with foreign governments. I don't think he should have a security clearance. Prior to John Kelly was the hiring of Michael Flynn with prior undisclosed contacts to Russia.

So, I think this is a pattern that we are seeing that goes beyond John Kelly. It is the practice of this President.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, listen, you know the reputation. The word on the street about John Kelly was that he was going to be this moderating agent on the President, but then, you know, there have been a series of controversies that he seems to not have quelled but rather created.

And just this week, you know, he was telling reporters that part of the Dreamers are too lazy to get off their asses. You know that is why that they are not enrolled for DACA, and now he put out this statement about how Rob Porter is a man of integrity and honor, though our reporting says the he knew about this domestic violence. So where does that leave us with the White House Chief of Staff?

SWALWELL: Well Americans are hoping that he would be there with the fire hose and too often now, we've seen that he's there with the gasoline, but again, it starts at the top. This is a President who has led I think an office of chaos and that is reflected right now as I stand here on Capitol Hill where we are trying to solve an immigration issue and no Congressional leader can tell you what President Trump wants.

And so, that plays out in his White House, that plays out in the legislation that we must work on for the American people and it is not helping a single person in America right now.