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New Details On White House Cover-up After Porter Abuse Allegations; The White House Innocence Project; Pres. Trump Defends Porter, Doesn't Mention Women; Another White House Aide Resigns Amid Abuse Allegations; Up To 40 Administration Officials Still Lack Full Security Clearance; White House Cover-Up Over Porter Scandal. Aired 8- 9p ET

Aired February 9, 2018 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, CNN: It begins right now.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, CNN: Good evening. More now on the news that broke just minutes ago in a controversy almost sure to be erupting even as we speak over the Russian investigation and two competing memos about key parts of it from the House Intelligence Committee. The Republican version is out. There, already as you know, President Trump releasing it over objections from the FBI and others.

Well, now, after several days, considering the Democratic rebuttal, the President has decided not -- not to make it public.

The latest now from CNN, Jim Acosta standing by at the White House. So, Jim explain this.

JIM ACOSTA, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, I think a lot of people want some explaining when it comes to this decision, Anderson. All week long, there was the expectation that the President in the issue of transparency. Remember, officials were saying over here, "You know, we're going to put this memo through the same, you know, rigorous vetting process that we put the Nunes memo through," and the suggestion all along is that in the issue of transparency that they would go ahead and release this memo.

But of course, President Trump is the final decider on this and he made this decision it sounds, late today to go ahead and make this decision not to declassify this memo from the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

There is a letter that is attached to the statement that came from the White House Press Office about this. We could put it up on screen. It is from the White House Counsel. If we don't have that graphic available, I can just read this key paragraph to you. It essentially says, "Although the President is inclined to declassify the memorandum, because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time."

And it goes on to say, Anderson, "However, given the public interest in transparency in these circumstances, the President has directed the Justice Department..." and I'll continue to paraphrase here, to work with the House Intelligence Committee to come up with a version that is going to satisfy officials over here.

Now, we should point out earlier today, the President met with the FBI Director, top Justice Department official, the White House counsel's office about all of this and apparently that is where this decision was made.

There is another letter here attached to all of this, Anderson from the White House counsel, Don McGahn. This is to Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General.

Obviously, we have been talking about Rod Rosenstein quite a bit and the FBI Director, Chris Wray. It is directing the Justice Department to go and work with the House Intelligence Committee Democrats to come up with a more suitable alternative and it mentions -- it mentions in this letter, "Enclosed in this, you'll find a version of the document that identifies in highlighted text some of the information that they consider to be too sensitive to release this evening."

Now, Anderson, you know, I can't just report all of that and be, "Hey, that's it, end of story," because obviously, you are going to have some political considerations here. One is the Republican memo, the Devin Nunes memo was essentially released almost unredacted with very few accommodations, we're told to the intelligence community and that memo alleged all of these abuses on the part of the FBI, on the part of the Federal investigators investigating Trump campaign contacts with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

The Schiff memo as we have been reporting all along was supposed to be a rebuttal and was going to go through ten pages point by point outlining and describing why there are flaws in this Nunes memo. You are going to have Democrats, Anderson and I am sure we are all crashing the phones right now to get them on TV who are going to say, "It is not the classified sensitive material in this Schiff memo that concerns that White House, it is the rebuttal," and that they did not want this issue out there at this time.

But, Anderson, you know, this obviously came on a day when there was no briefing. There was only one opportunity to talk to the President today. He was asked about the Rob Porter saga over here. In this memo, he came up very briefly at the end and he said, "We are going to be issuing a letter."

That was the first inkling we had that this decision was coming down, but obviously, this is pretty explosive stuff and you are going to have Republicans and Democrats fighting over this for the next several days, perhaps weeks while this process is going on up on Capitol Hill.

The Justice Department working with House Democrats to get their version out there.

COOPER: Jim, the President what? Had five days to make this decision, is this is the end of that five-day? I mean, this decision, did it have to be tonight that they made this announcement. ACOSTA: Yes, this is essentially the end of the five-day period. It

could have gone into Saturday, I think but this is really the end of that five-day period and you know, what they were telling us all week long was that we were going to subject this process for vetting the Schiff memo, the same way that we vetted and processed the Nunes nemo.

And of course, Anderson, we would be remiss if we didn't point out, the President said at the State of the Union speech to a lawmaker, 100 percent we are going to release this memo. That was before he even had read the Nunes memo.

That was before the vetting process was undertaken with respect to vetting and processing that Nunes memo. And so, the writing was really on the wall all along.

Conversely, Anderson, I think all of this week, the writing was on the wall that the President was probably not going to release this memo. I know that there were White House officials saying, "Well, unless there are big problems, we are probably going to put it out there." You know, knowing this President having covered him for a long time, I just cannot imagine this President declassifying and releasing something of this nature that was going to essentially, call into question a memo he was heralding -- remember, he was heralding it a week ago as vindication that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt and a hoax, he felt because of the release of the Nunes memo.

To think that he would go ahead and release the Schiff memo or declassify the release of the Schiff memo and undo all of that to me just seemed out of character for him, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Jim Acosta. Appreciate the reporting. Our legal and political team, Anne Milgram is here. Jeffrey Toobin, Josh Campbell and Evan Perez. Anne, what's your initial take on this. Are you surprised?

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: So, I am not surprised. I mean, I think all of us had a sense that this might be coming, that the President might refuse to declassify the memo.

Keep in mind also that the first memo was three and a half pages, incredibly conclusory. Virtually, no facts.

COOPER: But the FBI, Chris Wray said that essentially, they omitted all of these facts that changed the actual time line and meaning.

MILGRAM: Exactly. And so, I think, you know there was a challenge with the idea of the Intelligence Committee having anything declassified and going out that could reveal sources or methods that the intelligence community uses.

But beyond that, there really wasn't anything in there that raised concerns. The thing we do know about the Democratic memo is that it is far more lengthy and from public statements, it's pretty easy to surmise that it is going to have a lot more facts and be a lot more detailed. Now, the real question is that what we don't have when you look at

this letter that has been sent essentially from Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray, the head of the FBI to the House Committee. What we don't have is, it says, you know, the areas with the red blocks were the ones we are worried about. You and I and Jeff are not seeing that.

So, there is a real question, are there three red blocks or are there 300?

COOPER: Right. Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: This letter is a letter, but it is really more of a hand gesture to the Democrats. The one that is inappropriate to make on television. I mean, it is basically, I have the power to censor your argument and that is what I am going to do.

I mean, you know, I think it's important. You know, we sort of wear ourselves out talking about Donald Trump and you know, the departures from the norms of behavior. This is a dispute between two sides about the propriety of the FBI's behavior.

We have heard one side. Any fair system, you allow people to hear both sides. So, instead of allowing people to hear both sides, they have essentially sort of kicked this thing down the road to a point when, you know, they know the news cycle the way we know the news cycle, by the time this thing gets released in some form or another, we will be on to, you know, the circus will have moved on.

So, basically what this is doing is making sure that the only substantive argument in front of the public about the FBI's behavior in this circumstance is the one from the Republicans and it is shocking.

COOPER: With you, I've got to say, was the exact argument that the Democrats made when the Republicans voted unanimously to release the Republican memo, but not to allow the Democrats to release theirs at the same time.

TOOBIN: Correct, and you know, fortunately for the Democrats, the Nunes memo was so pathetically bad that it almost refuted itself. But you know, we still believe in a system where both sides get a voice and this says we are not even going to let you talk, much less listen to what you have to say.

COOPER: Josh Campbell, you just resigned from the FBI. The White House has released a letter signed by FBI Director Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein which the White House counsel says supports the President's decision not to release the memo. Does that give this decision more credibility?

JOSH CAMPBELL, FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Well, so I think we have to look into what our colleague. Jim Acosta was reporting as far as the political considerations, and obviously, great analysis there from Jeff on the political side.

Let me talk about the national security implications. So, I have not been a fan of either memo being released for this reason. This is not the type of issue that you want to litigate in public. I worked on FISAs. I know that there is very sensitive Information that goes into them. I understand the investigative implications on releasing this type of information.

What I am a fan of is what our colleague, Mike Rogers said. Chairman Mike Rogers, that the proper venue for having these discussions and having this debate is with the FISA court in a classified proceeding where if the harmed party here is the FISA court, which is being alleged that somehow the FBI did something wrong, that's the proper venue for having such discussions, not to have -- you know, be going tit for tat with different memos.

COOPER: Josh, now, once you have gone down the road though of releasing one memo which the FBI asked the White House not to do. The White House went ahead anyway and the FBI made an incredible -- the rare public Statement saying, you know, I don't want to misquote Chris Wray, but essentially saying, that there were material omissions of fact.

CAMPBELL No, you are right. And again, I was not a fan of the GOP Memo. In fact, I think it was atrocious that you would release this type of information, selectively cherry picking information, but still, as a former national security practitioner, I don't think that gives us the green light to go ahead and say, "Well, here is some additional information that we are going to provide."

Again, I understand the political consideration, but I just think the proper venue is in a classified setting when you are dealing with this type of sensitive information.

COOPER: Evan, what's the latest you are hearing about how the decision is being received and what is next?

EVAN PEREZ, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Look, I think, Anderson, part of the problem with this entire fight is that it is kind of exposing the fact that you know, for our legislators, the members of Congress who are responsible for writing the laws governing, you know, FISA and how the FBI, you know, uses the law. It is shown that they really don't understand how the FBI does this.

So, these are the guys that just recently reauthorized a section of the FISA law 702 and it is clear from their complaints about how the FBI handled the Carter Page surveillance that they really have no idea how the law works, how the FBI, the power that the FBI has and so, that's where a lot of the misunderstanding is coming.

And so, look, I do think that Josh is right. That inside the FBI, they didn't want either memo released and they certainly don't want a 10-page memo. They didn't want the three-page version being released. So, I think this is a genuine concern from Rod Rosenstein, from Chris Wray. I think we should not ignore that and even though there is a lot of politics flying around, the truth is that there was grave harm that was done by the release of the Republican memo, even though it was a dud. There was information that really never gets released and it was, you know, we identified a source for the FBI. We identified that someone was a target.

I mean, this is stuff that is not supposed to get released, and it was. So, I get the politics, but more harm would have probably been done according to the FBI if this 10-page version were released.

COOPER: I wanted to bring in to the conversation, Van Jones also and Scott Jennings. Van, in this letter from Rod Rosenstein, he essentially says, "Look, the Democrats can rewrite this with help from the FBI once people talk about you know -- once kind of the FBI and the national security system weighs in." What's wrong with that?

VAN JONES, HOST, THE VAN JONES SHOW: A short lie sometimes requires a long rebuttal. The problem we have is the first memo should have never come out in the first place.

It had all kinds of innuendo. It created a sense of real unease and suspicion over the FBI.

It was a couple of pages. You can do a lot of damage in a couple of pages. The idea that now, you want to be able to respond and you can't, you are moving in a direction over one party state, that's the problem. It is that, we have right now, one party rule in Washington DC. The Republicans control everything, but we have always had the idea that even so, the minority have certain rights. The minority had certain privileges because tomorrow, you might be in the minority.

So, the sense of this back and forth, that has now been flushed down the toilet and what's left now hanging out there are some of the worst allegations against the FBI that they are corrupt at the top and that -- and stuff was put out there over the objections of our national security community.

This is a very dangerous moment. I am not one of these people who runs around with my hair on fire every day about every tweet, about every little thing or whatever. I try to get these guys a lot of room because, honestly, I just don't have the emotional fortitude to be this upset every day.

COOPER: By the way, your haired burned off a long time ago.

JONES: Exactly. Exactly, my hair has long since burned off. Now, I just try to like you know, rub on the little salve. But, tonight I am upset because this is a clear abuse and yes, they said, if you come back, we can help you rewrite it, we can help you make it better. How long is that going to take?

And sure, you are trying to protect sources and methods, but you weren't concerned about sources and methods last week. You're concerned about this week. So, not only are you cherry picking data, not only are you cherry picking the facts, you are cherry picking your concerns about national security. This is a very, very bad day for America.

COOPER: Scott, do you share Van's concerns?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought from the beginning, if you are going to release one, you should release both and so now, here we are with the second memo not being released tonight, but with the President clearly saying he is inclined to release it and they are going to send it back and ensure what you just said; that they are not jeopardizing any sources and methods or anything that would hurt our security people, our intelligence people. That's the responsible thing to do.

It's clearly a longer document than the first memo, and so my suspicion is, they are going to send it back and try to take care of some of that information and then the President will follow through on what he said.

COOPER: Isn't that something they could have done over the last five days?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't know. None of us have seen the memo. We don't know how technical the information is that's in the memo. I know this. I think it is better to measure twice and cut once on something like this, and so sending it back to the committee and letting the FBI take a look at it seems to me to be prudent particularly when you consider the White House is saying they do want to release it. They just want to make sure it is right and not jeopardizing anything before they do.

COOPER: Jen Psaki, I understand what Scott is saying. If you're talking about being prudent though, it would have been prudent to them -- for them to have heeded the FBI warning on the first memo, which they did not.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's right and I think we should stop pretending that this is on the level. The Department of Justice expressed serious concerns about the content and the accuracy of the first memo. They have not done that about the Democratic memo.

So, this is simply a case of President Trump wanting to punt it, not wanting to put it out. I don't think there's any reality based on facts here that he wasn't to actually open to putting this out, otherwise, he would just have released it because DOJ has not expressed any concerns and it is not about that. It is about politics.


JONES: Yes, the other thing that I think is very ironic here tonight, of all the nights for us to be talking, this President is so concerned about national security making sure that no bad information gets out there, but we have just learned that there are 30 people or more working in the White House tonight who have access to all of this stuff who have not been cleared by the FBI.

So, you literally have a White House full of people who really shouldn't even be allowed to come in as visitors with their kids on the weekend, who can see all of this stuff and the American people can't even though the Ranking Member of the Democratic Party is trying to put out there. This is why -- listen, I would love to give the benefit of the doubt on this one and I had night after night the liberals hating me for it, but tonight, you can't honestly in in good faith give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Not tonight. Not tonight.

COOPER: Josh Campbell, as someone who, you know, was with the FBI I think for what? Eleven or twelve years, how long does the process of looking at this for sources and methods. I mean they say that the Democrats, they can go back and work with the Democrats on kind of you know, purging whatever is for national security reasons shouldn't be in this. How long does that take? And was the last five days not long enough for that?

CAMPBELL: I think we're in a whole new world here because this is not what we do. We don't release information like this selectively. So, I don't know if we can compare it to any type of standard because I don't think there is a standard.

What I do think is, this does a disservice to the American people. If you look at the right way to conduct an investigation and the wrong way to conduct an investigation, I think you only need to compare what former director Mueller is doing and what the House Intelligence Committee is doing.

As the House Intelligence Committee slowly releases information and I don't care what side you're on, it does the public a disservice because they don't see the full picture. It does them no good. Whereas you look at what Director Mueller is doing, no leaks. It's locked up. An all-star team and they are going to wait until they reach a conclusion to release a fulsome picture for the American people. I think that's what the House Intelligence Committee should be doing right now.

COOPER: Evan, can the House Intelligence Committee override the President on this? I mean, if the Republicans were on board.

PEREZ: Well, yes, exactly, but again, if the Republicans were on board and you know, we're told, you know, my colleagues, Manu Raju and Jeremy Erb who are covering this on the Hill say that the Republicans aren't exactly eager to override the President on this.

And I think, look, they have redactions, I guess, of you know, according to the letter that Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray have sent. They have identified specific parts of the memo that are problematic, so perhaps they can work through that.

But at this point, I mean, I don't seen Devin Nunes leading the charge to override President Trump. After all, you know, Devin Nunes has been kind of playing almost like quarterback for President Trump on the Hill there.

COOPER: Yes. Everyone, stick around. After a quick break, we are going to hear from a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee.

Later, the President's defense to prior White House staff secretary Rob Porter and his complete nonmention of the women who made serious abuse allegations against Porter or keeping them honest. It's an understatement to say there is a lot of breaking news tonight.

There are new details of the cover up by the White House of the Rob Porter abuse allegation scandal and late tonight, word of another top White House departure over spousal abuse allegations. We will have more on that shortly.

In the meantime, we continue with this breaking news. The Democratic House Intelligence Committee memo, the rebuttal to the Republican version already out there will not see the light of day, at least not in its present form. Joining us now, Democratic member of the Intelligence Panel, Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. So, Congressman, do you believe, or I guess, you do believe this is obstruction of justice?

ERIC SWALWELL, REPRESENTATIVE, CALIFORNIA, DEMOCRAT: All right, good evening, Anderson. I am in Phoenix, Arizona, with Congressman Ruben Gallego. We are doing a millennial town hall, but I did want to address this.

I do believe -- I am skeptical. The President has been consistent in this investigation only in his obstructive behavior, and so I have two questions about this; one, did he put any pressure on the Department of Justice in the redactions that they are seeking. And two, how did these redactions affect the broader context that is needed in the poisoning of the investigation that has occurred from the Republican memo?

Now, I trust the Department. I don't trust the President. So, I'd like to hear from the DOJ on Tuesday before our Committee and I am going to later talk to our Ranking Member who has led us, I think very, very well through this investigation to make those calls.

COOPER: Your critics in the Republican Party have accused Democrats on the Intelligence Committee of purposely putting classified information or sources and methods into the memo that you knew the FBI and DOJ would object to. Is that what is happening?

SWALWELL: Well, Anderson, we asked for something that the Republicans were not willing not do, which was for the DOJ to review it before it went to the public.

So, again, if the DOJ has legitimate concerns, we are not going to be a part of putting out to the public anything that would jeopardize sources and methods that the Republicans have not already jeopardized from their distorted memo.

But if this is pressure from the President, we want to know that and so I think, you know, it's only appropriate to bring the DOJ in as was apparently alluded to in the letter that was sent over to us that they be available to answer these questions.

COOPER: What options do you really have from here on out?

SWALWELL: Well, Anderson, if these are political edits, then it is really incumbent upon Devin Nunes to follow the lead that he set last week when he asked his colleagues to unanimously support releasing this memo to the public. But now, to do it to the broader House of Representatives, the full House of Representatives.

So, if he is consistent that he wanted this out to the public, and these edits are only political in nature, then he should come to the floor on Tuesday night and tell his colleagues that the public should see this for the sake of consistency and transparency.

COOPER: Well, Congressman Swalwell, I appreciate your time. B ack now with Jeffrey Toobin, Anne Milgram, Scott Jennings, Van Jones as well as Scott Campbell. Evan Perez as well. In terms of the options the Democrats have, I mean, it's pretty limited. They basically just have to, if they want this memo out, they have to work with the Department of Justice and the FBI now.

TOOBIN: It is not their candy store. I mean, the Republicans run the White House, the Republicans run the House of Representatives, and this is a subject to majority rule. But I think it is just worth pointing out that what the Administration did when the Nunes memo came out, they said, "FBI, we don't care what you think, we are releasing this."

Today, when the Democrats have a memo that they want to come out, they say, "Well, the FBI thinks this is very important, so, we can't release it."

I mean, you know, how stupid do we have to be to believe this nonsense? I mean, it's just outrageous.

COOPER: Scott, does it not seem hypocritical to you?

JENNINGS: Well, no because A, you don't know what is in the memo, so to make the allegation that there is not something in there that could just be released, you don't know that.

TOOBIN: But what about the Nunes memo? What about the other memo? What about...

JENNINGS: The other memo was pretty short and it didn't appear to me to be anything in there that was terribly, you know, damaging or giving up sources and methods.

This was a much longer memo. You don't know what's in there. None of us do. Isn't it prudent to let the FBI -- I mean, you're upset on the one hand about the FBI being disregarded, now, they are being regarded. I mean, you can't have it both ways.

TOOBIN: No, you're the one who can't have it both ways. The point is, you either trust the FBI to decide what is classified or you don't.

Okay, fine, this is classified, it can't be released. But they said that about the Nunes memo.

JENNINGS: But the memo is going -- they said, the President is inclined to release it when they make a few edits. That's it. That's all that is required here when this comes out a week from today after they make the edits, then will that be satisfactory? Because I think that's what is going to happen.

MILGRAM: I am of the view the memo has to come out, right.

JENNINGS: I agree.

MILGRAM: I understand what Josh is saying about the FBI and the Homeland Security concerns, but you know, having run law enforcement agencies, this is just fundamental fairness at this point.

I think the question is what it looks like when it comes out. I expect that if it is heavily redacted that we will hear -- the conversation will not end, so I personally think it would be incredibly foolish and would extend this a great deal if it is released in a way that they have taken everything out, that's the next fight.

And it goes on and on. And so, to me, if the President is serious about being willing to let the American public see both sides, and remember that first memo was not a consensus document. It was a really one-sided conclusory piece of information and so, Van is right, it is going to take a lot more time and space to rebut this argument.

COOPER: Hey, Josh, was it you who said something about you wanted to get in?

CAMPBELL: Well, I would just say, Anderson that you know, in this situation, we see the national security establishment with their interest aligned with a political party who you know, for whatever motive that they have, maybe you know, maybe we will find out later on is selectively releasing information deciding not to release other information.

Again, it's a weird place to be in. Again, as a national security professional, if you are aligned with that type of you know, political operation, but I don't think that that changes the fact that the information is sensitive and that there is a proper venue for its release.

JENNINGS: I would like to say a word for transparency here. I mean, I know some people didn't want any memos to come out, but once one came out, both should come out and at the end of the day, I think there are a lot of Americans who believe we can handle information and we should be allowed to see inside and under the hood of these investigatory agencies so we can decide for ourselves what is going on here.

I think transparency ultimately is not going to be judged to be a bad idea no matter who is doing correct.

COOPER: But timing is so important in all of these things. I mean, there was a story that just came out, I think it was yesterday about the incompetence of FEMA in Puerto Rico with all of these contracts that they gave to some you know, companies that could not deliver food at all.

Nobody pays attention to that because it had been months since people have moved on from that story. If this memo -- the Democratic memo had come out at the same time as the Republican memo, it would have shifted the narrative or at least the narrative would have been a more transparent one, a more accurate one.

If this comes out two weeks from now, who knows what you know, fresh outrage there is going to be that we're all paying attention to?

JONES: You know, we are so far from where we should be. First of all, this shouldn't be taking place in the public eye at all in this way. We've never done this before. The idea that you would have a partisan memo come out basically trying to be just this kind...

COOPER: But this is not real oversight.

JONES: No, this is not real oversight. This is not real oversight where you say, "Look, we think there's something wrong." Here's the way to do it. If Nunes or any of these people thought something serious was going on, you don't need some bizarre three-page press release, you know, thrown out into the public. You need hearings. You need serious, serious spade work done to figure out if we have got a corrupt...


COOPER: If the Republicans have been really concerned about the national security implications of you know, when Chris Wray said he wanted the FBI people to come and actually brief the Committee, the Republicans said no, we don't want that.

I mean, if they were really concerned about national security implications that would have been one way to do it.

Coming up next, we have more breaking news. The President praising the top aide who departed in a storm of spousal abuse allegations, plus, yet another staff departure also over spousal abuse allegations.


[20:31:51] COOPER: Well very big night of news on top of the intel committee, memo news there's the Department of Justice official who would have overseen the Russia investigation if Rod Rosenstein is fired and CNN has just learned about the departure of David Sorenson, a member of the Trump administration speech writing team. He stepped down after being accused of domestic abuse, so there's all that.

As well reports that White House chief of staff John Kelly is willing to step down. Well keep in mind is on that with what may turn out to be the precipitating factor behind his departure if in fact he goes. And a simple statement affect about it.

Over the last 13 months three separate women have revealed what they saw was abuse by Rob Porter. Not until two days ago, was a top White House aide. And during those 13 months, starting January of 2017 when two of Porter's ex-wives spoke to the FBI people knew about the allegations, including some top White House officials. They knew and it seems they did nothing. Porter didn't only remain in his job, his star actually rose. He was promoted, he became Chief of Staff John Kelly's right hand man, even handling highly classified material.

And even when this became public, the first move by these powerful public servants was to defend Rob Porter. They circle the wagons around Rob Porter and they began singing his praises. When photos of Porter's first wife with a black eye were published, the White House began to change their tune. But they refuse to go into details of who knew what and when. They dodged and they weaved and tried to cover it up. And that was bad enough. But today it got worse. Today the President of United States weighed in, he said nothing about the women, nothing about spousal abuse. He didn't mention the women at all, no, what he did is he chose to praise Rob Porter.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Let say, obviously tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. And certainly he is also very sad. Now, he also as you probably know, he says he is innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.


COOPER: We absolutely wish him well. Now, just to be clear, the President is saying that about a man accused of doing this to his first wife Colbie Holderness. He's talking about the man accused of verbally and emotionally abusing his second wife Jennie Willoughby and immensing (ph) her to a sense of degree she had to get an order protection.


JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, ROB PORTER'S EX-WIFE: After he did ultimately and I closed the door and locked it behind him, he returned a moment later and punched in the glass on the front door. And because I did know that his anger was unpredictable. I didn't know what he would do next, and I --

COOPER: You were frightened?

WILLOUGHBY: Yes. I was scared.


COOPER: It after that the police officer recommended to get a temporary order of protection. Now the President did not mention her today nor did he mention Rob Porter's more recent ex-girlfriend, also alleging abuse.

[20:34:59] Now that John Kelly's memo the White House staffers last night or his public statement Wednesday night acknowledge any of Rob Porter's accusers. But what really stands out is the President's on this reflexed and defense of an alleged abuser and total lack of consideration of even simple acknowledgment of the accusers and their allegations. And as stunning as that was to hear today, maybe it really should have been stunning. Because this President has a history of doing for others what he did today for Rob Porter. This what the President said (INAUDIBLE) the departure from Fox News of alleged serial abuser Roger Ailes.


TRUMP: Is so sad, he's such a great guy. Roger is -- I mean what he's done on television, he is in the history of television, he's going to placed within the top three or four or five and that includes the founding of the major network. So it's too bad.


COOPER: He's talking about the history of television. Nothing about the women. He similarly defended Bill O'Reilly and Mike Tyson, nothing about the women. High praise though for the alleged predators. And according to reporting by the "New York Times" Maggie Haberman, he's even tried to let himself off the hook for something he's caught on tape saying what we all heard, his boasting about being able to sexually assault women and get away with it, because he's famous. Seen (ph) Jonathan Martin, reporting that he's telling friends that might not real be his voice on the "Access Hollywood" tape.

The President turns out is a remarkably understanding and forgiving guy when it comes to alleged abusers. Now there are some exceptions and you can draw your own conclusions about them. In the '90s he took out full page ads calling for return of the death penalty specifically for the five young black and Hispanic man accuse and brutality sexually assaulting a jogger in New York Central Park. The Central Park Five. And even after, the so-called Central Park Five were exonerated after they spent years of their lives in prison. An exonerated I should point out by someone else's confession and actual DNA evidence, Mr. Trump has refuse to change his belief in their guilt. There's also this tweet from 2012 talking about (INAUDIBLE), the more famously abusive celebrity relationships at the time, "If Rihanna is dating Chris Brown, again, then she has a death wish. A bitter is always a beater. Just watch". So there's that. But by- enlarge, if you're a man accuse a mystery women at least the white man, the President of the United States he quick to point out their claims of innocence.


TRUMP: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way he totally denies it.


COOPER: That's Roy Moore alleged child molester and general mall creeper. Now listen what he says in the very next breaths and just try to reconcile his two statements.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what is your message to women? This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history.

TRUMP: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time because a lot of things are coming out. And I think that's good for our society. And I think it's very, very good for women and I'm happy a lot of these things are coming out. I'm very happy -- I'm very happy it's being exposed.


COOPER: Well, tonight, he is not so happy, Rob Porter's alleged abuses are being expose, he is said to be furious, he said to be furious at Hope Hicks and John Kelly, and Raj Shah, everyone else he reportedly believes had failed to defend him.

Let's bring in former Trump campaign adviser, Steve Cortez, former Obama White House Communications Director Jen Psaki and former Congressional Communications Director and Conservative Tara Setmayer.

So Jen, I mean typically the communications director would be the person who reminds the president to say something in this case maybe anything about victims in general of domestic violence on a daylight today. But the Communications Director Hope Hicks has been in a relationship with the alleged abuser. Could you -- were you surprised that the President on this day of all days would actually have the press ushered in and make that statement?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, but no. Because this is President Trump. I think what he did today was he solidified his legacy as a defender of abusers especially white abusers, as you just noted in your statement there Anderson. And it shouldn't come as a surprise. It's sickening, it's not surprising because he has defended abuser after abuser after abuser over the course of time. And, this is really -- it's about on a trump, because he leads the White House, but this is the reflection of a morally corrupt White House. And a culture that accepts abuse. Accepts sexism, accepts masochism as a part of who they are and what they high-five in the hallway.

And I think the larger problem here beyond the politics and, you know, whether how this impacts Donald Trump politically, is that they're sending a message to the public that you can excuse abuse if you have a good resume. If you went to a good school, if you were a good looking white man and that something that is troubling, a troubling message to abusers and to those who are abused who afraid of speaking out.

COOPER: Steve, I mean is there any way to interpret the President's comments today with the best insensitivity for the alleged victims of his staff secretary?

[20:40:04] STEVE CORTES, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes, listen Anderson, I have to take issue both with your comments and the comments just made. I say this by the way as a brown man, all right who the President -- by the way has normally treated me incredibly well, but that's really beside the point had treated my community incredibly well. Hispanic unemployment at all time lows. This is a man who cares about the prosperity and security of Hispanic-Americans, of Black-American. So this idea -- this continual notion that's out there in the media, that we're going to paint the President as a racist, because we would rather not talk about policy --


CORTES: Well, but implicitly you did, let's be honest.


PSAKI: We are talking about domestic abuse, and you're talking about his legacy on abuse not on Latino unemployment.

CORTES: Well, OK, but does unemployment not matter to Latinos, does our prosperity as a community not matter, I'm not saying --

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Does calling them rapist and murderers matter. I mean its like -- do you really want to go down this road?


CORTES: No, no that's incredibly --

SETMAYER: Well go ahead.

CORTES: That's incredibly unfair by the way.

SETMAYER: He said it.


CORTES: No, he said some, some are rapist and murders. Are some people who cross the border illegally rapist and murders? Of course they are, of course they are, that is the reality.

COOPER: Steve --


COOPER: -- were you pleased with his comments today in the Oval Office defending Rob Porter and phrasing Rob Porter and saying nothing either about these women or even about domestic abuse in general?

CORTES: Well -- listen I think he could have been more explicit I do. I think he should be more explicit about the victims of domestic abuse, about how domestic violence is never OK any circumstances. I also think this though, and this -- I think please put yourself in his shoes for a moment. He doesn't know Rob Porter in that way. General Kelly didn't know Rob Porter. They knew him in a professional setting where apparently he was exceptional. All of us in our lives have known people who do that, who can Jekyll and Hyde, who can be in a professional setting, wonderful, and smart and gregarious and wonderful and then go home and be a very different person.

Apparently Rob Porter was one -- COOPER: Right, so do you need to then go out of your way to then

praise them for their actions in a professional setting. I mean first of all he was praising Roger Ailes, actually for his actions and for a professional setting which were anything but professional because of some of the allegation molestation actually --

CORTES: Right, that's a different place.

COOPER: -- place in the office. And Bill O'Reilly as well. So does seem -- and Roy Moore as well because he was actually at the time of the allegations he was a professional, I think he was a district attorney or assistant district attorney. So he does seem to go out of his way.

CORTES: I'm assuming Anderson -- I'm assuming here's the thing. I give the President the benefit of the doubt, because I trust him and I know him and I think when he said it was sad I think he meant it was sad for everyone, t was sad for everyone.


COOPER: I have gone over his statements. What he said was, it's sad for people in the White House and that he knows that Rob Porter is really sad as well. He didn't -- that was it.

SETMAYER: That's right. He showed no empathy whatsoever.

CORTES: I believe he meant that it was sad for everyone, it was said --

COOPER: Let's play it again, let's play it again, let's just play again it right here.


TRUMP: It's an obviously tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he is also very sad. Now, he also as you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he is innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.


COOPER: So Tara, it was sad when we heard about it and he is also obviously very sad.

SETMAYER: Yes, there was a whole lot of hims in there. I didn't hear anything about the victims or she. This is -- you know, it's amazing to me how Donald Trump is always the victim. He in every circumstance, he somehow becomes the victim here. And this is what where -- he didn't know or it is sad now. And this is nonsense. What he should have said was that yes it's sad that women have to face domestic abuse like this. And if it's true that Rob Porter was this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then this would be a teachable moment for the President of United States to say, here's a perfect example to demonstrate where domestic abusers know no boundaries, it could be professional in the White House, it could be your next door neighbor. He could have use this as an opportunity to do that, but he is incapable of rising to the occasion.

CORTES: No, but hold --

SETMAYER: Because, you know, what he's sad about, he's sad the fact that it was embarrassing to him that someone he thought played the part so well because of his resume, he went to Harvard, he's a Rhode scholar. All of those things and now this makes him look bad because of how poorly the White House managed the situation.

CORTES: That's so unfair.

SETMAYER: From Don McGahn now -- no that's the truth. From Don McGahn to --

CORTES: No, domestic --

[20:45:00] SETMAYER: -- General Kelly. And they because and it sends the message to women that if you have the resume, if you can portray yourself as an upstanding citizen and no one has any -- doesn't know about it, then it's OK.

CORTES: There is no --

SETMAYER: Until you get caught with photograph.


CORTES: This is not a partisan issue. There is no D or R on domestic violence --

SETMAYER: Of course not.

CORTES: -- and sexual harassment. There is not. Whether we're talking about Harvey Weinstein or Bill Clinton, or Steve Wynn or Rob Porter, OK. Two Ds, two Rs, there is no D or R attest to people who abuse women. And I would say by the way, all four of the people I just named are reprehensible and terribly abused women and used their position of power to do so. That's a terrible thing.

SETMAYER: Is Roy Moore a reprehensible?


SETMAYER: Is Roy Moore a reprehensible?

CORTES: Yes, yes.

SETMAYER: And so how did you feel that --


COOPER: You know facts on Harvey Weinstein, but you don't know the facts on Roy Moore?

CORTES: Well fine, I'll get -- I just don't -- I haven't look that enough. But my point is --


COOPER: You haven't looked at Roy Moore -- the allegations against Roy Moore?

CORTES: There are Republican and Democrat men who have been abusive of their position of power clearly to women and it is reprehensible in every single case. And that's not a partisan issue.


PSAKI: Steve, I think the fact that it's not a partisan issue is exactly why its confusing why you're defending Donald Trump's --

SETMAYER: That's right.

PSAKI: -- comments today. Because part of what you just say earlier, is that he did his job well, that Rob Porter did his job well, that he was well liked. That's the whole point here.

SETMAYER: Exactly.

PSAKI: That abusers look like they're doctors, they're lawyers, they're people in the media, they're people in politics. And when the President of the United States seems out there and tried to justify as the chief of staff, that this is somebody they look the other because of that, that's not OK. So --

COOPER: All right, we going to --

SETMAYER: Exactly why the MeToo movement was born.


COOPER: We've got to -- Steve we've got to take a break, I'm sorry, we're just tight on time, appreciate the discussion.

Coming up more on the cover in the insight, the White House, John Kelly was brought in to White House to calm things down, we'll take a look at how that's turning out.


COOPER: With word tonight that he's willing to step down over the Rob Porter mess, we want to take a closer look right now at the man in question, chief of staff John Kelly, who came to the White House of course after President Trump's first chief of staff, Reince Priebus resigned after only a few months on the job. Kelly's marching orders were to turn staff chaos into a semblance of normalcy. Given all the news this week, here's that question, how is that turning out?

David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama, knows the kind of job General Kelly was hired to do.

So David, the reporting today that Kelly told the staff that he decided to fire Porter within 40 minutes and then he secured Porter's resignation, I mean that accounting of events, it just doesn't square with what's already on the record. Does it surprise you that a guy like Kelly would try to create this alternate history?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, I think creating it in this fishbowl is particularly alarming. But this whole thing has been mishandled from start to finish. The fact that he'd been exposed to this information in the fall, did nothing about it, gave more responsibility to Porter, the way it's been handled this week, the lavish praise, relying on Hope Hicks, who's dating Porter, to provide the talking points that he released lavishly praising Porter, and then the changing stories over the next 24 hours.

[20:50:08] This has been a fiasco, and what is interesting to me, Anderson, is that the story leaked out --

COOPER: Well, that's what's so incredible. Within hours.

AXELROD: Yes. Which tells me that Kelly has a real problem with the White House staff. You know, one of the things that he has done successfully to a large degree is root out a lot of a leaking that we had seen before. Clearly there's still leaks relative to what Trump is telling people. But in terms of the staff-on-staff leaking, it has been reduced significantly since he was chief of staff. The fact that people are now leaking on him tells me that he's lost the faith of the staff there. And you have to wonder whether all of this is a prelude to him leaving the job altogether.

COOPER: YOU know, I didn't understand how the White House yesterday kept saying, well, you know, there's this ongoing security investigation, and it's not resolved, and therefore we're not going to comment, and we don't want to go into the details. I mean how should this have been handled if information like this became known to the chief of staff and clearly others in the White House? You would think at the very least they would have done -- they would have looked into it as closely as possible and acted on it.

AXELROD: Yes. Look, I can only tell you how the White House I worked in would have dealt with it and I suspect every other White House before this White House. And you would have certainly removed at least on a temporary basis Mr. Porter from that job, handling the most sensitive documents that the U.S. government has, and you would have looked more deeply into these charges. There's ample evidence here that the story that Jennie Willoughby told so compellingly last night on your program is true, and it was backed up by another of his wives and a girlfriend. And yet all of this -- you know, there were orders of protection filed. All of this was available, and you have to willfully ignore it not to act on it.

COOPER: Well, also for the White House then to allow the President to go out and speak apparently what he actually believes seems --

AXELROD: Yes. COOPER: -- doubly insane to me.


COOPER: I mean if you know the President has said this kind of thing in the past, you would think Kelly or somebody else would say to the President --

AXELROD: Absolutely.

COOPER: -- you know, how about saying this, this time?

AXELROD: And we don't know that they didn't. That was my first thought. I mean I watched with my mouth agape. They called the White House press corps in for the express purpose of addressing this issue, and the President delivered a full-throated defense of Porter and not one word of solicitude for the victims. In fact, he appeared to be doing what he's done in many other instances like this. And is -- he appeared to be blaming the alleged victims here.

So if someone -- if no one said to him, whether it was Kelly or anyone else -- if no one said to him going into this scrum, Mr. President, if you don't do anything else, you have to express some solicitude for these women, you have to speak to their experience, if no one said that, he's got deeper problems here because that would be malpractice on a major scale.

COOPER: Yes. David Axelrod, thanks very much.

Just ahead tonight, we have actually more breaking news. CNN has learned that up to 40 Trump administration officials are still without full security clearances just like the now fired White House aide Rob Porter. We'll have the latest on that, next.


[20:55:36] COOPER: Continuing with our breaking news tonight. The now fired White House staff secretary Rob Porter had only an interim security clearance despite having been on the job for a year. Well, it turns out he was not the only one, not by a long shot. Joining me now is CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

So what have you learned about how many people are operating without full security clearances?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So, Anderson, myself and my colleagues, Sara Murray and Gloria Borger, we were told that some 30 to 40 White House officials and other administration political appointees still 13 months into this administration have an interim security clearance, something that's meant really to be very temporary. It's not meant to be a permanent situation. Now, you've heard from the White House really an explanation saying that this kind of just a product of the bureaucratic security approval process, but in fact we are told by multiple current and former intelligence officials who've worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations that this is one highly unusual. But also, too, not an accident, not purely a result of the bureaucratic process, but a result of the fact that at least some of these people still on interim security clearances are not getting permanent clearances because of continuing questions from their FBI background checks. Rob Porter, of course, an example of that. His being spousal abuse. But, you know, there are clearly substantive reasons behind this as well.

Now, to be fair, we've talked to lawyers who have represented people in the security clearance process, which can be labyrinth, I've been through it myself. And this does not mean that everyone who was still on an interim security clearance has an issue. there are a lot of folks in the Trump administration who did not have a government past, which you will have often another previous administrations, which makes it a bit easier. But it's not just that. That clearly we have a number here and we have a number of officials telling us here, where they have continuing lingering questions that lead to them not getting a permanent security clearance. And let's be fair, this is 13 months in. That's not normal we're told by multiple officials, and it's a potential problem.

COOPER: And just in terms of a time line here, I know the White House wasn't clear yesterday on what they -- when they expect this to be resolved. Has that changed?

SCIUTTO: It's not clear, and really it's not entirely in the White House's control. I mean the way this works is the FBI does not issue the clearances. They do the background checks. But they supply this information to the White House, and then the White House has to move forward and make the decision. But if the FBI presents information to the White House that is disqualifying for those, then the White House can't move forward and grant that long-term security clearance, which is a very difficult and valuable thing. I mean there are reasons why you go through this process.

One of course is a character question, I mean that's important at these levels of government when you're handling sensitive information. But it's also a security risk question because things like the fact that you might have abused your spouse could be, if that's not public information, something that puts you at risk of blackmail. I mean there's a national security reason why you have this process, why it's a very rigorous process, and the fact that you have so many people, 30 to 40 in the Trump administration who cannot get through that process, is both unusual, and it raises serious questions as to what is holding up those clearances. Why is the FBI not recommending that they go forward?

COOPER: Yes, more to learn on this on the (INAUDIBLE). Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Coming up, we're going to have more on the latest White House scandal and a time line of what seems to be a cover-up. What we're learning about Rob Porter's departure after abuse allegations came to light and the White House's changing story.