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Kim Jong-un's Powerful Sister Going to the Olympics; Interview with Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 7, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Big deal? The Senate reaches a major bipartisan budget deal, but there's some major opposition in the House. Is there still time to avert a government shutdown?

[17:00:20] Assault allegations. A very close aide to President Trump resigns amid allegations that he assaulted his ex-wives. Did that keep him from getting a full security clearance? And was there a White House cover-up?

Forced testimony? A top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski won't cooperate and must be subpoenaed. And that it's time to enforce the subpoena for ex-White House strategist Steve Bannon. Will Republicans go along?

And sister act. Kim Jong-un is sending his younger sister to the Winter Olympic Games. She may be the second most powerful person in North Korea and plays a key counterintelligence role. What will she be doing in South Korea?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Senate Republicans and Democrats find common ground on a budget deal. But in the House, it may be on shaky ground, attacked from both sides as lawmakers scramble to keep the president's shutdown threats from becoming reality.

Also breaking, a top aide to President Trump resigns following allegations of assault from two ex-wives. Now sources say statements down playing the allegations were crafted by a White House official he's dating.

I'll speak with Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Service Committees. And our correspondents and specialists, they're standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with a mad scramble for a budget deal following President Trump's shutdown threats and a new scandal that may be brewing right now over at the White House. Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what is the latest? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with one day

to go before another government shutdown, the White House is welcoming this budget deal that's coming out of the Senate. But the big question, as you mentioned, is what happens in the House where both Democrats and Republicans say they're not happy with this agreement.

But the White House isn't just focused on what's happening in Congress as aides to the president are dealing with some housecleaning of their own inside the West Wing.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The government on the brink of another shutdown. Something almost unthinkable has happened in Washington. A bipartisan agreement in the Senate to keep the lights on.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The compromise we've reached will ensure that, for the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: After months of fiscal brinksmanship, this budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship.

ACOSTA: But there's bipartisan trouble in the House, where Democrats want a commitment for a vote to protect the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as the DREAMers, from deportation.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Our DREAMers hang in limbo with a cruel cloud of fear and uncertainty above them. The Republican moral cowardice must end.

ACOSTA: And GOP fiscal hawks are outraged that the Senate deal will balloon the deficit.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH), HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: We didn't campaign on this. This is not consistent with what we told the voters, and I would argue not even close to being consistent with what they said in the 2016 elections.

ACOSTA: At the White House, aides to the president are accusing Democrats of risking a shutdown over the immigration issue.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we made clear that the budget deal should be a budget deal and that members of Congress, like Nancy Pelosi, should not hold our military hostage over a separate issue.

ACOSTA: The problem is the president did just that: threaten a shutdown over border security just one day ago.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would shut it down over this issue.

ACOSTA: Visiting the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis said a shutdown would harm security.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It paralyzes everything we do if we go into that.

ACOSTA: The White House is also grappling with yet more turmoil inside the West Wing as a key aide close to the president, staff secretary Rob Porter suddenly resigned over allegations of domestic violence, first reported by "The Daily Mail" CNN has learned two of Porter's ex-wives accused him of abuse in their marriage. CNN has also learned some of those allegations were flagged during Porter's security clearance process. Asked about Porter's status, press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed his departure.

SANDERS: He is going to be leaving the White House. It won't be immediate.

ACOSTA: And the White House released a statement from Porter that reads, "These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago, and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being transcribed. I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

Porter resigned even though chief of staff John Kelly was urging him to stay on. Kelly said in a statement, "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him."

[17:05{09] But one of Porter's former bosses, GOP Senator Orrin Hatch, walked back a statement of support, first saying, "It's incredibly discouraging to see such a vile attack on such a decent man. Shame on any publication that would print this, and shame on the politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man's good name."

Then saying in a second statement, "I am heartbroken by today's allegations. In every interaction I've had with Rob, he has been courteous, professional and respectful. My staff loved him, and he was a trusted advisor. I do not know the details of Rob's personal life. Domestic violence in any form is abhorrent and unacceptable."

While sources told CNN that White House officials were aware of issues in Porter's security clearance, Sanders dodged the question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president have any concern about these domestic violence allegations raised against Rob Porter?

SANDERS: I haven't spoken to him about specific concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You haven't talked to the president about this...

SANDERS: About whether or not he has specific concerns. I haven't asked him that question.


ACOSTA: Now former senior White House official tells CNN questions about Porter's security clearance did not arise during the first few months of the administration last year.

The suggestion from this former official is that all of this became more of an issue when current chief of staff John Kelly took command of the staff inside the West Wing, Wolf.

I have talked to a number of people here at the White House who have been with Rob Porter over the last year. They are shocked and saddened by these allegations. But the question tonight, at this point, is what the president and the chief of staff knew about these allegations and when did they know them, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta. Pretty shocking developments over there.

The sudden resignation of this key White House aide accused of assault by two ex-wives, and it's raising lots of questions right now about how the White House has handled this entire matter.

Let's bring in our national politics reporter, M.J. Lee.

M.J., you spoke with these two ex-wives. What did they tell you?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they're saying, Wolf, is very disturbing.

The first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, married Porter in 2003; and she tells me there was constant emotional and verbal abuse and that the physical abuse began almost immediately after their wedding. During their honeymoon in 2003, Holderness says Porter kicked her thigh during a fight; and for years, she says, he choked her and would throw her on the bed, put his body weight on her, yell and grind his elbow or knee into her body.

Then in the summer of 2005, Holderness says the couple was in Florence and that Porter punched her in the face. Now, she shared photos from that alleged incident with CNN. You can see there the bruise on her face.

And Jennifer Willoughby, the second ex-wife, who married Porter in 2009, tells me she also endured deep emotional -- emotional abuse from her ex-husband and, on some instances, things got physical.

In 2010, Willoughby says Porter punched a glass surface on their front door, and eventually the police came and encouraged her to take out a protective order against him. CNN has obtained and reviewed a copy of that order.

And then in December of 2010, Willoughby says she and Porter had a fight. And she went to take a shower, and she tells me that he grabbed her from the shower by her shoulder, making her feel, Wolf, very frightened. BLITZER: These are obviously very, very troubling allegations. But

tell us, M.J., why it's so significant that this was Rob Porter, someone who was so close to the president.

LEE: Right. Well, I think there are, Wolf, two things worth keeping in mind here as we learn more about the story. One, Porter was a top aide inside the White House who had consistent contact with President Trump himself.

Now, two, we are told by several sources that Porter has been dating White House communications director Hope Hicks. Now, she is, as you know, one of the most influential aides in the West Wing. And now we are also learning from two sources that Hicks was involved in crafting the response to the allegations of abuse made against Porter and that Hicks actually played a role in writing the initial statements from chief of staff John Kelly and press secretary Sarah Sanders, in which she praised Porter as a man of the highest integrity.

Now, under other circumstances, it maybe not be -- may not be surprising that Hicks would be involved in such matters, but it is notable that she remained involved, despite her romantic relationship with Porter.

BLITZER: Because the suggestion is she should have recused herself. She's got a romantic relationship going on. She shouldn't be writing statements so strongly defending him.

LEE: That's right. That's right.

BLITZER: But she didn't recuse herself.

LEE: She did not. She was involved in the White House's response to the allegations of abuse against Porter today.

BLITZER: Very, very shocking indeed. And we're going to have a lot more on this story coming up. M.J., thank you very much. M.J. Lee reporting.

While the Senate may have a big bipartisan budget deal, things are not necessarily going all that smoothly in the House of Representatives, where both Republicans and Democrats have issues with the Senate version.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, is there still a chance of a government shutdown? Bring us up to date.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no doubt, Wolf. The House is facing a very tough dynamic here. You have -- but in talking on aides and lawmakers up here on Capitol Hill today, there is a sense, a real sense that the shutdown can be avoided, although how exactly they cobble together the votes to get there is what the next 24 hours will be all about.

[17:10:10] After the Senate votes, likely tomorrow, on this bill, sends it over to the House, you have some powerful political dynamics and problems that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has to navigate.

First, you have House conservatives, many of them unhappy with this deal because of how it adds to the deficit significantly. We heard from many of those deficit hawks today, using pretty fierce rhetoric, saying that this is disgusting, reckless. One member saying it's fiscal insanity. So that highlights to leadership that they cannot pass this with only Republican votes alone. They will need to corral some Democrats to support it.

The problem there is, many House Democrats are opposed to it. We heard from many of them who are unhappy that this deal, of course, does not include a DACA fix. Most notably, we heard from the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, who took to the floor this morning and is still going on now in hour seven of her speech, objecting to this deal.

Notable, while she is against this deal, she has not necessarily specifically instructed her members to stand up, draw a line in the sand over immigration. And this is something that I asked the House Democratic chairman about today. What members are being told behind the scenes, whether they should vote for this or not. Here's how he responded.


REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: Well, what I would say, there is more to this deal than the issue of immigration. It's very complex. There's much more to this than simply one-off or one-off issues. And I have to look at that in totality. In regards to, you know -- people in our caucus will do what they think is the best interests of their constituency and of the country.


SERFATY: And the congressman there essentially acknowledging what many aides are telling us privately, that the hope is, and the expectation is that there is enough in this deal to be able to woo enough Democrats. Many who want to see disaster relief go to their states, Florida or Puerto Rico, California among those that would see a big boost in disaster relief money. Also, many Democrats happy with the domestic spending. The hope would be that there would be enough that could come around because of what else this package offers.

And certainly, it is worth reminding everyone that the House speaker does not need all the Democrats to support this. He just needs enough of some Democrats and some Republicans to cobble enough to get them there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they've got to pass this legislation in both the House and the Senate by midnight tomorrow night, Thursday night, in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Sunlen, thank you very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Service Committees. Senator, thanks very much for coming in. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you support this compromise that's been worked out by the Democratic and Republican leaders, the majority leader, the minority leader in the Senate?

BLUMENTHAL: It's definitely bipartisan progress. And I would lean toward supporting it, because it provides both military and nonmilitary defense spending. It's very important in providing community health centers and opioid treatment funding and, of course, aid for Puerto Rico. But I'm still very concerned that it fails to address the protection of the DREAMers.

BLITZER: Well, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, says he has a commitment, and we heard the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, say they will take up border security, DACA, the DREAMers, all of that immigration-related issues immediately following this.

BLUMENTHAL: I want to solidify that assurance. We've seen assurances before. I want to make sure that promise is going to be ironclad. That we will address the DACA issue to protect the DREAMers from mass deportation. I also want to make...

BLITZER: So you don't have confidence in Chuck Schumer when he says he's got a deal and he was very praiseworthy of Mitch McConnell; and Mitch McConnell called him his good friend and all of that? You don't trust these two guys?

BLUMENTHAL: Not only do I trust Chuck Schumer, I believe he strongly and unequivocally wants to address the DREAMer issue. But I want to make sure that this 30-day deal, and it's only for 30 days, doesn't just kick the can down the road and also that we have assurances on the timing of taking up the DREAMer issue.

BLITZER: Because you don't have much time. When is the vote in the Senate going to take place on this?

BLUMENTHAL: The vote almost certainly will be tomorrow.

BLITZER: Tomorrow you'll vote? You'll to have make up your mind by then. But what I hear you saying, you're inclined to vote "yea."


BLITZER: And then it will go to the House. You have any idea what's going to happen in the House?

BLUMENTHAL: The House is a world unto itself, and Nancy Pelosi, very courageously, is on the House floor, standing for conscience. I have opposed these short-term deals before, because I felt they kick the can down the road and fail to address the problem; but I will assess this particular agreement.

BLITZER: It looks like it's going to pass the Senate. We're wondering what's going to happen in the House. Let's go to the Russia investigation. You're on the Judiciary

Committee. Your chairman, Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, another member of the Judiciary Committee, they've released what they call a criminal referral looking into Christopher Steele, the former British spy who prepared that dossier. They're alleging he misled the FBI. His information was also being made available to the FBI.

[17:15:12] Have you seen information to back up this criminal referral sent over to the FBI and the Justice Department by these two members, the Republican members of your committee?

BLUMENTHAL: On the contrary. I am deeply disappointed that this first action of criminal referral is one done without any consultation, let alone corroboration with Democratic members. It smacks of a political action. Not a serious legal one.

And remember, Wolf, very importantly here, Christopher Steele went to the FBI voluntarily because he was so alarmed by the prospect of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Contrast that conduct with Donald Trump Jr., who was told that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton from hacked, stolen e-mails. What was his reaction? "I love it."

BLITZER: Their accusation against Christopher Steele, Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, is that he lied to the FBI when he said he had not briefed members of the news media.

BLUMENTHAL: And the question is, did he deny it? Or did he simply not tell them about it? And the allegation is not that he actually denied it, apparently. It is that he didn't volunteer it.

That kind of nondisclosure is nowhere near what needs to be proved for a criminal prosecution. And I'm disappointed that this first action is one that involves information that was provided by the Department of Justice. There's nothing new here so far as the Department of Justice.

BLITZER: So what do you think the motive is? We're talking about Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham. What do they want?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm concerned, because there is a growing campaign to discredit our law enforcement, agencies like the FBI. I would hate to think that this action is part of that effort, which may also involve a pretext to fire Rod Rosenstein, and to come back to your question about the Judiciary Committee.

BLITZER: Well, you know Chuck Grassley well, and you know Lindsey Graham well. You think they would be part of an effort to discredit the FBI?

BLUMENTHAL: I would very much doubt that that would be their motive. And I hope that we can work together in continuing to uncover Russian meddling in our election, Trump collusion with it, and obstruction of justice. Because as the secretary of state said today, the Russians are continuing it. They're going to do it again in 2018. We need to make them pay a price and anybody who cooperated with them. And Lindsey Graham for one has made that point repeatedly.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

There's more breaking news we're following in the Russia investigation as a top Democrat wants to force testimony from two former Trump advisers.

And Kim Jong-un is sending his younger sister to the Winter Olympic games in South Korea. She may be the second most powerful person in his regime. What will she be doing in South Korea?


[17:22:49] BLITZER: More breaking news now. The senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is not cooperating and must be subpoenaed. And he also says it's time to enforce the subpoena against Steve Bannon.

Let's go live to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Corey Lewandowski came before the House Intelligence Committee last month but would not answer questions about any topics that occurred after the 2016 campaign season, when he left the campaign in June of 2016, saying that he was not prepared to answer a number of questions after that time frame.

But at that point, according to Republicans and Democrats, he did agree to come back and answer the committee's questions at a later time. Well, that has changed.

According to Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, Lewandowski has informed the committee that he will not be returning to the committee to answer questions. Mike Conaway, the Republican running the Russia investigation, confirmed that, as well.

Now Schiff wants the committee to move further. He wants to issue a subpoena to compel Lewandowski's appearance. But Wolf, that is something the Republicans are not willing to say just quite yet.


RAJU: Is it your understanding that he told the committee that he won't appear tomorrow?

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R-TX), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We got a letter to that effect.

RAJU: Huh?

CONAWAY: We have a letter to that effect.

RAJU: And what's your reaction to that?

CONAWAY: I don't tell you what I might do. We'll respond, and we'll see what we're going to do. I don't -- I don't telegraph my punches.

RAJU: He said that he would return to answer questions when he was better prepared. Is this a violation of that agreement?

CONAWAY: Again, I don't talk about those details.

RAJU: Do you think it's time to subpoena Lewandowski to bring him back to the committee?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I would say no. He answered 99 percent of the questions. He answered all the relevant questions. He was there for eight hours. I would say -- right as of now I would say no.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, this comes as another high -profile witness, Steve Bannon, has pushed back on three separate occasions his return to the committee after he refused to answer questions in the January appearance before the panel about any topics that occurred after his time on the campaign, saying that essentially that it would prevent the president, by answering those questions, he would prevent the president from invoking executive privilege during the transition and during his time at the White House if the president chose to go that far.

Both Republicans and Democrats have not been satisfied with that and have demanded him to return next week before the committee.

[17:25:12] We are told separately, though, from a source familiar with the matter, that Bannon is willing to talk to Robert Mueller first and answer all of his questions, but not the House committee.

And Wolf, this also comes as Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, her appearance before the committee last month was pushed back amid questions about what answers she would be willing to give to the committee, raising questions about whether three high-profile witnesses ever will be able to give their full testimony before this panel, which has been beset by turmoil for months now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, Republicans now have a longtime Clinton associate in their crosshairs as they try thwart the overall Russia investigation. Update us on that.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. This is an effort by the Republicans to go after the Obama State Department, which they believe improperly gave information to Christopher Steele. who was that former British agent who put together that Trump-Russia dossier of allegations that has now become -- now under the crosshairs of Republicans on both the House and the Senate side. Now, two senior Senate Republicans last night issued an -- largely

unredacted letter from the FBI about the criminal referrals, saying that Christopher Steele may have lied to the FBI about his contacts with the news media. And the Republicans are saying today that they want -- they want a second special counsel to look further into exactly what Christopher Steele did, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who told me this earlier today.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. Steele was more of a political operative than he was a reliable informant. Even though he had been used in the past and was reliable, in this case he had a political bias. He was being paid by the Democratic National Committee. And he was out to get Trump. And I think using his work product was a mistake.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I have questions about some top- level managers in those departments, carryovers, probably, from the previous administration. I have questions. I think they're legitimate questions.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, that last comment coming from Senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who issued a report today about the Clinton e-mail investigation, raising concerns about how the FBI and the Justice Department investigated the Clinton e-mail matter. And he says that was an interim report and wants to go much further.

So a sign of where the Republican focus is on Capitol Hill as Democrats pushing for more answers about Russia and about any potential Trump/Russia collusion, Republicans putting the spotlight back on what happened during the Obama era, during the Clinton e-mail investigation. And the signs of how the breakdown that's happening over these investigations on party lines here on Capitol Hill, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu. Thank you. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Coming up, she may be the second most powerful person in Kim Jong-un's regime. So why is the North Korean leader sending his sister to South Korea?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking news stories, including today's sudden resignation of a key White House aide, Rob Porter, after published accusations of assault by two ex-wives. And it's raising serious questions about how the White House handled this entire matter.

[17:32:47] Let's bring in our specialists. Jeff Zeleny, you're with us. You're gathering some more reporting on this story. What else are you learning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are learning that there was indeed, and there has been, indeed, a scramble inside the West Wing of the White House to react to this.

Only -- you know, less than 24 hours after White House officials were putting out, you know, effusive statements of praise for Rob Porter, he suddenly resigns today when new photographs emerged of the bruised and black eye that our M.J. Lee was reporting on earlier.

BLITZER: From the ex-wives.

ZELENY: Exactly, from the second ex-wife -- excuse me, from the first ex-wife, and then the protective order which we have reviewed, as well, from the second ex-wife just coming a year after they were married, just a few years after the first marriage. So it really is raising questions here. When did officials in the West Wing know about these reports?

Now, the reason it was coming into mind here, he was under an FBI background check, which is routine for all officials like that. He is in charge -- he's the staff secretary. What that means is he is in charge of the information flow that comes into the president and out of the Oval Office, including some top-secret information. So his security clearance was always on hold.

We are told that this was raising some red flags for a lot of officials last fall when the FBI said, "Look, you can't have a security clearance here."

So the questions still, what did the president know about this? What did John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, know about this? And why they were giving him a temporary waiver, it seems, on the security clearance is a question the White House has not answered yet.

But it's clear that this is all complicated by the personal relationship Rob Porter was having with Hope Hicks. Of course, one of the most influential White House advisers to the president, the communications director here. She was leading the charge, we are told, to essentially put out statements praising him. And now in hindsight, that is not looking so good in light of these pictures and this police report.

BLITZER: Because it looks -- it looks devastating. And the notion that she was in charge, even though she was having a relationship with him, of writing all these statements of support for him when she should have been up front and said, "Look, I'm having a relationship with him. I think I should recuse myself from this."

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and you had others, right, to come out and offer praise for him. Orrin Hatch had a really effusive statement.

[17:25:03] BLITZER: He used to work for Orrin.

HENDERSON: He used to work for Orrin Hatch, and then he sort of dialed it back on the second statement and talking about how serious domestic violence and domestic abuse is. But it's a very odd place for this White House to be.

Also, John Kelly offering pretty effusive praise of Mr. Porter, even given some of these allegations and this whole idea that this was some sort of smear campaign. But if you listen to the stories of these women, these two ex-wives, and another person who hasn't been identified, you know, it doesn't sound like some sort of coordinated smear. It sounds like they told the FBI what their experiences were with Mr. Porter when they were married to him.

BLITZER: Yes, John Kirby, you know something about security clearances. You were at the Pentagon for a long time, the State Department, as well.

It sounds pretty unusual to me that the two individuals who pass along classified, sensitive information to the president at the White House-- chief of staff John Kelly, and the staff secretary, Rob Porter -- one of them didn't have full security clearances.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. Jeff is right. And if he was passing top-secret materials to the president of the United States, that's -- that's a violation. There's no getting around that. If you don't have a clearance, you're not supposed to be handling classified information, period. So that could be a big problem.

BLITZER: And today we heard from the White House press secretary, Jackie, that they didn't want him to resign. They wanted him to stay. He made that decision to step down. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, had only praise for him. This is awkward.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's more than awkward. It's disturbing. Someone who appears to have this record of violence being so close to -- I mean, so close in the West Wing. And I understand that his superiors were close to him, Orrin Hatch, John Kelly. But in this case, your private life, when it is as vivid as we've seen with these pictures, that should be relevant.

And there is reporting that John Kelly knew about this because of the FBI background check. And in the coming days, the more that comes out, you know, what message does this send to victims of domestic violence? This is a quiet crime a lot, and it takes a lot to come forward. And the fact that they're not standing behind these women, it's just disturbing.

BLITZER: Rob Porter did issue a statement. He totally denies these very serious allegations leveled against him by his two ex-wives. But if -- if the FBI had these concerns and, after a year of reviewing his background, still had not given him full security clearances, that in and of itself sends a message to someone like John Kelly, the White House chief of staff.

ZELENY: It certainly is interesting. And again, we don't know a lot of the specifics of what specific individuals knew. But it does seem that some senior officials knew about this, knew the FBI was not granting this clearance.

A year is quite a long time to have a clearance reviewed. He's 39 years old. He worked on the Hill. He didn't have a long business record. It should not have been that complicated of a security clearance, it would seem. He didn't have foreign investments or other things like that. So the fact that it was not approved in a year's time, I think should have been a red flag.

But again, he was someone who was on the rise in the West Wing. He was involved in the president's speeches. He was traveling with the president. He's pictured in -- shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the president's trip to Beijing last year. This was a central player in the inner circle; and there are very few people who come into the president's inner circle after the campaign. He was an example of that.

So he was extremely highly thought of, mild-mannered, was a lawyer, was of the Mormon faith. So everyone we're talking to, they're saying shocked, devastated, did not know about this. But it does seem that some top officials, indeed, did know about this, because the two ex- wives told the FBI agents on these routine background checks.

BLITZER: I wonder how it's going to affect Hope Hicks, the communications director, one of the closest aides to the president.

HENDERSON: You know, and this is her personal life, and it must be painful for her to be discussed in this way and her personal life to be discussed in this way. And we -- we don't know what happened.

KIRBY: Can I just say as a P.R. person, and I try to stay out of the political stuff here. But I mean, if you're in a relationship and then you are -- and you're responsible for crafting the statement about the departure of the individual that you're -- that just violates every ethic of being a spokesman, period.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly does. All right, guys. Stand by. There's a lot more. We're following multiple breaking stories. We'll be right back.


[17:43:52] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists. And John Kirby, what's the latest that you're hearing on this presidential order to the Pentagon to come up with a concept for a major military parade later this year here in Washington?

KIRBY: Well, what I'm hearing is that they're taking this very, very seriously. It's not a suggestion; it's a directive. And they're treating it like that, and they're actively now working planning options. The joint staff in the Army, in particular, because this would fall under the Army's military district here in Washington to conduct the parade.

They're actually working up options that they're going to present to the White House. I suspect -- I don't know this -- that there will be several options, and probably not all of them will be the grandiose, ostentatious display that he saw in Paris. I think they're going to try to give him what he wants, but I think they're going to, my guess, try to walk him a little bit back, something a little bit less intensive.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your sources over at the White House?

ZELENY: I mean, the White House was a little bit embarrassed that this was being discussed as such a full-throated plan. But in fact, it is -- you know, it's been on the president's mind; and he's been saying this repeatedly ever since that Bastille Day parade. I remember being there in Paris, watching this parade, and the president said he wanted one bigger or better than that.

If that is the case, I mean, that was a parade of all parades. It was the mother of all parades. All this equipment, it went on for two hours. It was quite impressive to watch.

If the president wants one that big, boy, they're going to have to haul in military equipment from across the country.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, supporters of the military, Senator Lindsey Graham and others, were saying this makes the military -- or the U.S. look weak. Strong countries don't need to do this.


ZELENY: There will be a lot of pushback here. The challenge now, I assume, one more task for General Kelly. Can you talk the President out of this or sort of dial it back a little bit? I don't know if he can.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Even Lindsey Graham --

HENDERSON: Lindsey Graham --

BLITZER: -- who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, says he doesn't want a cheesy parade.

HENDERSON: Yes, he called it cheesy. And you hear people talking about the cost of it. It will be millions of dollars to ship those tanks in and all sorts of equipment. And maybe there is a better idea where you -- it's veterans and they're the ones who are highlighted.


HENDERSON: Spotlighting families. And that's something we all have seen. I mean, sort of parades in our own communities where you're highlighting and showing thanks and gratitude to veterans and any service members.

KUCINICH: And that's much less politicizing it --


KUCINICH: -- if you do something like -- not being --

BLITZER: And the military feels a little awkward doing this.


BLITZER: But there are plenty of not just Democrats but Republicans on the Hill who think it's awkward.

KUCINICH: Well, right, because this politicizes the military yet again, something that happens frequently when it comes to politics and Capitol Hill. But it's -- to have -- Democrats don't want to be in the position where they're not going to this parade because they don't like the President.

So working this out in a way such as Lindsey Graham said might sort of mitigate those who are --

ZELENY: It's also midterm election year, so something for the --


ZELENY: -- the end of the year. You know, Democrats don't want to resist this too much, I think. You know, to resist the military here. It's just something that, of all the stuff going on, I'm not sure why this is added to the mix.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE: The troops don't need to be thanked this way. I mean, they know the American people support them.

A better way to show that support is through local outreach, where they are, helping them reintegrate back into society, helping their families find schools and jobs. That's the kind of support that they need.

BLITZER: Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.



BLITZER: Thank you very much for that.

Coming up, an intriguing twist. Just as the U.S. promises not to be lulled by a North Korean charm offensive over at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Kim Jong-un is sending his powerful and rather mysterious younger sister to South Korea. What that could mean, next.


[17:51:57] BLITZER: We're following a new round of tough talk aimed at North Korea. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, today, warned new and harsher sanctions are coming soon. Tillerson says the United States will not be lulled by what he calls

North Korea's charm offensive over at the South Korea Winter Olympic Games.

Let's bring in our own Brian Todd.

Brian, the North Koreans, they've just revealed one of their most powerful, one of their most mysterious leaders is actually going to South Korea.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. It is now unmistakable tonight just how seriously Kim Jong-un is taking his country's mission to the Winter Olympics. He is sending a member of his family, and not some distant relative, but the one person he trusts with his life inside the regime.


TODD (voice-over): Outside of her brother Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong could be the most powerful person in North Korea. The younger sister of the North Korean dictator, she shares his DNA and his vision for the repressive regime.

She's now heading across the South Korean border as part of North Korea's delegation to the Winter Olympics.

DR. BALBINA HWANG, VISITING PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Oh, it's absolutely significant on quite a number of levels. First, just the symbolism and the symbolics of this.

She has been relatively cloistered outside of North Korea. We don't know how much she has traveled, but she's about to emerge on the world's largest television stage.

TODD (voice-over): Kim Yo-jong will be the first member of the Kim dynasty ever visit South Korea. No family member has crossed the border since the Korean War.

Her star has risen meteorically over the past four years.

She's been a top official of the propaganda and agitation department which U.S. officials say enforces censorship. And she was recently promoted to a position in the politburo, the senior body in the communist party.

Kim Yong-nam, the ceremonial head of state, who will also be at the Olympics, wields considerable influence inside the regime, but analysts say Kim Yo-jong is the real power just under her brother.

KEN GAUSE, DIRECTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS GROUP, CNA: Kim Yo- jong's power exists because of proximity to the leader himself. She is the person that he trusts more than anyone else in the regime.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say one of Kim Yo-jong's top responsibilities now is counterintelligence, acting as her brother's eyes and ears, helping him identify who might be plotting against him inside Pyongyang's dangerous halls of power.

Analysts say she'll be gathering intelligence when she's at the Olympics, and she could also serve as a high-level back channel for the North Korean government.

GAUSE: If the United States and South Korea want to reach out and use the Olympics as an opportunity for informal discussions, those discussions can go through an unfiltered, direct channel back to Kim Jong-un. And she would provide that direct channel.

TODD (voice-over): Meantime, with the world watching the Olympics, she will put a young, telegenic face on the regime. This is a calculated move from Kim Jong-un, experts say, to answer Ivanka Trump's presence at the closing ceremonies.

HWANG: Kim Yo-jong is the perfect counterpart to this. And it also is a signal that North Korea is not, you know, this crazy, weird, former Cold War state, but that it, too, has young women that are capable and are the future leadership.


[17:55:05] TODD: So will Kim Yo-jong meet with Ivanka Trump, Vice President Pence, or any member of the American delegation at the Olympics? Analysts say that's going to be up to the Americans and South Koreans.

They say the North Koreans, by sending Kim Yo-jong, have set it up perfectly to have some kind of meaningful, top-level communication. But so far, Vice President Pence and his team have been cagey about a possible meeting with any North Koreans there, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly have been. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Brian Todd reporting. Coming up, breaking news. The Senate reaches a major bipartisan budget deal, but there's some major bipartisan opposition in the House. Is there still time to avert a government shutdown?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Bipartisan bargain? The Senate reaches a deal to avoid a government shutdown with a two-year spending bill, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she'll vote against it without a commitment to protect the Dreamers. Will enough Democrats join her to scuttle the plan?

West Wing resignation. A top aide to President Trump resigns after his two ex-wives accuse him of assault. The White House tries to stand by him. How long has the Trump team known about these allegations?

[18:00:06] Compelled to talk. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee wants to force former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former chief strategist --