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White House: Kelly Wasn't "Fully Aware" of Porter Abuse Allegations; Congress Passes Budget Deal; President Trump Has Yet to Sign Budget Deal. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 9, 2018 - 08:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Federal workers are awaiting word on whether they go to work one hour from now. Congress has passed this two-year, $400 billion bill. It gives Republicans a big boost in defense spending, it gives Democrats billions for domestic programs.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There's every expectation he will sign it. He's been supportive of the bill --

CAMEROTA: But just not before 9:00.

BERMAN: Maybe he doesn't want to cut into his executive time. Serious, who knows what the wait is.

Meanwhile there is growing fallout over the abuse allegations against Rob Porter. Much of the heat right now is on Chief of Staff John Kelly. But White House council Don McGahn, communications director Hope Hicks, they also are under scrutiny this morning. The White House insists that the chief of staff only became fully aware of these allegations after a photo of Porter's first ex-wife with a black eye become public. But that's deceptive language. This fully aware thing. What does fully aware mean? Did he know something about a little abuse? When did he know it? Why did he choose not to take action when he was told?

The bottom line which the White House spokesman does not deny is that Kelly did know something. And now we know McGahn did as well. We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill where the members have fled because they have done their work, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw them flee, yes. They are gone. They're gone back to their home districts. One thing that is quite confusing here, we're going into the eighth hour of the government shutdown. We are told by Speaker Ryan's offense that that bill, the budget bill, has now been sent to the White House. It is awaiting the president's signature. Our White House team, Abby Phillip, reporting that will happen, that signing, sometime before noon. But there's quite a bit of confusion in terms of federal workers, what they should do, those who normally come in at 9:00, they've been told to actually check with their agencies. So still things up in the air.

Overnight we saw this drama play out both in the House and the Senate. House Democrats slow walking their support for this big bill, making some Republicans sweat. And on the Senate side, one single senator, Republican senator essentially running out the clock to make a point about hypocrisy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is adopted. Without objection the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

MALVEAUX: The House of Representatives passing an expansive two-year budget deal, voting to reopen the federal government amid a shutdown that began at midnight Thursday. House Democrats forcing Republicans to vote on the bill first, capping a dramatic night at the capital after Senator Rand Paul prevented the Senate from voting ahead of the shutdown deadline.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: My intention has never been to shut down government. But my intention is also not to keep it open and borrowing a million dollars a minute.

MALVEAUX: The Senate ultimately passing the bill easily around 2:00 a.m. this morning, 71-28. The House following suit five hours later, voting 240-186, overcoming opposition from conservative Republicans opposed to the increased spending and Democrats who have been demanding a promise from Speaker Ryan to bring immigration legislation and a potential solution for Dreamers to the floor for debate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: As part of this agreement we have always expected that the House and the Senate would address the issue of DACA and the dreamers.

MALVEAUX: Ahead of the vote Speaker Ryan promising to follow through.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: My commitment to working together on an immigration measure we can make law is a sincere commitment.

MALVEAUX: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also upholding his promise overnight, teeing up a pivotal immigration debate in the Senate starting on Monday evening. McConnell unable to prevent the government from shutting down for the second time in two weeks after Senator Rand Paul ran out the clock, sounding the alarm about the budget deal's $400 billion price tag and chastising his fellow Republicans for supporting the bill despite the massive impact to the national debt.

PAUL: When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party. The hypocrisy hangs in the air and chokes anyone with a sense of decency or intellectual honesty.

MALVEAUX: Many of Paul's colleagues openly criticizing the Kentucky Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know why we are basically burning time here while the senator from Kentucky and others are sitting in the cloak room wasting everybody's time. MALVEAUX: The 652-page budget deal devotes $165 billion to defense

spending and $131 billion to domestic priorities. It raises the debt ceiling for over a year and includes nearly $90 billion in disaster relief.

President Trump announced his support for the budget deal earlier this week, but amid the shutdown, a noticeable silence from the White House. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he'd love to see a shutdown if Democrats don't agree to his immigration demands, a statement the White House later walked back.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown. We'll do a shutdown. And it's worth it for our country. I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of.


MALVEAUX: House members have left town and will be back on Tuesday around noon to reconvene. And they come back to outstanding issues, first and foremost for many Democrats is what Speaker Ryan is willing to do when it comes to a DACA deal to the Dreamers. Does this mean a bill on the House floor? What would that look like? And secondly, how will this country deal with the staggering national debt now that this big budget deal has passed. John, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Stop asking rational questions, Suzanne.

BERMAN: No place for that here.

CAMEROTA: There's no place for that.

But we want to go right now to CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. And we need to ask the burning question, Abby. We are 54 minutes from the government not being open when federal employees show up. Why hasn't the president signed this yet?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question, Alisyn. Here's what I know. A senior administration official tells me it's going to be this morning. Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary also put out a statement saying it's going to be this morning. We believe it's going to be before noon, but there's no time specified. I also asked this official, will it happen before 9:00 a.m. when folks are expected to go back to work? And I was told that is very unlikely. We are now, as you just mentioned, just about 50 minutes away from the top of 9:00 a.m. when most people are expected to be back in their offices. And there's no indication yet that they will be able to do that.

I have been told by another official that White House aides are planning to be here in this building working as usual today. It's just unclear why the president isn't going to sign it immediately. Paul Ryan's office says that bill has been delivered do the White House this morning already.

It is possible, I should say, that the White House could want to do this publicly. The last time the president ended the government shutdown, he signed that bill in private. If he chose to do a public ceremony, it would involve getting the press in the room. And maybe he might make a statement about this bill in part because it includes so much of that defense spending that he has been clamoring for for the entirety of his first year in office. It's a big victory for him to get that level of spending in there. It's possible that the president might want to handle this a little bit differently than he handled the last one.

PHILLIP: Abby, thank you very much for that late breaking report.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and associate editor for Real Clear Politics A.B. Stoddard. A.B., why hasn't the president signed it yet? There's speculation it's because "FOX and Friends" hasn't ended yet. Listen, I also don't like to be bothered during my favorite show, so I understand that. But do you think it is because he wants to do something publicly? Why else wouldn't the president have signed it?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I think it's everything. John Berman stole my executive timeline already so I won't use it. But basically we know that his mornings are consumed with watching many different channels on television and making phone calls to his friends and being in private, executive time. And so he also loves suspense and he loves to keep people guessing which in this case is unfortunate and inappropriate. Maybe he wants to have a public signing. We'll find out. But he can't really drag this on too many hours more.

BERMAN: I've got to say the peril of the public signing this morning will be that he'll have to answer questions about the Rob Porter issue, about the domestic abuse scandal, frankly, within the White House. This is the shutdown clock right now. The government has been shut down for 8:08:40 largely while you were sleeping. And while this was going on, Ron Brownstein, this shutdown was brought to you by Rand Paul, by the Kentucky Republican senator who wanted to make a stand. And that stand was to tell Republicans that they're being hypocritical here on government spending.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Rand Paul was absolutely correct self-indulgent, and hypocritical himself all at once. He was absolutely correct that we see this situational ethics in the Republican Party that railed against ethics tooth and nail under the Obama presidency, fought the stimulus plan in 2009 when the economy was on its back because it would have too big an impact on the deficit, and now is basically consecrating a fiscal order that will produce deficits of at least a trillion dollars a year as far as the eye can see. And potentially that is part of what is roiling the stock markets. He was self-indulgent because he has disrupted today life for hundreds of thousands of federal workers for no really discernible purpose.

CAMEROTA: Maybe not. He could sign before 9:00 a.m.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, but there was no reason really to do this. But above all, he's hypocritical because he just voted for a tax plan that will reduce federal revenue by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. And all of the estimates, Wharton Business School, for example, is that even with growth you're talking huge increases in the deficit. There are no plausible spending cuts that would get you anywhere near that impact -- on doing that impact on the deficit. And it does, though, I think underscore that eventually, eventually as Paul Ryan again signaled yesterday, this tax cut is going to increase pressure among Republican deficit hawks to go after Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security which are programs that are critical to the older white base of Donald Trump and the Republican party.

CAMEROTA: And yet, A.B., there are lots of things in this spending bill that will make people happy. Let's just go through it and tell our viewers what's in it. This is the Senate deal -- $165 billion in defense spending. Obviously so many Republicans have wanted that, they've told us on the show, $131 billion in non-defense spending that Democrats pushed for, $90 billion in disaster relief. We've heard so much about how desperate places like Houston and Puerto Rico still are.

Debt ceiling hike until March 2019 we get a break from talking about it. $20 billion in infrastructure investment. Both parties say they want that, $6 billion for opioid, substance abuse programs. That is so vital. We know how many treatment centers have asked for mon money to combat this scourge. Then a 10-year reauthorization for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program that all parties and everybody in both parties say they want.

So there's a lot for people to be happy about in here, but not deficit hawks.

STODDARD: Right. I think that there is bipartisan interest in getting this disaster relief and children's health insurance issues off the table for good. That was extremely toxic that this government couldn't fund those two needs and do it much, much sooner. There's a patch for CHIP but this disaster relief argument has really begun to fester and become very problematic.

With regard to the other things, those are all bipartisan. Not the military spending, obviously, that's what got Republicans over the line. But everyone is in on infrastructure, everyone is in on some money for opioid treatment. This also, increasing the debt ceiling to a long time out into the future is extraordinarily important for global markets, for stability. But it's something that neither party could take one more of these cliffs.

And so in a way this is very good. But again, this is an indication of how much the Republican Party has moved and is willing to spend. You would not have believed this if you had told any of us in 2014 when they were still the party of the Tea Party trying to clean up the books, that this was going to become under a president who spends so much, a party that was willing to spend so much money.

BROWNSTEIN: It just sets up immigration as the next big fight.

CAMEROTA: There you go, look forward to that. Stay tuned. Ron Brownstein, A.B. Stoddard, thank you very much. So this morning there are growing questions about who knew what on

what date about this Rob Porter scandal. Who is to blame in the West Wing for how badly this was handled?


[08:l6:37] RAJ SHAH, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I know there's been reports about the chief of staff. He became fully aware about these allegations yesterday. I'm not going to get into the specifics regarding who may have known what pieces of information because they were all part of an ongoing background check investigation.


CAMEROTA: The White House insisting the Chief of Staff John Kelly only became fully aware of the abuse allegations against Rob Porter after a picture of his ex-wife with a black eye became public.

But CNN has learned Kelly and other top officials like Don McGahn have known for months about these allegations.

Joining us is CNN political commentator and former White House communications director for President Obama, Jen Psaki, and CNN political commentator and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter.

Great to have you, ladies.

Walk us through all of this. Jen, obviously it's the photo. It's the photo that changed it where they could no longer deny it or no longer have their own blinders on.

But our reporting is that the women had talked to Don McGahn, the women had gone to the FBI. Don McGahn, the White House chief counsel, and John Kelly, knew about this and not only let Rob Porter stay. They protected him.

BERMAN: Promoted him.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right, Alisyn. I mean, the more we learn about this story, the more upsetting and, frankly, disturbing it becomes. Of course, Rob Porter's background, but the White House handling as well.

There's always been a hole a mile wide in their story, because the way a background check works is that the FBI could signal to the DOJ who could then signal to the White House counsel any troubling information. That's clearly what happened in this case.

But as you noted, what changed is that the photos became public. And even when the photos become public and all the information was public, the instinct of this White House was to defend Rob Porter's integrity, his honesty and not fire him, but to fight against his instincts to resign.

That tells you a lot about the pattern of abuse that they're accepting and kind of the line and bar they're accepting in terms of behavior for a White House official.

BERMAN: You know, look, this is a Rob Porter story, but it's becoming much more of a John Kelly story, the chief of staff, you know, a Don McGahn story, the White House counsel, President Trump story, what did he know, when did he choose to do something.

That said, Amanda, some of the details we're learning about how Porter behaved really tell us a lot and raise even more red flags. You know, Jennifer Willoughby, the second wife, did an extraordinary interview with Anderson last night where she indicated that Rob Porter basically told her to lie about this. Listen.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Did he ever ask you to deny --

JENNIE WILLOUGHBY, EX-WIFE OF ROB PORTER: No. We were in contact even a couple of days ago as he was asking me to release a statement about my blog post. I went back and forth with him for an hour or so about what language I would be comfortable with and ultimately the language he asked I wasn't comfortable with. And he came out with that statement less than an hour later.

COOPER: Can you say what he wanted you to say?

WILLOUGHBY: 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.


BERMAN: You know, Amanda, first of all, her bravery is inspiring. Let's just say that, choosing to speak publicly about this, inspiring. But also, again, pointing out that Rob Porter was trying to obfuscate and control story.

[08:20:02] At the same time, the White House clearly was also.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, the takeaway from the story -- number one, for her to go on television and go against the White House, go against the pressure, she was extraordinary in that interview. But the story here is how it is a job requirement to tolerate, protect and enable abuse when you're associated with Donald Trump.

I mean, to work for him on the campaign, someone had to go out and defend him, talking favorably about sexual assault on "Access Hollywood" tape. If you want to work in the White House, you work alongside a wife beater like Rob Porter. To work on the Republican campaign, his presidential campaign, you had to work alongside campaign manager Corey Lewandowski who bruised Michelle field. To work at the GOP today, you have to go out and defend Roy Moore. To be a lawyer for Donald Trump at the Trump Organization, you had to say that allegations of rape made by his first wife were not real, and they should not be believed. As a lawyer even in late October, November, working for Trump you had

to coordinate hush money to be paid to a woman who had sex on camera for money, to prevent her story from coming out about what she did with Donald Trump.

This is a pattern. It comes from the top. It's not a staffing issue. It's a leadership issue.

CAMEROTA: That leads us to Hope Hicks, Jen. Look, we don't know what the status of her relationship is with Rob Porter. We did have confirmation that they were romantically involved. His ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby who -- let's -- I'm glad you brought up about how brave it is for her to go forward, because there's such a stigma about domestic violence.

And so, she wrote why I stayed. Everyone says why doesn't the woman leave, why don't they just go and divorce the guy. So, she wrote this blog post about why she stayed. She has what sounds like a warning for Hope Hicks. So, let me play this portion.


COOPER: Rob Porter is now in a relationship with the White House press secretary Hope Hicks. Do you think he's changed?

WILLOUGHBY: I don't think he's changed.

COOPER: Does that worry you?

WILLOUGHBY: It worries me for a lot of reasons. I mean, it definitely worries me because, if I'm being frank with you, if he hasn't already been abusive with Hope, he will, and particularly now that he's under a lot of stress and scrutiny. That's when the behaviors come out. If he hasn't already, he will.


CAMEROTA: Oh, my goodness. Jen, your thoughts?

PSAKI: It's really hard to watch that interview. I mean, she's such an extraordinarily courageous woman. The takeaways from that interview were not necessarily just about the White House at all. They were about the patterns of abuse and the fact that abusers don't look like a stereotype.

They don't look like a troubled person. They can have an impressive pedigree as Rob Porter did. As I was watching that, my thought was where are Hope Hick's mother -- where's her mother, where are her friends? There's an intervention needed here.

And I don't know here, but as a woman and as a woman working in Washington, you know, it's really troubling that she'd be in this situation. I hope that somebody is going to help her get out of it.

BERMAN: Where is President Trump? Where's President Trump? You know, he's close to her, take her under his wing early stages on the campaign. Where is he on this on a personal level?

But also now, where is he that this happened in his White House? If John Kelly knew and Don McGahn knew and didn't do something about it, the president should be upset and he should tell us he's upset.

You know, I understand, Amanda, your take over this, and I'm not dismissing that for one bit, but, you know, even if you take that as all true, he can change it today, he can come out today and say that I'm really disappointed something wasn't done. It's staggering to me that he chooses to be completely silent here.

CARPENTER: Yes, I mean , I think -- you know, we're sort of assuming this kind of behavior would be a disqualification in this White House. We see again and again, it is not. What is concerning I think for any woman that works in any kind of workplace, the question of Hope Hicks, is she -- was she placed in a dangerous situation?

I mean, this is the reason we have security clearances. And even to this day, there are people who have not passed them and they continue to work in this White House. There may be much more going on than we even know now.

CAMEROTA: All right. Amanda Carpenter, Jen Psaki, thank you both very much.

BERMAN: All right. The government is still shut down right now. Lawmakers voted to reopen it. But the president has yet to sign the bill. We're told he will do it sometime. Honestly, what's the wait?

We're going to talk to a key Democratic congressman next.


[08:28:46] BERMAN: We are more than eight hours into a government shutdown. It could come to an end with a stroke of the pen from the president. But it hasn't happened yet. We're curious why.

Joining us is Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. He did vote yes on this huge spending bill which was passed by the House about three hours ago.

Thanks for coming to spend some time with us, even though I doubt you've slept in a long, long time, Congressman.

As we've noted, you know, the House passed it, the Senate passed it. It was sent over to the White House. It's at the White House. Up until now, at 8:29 a.m., the president hasn't signed it yet.

Curious that he's waiting on this, Congressman?

REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: Yes. I guess this would be where I would make my he's not out of bed yet joke, but I'm not going to do that.

Yes, I don't know what the urgency is. We were up all night making sure this happened so that as soon as he got it, he could sign it and get things moving. So, I don't know what the holdup is. BERMAN: Right. You were a yes vote. What did you like about this


RYAN: Well, it's a much better deal than we had even a few weeks ago.

We were able to get significant investment into, A, the military which is eroding from within. We had a meeting with Secretary Mattis just the other day. We've got huge threats from China, from Russia, all over the globe, espionage, cyber. They're building submarines, all the rest. We've got to make sure our military has what they need.

There's $6 billion in here for opiates.