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New Details of White House Cover-Up after Porter Abuse Allegations; Trump's Lawyer Paid $13,000 of Own Money to Porn Star. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The process for the background was ongoing. The White House had not received any specific papers.

[05:59:16] CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a completed background investigation in late July.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: When he went through the timeline you say, "Well, that's not what Sarah Sanders said."

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The White House is now blaming its own personnel office.

SANDERS: The president has confidence in his chief of staff.

JIM CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: He has changed since he's fallen into the orb of the president. Kind of sad for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump's personal lawyer saus he paid thousands of his own money to a porn star who once said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Michael Cohen was compelled to answer this, because a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know why they wanted to cover it up, but Cohen is going to have to prove this in a court of law.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States AND around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, February 14, 6 a.m. here in New York. Happy Valentine's Day. Be ours.


CUOMO: Be ours.

CAMEROTA: Please. And send us chocolates.

CUOMO: We even wore red. This is close to red for me. I think it's some kind of maroon.

CAMEROTA: It work.

CUOMO: I'll go with it. All right. So here's our starting line. Digger digging a deeper hole. On this Valentine's Day, the famous love poem from Sir Walter Scott, "Marmion," rings true. "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

CAMEROTA: You read it.

CUOMO: That is the Porter scandal -- Yes, I'm reading it. I don't know. "Roses is red, violet is blue." I can't even finish it.

All right. So one thing is clear. Eight days into the Rob Porter scandal, the Trump White House has repeatedly covered up what they know and when they knew it.

President Trump's new FBI director directly contradicting the narrative top Trump aides have been spinning for days. The White House now trying to place blame somewhere else, on its internal personnel security office.

The president's embattled chief of staff, John Kelly, remains in the eye of the storm. Sources tell CNN conversations are heating up about who could replace Kelly. But who knows if that happens? Certainly, the handling of the Porter scandal has not helped his cause with the president.

CNN also learning Porter was being considered for a promotion despite knowledge of these allegations of abuse.

CAMEROTA: And this is not the only crisis facing the White House. President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, now says he paid $130,000 of his own money to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who alleges that she had an affair with Mr. Trump a decade ago.

Cohen insists he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign or Mr. Trump's business. A source tells CNN that Cohen only recently told the president about this payment.

As for policy, the immigration debate in the Senate getting off to a rocky start, with party leaders arguing over how to even begin the process. This comes as a second federal judge blocks President Trump from ending the program to protect DREAMers. We have it all covered for you.

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. You have your work cut out for you this morning -- Abby.


The blame is shifting again. It is day eight of the story about alleged abuse allegations by a top White House aide, Rob Porter. And all eight days of White House spin is contradicted in an instant by the FBI director's testimony before Congress under oath that contradicted what the White House has been saying all of this time.

And now the pressure is being put on John Kelly. The rumors are heating up that he might be replaced soon.


PHILLIP (voice-over): The Trump administration changing its story again about the White House's handling of domestic abuse allegations against former top aide Rob Porter. Hours after FBI Director Chris Wray offered a time line about when Porter's security clearance investigation was completed that directly contradicted the White House's accounts.

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 that soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And that we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information, and we passed that on, as well.

PHILLIP: Prior to Wray's testimony, the White House had been selling a very different story.

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we know about Rob Porter specifically, and that's the incident that everybody's talking about, is that his background check investigation had not been completed yet. It was still in the investigative process and had yet to be a adjudicated.

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.

PHILLIP: Press secretary Sarah Sanders now conceding the FBI probe was finished and trying to shift blame to a different office in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who's telling the truth?

SANDERS: All right. Well, as I said, the FBI portion was closed. The White House personnel security office, who is the one that makes the recommendation for adjudication, had not finished their process and had therefore not made a recommendation to the White House.

PHILLIP: But on Monday, Sanders specifically said that the White House was not involved with security clearances.

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

PHILLIP: The administration's inability to get their story straight again raising questions about the future of chief of staff John Kelly, who learned about the allegations months ago. Multiple sources tell CNN the president has not yet made a decision to replace Kelly but that conversations about a possible successor are heating up.

[06:05:08] Kelly telling "The Wall Street Journal" that his handling of the Porter scandal was, quote, "all done right." Even after Sarah Sanders admitted otherwise.

SANDERS: We're looking at that internally and agree that there are things we could have done better.

PHILLIP: CNN has learned not only was the White House willing to overlook red flags in Porter's background, they were also in serious talks about promoting him to be Kelly's deputy chief of staff.

President Trump again declining to comment about Porter's alleged victims, despite his administration's insistence that he supports them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe Rob Porter's ex-wives? Do you believe Rob Porter's ex-wives, Mr. President?


TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... do you have a message to...

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you.


PHILLIP: Well, in addition to all of this, there's the issue of that $130,000 payment that the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, now says he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. A source tells CNN that Cohen only recently told the president about that payment. But it's worth remembering that the White House has been saying that this issue has been asked and answered during the campaign. We now know for the first time that that payment did, in fact, happen.

And all of this is happening, of course, in infrastructure week, Alisyn and Chris.

CUOMO: And look, Abby, you know what? That last point is the right one. People want to say, "Well, why don't you talk about these big policy things? Because these things get in the way. Because they're mishandled. They're misspoken, and they are mistaken.

All right, Abby. Thank you very much.

Let us bring in CNN political analysts Karoun Demirjian and David Gregory.

Boy, Karoun, are you a sage. First of all, Happy Valentine's Day to both of you. David especially. KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

CUOMO: So you were talking about this yesterday. Discipline with message. Figuring this out. From the beginning, they wanted to hide the fact that they had reason to be suspicious and negative on Porter but didn't act on it. And everything since then is, again, just back to the Walter Scott poem, part of the tangled web.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, and -- you know, let's -- some props here to Christopher Wray, head of the FBI, for standing up for independence..

CUOMO: Trump's guy.

GREGORY: ... and that institution. Trump's guy, who's acting, as you would expect an FBI director to act, with some independence and maturity and respect for the independence of the FBI, who's telling it like it is. And not going out of the way to hurt the White House, but the facts are pretty damning, because it's quite clear that enough people within the White House knew there was a problem with Mr. Porter, who, you know, has a -- again, I think it's worth pointing out, because I think it's fair. A sterling reputation. Has a lot of friends in this town, inside politics and without. People that I have talked to who are so surprised by this.

But nevertheless, important information was passed along and was not acted on. And if they knew back in January, they first knew of allegations going back farther yet, they were not acting in a way where they really wanted to get to the bottom of it. They were listening to his denials, believing in him, and even talking about promotion reportedly and getting in the way of really getting to the bottom of what was happening.

CAMEROTA: Yes, so Karoun, I mean, it was fascinating to listen to Director Wray that they gave the White House a report on four separate occasions. All of it including the allegations from his ex-wives of abuse.

But what Sarah Sanders seems to be doing is hanging her hat on this Office of Presidential Personnel, that technically are the ones that make the decision about who can work -- about security clearances for who can work in the White House. And that they hadn't completed their report yet. So that she's using for cover as like, well, we couldn't have acted.

The other irony is that it's reported that he was being considered, that Rob Porter was being considered for the deputy chief of staff, who is the one who approves these security clearances. I mean, he would have been approving his own security clearance. All of it is tangled.

DEMIRJIAN: Incredibly tangled. Also, I mean, let's start out by the fact that Sarah Sanders is saying that this was up to an office that is a White House personnel office. I mean, to say that's not at all connected to the White House it stretches a little bit of the imagination of where does the buck stop. There is no "buck stops here" sentiment coming out of anybody in the White House right now. And that is, frankly, part of the problem and why it is such a glaring management problem.

You had, instead of people saying, "OK, these things are my responsibility," especially if you're talking about somebody who may be promoted to deputy chief of staff, you would expect to hear some sort of higher official in the White House say, "If I didn't know about this, I should have known about this." And you're hearing none of that sentiment expressed.

It's a series of finger pointings at other offices that could have easily have been in touch with people in the White House who oversee various White House offices. Before that it was the FBI. And, you know, this isn't the first time you've had sentiments coming out of the White House where they would have maybe expected the FBI to kind of follow into a more loyal line. That's a term that's been used with former FBI directors.

[06:10:08] But you know, Wray is sticking up for the integrity of his agency and not playing that game when he's testifying to Congress.

GREGORY: Here's the other problem. This is not, you know, some assembly line process here where, you know, Department 4-F has an issue with employee where -- you know, this is a guy who had a high profile, who was really well-liked. Great credentials on the Hill coming into the White House, had been with folks for a while. Thought of quite highly by the chief of staff, by the president, is apparently dating a senior adviser to the president who was there at the beginning. And he's got a high profile.

And you have a girlfriend who's complaining to the White House counsel saying that certain things were happening. And he turns around and says to him, "I think you ought to leave." So I mean, there's lots going on around Rob Porter. And then these accusations are made that are being investigated that are very serious that are more than just, wow, you know, someone says this. He denies it. No. There is eventually photographs. But you have two separate women, ex-wives, making the accusations as part of the background check process. And it's abundantly clear it wasn't taken seriously.

DEMIRJIAN: And also, it's just that the issue is that they seem to be a finger pointing game happening here. Looking for somebody else to take the blame, looking for somebody else to take the fall. When the FBI doesn't play your game, you go to the White House personnel office, as if that has no connection with the rest of the White House. And there isn't -- you would expect the opposite.

When you're talking about a management culture that actually takes full responsibility for things that happened under its watch. And there's none of that happening right now.

GREGORY: and by the way, where is General John Kelly? I mean, given his background and everything he represents, he wants to just kind of wait in the shadows?

CUOMO: How banged up is he, by this, David? GREGORY: well, pretty much. I think the fact that this White


CUOMO: And what happened? Can he really go? Can Trump really afford to cast off another high-profile person? And even if he did, who would replace him?

GREGORY: Right. Well, I think there are names that could replace him. I actually don't know that he can go. I don't think that the president in the end wants to have him go. But I think it's shocking that a guy who was supposed to bring in order and, you know, was a general who at one point shouldn't be questioned just can't stand up and say, you know, "Here was the problem. Here's what we did right. Here's what we did hideously wrong. And let's get this right."

Apparently, he doesn't feel that way. And the president is going to have to take his lumps if he keeps him on board. But be clear, this White House, this press-hating White House, has leaked six days -- six ways from Sunday that they're not happy and that he's looking for replacements. This doesn't happen by accident.

DEMIRJIAN: This is also a White House that really likes to protect its own. We've seen, you know, Trump basically protect people that are close to him and say that he thinks that things are mere allegations when they come up publicly.

We still haven't heard the president say anything about domestic abuse, about these women in particular. It's not that different. What you are potentially seeing from the chief of staff, who liked Rob Porter, was protecting his own. Even if this information was coming before him in the White House. And usually, this is a pattern, not just in this crisis, not just in this episode for the White House but it's happened before. And we've not seen -- we've seen it, I guess not stretched out this long. They've been better at protecting their own in the past and being -- doing so more consistently. But this isn't really any different.

CUOMO: And it won't go away because of what you just said. This is domestic violence. It's a big deal. The president has to own that. I know he doesn't like it. It's too bad. It won't go away.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, we need to talk about what Michael Cohen has now reportedly said that he -- we have the statement, about the $130,000 payment to the porn star, Stormy Daniels, telling feds that he paid it out of his pocket.

Here's a statements: "In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford" -- Stormy Daniels. "Neither the Trump administration nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Miss Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone."

Talk about devotion, David Gregory. Wow. I mean, either Michael Cohen was having the affair with Stormy Daniels or he is really taking one for the team here.

GREGORY: Yes. I mean, it just -- to state the obvious, I'm left a little skeptical to believe that he was really on the hook for this, paying this. Obviously, this is embarrassing in and of itself. It would be worse if this were used -- you know, money diverted out of a campaign to do it. But really, there was -- there was no -- any kind of compensation or reimbursement that he received in some fashion to do this? It seems to me there's more to this.

CUOMO: Well, here's the thing. You've got to prove it, right? There is no question that everything in the response checks box -- boxes legally. OK? And that is his concern. Because this is the function of a complaint from Common Cause in the FEC.

[06:15:12] CAMEROTA: He can prove that he was never reimbursed and he used his own funds.

CUOMO: He can't prove the nonexistence of a fact. He can't prove that he wasn't reimbursed. You would have to show that he was reimbursed. He would have to show that it was an in-kind contribution. So that is going to be the tough legal ground for anybody who wants to question this.

Michael Cohen is well aware that on paper this is hard to believe. This is something that you need to hear somebody say and own and answer the questions about it. But, you know, they say they have paperwork that shows which account the money came out of.


CUOMO: That it was his. That this was transacted not because she had an affair with the president but because, regardless of the truth, the story would have hurt Trump. It was right around the "Access Hollywood" tape time. And he did this to help Mr. Trump without Mr. Trump's knowledge.

CAMEROTA: Out of the goodness of his own heart.

TRUMP: No. Not the goodness of his own heart. He protects Trump. That's what he says. He does this. He's done other things like this. Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: I was going to say, the shrewdness of his wallet is the argument he's making, not out of the goodness of his heart. But it's kind of -- I mean, what does it say, though, that this is the least troubling thing that we're talking about, I guess, this week right now and that we're focusing so much on the details of the payment, for good legal reason. And he's definitely threading a legal needle right now. Very, very -- very expertly.

CUOMO: But you've got to show it. We saw those rent roll things. If this is true, that was just bad reporting. If this was true, that was bad reporting and highly suggestive of an outcome that wasn't true. So again, this is his statement. I think at some point he has to come on out and own it. Because this is only as good as the person's rationale who did it. CAMEROTA: All right. Well, we will see if we hear from him. David,

Karoun, thank you very much.

So this Rob Porter scandal exposing another crisis at the White House. Dozens of staffers working without full security clearance. What the top intel leaders are saying about this next.



[06:20:33] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE: The process is broken. It's -- it needs to be reformed.


CAMEROTA: OK. That was the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, telling lawmakers the government's security clearance process is broken. Exhibit A, the Rob Porter scandal. He did not have full security clearance. And apparently, there's now a backlog of security clearances waiting to be done at the White House for people who are already working inside.

Joining us now are CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd and CNN political commentator Jen Psaki. Phil worked with the FBI. Jennifer worked in the Obama White House. Great to have both of you and all of your experience you will share with us.

Jen, how is it possible that Rob Porter, who had access, I assume, to classified information. He was the liaison between the paper that ended up on the president's desk. So he saw whatever he was delivering to the president. How could he, for a year, not have had security clearance and been doing that?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Alisyn, having worked there before, the explanation as recently as yesterday just doesn't pass the smell test to me. I mean, the personnel security office ultimately is a group of career officials who report to the deputy chief of staff, which is a very senior high-level position with an office in the West Wing.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let me just stop you there. Because the Office of Presidential Personnel, that's who Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said they were waiting for the security clearance from the Office of Presidential Personnel. They're career officials. They know how to do this.

So does that work that they weren't done? The Office of Presidential Personnel wasn't done with their investigation into Porter?

PSAKI: Well, that would -- that would be assuming that all us and the American people would believe that this group of career officials, not a rogue agency, independent agency, wouldn't flag for the deputy chief of staff, who they report to, that the very senior high-level official who was giving the president of the United States briefings on a daily basis had been abusive of two of his ex-wives. That just does not sound believable to me.

And the second piece of this that seems hard to swallow or believe is that the White House, the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff, other senior officials would be waiting on a recommendation from a group of career officials who are serving the United States but are certainly not decision makers in this.

So you know, I think this is a hard thing to swallow and not something we should -- we should believe.

CUOMO: Look, the facts don't line up. They had reason to know what they needed to know to move on Porter, and they didn't move. Period.

PSAKI: Exactly.

CUOMO: Now, in terms of the process, Phil, look, the catch here is the executive decides who gets clearance. They listen to the FBI. The FBI does the footwork. The Office of Interpersonnel, whatever you want to put to it, they do the paperwork. But the executive, the president specifically, his people who work by direction of him. They can have anything they want around them. So when Coats says the system is broken, what can be fixed? The executive gets to decide who sees classified information and who does not by dint of however they feel about it, frankly. So how would you change the system?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Very simple fix. Let's go back to when the FBI director said they passed the final final to the White House. That's July of last year.

The man has an interim clearance. The issue here, Chris, the one question is between July and February 2018. Why couldn't they close the clearance? I assume there's something in the file that's really nasty. Maybe it's the information related to the two ex-wives.

Here's the fix. If you can't close the file in 60 days 90 days, 120 days, is the standard, is here a standard, which the DNI, that is Coats yesterday, who was testifying yesterday says, "We're going to shut this one down. This person is not going to get a clearance."

Why you sit there for seven months and say, "We still can't adjudicate what's called an expedited case." That is a senior White House official. That ought to take two weeks. We still can't adjudicate it because we're sitting on a firecracker here. They ought to say at a certain point, if we can't close it, we shut it out.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Jen, I don't know if you remember this, but during the 2016 election, there was a lot of talk of Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information.

PSAKI: It's ringing a bell, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So why -- is it OK that Rob Porter was handling classified information?

PSAKI: Look, I think that's ultimately the thrust of the contradiction here, Alisyn. You have dozens of people in the White House who don't have security clearance. This is a president and a White House. Many of these officials spoke on the record who were critical of handling of security -- secure information by Hillary Clinton, by other officials.

Obviously, it should be taken seriously regardless of your party. But this is not a normal number of people with an interim security clearance, and it is certainly not a normal number of people with such a range of issues that it is raising this level of red flags with the FBI and with the personnel office.

[06:25:13] CUOMO: Well, look. And again, you know, Phil, this -- this winds up becoming a frustrating conversation. Because when it was dealing with Hillary Clinton or dealing with military members who got nailed for classified information, it's that they were giving it to people who weren't cleared to see it. OK?

CAMEROTA: But not with Hillary Clinton. On her e-mail she was sending it to people who had security clearances.

CUOMO: But the allegation was because of how she was sending it, it was going to people who didn't have the requisite clearance.

CAMEROTA: It could be. I mean, that was the allegation.

CUOMO: They didn't prove it. But I'm saying that was the stink. What I'm saying is I agree with you. The end run here is technically, technically, again, the White House can't be guilty of that, because they get to decide who has the clearance ultimately. So even though you don't have it procedurally, the FBI hasn't given the right requisite process B.S., whatever. I, as the president of the United States, can say, "No, you're good."

CAMEROTA: Then why didn't he say, "You're good" to Rob Porter? If it's all in his hands, why...

CUOMO: They're going to say, "Functionally, I did. Functionally I did, because I was letting him see the information."

But they'll say, "The power resides in me," Phil.


CUOMO: "So if I want you to see it, you can see it."

MUDD: No, this is -- let me be clear. We're confusing the story here between security and judgment. In either case I would argue Clinton or what is happening in the White House now is a security case. They are judgment cases.

Hillary Clinton had more excuses than I have ties. I think the American people stepped back and said, "We don't know what happened on the security issue." They said, "We don't trust her."

In this case, you're right. Technically, the White House could say, "We could give the person clearance after seeing what the FBI says." The judgment, whether you're at the CIA, the FBI or the White House, the judgment to give someone a continued access to security information after you know what happened, presumably or allegedly, with his wives, the judgment leads you to step back and say, "You can't do that."

CUOMO: No question. I'm not saying it was good judgment. I'm saying they're going to have cover legally in terms of how this is different.

The judgment issue, the hypocrisy of it, these people said they were going to drain the swamp and they have filled it with the largest, toothiest alligators we have ever seen in our lives, stands out as clear hypocrisy.

Jen Psaki, thank you very much.

Phil Mudd, your face tells the entire story. And it is not...

MUDD: Happy Valentine's Day, brother.

CUOMO: To you, as well. I appreciate the card and the perfume.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

PSAKI: And the chocolate

CUOMO: How you knew, I have no idea.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

CUOMO: Shaun White.

He makes his own perfume, that man. I don't want to know how.

CAMEROTA: Does he?

CUOMO: Shaun White made history again. Remember what happened to him in Sochi? They were asking is he too old to come back? Wait until you see his golden moment, next.