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White House Officials Were Considering Rob Porter as Deputy Chief of Staff; Top Intelligence Officials Are Issuing Their Most Urgent Warning Yet About Russia; Republican Congressman Darryl Issa is Being Dragged Into Republican Congressman Mike Turner's Divorce Case. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:13:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here we go. Breaking news. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

Let me begin with this. Deputy chief of staff. That is the job White House officials were considering for Rob Porter, despite knowing the allegations of domestic abuse against him. And today the evidence is mounting. That, from this administration once again, is not telling the truth on who knew what, when he they knew it and what they did not do about it.

The scandal is blowing up in their faces and, oh, yes, the President himself still has not commented on Porter's ex-wives or domestic abuse survivors in general. How will officials explain Porter today?

The White House briefing is mere moments away. As for staff secretary Porter, he had access to classified documents, proximity to the President and yet a known problem getting security clearance because of the abuse accusations.

Just this morning, we saw the director of the FBI testifying, revealing new information on the Porter timeline. And once again, things do not match with what the White House has been telling us.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July. That soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received some additional information and we passed that on, as well.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that we were in the process where the background was ongoing and the White House had not received any specific papers regarding the completion of that background check.


BALDWIN: Let's start with the White House and CNN's Kaitlin Collins. And Kaitlin, deputy chief of staff, I mean, that's your reporting,

that despite all these allegations and warnings, that he was to be potentially promoted.

KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right Brooke. We are continuing to see this White House be completely engulfed from the fallout of the scandal with Rob Porter. And now we are learning that not only was Rob Porter allowed to continue to work in this White House with senior administration officials knowing about these allegations, these things in his past, he was also being considered for a promotion because we are told that Rob Porter had been lobbying for more of a position that had to do with overseeing policy in this administration and that he was also being considered for that deputy chief of staff role.

So we are told that the chief of staff John Kelly was receptive to promoting Porter. And also two senior advisors in this White House, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, thought that he was professional and competent and were to elevate his role in this White House.

So the bottom line here is, Brooke, not only did people know about these allegations against Rob Porter and not only did they continue to let him work in the White House and receive a paycheck that was from taxpayers' money, they were also considering elevating his status here in the west wing.

And one more thing I would like to point out is a comment that the chief of staff John Kelly made to "the Wall Street Journal" yesterday when he was asked in this situation this fallout from the Rob Porter scandal could have been handled better. And his answer, Brooke, was no.

BALDWIN: OK. Kaitlin, thank you so much. I know so many people absolutely would beg to differ.

Let's discuss all of that and more. With me now, CNN political commentator Errol Louis who is also a political anchor for "SPECTATOR NEWS." Olivia Nuzzi is Washington correspondent for "New York" magazine. And CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd who serves as a senior adviser under President Obama's national security council.

Where to begin?

Errol, just to you first on watching Chris Wray, you know, testifying today. The FBI had warned the White House that they were dealing in some capacity a staff abuser, flagging clearance concern. And yet, you just heard Kaitlin's reporting. He was potentially about to be promoted.

To me, this is a case of like right hand not talking to the left hand. This was right hand screaming, left hand saying I don't care.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that is exactly right. Look. When the chief of staff says new allegations or new information came out, and that what really change my mind, what he is talking about is the broad public understanding of what had happened about the allegations against Rob Porter and most importantly those photographs, those damning photographs that were all over the media. I think that's the information that convince him to act.

And so this was not somebody who is acting on principle. We now know that he had all of the information he could possibly have known other than what the public knew. And once the public knew, the game was up. I mean, that to me is some sort of opening shot what has happened with the chief of staff.

If he wants to continue in that role, he is going to have I think, have to explain or knowledge that that's exactly what happened.

[14:05:17] BALDWIN: You have also, Sam, you know all about security clearance having worked in the Obama administration. The DNI chief today, Dan Coats, said that in general people with interim clearance are limited in what they can see. Limited in what they can see. But again, potentially about to be promoted to deputy chief of staff. How do you explain that?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's a reason that there's a limit to what these people should see. I had an interim clearance. I had it for about three months when I first joined the government. And that's because there is a process you are supposed to follow for security clearance. There is no secret sauce here.

You apply for clearance. Investigators start to do their investigation. You get interim clearance for a specific period of time. Investigation unfolds and a decision is made. Now, we now know from the testimony today that the FBI raised serious concerns to the chief of staff. The White House disregarded those concerns. And there is ideal foreign intelligence target running the halls of the White House, seeing the most classified intelligence in the world, and chief of staff Kelly, who is supposed to be safeguarding the interest of the President, knew this foreign intel target was walking around the White House, knew he had access to this intelligence. And did he think that he knew better than the FBI about whether Porter was a counter intelligence risk? I certainly hope not.

BALDWIN: But the White House also is making it out to seem, OK, as soon as they found, soon as that black eye photo came out, they did everything they could as quick as they could to make sure he resigned. Yes, where as reporting, that apparently there was this off the record briefing with reporters at the White House bringing Rob Porter in with Sarah Sanders to try to get his side of the story. Does that sound like getting rid of someone immediately to you?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Right. I mean, overwhelmingly, every single day since this story first came out it became clear that they knew way more than they were letting on initially. And even - it is that lost with that first story that came out where though the initial defensive statements about Rob Porter were featured was a very negative story. It was not about, you know, oh, I just didn't like being married to him. It was a very serious story. And so, it never quite made sense when the White House is saying, well, once the second story came out, then we took it seriously, then he was no longer welcomed here.

It was always that. And I think for some reason with this White House, they think that they can get way with things that most professionals in politics would realize which is never fly. And they act as though they don't think that we can't see them or something. And it's astonishing. And I think it explains kind of the disconnect. And I don't think they are honest with themselves. And so they can't be honest with each other to decide on what the story coming out of the White House is going to be.

BALDWIN: Yes. Honesty.

LOUIS: Really, what happens is that Trump style is not transferrable, it turns out. Donald Trump, we have seen this for going on three years now. Brazen, never apologized, tough it out. Just deny the facts that everyone can see right in front of you.

Other people try it. It doesn't work quite as well. With somebody like general Kelly, it's kind of like, no, we now know, you know, month by month, what you knew. And it contradicts what you said. And unlike Donald Trump, where people just kind of say, well, he has other stuff going for him. Well, we don't know these other people quite so well. And so facts matter more.

NUZZI: And my question --.


NUZZI: And my question is like transparency is obviously the last resort in this White House. So what else don't we know right now? Who else is roaming the hall of the west wing that we will come to --?


VINOGRAD: The question with them is what happens to them over the next couple of weeks? They are still there. They are still accessing sensitive information.

NUZZI: Right.

VINOGRAD: And how safe should we feel? And again, I had never known -- I worked in the U.S. government for a long time, agency or department, particularly the White House to say, OK, FBI. We are not going to take your advise. And this is part of the pattern, right.

The President likes to pay attention to the intelligence community when it suits its interest. When it has to do with Russia, he doesn't listen. We had a huge Senate intel briefing today. IT sounded the alarm bells again on Russia. Was Donald Trump listening to that? I don't know.

BALDWIN: Let me move to -- you all bring up excellent points especially on clearance and who else could be roaming the halls. But let's move on to this tweet from the mooch. This is from Anthony Scaramucci, who we know had a short lived moment -- tenure at the White House and also Kelly who essentially gave him the boot. And so this is the quote from him today.

"Based on FBI testimony, White House chief of staff John Kelly almost certainly knew of credible allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter at least six months ago, then recently forced others to lie about that timeline. Inexcusable."

Errol, he says Kelly must resign.

LOUIS: Yes. That's pay back a thing in Washington.

BALDWIN: A thing.

LOUIS: It is a thing. And so, one of the first things, I mean, one of the reasons for Scaramucci's very short tenure was that general Kelly came in, sized up the situation and said you have got to go.

[14:10:05] BALDWIN: See you.

LOUIS: Right. And so, at a minimum, I think this is a little bit of a payback.

It also does point to the kind of ongoing chaos within the White House where people who are supposed to be gone are never quite gone. Now, are they going to terms that still allow them to be public figures, throwing darts at the White House? And for all we know, as often has been reported, the President will occasionally reach out to some of the very people who are most critical of the administration.

BALDWIN: Thirty-four percent turnover rate I think is the number that I was reading this morning which beats Reagan's who was the most in modern presidential era. We are going to get into that and why this is happening a little later.

But thank you all so much. I appreciate the conversation here at the top.

The White House is about to face more questions over this whole Porter scandal. We are going to take that briefing live.

Also ahead, Russia will meddle in this year's midterm elections, a stark unanimous warning from the intelligence chief today as they weigh global threats facing the United States. What if anything is the White House claiming to do about it?

Also ahead, why congressman Darryl Issa is being dragged into another congressman's divorce proceedings. Issa was reportedly hand-delivered a letter seeking a deposition. What he is saying in response? What that is all about?

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:15:46] BALDWIN: We are back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Top intelligence officials are issuing their most urgent warning yet about Russia.


DAN COATS, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Frankly, the United States is under attack from U.S. businesses to the federal government, to state and local governments. The United States is threaten by cyber threats every day.


BALDWIN: That was Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, who says if they don't do something to stop election interference, the upcoming midterms will be compromised. Will be.

But as FBI director Christopher Wray and other Trump-appointed officials testify that they unanimously agree about Russia's active cyber security threats, the President continues to call the Russia investigation a witch hunt. Here is Maine senator Angus King who says enough is enough.


SEN. ANGUS KING (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I just wish you all could persuade the President as a matter of national security to separate these two issues. The collusion issue is over here, unresolved. We will get to the bottom that have. But there's no doubt, as you all have testified today, and we cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with the whole of government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists.


BALDWIN: CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is with me now.

Did any of those intel chiefs, Manu, disclose the plan to fight these threats?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not precisely. And that was actually one of the concern of some of the members has as they left that hearing. I had a chance to speak to several of them and that was the large concern. What is the plan going forward? How come there still isn't a plan to deal with cyber security, even though this has been something that's been warned about for years and years and years? And chiefs themselves are trying to say Russia is emulating what they did in the 2016 and 2018 going forward.

Now there is a closed hearing that is happening right now with that same committee, perhaps are getting more details there.

But at the open hearing, Brooke, there was an exchange between Jack Reed, the Democrat from Rhode Island and the intelligence committee chiefs about what are the President himself has directed any of them to take specific actions against Russia ahead of the midterm elections. Here is what they said.


SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Has the President directed you and your agency to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are going?

WRAY: We are taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt --.

REED: As directed by the President?

WRAY: Not as specifically directly by the President.

REED: Director Pompeo, have you received a specific Presidential directive to take steps to confront these activities?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I'm not sure how specific.


RAJU: So that went on for some time. Pompeo later said, well, the President said that we need to be ready for a range of threats and Russia being one of them. And that's the same with Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, said but made very clear that there was not a specific directive from the White House about what to do.

Now that same committee, the Senate intelligence committee does plan to issue an election security report, recommendation on what should be done ahead of the primary season that begins in March as well as what should be done ahead of the November elections. We will see if states and localities agree to implement them. But the overarching concern among several of the members of the United States are now prepared even though Russia appears to be doing what it did in 2016 and concerns that the President himself has not taken this issue seriously enough because he continues to conflate it with the overall Russia investigation, including those questions about whether or not there is any collusion that exist between his associates and Russian officials. And that's an issue that the same committee, Brooke, is still investigating. They have not made any conclusion about the collusion issue. But they do want to move forward on an election security issue because it's very clear Russia has already begun its meddling, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Manu, thank you.

And just opening it back up to the panel.

And Sam, starting wit you. You know, you made the point a second ago, I mean, if we are dealing with the president who says over and over and over, Russia didn't meddle, Russia didn't meddle, you heard those guys essentially saying, no. We weren't directed from the White House. So though, yes, we are looking into fighting these future and current threats, what do you make of that?

[14:20:05] VINOGRAD: Well, I wonder if the President was listening to the brief. But he hasn't been listening since at least January. We have the (INAUDIBLE) in January saying Russia interfered. They are going to keep trying to meddle in our democracy. We had a June report come out that said that Russia is launching (INAUDIBLE) campaigns to sow divisions. We have had DHS in September say 21 states were impacted by Russian interference during the election. And we have nothing from the White House.

Now the DNI said today there is no single agency that is coordinating the response to Russia. That's the job of the White House. I was on the national security council for four years. Your job is to take inputs from the intelligence community and design policies and help the President implement it. Where is H.R. McMaster on this? And what is the national security council doing? We heard from "the Washington Post" there hasn't been a single cabinet-level meeting on Russia. The President doesn't like to read intelligence on Russia. How are we defending ourselves?

BALDWIN: But is it say that you have this Angus King, Independent senator from Maine, and who essentially going back to his verbiage, talking to his intel chiefs, I just wish you all could persuade the President as a matter of national security, trying to say get him to pay attention.

LOUIS: And, look, it's part of what we have got with the election of Donald Trump. I don't know if even many of the supporters realize how completely he would check out of this question.

There was I think up until recently I believe that hacking man making through your machines could it be tampered with. And with 3100 counties nationwide they all essentially run their mini elections, we actually some form of at least mechanical security just because there were so many differences even within a particular state.

On the other hand, what has now come to light is that it's much more profound, it's much more elusive in some ways to have a bunch of bots, you know, promote a fake news story, spin local and national media and sort of create a certain amount of uncertainty all at the same time. That's really serious stuff. And as we found it's not going to be that easy to find out how to stop these kind of attacks if nobody is paying attention. And it seems like --

BALDWIN: Like it's happening still.

LOUIS: Right now.

BALDWIN: Right now.

LOUIS: New York has primaries in June for Congress. The 2018 elections have began. The candidate, you are announcing everyday.

BALDWIN: What do you think?

NUZZI: I mean, the issue of is the President listening and then the issue of would he even care if he was listening? He does not take the intelligence community seriously.

BALDWIN: His own intelligence community.

NUZZI: Right. He has been openly at war.


VINOGRAD: I mean, he doesn't helps him.

NUZZI: But he has been very combative with the intelligence community since day one. And so I think that, you know, when we are talking about if you are listening what is it going to take for him to take this seriously, you know, would he even be open to taking anything that takes this seriously if it was not beneficial to him in a way that was obvious to him?

BALDWIN: Like Nunes memo?

NUZZI: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Right. No, I know.

Let me ask you all to stand by. Again, we are watching and waiting for this White House briefing to begin.

More on the breaking news and the scandal involving the White House. The FBI director, moments ago, contradicting the White House's timeline on Rob Porter. And we are now learning the west wing knew about the spousal abuse allegations for nearly a year. White house is set to respond any moment.

Plus drama on the Hill. A Republican congressman wants his fellow lawmaker, also a groomsman in his wedding, deposed in his divorce proceedings. What the congressman's wife and colleague have to say about that next.


[14:28:07] BALDWIN: A messy divorce is spilling on to Capitol Hill.

After just a year-and-a-half of being married, Republican congressman Mike Turner is divorcing his millionaire lobbyist wife over what he calls a quote "fraudulent contract." But now, fellow Republican congressman Darryl Issa is being dragged into this whole thing. Turner is demanding that Issa, who by the way a groomsman at the couple's wedding, be deposed in the couple's divorce proceedings.

So CNN national politics reporter M.J. Lee is here with me to explain this.

A fraudulent contract. What's the implication by calling it that?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, I think messy is the perfect word to capture what's going on here. It's not every day that we see this kind of drama on Capitol Hill. What we know is that congressman Michael Turner of Ohio, he hand delivered a letter to his colleague, congressman Darrell Issa of California some time last week on Capitol Hill, asking that Issa be deposed, that he give a deposition as part of Turner's divorce case against his wife, Majida Turner.

Now Turner filed for divorce against his wife back in May and the stated cause for divorce was fraudulent contract. And what this means under Ohio law is basically that one party concealed or misrepresented something material from the other person prior to the marriage. And we are not really reporting right now why congressman Turner has accused his wife of this. This is obviously still being reported. But just in the big picture, Brooke if, in fact, congressman Issa does give a deposition in congressman Turner's ongoing divorce case you could imagine just how unusual and dramatic that would be when you think about the fact that these are two colleagues of the same party, serving alongside one another in the House of Representatives.

BALDWIN: Being dragged into this, potentially being deposed. And then, so what is Issa, what is this, the wife, Majida Turner, what do they have to say about all this?

LEE: So I spoke with Majida Turner's lawyer yesterday, Sandy Ang. He is the big time divorce lawyer. And he says even that though congressman Turner is not citing infidelity as the cause for divorce, that the lawyer believes rumors about infidelity are being spread.