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EARLY START

White House Contradicts FBI Story on Rob Porter; Historic Performance by Shaun White. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


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DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: You're not off the hook, you're not, you're not. Good decoration but --

All right, "Early Start" continues right now.

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ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Day eight of the Rob Porter story, and the White House still can't get its timeline straight. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly under increased scrutiny as sources tell CNN, the President is looking for possible replacement.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, the United States is under attack.

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BRIGGS: A stern warning from top U.S. intelligence officials, Russia is already meddling in the midterm election. What they said about the President's willingness to fight back.

KOSIK: Redemption for Shaun White in South Korea, winning gold in the Men's Halfpipe. A live report with all the Olympic headlines that you may have missed overnight. Good morning, and welcome to "Early Start." I'm Alison Kosik. Happy Valentine's Day.

BRIGGS: Happy Galentine's Day too, for you single ladies. I'm Dave Briggs, it is Wednesday, February 14th, it's also Ash Wednesday 5:00 a.m. in the east. We start with day eight of a story that could be a 24-hour mess.'

Conversations over who could replace embattled White House Chief of Staff John Jelly heating up this morning. CNN reporting that President Trump called associates in recent days discussing possible replacements for Kelly in the wake of the Rob Porter spousal abuse scandal.

Multiple sources tell us the President has made no decision to push Kelly out, but they say names being floated if he does include Chief Economic Advisor Global Gary Cohn. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Budget Director Mic Mulvaney. Mulvaney's has already denied he's under consideration and Press Scretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday, "The President has confidence in Kelly."

KOSIK: So this all coming out of White House struggles to control the follow up that we've been seeing over allegations that Porter, the former White House Staff Secretary, physically abused his two ex- wives. Porter denies the accusations. Chief of Staff Kelly defending his handling of the situation, telling the Wall Street Journal, "Is this all done right?" The scrutiny only intensifying on Tuesday, after the director of the FBI up ended the White House timeline of events.

BRIGGS: A quick recap now on Monday. The White House said top officials learned the "extent of the allegations" last Tuesday and that Porter's background check was still ongoing. But then Yesterday, FBI Chief Chris Wray told the Senate Intel Committee, "The bureau notified the White House of these allegations months ago.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then, a completed background investigation in late July. Soon thereafter, we received requests for follow up inquiry and we did the follow up and provided that information in November, and then we administratively closed the file in January.

KOSIK: Okay. This all comes as -- we learned Porter was actually in line for a promotion at the same time that these abuse allegations were coming out.

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BRIGGS: President Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, says he paid $130,000.00 out of his own pocket to porn star Stormy Daniels who once claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump. It is the first time Cohen has acknowledged making the payment since it was first reported last month by the "Wall Street Journal." Sources say, Cohen paid Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, out of concern; the accusation could damage the President. In a statement, Cohen says, "The payment to Mrs. Clifford was lawful and not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone. Just because something isn't true doesn't mean that it can't cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump."

KOSIK: Cohen says, he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or the Trump organization. He has previously said the President denies any affair with Daniels. She has dodged questions about an affair in recent weeks but has not publicly denied it.

BRIGGS: All right joining us now, CNN Politics Digital Director Zach Wolf live in D.C. this morning. Don't worry Zach, we're not going to -- into the Stormy Daniels. Is that even the lead story, of course because this is the Trump Administration, of course it is day eight of this Rob Porter mess. This is really a text book example of how not to do crisis management. How will the White House get this behind them? ZACHARY WOLFE, MANAGING EDITOR, CNN POLITICS: I don't know. I mean,

it's almost like they just have to wait it out. They might have to, you know, kind of shake the trees and get some new people in there. It's not exactly clear. This is like a total system failure playing out in front of us. You have the issue who staffs the White House and the President, you have the issue of how they deal with the existing government in the FBI, how they're dealing with the press, how they're trying to cover things up. It's like all of these things that have, you know, been difficult for this White House to deal with during this administration coming to a head in this one issue, that you can't really see how they fix it.

KOSIK: You know, you mentioned that maybe the White House will have to get new blood in there. But, you know, who are they going to get? The "Wall Street Journal" had an op-ed today saying -- about John Kelly and whether or not John Kelly should be leaving, saying -- asked on Monday if the White House should have handled Mr. Porter's situation any differently, Chief of Staff John Kelly said, "No, it was all done right." In this op-ed, we've got -- we've got the "Wall Street Journal" saying that the White House is having problems finding good people to fill these positions. Almost like Kelly's better than what they may find after Kelly.

WOLF: Yeah. This is not a job that requires senate confirmation. It's only a job you have to get somebody to agree to do. I'm not sure -- would you want to be the White House Chief of Staff right now? It would -- you would feel like the walls were coming down in on you, and you'd be starting day one. CNN also reported that Tom Barrack his close friend, he had talked to him about taking the job, but Barrack said, "No, I'm more valuable to the business community." Things like this, it seems like it would be a tough job to take.

Plus, if you have somebody like Kelly who goes in, a respected cabinet secretary, you know, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, he's going to leave the White House with -- with his standing sort of imperiled.

BRIGGS: Imagine if Gary Cohn, global Gary Cohn, becomes the chief of staff for the once-populist President. And Cohn, by the way, a registered Democrat, would be a fascinating dynamic. But let's be honest, the most important thing that came out yesterday in that Senate Intel briefing was the fact that there was a stern warning to the President, to this country that Russia never went away and is meddling here as the director of National Intelligence warning about 2018.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.

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BRIGGS: How consequential is that sound bite, Zach? WOLF: I think it's a big deal. I think a lot of people need to pay

attention to it. It shouldn't seem very new because they've said this kind of thing before repeatedly on Capitol Hill. It appears that the only person who doesn't believe it at this point is President Trump, according to CNN's reporting. He has doubts that Russia tried to meddle. But then if you think about it, you know, if Russia meddled, then maybe the special investigation into -- into collusion might have something to it. It's like in his best interest if Russia didn't meddle but everybody has said that Russia has meddled at this point. Who would be in a position to know?

KOSIK: Yes, the question is, are we going to see the White House take action after this clear warning was spelled out?

BRIGGS: Any action at all? Senator Mark Warner says, "We still do not have a plan." Zach Wolf, thanks so much, we'll check back with you in about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, President Trump calls the immigration debate now underway and the senate the last chance for dreamers. But negotiations off to a rocky start with democrats and republicans in a standoff over how debate should proceed. Majority leader Mitch McConnell trying to open the session with a vote on legislation to punish sanctuary cities, but Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objecting to the measure because it has nothing to do with the Dreamer Act.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no reason not to come together and get a solution this week. This has been going on endlessly. They shut down the government over this. I want to see what they want to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finding 60 votes for something that meets the needs of both sides and can deal with the dreamers and border security is not easy. We all know that immigration is fraught with peril, but this is the closest we've come, and everybody has to make a really final effort.

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BRIGGS: With the floor debate faltering, a bipartisan group of senators claims to be making progress, behind the scenes on an immigration plan that could get the 60 votes needed to pass.

KOSIK: A second federal judge temporarily blocking the Trump Administration from ending DACA, that's the program protecting young immigrants brought here illegally as children. The New York -- based judge ruling dreamers and states who filed suit likely to succeed in their claim. President Trump's decision to end DACA was arbitrary.

Last month a federal judge in California came to the same conclusion. DACA was originally set to end on March 5th.

BRIGGS: I'm not optimistic anything gets done.

KOSIK: I'm with you. BRIGGS: Even if they find something to get 60 votes, it appears the

far right, the house freedom caucus, is going to hold up anything in the house.

KOSIK: Yes. There's little common ground.

BRIGGS: It doesn't look good for dreamers. Meanwhile, Shaun White looking good, making Halfpipe good at the winter games. The 100 U.S. Winter Games gold medal, Coy Wire, has more in the Bleacher Report next.

What a night for snowboard superstar Shaun White soaring to historic gold medal at the winter games.

KOSIK: Coy Wire with more from Pyeongchang in this Morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning, Coy.

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COY WIRE, AMERICAN TELEVISION ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Alison and Dave. The first American male to win gold medals at three Olympic winter games -That's Shaun White. When he won his first Olympic gold in 2006, for perspective, fellow snowboarders gold medalist Chloe Kim and Red Gerard were just five years old, at 31, Shaun captured not just gold but redemption after failing to medal in Sochi. Needing to do something outstanding in his final run, he was sitting second place. He did a trick that he attempted just four months ago in New Zealand and that left him with a gash and over 60 stitches in his face when he crushed his run. He scored nearly a perfect 100 and he also help secure the United States a historic 100th gold medal in the history of the winter games. Once his score was announced, white burst into tears and he was sobbing as he hugged his mom, dad, and family who were there. He talked about it just over an hour ago.

SHAUN WHITE, AMERICAN SNOWBOARDER: At the bottom, all those emotions hit me. I won, everything we'd been through, every -- you know -- dream I've had, trying to sleep last night, you know. And I'm like living that dream right now. So it's amazing.

WIRE: All right, despite the pressure on the only two North Korean athletes that qualified to be here outright, the nation's pair of figure skaters skated out to the loudest applause of any competitors performing. They performed an instrumental version of the Beatles' song "A day in the life." They went on -- put on the career-best performance, they finished 11th out of 22. They are ahead of the U.S. in the standings and the finals will be later tonight here on the East Coast.'

All right, let's get to Early Start on the medal count. Norway is out in front with 11. And we now have a three-way tie for second. Germany, Netherlands, and Canada all have ten, USA still frozen there in fifth with seven.

Quick NBA update. If a little change goes a long way, who knows how far a lot of change can take you in the wake of their mid season roster overhaul, Lebron James and his new teammates knocked off the thunder on our sister channel TNT last night, 120-112. King James led with 37 points. Cleveland now riding a four-game win streak. Its longest since December. Alex and Dave coming up in Early Start -- friends, we're going to tell you about one Olympian who is a plumber, works for his dad, and with his brother. But now he's an Olympian, it's an incredible story. We're going to share it here on "Early Start."

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KOSIK: I want that story. Okay.

BRIGGS: You've got my attention. That's a great tease from Coy Wire live in Pyeongchang. It wasn't all positive news for Shaun White. There's a me too aspect to this moment, because just moments after clinching that gold, Shaun White was asked about sexual harassment allegations launched by Lena Zawaideh. She's a drummer in her band, Bad Things.

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WHITE: You know, honestly, I'm here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossips. So -- but I don't think so. I am who I am. And I'm proud of who I am. And my friends, you know, love me and vouch for me. And I think that's -- that stands on its own, so.

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BRIGGS: It's a complicated picture, folks. Back in august, 2016, Zawaideh filed an amended complaint, to a civil suit alleging White had sexually harassed her for, for part, White admitted to sending her sexually explicit and graphic images. Last February, the pair reached an undisclosed settlement. He is really the godfather of the sport. He is a legend, greatest of all time --

KOSIK: But he's not above certain things.

BRIGGS: Again, it's a complicated story. There's more to it.

KOSIK: All right, terrifying moments in the air over the Pacific Ocean when the cover tore off a plane's engine. How passengers reacted once they were safely on the ground.

BRIGGS: About 5:22 Eastern Time, a hiker who fell over 700 feet off the south side of mt. Hood has died. Seven other climbers from two groups were stranded on Hog's Back Cliff have been rescued -- strong winds and sunny conditions are causing rocks and ice to fall, making this popular spot extremely hazardous.

KOSIK: A high-ranking Chicago police officer shot and killed in downtown Chicago. Officials say Commander Paul Bauer, a 31 year veteran, was gunned down while pursuing a suspect who had fled from other officers. The 53-year-old had been in the area attending active shooter training when he heard an alert and responded to the scene.

BRIGGS: There was an honor procession Tuesday night for the slain police commander. Bauer leaves behind a wife and a daughter. Police recovered a gun from the unidentified suspect who is now in custody.

KOSIK: Our hearts go out to his family.

All right passengers called it "The scariest flight of their lives," after part of the cover tore off the right engine. Look at that. This was on a United Flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. Passengers say they heard a big metallic bang, then the plane began to shake. Get this -- for more than 40 minutes in the air, listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The captain kept trying to tell everybody it's going to be -- you know, he was just -- I don't know how they it, thank god for that crew. That's all I got to say because they were calm and they helped -- it was just -- it was just horrible.

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KOSIK: That must have been the longest flight ever. Our United spokesman said the plane made an emergency landing in Hawaii. The passengers got off at the gate just as they normally would.

BRIGGS: This morning, Flynn the bichon frise is America's new top dog winning best in show at the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York.

KOSIK: I just want to run up and cuddle that dog.

BRIGGS: So cute, right.

KOSIK: This champ turns 6 years old next month. And according to his handler, plans to retire after his Westminster win. But not before taking the traditional victory lap that includes lunch at Sardi's, a visit to One World Trade, and of course lots of press and bragging rights to last a lifetime.

BRIGGS: Going out on top. Congrats to Flynn.

Okay, the White House struggling to get its story straight in this Rob Porter scandal with talk of a cover-up hanging in the air. The latest next.

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BRIGGS: What could have been have been one day is now day eight of the Rob Porter story. The White House still can't get its timeline straight. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly under increased scrutiny as sources tell CNN, the President is looking for possible replacements.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, the United States is under attack.

(VIDEOCLIP ENDS) KOSIK: A stern warning from top U.S. Intelligence officials said

Russia is already meddling in the midterm election. What they said about President Trump's willingness to fight back.

BRIGGS: Redemption for Shaun White, in South Korea, winning gold in the Mens Halfpipe, a live report with all the Olympic Headlines you missed overnight. A historic and spectacular performance by Shaun White.