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Reports Indicate Possible White House Discussions of Replacing John Kelly; White House and FBI Timelines on Reporting of Rob Porter's Background Conflict. Aired 8-8:30
Aired February 14, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The process for the background was on going. The White House had not received any specific papers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI submitted a completed background investigation in late July.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it went through the timeline, you say that's not what Sarah Sanders said.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House is now blaming its own personnel office.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president has confidence in his chief of staff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems to have changed since he's fallen into the orb of the president. Kind of sad for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump's personal lawyer says he paid thousands of his own money to a porn star who once said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen was compelled to answer this because a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know why they'd want to cover it up. But Cohen is going to have to prove this in a court of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is New Day with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your New Day. It is Wednesday, February 14th, 8:00 in the east. Happy Valentine's Day to all of you from all of us. Did you finish my poem yet?
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: No. I'm putting a lot of thought into after "Violets are blue." CUOMO: That's the catch, isn't it? The first part comes off like
nothing. She is the author, by the way. The book, a perfect Valentine's Day gift, by the way.
One thing is clear, eight days into the Rob Porter scandal, the Trump White House has repeatedly just covered up what they knew and when they knew it. Know this. The White House had every reason to know there were problems with Rob Porter and his background and allegations of domestic abuse, but they didn't act on it. The new FBI chief appointed by President Trump himself directly contradicting the narrative top Trump aides have been spinning for days. The White House is now trying to shift blame onto its internal personnel security office.
CAMEROTA: So the president's chief of staff, John Kelly, remains in the eye of the storm. Sources tell CNN the conversations are heating up about who could replace Kelly. CNN also reporting that Rob Porter was being considered for a White House promotion despite the allegations of domestic violence. So let's discuss.
CUOMO: CNN political analyst and "Wall Street Journal" White House reporter Mike Bender just interviewed John Kelly yesterday, and CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. Brother Bender, you spoke to General John Kelly. What is your sense of his secureness in his position?
MIKE BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was -- happy Valentine's Day to you, Chris. I will say it was a brief interview in the hallway in the White House. I'm over there every other day, every few days. And the chief of staff and I have passed by each other. We talked just briefly. It wasn't an in-depth conversation. We didn't get into how security feels.
My sense, which is what your question was, is that I think he does feel OK. He's someone who came into the office sort of trading on his honor and character. We've had reporting before that he's put that honor and character on the line, threatened to quit in the Oval Office. He's threatened to quit when he was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security when he felt he was being pushed around or not being listened to.
I don't think it will be taken a lot to -- for General Kelly to leave if that's what he wants to do. But we have been hearing chatter about Trump talking about potential replacements for the better part of a month. We reported at the "Wall Street Journal" several months ago that Trump already figured out workarounds to general Kelly's command and control, calling staff into the residence late at night, giving them orders, telling them don't tell General Kelly. His friends and outside advisers using Melania Trump, the first lady, as a go-between in order to avoid John Kelly's checks.
So he's been slowly figuring out ways around General Kelly. I do think the president appreciates a lot of the command and control that Kelly has put in place. It's given him a lot of time to think and sort of focuses a lot of the conversation, a lot of his decisions, makes it a lot clearer for him. And at the same time a lot of people lost their access in the White
House under John Kelly and have been looking for ways to get at John Kelly for quite a while. As chaotic as we remember those first few months, it was an exciting time for a lot of people inside the White House who were able to go right into the Oval Office, get their opinions heard and influence the president of the United States.
CAMEROTA: Mike, I just want to stick with you for one more quick second, because I think that it does bear repeating exactly what you heard John Kelly say about this Rob Porter fallout. So you asked him, does he think he should have handled it differently. And the quote is, according to you, "No, it was all done right." That is forehead slapping because that shows either just complete cluelessness to what's happened for the past eight days of all the questions that Sarah Sanders is being peppered with every day and all of the miscommunication and how the FBI and White House story doesn't comport.
BENDER: Yes, I think it requires a little bit more explanation from the White House what exactly it means. Sarah Sanders' explanation, the White House's explanation of this all going right is that John Kelly somehow didn't know about the extent of the allegations against Rob Porter for most of the six months he's been in the office. I've been told there was a conversation between Rob Porter and the chief of staff. We reported in the "Wall Street Journal" that Kelly heard sort of top line -- the broad contours of these allegations and didn't ask questions.
A little bit more here for context, Kelly did sort of tighten the reins on President Trump, closed access to the Oval Office. One of the people who rose inside the office and became more important and more influential was Rob Porter.
CUOMO: Right, but the point is, there's plus-minus, right? Maybe he did do some things well. This ain't one of them. Chris Cillizza, Alisyn has a number here, what is the number, 34 percent, one in three plus people that were brought in by Trump have left and very few for good reasons. So much for drain the swamp. Rob Porter winds up becoming a reflection of that as much as anything, right?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I think so. Very quickly, Chris, to Mike's point about that John Kelly quote, you know that meme on the internet of the dog sitting drinking coffee while everything is on fire around him and says this is fine. That's what that quote feels like to me, just an odd way to phrase it, particularly after your White House has acknowledged through Raj Shah that they could have handled things better four days ago.
CUOMO: In politics as we both know and you capture brilliantly on a daily basis, perception is reality. So he's going to put out what he wants. The problem is sometimes it transcends. Ignoring victims of domestic abuse, too big a deal to be allowed under the category of political coverup. That's why the president will be hounded until he makes it right with people who are living that kind of systematic torture. Also, DNI Coats comes up, Chris Cillizza, and says the security clearance process is broken. Porter also an example of that. What kind of legs does that have?
CILLIZZA: Look, I think you have a couple of stories beyond what you've just touched on, Chris, which is that this is a systemic problem in the United States, around the world, domestic abuse, and we need to address it in ways that the president appears uninterested in doing in ways that past presidents would. It's sort of a moral beacon. It's saying this is not who we are.
But I think there are a lot of other issues -- security clearances and national security candidly, and you heard some of that yesterday from the intelligence community. Rob Porter was the guy handing the papers to Donald Trump. He was the ultimate gatekeeper. It's why I think John Kelly made the calculation, yes, this stuff was going on, but porter was too useful to him in narrowing the information field that Donald Trump was getting to get rid of him.
So obviously he was handling documents with a temporary security clearance. That to me is sort of the -- another piece of the storyline that we have to pay attention to. Maybe the security clearance process is broken. Let's look into that. How can someone be that close to the president of the United States operating not only on a temporary security clearance but with the knowledge that the chief of staff had that this person had issues, this person, Porter, had issues with getting a permanent clearance and might never have gotten one. I think that stuff we have to look at for the long-term continuity of government stuff, not just as it relates to Rob Porter, John Kelly, and Donald Trump.
CAMEROTA: Mike, you, correct me if I'm wrong, spoke to Rob Porter right before he left the White House. Can you share some of that conversation?
BENDER: Well, I can tell you that there was an off-the-record meeting at the White House last week before Rob Porter left. I can't share the contents of that meeting. But there has been some reports about it. What was interesting here about the meeting was that it was kind of, and I think why there's attention on this now, is it was right at the nexus of where the White House's story started to change. It was last Wednesday -- Tuesday night, the story came out in "The Daily Mail." There was the full-throated endorsement of Rob Porter from John Kelly.
The White House, I can tell you, that morning, that early afternoon, was still very much defending Rob Porter and not pushing back on our reporting that John Kelly was supportive of Rob Porter and trying to keep him from quitting. By that night, Kelly had issued a second statement saying he was shocked by the allegations. And still now a week later we don't have a clear timeline -- clear understanding of what happened, why that change, why that second statement didn't come earlier, which if you think about it, for all the controversies of the Trump administration, all the internal drama, it's sort of on a day by day or at least week by week basis. One controversy sort of gets eclipsed by the next news cycle.
We're on now, what, day eight, day nine of the Rob Porter story. I try to think of what comparison. I mean, Scaramucci lasted 10 days. We're on I think day nine of the Rob Porter story. It's pretty rare and pretty unique for a one of Trump's controversies to last this long. But as you pointed out earlier, Chris, these are serious allegations. And maybe this is what it took, domestic abuse allegations, to stick to this White House.
CUOMO: Scaramucci got burned for running his mouth, being vulgar and getting burned by a reporter. This is about allegations of domestic abuse. His one wife has a black eye, the other with an order of protection. A third woman had to call and express concerns about what was going on with him there. They had plenty of information to know. And then the president glossed it over by ignoring the reality of domestic abuse. This is orders of magnitude more significant than the Mooch.
CAMEROTA: But Porter is gone. So he is gone. But the question is, who else knew and who else needs to take some accountability here, which has been scant. So Chris, do we think John Kelly -- hearing the names that might be replacing him, Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Mick Mulvaney. So we have CNN reporting that talk about replacing him is heating up. Why would the president hang on to him at this point?
CILLIZZA: Two things are competing here, Alisyn. One, the president really likes generals and likes to refer to them as my generals. So that's an argument for Kelly. The argument against Kelly is we know Donald Trump hates negative press that he doesn't cause. And this is, to Mike's point, this is now eight day or nine days of burying negative press that at least at the start he didn't cause. I would argue his tweet over the weekend inflamed things badly when he could have done something very different and more presidential. But in his mind this is John Kelly's fault.
So I'm not sure -- those names you pointed out, Cohn, Mulvaney, McCarthy, these are people that at the moment have their stars risen in Donald Trump's universe. But John Kelly was one of those people once, too. I think Mike touched on it earlier. The most important thing to remember here is that Donald Trump is extremely difficult to work for. It doesn't matter who the chief of staff is. Anyone who believed that John Kelly was fundamentally going to alter Donald Trump after Reince Priebus couldn't is probably also going to believe that if we just got Mulvaney in there, everything would be OK. The point is the principle, the guy, not the chief of staff. And that's Donald Trump and that's not going to change. So could he make a change? Sure, but don't expect him fundamentally to change.
CUOMO: Change doesn't create change. Thirty-four percent of their staff has turned over, mostly not for good reason.
CILLIZZA: Including a lot of senior staff, by the way, in that, Chris. It's not junior people. It's senior level people.
CUOMO: Fair point.
CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, Mike Bender, thank you both very much.
CUOMO: We have some breaking news to report. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: Right now you're looking at live aerials, we'll show them to you in a second. This is from CNN affiliate, WJLA. There you go. What are we looking at? This is the NSA headquarters, one of the secure gates that's in Ft. Meade, Maryland. There are reports of a shooting near one of the gates of what they call the campus. You would be able to see, if you look carefully, there are bullet holes in the front window of a black SUV that appears to have crashed into white security barriers with the letters NSA on it. You see that there? That's what we're showing you. You see the bags or curtains that have been put up there.
The NSA just released a statement saying, quote, "NSA police and law enforcement are addressing an incident that took place this morning at one of NSA's secure vehicle entry gates.
CAMEROTA: They go on to say the situation is under control. There is no ongoing security or safety threat. Anne Arundel County police and fire are on the scene. So obviously the details are just coming in to the CNN newsroom. We don't know what the motivation is for this. We don't know who was behind the wheel, but that is obviously a big deal, that this happened at the NSA gate. So we will be bringing it to you as soon as we get more information into our newsroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, and again, just a few were half paying attention there the video was of a black SUV, we don't know if it's a government vehicle or not, just because it's black. That's one of the secured gates, there are many on that campus. It's a huge complex. There are supposedly bullet holes in it. The bags had gone off there and it hit a barrier that said NSA. There are reports of gunfire. This is what we're talking about. This is the vehicle, supposedly in the windshield; if you were able to look close really close, you'd see bullet holes. There was some type of incident. We have no news of injuries or the current disposition of who was involved.
The FBI is dispatching people to the scene. Local fire and rescue are involved. That doesn't mean that there is just a fire, often they are there for medical services and the emergency situation as well. As we know more, we will tell you more.
CAMEROTA: And just one last thing, they say the situation is under control. No ongoing security or safety threat at the moment. Okay, so we'll bring you more when we have it.
Meanwhile, the Rob Porter scandal is exposing another crisis at the White House. There are dozens of staffers working without full security clearance one year into this Administration. So we'll speak with the top Republican about what he thinks needs to be done, next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have publicly stated, if that is the case, the access has to be limited in terms of the kind of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive.
CAMEROTA: Okay, that was the director of national intelligence telling lawmakers that he is concerned about classified information in the hands of White House staffers without full security clearances. His testimony there was connected to the Rob Porter scandal. That's the former White House aide who did not have full clearance because of domestic violence allegations in his past. Let's talk about this and more with Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, he's on the Intelligence Committee and he chairs the Oversight Committee. He announced he will be retiring from congress at the end of the year. We'll talk to him about all that. Good morning, Congressman.
TREY GOWDY, REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Good morning. how are you?
CAMEROTA:I'm well, are you troublec by Rob Porter's employment in the White House?
GOWDY: Yes. On two levels, one is the interim security clearance issue, but even more importantly, I spent two decades believing women and children who alleged abuse, even sometimes when no one else did. So whether or not there's a security clearance an issue or not, I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment whether there's a security clearance or not, so yes, I'm troubled by almost every aspect of this.
CAMEROTA: And so, now that we know, according to yesterday, Chris Wray's testimony, that they told the White House four times, they gave the White House four different installments of the report, some of them complete, that included the allegations from the ex-wives of violence. So how could he still have a job at the White House?
GOWDY: That's a great question and one that I can't answer. I didn't hire him, but who knew what, when, and to what extent -- those are the questions that I think ought to be asked, and congress has a role to play, but quite frankly, so does the public and so does the media.
Who knew what, when, and to what extent -- and if you knew it in 2017 and the bureau briefed them three times, how in the hell was still he employed? The security clearance is a separate issue. It's an important issue, but it's separate. How do you have any job if you\ have credible allegations of domestic abuse? Again, I am bias towards the victim. I spent two decades believing them. But you'll have to be biased towards the victim to ask -- how in the hell did this happen?
CAMEROTA: Well our reporting -- CNN's reporting is Fon McGahn, White House Chief Counsel and John Kelly Chief of Staff did know. So what does it say about them?
GOWDY: Well, no offense to your reporting. But would want to know from Don McGahn and General Kelly and anyone else what did you know, from whom did you hear it, to what extent did you hear it and what actions, if any, did you take. The chronology is not favorable for the White House. When you have the head of the FBI saying, "We told you three times in 2017 and once more in 2018 for good measure that I think the really fair questions are what were you told, by whom were you told it, did you have some reason to question what the bureau told you, and if none of that is true, why did you keep him on?" So Don is one person to ask, General Kelly is one person to ask. There may be others at the White House, but those are the questions going through my mind. What did you know? When did you know it? To what extent were you told and did you have any reason in the world to doubt the information that was provided to you, because i can't think of what that reason would be?
CAMEROTA: Listen, those are great questions. You're the chairman of the Oversight Committee. Are you going to investigate?
GOWDY: We do have jurisdiction over the security clearance process. I do not have jurisdiction over who the President hires. That's a branch integrity issue.
CAMEROTA: Sure but in terms of -- I mean listen, you could get into this, you could investigate what Rob Porter was doing there and certainly without full security clearance. So are you launching -- is your committee going to launch an investigation?
GOWDY: The very first thing I did when I landed yesterday was sit down with my senior staff in oversight and find out what we're going to do. But Alysin...
CAMEROTA: What's answer?
GOWDY: Congress has lots of questions of the executive branch that go unanswered.
CAMEROTA:Yes, what's your plan?
GOWDY: Three minutes ago, there are three different people who have a role here. Congress definitely has a role. So do you and so does the public. I would imagine the public is really interested as well. And sometimes it's harder to ignore the public than it is to ignore the congress.
CAMEROTA: I hear you, and listen, we've been asking questions for eight days, and we've talking about it for eight days. What's your plan on the committee?
GOWDY: To ask the FBI for a briefing, number one, because I want to hear from Chris Wray, what did you learn, when did you learn it, and to whom did you communicate it? And then from that that we would develop a list of witnesses where you could go from there, but the first thing I want to know is...
CAMEROTA: I'm sorry to interrupt but we do have those answers from -- we do have those answers from Chris Wray. He testified to them yesterday. March 2017 almost a year ago, he submitted a report to the White House. July, 2017 -- I mean, so we have those data.
GOWDY: Allyson, I've got the dates. I've got the dates. Do you know what he told them? That's my question.
CAMEROTA: So you -- okay. GOWDY: The dates are really important. What I want to know from
Chris Wray is what was specificity did you learn, when did you learn it, and with whom did you share it and when did you share it? I've got the dates. I heard that, but my follow up question is, "Okay, Chris, how thorough was the investigation, what did you share, with whom did you share it, and what were the updates?"
If you updated the information four times, what was the second, third, and fourth iteration of that update? I'm with you on the chronology, I'm with you there. I've got that. But I have additional questions for the FBI and then once you get the answers to that, you know who to direct your inquiries at the White House.
CAMEROTA: He was reluctant to answer those yesterday. He was asked for that. He was reluctant to answer those because I think that he said he doesn't comment on any ongoing personnel issues or an investigation. So hopefully you can get...
GOWDY: Welcome to our world. I told you a couple minutes ago, congress can ask, but if the executive branch doesn't answer the questions, then that's when you need the public and the media to also increase the pressure. I get that he doesn't want to talk about an ongoing investigation, this does not appear to be on going to me anymore.
CAMEROTA: But just so that I'm clear, will the oversight committee be launching an investigation into this?
GOWDY: We did last night.
CAMEROTA: So it's official?
GOWDY: That word probably means more to you than it does to me. What matters to me is we are directly inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial. Those words don't mean anything to me. What means something to me is I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer. If they don't answer them, then they're going to need to give me a really good reason. And you'll learn that reason, and you can judge whether or not it's a sufficient reason or not. But unless you're Jack Bower, you can't make people answer questions. I've been trying for seven years to get people to answer questions without a whole lot of success. We're going to try and we could use your help if they say no.
CAMEROTA: Well, for sure you can count on us for that. But the reason that I'm pressing in terms of whether it's official is because, as you know, the ranking democrat on your committee, Elijah Cummings has been, he says, pressing you to look into this. Rob Porter's employment and the reason that he was handling classified documents without full security clearance. He says he's been pressing you for months to do this and that you've been resisting looking into this. Is that true?
GOWDY: No, ma'am. CAMEROTA: Here is what the letter he sent to you says. This is from
Elijah Cummings. It appears the oversight committee has constructed a wall around the White House. Rob Porter served as White House Staff Secretary, a critical gatekeeper in terms of vetting and managing all documents reaching the president's desk. If our committee does not investigate these allegations, it is unclear who will. So why did he feel the need to tell you that this has to be investigated? He says that you were reluctant.
GOWDY: Well, you'll have to ask Elijah of that question. Our committee has investigated travel. We have investigated use of private email. I'm smiling because I'm remembering how few inquiries Elijah launched under the last Administration. We're going to look into it. But Elijah writes lots of letters and this is one, just like the gymnastics scandal. I wasn't prompted last night by what Elijah asked me to do. I was prompted by the facts.
CAMEROTA: I hear you. I'm trying to stay in the present. So forget what happened in the past because we could be here all, but are you troubled that Rob Porter had access to classified documents without full security clearance, as we've learned, so do something between 30 and 40 White House staffers including top aide Jared Kushner?
GOWDY: Yes. I'm also troubled by the fact that someone with these allegations in his backgrounds could get any information job at the White House from gardener on down, so whether or not there's a security clearance at issue, that's a really important point. What's also important to me is even if there were no classified information, how did someone with this allegation in his background get a job at the white House? Those are two really important issues. Alysin, I'll tell you, you don't want people with domestic violence allegations hired, whether there's a security clearance at issue or not.
CAMEROTA: Is the security clearance process broken?
CAMEROTA: What's broken about it?
GOWDY: Any time you have a backlog, you have two issues, are there too many applicants or too few resources to process the applicants. We're all kind of creatures of our own experience. I had a two-star general that had to go through the security clearance background when he left the army and joined a committee of congress. I'm not sure how somebody with 30 years of government experience needs eight months more of investigation. One of the best people I've ever met in my life, she's never broken curfew, it took her a year to get a security clearance. That's too long when you're hiring people for really fact centric jobs; a year is too long to wait.