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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 5- 5:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: 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. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East. We'll get live to Pyeongchang and this Chloe Kim story in a bit. But now it's been 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 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. And she's slamming these comments by Kellyanne Conway on CNN about White House communications director Hope Hicks, who is dating Rob Porter.


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.


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 victims to see the situation clearly." BRIGGS: 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. Now 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 full page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty in the case and has never publicly 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.


ROMANS: And you can hear from Raymond Santana again later this morning on "NEW DAY."

But 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, quote, "the 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.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.


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.

ROMANS: All right. The White House released its 2019 budget blueprint. And with the two-year spending bill just passed, it will not be adapted by Congress, 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, $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 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, a big one, $686 billion, one of the largest in history.

The Office of Management and Budget says this plan will cut deficits by $3 trillion over 10 years. But it counts on 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 measures will push U.S. deficits past a trillion dollars next year.

BRIGGS: Yikes. Joining us now from CNN center in Atlanta, Chris Deaton. He's the deputy online editor for the "Weekly Standard."

Good to see you, my friend.

ROMANS: Hey, good morning.


BRIGGS: We'll get back to that budget in a moment but let's talk about this Rob Porter mess for the White House. You see that U.S. snowboarder Chloe Kim doing back-to-back 10-80 spins, the White House is seeming to spin in similar direction. Why are we on day seven of this? When will they just come clean with what they know when they knew it?

DEATON: Well, I think we've seen, Dave, in the past the White House having a difficult time trying to walk things back like this when it comes out that somebody makes a spurious claim or somebody makes a claim about a particular issue that has the White House in hot water that they can particularly defend. And then you have a -- we've heard this phrase before, but drip, drip, drip of maybe walking it back an inch at a time and an inch at a time in subsequent days and the story just continues to have life.

[05:05:12] I think that it's actually, to me, quite stark that the White House this time is actually admitting any degree of fault at all.


DEATON: You don't really hear introspection from this White House very much when it comes to handling sensitive issues of this nature so I actually think that this is a step in a different direction.

ROMANS: I've never heard them say we could have done better.

BRIGGS: Well, those -- that was Raj Shah in his first briefing and the word was they weren't happy with the fact that he acknowledged that. ROMANS: Yes. But now they're -- obviously didn't find that.


ROMANS: You know, and these are -- look, these are two ex-wives and a girlfriend, right? And an order of protection. It's not as if -- you know, as the president has said it's just a rumor or an accusation. I mean, there's a pattern here and that's what's kind of troubling here for this White House.

Let me ask you about the security clearance situation in the White House because I keep thinking about Jared Kushner who still does not have his clearance now a year in. What does that say to you about either what's happening at the White House or maybe the situation for Jared Kushner in particular?

DEATON: Well, two things come to mind. Number one, the White House just doesn't seem to care very much about background type of stuff so long as the person fits the character or mold of what the White House is looking for in the trusted aide or a confidant. I think we've seen the White House value loyalty above all else when it comes to aides. A lot of times and a lot of other personal considerations get subordinated to that. So I just kind of think -- to tie it all in as a broader point, I just think that's reflective of the situation going on with Kushner in general or the situation going on with Rob Porter.

To a certain extent this type of stuff and obviously, you know, Jared Kushner completely different situation from Rob Porter, of course. And we have to parse out the personal circumstances differently here. But just when it comes to uber-ails, valuing above all else loyalty and the types of things in an administration aide that Trump always looks for. These are the kind of considerations just kind of seem to take secondary precedents. If there are red flags, who cares?

BRIGGS: Just the fact that Kushner is able to read the briefings without that clearing is shocking.


BRIGGS: Also shocking is the new White House budget out. $4.4 trillion. Not typically a number you see of Republican administrations. It's really -- it's priorities. This is not going to sail through Congress by any means. What are them, the president's priorities when you look at this budget?

DEATON: Well, it's definitely not deficit reduction and definitely not debt reduction to a larger extent which is going to have a lot of fiscal conservatives honked off. The Republican Party has been associated with those types of aims in recent years and I don't think it's terrible surprise that President Trump who did not campaign as a big budget reformer when he talked about mandatory spending and talked about retirement programs like Social Security.

He's not going to go through them and reform them. He's just going to take out the waste. And if you actually look at the sections of the budget blueprint in all of the 14, 15 pillars of what he thinks needs to be done, the one explicit message of actual spending reduction that has mentioned is reducing wasteful spending. And that's great, but that's not exactly programmatic reform of the federal government that's going to produce the sorts of long-term savings that conservatives have wanted.

ROMANS: Yes. He promised that he would -- on the campaign trail, he promised that he would eliminate the national debt in eight years, which all of us knew was impossible.

DEATON: Right.

ROMANS: But that is something that really stirred up, you know, fiscal conservatives and said look, this guy, you know, this guy can go in there. You're just going to -- you know, take a --

BRIGGS: yes.

ROMANS: Not a scalpel but a -- you know, a sledgehammer to the national budget, $4.4 trillion. I don't see that there.

BRIGGS: All right, Chris Deaton, we're going to ask you about this race to 60 on immigration in the Senate which starts today in just a bit. Join us in 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, 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 nonhazardous. 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. He tweeted this, "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, trying to determine who sent that letter.

BRIGGS: All right. Now to that race to 60. Today the Senate is expected to formally vote to start the open immigration debate. Republicans declaring they'll only allow the process to play out on the Senate floor for one week in an attempt to force Democrats to show their hand. They've yet to reveal a proposal.

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.

[05:10:07] 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. A real reversal.


ROMANS: A real reversal.

At just 17 years old, American Chloe Kim is now the world's youngest Olympic gold medalist on snow. Coy Wire is there in Pyeongchang. We go to him live next.


BRIGGS: Team USA continues to blow away the competition on the Olympic snowboard slopes.

Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report" live from Pyeongchang.

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: It was incredible watching the 17-year- old from California become the youngest woman ever to win gold on snow at a Winter Olympics. There's one moment in the middle of the competition that really showcased her generation. In between runs, she tweeted, "Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich. But my stubborn self decided not to. And now I'm getting hangry."


WIRE: So hungry that she's angry. Well, she took out those frustrations on the halfpipe, wowing the crowd including her family. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea so you can imagine the surreal feeling after that final run scoring a nearly perfect 100.

Chloe couldn't hold back the tears on the podium. She tweeted that she hates crying, but she's going to give herself a pass on this one.

I actually escorted her mom and dad over to find her in the middle of the madness. They didn't know where she was. But seeing her parents for the first time hugging their daughter as an Olympic champ that was surreal. Her mommy then wiped a tear from her eyes. She was just kept calling her my baby, my baby. And what a better way for dad to celebrate than drinking a nice cold one after watching their daughter win a gold medal.

Hey, Chloe, what in the world are you doing tweeting in the middle of the competition?


CHLOE KIM, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Like what else am I supposed to do? I think like watching the contest just makes me more nervous and more anxious because it's like you're just waiting there. It's like, you know, when you're supposed to go to the theme park and your parents are taking forever to get ready and you're just waiting there. And it's just like, what are you supposed to do with yourself? So I just got on social media and I just tweeted my feelings.


WIRE: All right. An update for you to the Olympic controversy regarding the two goalies for Team USA women's ice hockey for having the Statue of Liberty on the side of their helmets. Well, USA spokesperson just told CNN that the goalie masks are approved as is. The International Olympic Committee told Team USA that they were a possible violation of its policy against political symbols. Well, but you see the statues on the side of the helmets.

All right. Now medal count update. Norway is still leading the way with nine. Germany, Netherlands and Canada in second, hot on their heels, and then USA rounding out the top five with six in total.

Finally, NBA action. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr taking this easy night. He handed his clipboard to his players and let them be the coach. Veterans like Andre (INAUDIBLE) drawing out plays, discussing strategy. The motivation tactic seems to have worked. The Dub blew out Phoenix by 46 points.

We have to talk about Chloe Kim again. This is the girl who at 5 years old, her dad used to pick her up out of bed while she was sleeping from Tourist, California. She'd wake up five hours later there in the mountains and he goes snowboarding with her for the day. Now he's picking her up as an Olympic champ.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

BRIGGS: And he's from South Korea. So they'll be celebrated there and certainly when they get back home.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

BRIGGS: Coy Wire, live for us from Pyeongchang. Thanks, buddy.

ROMANS: All right, 17 -- 18 minutes past the hour. West Virginia police officer was fired for not shooting a man with an unloaded gun. How he settled the issue with the city, next.


[05:22:39] BRIGGS: 5:22 Eastern Time. 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. The officers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, guns and luxury accessories while pretending to seize the goods for legitimate 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 are now being questioned by defense attorneys.

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. Now 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 on the scene that 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 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."

ROMANS: All right. So a 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 bucks. So far this year, only 8 percent of the 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: That's a lot of cash for a principal in any city let along Philadelphia. I like expelling them if they fight but I guess incentivizing --

ROMANS: I think that maybe expelling them wasn't working and so she wants to keep these kids in school.

BRIGGS: OK. You may have a point.

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 magic kingdom ticket now costs $129, Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom $122, and a ticket to Disneyland in California $117.

[05:25:05] 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." I don't think --

ROMANS: Evolves means raises.


BRIGGS: Right. But I mean, you drop 100 bucks at a local arcade like Dave & Buster's.

ROMANS: No, no.

BRIGGS: $129 for Disney sounds like a deal. ROMANS: They have raised these prices periodically and it doesn't

dent demand for the park. Also they always point out that more people buy packages.

BRIGGS: I don't know about what the deal is.

ROMANS: Right?


ROMANS: So it's not like you're buying just one separate ticket. It wants people to buy packages and try to get a better deal through packages.

BRIGGS: I like it.

ROMANS: All right. I haven't done it with my kids yet by the way.

BRIGGS: You have to. Twice already.

ROMANS: I know. I know.

BRIGGS: Come on.

ROMANS: All right. The president says mere allegations are ruining people's lives. But Rob Porter's ex-wife says she is the one who walked away from their relationship a shell of the person she used to be.



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 unable to 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.