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President Trump's Daughter-In-Law Opened A Letter Containing A Suspicious Substance; The Obamas Emerging Back On The Public Stage Today For An Historic Unveiling; The Markets Continuing Their Wild Swing Today; Top Democrat In The Senate Is Ripping The President's Budget Plan Unveiled Today; White House Press Secretary Gave Press Briefing. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 15:30   ET



[15:33:40] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here's the breaking news just coming into us involving members of the President's own family.

President Trump's daughter-in-law opened a letter containing a suspicious substance. The letter was sent to the Manhattan apartment of Don Junior and his wife, Vanessa. Three people were sent to the hospital. We have got an update on this our national correspondent, Jason Carroll.

What happened?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, the headline that everyone should know first of all is that the NYPD has conducted their investigation and found that that suspicious substance was nonhazardous. So that's clearly the headline here.

But just to recap, this was early this morning. Vanessa Trump was at the upper east side apartment of her and her husband, Donald Trump Jr. She was opening the mail like many people do. Opened the mail, letter, a suspicious powder sort of falls out of this envelope. And so as you can imagine, the alarm bells go off. She and two others are taken to the hospital just as a precaution to check them out to make sure that they were OK. She did not apparently have an immediate reaction to opening in terms of physical reaction other than I'm sure fear.

BALDWIN: So frightening.

CARROLL: Yes. Other than fear, you know, in terms of opening that envelope. But again just as a precaution, she and two others taken to a local hospital to make sure they are OK. The area where the envelope was opened, they decontaminated that area, but definitely some scary moments for the Trump family.

This isn't the first time. Back in March of 2016 you will remember Lara Trump had opened a letter addressed to Eric that was sent to the Trump building. That, again, alarm bells going off at that time. That at the time suspicious substance turned out to be lemonade mix. So definitely some scary moments for the Trump family back then and again this morning. But both times turns out to be --.

[15:35:17] BALDWIN: Thank goodness.

Jason Carroll, thank so much for the update on that.

We are still waiting for that White House briefing to begin, right. It was scheduled for 1:00, moved to 3:00. Now we are told 3:30. That was five minutes ago. So just hang with me and we are going watch and wait.

Meantime, the Obamas making a rare return into the public eye today for the unveiling of their official portraits. See what happened.

We are back in a moment.


[15:38:46] BALDWIN: The Obamas emerging back on the public stage today for an historic unveiling. The 44th President of the United States and his former first lady were at the national portrait gallery in Washington to unwrap their official portraits.

Michelle Obama went first, revealing the work of Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald. She was followed by her husband who chose Brooklyn-based artist Kehinde Wiley. The former President joked he has never had a portrait done except his high school yearbook picture and that was, to quote him, "no great shakes."

Joining me with more is CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett.

So talk us through the highlights of the morning.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think the main highlights today were just how different and sort of unique both of these portraits were. Certainly, you know, not the normal, traditional portrait we are used to seeing. Both of these artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, were chosen because they -- you know, they are very culturally aware. And the President and the first lady really enjoyed their time with them.

It was an interesting process though for Michelle Obama to decide on Amy Sherald. More than two dozen artists submitted their portfolios to the Obamas to be considered for this. But Michelle Obama said right away when they knew -- she knew that Amy was going to be the right artist for her because they had her over to the White House and they did an interview with her. And this is the moment she knew. Let's take a listen.


[15:40:09] MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe it was the moment she came in and she looked at Barack and she said, well, Mr. President, I'm really excited to be here. And I know I'm being considered for both portraits, she said, but, Mrs. Obama, she physically turned to me, and she said I'm really hoping that you and I can work together. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That's you know, that's funny.

BENNETT: And also, Brooke, Obama was in great form today too, Barack Obama, her husband. He was really joking around quite a bit. And you can tell they are very relaxed coming out of the White House. And this is a very fun moment for them.

He too joked a bit about his choice of Kehinde Wiley who is known for doing these portraits of African-American men, typically, and hip-hop stars posing them as old masters and sort of looking of king in his regal folks in this picture then Obama had a special request for his portrait.

BALDWIN: Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, his initial impulse maybe in the work was to also elevate me and put me in these settings with partridges and scepters and thrones and ship robes and mounting me on horses. And I had to explain that I have got enough political problems without you making me look like napoleon. We have got to bring it down just a touch.


BENNETT: So bringing it down just a touch is still very colorful and exciting and vibrant portrait.

BALDWIN: Last quick question, because I loved actually hearing former President Obama talking about what he had in common with Kehinde Wiley and talking about their American mothers and how they both, you know, shared this being on a path and obviously the President took one direction and he talked about using words in discovering that versus obviously Kehinde in using through art. But there was a moment when the President mentioned just, you know, the White House and missing his staff. What did he say, Kate?

BENNETT: There's clearly some -- there was some reminiscing. There was a lot of thanks going around in the crowd. We saw David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs and other friends. Certainly the Obamas are nostalgic for their White House, probably not enough to spend a lot of time still in the spotlight, but they certainly acknowledge the friends that were in the audience today and those who supported them in their administration.

BALDWIN: National portrait gallery, if you want to see them.

Kate Bennett, thank you so much.

And just a quick check, Wall Street, another busy day, up. We like the green on the screen, up 488 points. About 18 minutes to go until the end of the trading day. We have that. Also we are waiting for that White House briefing to begin. What will

Sarah Sanders say about how they handled these accusations against former staff secretary Rob Porter, conflicting accounts, missing parts of the timeline, the timeline keeps shifting and now a complete dismissal by the President himself. So we are still standing by for that.


[15:46:14] BALDWIN: The markets -- the markets continuing their wild swing today. You see all the gains as of now, up 400 points.

Let's bring in Clare Sebastian who was covering the rock and roll week that was. And now here we are on Monday. What's happening?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are seeing people coming back into the market. I think this wasn't unexpected.

BALDWIN: Which is what they told you they would do.

SEBASTIAN: Exactly. We spoke to a number of traders and investors on Friday afternoon as we saw some of the wild swings happening and the rebound that started in the final couple of hours there. And they said that this is the makings of a bottom. We think the market is oversold. We think now is the time when people are going to come back in. But does that mean that volatility is over then we are going to go back to calm seas? No.

But I think people are starting to realize the correction happened, the fundamentals are still strong and now it might be the time to come in and pick your bargains.

BALDWIN: You are telling me in commercial break also just looking ahead to Wednesday, that is what inflation day that are coming in. What is that mean?

SEBASTIAN: Yes. This is one of the big risks coming up in the week. Inflation has been a major preoccupation of the markets over the last two weeks. And we have seen these drops. The worry is if inflation picks up, that the fed might have to act to raise interest rates faster and rein it in. That the economy might be overheating. We got a reading on consumer prices on Wednesday. If this comes in ahead of expectations, then we might see some volatility come back. That was in the (INAUDIBLE) through the market again.

BALDWIN: I have a feeling I'm see you in two days' time.

Claire Sebastian, thank you so much for the quick check.

Meantime, just in to us. The top Democrat in the Senate is ripping the President's budget plan unveiled today. It calls for a massive infrastructure plan, which normally Democrats love. Here's the Senate minority leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Now is not the time nor the place to reform the entire legal immigration system. Rather, this is the moment for a narrow bill. And every ounce of our energy is going into finding one that can pass.

Just like on the budget. This is an opportunity for the Senate to lead the nation. Let the same spirit of bipartisanship and compromise that generated the budget deal carry forward this week as we debate the fate of the Dreamers.

Now on infrastructure. Today, the Trump administration released its infrastructure plan. Democrats released our own plan over a year ago and have waited just as long to see this plan because infrastructure is an issue where we thought we could find some common ground. Unfortunately, despite a glaring need, the President's proposal would do very little to make our ailing infrastructure better. Instead of proposing direct federal investments to help all parts of the country, the Trump infrastructure plan relies on private parties or state and localities to put up the lion's share of the money. In turn, those entities would either have to charge local taxpayers new tolls or raise taxes and other fees to pay for the new infrastructure.

So, a word that describes so much of the President's bill, probably about 80 percent of it, is Trump tolls. The Trump infrastructure plan is like a Hollywood facade. It may look real from afar, but in truth it's a flat mirage. The Trump plan has the skin of an infrastructure plan, but it lacks the guts. The lack of direct investment would leave out large parts of America, particularly rural America, where local governments don't have the money or the traffic to attract private sector investment. Small towns --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How was your weekend?

SANDERS: It was good. It's great to be back with you guys. Glad I picked a slow time to be gone. So as always, a busy day here at the White House so I'm going to jump right into a couple of highlights and then take your questions.

This morning the President unveiled a legislative outline for rebuilding infrastructure in America. The six principles of the plan are as follows:

$200 billion in federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with partners at the state, local, tribal and private level. New investments will be made in rural America which has been left behind for too long. Decision making authority will be returned to state and local governments, regulatory barrier that's needlessly get in the way of infrastructure projects will be removed, permitting for infrastructure projects will be streamlined and shortened and America's work force will be strengthened.

As the President said many times, we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our lands. And we will do it with American heart and American hands and American grit.

This morning President also released his fiscal year 2019 budget which addresses this three of the President's most important priorities. Rebuilding our military and funding from our great men and women in uniform, growing the American economy, and ending waste. We look forward to working closely with Congress the achieve these priorities and ensure the safety and security of the united stat, for generations to come.

OMB director Mick Mulvaney will be answering questions on the budget immediately following today's briefing. So I encourage to you all to stick around for that and save your budget questions for director Mulvaney.

I would also like to add a quick congratulations to the U.S. Olympic team which is off to a great start. We especially look forward to snow boarders Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard bringing their gold medals back home very soon.

And with that, we will take your questions.

[15:51:46] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, Rob Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness, spoke with the FBI as part of his clearance process on January 25, 2017, during which she says she laid out all the allegations and since been aired against Rob Porter and provided the FBI with the photographs that were the turning point of his termination last week.

At any time between January 25th of last year and last Wednesday, did the FBI make anyone here at the White House, whether it was at counsel's office, chief of staff's office, or any White House, did the FBI make anybody here aware of the allegations that had been raised against Porter by Colbie Holderness and to second wife, Jennie Willoughby?

SANDERS: Look. We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening. And within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced. We announced a transition was going to happen and within hours did it.

The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes every one should be treated fairly and with due process. We have addressed this situation extensively and we have nothing more to add at this time on the topic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The allegations against him would make him a prime candidate for blackmail which would lead any responsible person at the FBI to come to the White House to say, I just want to let you know. This person will likely never get a permanent security clearance. Was that concern ever raised with the oval office?

SANDERS: As I know, Roger, it was addressed last week. We let the process play out. It was ongoing. It hadn't been completed. And beyond that, in the statement I just gave you, I don't have anything else to add.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why haven't we heard the President say exactly what you just said right there that he takes domestic violence very seriously?

SANDERS: I spoke with the President. Those are actually directly his words that he gave me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But why hasn't he said that? He has the opportunity.

SANDERS: It's my job to speak on the behalf of the President. I spoke with him and he relayed that message directly to me and I'm relaying it directly to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he believe Rob Porter's accusers or are they lying?

SANDERS: Look. I just said the President along with the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be thoroughly investigated. And above all, the President supports the victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That doesn't answer the question.

SANDERS: As I just said I'm not going beyond that. That's where we are right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President still wish Rob Porter well? Does he still believe that he wants him to have a great career ahead of him? Because that would seem --.

SANDERS: I think the President of the United States hopes that all Americans can be successful in whatever they do and if they have had any issues in the past, I'm not confirming or denying one way or the other, but if they do, the President wants success for all Americans. And that he was elected to serve all Americans and he hopes for the best for all American citizens across the country. Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What about the President's tweet over the weekend, people's lives are being shattered or destroyed by mere allegation. It seems like the President was believing Mr. Porter as opposed to his alleged victims. Why did the President tweet that over the weekend? Why is he seemingly defending Mr. Porter publicly? Is it because he has faced his own allegations? Is there some sensitivity there?

[15:55:18] SANDERS: Look. As I just said and I will repeat it again. The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. He certainly supports the victims of domestic violence above all else and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process. The President is simply saying there should be a due process, that should be followed and looked at.

ACOSTA: Is there a tone deafness there? Is there just, being on the wrong side of things.

SANDERS: I don't think the President being on, supporting due process for any allegation is not tone deaf. I think it is allowing things to be investigated and a mere allegation not being the determining factor. He is not taking a side necessarily one way or the other on any specific issue here. He is talking about mere allegations shouldn't be the determining factor for any individual. That there should be due process. I think anybody here, if they were accused of something, hold organization I'm not finished.

Jim, hold. What I'm saying is I think anybody here, if they were accused of something, would want the opportunity to go through due process. That's all we are saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vice President -- why didn't he use it as an opportunity to say something like that? Why does he have to speak through you?

SANDERS: The President has been clear multiple times through myself and others within the administration that we condemn domestic violence in all forms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has not said it. Why has he not said it?

SANDERS: I'm the spokesman for the White House, for the President and I'm saying it to you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't he say it?

SANDERS: I'm not sure how I can be any more clear. I think the President has espoused his viewed on this. And I certainly have echoed --.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he wishes Porter well and that he believes that people should have due process. But he hasn't addressed the victims of domestic violence at all.

SANDERS: That's actually not true. If you were paying attention to what I just read to you, you would understand the opposite. He literally dictated that statement on me. And so I'm not really sure how that's not the President speaking on that topic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two questions, if I may. Does the White House have a rule or a policy regarding how long employees permitted to operate the interim security clearance?

SANDERS: As we have said we are not going to get into the details of how the clearance process works. Last week we went further than we ever have before due to extenuating circumstances and there's nothing further to add on that front.

Look. This is a process that doesn't operate within the White House. It is handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we support that process. It is the same process that has been used for decades for other and previous administrations. And we are relying on that process at this point. I do think that it is up to those same law enforcement and intelligence agencies to determine if changes need to be made to their process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To follow up on that, can you say whether the White House is beginning on examine or review cases of staffers who are operating under interim clearance?

SANDERS: I can't weigh in. Sorry. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- examining cases more closely?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into the details of the process beyond what we have already said. But I can tell that you we do rely on the same process that has been used for decades. And if changes are thought to be made, that would be made by the law enforcement and intel communities that run the process, not the White House. But that's something that could be looked at certainly in light of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any more information for us - (INAUDIBLE).

SANDERS: I know the President spoke with her. Beyond that at this point, it is an ongoing and active investigation so I can't comment any further. But I can say that the President has spoken with here within the last hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, to Cecilia's point, which is that the President has a history of defending men who have been accused of sexual assault and harassment and abuse putting like ties to Bill O'Reilly, Steve Wynn, Corey Lewandowsky, Roy Moore and nor Rob Porter. Would the White House like the say today unambiguously that the President believes women making these accusations?

SANDERS: I think the President, like I said, above everything else, supports the victims of any type of domestic violence but the President also supports due process and I don't have anything else further to add.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go back to the time line, Sarah, to intercept reporter (INAUDIBLE) photos of Colbie Holderness' black eye at 1:53 a.m. on Wednesday. And they published them in 8:30 on Wednesday morning. And the White House --