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EARLY START

White House Still Can't Answer Key Rob Porter Questions; Senate to Begin Debate on Immigration; Figure Skater Adam Rippon Speaks Out; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[04:30:42] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House still can't answer key questions about how it handled abuse claims against Rob Porter. Now one of his ex-wives says she is dismayed at the response from Kellyanne Conway.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president just released budget, prioritizes cuts to programs that would hurt the poorest Americans and it's not expected to help the deficit.

ROMANS: And a record-breaking night for the Americans in Pyeongchang. Chloe Kim can enjoy the ice cream at the top of the medal stand. Great stuff from her.

Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

ROMANS: I'm Dave Briggs. She was fantastic on Twitter and on the pipe there.

It is 31 minutes past the hour. We start day seven of this Rob Porter scandal. It's now been, yes, a full week since it broke. And three days since the president tweeted that people's lives were being shattered by, quote "mere allegations." He is talking of course about the accused. But the human face on those mere allegations is emerging now and getting harder for the country and the White House to ignore.

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

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KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: I rarely 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.

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ROMANS: Colby Holderness writes, "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."

BRIGGS: When the president called for due process in cases like Rob Porter's, it was 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 took out newspaper ads calling the death -- calling for the death penalty in the case and has reportedly never apologized.

Here's what one of them, Raymond Santana, told CNN's Anderson Cooper last night.

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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.

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ROMANS: Yes, People who studied this case, when the president was talking about due process, they were sort of flabbergasted because they felt that the president did not promote due process in that case by any stretch of the imagination.

The White House is 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, quote, "extent" of the allegations until last Tuesday evening when the "Daily Mail" first reported them. Sanders is defending the administration's shifting response but admits the West Wing is looking at how it could have been improved.

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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.

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

More now from Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, it's been one week since a 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's 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.

[04:35:03] 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.

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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.

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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 at the White House. Thanks, Jeff.

The White House released its 2019 budget blueprint. With the two-year spending bill just passed, it won't be adapted by Congress, of course, but it does showcase President Trump's priorities this year. There's $200 billion to spur infrastructure spending, $23 billion for border security including funding for a wall, and $17 billion to fight the opioid epidemic. 2

The budget also radically changes some major programs like food stamps, replacing half of that monthly cash benefit with a box of food delivery. It privatizes the U.S. Space Station. NASA will 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.

The Office of Management and Budget says this plan will cut deficits by $3 trillion over 10 years. But that assumes optimistic growth projections of 3 percent a year. And the president recently signed two deficit increasing bill of the new tax law. And a budget deal that increases spending by $300 billion. Both of those will push U.S. deficits past a trillion dollars next year.

BRIGGS: The race to 60 under way today as the Senate starts an open immigration debate. Republicans declaring they will only allow this 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. It calls for a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, along with $25 billion for 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.

More now from Capital Phil Mattingly.

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.

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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.

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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. 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.

BRIGGS: Phil, thank you.

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.

[04:40:02] 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. Not gender identity.

ROMANS: A scare for President Trump's daughter-in-law Vanessa. 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 NYC. I appreciate all the quick response to make sure that I was safe," adding gratitude to first responders.

BRIGGS: 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 this letter.

ROMANS: All right. A big rebound on Wall Street after its worst week in two years. The Dow shot 410 points higher, spiking 740 points in two trading days. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 notched their biggest two-day percentage jump since 2016. Volatility shook Wall Street last week pushing U.S. stocks into correction. Investors worried about rising bond yields, inflation and what both means for interest rates.

Stocks will likely keep taking cues from the bond market, frankly. The 10-year Treasury yield hit a four-year high on Monday. But after six straight days of huge swings, things have -- it feels like it's calmed down a little bit. There's something that measures volatility called the VIX. It actually eased about 12 percent after spiking last week.

But this rebound does not mean the wild swings are over. A tumble also represents a buying opportunity and it's still a great environment for stocks. The economy is strong. Unemployment low. Corporate profits are high. Right now U.S. futures are down a little bit along with most European and Asian stocks.

To put it in perspective, if you've been just sort of freaking out over the last couple of weeks, the market fell a lot and now it's reclaimed about a quarter of that decline.

BRIGGS: But you're still in a very good shape if you invested last year.

ROMANS: Oh my gosh, yes. You're still up by almost 30 percent.

BRIGGS: Doing awfully good.

All right. So too is American Chloe Kim making history. Becoming the youngest female snowboarder ever to win Olympic gold. My man Coy Wire has more on the "Bleacher Report" live from Pyeongchang next.

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[04:46:29] BRIGGS: American figure skater Adam Rippon is making headlines on and off the ice for his huge personality. Coy Wire also has a big personality. He's live with us in Pyeongchang.

Hey, Coy.

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COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Dave. But good night from the future over here in South Korea. Adam Rippon has become sort of a hero for the LGBT community. He and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy are the USA's first openly gay men to compete in the Winter Olympics. His spat with Vice President Pence turned a lot of heads here at the games voicing his disapproval of the VP being chosen to lead the U.S. delegation here in Pyeongchang.

He turned his focus, though, to the ice saying he didn't want his Olympic experience to be all about the vice president. So after helping Team USA earned bronze in back-to-back team figure skating competitions at the games, Adam said he's not going to stop speaking his mind hoping that he can use it to help create positive change. Listen.

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ADAM RIPPON, BRONZE MEDALIST, FIGURE SKATING: And I've heard a lot of people like, whoa, Adam Rippon should tone it down, and blah, blah, blah. I can't -- I can't tone it down. I'm being me and I'm being myself, and I would be doing myself an injustice and I'd be doing an injustice to those kids who don't feel like they're comfortable to be themselves.

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WIRE: All right. After the wicked winds postponed the women's giant slalom, finally it's going down later today East Coast time. It's the Pyeongchang debut. And time for Team USA's Mikaela Shiffrin to defend her Olympic gold. What in the world was she doing all this time when she's not able to compete like she wanted to be? Listen.

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MIKAELA SHIFFRIN, OLYMPIC SKIER: It's almost like meditation but I end up falling asleep. And then when I wake up it's like a power nap and I feel rejuvenated and I can go out for my run. It's like for most people maybe would be equivalent of having a cup of coffee. For me, I just take a nap. And when I wake up, it's like look out, world, this girl is ready to go.

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WIRE: All right. We would be remiss if we didn't mention every time we talk about the Olympics that young Chloe Kim, the 17-year-old California kid took Olympic gold becoming the youngest woman ever to take gold on snow at a Winter Game. She is the talk of the town here at the Olympics.

BRIGGS: And of Korean heritage. All right. Coy Wire, thanks so much. We, too, like Mikaela Shiffrin need that nap. Right? I mean, that rejuvenates us.

ROMANS: I know. I don't get a gold medal after my naps, though.

BRIGGS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Just kind of -- along during the day.

BRIGGS: It is similar to coffee.

ROMANS: All right. 49 minutes past the hour, the official portraits of the nation's 44th president and first lady unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. There they are. They definitely break with tradition. Barack Obama's portrait depicts him seated against the backdrop of green foliage. Some say it looks like the ivy at Wrigley -- I think it burns for the president because he's White Sox fan.

BRIGGS: Sure would be.

ROMANS: The former president chose Kehinde Wiley, famous for his depiction of African-Americans pose in the style of old master paintings.

BRIGGS: Mr. Obama said he tried but failed to have some input on his look.

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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.

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[04:50:02] BRIGGS: The painting of Michelle Obama shows a fashion forward first lady in a flowing pattern dress. Michelle Obama chose Baltimore based artist Amy Sherald, an African-American artist known for painting with gray scale. The unique style does not exactly erase race, but declare it irrelevant.

ROMANS: A lot of people are really talking about this, and I think hers, if you put it up again, it was one of the more mixed responses I think because --

BRIGGS: Very mixed.

ROMANS: It looked -- I heard Tara Setmayer on our air said it looks like Kerry Washington. Not like Michelle Obama. But it definitely breaks with tradition. And that's what the first lady wanted. She wanted to break with tradition. And she also said she wanted little girls to be able to look up and see someone who looked like them on the wall.

BRIGGS: Sure. I think the president looks exactly like him. Hers, not so much. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks on hand for that unveiling.

ROMANS: I know. I like it actually. I like that it was a departure.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: All right. One of the world's top advertisers is threatening Facebook and Google. It says clean up or we'll pull our ads. Details on CNN Money Stream next.

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[04:55:25] ROMANS: 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. While responding to a domestic disturbance call back 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. He told Mader to shoot him. As a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, Mader concluded Williams was not a threat. BRIGGS: As he tried to deescalate the situation, two other police

officers arrived. When Williams raised his gun, he was shot and killed by one of the officers. The local city manager had no comment on the settlement. Mader says he's happy to finally put this chapter of his life to bed.

ROMANS: The principal at a Philadelphia elementary school is paying eighth graders to not fight. And she says it is working. Stephanie Andrewlevich runs Mitchell Elementary School in a violent corner of the city. She tells the "Philadelphian Inquirer" if all eighth graders make it to graduation with no physical violence, each student will get $100. So far this year, only 8 percent of eighth graders have been suspended, down from 17 percent at the same point last year. The principal hopes a sponsor will come forward but if not, she will put up the $3300 herself.

BRIGGS: Paying for not fighting. Good stuff.

All right. The most magical place on earth has never come cheap. Effective immediately the Walt Disney Company is raising ticket prices between two and seven bucks at both the Florida and California parks. At the height of the tourist season, a one-day adult ticket to the magic kingdom now costs $129. A ticket to Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom stands at $122. And a ticket to Disneyland Resort in California $117.

The company says it understands how important Disney memories are to families so it, quote, "evolves its prices to give families a range of options."

ROMANS: And they also -- Disney always points out that most people don't buy just a single person ticket one day.

BRIGGS: Very early.

ROMANS: They buy packages that include hotels and sometimes transportation. So they always tell me it's not as simple as just looking at that price but that price is going up.

Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stocks and U.S. futures are lower right now, although Wall Street saw a big rebound following its worst week in two years last week. The Dow up 410 points yesterday, spiking 740 points in two trading days, Friday and Monday. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 notched their biggest two- day percentage jump since 2016.

Its volatility is back. Shook Wall Street last week, pushing stocks into a correction. Investors worry about rising bond yields, inflation and what both means for interest rates. After six straight days of huge swings, things have calmed down a little bit here. At least for now. The VIX, that's the fear gauge, it measures volatility, it fell 12 percent yesterday. To put it in context, all those losses, about a quarter of them have been made up.

Just as Amazon publicly searches for a second headquarters it is laying off hundreds of employees mostly at its Seattle headquarters. Amazon confirms the layoff is, quote, "as part of our annual planning process. We are making headcount adjustments across the company." It will try to find roles for the affected employees in other departments. Amazon isn't reducing overall staff it says. And now it says that it has added 130,000 jobs last year.

All right. The maker of Dove, Lipton or Ben & Jerry's has a message for Facebook and Google. Clean up or we'll pull our ads. Unilever will pull ads from platform it called a swamp of fake news, racism and sexism. Unilever is one of the world's top advertisers, spending about $2.5 billion each year on digital ads. Google and Facebook dominate the online marketplace but Google has come under fire for showing ads alongside objectionable videos. Facebook faces harsh criticisms for enabling fake news and foreign election meddling and Unilever says it does not wants its brands next to that.

BRIGGS: And borrowing from the Trump administration there with some swamp and fake news.

ROMANS: Draining the digital swamp. Yes.

BRIGGS: Yes. All right. EARLY START continues right now with day seven of this Rob Porter mess for the White House.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The White House still can't answer key questions about how it handled abuse claims against Rob Porter. Now one of his ex-wives says she is dismayed at the response of Kellyanne Conway.

BRIGGS: President's budget is out. It prioritizes cuts to programs that could hurt the poorest Americans and is not expected to help the deficit.

ROMANS: And a record-breaking night for the Americans in Pyeongchang. Chloe Kim can enjoy her ice cream at the top of the medal stands.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Tuesday, February 13th. Your mom's birthday. Happy birthday.

ROMANS: Happy birthday, mom.

BRIGGS: And my daughter's birthday as well.

ROMANS: How nice.

BRIGGS: So we double.

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