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Mixed Messages from the White House; Senate to Begin Debate on Immigration; 17-year-old Chloe Kim Soars to Halfpipe Gold; Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:12] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House still cannot answer key questions about how it handled abuse claims against a key staffer Rob Porter. Now one of the ex-wives says she's dismayed at the response from Kellyanne Conway.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president's budget is out. It prioritizes cuts to programs that could hurt the poorest Americans and it's not expected to help the deficit.

BRIGGS: And a record-breaking night for the Americans in Pyeongchang. Chloe Kim can enjoy her ice cream at the top of the medal stands. She tweeted about ice cream the other day. And boy, is she a star there?

ROMANS: She sure is.

BRIGGS: Her dad from South Korea. They are celebrating her in a couple of nations.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, February 13th. Happy birthday, mom. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

It is now a full week since the Rob Porter scandal broke and three days since the president tweeted that people's lives are being shattered by, quote, "mere allegations." But the human face on those mere allegations are emerging and getting harder for the country and the White House to ignore.

Rob Porter's first wife is now lashing out at the White House in a new op-ed in the "Washington Post." This photo of Colby Holderness with a black eye galvanized reaction to the scandal. She is slamming these comments by Kellyanne Conway in CNN about White House communications director Hope Hicks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: I've never met somebody so strong with such excellent, excellent instincts and loyalty, and smarts.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It sounds like you believe the women.

CONWAY: I -- I have no reason not to believe the women.


BRIGGS: Colby Holderness writes in the "Washington Post," quote, "Borrowing Conway's words, I have no reason not to believe her when she says that Hicks is a strong woman. But her statement implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong. I beg to differ. It's often the subtler forms of abuse that inflict serious persistent damage while making it hard for the victim to see the situation clearly."

ROMANS: When the president called for due process in cases like Rob Porter's, it came as quite a shock to members of the Central Park Five. They are the five men who were wrongfully convicted for the attack and rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989.

Donald Trump pushed for the death penalty in that case and has reportedly never apologized. Here's what one of them, Raymond Santana, told CNN's Anderson Cooper.


RAYMOND SANTANA, EXONERATED MEMBER OF CENTRAL PARK 5: Race does play in part in this, right? Because here we were black and Latino boys who are 15 -- 14 to 15 years old and he didn't mind giving us the death penalty. This is his character. It all plays a part of that. There has to be somebody on the top and there has to be someone in the bottom. And he chooses to stay on the top and he wants all of us to be on the bottom.


BRIGGS: The White House still looking for the right word to explain discrepancies over who knew about Porter's alleged abuse of two ex- wives. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders now maintaining the White House did not know the extent of the allegations until last Tuesday evening when the "Daily Mail" first reported them even though the "Daily Mail" says they gave them a head's up a few days out from the story.

Sanders is defending the administration's shifting response but admits the West Wing is looking at how it could have improved.


SANDERS: We're going to continue to look at the process and the role we all played and how we can do it better. But not just in this, I think every day we come to work and we hope to do a better job than we did the day before. As we recognize last week there were some things we could have done better and we'll certainly going to look at every single instance in every single thing we do, how we can always do it a little bit better than we did the day before.


ROMANS: The Press Office declined to detail exactly what White House counsel Don McGahn knew. CNN and other media reported McGahn was aware a year ago that some of Porter's ex-wives might give damaging information about him in their FBI interviews.

President Trump's conflicting remarks on the Porter scandal reportedly the president called him a sick puppy in private then defended him in public. It's sowing confusion frankly in the West Wing. Another reason why this story is seven days dominating the news headlines.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The staffing scandal here at the White House has really shaken the administration to its core. The White House still finding itself answering questions about who knew what, when and where about the resignation of Rob Porter, of course the staff secretary who is accused of abusing two of his former wives.

Now the president of course is calling out to people who make accusations of domestic assault, saying that mere accusations are not enough. Well, the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday, she said she does believe the president speaks for all when he calls out domestic violence. Even though he's not said it in his own words, she said he takes it very seriously.


[04:05:00] SANDERS: And 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 that they -- everyone should be treated fairly and with due process. The president is simply saying that there should be a due process that should be followed and looked at.


ZELENY: Now those words from the press secretary certainly is stronger than anything the president has said about this. The president of course has said that Rob Porter maintained his innocence. He has never once talked about stories of abuse from the two former wives of Rob Porter.

Now as all of this moves on, one question here remains at the White House. Security clearances. At least 30 up to 40 potential White House officials and political appointees still operating under temporary security clearances including Jared Kushner.

Even as they're trying to turn the page to talk about the budget, infrastructure, other matters, questions remain today on this even one week later -- Christine and Dave. ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, let's talk about that budget.

You're right. The White House released the 2019 budget blueprint. Now with the two-year spending bill just passed, this budget will not be adopted by Congress but it's instructive because it showcases the president's priorities, right, for government spending. Like $200 billion to spur infrastructure spending. $23 billion for border security including funding for a wall. And $17 billion to fight the opioid epidemic.

The budget also radically changes some major programs like food stamps, replacing half of the monthly cash benefit with a box of food. Imagine food delivery for food stamp recipients. Or privatizing the U.S. Space Station. NASA would stop paying for it by 2025. And citing increasing threats from China and Russia, the Pentagon also wants a budget boost. $686 billion, one of the largest in U.S. history.

Now the Office of Management and Budget says this plan will cut deficits $3 trillion over 10 years. But that's not likely. It comes on optimistic growth projections to 3 percent a year. And the president recently signed two deficit increasing bills. The new tax law and a budget deal that increases spending by $300 billion. Both those will pushes U.S. deficit past to trillion-dollars next year.

BRIGGS: A scare for President Trump's daughter-in-law Vanessa after she opened a letter containing a powdery substance. That letter addressed to her husband, Donald Trump Jr. Police say the substance was found to be nonharzardous. Vanessa Trump was unharmed. She tweeted her appreciation. "Thank you so much for all the help today in New York City. I appreciate all the quick response to make sure that I was safe," adding gratitude to first responders.

ROMANS: Her husband Don Jr. was both angry and relieved, tweeting, "Thankful that Vanessa and my children are safe and unharmed after the incredibly scary situation that occurred this morning. Truly disgusting that certain individuals choose to express their opposing views with such disturbing behavior." The NYPD is investigating to try to determine who sent that letter.

BRIGGS: Today, the Senate expected to formally vote to start the immigration debate or the race to 60, as some are calling it. Republicans declaring they're only allowing the process to play out on the Senate floor for one week in an attempt to force Democrats to show their hand.

Majority leader Mitch McConnell expressing support for a GOP proposal that mirrors the White House plan which calls for a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, along with $25 billion for the border security. The Republican plan also makes it easier to detain and deport certain immigrants, cuts family based migration and ends the diversity visa lottery.

We get more from Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, the long-awaited immigration debate, the debate to try and figure out some resolution to the DACA issue, the so-called Dreamers, more than 600,000 individuals who were brought to the country by undocumented parents. It's officially under way. The question is what's actually going to lead to a solution or if there is going to be any solution at all.

Take a close listen to what the two leaders, the Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, had to say in their remarks on Monday. Senator McConnell making very clear he is behind a Republican proposal that mirrors what the White House put out. Senator Schumer saying maybe tailor things a little bit more.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY: It's our best chance to producing a solution that can actually resolve these matters which requires that a bill pass the Senate, pass the House, and earn the president's signature.

SEN. CHARLES 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.


MATTINGLY: Now, guys, the dynamics here are extremely important. First and foremost, this is an open floor debate. Any amendment that gets an agreement can actually move forward but the bigger question is, what amendments actually have a path? And that path includes the support of at least 60 senators. This is not a simple majority. This is 60 senators which means it has to be bipartisan.

As for the Democrats, they haven't actually floated what proposal they're going to put forward yet.

[04:10:03] They're working behind the scenes, trying to put something together and actually has 60 votes before it's even put on the table.

Here's one limiting factor. Top Senate Republicans are now saying this isn't going to be a lengthy debate. This isn't going to last for months at a time. This is going to be a one-week exercise, which means people need to start moving and start moving fast -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Phil, thank you for that.

New guidance from the Department of Education that critics say could endanger the welfare of transgender students. The department will no longer investigate civil rights complaints involving transgender students in school bathrooms. This change reverses guidance from the Obama administration in 2016.

Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the department has a new interpretation of Title IX. The claim now is federal law only prohibits discrimination based on sex and not gender identity. BRIGGS: And it's not been revealed, President Obama and top national

security officials discussed whether to limit how much information to share with the incoming Trump team about the Russia investigation. The meeting was last January. The outgoing administration wanted to know whether the Intelligence Community thought there was a national security reason to limit conversations with the Trump team. They feared on the incoming staff could be compromised. Mr. Obama said to handle the situation, quote, "by the book."

ROMANS: Former National Security adviser Susan Rice documented the meeting in an e-mail and then sent it to herself on President Trump's inauguration day. Republican senators Church Grassley and Lindsey Graham released portions of Rice's e-mail. They also sent her a letter asking why she had sent the e-mail to herself.

A lawyer for Rice says in part there is nothing unusual about the National Security adviser documenting an important discussion and the Obama White House was justified in its concerns.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, at just 17 years old American Chloe Kim is now the world's youngest Olympic gold medalist on the snow.

Coy Wire live in Pyeongchang next.


[04:16:07] ROMANS: All right. Team USA continues to blow away the competition on the Olympic snowboard slopes.

Coy Wire has more from Pyeongchang -- Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Christine. The 17-year- old California kid Chloe Kim just became the youngest women ever to win gold on show at the Winter Olympics and one moment in the middle of the competition really showcased her generation. In between runs, she tweeted, "Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich. But my stubborn self decided not to. Now I'm getting hangry." Well, no, she said "hangry," which is hungry and angry.

Well, she took out her frustration on the halfpipe. She bettered her leading score on the final run, nearly scoring a perfect 100. Chloe couldn't hold back the tears on the podium. She tweeted that she hates crying, but she was going to give herself a pass on this one.

I actually escorted her mom and dad to find her in the middle of the madness. They would -- they couldn't find her. They didn't know where she was but that first time hugging their daughter as Olympic champ that was everything. And mom even wiped a tear from her eye. She told me, that's my baby. I can't believe it. And what a better way for dad to celebrate than drinking a cold one after your daughter just wins the gold.

Great story there.

Now listen to this. Led by two-time Olympic champ Shaun White, all four Team USA riders advance to the final round of the men's snowboard halfpipe. White looking for redemption. He's the 14-year pro missed medaling in the Sochi Games. But he said in the press conference earlier this week that he has some tricks that we have not seen before. Can't wait to see what he brings in the final.

And what would the Olympics be without a little controversy? Drama over the masks of two goalies on USA women's ice hockey team. "USA Today" reporting that they may be forced to remove the image of the Statue of Liberty that's on the side of the masks. The International Olympic Committee told Team USA they were a possible violation of its policy against political symbols. The USA hockey spokesperson said, quote, "discussions are ongoing," unquote.

Now let's get an EARLY START on your medal count, Christine. Norway still leading the way with nine, Germany, Netherlands and Canada, got on their trail, right there, with seven. USA, they are rounding out the top five, they have six of them. But in terms of gold medals, Chloe Kim's was the 99th all-time for Americans at the Winter Games. So one more and they join the century club.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

BRIGGS: What a great story. Her dad from South Korea. The word hangry, by the way, added to the Oxford Dictionary just before the Olympics but it's not in Merriam Webster so we need an update.

Coy Wire, go get yourself some food. We don't want you hangry. Thank you, my friend.

OK. The official portraits of the nation's 44th president and first lady unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and they certainly break with tradition. Barack Obama's portrait depicts him seated against the backdrop of green faux leaves. Some say it looks like the ivy at Wrigley Field, which certainly would be a burn for the president who's a big White Sox fan. The painting of Michelle Obama shows a fashion forward first lady in a flowing patterned dress. Mr. Obama said he tried, but failed to have some input on his look.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I tried to negotiate less gray hair. And Kehinde's artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked. I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.


ROMANS: It does kind of look like the ivy over at Wrigley. The former president chose Kehinde Wiley, famous for his depiction of African-Americans posed in the style of old master of paintings. Regal, formal, filled with pops of color.

Now Michelle Obama choose Baltimore based artist Amy Sherald, another African-American artist known for painting with grayscale. And a lot of -- this got a lot of people talking. Her trademark style is charcoal color with taupe undertones. We're told that it doesn't exactly erase her subject's race but declares it irrelevant. [04:20:11] BRIGGS: That's an interesting observation.

ROMANS: So it's a statement by using the grayscale.

BRIGGS: Of course, Twitter had a field day with both of them.


BRIGGS: A Homer Simpson gif of Barack Obama was my personal favorite. Check those out online.

A West Virginia police officer was fired for not shooting a man with a gun. How he settled the issue with the county, next.


ROMANS: Two Baltimore detectives convicted of robbery and racketeering. 47-year-old Daniel Hersl and 30-year-old Marcus Taylor joining six colleagues from the elite Gun Trace Task Force who already pleaded guilty.

[04:25:12] The officers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, guns and luxury accessories while pretending to seize those goods for legitimate law enforcement reasons.

The shocking case renewing charges of widespread corruption in the city's police department. Thousands of convictions in cases handled by the task force of course now being questioned by defense attorneys.

BRIGGS: A former West Virginia police officer winning a $175,000 settlement from the city that fired him for not shooting a distraught suspect who is holding a gun. Responding to a domestic disturbance call in 2016, Stephen Mader found the suspect Ronald "RJ" Williams, Jr. with an unloaded handgun. Mader told CNN last year that Williams was visibly choked up and told Mader to shoot him. As a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, Mader concluded Williams was not a threat.

ROMANS: So as he tried to deescalate the situation, two other police officers arrived. When Williams raised his gun, he was shot and killed one of those officers. The local city manager had no comment on the settlement. Mader says he's, quote, "happy to finally put this chapter of his life to bed."

BRIGGS: The president says mere allegations are ruining people's lives. And he's talking about the accused. But Rob Porter's ex-wife says she is the one who walked away from their relationship, quote, "a shell of the person she used to be." That's next.