Return to Transcripts main page


White House Aides Comment on Rob Porter's Leaving White House; President Trump Tweets on Domestic Violence Accusations; Dozens Of Trump Officials Still Lack Full Security Clearance; Representative Schiff To Meet With FBI Over Dem Memo Redactions. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 8:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Chief of Staff John Kelly over his handling or really mishandling of the domestic abuse allegations that led to Rob Porter resigning. The president following a pattern that we have seen time and again and it must be called out -- defending men accused of sexual misconduct without basis. It's not like he knows things that exonerates the men. And at the same time dismissing women who allege abuse.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: It is also a big day on Capitol Hill for the Senate. Debate beginning today on immigration. Republican senators will introduce the president's plan which faces an uphill battle to get passed. So can Congress strike a deal to protect Dreamers? The White House also set to unveil today that $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The big question, of course, where does all the money come from?

We've got a lot to cover. Let's begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins who's live at the White House. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, it has been six days since Rob Porter resigned over these domestic abuse allegations and the White House is still struggling to give a consistent explanation over who knew what and when, all as the president's public remarks over these allegations are raising questions of just how seriously he's taking them.


COLLINS: Top White House aides doing damage control, denying reports that President Trump is considering replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly amid criticism over his handling of the domestic abuse allegations against his righthand man Rob Porter.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I spoke to the president and he said please tell Jake that I have full faith in Chief of Staff John Kelly and that I'm not actively searching for replacements. He said I saw that all over the news today. I have faith in him.

COLLINS: White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney downplaying reports that he's being considered for Kelly's jobs.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: I don't what that job. I love the job, jobs, that I have now. And more importantly, I think the chief of staff is doing a really good job.

COLLINS: This even as some Republicans are calling on Kelly to explain why he continued to elevate Porter's profile in the west wing despite learning about the allegations months ago.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I think in the end, we've got to hear from John Kelly as to what he knew. I think the president needs to hear that before he can make an evaluation of competence.

COLLINS: Multiple aides insisting that the president is disturbed about the allegation and sympathetic towards Porter's accusers.

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: He is very disappointed and I think he believes that the resignation was appropriate.

CONWAY: I think the president like the rest of us were shocked and disturbed by the allegations. This is not the Rob Porter any of us have worked with. But George, you're looking at contemporaneous police reports, at pictures, at detailed allegations by these women.

COLLINS: This characterization a stark contrast to the president's tweet over the weekend declaring "Peoples' lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation," after he expressed sympathy for Porter Friday but said nothing about his alleged victims.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We certainly wish him well. It's obviously a tough time for him. He says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that.

COLLINS: Porter's second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, slamming Mr. Trump's response in an essay for "Time" magazine, writing that the president's words were quote, "meant to imply that I am a liar." Willoughby adding that "Despite Mr. Trump's dismissal I want to ensure you that my truth has not been diminished."

Meanwhile "Axios" is reporting that Porter has been telling associates that some senior White House officials strongly encouraged him to stay and fight rather than resign. Porter reportedly also maintaining that he never misrepresented anything to Kelly as the White House continues to insist they were misled.

MULVANEY: Under the circumstances, he wasn't entirely forthcoming and I think the photographs took everybody by surprise.


COLLINS: So definitely a messy trail of conflicting statements. The White House is seeking to really change the tune here today, Erica and Chris, by unveiling it's $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. And as you can see from these live pictures the president's second budget has just opinion delivered to Capitol Hill.

CUOMO: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much. Joining us now is CNN political analyst David Gregory and associate

editor at Real Clear Politics A.B. Stoddard. Guys, help me with this. The president has tweeted this morning talking about his infrastructure plan. He is not a plan who's known to be stymied by his own deliberations before he comes out with a public statement. If Mick Mulvaney, who we like, we respect, and we enjoy having on the show, there's an open invitation, if Mick Mulvaney is right and when the president saw the picture, that was very startling to him -- one, that assumes that he didn't know about this all too damn well before as did other members of that White House. But even if that's true, David Gregory, why didn't he tweet about it then when he saw this picture? Why do we have to have these Axios and other things that maybe A.B. you and I have been hearing from those around the president, he really doesn't like people who do this? Why hasn't he said anything, David, if he was so moved by this photo?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because I don't think that's him. I think he reluctantly comes around to doing, in this case, the appropriate thing when there's enough information, however late it comes, however much deceit or bungling beforehand, when they say, look, we've now got a situation, we have to get rid of this guy, and he's not going to stand in the way of that. But at the same time then he'll come out publicly and issue a statement not saying anything about the women who have been abused.

And then he'll take it to the next step and I feel cornered. Let me just completely distract from this and let's get into a big cultural war moment here and say oh, by the way, this whole Me Too movement is overblown, what about due process? That's I think where his thinking takes him and has taken him all along.

To be fair, who knows exactly -- I don't think we know yet, how much this bubbled up to the president until it got to the place where there was clearly a mess within the White House about what John Kelly was telling people, who knew what, and these pictures came out that they realize they had a huge problem.

HILL: And to your point on that, the president legitimately may not have known prior when John Kelly was dealing with some of this stuff. But A.B., the fact that John Kelly was dealing with all of this, and seemingly for a fair amount of time there were people in the White House who knew things. We knew of course, or they knew that security clearance was not all in order at that point. When do we hear next from John Kelly on this?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: That's the most complicated aspect of this whole thing is that John Kelly a week ago was someone we all thought was this sort of stabilizing influence within the White House, people did not want him to leave. And we certainly did not consider him a liar. And what is so alarming is that there are reports coming out of staffers going to the press and saying over and over again that the last half of last week, he did not tell us the truth and then he asked us to go out with a version of the story that is not the truth.

John Kelly may have hid this -- hidden this from president Trump. And, again, I think he had complicated reasons for doing so. I think that he is in a position where he believes that Rob Porter was very capable and he wants people around him who he believes are very capable in an otherwise turbulent environment, and that's the decision he made. It was the wrong one, but it might have been for complicated reasons.

But the idea that John Kelly is actually someone who doesn't tell the truth is really a new development here that I think will ultimately lead in the end to him losing his job. When you heard Kellyanne who had to go out on Sunday and clean up for that tweet that was really upsetting to a lot of people about how dismissive it was of women and talking about due process, she was out there talking about all the jobs he's created for women and everything, but she also made sure to use lawyerly language when she said he told me to tell you, Jake, he has faith in John Kelly. You can have faith in John Kelly and still fire him. She also said he isn't actively looking to replace him. He certainly is conversing with people and floating names around and allowing people like Chris Christie who wants the job and others to be talking about John Kelly's performance. So I think it's really, really -- I think there's a lot of doom over John Kelly's job right now.

GREGORY: Isn't it interesting how this White House works, which is the president really doesn't mind how chaotic it looks? He's not closing the drapes. Everything is wide open. You can see inside because they leak incredibly including the president himself, where there's talk about always talking to Reince Priebus for advice, he's undermining this one, he's undermining that one, he's checking to see if this one could replace that one. They don't care how bad they look.

And what they want the public to believe as you heard from Kellyanne Conway this weekend, is first of all, she does cleanup as A.B. says for what the president has done, try to emphasize the good parts of his record and try to say to us, don't pay attention to what he says or what he tweets, but we got rid of the guy. That's what should matter. Now can't we move on?

And I think that is part of this dichotomy. I think the president is willing to say, we've got to get rid of this guy, I realize that's the right thing to do. Now let me go out publicly for my reality show and stir up my supporters and create that energy. I think what's important to remember here in this election year is how much energy there is in the country that the president wants to stir up among those faithful to him who will come out and vote for Republicans.

CUOMO: And that's what we've been taking on this morning on Twitter. Look, he did the wrong thing here with how he handled it. He just did. This is domestic violence. It's a reality. It's a scourge. He blew that moment. He could've fixed it. He doesn't want to. But his supporters are echoing. My timeline is filled with people mitigating the reality of domestic abuse and playing this stupid game what- aboutism. What about all the victims of illegal immigrants? These immediate political parallels. That's the cost of the president's hubris on this issue is that now the people who follow him also ignore the same. That's the problem. STODDARD: I really think that's obviously detrimental to people who

are seriously violent situations and they need to be heard and this is a scourge that needs to be -- that needs to be mitigated. I think that if you look at this politically, though, we are far beyond whether or not president Trump is going to change his view on this, represent victims. We're far beyond the hypocrisy of evangelical Republicans.

I look at this through the prism of congressional Republicans. David's talking about goosing the energy of Trump supporters that turn out for Republicans. They don't like Republicans. They like President Trump, and he's not on the ballot. And his picking and choosing where he can come and campaign and actually help versus be a liability which is in the swing districts they need to hold to retain their majority, it's going to be very tricky for Republicans. They need to separate themselves from him on this issue because in their silence they look like they're acquiescing.

And I think that the women voters that could decide the midterm election should be far more important to these Republicans right now than Rob Porter or John Kelly or President Trump. They should come out and say, look, this is really wrong and this is really frightening and these victims need to be heard.

GREGORY: Here's where I disagree with A.B. a little bit. Where that could certainly be true. We've been wrong in this kind of thinking about accessing Republican prospects before or even prescribing that they should separate for Trump, which seems to make good political sense. I just think about the people who are not on the Twitter timeline who are -- who are paying a different level of attention to Trump than we who cover him day in and day out are or the political class or those who are so invested that they're on social media battling every day. And there's a different level of attention, and they're the ones who seem -- a lot of them seem to be more susceptible to the idea there's too much obsessiveness by the media, there's hatred of Trump by the media. And they're willing to say, look, he got rid of the guy, and he's saying something, you know, for a lot of people, yes, there should be due process. So they're not paying attention in the same way to how governance is being undermine here, or how the reality show --

CUOMO: That's our job, David.

HILL: That is our job. And also they may not be paying attention to the way governance is undermined, but they may not really be as invested in fact in the government's point, and the conversation that's moving forward is less about how is the governing happening and more is where the moral compass and where is social responsibility. And to the point which A.B. was making, which Chris has brought up a number of times this morning, where is the leadership? Outside of the president, where the Republican leadership on this? Where's Mitch McConnell, where's Paul Ryan? Why are we not hearing more specifically related to this issue?

CUOMO: And they'll say because they want to get their agenda in place. But one winds up frustrating the other. The president's timeline this morning, he's talking about opioids, he's talking about how this is a big week for infrastructure. And you know what, he's right on both of those, A.B. But it's his own mouth and what he says and what he doesn't say that winds up directing attention away from it.

STODDARD: Yes, and -- look, Chris, it was obvious that on Saturday night after that tweet a bunch of levelheaded thinking people including Kellyanne Conway decided it was time for a cleanup on aisle three, and that's why she came out to talk about his record on the economy with women because she had to steer the conversation away from that due process twee that so many people saw as a mistake. Where's Ronna Romney McDaniel? Where are the women in the party standing up and saying -- they don't have to separate themselves from President Trump on his record but they can certainly say this is something we all take seriously and we have to continue to take more seriously.

I think to David's point, that's right. It's the energized voters who are upset about what Trump says that probably will turn out the fall and not the ones he thinks liked him in 2016.

HILL: We're going to have to leave it there. David, A.B., appreciate it. Thank you.

A suspect now charged in the shooting deaths of two Ohio police officers this weekend, Quentin Lamar Smith is facing two counts of aggravated murder. Police say officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli were responding to a domestic abuse call when they say the suspect opened fire, killing them as they entered the home.

CUOMO: Southwest Airlines forced to cancel more than 250 flights at Chicago's Midway Airport on Sunday. A big winter storm was the reason. That's what they say. They ran out of deicing fluid. Southwest says they expected delivery to come with that fluid today, hopes to resume close to normal operations at midway.

HILL: The sale of Harvey Weinstein's film studio is now on hold and in jeopardy. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the disgraced movie mogul and his former company. Schneiderman's four-month investigation revealing, quote, "vicious and exploitive mistreatment of employees." He wants any sale to include compensation for Weinstein's accusers.

CUOMO: All right, take a look at this. Monday morning, this will pop your eyes open. Did you see that? This truck was carrying liquified natural gas in China. It burst into flames on this major expressway. Two people inside suffering burns, three vehicles near the truck also burned. But here's the deal. Everybody got out without serious injuries. Look at this.

HILL: Amazing.


CUOMO: Firefighters say the leak natural gas may cause a flowing fire forcing them to temporarily shut down that part of the expressway. It amazes me what takes life and what people are able to survive. The line between the two is often not really beguiling.

All right. So, the Rob Porter abuse allegations matter and do raise some national security questions. This man didn't have a permanent clearance and he was looking at the most classified information there is. So, what's Congress going to do about the lack of security clearances around the president, including his son-in-law? Next.


CUOMO: All right. Now those of you who see this drama surrounding the dismissal of Rob Porter presidential assistant as just being about politics, you're missing the story, OK? This exposes a critical problem inside the White House, not just when it comes to telling the truth, which is a real story.

But dozens of administration officials are still working without full security clearances, among those on the list, Porter and Trump adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York. Congressman, good to see you. I have two, what are you going to do about dot, dot, dot questions.

[08:20:05] The first one is this, you have oversight over this. What can Congress do to make sure that the people working around the highest seat of power in our democracy have the right backgrounds to have clearance?

REPRESENTATIVE JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well, there are a number of issues that we've asked the Chairman Bob Goodlatte of the Judiciary Committee hold hearings on. We should certainly hold hearings on all these characters who have -- who can't -- apparently can't get security clearance.

Remember, it's just not the Jared Kushner, who is still hanging out for a year with no permanent security clearance because the FBI apparently won't give it to him and Porter and also Michael Flynn, national security adviser, who couldn't get a security clearance when he was an unregistered foreign agent and others. This is a real threat to national security.

CUOMO: You don't think it's just bureaucracy, the White House pushback is, it's backlog and bureaucracy, unusually diverse backgrounds and financial portfolios.

NADLER: I cannot believe that the president's son-in-law would not have gotten a permanent security clearance long since it was just bureaucracy. We know he hid a lot of things and that may have been one of the problems. He didn't admit a lot of contacts with Russians.

But the fact is, no, we have never seen in any prior administration this kind of lack of security clearances. These security clearances should have been granted a long time ago and if they weren't, there are reasons for it and those reasons could endanger our national security and we should have hearings on this, clearly. CUOMO: Kushner says that some of our most -- most of the of the 39 revisions he's had to make were either clerical errors or just because of the diversity of his financial background and him wanting to offer more and more information.

NADLER: Well, I can't comment on the accuracy of his filings except to say that we know he omitted a lot of -- in fact, initially all the contacts he had with Russians and there were quite a few of them. That's not just clerical.

CUOMO: All right. Another what are you going to do about dot, dot, dot, how about securing our democracy and elections? We now know that those who were trying to help Russian interference efforts, you know, directly or indirectly actually got in to state databases, registration.

No proof that they messed with any vote tabulations, God forbid, but, the threat is real. There's all this yip yap going on and investigations. We still don't know about anything should be done to make it better.

NADLER: The threat is very real. We've asked, again, we've asked the chairman of the committee to hold emergency hearings on this because the administration is refusing -- I mean, all the administration people except the president admit that the Russians attacked our elections.

Everyone, the head of the CIA, the State Department, everybody admits the Russians attacked our elections and tried to subvert our election process. They all say they will do it again.

The only one who seems to doubt this is the president and because he doubts this, because this is a threat to his ego, I suppose, we're not doing anything to protect ourselves. We ought to protect ourselves. This is a very severe threat to the integrity of our elections.

CUOMO: I have cyber experts saying there's so many things that could be done.

NADLER: I'm sure there are. I'm not an expert on cyber security, but I think we have offensive as well as defensive capabilities in cybersecurity and some things ought to happen in Russia.

CUOMO: So, do you see any action coming on the horizon?

NADLER: No, I do not see any action because this administration seems determined and the president seems determined not to do anything that might offend the Russians and not do anything to protect us from an attack that the president won't admit occurred and is occurring despite the fact that all the people around him assert it.

We know that the Russians attacked 21 states infrastructure, apparently penetrated some of them. They didn't alter vote tally as far as we know. Last time, they could next time. This is as much as an attack on the United States as if there were bombs and bullets. It's an attack on our essential governing structure. As I said, there are ways that we can retaliate against the Russians that they will know that they better stop.

CUOMO: Well, he didn't even enforce the sanctions that you guys put through. We are still waiting --

NADLER: And disobeyed the law. We did not give the president a waiver as you usually do because we didn't trust the president. So, Congress by veto proof majorities mandated that he impose those sanctions. As far as I can tell he's breaking the law by not doing so.

CUOMO: We haven't seen a lot of congressional pressure on that point either. Where there is a lot of attention being focused is on these memos. Let me ask you something. Why do the Democrats want this memo to come out so much?

The Nunes memo, except for those that are most tightly supportive of conspiracy theory to begin with, this fell flat, this memo. It did not offer anything up, and look, I was looking for some insights into it.

We investigate the FBIs and their methods on a regular basis. It's one of the main battles the media fights. Why put out something to blow some air on to the smoldering flames of that fire? That's what your memo's going to do. When the Schiff memo comes out you're going to reawaken this debate about which one do I believe?

NADLER: I have read the Schiff memo and Nunes memo, the ongoing documents. The Schiff memo will show how deliberately misleading and dishonest the Nunes memo is and it is -- it is totally misleading.

[08:25:13] Even the FBI says it was materially misleading. I think it's worth showing that you can't believe anything these people put out.

CUOMO: You think it will change minds or will people stay on what side they want to be on?

NADLER: I think some minds will be changed because it's a very devastating document about the Nunes memo. Remember one thing, the whole thing, you're right, it's a tempest in a tea pot in one sense because the point of the Nunes memo is to -- and for a lot of other things they are doing is to distract attention from the real problem which is the -- the real subject which is the Mueller investigation of the fact that the Russians attacked our elections.

That people in the Trump campaign, some people in the Trump campaign clearly cooperated with that. You want to find out whether that includes the president or not but that collusion, that joining in the criminal conspiracy which is what it was to hack the Democratic National Committee, to subvert our election, that's what we ought to be paying attention to and to make sure that doesn't happen again.

What the Nunes memo is, is an attempt by congressional Republicans to join the Trump administration in distracting and distracting attention from that and discrediting the FBI and discrediting the Mueller investigation so that when they come out with their reports fewer people will believe it. The whole point is to distract, discredit and disable. It's like a three-card Monty game.

CUOMO: Jerry Nadler, a congressman from New York, thank you very much for being with us.

NADLER: Thank you.

CUOMO: Erica.

HILL: President Trump's budget just arriving on Capitol Hill. What happened to the GOP's long-time goal of eliminating the deficit? We'll ask a deficit hawk next.