Return to Transcripts main page
President Trump Bias with the Democrat Memo; Another White House Official Steps Down; Kelly and McGahn's Negligence Consequences. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 09, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:01:00] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. And I'm Erin Burnett. I'm in for Don Lemon this evening.
We have breaking news. President Trump refusing tonight to release the House intelligence committee democratic memo. That's the memo that rebuts the so-called republican Nunes memo which accused the FBI and the Justice Department officials of surveillance abuses at the highest levels.
The White House tonight saying the democratic memo contains classified and sensitive passages so it's sending it back to the intelligence committee for changes.
But tonight, Senate Minority Chuck Schumer is accusing the president of a double standard for not releasing the memo, asking, quote, "what is he hiding?"
And let's get right to this breaking news. I want to go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta and our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
All right. Jim Acosta, let me start with you.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BURNETT: This happened earlier this evening. Not long ago you and I were on the air, you came raising back with this news. The president refusing to do it, refusing to release that democratic memo which 10 pages that rebut point by point the GOP Nunes memo of three pages.
BURNETT: That the president obviously had absolutely no problem releasing last week over the objections of the intelligence community. The big question being asked, of course tonight and by democrats is the president hiding something?
ACOSTA: Well, Erin, you heard of the Friday news dump. This was the Friday news dodge. This argument dodge. The White House had the opportunity, and they were telling us all week long, listen, we're treating the Schiff memo the same way we treated the Nunes memo. It's going to go through vetting process with the intelligence community and so on. And the president did meet this afternoon with the FBI director Chris
Wray as well as Justice Department officials as well as officials from the White House counsel's office. But I think when this announcement came down it may have shocked a lot of people but it was not that surprising.
I mean, keep in mind, this was a memo that was going to seek to refute much of what was stated in the Nunes memo. Remember, the president was holding up the Nunes, it was but waving it in the air a week ago saying that this have vindicated him and all of these comments about the Russia investigation.
But we should point out, the White House counsel attach the letter to the White House announcement tonight. This is from Don McGahn, it basically lays out what the president's rationale is on all of this.
And we can put it that up on-screen if we have that quote. Essentially it lays out what they're saying this all boils down to. "Although the president is inclined to declassify the February 5th memorandum according to the Schiff memo. Because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages he is unable to do so at this time."
We should also point out there's another letter attached to this, Erin, that is also from Don McGahn. It is to the Justice Department, by the way to Rod Rosenstein. The deputy attorney general has been on the hot seat in all of this, instructing the Justice Department to go along with the democratic members of the House intelligence committee and sort of lay out here are the passages and areas of concern in the Schiff memo that need to be addressed.
The big question moving forward is can they ever come to an agreement in terms of, you know, what can be released?
I will tell you I did talk to a White House official here who said in the last couple of days that there were intelligence community concerns with all of this, but it appears, I mean, I think it would be -- I think it would be denying the obvious to say that the biggest concerns are coming from the man in the Oval Office. Erin?
BURNETT: And so, Jim Sciutto, let me ask you, the ranking democrat in the House intelligence committee Adam Schiff, who of course basically wrote this memo, right, ten or so pages that we understand it to be, has weighed in on Trump's decision to send it back to his committee.
And part of what he said, quote, "After ignoring urging that FBI and DOJ not to release the misleading Nunes memo of the material facts, POTUS now express his concerns over sharing precisely those facts with public and seeks to send it back to the same majority that produce the flaws of Nunes memo to begin with."
So is this a double standard here, Jim Sciutto, obviously given that you do have serious concerns from the FBI being raised with both the Schiff memo as they did with the Nunes memo.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, I mean, it's so transparent as to be embarrassing. I mean, with great pomp and circumstance in the letter from Don McGahn tonight the White House pronounces that the department, the Department of Justice has identified portions of the memorandum who, the disclosure of which, would create especially significant concerns for national security.
OK, listen to those demands those concerns from the Department of Justice on the democrat's memo. Let me remind you what the FBI said about the Nunes memo a week ago. It said, "We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
And so you have that protest from the FBI a week ago regarding the republican version of events which the president ignored and released and as Jim Acosta was saying there, practically waived as vindication of the president's position in an investigation in which the president is a party.
[22:05:07] He and his advisers we know are under investigation in the Mueller probe.
SCIUTTO: And then today, cites the Justice Department again with pomp and circumstance and gravity that they have now express these concerns and because of those concerns this memo will be delayed and further redacted.
BURNETT: And of course the president did say, you know, explicitly that the Nunes memo was vindication for him.
Jim Acosta, you know, the president had said the memo would be released. Is there hope that the attention will go elsewhere? I mean, obviously there is a frequent scandal at this White House.
BURNETT: I mean, now we're dealing with a domestic abuse scandal that no one knew was coming.
BURNETT: And that happened this week. But is there hope that really that this will go away?
ACOSTA: I think there is. And I will tell you that there were people inside the West Wing who were really looking at this with a really intense political lens.
I had one person say to me this week, well, perhaps there was a lot of things put in the Schiff memo that the Justice Department would of course object to and that the Schiff people were setting us up because they were putting forth a memo that of course somebody would object to.
And when we say now we're not going to release this memo, the democrats can say, there you go. So there were those kinds of political concerns being raised. And I think the bottom line in all of this and I know Jim Sciutto has talked about this a lot, there -- we have sort of crossed a line here in terms of how the House intelligence committee is supposed to be properly used in the United States government.
It has always been this place where people sort of put the partisan concerns, leave the partisan terms at the door and deal with the intelligence community on very important matters. I mean, this is coming out of the 9/11 era and so on where, you know, you can't let those political motivations cloud people's judgment.
And what seems to have happened here over the last couple of weeks is that only political motivations seem to have been at play here. When the president of the United States is at the state of the union a week and a half ago was saying 100 percent we're going to release this memo, 100 percent --
ACOSTA: -- before he had even read the memo I think that is when the die was cast.
BURNETT: Yes. Well, his political motivations in that regard. And what happens now, Jim Sciutto? I mean, what's the process? So it's going to go to the committee and then what?
SCIUTTO: Well, if I can and just highlight a point Jim Acosta made. You know,, following 9/11 and following the Iraq war, frankly, there were concerns about the misuse and politicization of intelligence. And there were great measures, there were commissions convene to make recommendations to correct those to protect the country's national security from terrorism and from going to war under false pretenses in the future, right.
And here you have -- I'm not putting it on the same scale as that, but you have at least the appearance of using intelligence to a political end here. And using the president's ability and power to declassify intelligence to a political end.
You declassified the friendly version of events and not declassify or at least delay and further redact a version of events which is less friendly to your position. And that for folks I speak to in the intelligence community, and trust me, that's not deep state people, that's professionals in the intelligence community. That goes to the core of their greatest fear which is that the work that they do is going to be politicized in some way.
SCIUTTO: It's an enormous -- it's a grave concern.
BURNETT: All right, well, thank you both very much. And I want to go now to discuss this breaking news with someone at the center of it. Congresswoman Jackie Speier. The California democrat who is a member of the House intelligence committee so at the center of this. So congresswoman, let me just get straight to it. Have you had a
chance, I know, you know, we're looking at the letter from the White House and the letter from the FBI Director Christopher Wray and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to the White House, and then of course, to with they attached all of their concerns. Highlighted in yellow and with red boxes is how they described it. Have you had a chance to look at their concerns?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: No, because it's been classified, of course, so I won't be able to look at it until we're in a secure area in the Capitol. But, you know, it's important to point out what we did was give it to the FBI and the department of Justice with the intention that they would redact anything that they thought was not appropriate.
SPEIER: And so I look forward to looking at it next week. And then with the redactions that the Department of Justice has recommended, we could resubmit it to the president to have it released.
The real story here, and it is politicization. And it's deeply troubling. It's really shattering the relationship this committee has with the minority and majority and also with the agencies that we have oversight over.
SPEIER: But I think the more important part of all of this is that this was started by the republicans. You know, this was a memo that was kind of dropped on us suddenly. We then wanted to, you know, provide some context to it.
[22:09:56] And so their three and a half page book report was countered by in many respects by a post graduate dissertation, because it is very in detailed dense and very compelling.
So I can see why the Department of Justice may want to redact part of it. We really need to move on to, you know, get back to what our charges, which is to look into the Russian intervention.
SPEIER: Because for the last four weeks we haven't even done any of the work we normally do on that committee. So it's really affecting our work product.
BURNETT: I just want to make sure I fully understand here, congresswoman. Because obviously we understand that a lot of it is political. And certainly for the president it is, right? He said 100 percent he was going to release the Nunes e before he's even read it.
And obviously he has not treated the Schiff memo, your democratic memo the same way. But when you say that you wanted the DOJ and the FBI to look at it and express their concerns that you would be able to address them, are you saying that some of these might be fair and you might be willing to do them?
SPEIER: I think without a question we would want to do that. That's what we have suggested to the -- for the Nunes memo that it be reviewed by the DOJ. And you know, in fact, their whole attack on the DOJ and the FBI is one that would be the subject normally of a committee hearing where we would bring them in and talk to them. They didn't even want to do that. So the oversight function of the committee is being lost as well.
BURNETT: So basically you need to see it to pass judgment on whether you think these redactions are fair apolitical or whether they're fully political. But then what? Then what happens comes, how quickly does this happen where you say, all right, we're going to do this exactly. It's back to the president it needs to come out, or the president denies it and you have to put it to a full vote on the floor? How does this play out?
SPEIER: Well, I don't think we'd ever go to a full vote on the floor. It would then go back to president if he's a man of his word, then with with the redactions that the DOJ has asked for, it should be released.
But again, I really want to move beyond that. I don't think the American people care much about, you know, these dueling memos anymore.
SPEIER: And I think we need to get back to -- meanwhile, we're in the 2018 election cycle. We know that Russia is already in play. And what are we doing to try to, you know, solve these issues and alert local jurisdictions about what is potentially going to happen at the voting booth?
BURNETT: All right, well I appreciate your time. Thank you very much, congresswoman. Good to speak to you again.
SPEIER: Thank you.
BURNETT: And I want to also now go on the phone with the breaking news that Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Texas democrat, also a member of the intelligence community. And congressman -- congressman, your response to what you have now seen.
And I understand you also are not going to be able to see the requested redactions and changes because it is classified you have to wait to be in the room to do that. But your reaction to what you have seen thus far.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, Jacky is right, that as democrats we have to be responsible if we're going to put a memo out. Now, remember where we started was we thought there should neither be a republican or democratic memo because the American people could not even see the source material behind it and make an independent decision for themselves. So we believe from the beginning that the republicans basically put
out a political document, that the president then went and released un-redacted, unchanged basically as it was, even though as folks mentioned earlier, the intelligence community, the FBI had very big concerns about a lot of the misleading statements and any inaccuracies in that memo.
So we put together our own memo that we believe correct the record. And we said we want to be responsible we want to give the FBI and the DOJ a chance to look it over. And if they have suggestions to make sure that there isn't some compromising information in there, the we welcome their input.
CASTRO: And so that's where we are now. But I can't help but think that this is also the president --
CASTRO: -- being hypocritical because he did not take the advice of the FBI and the DOJ --
CASTRO: -- with regard to that republican memo at all.
BURNETT: No, he didn't, right. They had grave concerns and he completely overruled them.
BURNETT: And he didn't care.
CASTRO: No, in some sense he should have done what he's doing with the democratic memo, should have treated the republican memo in the same way. But I believe all along that he really would prefer that only his side of the story get out.
And also that he really wanted to win two or three or five news cycles on this where his version of events or their version of events was basically unchallenged. And so far, he's been successful in that.
And so I think the American people have been able to see through the document that they put out and see basically it's a political document. That it's an attempt to create another investigative track to distract from the real Russia investigation that the committee has been doing.
[22:14:59] But for his purposes I think in some sense he's been successful by putting out their version of events and denying the other version.
BURNETT: So congressman, what's next for your committee? You know, earlier tonight your colleague Congressman Swalwell was telling me that, you know, you haven't been able to interview anybody in a month because it's been completely dysfunctional and you just hear that obviously from Congresswoman Speier as well.
So what happens next? We have, you know, reporting which was Congressman Swalwell talked about, that the GOP is talking about whether they need to put a physical barrier between the democratic staff members and the republican staff members on your committee because the staff members can't even work together.
Is it possible for your committee now to even do its job in a bipartisan way in this investigation or to oversee the organization it's supposed to be watching for the American people?
CASTRO: Well, I think it's our responsibility and our duty to do that. That's why we're elected to Congress, that's why this committee has an important oversight function. So we have to get this thing back on track.
You know, and the thing of it is the intelligence committee has been one of the most bipartisan committees in the United States Congress. I said on foreign affairs which is also bipartisan. But if you ever watch any of the committee hearings on judiciary or energy and commerce, some of the others, they tend to be very acrimonious.
And Devin Nunes and some of the other folks on that committee, on the intelligence committee have basically taken the intelligence committee and turned it into, you know, a judiciary committee or some other committee in the Congress --
BURNETT: So should Devin Nunes go altogether from your committee, who is the chairman --
CASTRO: I'm sorry?
BURNETT: Should Devin Nunes take -- be gone, forget the chairmanship, that's it?
BURNETT: He is just fundamentally is not going to operate with Devin Nunes at the helm?
CASTRO: Yes. I think it's obviously been very tough. I said I thought months ago that Speaker Ryan should replace Congressman Nunes. You know, I still believe that. I think that his continued presence has been a huge impediment to the Russia investigation, even though when he recused himself he really hasn't recused himself.
And I think he's not given Mike Conway protection who's leading the investigation on the republican side, the leeway to run that investigation independent of the chairman and what the chairman wants. And so that has really complicated things.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Congressman Castro. I appreciate you calling in on this breaking news so late tonight.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BURNETT: And our breaking news coverage continues, developing at this hour. You know, the president said he would 100 president release the Nunes memo before he had even seen it. And now, the White House on a Friday night citing security concerns for not releasing the democratic rebuttal.
What does need to happen for that memo to be released? And another White House staffer we're learning late tonight leaving his job over allegations of domestic abuse, the second one in a couple of days.
[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BURNETT: Breaking news this hour. President Trump refusing to release the democratic rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo. That's the three- page memo from the chairman of the House intelligence committee which alleges the FBI and Justice Department abused their surveillance authority, abuse at the very highest levels they say creating bias against the Trump campaign.
The White House claiming the democratic memo contains classified and sensitive materials sending it back to the House intelligence committee for changes.
Back again with Jim Sciutto, and now also joined by our Whte House reporter Kaitlan Collins and CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell who is a former FBI special agent.
OK. Welcome to both of you. Jim Sciutto, let me just start with you again, though. Now we had a chance to talk to two members of the House intelligence committee. You know, they say they're open to this, they expected there to be something. It's now coming back.
They're going to see what the changes are and they may be willing to make them. It's unclear. But one thing we do know, Jim, is that the FBI grave concerns about the Nunes memo but Trump overruled the FBI to release it, and he didn't overrule them in this case.
And now it appears he's hiding behind the FBI and DOJ whether their concerns are fair or not. It's actually not the point. The point is he's using it as a fig leaf to get what he wants.
SCIUTTO: Listen, it's hard not to read anything but a political motivation to explain the clear difference here.
SCIUTTO: I mean, we have a look back to an entire seven days ago, you know, an eternity in the news cycle here in Washington to last Friday when the republican version of events was released and celebrated by the White House, as you note, Erin, over the grave objections of the FBI and the DOJ.
The president ignored those objections and released a version of events that frankly favorable to him. Now a week later he is now citing with great gravity the objections of the FBI and DOJ to releasing the democratic version of events which we can only expect to be less favor to the president.
And this is on an investigation that relates to a Russia probe, which is the president's most sensitive issue, both politically and personally it appears base on the ways he's responded to this over the last 13 months.
Something he and his advisers are a party to this investigation. And in doing so, he's using in effect the most sensitive weapon, right, which is intelligence. And the president's power, the commander in chief's power to declassify intelligence.
He declassified the favorable version of events a week ago, and he is dragging his feet on the less favorable version of events. And listen, we don't know what the final -- I think it's pretty likely that some version of this will get out there.
SCIUTTO: After all it was a unanimous vote in that, you know, highly divided House intelligence committee with a republican majority on Monday to release it.
But now with redactions, what eventual version gets out there, it's just hard not to see this as blatant politics and really egregious on what is, you know, one of the government's most sensitive tools, and that is intelligence.
BURNETT: And Josh, let me ask you, because obviously you've got the political motivations of the president and then you have the FBI. And you've worked with the FBI. We've got this letter from the head of the FBI and the deputy attorney general saying that they have problems with this.
Even if they allow everything in this memo that was in Nunes memo declassified through that to go out, they have all of these concerns. What's your gut, Josh, on how many of the redactions and changes which are going to be requested and they say they're highlighted in yellow and red, how many of them are real and legitimate from the FBI and how many of them are political?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Look, it's hard to say. I mean, we're in uncharted territory here where you have the politicization of the intelligence community.
Let's just remember, it's important to talk politics as we're sitting here talking tonight there's a group of people watching who don't care about politics. And that's the men and women of the intelligence community who get up every single day working to protect this country.
They collect our secrets, they gather information, they provide that to our leaders. They provide information in court proceedings like the FISA application that is now being used as a political football, and they do that to protect this country. [22:24:57] I know that, again, politics is something that we have to
talk about. I think many of us on the intelligence side are in not in favor of either memos being released, which is hard to day when you look at how the politization has taken place thus far, whether the redactions will be those that are genuine concerns of the FBI and the department or whether it's just politics.
BURNETT: Right, of course, Jim, one of the big questions here is whether two wrongs make a right. I mean, you put out a version that's completely political but includes things the FBI doesn't want, and they say, you know, politicizing intelligence and then you have another side come out. It's almost like, you know, doubling up on politicization. Does that make sense?
I mean, that's one of the big questions here. I'm just getting it on my -- on my phone. Devin Nunes, the chairman, obviously he, of the Nunes memo has put out a statement. And it says, "along with other intelligence republicans I had warned that the democratic memo contains many sources and methods. Ranking member Schiff -- ranking member Schiff -- I'm sorry, pledged to seek the input of the Department of Justice and FBI regarding the memo's public release. And it's no surprise that these agencies recommended against publishing the memo without redactions."
And then he continues to say, "They need to accept the DOJ's recommendations to make the appropriate technical changes and redactions so no sources and methods are disclose and the memo can be declassified as soon as possible."
What do you read into that, Jim? I mean, he is careful to say declassified as soon as possible, so he's not trying to go def-con in terms of saying it shouldn't be released at all.
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, to be fair, you know, imagine saying this in Washington. Both sides are guilty of politics here, there's no question. But let's just -- you also have to point out the obvious here, which is last week Devin Nunes, the chairman of the house intelligence committee, was noticeably less concerned with the objections of the FBI and DOJ in releasing his memo, which he had a hand in and interest in getting out there. And that's the issue here, right.
You're calling the FBI to your side when it suits your interests here. And when it did not last week, when the FBI's deep opposition to the release of the republican memo, when that was -- when that was out there, that was less convenient and it was ignored. When it's convenient to the political end here, it's view and its objection is respected. And that difference is notable.
BURNETT: So Kaitlan, what happens now, right? I mean, this is, we know it goes to the committee, they have to make a decision, but then what from the White House?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, there's certainly a way that the committee could decide to override the president's decision here, Erin. But there are two very important things to look at, and one is the timing of this.
The White House made this decision, released this on a Friday night after a few 48 hours of controversy. They'd been engulfing the administration. And the second thing is the White House maintained for days that they were going to follow the same procedure, the same process. They were very adamant about this as they were going to go the same route as they did with that republican memo.
But Jim is completely right. If the White House is truly doing that, and last week we saw not only the FBI and the DOJ make these very staunch arguments for the White House for keeping that republican memo private, and not only did they completely ignore it, the FBI had to go to great lengths to issue a very public statement saying do not release this document, and White House did it anyways.
And as multiple people have pointed out already the president made it very clear he say going to release that memo before he had even read it. And it's hard to not to see that as a political purpose and now that the president read this memo as early as Tuesday, the exact same time line with this one, and you can't ignore the way that they went under the same process with two very different outcomes.
BURNETT: And Kaitlan, it also seems that it serves their great purpose, which is we're talking about this memo now and we're not talking about Rob Porter.
COLLINS: We are not talking about Rob Porter. We're not talking about the second administration official who resigned over domestic abuse allegations either.
So that is the thing. It is a Friday night. It is a Friday night news dump. There's no other way to explain what has happened tonight here, Erin. But it is certainly a distraction from not only the White House's allegation of a very top staffer that had to resign over this domestic abuse allegations then a second staffer.
But also a lot of criticism and a lot of focus on the way two stop -- two top staffers who are still in the White House and the way that they handled all of this. That was certainly a focus on many of the headlines today.
COLLINS: And it certainly has gotten a little lost in the memo coverage tonight.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you, all very much. And as Kaitlan mentions there is a big story from the White House, dumping on a Friday night, a second White House staffer losing his job over allegations of domestic abuse. And we're going to give you those details after this.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BURNETT: And more breaking news from the White House, a second White House official resigning over domestic abuse allegations. And I want to bring in our political commentators Scott Jennings,
Maria Cardona, Matt Lewis, and Jack Kingston, all are with us, along with White House reporter Kaitlan Collins.
So, Kaitlan, first of all, this news. Obviously, on a day of fast and furious developments of who knew what when about Rob Porter and the fate of the chief of staff because of Rob Porter's resignation, we now have another top White House staffer and more breaking news right now on that. Tell us about it.
COLLINS: Yes, that's right, Erin. Just as all the focus is on what the chief of staff John Kelly what he potentially covered up as far as these allegations against Rob Porter, the staff secretary go.
We have a second White House official who has resigned over domestic abuse allegations, which I should note that he denies. This is David Sorenson, a speechwriter for the administration or he was until today when he resigned after his wife in a very detailed account to the Washington Post said that he abused her during their marriage, including multiple disturbing things that she alleges running over her foot with a car, putting his cigarette out on her hand.
And all of these things that David Sorensen's ex-wife told the Washington Post. And all of this comes as all the focus has been on the White House and not only on Rob Porter and what the allegations are against him from his two ex-wive, but -- his ex-wives that he has now left the White House.
And the focus has really turned on what top staffers in the White House knew about Rob Porter. Because we have now learned this week that several senior administration officials are very aware of the details of the allegations against Porter as early as last fall, and not only that he remained in the White House in a very critical but not well-known position as staff secretary but he was elevated in that role once John Kelly became the chief of staff over Reince Priebus.
[22:35:10] So, what the focus is now is how the White House is handling allegations like this when they find out about them, Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Kaitlan, obviously stay with us. Maria, it seems like the flood gates are open now, because obviously it seems that, you know, someone spoke to the Washington Post, David Sorensen's wife, you know, when the Daily -- after the Daily Mail broke the Rob Porter story.
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
BURNETT: And it seems like that would mean the flood gates are opened.
CARDONA: So we'll see what comes after this. I think what we still need to find out as you said, this just happened. And so the question is did David have security clearance, was it a permanent security clearance, what was in his background? Did the FBI know anything about this? Did his wife or ex-wife talk to anybody before she talked to the
Washington Post? And so I think that this will continue to dog the White House because it shows a pattern of how this administration with President Trump at the helm denigrates women.
They don't see as equal, they don't see them as human. They see them as something that is expendable. And we all know that the tone is set at the top. And this is president who has treated women this way his whole life.
And we have him on tape talking about how he would treat a woman, and so I think that when he surrounds himself by advisers who are supposed to be advising him on doing the right thing, when this comes to light, I do think it's natural that they would not see this as something serious because if their boss doesn't see it as something serious and they don't think it's ever going to come out.
Luckily there was a picture. I think if we had no pictures, Erin, I think it's very possible that Rob Porter would still be there.
BURNETT: I mean, that's certainly, here's the thing, Jack. That's what they're kind of hanging it on, right. We knew didn't know how bad the domestic abuse was until we saw the picture of her black eye, I mean, it doesn't seem to add up.
And what I'm curious, Jack, to see how far you're willing to go here. When the president talked about it today, he talked about Rob Porter and he said that he hoped he had a great career ahead of him, and that Rob Porter felt sad, he felt badly for him and how awful this is.
He didn't once mention the women, not once. Not once. He didn't mention that domestic abuse was unacceptable. Not once. Did you find what he said today acceptable?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's acceptable, but I can understand that stylistically the president is going to do things his way and I think in a different venue --
BURNETT: What stylistically about saying domestic abuse is unacceptable and I feel horribly for women who would go through this in any situation. And by the way, like Mike Pence said in Korea to Lester Holt tonight, so what's so stylistic about that, Jack?
KINGSTON: The president has his own style his own way of doing things. And I really I can't comment on that because I don't know what went to his thinking one way or the other about it.
But I would say my friend Maria has asked a lot of good questions which is I agree with who knew, what, when, what kind of security clearance, if any did David Sorenson hand -- have. There's a lot of questions on there.
Where she's totally wrong is where she says this shows a pattern, this shows that the White House doesn't care about women. Well, I think Nikki Haley would disagree with that, I think Elaine Chao would, I think Seema Verma would, I think Betsy DeVos would, I think Ivanka Trump would disagree with that.
In fact, I think most of them would say the left is the one to seem to attack women in the Trump administration. It's not the White House. These men are gone. I think you could certainly argue that maybe they should have been gone earlier --
BURNETT: Scott, they're gone, though. They're gone though. They're gone though. Even though people at the White House knew about the allegations --
KINGSON: Betsy DeVos --
BURNETT: Hold on.
KINGSTON: Nikki Haley. Elaine Chao, Kellyanne Conway.
BURNETT: No, no. I'm talking about -- I'm talking about Rob Porter. Rob Porter is gone. Let's be honest why Rob Porter is gone. Because the Daily Mail broke the story. That's why Rob Porter is gone, Scott. He wouldn't be gone otherwise. And he didn't --
KINGSTON: You know, but --
BURNETT: I'm sorry, I'm just trying to get someone else in here, Jack. Go ahead, Scott.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, look, this thing unraveled because it broke immediately, and it unravel further because the pictures came forward.
Look, I'm glad they're gone. I'm glad Porter is gone. I'm glad this other guy is gone because people with this in their background should not be serving at this level of government in the White House.
What they're going to have to take a step back here and ask all the staffers in the White House is if you know something like this in your background exists and you've been hiding it, misleading the investigators who are doing your security check, you need to come forward and be honest with us.
Because I get the feeling after talking to some people in the White House that Porter was on his mission to try to suppress this. You know, he called one of the women and said, hey, I need you to downplay.
I heard from White House officials that he may have misled them about the severity of it. And it all just unraveled. And you have to remember when you have these jobs it's not about it you. It's about the president and the people and the country. And Rob Porter knew this was coming and he chose to try to run a campaign to suppress it. That was wrong. And ultimately, it's hurting the Trump presidency and it's bad for the country.
[22:39:57] CARDONA: But it's also on John Kelly and it's all on the other people. Don McGahn who knew like a year ago, John Kelly who knew like months ago. And again, they would have been OK if the pictures didn't come out.
So to me, it's like, where do you draw the line? They are complicit in letting a wife beater work at the White House.
JENNINGS: One issue that they have to do, they do have to get --
KINGSTON: You also don't know what they knew or when they knew it. Now that's just very important and listen, Maria --
CARDONA: I think we do know, Jack.
KINGSTON: You don't know exactly what they knew or when they knew it. What I think there's a problem here is that this White House goes at such a fast pace getting things accomplished, getting tax cuts done, lowering unemployment rate and working on national security problems --
KINGSTON: -- that I think they weren't paying attention as closely as they should have to the personnel files.
COLLINS: Well, Erin.
COLLINS: I do have --
BURNETT: Kaitlan, yes, go ahead.
COLLINS: I do have to interject here to say that we actually did know when several people in the White House knew about this.
CARDONA: Thank you.
COLLINS: We know that Don McGahn was approached about this as early as one year ago.
COLLINS: And not only was he approached once. He was approached twice more about these allegations made against Porter. We also know, secondly, that several senior administration officials, I should point out that I'm using the word senior here, not just mid-level not low level, senior administration officials knew about this --
KINGSTON: Who, who? Don't say don't hide the hand that anonymous thing. Who? Who? Can you tell me who?
COLLINS: Knew about this. It's not anonymous. Knew about this as recently as the fall. And we know that the chief of staff, John Kelly. There's a name for you.
COLLINS: We know that he was aware --
KINGSTON: Finally a name.
COLLINS: -- of these allegations against Rob Porter.
CARDONA: Don McGahn.
KINGSTON: You know what --
COLLINS: John Kelly --
CARDONA: Yes, it's being report.
KINGSTON: Wait. Let me understand. You're saying you knew what Don McGahn knew on personal matters and you have that information.
BURNETT: OK. I've got to jump in here, Jack. I got to jump in here. But we're all going to come back. But let me just say. When you know there's allegations of domestic abuse there is no what did you know, there's you look for what actually happened. You don't just go was it a punch in the eye or a kick in the butt?
KINGSTON: And I agree with you on that.
BURNETT: I'm sorry, it's an absurd argument. All right. We'll going to be back in just a moment.
BURNETT: President Trump reacting today to the resignation of his top aide, Rob Porter who stepped aside amid domestic abuse allegations. The president wishing Porter well did not express any sympathy or comment at all about Porter's ex-wives who made the allegations.
[22:45:04] Back now with Scott Jennings, Maria Cardona, Matt Lewis, and Jack Kingston.
Matt, let me start with you. Why do you think nobody in the White House pursued this when they knew there were domestic abuse allegations? And I will just make my point again loud and clear, it doesn't matter what the domestic abuse is. If you know there's an allegation you should be looking into it. They
didn't look into it further. They don't appear to have followed up on why the security clearance wasn't coming through constantly to figure out what the problem was. It appeared to kind of let it go or look the other way. Why?
MATT LEWIS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it's two things. One, I think it is a pattern. I really do. Look, it's not just Porter. It's not just Sorensen. It's what did Donald Trump say about what's his name running down in Alabama?
CARDONA: Roy Moore.
LEWIS: Roy Moore, right. What did he say --
BURNETT: But he said he didn't do it. We have that --
CARDONA: O'Reilly and Roger Ailes.
LEWIS: O'Reilly. You could go down the list. Roger Ailes. Remember Cory Lewandowski pushing a reporter?
LEWIS: A female reporter? So I think this is a pattern of I'll give him -- I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the pattern is that he always gives men the benefit of the doubt. Even when I think there are highly credible allegations, which is the case with Porter and I think was the case down in Alabama.
The other thing, though, I would say and this is maybe a little bit of in fairness to John Kelly although I've been very critical of him as well.
LEWIS: It seems like Porter was a very good worker. And that within his capacity in the White House he was very competent, very well liked and he was helping to try to bring some discipline and order. I think if you put those two things together you've got sort tone-deafness and insensitivity on one hand.
And then just the fact this got in his official capacity, never mind what he was doing in his off hours but in his official capacity was well-liked and apparently pretty efficient.
BURNETT: Do you think that's what it is, Jack, that they're like, hey, the guy is a road scholar, he went to Harvard and he can't be a wife beater.
KINGSTON: Well, I think psychologically that these type of people operate in the Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde kind of mode where they are very charming and very smart and very clever. They know how to hide their character flaw. BURNETT: Yes.
KINGSTON: So, you know, I do see that part of it. But I want to go back to something. Number one, if John Kelly did know about this then he acted negligently. There's no argument there. But I do want to make the point that the --
CARDONA: I'm glad you think that, Jack. Right.
KINGSTON: -- source.
BURNETT: But Jack, Jack, he knew about it. Jack, he knew about it.
KINGSTON: But let me say this.
BURNETT: He knew there were domestic abuse allegations, but that's the point of do you want to get into a debate about what is domestic abuse --
KINGSTON: OK. There is no -- there is no known source that says McGahn and Kelly knew about it. That is the usual Washington Post story saying an unknown senior White House adviser --
BURNETT: OK. We're reporting at CNN. We're -- right, OK.
CARDONA: Come on, come on, Jack.
BURNETT: Just like the Daily Mail came with some --
KINGSTON: So, can we admit --
BURNETT: -- guess what, they're now out talking about it. You hide behind this until there's a name thing all the time. And it's incredibly demeaning, frankly.
KINGSTON: No, no, I'm saying -- OK, let me repeat. I'm going to repeat. Let me repeat what I said. If he knew he was absolutely was negligent and not taking action, if Don McGahn knew, but all you have is one more unnamed source from the Washington Post that always uses Washington -- senior White House officials who chose not to be named.
CARDONA: Washington Post is not the only one who is reporting it, Jack. CNN is reporting it, the New York Times is reporting it. Are you saying they're all fake?
KINGSTON: I think it's fair. I say it is very fair to Don McGahn and to John Kelly to say who is saying that because these are very serious charges. I think we should all agree that --
(CROSSTALK) CARDONA: How about the FBI went to them? The FBI went to them and
shared with them the reason why they -- Rob Porter did not receive the security clearance.
KINGSTON: I don't know that to be --
CARDONA: Don't you think that that should be like red flags all over the place? They looked away.
KINGSTON: Listen, OK. I'm going to repeat if they knew, they were negligent.
CARDONA: OK, then, they were negligent.
KINGSTON: I don't know that they knew based on what we've seen reported, that's a fair statement to make.
CARDONA: Come on, Jack. No, it's actually not.
KINGSTON: You couldn't go to court with an unknown source said blah, blah, blah.
CARDONA: We're not --
KINGSTON: An unknown source -- have you ever noticed that an unknown source always have something wrong about Trump and the admin -- the Trump world. It's always the unknown source who is trying to --
BURNETT: And actually, I also found that unknown source is the only way that we get anything out of this administration because they lie and obfuscate constantly. And those sources are the way that things have been -- have been broken again and again and again.
Frankly, that's the truth about many administrations but in this administration with its particular issue with the truth more so than ever before.
Scott, let me give you the final word.
JENNINGS: Look, it's hard for me to see how something like this happens and head or heads don't roll. I mean, look, up until the president commented on today, I think the White House had made pretty clear, and it was pretty clear the president didn't know about this.
Now he did comment on it today which I think was not wise. But the staff failed the president. He was ill-serve in the way they handle this. It's hard for me to imagine that some changes -- and I don't know who and I don't know how and I don't know when. But it's hard to imagine a fumble like this not go unpunished. [22:50:02] CARDONA: You know what would be interesting, Erin is that we know that Don McGahn knew, that John Kelly knew. My question is, I wonder if any senior women knew about this.
BURNETT: Right. And of course we have no knowledge of that --
JENNINGS: How about Hope Hicks?
BURNETT: -- at this time except for of course, the big question about Hope Hicks who did know help draft the response defending Rob Porter. And of course, Hope Hicks was romantically involved with Rob Porter, of course she did that.
CARDONA: And apparently they broke up.
BURNETT: OK. Thank you, all, very much. And next, the number three person in the Justice Department stepping aside after only nine months on the job. This is the person who would have stepped into Rod Rosenstein's position if Rod Rosenstein left for any reason and run the Bob Mueller investigation.
Are president's attack taking their toll? And what does it mean for the ongoing Russia investigation?
BURNETT: Rachel Brand was the third ranking official at the Justice Department. And she is now stepping down.
And I want to talk about this with our national security Juliette Kayyem, legal analyst Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant to the Justice Department joins me along with our legal commentator Ken Cuccinelli.
Juliette, what's the significance of this? She was very respected.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. And considered, you know, an adult in the room as some people are often described. And I think everyone is looking to the Russia investigation and how this could be implicated. She would have overseen the Russia investigation. And the Mueller team if Rod had been fired or something else he decided to resign.
And so, you know, from the perspective of looking at this like any rational human being about her and her decision, I have to say it makes a lot of sense to me, because she was only looking at two -- basically looking at two options.
One was she oversees the investigation and does everything Trump wants. Including closing it aAnd goes down in history as not a very strong-willed person or she becomes the next Rod Rosenstein and is berated in public. So I have to be honest with you, I don't blame her. I mean, I wouldn't
-- I couldn't imagine being in the position she was in.
[22:55:01] BURNETT: Michael, how unusual is it for her to leave? She has been in this position for nine months, only nine months. And obviously she would have been the one to step up if anything were to have happen to Rod Rosenstein and oversee the Russia investigation. Nine months. What do you say to the tenure?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Pretty short. In my decade or so in the Justice Department, most people in these jobs -- which are killer jobs. You have to understand these people work 12 to 16 hours every day seven days a week. And so it takes its toll.
But nine months is a little bit on the short side. Usually they last about two years and then start thinking about they want to do thereafter. But she was in a difficult position as Juliette says. She is the number three person.
So, if Rosenstein were to quit or be fired, she has to oversee the Mueller investigation. And then she has to live with the consequences of that. And that's, you know, potentially -- she becomes what solicitor Bork became which is the person who fired Archibald Cox. And that didn't work out too well for him in many respect.
So, I think that that maybe played into her decision making. But at the same time she is going to a great company as the general counsel. She has to live in Arkansas. That's, you know, not so simple. But if she is from -- if she is from D.C. she has to move her family to Bentonville.
But you know, she is moving to a good job. And maybe it was just an offer she couldn't refuse. So I'm not -- I'm not prepared to say that this was purely politics. But it was a short tenure, Erin, to your question.
BURNETT: Yes. I mean, Ken, she worked for both the Bush and Obama administrations, right. So she worked under both political regimes --
KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Right.
BURNETT: -- to find award for that. And the big question is, why leave now? She ascended to the number three at the Department of Justice. I understand eventually you may want to leave. You can make more money in the private sector.
But to ascend so close to the pinnacle and then leave now given the political pressure on the Justice Department. Do you really think that it is not related?
CUCCINELLI Well, she certainly -- it isn't just might make more money in the private sector. Anybody going into these jobs is taking a serious pay cut to do them.
BURNETT: Yes. CUCCINELLI: And as we see, she has a great opportunity. And I can tell you as someone who lived in Northern Virginia his whole life, a lot of people like to leave the pace of Washington and go live in places like Arkansas for quality of life.
CUCCINELLI: You know, otherwise, we're going to have to wait to hear from her. But this is, you know, from a personal standpoint, from a lifestyle standpoint, Michael commented about the hours for her position -- I would say that her position thus far has been by the standards of this administration fairly quiet and not tumultuous. And has been productive and successful --
BURNETT: All right.
CUCCINELLI: -- in her nine months.
ZELDIN: Which --
CUCCINELLI: Nothing negative to look back on.
ZELDIN: Which, Ken make it more odd that she is leaving.
KAYYEM: Why would you leave when things are going well?
BURNETT: OK. 1 BURNETT: It's just possible -- Yes. I mean, look at -- look just what the White House -- these are not fun places to work, I mean, under this administration. This is an -- it is just possible that she was actually quite good at her job.
KAYYEM: But, you know, it's miserable given what people have to put up.
CUCCINELLI: I think she was.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you all so very much. Have a good weekend. That's it for us tonight. And thank you all for joining us.
[023:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)