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GOP's Darrel Issa Dragged into Mike Turner's Divorce Proceedings; FBI Director Contradicts White House on Porter Allegations; Despite Trump's Tough Talk an Uptick in Illegal Border Crossings; White House Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: He says, even though Congressman Turner is not citing infidelity as the cause for the divorce, rumors about infidelity are being spread. And specifically denies that Majida Turner, that there was any infidelity. He says any allegation of infidelity is off the wall and without any question. And full stop, Majida Turner did not have an affair with Congressman Darrell Issa.

What is noteworthy, based on our reporting, is that several sources say Majida Turner and Darrell Issa, the amount of time that they have been spending together over the course of a few years has been noted by folks on Capitol Hill in Washington. And, in fact, a former aide to Congressman Issa actually told me yesterday that the constant presence of this lobbyist, Majida Turner, at Issa's office was actually talked at Issa's office, that she seemed to be and seemed to have clear and prioritized access at Issa's office.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. We'll let you keep digging on that. We don't know a heck of a lot more.

Let me ask you, since I have you, and you have been doing reporting on this whole Rob Porter scandal at White House. We are getting fresh reaction, as we've been talking about. The FBI director testifying, saying that they flagged the White House on a clearance concerns that they were dealing with, in some capacity, a man being accused of spousal abuse.

Here is some sound from Congress.


SEN. JOHN NEELY KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: I think a management mistake, a bad management decision was made. General Kelly is the chief of staff, so he ultimately bears the final responsibility.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R), ARIZONA: The White House said that they handled it poorly or could have handled it better. I agree.


FLAKE: No. He's wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Here is the thing that a lot of you may not realize. The fact that the White House has yet to reach out -- in the cloud of all of this, has yet to reach out to either of Porter's ex-wives.

LEE: That's right. It's pretty stunning.


LEE: I agree with you. The fact that the White House is trying so hard now to say, look, the president cares a lot about domestic abuse, he cares a lot about these victims.


BALDWIN: Although, he hasn't said it publicly.


LEE: He said it through Sarah Sanders, who said yesterday repeatedly, so this clearly the pre-scripted line that the president does care about this issue, does care about the victims. But when I reached out to both of the ex-wives earlier today, they told me they had not heard a single thing from a single person at the White House. Remember, the story is one that broke many days ago now. It's been at least a week or so. They said there's been no outreach. You have to wonder, the White House has gone as far to acknowledge that they could have handled all of this better. You would think that a phone call to the ex-wives, that they would know, the White House would know that those phone calls would have gone a long way.

BALDWIN: If you care about abuse, as they say they do, call the women, call the women.

M.J., thank you so much.

Again, waiting for this White House briefing to begin. How will the White House respond to what we were discussing? The FBI director today contradicting the West Wing's public timeline of all of this. What new timeline we might get today. The White House briefing any moment.


[14:37:37] BALDWIN: All eyes on the Senate today with immigration finally up for open debate. The president ramping up the pressure, tweeting, "This is the last chance to fix DACA before his March 5th deadline."

The president is pushing for the jewel in crown of his immigration crackdown, with the border wall. But new developments on Mexico, the southern border shows tough talk may not be scaring people off like it once did. Also, after a brief drop in border crossings, numbers are starting to climb back up again, suggesting the so-called Trump effect may have run its course.

Here's CNN's Leyla Santiago, from Mexico. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, you will not find a wall here. For many, this is the gateway to the U.S./Mexico border thousands of miles away.

Some use this river to transport goods, others to migrate north. Just 20 minutes here, we find Ronnie Cordona's (ph) family crossing.


SANTIAGO (on camera): He made it to the U.S. and then was deported back to Honduras, and now is trying again.

(voice-over): Ronnie is headed north to escape violence and poverty in Honduras. They once feared President Trump's tough talk on immigration. Not anymore.


SANTIAGO (on camera): He says he's going to get there with or without a wall.

(voice-over): Every day they cross the river. This is not part of the challenge for those fleeing violence in Central America. It only costs 1.50 to go from Guatemala into Mexico. But once you get to that side the risks can be deadly, forcing many to hire a smuggler.


SANTIAGO: This is a coyote, a human smuggler. He would only speak with us if we concealed his identity.


SANTIAGO (on camera): He says he has brought in 3,000 to 4,000 people to the United States.

(voice-over): He charges about $6,000 per person, and works with a network of smugglers.


SANTIAGO (on camera): He says it's easy to get from Guatemala to Mexico.

But what about Mexico to the U.S.?



SANTIAGO: He says that one is a little more difficult.

[14:39:58] (voice-over): He noticed the flow of immigrants slowed down when President Trump took office. But numbers on the U.S./Mexico border have shown an uptick since May. Mexico's southern border has seen a similar trend. Business for smugglers has picked up again.


SANTIAGO (on camera): Immigration, he say, is unstoppable, no matter what President Trump says. Some people are just determined to get the United States.

So when you get to the U.S./Mexico border will you be using a smuggler there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's correct.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): We found Darby -- we're not using his last name for his safety -- outside of one of Mexico's immigration offices where so many are waiting for permission to be in Mexico as they travel north.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an awful, awful feeling of loneliness.

SANTIAGO: Darby tells us he was deported from the U.S. in May. He is worried about the dangerous trek back, where he has no defense against cartels that extort vulnerable immigrant. Many are robbed, kidnapped, killed. And still, he says, it's worth the risk. Staying in Honduras could mean that gangs will carry out threats to kill him and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only choice I have at this time is to go back to the U.S. and try to make an entry, an illegal entry again.

SANTIAGO (on camera): You know this is illegal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know it is illegal. But --


SANTIAGO: Why not do it the legal way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very, very difficult.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): He doesn't have enough time or money to get back to the U.S. legally, he says. He's desperate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still have a dream.

SANTIAGO: No matter what the U.S. president may say or build --


SANTIAGO (on camera): He said Trump can't build a wall in the ocean.

(voice-over): -- they all agree, they will find a way north.

Leyla Santiago, CNN, Chiapas, Mexico.




QUESTION: Good afternoon.

SANDERS: Many of you probably saw Protective Life Corporation's announcement this morning. As a direct result of the Trump tax cuts, the Alabama-based company is raising their minimum wage to $15 per hour and giving a $1,000 bonus to over 2,000 of their workers.

For those of you keeping track, we now have over 350 companies that have announced wage increases, bonuses, new hiring or increased retirement benefits as a direct result of tax reform, which not a single Democrat supported.

SANDERS: These announcements have affected over 4 million American workers.

The president's working to build an economy that works for all Americans. The tax cuts and reforms are a big part of that and so is infrastructure.

As you all saw yesterday, the president unveiled a legislative outline for rebuilding infrastructure in America. To cure decades of neglect, we are committed to quickly building a safe, reliable and modern infrastructure to meet the needs of the American people and to fuel economic growth.

And to help make this possible, we have a very special announcement today. In keeping with his campaign pledge, the president donates his salary on a quarterly basis to further work being done on important projects.

Most recently, the president donated his third-quarter salary to help the Department of Health and Human Services combat the opioid epidemic. Prior to that, he donated to the Department of Education and the National Park Service.

And today, the president's proud to donate his fourth quarter salary -- 2017 salary to the Department of Transportation to support their programs to rebuild and modernize our crumbling infrastructure.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is here to accept a check. I'd like to bring her up to say a few words, take a couple questions on infrastructure and about how these funds will be used. And I trust that you'll stay on topic, and then I'll be back up afterwards to answer your questions on the news of the day.

With that, Secretary Chao, thank you so much for being here.

CHAO: Thank you.

We're going to have to get this check here and with all of us.

(LAUGHTER) Thank you.

Thank you, Sarah.

I'm accompanied here, in case you were wondering, by two officials of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I have with me Derek Kan, undersecretary of policy, and Jim Ray, the senior adviser to the secretary for infrastructure. They are here because of this gift and so let me proceed.

As many of you have heard yesterday, 12 federal agencies have been working with the White House on the comprehensive infrastructure proposal that the president announced yesterday.

Transportation is one component. The proposal also includes energy, drinking and waste water, broadband and veterans hospitals as well.

The goal of the president's proposal is to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment, which includes a minimum of $200 billion in direct federal funding. And a key element is to empower decision-making at the state and the local level, because state and local officials know best the infrastructure needs of their communities.

Many of you know that the principles are behind this and so I wanted to reiterate some of the principles. The principles behind this proposal are, one, to use federal dollars as seed money to encourage infrastructure investment by the states, localities and the private sector; two, provide for the infrastructure needs of rural communities; three, streamline project delivery; and four, invest in transformative projects that benefit everyone.

We are already applying these principles to the Department of Transportation's major existing infrastructure grant programs, including, for example, the INFRA grant. And that is why these two gentlemen to my right are here, because their offices will be among those at the Department of Transportation that will be taking the applications and also administering these INFRA grants.

This quarter, as mentioned, the president has generously decided to donate his annual salary to the department's INFRA grant programs.

INFRA directly reflects the president's proposal, by providing dedicated discretionary funding for projects that address critical issues facing our nation's highways and bridges and ports. Under the INFRA program, states and localities that secure some funding or financing of their own are given higher-priority access to federal funds. In addition, INFRA also reserves at least 25 percent of its funding to be awarded to rural projects.

So, infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and it's key to keeping our country competitive. The president's proposal will create new jobs, strengthen our economy and improve the quality of life for everyone.

And so with that quick summary, I'll be more than glad to answer any questions.

Yes, John (ph)?

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, some of the criticisms of the president's plan as outlined yesterday are that it puts too much of a burden on states financially, because the federal portion is about 13 percent of the overall, and might also end up in people paying more taxes, more tolls, that sort of thing. What do you say to that?

CHAO: You know, federal money is not free. Federal money comes from our communities -- people, taxpayers in our communities. They take that money, send it to Washington, and then we decide how to use it and send it back to the communities with a lot of strings attached on what they need to do.

So what we are trying to do is to recognize the states and localities, communities understand best what their infrastructure needs are, and to allow them to have much greater flexibility to decide their own projects, in conjunction and in partnership with the federal government.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Thanks, Mrs. Chao -- Secretary Chao.

One of the other criticisms about the president's plan is that it doesn't include addressing the Highway Trust Fund, which only has so many years ahead of it of funding -- just a few years.

Could you address why that was not included in the president's broader infrastructure plan? And then what does the administration plan to do about that very important source of funding for infrastructure projects across the country?

CHAO: Well, the Highway Trust Fund does need to be addressed, because every year more money goes out of it than receipts are received. And this will be a huge problem in 2021.

So we, in conjunction with the Congress, have got to address this issue. So we're not in any disagreement about that. And the issue is how. And we look forward to consulting with Congress on how to do that, because, again, the cliff begins in 2021.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the White House doesn't have a proposal right now for that?

CHAO: Well, we want to -- we don't want to do it unilaterally.

As mentioned, the president's proposal consisted of principles. And we want to discuss and work in consultation, on a bipartisan basis, with the Hill to address the infrastructure needs of our country.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary?

CHAO: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

The crumbling infrastructure, could you talk to us about -- we know what's going on with -- with roads, bridges, highways, what have you. But when it comes to rural America...

CHAO: Yes.

QUESTION: ... can you give us specifics about what's crumbling, what needs to be fixed and -- and what jobs will be given where?

CHAO: Well, I come from the state of Kentucky. I'm a proud Kentuckian. And I come from a -- a rural state, so I am especially concerned about the needs of rural America. And we recognize that the needs of rural America are special.

And that is why, in the president's proposal, there is actually a provision which addresses the unique needs of rural America. So it will be separate from the -- there's a separate title that is addressed to rural America.

And, similarly, there's a separate title addressed to transformative technology as well. So, for example, Derek Kan, the undersecretary of policy, one of his portfolio areas is transformational technology: autonomous vehicles, automated driving systems.

So that is another part of the president's infrastructure proposal that we will be also discussing with the Hill.

SANDERS: Let's take one last question.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary?

CHAO: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Chao.

As you know, the federal gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has advocated an increase in the gas tax of 25 cents per gallon. The truckers -- the American Trucking Association's recommended a 20-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax. What's your view on the subject?

CHAO: Well, the president has not declared anything out of bounds, so everything is on the table.

The gas tax, like many of the other pay-fors that are being discussed, is not ideal, there are pros and cons. The gas tax has adverse impact -- a very regressive impact on the most vulnerable within our society, those who depend on jobs, who are hourly workers.

So, these are tough decisions. Which is why, once again, we need to start the dialogue with the Congress and -- so that we can address these issues on this very important point.

QUESTION: Could you just clarify your answer to John (ph) from the first question? Were you saying -- there are strings attached, so you're saying that taxes will increase and that tolls may increase, or they won't?

CHAO: That is a decision that is up to the state and local governments.

And also, it's going to depend -- that gentleman mentioned about federal gas taxes.

These are tough decisions. We all want better infrastructure but unfortunately there's just not enough money in the world to pay for all the infrastructure. Which is why the president's infrastructure (sic) also emphasizes the private sector.

Private sector pension funds are a tremendous source of capital for funding public infrastructure, but there are states which disallow the private sector from investing in public infrastructure. So we hope that that -- those restrictions can be removed.

And then for those states and localities that want to work with the private sector, it's their decision as to whether they want to use private activity bonds, whether they want to use tolls. Whatever.

What we are saying in this proposal is that we're looking for creative ways for financing. And so, tolls is one way. We're not advocating for them. We're also not endorsing them.

It is really up to the local entities that are involved in trying to raise the financing.

QUESTION: As a quick follow-up, you're from Kentucky, so you well know the Watterson Expressway. When it was widened in Louisville, one of the biggest -- one of the things (inaudible) liked the best about it, there was no toll. And so, in rural areas it helped people get to where they wanted to go quicker. Here in the Washington, D.C., area you have an abundance of tolls and it cuts into people's paychecks.

So, while you're espousing that you want to help out rural America, isn't that going to impact -- won't tolls hurt rural America?

CHAO: That's really -- OK, you're mixing up, I think, several things here -- I'm so sorry.

There is actually going to be a title, as I mentioned of, rural America. So that is separate from the rest of the titles in this proposal that we're talking about. So there will be a special section for rural America.

And then as for whether other urban areas want to embark upon tolls or private activity bonds or asset recycling, that is up to them. We are giving them the flexibility to do so. So, it's actually they're getting much greater flexibility now to be able to look at the panoply of creative financing mechanisms and decide for themselves what they want.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

CHAO: Thank you so much. I'm sure we'll be talking more. Thank you. SANDERS: Thank you, Secretary Chao.

Due to the fact the president's got an event here momentarily, we'll jump straight into the questions for today.


QUESTION: As you know, FBI Director Christopher Wray laid out a different timeline than the White House has been telling us -- or one that would seem to be in contradiction to the timeline that the White House has laid out in terms of what we knew when about Rob Porter.

QUESTION: Can you speak to what the director said?

He seemed to indicate the first that you would've known about this might have been in March, then again in June, then November, then in January, when their case was actually closed.

SANDERS: Look, we explained that process extensively last week. The White House Personnel Security Office, staffed by career officials, received information last year and what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November. But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned.

In the view of Personnel Security Office, the FBI's July report required significant additional investigatory fieldwork before Personnel Security Office could begin to evaluate the information for adjudication. As Director Wray said, information was still coming to the White House Personnel Security Office in February.

QUESTION: So just to be clear then, in its July report, if not back in March, was there information contained in those reports about the allegations about Rob Porter?

SANDERS: I wouldn't have access to that information. I wouldn't know the answer to that, John (ph).

Kristen (ph)?

QUESTION: I just wanted to drill down on one important fact, because you and Raj said (ph) this again, that the investigation was ongoing. Christopher Wray said it was closed in January. So who's telling the truth there?


As I said, the FBI portion was closed. The White House Personnel Security Office, who is the one that makes a recommendation for adjudication, had not finished their process and therefore not made a recommendation to the White House.

QUESTION: And let me just clarify one more point.

You said yesterday that you didn't get any paperwork from the FBI. Chris Wray said that you did see that paperwork (inaudible)... SANDERS: Again, that would come through the White House Personnel Security Office, which had not completed their investigation and not passed that information to the White House.

QUESTION: But you acknowledge that you did receive paperwork?

SANDERS: Again, the White House -- I think you need to be very clear about -- there's multiple groups here.

The White House Personnel Security Office, which is staffed by career officials, would have -- may have received information. But they had not completed their process and made a recommendation to the White House for adjudication.

QUESTION: And then finally, who's -- who allowed John Kelly -- or Rob Porter, rather, to stay here without permanent security clearance?

SANDERS: I can't comment on specifics of that, other than what we've already said on that matter.


QUESTION: And, Sarah, can you answer questions about...

SANDERS: Sorry, Kristen (ph), I'm going to keep moving because we've got a short time future (ph) here today.

QUESTION: Is the White House still maintaining that John Kelly really had no idea about these allegations of domestic abuse until this story broke?

SANDERS: I can only give you the best information that I have, and that's my understanding.

QUESTION: And does the president believe the women?

SANDERS: Again, the president takes all of these accusations very seriously. He believes in due process. Above everything else, he supports the victims of any type of violence and certainly would condemn any violence against anyone.

QUESTION: But we still haven't heard him say that himself. The cameras were in front of him today...

SANDERS: Look, again, the president dictated to me specifically that comment yesterday, which I read out to you guys.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. I've got two for you.

First, can you speak to did anyone at the White House Personnel Security Office have any communications with anyone in the West Wing about Rob Porter's clearance between when the FBI started submitting it's interim reports and -- and...

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any communication. I can't say definitively, but I'm not aware of any communication.

QUESTION: And then secondly (ph), on Capitol Hill today, in an interview with the Associated Press, DNI Coats said that those with interim security clearances should not be granted -- should have limited access to classified information, rather than access to the whole gamut that a full clearance would provide.

Can you speak to whether that is a current practice right now for the large number of -- for the significant number of officials, whether it be the West Wing or the broader White House complex, president's aides who don't have permanent security clearances? Do they have limited access to classified information?

SANDERS: I can't speak to whether people have interim or permanent security clearances at all, and therefore can't comment on the process.


SANDERS: We -- we are following the process that has been used by previous administrations, and we would rely on the law enforcement and intelligence communities to determine if that process needed to be changed.

QUESTION: But the (inaudible) suggested that it would be changed.

SANDERS: And they would be the ones that would make that determination and play a role in what those changes would look like.