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Trump Defends Ex-Aide Porter Despite Abuse Allegations; Pence, Kim Jong-un's Sister Seated Just Feet Apart. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 9, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:13] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin on this Friday afternoon.

Here is what we have for you. Moments ago in his remarks on the scandal, the president of the United States defended his former aide, the one accused of abusing his former wives and, oh, yes, the president didn't say a single word about the women. Not one.

We're talking about former White House staff secretary Rob Porter. He is the man behind the firestorm engulfing the Oval Office. This week's images of Porter's alleged abuse against his first ex-wife went public. His second ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend have also come forward, accusing him of hurting them physically and emotionally, but President Trump made no mention of the women, as he gave his first response to this growing scandal.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well. It's, obviously, a tough time for him.

He did a very good job when he was in the White House. 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's also very sad.

Now, he also, as you probably know, he says he's innocent. 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.


BALDWIN: Let's start there. With me now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

And, Gloria, starting with you. You know, basically, you have the president there wishing his aide accused of domestic violence well, have a great career, not single mention of these women. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he portrayed his

aide, Rob Porter, as a victim here in many ways and he, of course, said that he has proclaimed his innocence. And the president, truly by not mentioning the women, seemed to be buying it. And we know that, you know, this is a president who, himself, has been accused of being abusive or being a sexual predator and has denied it himself.

And so I think these words are pretty careful from him. And that is that he generally believes that these men are being framed by the women. And I think you can hear that in the way he spoke. And -- look, it's clear that he had a great relationship with Rob Porter. So did a lot of other people in the White House. But the president of the United States came out today and portrayed Rob Porter as the victim in all of this.

BALDWIN: You know, watching the president, Dana, reminded me of hearing the whole, well, he says he's innocent, reminded me of all the times we listened to the president support the accused child molester Roy Moore.


BALDWIN: You know, speaking up and supporting, I believe him, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and now, fill in the blank, Rob Porter.

BASH: Absolutely. Look, you know, we rolled that tape, I was on TV as we were watching it and my reaction was just, you know, shock.

BALDWIN: Your reaction was spot on.

BASH: Well, because I was reacting like Gloria just did and you are, in the world of normalcy and what our expectation -- the world of expectation, basic expectation. And you are exactly right, Brooke, that that expectation should be different at this point based on the history of the way the president deals with allegations against people he knows and also against himself.

However, here is why one would think that this could be different, because as great as Rob Porter was at his job, as close as the president got to Rob Porter, because he was around him all the time as staff secretary, meaning he was handing him papers all day long, he's not as close to Rob Porter as we are with Hope Hicks, who we reported has been in a romantic relationship with Rob Porter. And one of Rob Porter's ex-wives was on CNN saying based on her experience and the experience of the other ex-wife and apparently of the girlfriend that he was most recently with before Hope Hicks that hope could have been next.

If that is not enough to think about the real victim or potential victim or alleged victim --

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: I know.

BASH: -- there's nobody aside from his own daughters and his own flesh and blood that the president reveres and feels as close to professionally at this point than Hope Hicks. That is just -- I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around that.

BORGER: And what about a president of the United States not showing any concern that somebody who was handing him all of these classified documents and perhaps reading some of these classified documents and spent so much time with him, as Dana points out, why not some concern that this person should not have been in the job that he was in and why not some sort of sense of outrage that we've got to get the system fixed and we've got to be able to figure out which people can be around me and which people cannot be around me because it is a matter of national security. And I happen to be the president of the United States.

BALDWIN: And the fact that the man who is a gatekeeper, who is a general, national security 101, right, all the security clearance issues -- I have so many questions. I want to get to another piece of breaking news, staying with you ladies. Speaking to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, HIS story on how staff secretary Rob Porter left the White House is raising some questions within the walls of the White House, this is according to new reporting, just off the presses of "The Washington Post."

Josh Dawsey is with me on that.

And so, reading your piece, Josh, you know, you talk about this senior staff meeting that the chief of staff had today at the White House saying what to them?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. So, John Kelly has been scrambling to contain the fallout over the past 36, 48 hours, in the early parts of the revelations came out, he was very supportive of Rob Porter, called him a man of integrity and honor, even tried to convince him to stay on staff. As the fallout has grown, as President Trump has gotten upset, as others have gotten upset, he changed his statements. On Wednesday night, he said he was shocked by the allegations, even though we and others have reported that he knew about the allegations for months.

And this morning, he told senior staff in a meeting that that he terminated Rob Porter or moved Rob Porter out within 40 minutes of finding out that the accusations were credible. The comment stunned a number of senior aides who are in the meeting and people around the president because they were present for all of Kelly's conversations about Porter. They were aware of these statements, knew what he was doing in the 24 hours that the scandal broke.

BALDWIN: It's in total contrast from what we've been told publicly and by the White House.

DAWSEY: Right. So, what he's saying is that, you know, we take domestic abuse seriously. We moved within 40 minutes, he was terminated. The facts do not support that. And the public facing, you know, public-facing statements, the White House has told the American public, do not support that. It's a bit of revisionist history, many in the White House believe.

BASH: And, Brooke, I could just say, according to sources who I've talked to, just to kind of bounce off that sentiment, people I talked to are saying that there's great, deep frustration. Just as -- never mind as a transparency question for the White House and for the president and the presidency and the people closest to him, but just as a place to go to work that there's great frustration that the guy who is in charge in the White House chief of staff may be in this meeting this morning but in a formal way also last night in a memo to all staff has not taken accountability.

Just the opposite. Face saving. Telling people in the press office, we are told, that he's -- I'm told that he wanted to make sure that people knew that he was misled by Rob Porter, which might be true. But it also might be true that -- and according to our reporting is true that he also was given information separately from Rob Porter from the FBI about the allegation.

BALDWIN: It is such a contrast what the court of public opinion seemed to think when John Kelly first walked in the White House, career military order, take no B.S. And now you have this John Kelly.

Let's all remember back, let me go back, this was when he basically lectured the media about what and who is sacred. This was October of last year, women on that list. Remember this?


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred. You looked upon them with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases. Life -- dignity of life was sacred. That's gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.


BALDWIN: How about women are still sacred? I mean, Gloria, I think it's so interesting to hear him say that, knowing what we know now, his world view of women versus men.

BORGER: Right. Look, you have to believe that Don McGahn and Porter had conversations about this, as we know.

[14:10:01] And that the question is -- and Dana and I were reporting the day this broke that Kelly knew in the fall that there were hold- ups. And that the question is, he's telling people that he didn't know very much, that he knew there was a hold-up.

But McGahn knew a lot and Kelly and McGahn are close. And it's sort of strange credulity to think that there wasn't a conversation or two about it and if there was and Rob Porter, who is very slick, could talk himself out of it, why nobody bothered to really take account of what the women were actually saying here. I think that's a big problem for women inside this White House. And just looking at the White House which is supposed to be a model for America and certainly wasn't in this particular case at all.

BALDWIN: Josh, does John Kelly have a job next week?

DAWSEY: All indications are, yes. You know, that could obviously change in a second, as Reince Priebus learned, he was stepping off an airplane and pushed out via Twitter. The president is a material man and he certainly has been griping about John Kelly.

But the fundamental question here is, this sort of situation, with the Russia investigation, with all these unfolding developments who would the president replace him with? I don't know that there are people banging down the door to get in line to take this job. And I think the president is certainly frustrated at times with John Kelly. But my reporting on it is that he is on the verge of pushing him out. Again, that could change any day of the week.

BASH: Could I add one thing to that, Brooke?

BALDWIN: Yes. And that is before this whole Rob Porter story blew up that the president, as Josh was saying, you know, he goes off about anybody in his office who works for him at any given time and he had been doing it more and more about Kelly. Remember, he barged into that off-the-record meeting that Kelly was having. Not by accident, because he was frustrated by some things Kelly was saying to the press.

Having said that, until this exploded, Gloria was told, I was told that it was unlikely that Kelly would be replaced any time soon because of the understanding from the Oval Office out that chaos is not their friend in terms of the perception that they wanted to try to keep things calm when it comes to staff changes for a little bit, because there has been such swift change for so long. Unclear how much that has changed and will change with every little bit of piece of information that we learn about what John Kelly knew and also, as Josh reported, how he's handling it right now.

One quick thing, Mick Mulvaney is a name to watch. (INAUDIBLE) is hearing that. Gloria is hearing it. I'm hearing it as well.

He's the OMB director. He was a member of Congress. He gets politics. He gets policy. And he's somebody who the president seems to like very much.

BORGER: And here is the other thing. There is no -- he gets politics, as Dana says. One of the knocks against Kelly is that he doesn't have a lot of political sense, and that he's not strategic that way, and there's been a big gap inside the White House political operation and that you don't have a chief of staff who's schooled political in the way Reince Priebus was for example, and that is also another knock against him and even how he has handled this.

BALDWIN: Just so we don't forget, I want to end with -- so we don't forget who the president forgot in all of this -- Dana, you mentioned Jennie Willoughby, Porter second ex-wife, right? She was on with Anderson, incredible interview.

And I just want to play a bit of her conversation. She talks about the conversation she had with Porter over this blog post. I read it yesterday, why she stayed married, right? Why -- and still I stayed. So this is what she said.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Can you say what he wanted you to say?

JENNIE WILLOUGHBY, SECOND EX-WIFE OF FORMER WHITE HOUSE STAFF SECRETARY: I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of the post does not accurately depict my marriage. There were other things associated with it. And that just doesn't feel right to me because it does accurately depict my marriage.

And another thing that he wanted me to say was that I had taken some liberties with this therapeutic post, which it was for me, that I had taken liberties with that therapeutic post. And when I thought about it, I didn't. The things that I said were factual statements.

COOPER: It does sound like he was asking you to deny what you had --

WILLOUGHBY: He was asking me to downplay it. He was asking me to emphasize more the relationship that he and I have now as opposed to what I experienced in our marriage.


BALDWIN: I mean, just lastly, obviously, he was worried about his job. He asked her to downplay the abuse, Dana. How does that speak to what was going on the last couple of weeks in the White House?

BASH: Listen, I mean, I think that if you take the White House as the place that we're talking about this out of it, which is not easy to do.

[14:15:01] This from everything that you've been doing segments on this, you've been doing so much reporting on this, Brooke. This is classic. This is classic when it comes to domestic abuse victims, in this case alleged domestic abuse situations because Rob Porter insists that he did not do any of this.

Classic in that they have rage, they allegedly do what they do to the people that they love and then they backtrack. And that's exactly what she described and then they try to cover their tracks. And that is especially true with somebody who has such goodwill because of his demeanor in the workplace, because of his demeanor with the president in this case, with the people on down, people who I've talked to and I'm sure you both have as well, who really, really liked Rob Porter because they thought he was completely different from the picture that is being painted now.

BALDWIN: Dana and Gloria, thank you so much. And Josh from "The Washington Post", thank you.

Just ahead here on CNN, it is a stunning image. You have the vice president of the United States sitting mere feet from the sister of the North Korean dictator. Seating snafu or something more? You're watching CNN.


[14:20:37] BALDWIN: One photo, two people, and a half century of nuclear tensions between them. The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, and the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong- un seated feet apart. Pence and his wife Karen seated in the same VIP box as Kim Yo-jong during today's opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Pence and the sister did not interact at all. But CNN did confirm that the vice president knew in advance that the North Koreans would be seated nearby. But the vice president is only a portion of this moment significance because Kim is the first person from North Korea's ruling family to actually cross the border into South Korea since the 1950s.

And then this moment here, Kim shakes hands with the president of the South Korea, despite the onslaught of threats from the north just in the last month.

So, joining me now, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, and Gordon Chang. He is author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Elise, let me just start with you. What more do you know about the vice president and this sister and this whole seating situation?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, essentially, they were in the same box. President moon's private box. The vice president knew that this was going to happen, as you said. He wanted to sit with President Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the three allies together, to show the kind of steadfastness against North Korean aggressions.

And, you know, there was a lot of speculation all week about whether Vice President Pence would meet with members of the North Korean delegation. He didn't rule it out. He was kind of coy all week. He said we'll see what happens.

But he wasn't looking for pleasantries. And that's why he didn't talk to Kim Jong-un's sister or Kim Yong Nam who was the kind of nominal head of state who's leading the delegation. He said, Vice President Pence has said, if I'm going to talk to the North Koreans at all this week, I'm going to deliver a tough message.

And let's face it, you know, the opening ceremony, in between the fireworks, dragons and all the dancers is not really the time to do that. They were sitting there. So, it might be an opportunity tomorrow for them to talk. We really don't know.

But, you know, the fact that the North Koreans are there, very significant. But, you know, as far as the vice president and the Trump administration is concerned, this is a charm offensive that's going to be kind of one and done. This isn't going to further North Korea's nuclear ambitions. And that's why the vice president, this week in Asia, has really been trying to deny the North Koreans what he calls a propaganda victory. So, he has been going to Japan, going to Seoul, demonstrating the U.S.

military and economic pressure against North Korea. Today, he met with some North Korean defectors, visited a memorial to that ship years ago that was torpedoed by the North Koreans. So, really trying to counter that North Korean charm offensive with what he calls the truth about what he calls the most tyrannical country on the planet.

BALDWIN: Elise, stand by for me there in Seoul, South Korea.

Gordon, just turning to you. You know, apparently the Blue House, South Korean presidential residence, the office had put out an original seating chart, it was the Kim sister and --


BALDWIN: Exactly behind Pence. And then, whoop, you see the picture and they're a little farther away. Would you surprised to see them, though, still so close?

CHANG: No, because President Moon of South Korea wants discussions between the North Koreans and the Americans. So, therefore, there's been a lot of seating plans where the two are together. So, for instance, at the reception before the opening ceremony --


CHANG: -- Kim Yong-nam, the nominal head of state, was seated at the table as Pence. Pence blew off dinner and that disrespects the host. Reason why that's important, is because of the host in this case is South Korea, a staunch and critical American ally. So, that was not good diplomacy on the part of Pence.

BALDWIN: We know that, again, other gestures from the South.

[14:25:02] President Moon having this lunch with the Kim sister, our evening there, lunch time tomorrow, and what we're hearing from sources is that the Kim sister will extend an invitation to Pyongyang of the South Korean president.

I mean, what do you make of these extraordinary gestures from the North to the South?

CHANG: Well, we're in sort of the third of the four stages of the North Korean play book. The stages are, first of all, North Korea ignores South Korea, then you have a bold overture, which was the New Year's address by Kim Jong un, demand for concessions, which is where we are now, and then tantrums.

And I think what the Kims are trying to do is to create a situation where they demand things from South Korea, south Korea wants to give them to the North, but because of U.N. sanctions and U.S. pressure, they're not, so they're going to blame us.

And, by the way, Brooke, I'm getting tired of South Korean presidents always going to Pyongyang. I think the leader of the North Korean state, if he wants to have dialogue with South Korea, they should come down to Seoul, but they never do it. They don't do it because they think traveling to Seoul would be a sign of weakness. They would rather have the South Koreans exhibit the weakness.

BALDWIN: Come to them. Gordon, thank you very much.

Let's get you back to our breaking news today. Pretty stunning remarks from the president of the United States. This is his first public statement by alleged domestic abuse by his former aide, remarks in which basically he defends the guy and doesn't mention any of the women or their allegations whatsoever. We're going to discuss that farther.

Also, while you were sleeping, Congress pulls an all-nighter and Republican Senator Rand Paul is the one who keeps all of his colleagues awake. See what happened on the floor, ahead.