Return to Transcripts main page


White House Personnel Problems Come to the Surface; Pence's Olympic Games Messaging to North Korea. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 11, 2018 - 08:00   ET



JOHN KING, HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday. The Trump White House in major turmoil. The president talks about replacing his chief of staff and sounds tone deaf or worse as he speaks fondly of a top aide forced to resign because of violent domestic abuse allegations.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I (ph) found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's a obviously tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House and we hope has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him.


KING: Plus, a massive new spending deal and a green light to raise the debt ceiling. No more election year worries about government shut downs, but there is a new Republican identity crisis.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), K.Y.: We are in a terrible state as a country. $20 trillion in debt is bigger than our entire economy. You wonder why the stock market is jittery? Well, one of the reasons is we do not have the capacity to continue to fund a government like this.


KING: And a vague and somewhat strange week on the world stage for the vice president. Mike Pence talks tough as North and South Korea use the Olympic stage to make nice.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT FO THE UNITED STATES: We'll continue to seize every opportunity to ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a -- and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting in the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbors across the region. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of the New York Times, Karoun Deirjian of the Washington Post, Seung Min Kim of Politico and Mary Katharine Ham of the Federalist. The Trump White House in chaos again in another mess, largely of it's own making. Two presidential aides, one an Oval Office insider, resigned this past week because of allegations of violent domestic abuse.

The president is angry and talking to friends and allies about whether he should fire and replace his chief of staff. But he's also defending the men and suggesting this storm is unfair to them and, implicitly, to him. People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation, the president tweeted Saturday. "Some are true and some a false. Some are old are some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?

That from the president. Both former aides, Rob Porter and David Sorensen deny these allegations. To be clear though, this is hardly, as the president put it, a mere allegation. Porter's first wife provided these photos -- they are horrific -- to the FBI more than a year ago and made them public this past week. His second wife also spoke to the FBI months ago. She told CNN this past week Porter verbally abused her regularly and described one incident where she said he aggressively grabbed her and pulled her from the shower.


JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, EX-WIFE OF ROB PORTER: It was an -- a low-grade constant terror of not knowing what I might do to set something off, what mood he would have.

The reality is he's not a monster. He is a intelligent, kind, chivalrous, caring, professional man and he's deeply troubled and angry and violent. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive.


KING: The other aide's ex-wife spoke to the FBI last fall. She told the Washington Post the abuse included running a car over her foot, throwing her against a wall and putting out a cigarette on her hand. Neither the president's Saturday tweet nor his remarks defending Porter on Friday made any mention of the women or the horror of domestic violence. Let's start there, with the tone of the president in dealing with this.

Tone deaf is being kind, correct?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think you put your finger on it just before, when you said that he -- the -- the defenses that he's mounted of these men are in -- in some ways, a defense of himself. He feels personally implicated by this whole thing and he -- and -- and his comments, both on Twitter and in the Oval Office had the ring of a defense of his own conduct and the accusations that have been made against him -- of which there are many and he's repeatedly denied.

And -- and he's not speaking as the leader of a nation where you're setting priorities and, you know -- and giving value judgments about, you know, what is moral behavior and what is not. His statements are about him and falsely accused me, of whom he considers himself one of the.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it's troubling especially because there's nobody that's even picking up the slack, really. I mean, the president should be the one to set this tone and should be the one to talk about domestic violence, even if he is not going to go so far as to actually condemn these individuals that he hired to be on his staff.

Some in very sensitive positions requiring security clearance that they never fully got. But John Kelly didn't really do that. He spoke more highly of Rob Porter than he did -- you know, sternly about domestic abuse. Orrin Hatch, same sort of thing. You know, there wasn't really a public push to say we have zero tolerance for this sort of thing. It was just like oh yes, domestic violence is abhorrent, but we like this guy, he was so nice, too. It's so sad that these two things came together.

And it's unfortunate, given where we are in this moment of history, with the whole MeToo movement, that this is a moment where you really could have some clarity. And -- and there isn't. (ph)

KING: And it also sounds like -- and please forgive me for -- correct me if you think I'm wrong. It also sounds like we got caught is what happened here, in the sense that -- we'll get more into the timeline on a little bit later in the program, but they were aware of this -- at least some of it, for at least a year in Rob Porter's case. In Rob Porter's case. Now, the president said he was blindsided but again, listen to the president's tone here.

I have no issue with the president saying Rob served me well. I hope he -- I hope he gets the help he needs or I hope he does well in the future. But zero empathy -- zero empathy for the women and zero discussion of the issue.


TRUMP: It was very sad when we heard about it. And certainly he's also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent.


KING: Why is that so important to the president? And again, Rob Porter has -- Rob Porter's denied the allegations. The comments and the evidence and the testimony of his ex-wives is pretty overwhelming.

SEUNG MIN KIM, ASSISTANT EDITOR, POLITICO: I think it's just (ph) a pattern of the president showing the empathy towards the men who have been accused, especially if the men had denied the allegations. You have to remember back to the -- back to the presidential campaign, when his first campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski was shown to have grabbed a female reporter. And Trump -- like, right away took to Cory Lewandowski's side.

You had the whole situation with the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who had these horrific allegations of sexual misconduct against him, dating back decades. While the --- almost the Republicans party, particularly Senate Republicans did condemn the allegations and (ph) condemned the behavior, President Trump ultimately didn't and didn't -- and, you know, said he's denied them, that's enough for me. And continued to support him.

KING: To that point -- to that point, most people watching this program probably don't need to be reminded, but let's have a little bit of the president -- you mentioned the Cory Lewandowski episode. (ph) Here, he's talked (ph) about Roger Ailes, himself and Roy Moore of Alabama.


TRUMP: Some of the women that are complaining -- I know how much he's helped them, now all of a sudden, they're saying these horrible things about him. It's very sad. Because he's a very good person. I've always found him to be just a very, very good person.

These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false.

Let me just tell you. Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it.


KING: Yesterday in his tweet, the president was complaining about due process again. Correct me if you think I'm off here, but he lashes out on Twitter and elsewhere quickly before he has facts. He rushes to judgment on just about everything except white Republican men accused of behaving badly, horrifically, reprehensibly around women.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Well, and I think it's slightly more than that. It is people who are nice to him, he is nice to. People who are nice to him get due process. And that's kind of the beginning and end of it. I am on board and also think it's our duty to evaluate each of these allegations, right?

But in this case, when you look at the evidence, you have contemporary news (ph) police reports, you have photographic evidence, you have someone writing about it on a blog before any of this was news, and you have these women talking to the FBI -- which, you know, if you're not in the Trump administration, you take pretty seriously and are careful about doing so. So these are not low stakes for the women. But as we saw in the Lewandowski -- and the Lewandowski case was even worse than -- than some say (ph), which is he went out and praised him immediately, because the reaction was this is my guy being attacked and I'm going to go reward this behavior. And part of that is just in the Trump orbit, toughness and loyalty and

fighting are what is valued. And that'll get you a bunch of bullies. (ph)

KING: And they -- and -- a bunch of bullies, that's a good point. They -- again, when this came to their attention -- in both cases, it's been in their attention for months -- they could have said, if they wanted to, you have to take a leave of absence, we'll have a job -- you go fight this, get the help you need, deal with the facts here and if you're cleared, we'll have a job for you when you come back.

That's not what they did. They kept them on and only went public -- only when it's very public do they go. This is Joe Biden, the former vice president's take on how the Trump White House handles these things.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, U.S.: That's like saying that axe murderer out there, he's a great painter, is there any other crime as crime (ph) where there'd be an explanation that the reason why we shouldn't pay attention to the transgression just because they're good at something.


KING: The vice - former vice president is correct, there's a lot of politics to that, but it is a crime. It - it - it is a crime.

DAVIS: I mean, put aside whether you think that the president should be leading the country and laying out some valued judgments and statements on things like this. This was a management failure of the - epic proportions.

I mean, just - if you - if all you care about is what people are going to think about how you run your White House, what you're willing to tolerate personnel wise and what you're not, if you're running an efficient and secure operation in the West Wing, they did everything wrong in this case.

They did nothing to protect themselves when - even when they knew that there was a - a - a potential problem or actually a - a real problem that had born (ph) out in the FBI's investigation.

And once it all became public this past week, it took them several rounds of statements and you know internal meetings and figuring out what page they were on to even put out one statement that had the words in them you know we condemn domestic violence of any kind.

Even then, you know, they - their - their handling of this was the worst possible way to (inaudible).

KING: And - and - and in the wake of that, we know the president's working the phones as he always does, so you're (ph) calling Maggie Haberman, reporting he stayed (ph) inside the White House yesterday, it was raining in Washington, he couldn't go out, and he stayed watching the television coverage of recent days about all this and stewing about it.

He's been calling around asking friends and outside advisors should I replace my chief of staff? One of - what we're - CNN is told by one of the sources that Tom Barrack, who's a developer and a friend of the president, the president maybe even offered him the job and he said no, no, no thank you.

They talk about the Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthey, is this real or is this the president just venting or is he really looking for a new chief of staff?

DIERJIAN: I mean we don't really know until he actually makes the - he has tortured several of his senior advisors and - and appointees, and Jeff Sessions, I mean that wasn't that long ago, it was is he going to stay, is he going to go.

Sometimes when it's you know, as we know he has replaced his chief of staff before, so it's a possibility, right. But the - the - until we start seeing more of this or actually seeing a firing order, seeing that the president actually direct his anger publically towards Kelly, which he hasn't really don yet, it - it's kind of premature to say oh yes, these people or these heads are going to roll.

These heads are maybe going to be shocked into something, you know, from - from being the focus of all of this, and the - and for - from these reports getting out of the president talking to outsiders about what he should do about the people who are actually inside the White House.

But I think it's a little bit early to say anybody's done.

DAVIS: I think the discontent is definitely real, but he all - we also have seen with our former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the president has this thing that he does where he sort of publically tortures somebody to sort of get them to the point of wanting to resign and that ultimately happened with Reince Priebus.

He tweeted his - that he was fired. But John Kelly is a different sort of a bird, he is a person who has made it know that he feels like he's in this job out of some sense of duty not necessarily because he really wants to be, but he feels that he's needed in this job, so the idea that the president could sort of goad him into quitting seems less likely here.

HAM: I'm also sort of surprised by McGahn and Kelly's part in this, because it's clearly a mistake, and Kelly's someone who comes from the military that does the dishonorable discharge for abuse.

So he's familiar with this kind of thing. I think it does speak a little bit to a White House that's so starved for sort of traditional staffing options and people who do know how to do the job by, and by all accounts he did.

So I've been wondering like why do you go to the maps (ph) for Rob Porter and that may be the reason. KING: And that's an interesting point. Back to the McGahn and the Kelly thing a bit later in the program, we'll talk more about this including as part of this, the stunning number of White House aids who still cannot get security clearances.

But next, a massive spending deal angers many conservatives and opens the door to a major immigration fight.


KING: Welcome back. There will be no shortage of big fights this midterm election year, immigration and the president's refusal to release the democratic memo on the Russia probe, for example. We'll get this work week started on a very combative note.

But one thing you should not hear much about again this year, talk of a potential government shutdown, a big spending deal passed by the Congress this week has most people thinking we'll get going to for two years here.

What does it include? More than $300 billion in new spending over the next two years, that does not even include plus add in the disaster relief spending, $165 billion for the Pentagon, $131 billion in non- defense discretionary spending on domestic programs and the like.

Who's happy with this? The Pentagon gets a lot of money, the bipartisan congressional leadership for the most part, the president's happy, he gets the big military spending increase he wanted, most republicans are happy because they get through the election year now, they hope, without any more shutdown drama.

Who's not happy? House democrats, because they did not get a specific promise in the House to get a vote on an immigration plan, fiscal conservatives also unhappy, they say this blows a giant hole in the deficit.

One of the most interesting dramas, this was supported by House Speaker Paul Ryan, supported strongly by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that is now, but what about then?


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WI: Our debt is out of control, what was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis.

We cannot deny it, instead we must, as Americans, confront it responsibly.

We want to balance the budget, they don't. We want to restrain spending, they want to spend more money.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KY: The democrat's spending spree has brought us to the brink of an economic calamity. Who proposes more spending as a solution to a debt crisis?


KING: What happened to those guys? Where'd they go? KIM: And that's just - and that's been the fascinating point, and that was kind of the point that Senator Rand Paul was trying to make when he single handedly forced the very brief government shutdown on Thursday night saying that under the Obama administration, congressional republicans had de-banded (ph) every, you know, no signing increases, or if there were increases, that paid (ph) basically every plan would (ph) offset.

Now with this about $300 billion in over two years of additional funding that we have, about a third is offset. So the fact that you've gotten (ph) bigger fiscal wins for republicans under the Obama administration than in the Trump administration tells you a little bit of something.

And this is - and remember this also increases the debt limit as well through 2019, with no corresponding increases. So Rand Paul is saying where did this Republican Party go?

KING: Not just Rand Paul, I want you to listen here, because my question is how does it play out for republicans in the election year. Listen to Rush.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: All of this spending, combined with tax cuts, deficits as far as the eye can see. And it doesn't seem it's very republican, it doesn't seem like it's very conservative.

In the textbook of conservatism, every bit of this is a no-no except for the military spending.


KING: So a lot of people who voted for this said at least it takes shut downs, debt ceilings, it takes all of these dramas off the table. We can go home and campaign on our tax cuts, try to protect the republican majority.

Will we have a lot of tea party challenges to republicans who voted for this? Will they - will there be hypocrisy essentially campaigns against republicans who voted for this?

HAM: There may be some, I doubt that they're going to be that successful, because this is a party now headed by Donald Trump who ran on loving debts and not touching entitlements.

That is - that's the new face of the party, so on these subjects, frankly, I don't think there's much a contingency (ph) for cutting stuff, it's like three think tankers, Rand Paul and me.

I'm like, woo, they took sequestration (ph) from me, my one moment in the (inaudible). So when it comes down to it, people don't want their stuff cut, they want tax cuts and they want a bunch of spending, and the swamp done won (ph), you give everybody all of the money they want and then we move on.

But there is a - I think there is an issue here where you've got - outside of the tax cut moving forward there's no reconciliation so they can't do anything on Obamacare or any of these other issues.

If you have a big infrastructure bill, DACA, welcome to a democratic administration.

KING: Right, that - that's the answer. And - and the DACA debate, that gets us to the art of the segway there, the DACA debate will start - start in the Senate tomorrow. Is there any reason to believe, especially when you have a good group of conservatives mad about what just happened, can they really get - I can see them getting something through the Senate - can they really get a DACA plan, protect the DREAMers through the House of Representatives to the president's desk?

DIERJIAN: If the president is willing to endorse it before the House has to vote on it, sure. But it was going to actually take that - that sort of endorsement, that push, that wind at their backs to actually get them to put in on the floor in the first place.

I mean you have too many very conservative republicans in the House that want no part of this period, you have too much unity in the GOP which they think is a very good thing. I mean they have actually stuck together quite well over the last several policy and budget rounds of votes and fights on the floor.

There's no reason for them to splinter right now as far as Paul Ryan's concerned. Why should he recreate the problems of the past, right? Unless you have Trump, who has once said I'll take the heat, but since then has just kind of poked holes in every single plan that's been brought up to - and - and put out there.

If he actually can get behind something that goes to the Senate, then sure, but short of that the Senate and House just do not see the same way - don't see this issue the same way at all.

KING: Right, different planets on this issue, and - and in part of this, again, you have this bipartisan moment with the big spending plan, immigration's going to get people back in their corners again, and the president then on Friday decided to at least delay but not immediately release this democratic memo.

There was the Nunes memo from the Republican side, the House Intelligence Committee suggesting a bias at the FBI, democrats wanted to counter that by putting their own memo out, Adam Schiff who's the ranking democrat on the House Intelligence Committee tweeted yesterday Trump on Nunes memo, I've vindicated, Trump on democratic response I'm - it's classified.

Now - now what they're saying at the White House is that this was a longer memo, that it was more detailed, and it did - in the White House view, have more sources and methods, which everyone should be concerned about, democrat or republican.

So is this going to be, look take another look at this, try to scrub it, make it cleaner, or was this a White - cynical - is the White House cynically hiding behind sources and method because they don't want it out at all?

DAVIS: Well, I - I believe it's more the latter than the former, I mean as - as you say, everyone should be concerned about sources and methods, they weren't very concerned about sources and methods when it came to the republican memo, and it is true that this is - it - from what we hear, a more extensive, more detailed document.

But part of that is because the republican memo, as many people within the FBI and the Justice Department have said privately, was missing a lot of key facts and elements that would have potentially not looked as vindicated - or not vindicating at all for the president.

And that's part of why the whole conceit of these memos is so troubling because it certainly looks like there's been things cherry picked from the - what - what can be made public with the full knowledge by the White House and by republicans that much of the - much of what would look more incriminating or that would show more balancing (ph) of what happened, cannot be released because it is classified.

So they were starting this debate on - on some very uneven ground. You can't just, you know, snap your fingers and release a FISA warrant, it's - you know, I mean there's - there's a lot of issues there.

DIERJIAN: In the White House's defense, the democratic memo does have more in it that is sensitive, when the republican memo came out, I think the only really new thing there was the exact date of what the - the October FISA was for - for Carter Page.

But, like you said, context does matter. And the other thing is that the - the republicans were telling me this last week, that the democrats have kind of expertly backed them into a corner, where either they were going to have to say well we have to blank out a lot because there's actual source and methods concerns here, and we're going to have side with the FBI on that.

You know or - or the democrats are going to basically point shed (ph) if we make anything more, like another word, they're going to point to it and say see you're trying to use this to shut us down because you're trying to muzzle (ph) us.

And the White House took possibly the even - you know, the - the - the worse position in that, politically speaking, weaker, which is just to not let it out at all. So it does (ph) get democrats ammunition.

There were going to be redactions, it was going to be hard, but to take this course is basically saying hello here's a political gift to you.

DAVIS: And by the way, republicans on the committee had voted unanimously to release it, which actually was a pretty decent look, and then you sort of (inaudible). KING: Well now, we'll see if the House - the House has the right to step back into that and release it or put more pressure on the president, we'll see, it's going to be an interesting week ahead.

Up next, back to our top story, questions for Trump's inner circle about judgment, and what they knew when in the aftermath of the Rob Porter saga.


[08:30:42] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

The Rob Porter scandal is raising judgment questions about several top West Wing officials. And it's exposing a major White House personnel problem.

Porter was among more than 30 administration officials -- more than 30 -- including presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner who more than a year into the administration cannot get permanent security clearances because of background check issues.

The judgment question first. White House chief of staff John Kelly was made aware of the abuse allegations months ago but took Porter's word apparently that it's all over blown and was expanding his influence in recent weeks and his responsibilities. White House counsel Don McGahn knew from the earliest days of the administration.

In the first month, Porter warned McGahn his ex-wives might complicate the background check process. Porter was interviewed by the FBI last fall and he told McGahn after that the allegations were false.

In November, the White House security office told the White House counsel McGahn Porter's clearance was held up by domestic issues. And recently a Porter ex-girlfriend called McGahn to express concerns because Porter is now dating top White House aide Hope Hicks.

How many alarms do you need to step in and do something?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think Mary Katharine put her finger on a big part of this earlier when she said that there are just not that many people who are seen as professional.

KING: Sorry not good enough.

DAVIS: I'm with you.

But there was a real willful effort to not learn any more about this than they knew. I mean when you talk to people at the White House, it was like well, there was some issue with his former wives. That was what Don McGahn first knew. Then in June, it was like, ok well, this is a domestic abuse allegation but he denies them.

At some point when you have someone this senior, this vital to what's going on at the White House, you take it upon yourself in the White House counsel's office if not, you know, in an effort spearheaded to chief of staff to vet the person yourself.

Is there anything to this? If there is, in any other White House that person would be gone right away. No matter whether it's domestic abuse, by the way, or something else -- or you know, a drug issues or alcohol issue. I mean these are things that are -- would be seen as disqualifying by any other White House.

KING: It's a management question because it is domestic abuse. It's a character question for the people at the top of the White House. And now because this is Washington, it's also become a political issue.

Democratic senators have written to the White House -- all Democrats or the White House probably will ignore the letter. Democratic senators have written to the White House we want to know who knew what when about this.

Here is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier saying "fess up, tell us the truth".


REP. JACKIE SPEAR (D), CALIFORNIA: I believe that they knew full well -- I mean they were informed by one of his wives last year. They'd known about this for at least a year. And frankly what we have here is everyone thought that they were going to be able to weather the storm until photographs of one of his wives with a black eye came out.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Should chief of staff John Kelly keep his job?

SPEIER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. He doesn't get it. He really doesn't get it.


KING: We are in an election year. We are in the middle of the "me too movement". We are in a year where we know women candidates, largely on the Democratic side, not exclusively but largely on the Democratic side, are flooding to run for office.

How does it play into that when again, the fundamental issue here is a management question and a character question but we also do live in a political environment.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CONG REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think there is just -- there's so much to this story. And I think aside from it being just a political issue, however, I think you do have to look at the security issues that this does raise.

KING: right.

KIM: You look at Rob Porter. He was managing all of the documents that went straight to the President's desk. So the fact that he was working on just a temporary security clearance is a fact that has been alarming senators. And that's why you had not only Democratic congressmen asking the White House for more answers, but also asking for an independent investigation by the inspector general.

So I think there are those questions aside from the politics that should be examined.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Look, there is a lot to be concerned about with Rob Porter. He is one of at least 30 people who had problems kind of like this, one of whom is the President's son-in-law.

And we reported the other day that, you know, the President doesn't read his daily intel briefings but Jared Kushner, who doesn't have the full clearance yet, does. I mean like there are a lot of issues when you're talking about on the security side where maybe Rob Porter actually seems, in terms of the other issues that could be plaguing all these other people, as something that's outside the White House.

[08:34:57] That's a very 1950s mentality that we don't tolerate anymore but perhaps that's, you know, what people in this White House were willing to tolerate compared to everything else.

However the point that you made about the election season does really have to matter. I mean perception of what a party is, matters when you're trying to promote that party on a national scale. And Democrats are primed and they have a very beautiful argument here, an example to make their argument that Republicans are a white party that's stuck in the past that is not actually, you know, with the times.

And when things like this happen and when the President then defends it and doesn't say actually this doesn't happen on my watch, and doesn't even go so far as many other people. You do see instances where people will talk about this is wrong and do wrong things themselves. The President isn't even going that far.

So that is ammunition politically.

KING: And it's another -- it's another example of crickets -- or virtual crickets from the Republican leadership when you have a major question about the Trump White House, about the conduct, about the behavior, about the pattern from the White House.

I want you to listen -- this is one of our CNN military analysts, General Mark Hertling, a man who's served the country in the uniform for decades, raising this issue about the security clearances because you're right, one of the -- Don McGahn, referring to the White House, has said several times, the this is a problem.

But if there are 30 to 40 people who have this problem and one of them is the President's son-in-law how can you say you, you, you and you have to leave and Jared Kushner gets to stay.


LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's bubbling up with Porter but this has been going on for a long time. And many of us had watched this saying what the heck is going on. And the people that don't have security clearances and have the interims are doing major engagements with allies which requires them to read intelligence. You don't go into the meetings with the Israelis and the Saudis without having some type of classified information.


KING: Well, pretty clear who he is talking about there -- the meeting with the Israelis and the Saudis. Jared Kushner handles the Middle East portfolio or partly handles the Middle East portfolio for the President.

But again, we are a year and a month into this administration. To be clear and to be fair to the people involved some of this is financial, some of this is conflict of interest. The Rob Porter case, you have these serious allegations of domestic abuse.

I don't want to lump everybody together in terms of the problems. But the issue is the same. They cannot get a clean bill of health from the background checks more than a year in -- 30 to 40 is exceptional. What do they do about it?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": And there weren't that many people to begin with. This isn't like a traditional White House. So that's part of the problem, too.

I mean I think you have -- it's a hallmark of the Trump White House which is they're crippled by their own drama. They're not able to do much of the day to day business, or at least some of the day to day business in the most secure way possible because of all this.

And then that reverberates and does affect the rest of the party that has to answer for this, particularly when the response is as bad as this one had been.

KING: All right. Let's keep an eye on this one throughout the week ahead. I suspect we're going to learn more.

Up next, Vice President Mike Pence cheers on the U.S. Olympic team but gives Kim Jong-Un's sister the cold shoulder.


KING: Vice President Mike Pence led the U.S. delegation to open the Winter Olympics and had an up-close look at a remarkable moment -- athletes from the North and South Korea marching on the same team, waving reunification flags.

More history just a few seats away -- Kim Jong-Un's sister right there behind the Vice President. She's on hand for the Olympics as well. South Korea views this as a major milestone and a chance, a chance to see if an Olympics detente can perhaps bring a broader diplomatic opening.

But the Vice President sees it as propaganda -- period. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump and our allies in the region have agreed to delay our military exercises until after the Olympics. And I know President Moon has appreciated that, but we're going to make it crystal clear that our military, Japanese self-defense forces, our allies here in South Korea, all of our allies across the region, are fully prepared --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military options?

PENCE: -- to defend -- well, to defend our nations and to take whatever action necessary to defend our homeland.


KING: The Vice President has returned. But it is a remarkable few days. South Korea clearly believes let's try this. Let's have the athletes together. Kim Jong-Un's sister, the first member of the regime to come into the South since the war, and the United States is essentially saying to its ally -- no, no, no, no, no.

KIM: It has been such a stark contrast to watch. North Korea is using the public attention and the public spotlight of these games to promote some sense of normalcy where you have the sister attending the opening ceremony. We've seen images of the North Korean cheerleaders cheering on their athletes. And the Vice President has been very stark and very firm over the last several days saying look, this is complete propaganda.

And you see that he has sent that message pretty in every action that he did over the last several days in Asia. You had him inviting Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier to sit with him in the opening ceremonies, his meeting with North Korean defectors when he was in Japan. He touted the aggressive sanctions against North Korea.

So that was a very clear message that he was sending at a time when you see North Korea him trying to kind of drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States especially in these Olympic Games.

KING: And the Vice President kept trying to make the point that there is no space between the United States and South Korea but is there not? Wasn't that quite evident to us that there is at least tone space?

DAVIS: Well, I mean the South Korean president wanted Vice President Pence to shake the hand of Kim Jong-Un's sister and he very pointedly did not do that. The South Koreans thought that that would be an important symbol of the United States' willingness to sort of potentially take a path that does not involve a military option but instead involves negotiation and, you know, talking to each other.

But President Trump was very adamant. And the Vice President, you know, certainly got the message that that was not going to happen and they did not want to hand the North Koreans what would have been a PR coup at this kind of sensitive time in the conflict. KING: So you have a debate about that, that some people say the Vice President should at least acknowledge her and say ok, I'm willing to say that this is good, but -- but, but, but. And you have others who say no. No, no, no, no, no.

[08:44:54] The North Korean regime starves its own people. They are the most -- among if not the most despicable regime on earth. So, just ignore them and if you take heat for that -- whoop-di-doo.

HAM: Well, and she's literally the, I think the director of propaganda and agitation for a terrible, terrible regime. So yes, shaking her hand would be a problem.

I think the policy from this White House is debatable and we can have that discussion. The moral clarity is actual pretty good, bringing Fred Warmbier -- and that's something that we beat up on them about and other areas so I want to applaud them for it.

And then I also think it is really important for both activists who don't like Pence or don't like this White House and media to be pretty clear about the fact that she's literally doing PR for public executions in (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Right.

HAM: That's her job. And these cheerleaders, by the way, who we get all like flakey-and-flay (ph) they are prisoners of their countries and they are trained at gunpoint to cheer. So let's not get too excited because we happen to disagree with Pence on gay marriage. Like this is a bad, bad look and it is a propaganda victory for them.

DEMIRJIAN: The problem with the Olympics is that it's both supposed to be this wonderful moment of unity and watching this unified team walk in was a moment, right. There are still protests happening outside. There are other meetings that are happening right now between North and South Korean officials.

It is also -- there's nothing about the Olympics that isn't political propaganda in some way --

KING: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: -- for everybody involved. So, in a way Pence can't do anything differently. Maybe he could have, you know, stood up and not clap as a sign of respect for those athletes walking in that have worked really hard to be at the games. He has been criticized for that.

And, you know, the South Koreans are having a lot of fun with the seating arrangements right, trying to work him into every possible awkward position that he can.

But he has to, in a way, in order to not abandon the United States' base because he knows the North Koreans will take any gain and blast that all over the state media to create boundaries with South Korea. KING: And we will say, to the Vice President's point, if anything

comes of this after or if North Korea goes back to its traditional place.

Our reporters share from their notebooks next including two very different fights in Congress -- one over Russian meddling and Steve Bannon, the other over paid family leave.


KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks to help you get out ahead of the big political news just around the corner.


DAVIS: Well, the President is going to be rolling out his infrastructure plan this week. Once again infrastructure week at the White House has become something of a running joke because every time the President tries to focus on this it seems to be subsumed by other news or he takes himself off message with something else.

He's going to try again this week. He's going to make a personal appeal to Democrats to join him in doing this but the acknowledgment in the White House is that that is very unlikely.

The Democrats consider this to be dead on arrival. They don't have any incentive to really team up with the President on this nor do they have interest in the kind of plan that he is proposing.

And there is also an acknowledgment among senior folks at the White House that this is not something that the Republican base is clamoring for the way that tax cuts were. And so the likelihood that they're going to be able to generate the momentum for something like this is quite a bit lower.

KING: Roads, bridges, and tweets, yes -- we will see how this week's goes.


DEMIRJIAN: Well, I'm really watching this week to see if Steve Bannon actually comes to Capitol Hill. The House Intelligence Committee has been trying to get him to continue his testimony that he wouldn't answer the questions they want him to ask -- they want him to answer. He left open the possibility for the President to claim executive privilege and basically said I'm not talking about anything from my time in the White House or my time in the transition period before.

This is one really unique thing in the Russia probe that has actually united Democrats and Republicans and how angry they are about this. They've issued a subpoena that has been extended three times. He's supposed to be coming back to Capitol Hill this week.

If he does not, we're potentially looking at a showdown because Democrats and Republicans in that committee are saying look, if we keep giving people like him a pass, our subpoena is not going to be worth the paper that they're written on anymore. So this is a moment now where you're seeing the Russia probe, which has usually divided the parties, dividing the branches of government really over something pretty existential to them and we'll see how it plays out.

KING: Steve Bannon -- the great unifier.

Seung Min.

KIM: I want to tackle a little bit about the issue that doesn't get a lot of attention but we could see it in the coming weeks and the coming days, which is paid family leave. We saw a brief mention of it at the State of the Union a few weeks ago, and we'll expect to see at least a mention of it in the President's budget.

But now you have Marco Rubio and Ivanka Trump teaming up again to push this issue like they did successfully the child tax cut in the tax debate. Interesting for many reasons, obviously Ivanka's policy agenda and what she is doing is always a sort of fascination in Washington.

But also Marco Rubio and his kind of policy evolution as we kick off this immigration debate this week where Rubio had played such a key role on, you know, as five years ago, he transformed himself into this, you know, into a very pro-family platform as a kind of new form of conservatism by pushing the child tax credit and the paid family leave.

He is already getting a lot of resistance from the left but we'll see how far he wants to push it this year.

KING: It will be fun to watch the parties on that one as well, just like infrastructure.

Mary Katharine.

HAM: Just attempting to read tea leaves in 2018, which is always tricky in the Trump era, and I think it's taken for granted that Democrats might take the House or that there might be a blue wave of sorts.

There are interesting signs in recent polling of the closing of the generic ballot numbers. And in North Carolina recently, no enthusiasm gaps found between Democrats and Republicans.

And in talking to Republican operatives in purple states like Colorado and North Carolina, you get feed back, particularly from focus groups that things are not nearly as bad at they expected them to be in feedbacks.

So I think that's something Democrats need to think about. They've capitalized on organization and enthusiasm. But something's not resonating in the way that they would hope it would.

KING: Right. In New York, for a lot of Republicans they think the tax cut is starting to pick them up a little bit.

I'll close with this one. CNN is told that in recent days, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee has floated the idea of changing his mind and running for reelection this year. Now sources tell us, fellow Tennesseean Lamar Alexander and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham are among those who have discussed the idea with Senator Corker.

[08:55:00] But -- this is a big but -- when the idea was broached to the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his response we are told is, it is a nonstarter unless Senator Corker can get President Trump on board.

You might recall last year Corker questioned the President's competence and in return he earned the Twitter nickname "Little Bob". They are back on speaking terms, the Senator and the President, now but one source familiar with the conversations in recent days says the President quote, "will have no part of it".

We'll keep an eye on that soap opera.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper is next including a sit down with counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway to talk about all this White House turmoil happening in the wake of the Rob Porter situation. Don't miss that.

Have a great Sunday.