Return to Transcripts main page


White House Officials Baffled By Trump's Conflicting Takes on Porter; Suspicious Letter Sent to Trump Jr.'s Home, 3 Taken to Hospital; Dozens of White House Officials Still Without Full Security Clearance. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:15] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

A new week and a new intensity to the scandal engulfing the Oval Office. Moments ago, the president declined to answer questions linked to the terminated White House staff secretary Rob Porter. He left his job last week after allegations surfaced that he abused his two ex-wives and stoking the firestorm is the president's own mixed messages on Porter.

You have several White House officials who are, quite frankly, confused over President Trump's conflicting take on his former senior aide. "Axios" is reporting that the president in private conversations actually called Porter, quote, sick, and the president believes the ex-wives and their accusations.

But then over the weekend, he tweeted this: People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by mere allegations. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?

Porter could not get full security clearance because of the abuse accusations and CNN has learned that 30 to 40 other White House officials and administration appointees still lack full clearance. Reporters tried to ask the president about this as he wrapped up a meeting on infrastructure today.


REPORTER: Mr. President, do you have a vetting problem?


BALDWIN: Joining me now, Samantha Holvey, former Miss USA contestant who accuses the president of inappropriate contact. She says he entered the dressing room with a number of contestants undressed. She also says Trump personally inspected her, looking her over and making her feel, quote, dirty.

Samantha, thank you so much for being with me.


BALDWIN: So the president's on camera remarks Friday regarding Porter were bad enough. No mention of the women. And it almost was as though he saw the criticism, he slept on it Friday night, woke up Saturday morning and thought, how could I give the Me Too movement the middle finger? Ah, I'll tweet this out. How do you see it?

HOLVEY: You know, I'm no longer shocked by the things he says and does. This is absolutely in line with who he is as a person. Throughout the years, this is -- this is not the first time he's sided with the abusers. He's done this throughout the years.

So, this is exactly in character for who he is as a person. I think it's disgusting that this is who our president is, that he takes the side of abusers and I just -- I can't believe this is who our president is and that in and of itself is very sad.

BALDWIN: Jennie Willoughby, one of Porter's ex-wives, who alleges he abused her while they were married actually responded to the president's tweet in this "TIME" magazine article and in this piece, she opens it, basically realizing the president and saying what he did on Friday is calling her a liar. And to quote, Jennie Willoughby writes this: That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing, that his professional contributions are worth more than the truth, that abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.

I mean, Samantha, if the White House, the supposed microcosm of morality and leadership is doubting her story, it made me wonder what message that sends to the rest of the country when it comes to misconduct, harassment, abuse.

HOLVEY: My heart goes out to her. I know what it feels like to have the president call you a liar. Even in my case when there is audio of him talking about going backstage in the dressing room and he still called me a liar for just confirming what he himself said, so my heart bleeds for her. I want her to know that the country supports her. I certainly support her. I believe her.

I think it's disgusting that the White House is taking this stance and disbelieving her and others that have also been abused by Porter.

BALDWIN: What's it like to be called a liar by the president?

HOLVEY: It baffles the mind. It really does. It baffles the mind when he's calling you a liar for confirming what he said. I mean, it really just wrapping your mind around that is -- it's just incredible. The times that we live in.

BALDWIN: I want to hone, Samantha, on the first line of his tweet. He wrote: People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.

And the presumption is that he's referring to the accused in this case, referring to Rob Porter. [14:05:03] But I'm curious just about your life, as a result of coming

forward and accusing the now president of sexual misconduct, how has your life been affected?

HOLVEY: Well, I mean, I have received death threats. I'm not going to lie to you. I have also received a lot of support, a lot of support from strangers. People have reached out to me, thanking me for speaking out. And I've, you know, received messages that aren't very nice.

So, it's definitely been a mixed bag and I'm very grateful that I have such supportive friends and family members, close family members that are very supportive and my work colleagues have been absolutely phenomenal. And I just can't thank them enough for their support and how much it means to me, because I know not all the women that have spoken out against Trump have the same support system. And it's so incredibly difficult to speak out against the president when the people that are closest to you don't even -- you don't feel like they believe you or support you. So I can't thank my own support system enough for the help.

BALDWIN: And, Samantha, just because we don't have anyone on from the White House, I need to repeat the fact that we hear from them over and over, despite your allegations, the president says it never happened. This is part of a pattern. You mentioned that off the top. Let me remind people it's part of a pattern from the president. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you will have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job at the White House.

Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on and you look at all the things that happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also.

He's been a friend of mine for a long time. I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them and even recently. When they write books that are fairly recently released and they say wonderful things about him and now, all of the sudden, they're saying horrible things about him, it's very sad, because he's a very good person. I have always found him to be just a very, very good person.


BALDWIN: Samantha, they do you think the president is so quick to defend the men in each of these cases? Do you think it has something to do with you?

HOLVEY: I don't think it has anything to do with me. I think it has everything to do with him, with all of his actions throughout his entire life towards women. If he admits these men are guilty then that's like admitting that he's guilty.

BALDWIN: That's what I'm -- that's what I was getting at. Samantha, thank you so much.

HOLVEY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's move to breaking news just in to CNN. President Trump's daughter-in-law opens a letter containing a suspicious substance. The letter was sent to the Manhattan apartment of Don Jr. and his wife Vanessa.

CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll is with me.

I understand three people have been sent to the hospital. What's NYPD saying?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, first, let's give you the headline, and that does come from the New York City Police Department. They say that the substance was nonhazardous.

BALDWIN: Nonhazardous.

CARROLL: Nonhazardous. That's just coming to us just within the past ten minutes or so.

Let me backtrack and just review what happened. It was about 10:00 this morning. Donald Trump, Jr. lives on the Upper East Side with his wife Vanessa. She was opening the mail, as many people do early in the morning.

She was opening the mail, saw an envelope addressed to him. She opens it. White powdered substance comes out. Alarm bells go off. She's taken to the hospital along with two others as a precaution. She didn't have an immediate reaction to opening that envelope and seeing that powder.

But again, as a precaution, she's taken to the hospital, two others taken to the hospital. Decontamination efforts were under way in the area where she opened the envelope. The Secret Service is alerted, the White House is alerted. Those things happened, but the NYPD now saying that substance -- the white powdered substance, suspicious in the beginning, now nonhazardous.

BALDWIN: But still three people were taken to the hospital. Precautionary measures.

CARROLL: Correct.

BALDWIN: Still frightening. Still makes you wonder why they are opening the mail, if you're the president's son, Secret Service not opening their mail. We don't know.

CARROLL: Clearly some questions there.

BALDWIN: OK. Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

CARROLL: You bet.

BALDWIN: A stunning revelation. Dozens of White House officials operating without full security clearance including the president's own son-in-law. Find out what classified information they are able to see.

And a seismic shift in recent days involving nuclear tensions with North Korea. Why the U.S. may be warming up to talks with Kim Jong- un.

[14:10:02] And a little girl, 7 years of old -- 6 years old, for give, witnesses her best friend shot to death at random on the play ground. And now she and the president are exchanging letters about what he intends to do about guns. We'll talk to her coming up. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

She is one of the top female jurists in the land and a victim of sexual harassment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has served on the Supreme Court for nearly 25 years and she believes the Me Too movement is here to stay. She talked to Poppy Harlow about the striking change hitting the nation now compared to what she faced as a professional woman starting out back in the 1950s.

[14:15:06] But she says Congress isn't doing its part.


JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT: This new attitude to protect the maid who works at a hotel.


GINSBURG: And I think it is spreading so far. Yes, there will always be adjustments when there is a transition. But on the whole, it's amazing to me that for the first time, women are really listened to because sexual harassment had often been dismissed as, well, she made it up, or she's too thin-skinned. So, I think it's very healthy development.

HARLOW: Is Washington listening? Is Washington listening? Congress? Are they listening and acting fast enough?

GINSBURG: Is this Congress acting fast enough?

HARLOW: Congress --

GINSBURG: Congress is not acting. But we will get past this time of inaction.

HARLOW: So, that's a no. Inaction. That's a no.

GINSBURG: It's been very hard even to keep the government going lately.



Let's talk it over with CNN political analyst April Ryan, who is a White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston.

Ladies, good to see both of you on this Monday afternoon.

April, just to you first. Back on where we started the show about how we are hearing White House aides are baffled by how the president responded to this rob Porter crisis. Kaitlan Collins is reporting, you know, behind closed doors he called him a sick puppy. Well, you have seen what he's said publicly.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, just common sense said something is wrong. Two ex-wives and a girlfriend making these statements. And then you have -- and we cannot forget about the second person Friday who resigned, the speech writer who resigned for this alleged -- yes, alleged wife beating or domestic violence. And that was only a two and a half-year relationship.

There is a problem that this president has got to acknowledge. It's not just about his employees. It's about sympathy and empathy for those who were the victims.

I mean, we saw one picture, a black eye. That was devastating enough. You have to understand it goes beyond that. The question is when will the president make the comments not just about Rob Porter or anyone else, but about the victims.

This president received 51 percent of white married women to help him win this Oval Office. So, the question is, when will he speak on behalf of women?

And, Brooke, what's interesting -- what is so interesting is when this president came into the White House January 20th at 12:01 while he was inaugurated in 12:01 2017, but that week, right then and there, he ended the Violence Against Women Office here at the White House. Also, the Women and Girls Office that was headed by Valerie Jarrett.

And this is also a time when the Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization for 2018 in March. So, let's see what the president has to say. This Me Too movement comes at a time when there is a lot going on with the violence against women issue.

BALDWIN: I'm so glad you brought it up. We should be talking about that out loud.

I'm also left wondering about the women of the West Wing. I think of Ivanka Trump. I think of Kellyanne Conway.

Maeve, to you. You know, you saw Kellyanne Conway on Sunday shows standing there, trying to defend him. What are these women really thinking? Do we know?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think they are in a really tough position. I mean, Kellyanne Conway has done advocacy for women her entire career, long before she met President Trump. And she was really compelling in that interview.

But, clearly, that's not what we are hearing from the president. And isn't that the voice that matters in all of this?

You know, I actually, to April's point, I happened to be out talking to women voters this weekend in some of these midterm districts and, of course, this has been the story that has engulfed the news for the last week.

BALDWIN: The story.

RESTON: Some of the women who voted for Trump, his tweet had come out -- the one you referenced at the top of the hour -- saying men's lives were being ruined and some of these women just kind of shook their heads and didn't know what to say about him.

[14:20:01] And you have to wonder what kind of political consequences this has for him and for his party when he's not taking credible allegations seriously and, you know, is doubting these women's accounts. It's not just women who are offended by that, but men as well. And we are seeing in the polling his numbers drop among women again. And there clearly is a political consequence here.

BALDWIN: It's not just -- I go back to the two little words in his tweet "mere accusations." I mean, April, two ex-wives, the photo, a former girlfriend, FBI looking into this. He says mere accusations ruining lives. He also said is there no such thing any longer as due process.

April, Central Park Five is where I want to go.

RYAN: And that's what people are saying. Mere accusations. And he never apologized for the Central Park Five. That is still an albatross that's around his neck when it comes to the black community and the overall community, because you are bringing it into this issue as well.

But those mere accusations are what held up a security clearance for this -- for Rob Porter.



RYAN: Yes. So, it's not a mere accusation.

This president likes to write his own narrative. But this mere accusation prevented him from being able to get security clearance. He had interim clearance. And with that interim clearance, he was able to still touch top secret as well as classified documentation. And the question is, with this mere allegation, that mere allegation

could have caused problems. This is what the FBI was saying. It could have caused problems with blackmail. So, those mere accusations were relevant enough for people to say, whoa, I'm not to give him clearances yet because this has not panned out.

Now, it's all moot. But, you know, the question is, how does this administration go about looking and talking to people they want to bring into the administration? Could they just pull people off the street who look good on paper and not find out about them in their personal lives and the FBI is left to find out about it? What are they doing? Because this doesn't bode well.

You have two people in the last week leave, resign because of wife abuse.

RESTON: And if that happens, why aren't you asking more questions to get to the bottom of it?

RYAN: Exactly.

RESTON: Why aren't you out there interviewing people, asking what the hold-up is?

BALDWIN: Clearly, they are not.

RESTON: This is a recruitment problem for the White House, right? They are not getting top talent. I've talked to tons of sources who said, I would never work in that White House.

RYAN: Exactly. I have heard that.

RESTON: People who are very talented Republican operatives. That's where they run into all these problems.

BALDWIN: Running into problems.

I want to hone in on security clearances, ladies. Thank you so much. It's like if they're not getting through the security clearances and I want to know who is looking the other way.

RYAN: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Speaking of security clearances, dozens of White House officials still operating without one including the president's son- in-law Jared Kushner. Hear why and how truly unprecedented this is.

Also ahead, is the U.S. warming up to talks with North Korea? Surprising new remarks from the vice president as the North hits the world stage at the Olympics. We'll speak with someone who has negotiated with the North Koreans, coming up.


[14:27:44] BALDWIN: The fallout over the White House's handling of former Trump aide Rob Porter amid abuse allegations is raising a lot of questions about government security clearances and how exactly they are obtained.

Sources tell CNN that 30 to 40 White House officials and political appointees are still operating without full security clearances. And Porter was one of them. So is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in- law and senior adviser. The White House blames the backlog on procedural issues.

Let's talk about it with CNN national security analyst Nada Bakos, and CNN contributor Garrett Graff. He is the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror".

So, welcome, welcome.

And, Garrett, to you first, the fact that we're learning 30-plus people are working without this clearance for as long as they have, is this unprecedented?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It certainly is unusual. I think that, you know, one of the things that we should be thinking about is the broader context which is over the last year, we have seen repeated instances of what I would describe as this White House's reckless approach to classified information and security clearances. Everything from Michael Flynn continuing to work at the White House after Sally Yates's warning to the president himself divulging classified source intelligence to the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office.

And I think that's where -- it's not so much the length of time of the interim clearances or sort of the number, it's that if you are a foreign ally looking at this White House, you have to begin to think, is the information I need to share with the United States to keep my country and the United States safe going to be safe to share?

BALDWIN: OK, I hear you. You say reckless. But, Nada, again, the White House says this is procedural consequence of the review process which is carried out by the FBI and by the White House Office of Security. Does that sound OK to you?

NADA BAKOS, FORMER CIA ANALYST: This is a long time for a White House clearance to be classified as interim. There is usually not precedent for that many people, especially at that level to go this long with an interim clearance. To be clear, an interim clearance does not cover you to read things like compartmentalized information like you would see in a presidential daily brief.