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White House Insists Trump Supports Abuse Victims, Despite His Personal Response. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 07:00   ET


DELANEY: -- agree with each other on, right now? Get some things done for the American people. And I think we have to start the conversation now.

[07:00:13] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And we just did. Congressman John Delaney, thank you for being here on NEW DAY. Great to have you.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and the entire administration take domestic violation very seriously and believes that everyone should be treated with due process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's saying, "Hey, look, let's not rush to judge." He strongly said the same thing back in 1989.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There should be moral leadership from the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have another 30 or 40 persons who have not received security clearances.

SANDERS: This is a process that doesn't operate within the White House. It's handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The long-awaited immigration debate, it's officially under way.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We think there's a good chance of getting DACA done if the Democrats are serious and they actually want to do it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The purpose here is not to make a point. The purpose is to get something done.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The time for political posturing is behind us. Now we have an opportunity to resolve the issues. I hope we make the most of it.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Still writing. OK. Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY.

The White House insists President Trump supports victims of domestic violation. There's one problem. The president has refused to say that himself. And he's had lots of chances. He said the opposite, basically, when supporting a top aide who was forced to resign.

One week into this scandal, the White House still refuses to say if the president believes Rob Porter's ex-wives. Nor will they give us any details about when top officials learned about the abuse allegations. Porter's first ex-wife slamming the White House response in a new op-ed for applying that abuse victims are not strong.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, President Trump's $4.4 trillion budget getting a lot of scrutiny this morning. Conservatives are blasting the deal, which is projected to add trillions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade.

But this morning, the president's focus is on immigration. He has just -- he has tweeted this morning, saying that this is the last chance to fix DACA. And after the March 5 deadline is over, it's over. So can Congress get a deal done?

We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillips. She is live at the White House with our top stories.

Hi, Abby.


Well, it's been a week since these domestic abuse allegations first surfaced against Rob Porter. But the White House still won't say who knew what and when about these allegations.


SANDERS: The president and the entire administration take domestic violation very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly.

PHILLIP (voice-over): Press secretary Sarah Sanders defending President Trump after he expressed sympathy for accused domestic abuser Rob Porter but said nothing about his alleged victims.

SANDERS: The president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.

PHILLIP: Sanders reading a statement that she says was dictated to her by the president. But that's not what Mr. Trump has publicly said.

TRUMP: Obviously, tough time for him. It was very sad when we heard about it. And certainly, he's also very sad. Now, he also, as you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that.

We absolutely wish him well.

PHILLIP: Sanders also addressing this tweet from the president a day later, calling for due process for the accused.

SANDERS: He's not taking a side, necessarily, one way or the other on any specific issue here. He's talking about mere allegations shouldn't be the determining factor for any individual, that there should be due process.

PHILLIP: The conflicting remarks leaving several party officials who spoke to CNN confused about Mr. Trump's stance. A former campaign official telling CNN, "I don't understand why the White House is hedging on condemning domestic abuse."

A member of the Central Park Five, who was wrongly convicted of raping and beating a jogger in 1989, accusing the president of hypocrisy for demanding due process for alleged abusers but calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five defendants.

YUSUF SALAAM, CENTRAL PARK FIVE EXONEREE: What we're seeing is clearly that there are two separate Americas. One America for blacks and people of color, and another America for whites and people of affluence.

PHILLIP: Rob Porter's ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, criticizing Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders' response to the allegations, writing in an op-ed, "While I cannot say I'm surprised, I expected a woman to do better." Holderness specifically citing Conaway's statement that she is not concerned about White House communications director Hope Hicks, who was in a relationship with Porter.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I'm sorry for any suffering this woman has endured, but in the case of Hope, I rarely met somebody so strong, with such excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts.

PHILLIP: Holderness writing, "Her statement implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong."

This, as the White House continues to insist that senior officials only learned about the, quote, "extent of the allegations" last Tuesday. CNN has reported that White House counsel Don McGahn knew a year ago that Porter's ex-wives could present damaging information on him to the FBI. And chief of staff John Kelly learned about the allegations last November as Porter struggled to get approval for a full security clearance.

[07:05:22] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you have a vetting problem?

PHILLIPS: Sanders blaming the FBI for the backlog of dozens of White House staffers continuing to work without permanent clearances.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIP: Well, Alisyn and Chris, this scandal is really not going away yet for this White House. And we have -- we're still waiting to see if President Trump is going to speak in his own words about domestic abuse victims.

Meanwhile, he's already been tweeting about other subjects: immigration and also infrastructure. And he has a meeting with a group of sheriffs this morning and also a gathering about -- of African-American History Month today -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: Abby, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Can't go away as long as they keep weaving the whip. Let's discuss. CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana Bash, the state of play down there, I think the tangled web thing seems to work. It is clear that they're not being forthcoming about the timeline. The reporting just keeps evidencing gaps in what they want us to know. And then the biggest factor is well-known, which is that if the president wanted to support victims of domestic abuse, if he wanted to put out a statement, he would do it now.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, he's not shy about saying things when he wants to say them, which is the main reason, probably the only reason, why he called cameras into the Oval Office on Friday, the one and only time he spoke in front of cameras about this, where he talked glowingly about Rob Porter and, of course, said zip about the alleged victims and his ex-wives.

Look, every single time that the White House makes a statement, it seems to make things worse. It's really mind-boggling. It really is. I mean, even in the most basic, you know, sort of rules of crisis management, of crisis communication, they're failing.

And look, we -- even though it is sort of a chaotic environment, a chaotic communications team, a chaotic process inside the White House, there are people who -- who they have access to to say what are we doing wrong here?

And when you have CNN contributors who are Trump fans, like Jason Miller, like Mike Shields going on "ANDERSON COOPER" last night, pleading with the White House to say that domestic violence -- pleading with the president to denounce domestic violence, you know that that says something, because people like that are loathe to criticize the president on television. They were doing it to send him a message.

CAMEROTA: So, Chris, people look to the women in the White House for some wisdom. And the -- at least the ex-wives of Rob Porter don't feel that they have heard that from Kellyanne Conaway and from Sarah Sanders.

Kellyanne Conaway, when asked if people should be worried about Hope Hicks, who's now having a romantic relationship with Rob Porter, suggested, "Well, we don't have to worry about her, because she's a strong woman."

That comment has motivated the first wife of Rob Porter to go public. And I think that it's just striking to note that, because there's obviously a stigma and taboo around all these subjects, particularly domestic violence and talking about if you were a victim. But she has this morning a "Washington Post" op-ed. I will read a few portions of what his first wife is now saying.

"On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again declined to say whether the president believes Jennifer Willoughby" -- the second wife -- "and me. While I cannot say I'm surprised, I expected a woman to do better."

Next, "I walked away from the relationship a shell of the person I was when I went into it, but it took me a long time to realize the toll his behavior was taking on me."

In other words, you can start as a strong woman. You can start thinking you have a normal relationship and then domestic violation, you know, it doesn't matter if you're a strong woman. It eats away at your soul.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. I think it's sort of a fundamental misunderstanding of the cycle of abuse and how it works, candidly.

You know, it's not about strength and weakness, personality-wise or otherwise. It's -- you know, it's -- and also, sort of the ways in which women are able -- feel able to come forward, what makes you strong and weak.

I just think -- I wish we could get rid of the strong and weak words as it relates to this, because I just don't think they apply. And I think people who try to apply them both misunderstand it and also do a disservice to women who are struggling with decisions like that.

I do think -- I just want to echo a point Dana made, which is I think it's very important in this White House, and I think we've learned it over time, that you need to follow his tweets. The president's tweets are the best reflection that we have, that the best window into how he thinks, what he cares about, what he's focused on in the given day.

[07:10:18] We've seen it on a variety of issues throughout this first year in his White House, where he will tweet something that is directly in opposition to what his White House, his sort of -- the official apparatus of the White House, represented by Sarah Sanders, says.

I don't think that we -- there's much of a debate over which one of those we should believe. One is the president literally talking or typing, and the other is an attempt to either moderate, mitigate, change, adjust that view.

But we know where the president comes down on this. Not just because of his tweet over the weekend but because of where he came down on Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore. You know, this is a consistent pattern of behavior.

BASH: Can I just -- can I just add one thing to the strong woman notion that did clearly force the first wife...

CAMEROTA: Colbie Holderness.

BASH: ... thank you -- of Rob Porter to come out and write this op- ed?

It really is stunning that, in today's day and age, with the cultural awareness that we are witnessing happening in warped speed, that somebody would -- would think that, even though you know somebody so well, like Hope Hicks -- and she is a strong woman -- to think that knowing what we know now, because people have had the -- the courage to come forward, that even strong women can get caught up in situations and cycles of violence.

I mean, just as a cultural touchstone, look at "Big Little Lies." There's a reason why our sister network did so well with that show. It's because people could relate to this very story line, a very strong woman who -- who was in a relationship, and it appeared to be the perfect couple. And she was getting hit all the time.

CUOMO: Right. And by the way, that's usually the end of the process.

Look, I think that the president is caught out in a bad situation this time that he's ultimately going to have to fix. I don't think that he can stay mute on this. It's too big a deal. It's related to the #MeToo movement. I know what you're going to say. He always doubles down. Roy Cohn. He won't come out. He said God -- he never had to ask God for forgiveness. I get it.

But this is a different kind of issue. My team has been steeped in this for months. We have a documentary coming out about it. Strong women are necessary to survive this cycle. The inequities in the law, the inequities in our culture are too pronounced. One in four women are exposed to this. One in seven men.

He is feeding a cynicism, a jaundice and a lie about the reality here that I don't think is going to go away, Chris. I think it's going to stay on. And I think journalists have high ground in not letting it go away. It's not like the latest stupid thing he said in a tweet where...

CILLIZZA: Correct.

CUOMO: ... ultimately, you've got to focus on things matter. I don't know what matters more than this.

CILLIZZA: So I wasn't going to make the Roy Cohn argument. The argument I was going to make...

CUOMO: I thought he was going to. I dissuaded him.

CILLIZZA: No. The -- the argument I will make, and I do think this is the reason why you see Trump react the way he does, is look, this is a president who more than a dozen women have accused of somewhere between sexual -- sexually inappropriate behavior and sexual assault during the -- not during the 2016. That's when the accusations came, over the last few decades. He denied all of them. Said they were lying. Said they were politically motivated.

I'm not saying he shouldn't say more, because clearly, I think he should, I just wonder if he is not in a very difficult spot because, if Rob Porter's accusers need to be not just heard but believed, what does that say about Donald Trump's accusers, all of whom he has said were lying for political reasons?

CUOMO: Right.

CILLIZZA: I just -- it's hard. It would be hard -- not that this president hasn't done things like this, which -- one thing he says is directly contradictory to other things he's said.

CUOMO: He's got a black eye.

CILLIZZA: He's in a very tough place.

CUOMO: He's got a black eye. He's got an order of protection.


CUOMO: And he has statistics that would scare the heck out of anybody. It is the leading cause, as a leading cause of homicide among half your population. It's something that I think rises to a level where he can clear space for himself where this isn't about him. It's about them. I don't think it's going to go away. In fact, I know it's not going to go away.

CAMEROTA: Dana, Chris, thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So the White House has struggled to get its story straight and its timeline straight on the Rob Porter abuse scandal. Two former White House advisers tell us what they see in how this damage control is being handled. That's next.


[07:19:01] CUOMO: All right. Facts first. When we're talking about domestic violation, we're not talking about a he said/she said. This is one of the leading causes of death for women in this country. All right?

But we do have to look at the right thing to do, policy-wise, and what's been done fact-wise with the truth. The White House wants you to believe that it only knew about the domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter last week.


SANDERS: We learned of the extent of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening. And within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced.


CUOMO: "Full extent." OK? That's cover language. And it's also not true.

White House counsel Don McGahn was first made aware of the allegations in January of last year. How do we know? Because the reporting is that Rob Porter told McGahn about them himself.

Then in September, McGahn learned that the allegations were holding up Porter's security clearance, according to "The Washington Post." And in late November, an ex-girlfriend of Porter's, disturbed by Porter's relationship with White House communications director Hope Hicks, called McGahn directly to warn him. McGahn reportedly relayed this to other White House officials.

[07:20:09] OK. So that's what the White House knew. What about what the FBI knew? Here is Sarah Sanders on that yesterday.


SANDERS: The process for the background was ongoing. And the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check.


CUOMO: "Papers." Again, that's a cover term. And again, not true.

While there's no way to know what Sanders means by "specific papers," in early 2017, Porter's exes supplied the FBI with descriptions of their alleged abuse, including pictures. Remember, one wife got punched in the face. The other one had an order of protection. And in the spring, the FBI gave that information to the White House. In fact, the FBI reports they told the White House that Porter would likely never get permanent security clearance. That's what "The New York Times" is reporting as of last night.

Now that raises a legal question, because it is illegal to share classified information with someone not cleared to have it. So that's on one of the burners here, as well.

So, what about what White House chief of staff John Kelly knew and when? Not much, according to Raj Shah.


RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, there's been some reports about the chief of staff. He became fully aware about these allegations yesterday.


CUOMO: "Fully aware." What does that mean from Raj Shah? It's interesting. The facts are Kelly was aware of the accusations not last Wednesday but last November. And yet, Sarah Sanders claims Kelly acted quickly.


SANDERS: I can tell you that a conversation took place within 40 minutes, and beyond that I really don't have anything else to add.


CUOMO: She is correct. John Kelly did act quickly to defend Porter. Within 12 hours of the black eye photo, Kelly called Porter, quote, "a man of integrity and honor."

Around the same time he and other officials strongly urged Porter not to quit. And 19 hours later, Kelly said while he was, quote, "shocked" by the, quote, "new allegations," he stood behind his positive description of Porter.

So, there are a lot of inconsistencies and questions here, but that's OK. Because the White House is going to clean it all up for us, right?


SHAH: I'm not going to get into the specifics regarding who may have known what pieces of information, because they were all part of an ongoing background check information.

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into the details of the process beyond what we've already said.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: You're going to get into them, because we're going to get into them. And reporting has revealed more specifics, and they paint a different picture than the White House wants you to believe. And those are the facts -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, thank you for laying all of that out for us. Let's bring in our guests now.

We have former White House communications director under President Obama, Anita Dunn; and former adviser to President George W. Bush and John McCain, Mark McKinnon. Mark is the executive producer and co- host of Showtime's "The Circus," which returns for its third season on April 15. And he is decked out in a very fine-looking hat.

Good morning to both of you.

Mark, I want to start with you. And I want just to start with what Raj Shah just said there on tape. He's basically saying, "Look, this is all part of an ongoing background check investigation, so we can't give you the information."

Is that right? And does the public deserve answers on when these officials in the White House knew about the abuse allegations?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISOR TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN: No. It just makes it worse. When you say you have information that you can't give out, that raises everybody's antenna.

There's three basic rules that we have in the White House for communicating a situation like this. No. 1, don't make a bad story worse. And here we are a week after the story broke still talking about it.

No. 2, speed kills a bad story. Kill it in the crib. Don't let it walk, don't let it crawl, don't let it run circles around you like it is now.

And No. 3, if you change the story, you prolong the story. So you have a situation now where every day, almost every news cycle, we get a new iteration, a new version of what happened. And all that's doing is prolonging it and making it look worse. And by the way, this is a coms problem that is, in many ways, sort of obscuring the bigger problem, which is that we had somebody who didn't have security clearance who had one of the most sensitive positions in the White House...


MCKINNON: ... who never should have had that job.

CAMEROTA: And I do want to get into that momentarily. But first with the coms problem. Anita Dunn, you're the perfect person to talk to. You had Hope Hicks' job in the Obama White House. Would there ever have been a scenario where you would be the person crafting the statement about the person who -- on whom the scandal revolves around if you were having a romantic relationship with that person? Why was Hope Hicks the person crafting the statement about Rob Porter?

[07:25:09] ANITA DUNN, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: So there are so many questions to unpack right now there, Alisyn. But let's be clear: The White House communications director doesn't get brought into -- into clearance questions or security issues until there's a problem.

And in this case, given the fact that she has this relationship with Rob, it probably would have made a lot more sense for her to take herself out of that circle, at least initially.

But there are bigger problems here. Mark has outlined some of them. But I think that what's really critical here is to say how does the White House now fix this? And one former White House communications director's advice would be use your sheriff's event today to go make the strongest declaration you can about supporting the two very strong women who walked out of those relationships with Rob Porter and victims of domestic abuse nationwide. Go fix it today, Mr. President. As mark says, time is ticking.

CAMEROTA: Anita, that is some great free advice that you are giving, very generous you are giving to the Trump White House. And if he does that, if the president does that, does this clean it up? I mean, then can everybody sort of exhale and say, "OK, he's finally addressing the victims of domestic violence"? DUNN: There's an accountability question that Mark outlined that is

going to be very real. Chris's lead-in to this piece, the facts, the timeline, there are all kinds of questions.

But listen, this is a White House that has never had good process. Bad process leads to bad outcomes. In this case a very, very bad outcome. And they're doing what they like to do: first blame the media and then blame the FBI. It's not the FBI's job to make decisions on security clearance. It's the counsel to the chief of staff to the president.

So, the bad process they have in this White House has led to a disastrous outcome. They can short term fix this problem, but the bigger problem here is actually the fact that they thought it was OK to have this person in an extremely sensitive job that sees every document that goes to the president. The gatekeeper.

CAMEROTA: So Mark, that leads to your issue, which is how can this guy have been functioning without full security clearance? I mean, is that common place that, after a year, somebody with this much access to the president wouldn't have security clearance? And what is the danger?

MCKINNON: No, it's not common place at all. I can tell you for sure that nobody with any sort of sensitive position in the Bush White House would have served in that position without full FBI security clearance.

And this goes to a deeper problem, I think, which is that there's just a general staffing problem with this administration. In other words, they're having trouble getting good people and getting good people to stay. And therefore, I think they get into situations where they have people like Porter in the position that he was, because they thought that he did a good job, and they thought, "Oh boy, here's a guy who handles the paper well. And let's just kind of obscure some issues in his past that -- that may be problematic."

But this White House now has 34 percent turnover in the first year of its administration, which is three times the worse administration before that, which was Ronald Reagan.

CAMEROTA: That bears repeating: 34 percent of turnover for high- ranking aides and officials. So that tells you something.

And Anita, just to be clear about what you were saying about they're pinning it on the FBI. Right? So you heard Raj Shah there. You heard Sarah Sanders. The FBI was in charge of the security clearance. That seems to be what they're saying, to get out of why Don McGahn didn't act on this if he knew about it for a year, why John Kelly didn't act sooner.

So just help us understand, because you were in the White House in this role, does the White House grant security clearance or does the FBI?

DUNN: The FBI doesn't grant the security clearance. At the end of the day, the decision is with the White House. And the reality is that, from January 2017 when Rob Porter first reportedly told Don McGahn about these issues, there's no way this White House should have had this person in that position. There just isn't.

And as the FBI background process confirmed the -- the very serious nature of what he had done, there's no way he should have been in this position.

CAMEROTA: And so -- so Anita, what does it say that they did have him in this position? What does that tell you about how seriously they took these allegations?

DUNN: You know, who can know what was going through their minds? But what we can infer from the fact that we kept -- that they kept him in this position is that, clearly, domestic abuse is not an issue that they take seriously when it's compared to having someone who they think is moving paper well. And that's a value judgment that I think women across this country are going to remember as they head for the polls this fall.

CAMEROTA: Mark, what's the upshot here for you that they kept him in this position knowing about these allegations?

MCKINNON: Well, I think it's a process problem and a staffing problem. They're having high turnover, high rates, so they found somebody, as Anita said, who could shuffle the paper. And they said, "Well, let's just look at that and let's not look at the deeper issues about who is qualified to be working in this White House and who should have clearance."