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W.H. Spins FBI Chief Contradicting Timeline On Porter Allegations; Kelly Handling Of Allegations Against Ex-Aide "Done Right"; Trump Ignores Questions On Whether He Believes Porter's Ex- Wives. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But the war there continues. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room". "Erin Burnett OutFront" starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next, the White House caught in a lie about who knew what and when in the Rob Porter scandal, the FBI director setting the record straight. Plus turnover at the Trump White House, the highest in recent history. Is John Kelly the next to go?

And breaking news tonight, Democrats now refusing to make revisions to their memo rebutting Republican claims of FBI abuses. How will the President respond? Let's go "OutFront".

Good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto in again tonight for Erin Burnett. And "OutFront" tonight breaking news, a new culprit and a timeline. The White House is now blaming bureaucrats in its own personnel office for failing to act on the domestic abuse allegations against Rob Porter, this as the FBI is contradicting the administration's account of what they knew and when they knew it.

Let's go to the timeline. Today, the FBI Director Christopher Wray made clear that the bureau informed the White House of abuse allegations against Porter months ago.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation and question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July that is 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.


SCIUTTO: So to be clear, the FBI first submitted a partial report to the White House in March last year. They submitted the final report in late July and in November the bureau submitted even more information to answer follow up requests. The FBI closed the file in January. Let's be clear, that timeline belies the story we heard from the White House podium just yesterday.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I said, and I'm going to repeat what I said earlier, that we'd learned of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening and within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced. We announced a transition was going to happen and within hours it did. And in terms of timeline, I don't have anything else to add.


SCIUTTO: A timeline just wasn't true. Confronted with the FBI's account today at the press briefing, Sanders found a new culprit to explain why no one in the administration took immediate action despite knowing about these allegations for nearly a year.


SANDERS: The White House personnel security office staffed by career officials received information last year, and what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November. But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Porter resigned.


SCIUTTO: The process. So career officials, she said, received the report not team Trump. But John Kelly is the chief of staff, a job that includes managing the staff, among them, the Staff Secretary Rob Porter and, of course, those career officials in the White House personnel security office.

At least Sanders was willing to make the rare admission today that perhaps this could have been handled better. Not so Chief of Staff John Kelly speaking to "The Wall Street Journal," Kelly was asked if the White House should have handled the situation any differently. Kelly's answer, "No, it was done all right." Was it?

CNN learned today that just last week at the same time these allegations were first coming to light in public, Rob Porter was involved in serious discussions to be promoted. And several White House officials, including Kelly were receptive to promoting Porter. Kelly in fact told associates that Porter was one of the few competent professionals on his staff and wanted to be sure that he was used to his full potential. Consider that.

Jeff Zeleny is "OutFront" at the White House tonight. Jeff, is that credible the story were hearing from the White House that the staff of this tiny personnel office were the only people in the White House who were aware of these abuse allegations?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it's not and this is why. I mean, the reality here is that, yes, this personnel office does receive reports. I'm told that sort of -- akin to an H.R., think of it as your own private company, but it handles security clearances other matters like that.

But I am told by a U.S. government official tonight that they don't make decisions. They are clearinghouse. They get the information and pass it on here to the White House or whatever company or agency would be in the government. There are agencies officials like this throughout this government, but they do not make decisions.

The reality here is based on our reporting and other reporting, over the last week or so. White House Counsel Don McGahn in his office was made aware of at least some of this information. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly also made aware of at least some of this information. Important to point out, John Kelly arrived here at the White House at the very end of July.

[19:05:04] So he would have missed the time the FBI director said earlier today of March and July was when the first two phases of this process for Rob Porter were. But of course, he was certainly here in November.

So, Jim, the reality here is I sat in the White House briefing today and heard Sarah Sanders talk about this personnel office. We all sort of wondered what it was. It is an obscure office here, a small office that works not far from the White House, just across the street, actually, but they I'm told do not make these decisions.

And one other thing, technically, the background checks are never closed permanently because that would mean if they're closed and they're denied, this government official would not be able to work in the government again if they're denied a clearance. So there are always sort of in limbo here. But the reality here, the timeframe was going on too long.

And our colleague, Jim Acosta, is also reporting that Don Mcgahn, White House Counsel's office, many people here believe he has not provided enough information to other officials here. So we heard Sarah Sanders say at the briefing, "I'm basing this on what I know, the information that I know." Again, Jim, tonight as we enter day number eight, as many questions as there were when we started the day.

SCIUTTO: Well, it seems to be new culprit every day as well. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much at the White House.

"OutFront" tonight, April Ryan, she is White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Network, Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, and Eliana Johnson, she is National Political Reporter for Politico.

April, I'm going to ask this straight up to you. Did the White House lie?

APRIL RYAN, W.H. CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Yes, yes. You know, the question is, what does Sarah know, because like Jeff, my sources are telling me a lot. Apparently it's not just about the fact that the FBI had the information.

I'm hearing that, you know, that personnel security office works with the National Security Council along with White House personnel, so three are groups that have information about those who are working in the White House or potential people who -- a president or senior staff may want to bring in.

Now, what I'm understanding is, is that the FBI does its due diligence once the White House says this is who we want. And then it goes into issue where they present their findings and then the White House personnel office, this is what my sources are telling me, the White House personnel office as well as national security look over this person, and then it's given to the White House to make a decision.

And typically, again, from sources, from various sources, when they give an interim security clearance, that's just for a limited amount of time. And it's supposed to be narrow in scope. The person is not supposed to be able to touch top secret or classified materials.

Now, also -- I also understand from my sources that when a president or top staff wants someone, they categorize or quantify or qualify who gets -- whose priority. And if Rob Porter was priority, he could have had his security clearance by now if indeed he passed the muster. So there's a lot of holes here.

SCIUTTO: Sure, sure.

RYAN: And the question also -- so with this finding out this information the question is now, if you have limited -- if you're limited in scope with what you're supposed to do with an interim security clearance, Jared Kushner has an interim security clearance, but he is talking to Bibi Netanyahu. I mean, we heard that.

SCIUTTO: Well, I want to --

RYAN: He is actually with an interim clearance.

SCIUTTO: I want to get to that issue, April, but forgive me, but I want to stay for a moment here, Eliana, on the changing White House story here.

RYAN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Because, Eliana, in the last 24 hours both the timeline of the White House knowledge of this changed contradicted in fact by the FBI director under oath on Capitol Hill, but also the culprit who the White House is pointing the finger at, and of course a convenient target here of a little known office across the street in the executive -- the old executive office building. I mean, does this stand up to the facts as you know them?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: It doesn't, Jim. I think we saw today Sarah Sanders simply change the direction over the last 24 hours of where she is pointing the finger. Yesterday she said, you know, the clearance process, it's in the hands of law enforcement and we were simply letting it play out. The FBI contradicted that today and she said, "Well, it's in a small White House office, again, the political personnel in the White House, we don't have control over it." What I heard from many White House aides is they want to know when exactly this smaller White House personnel office would have communicated its concerns to White House Counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly presumably if the White House personnel security office learned of concerning allegations against the senior aide. One would think that they would convey their concerns immediately.

[19:10:07] And it's my understanding based on my reporting that White House Counsel Don McGahn knew as far back as last January, more than a year ago, about some of these allegations. And that Chief of Staff John Kelly, who joined the White House in July, was aware of them in November and yet they did nothing. And one White House aide said to me today, you know, "I have the really uncomfortable feeling that essentially the White House moved on this because they got caught."

SCIUTTO: Well, it wouldn't be the first time. I want to ask you, Tim, and I just want to put up this timeline again just so our viewers can focus on this. The FBI first came back with its report, which we know included accounts of these allegations and very serious allegations of spousal abuse in March of last year, that's 11 months ago, July the final report. They came back with even more information in November. And then in January they closed the case.

The American people would have to believe that this information coming from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the White House about a senior staffer, not a low level staffer, a mid-level staffer, a senior staffer, that this information about serious allegations of spousal abuse did not make its way to senior officials in that White House. John Kelly among them, the White House Counsel Don McGahn. You've covered White Houses. You studied White Houses. Is that possible?

TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, the first thing I want to say is that if you -- in the federal government, if you are the supervisor of a unit that includes people with clearances, you know the status of their clearances. Clearances are for five years. It depends on the level of the clearance. And then -- these people are reviewed. So you know when your people are up for review.

SCIUTTO: And you should know that because there's a reason there's a clearance that so that you are considered safe enough to handle the most sensitive information.

NAFTALI: Yes. And you're not allowed to share materials that do not correspond with that person's level of clearance. So it is inconceivable that the chief of staff did not know that he had people working in his staff whose clearances were under review. Let me put it this way, that we're interim, that we're not five year clearances.

So first of all, there's a problem there and he would know that. The White House personnel office doesn't sit on this information because it's necessary for the supervisor to know it. The next problem with this is that somebody asked for additional information in the summer, which resulted in a new report in November. And this is what mister -- Director Wray mentioned today. Who asked for that information? Oh, it's not just the personnel office. SCIUTTO: Because the FBI would not come back with new information unless they were asked for it.

NAFTALI: No, they were asked for it and the personnel office is not going to initiate that. Someone higher up must have said, "What is taking so long? Why isn't he getting it?" It's inconceivable to me that the chief of staff didn't know about that. Now, I think part of what's going on here is that this is a White House that doesn't trust the FBI.

It doesn't trust the FBI with regard to the Mueller investigation. It probably views the fact that these clearances are dragging on, that Jared Kushner, for example, only has interim one, apparently. That this is evidence that the FBI is against the administration. Don't forget, there are a number of people in that administration of a conspiratorial understanding of the intelligence and law enforcement.

SCIUTTO: Well, the FBI didn't manufacture the responsible (ph) abuses or spousal abuse against Rob Porter.

April, if I could ask you this, the President in situations like this, we've seen this in the past, looks for someone to blame. We heard Sarah Sanders in the White House press briefing today give a not particularly spirited defense of John Kelly. Who do you think is in the President's line of fire now? Our own reporters did Don McGahn. Their question is being asked about his role as well.

RYAN: Depending on the day and the hour, everyone is in the line of fire. If it doesn't bode well for him -- I mean, you know, the other day it was Raj. Right now we're hearing rumblings about General Kelly. It could be anyone. But this is a big issue, particularly for someone, a President who during the campaign kept talking about Hillary Clinton's emails and her emails being classified, being open to the public possibly or someone to get them.

You have a situation now where someone who really doesn't have a full security clearance, an interim clearance, that supposed to have been narrow or limited in scope being able to touch top secret documents or classified information that he could have been blackmailed over.

So depending upon the day, you know, it's up in the air who he is going to, you know, go after because of this. But ultimately it falls on him. He is the President. This is his administration.

SCIUTTO: Right. A bit of buck should stop there. Eliana, White House Chief of Staff Kelly, he's defending himself. The White House telling "The Wall Street Journal" today as we said earlier it was all done right. Do you believe that General Kelly believes that?

[19:15:04] JOHNSON: I don't think deep down that he believes that, but I think like his boss, President Trump, he has a real tendency to dig his heels in and a reluctance to admit that he's made mistakes. What's been so striking about the White House's behavior in this scandal, I think, is that it really fits a pattern.

We've seen something that could have been cleared up by some more transparency in 48 hours that has become not just the Rob Porter scandal, but the John Kelly scandal, the Donald Trump scandal, the Don McGahn scandal. It's really mushroomed to touch kind of every corner of the White House.

SCIUTTO: It could have been cleared up by the rule our parents told us, right, tell the truth. Simple as that. April, Eliana, Tim with me here, thanks very much.

"OutFront" next, President Trump given two chances today to address the border scandal and the domestic violence claims. What we heard, silence. Plus, American's top intelligence officials say that Russia is already targeting the 2018 midterm elections. What is Trump doing about it? And the President and the S word.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How stupid are these politicians to allow this to happen.



SCIUTTO: Breaking news, President Trump's silence speaking volumes. The White House says that President takes domestic violence seriously, but the President has yet to say so himself, given not one, but two opportunities at the White House again today, silence.


[19:20:02] TRUMP: Thank you all very much. Thank you.

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

TRUMP: Thank you very much.


TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- do you have a message to domestic violence victims?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: No answer there twice. "OutFront" now, former White House Communications Director, Jen Psaki, and former Trump Campaign Adviser, Steve Cortes.

Steve, if I could start with you. We spoke last night and you said last night that you'd like to hear from the President being more firmly behind the victims here. Did Trump fail again today? STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I'm not going to say he failed. There is plenty of time still, Jim, but I would. I would like to hear him be more explicit. I would like to hear him talk about that we take every allegation seriously, that we respect and agree that these ex-wives have a very -- that they have credibility, that they're telling the truth. And that will have zero tolerance going forward for people who commit these heinous acts of domestic violence. So, yes, I think there is work to do here.

And by the way, one of the reasons that I really want him to do that, number one, it's just the right thing to do. But number two, I think we have such a great story to tell right now about the achievements of the Trump presidency and what we've done in the last year. Instead, we spent a week fixated on this issue rather than telling those great stories about how Americans lives are getting more prosperous and more secure. And I would like to get personally back there.

SCIUTTO: Jen, we heard Sarah Sanders say today that -- and yesterday, rather, that she was speaking for the President when it comes to this issue. You've spoken for the president before on a number of issues, previous president. Is it enough for her to make that statement on domestic violence for Mr. Trump?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER W.H. COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRES. OBAMA: No, it's not. And it wouldn't be enough for any press secretary to make a statement about domestic violence on behalf of the President they're speaking on behalf of. I think in this case, Jim, you can say a lot of things about President Trump, but the man knows how to have his voice and his point of view heard.

He was tweeting at 5:30 this morning. As you noted, he had multiple opportunities today to be heard from. And what that leads most people to believe is that he doesn't think that the victims deserve a voice, that he doesn't believe their story, that he finds it hard to believe that someone with a strong pedigree and resume would be capable of this. And that would be entirely consistent with his kind of record and background on these issues. So that's where people lean and where people believe at this point.

SCIUTTO: Steve, what's your response to that?

CORTES: No. And Jen, I would say -- listen, that's incredibly unfair. I'm conceding, all right, that I think the President needs to be more forceful here, I do. I think he needs to be more explicit. He needs to be more deliberate in talking about this issue, OK? But, I'm going to push back on the idea that it's consistent with, you know, who he is as an individual or as a president or as a business man. Quite the opposite is true.

This is a man who has empowered women his entire life, in his business career, certainly in his White House, and who is making America better and more prosperous and more secure for everyone, regardless of skin color, regardless of gender. What I'm saying is, he has created in my mind, and my advice to him, my humble advice to him is he has created an unnecessary distraction here.

PSAKI: Steve, I think --

CORSTES: Let's acknowledge the very real pain of these women. Let's acknowledge the reality that they were abused. And that, frankly, the White House was fooled by a polished road (ph) scholar who looked like a golden boy but in fact in private life was a monster. It's not the first time it happened. It's not the last time.


SCIUTTO: Jen, do you buy that?

PSAKI: I'm actually not making a partisan point here. I'm making the point that his record is one of defending people like Bill O'Reilly, defending people like Roy Moore, defending people who victims and their advocates would consider as not exactly, you know, on the side of women. So that's the history that people are looking at here. That's his record.

So it would be much more shocking and surprising if he came out and, believe me, I would welcome this, if he came out as starting point and said, "We were wrong. We were tricked. We handled this poorly. I'm going to make sure that nothing like this happens again." But even with that, people wouldn't necessarily believe he's credible on this issue given his past history.

SCIUTTO: Steve, I wonder how you respond to that, because folks have taken particular issue with -- for instance the President's tweet this weekend about mere allegations destroying people's careers. He didn't make a specific reference to Rob Porter, in this case, but the timing was such that it seemed that it was at least tangential reference there.

CORTES: Right.

SCIUTTO: We're learning now from what the FBI director testified under oath on the Hill this morning that in fact there was a lot to back up these allegations to the point where the FBI looked at it multiple times and supply that information to the White House. I wonder if you take issue with that dismissing this in effect as a mere allegation.

CORTES: Sure. Jim, listen, as strongly as I believe in this President, as much as I love what he's doing for this country and will do, continue to do for this country and rebuilding our economic and national security, I will concede that I think the Saturday tweet was a mistake, I do. I think it was ill advised. I think it was tone deaf.

[19:25:14] It wasn't the right -- the message to send that quickly after it because it at least -- I don't -- he wasn't explicitly defending rob Porter, but implicitly it seemed like he was and that's unacceptable, right? So let's do this better.

So my message to the White House is we have a fantastic record of achievement right now of tax cuts, of deregulation, of control of the border, addressing immigration, conservative judgment, we have so much to celebrate for this country, things that matters to the lives of real people voters in this country. Let's message on that and let's message correctly on zero tolerance for the perpetrators of domestic violence or harassment of women.

And by the way, too, I do want to point this out also because I'm being a little harsh, all right, on my President whom I love, right? But let's be fair about this also. There is no D or R attached to this issue of sexual harassment or to domestic violence. And I think that if we're going to be fair and shine a light on this, let's shine a light on Steve Wynn, on Roger Ailes, and Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein. Let's be equal and let's be fair when we talk about people who use their position to abuse women, whether it's Rob Porter or Bill Clinton, its wrong in every case.

SCIUTTO: Jen, can you agree with that?

PSAKI: Look, I think that this shouldn't be partisan issue but you're talking about the President of the United States and what he has done and his staff has done over the last week, is they have validated the misconceptions about domestic abuse and they have made people believe that victims should not be believed, that if you are a man who has a good pedigree, you are not capable of this.

So there have been a lot of irresponsible actions, not just Rob Porter, obviously that is abysmal. But beyond that how they're handling has really flown in the face and been offensive to women and domestic abuse advocates.

CORTES: Jen, I agree. I agree. The White House needs to message way better on this, the President needs too, I think. And I hope and believe that he will. And I hope they will get back to the great things that he's doing for this country and get beyond this issue.

SCIUTTO: Steve and Jen, thank you for speaking from the heart of this. It is a tough issue and I appreciate you both doing that.

PSAKI: Thanks Jim.

SCIUTTO: "OutFront" next breaking news, Democrats now saying that they won't be making revisions to their memo in response to Republican allegations of FBI abuses. Will the President block it again? And security clearance problems at the White House continuing, security clearance fiasco, the head of national intelligence says changes have to be made and soon.


[19:30:21] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Breaking news in this, just in to CNN, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee saying that he will not make any changes to his memo the response to the Nunes memo that alleged surveillance abuse by the FBI.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're not going to make any revisions to it. The only question is what redactions will be made, and obviously, we'd like to keep those to a minimum. The White House has a different interests I think their interest is in redacting anything that doesn't reflect well the White House.


SCIUTTO: Manu, you, of course, just spoke to Congressman Schiff there. What does this mean for the fate of the memo getting made public?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Schiff is so confident that they can reach a resolution with the Justice Department about the concerns that the FBI has raised with the White House and things that they do not want to see me made public. But, Jim, he made very clear that it'll only agree to redactions and he wants to keep those redactions, quote, to a minimum and he would not agree to any changes to the memo.

The ultimate question is whether or not the FBI agrees with that and whether or not the White House also agrees to it and if neither of them do, Jim, then the decision will be left up to the House Intelligence Committee and the Republican-led House to override the White House. And no indications yet the Republicans are willing to buck the president, so these discussions are going to continue behind the scenes, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Going to be a pretty remarkable step.

I want to ask you about today's hearing on Capitol Hill. Powerful show force by the nation's intelligence chief chiefs telling centers they fully back not only that Russia interfered in the 2016 election but agreed that Russia is likely to interfere in upcoming elections. Let's have a listen.


ROBERT CARDILLOIN, NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY DIRECTOR: Well, so, no change in my view of the 2017 assessment, and I support that and I agree with Director Pompeo's assessment about the likelihood of the 2018 occurrence as well.

MICHAEL ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: I've participated in that 2017 work. I stood by it then, I stand by it now, and I agree with Director Pompeo. This is not going to change or stop.

ROBERT ASHLEY, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY DIRECTOR: Yes, it is not going to change, nor is it going to stop.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Throughout the entire community, we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with Director Pompeo.



SCIUTTO: One-by-one, the senior-most six intelligence chiefs in effect contradicting the president there, you're speaking to these folks a lot on the Hill. Do we know exactly how Russia is interfering in the 2018, 2020 elections, how they're laying the groundwork for interfering?

RAJU: Well, they seem to be emulating the same tactics that they took in the 2016 elections, trying to foment political and social tension on some key issues using social media and other platforms, for example, in order to try to exacerbate these tensions ahead of the 2018 elections. We don't know yet, Jim, whether or not this is an effort to help one party or the other ahead of the midterm elections. But that's one thing that the member investigators on Capitol Hill are still trying to learn more about and one ways in why the Senate intelligence Committee plans to issue a report as soon as next month about election security measures that states and localities can take ahead of the November elections, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

RAJU: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman from Virginia, Gerry Connolly. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Great to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about today's hearing. First, your colleague Adam Schiff saying he will not make any revisions to the Democratic memo. Looking at this memo, you've seen it, are you concerned that it will be so redacted that the essential point will not get across if and when it's made public?

CONNOLLY: I think that's a real risk especially regarding who does the redacting I believe that the Republicans said they were full transparency. Full transparency means you release both memos unrevised and largely unredacted. I think that way the American people and the media can decide for themselves what the real story was.

SCIUTTO: We had an interesting counter contrast today in that you had all those six intelligence chiefs saying, yes, Russia interfered in and they're going to do it again in 2018 and 2020, and yet, CNN's reporting is that the president still is not convinced that Russia interfere at all in 2016. From where you're sitting now, is the U.S. doing enough to prevent future interference in U.S. elections?

CONNOLLY: No, let me first say I think the evidence is incontrovertible, not a matter of President Trump's opinion. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the primary six you talked about are in agreement about that. [19:35:06] The Russians directed a very pernicious campaign to

influence the outcome of the United States election. What we don't have is any proof that they actually were able to break into a voting machine and switch votes, but that's next and therefore, we have no doubt that they're going to do it again. Of course, having succeeded once spectacularly in 2016, actually did helping to determine the outcome of the presidential election, why would they stop and say well we're not going to touch midterms?

So, we have to be on the on the alert and we most certainly have not the enough to protect our electoral system from the, you know, ballot box to the kind of news that the that gets repeated as if it were fact when in fact that's propaganda for Moscow.

SCIUTTO: You said --

CONNOLLY: There's a long way to go.

SCIUTTO: You said there, Congressman, that interfering and actual voting systems is next. Have you seen evidence or intelligence to show -- in my own reporting, I've learned that there have been probing attacks on election systems. Have you seen evidence of Russia actually trying to get inside and make changes, disrupt, et cetera?

CONNOLLY: I have not seen direct evidence of that, that's why I said I think that's next. We had no such evidence in 2016, although there were there was some evidence that they were probing, that they were making attempts and probing they could break into systems. And that's why I say I think the next thing is to break into those systems and to actually try to affect the outcome of votes cast.

SCIUTTO: The intelligence chiefs were also asked today if President Trump has ever explicitly directed them to take specific actions to confront and stop Russian interference.

Have a listen to their answers.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt --

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: As directed by the president?

WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president, yes. No.

REED: Director Pompeo, have you received a specific presidential direction to take steps to disrupt these activities?

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

ROGERS: For us, I can't say I've been explicitly directed to, quote, blunt or actively stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: None of them have been told by the president to stop these kinds of attacks. Do you believe the president is taking the threat seriously enough?

CONNOLLY: No, I certainly don't, and listening to that a series of reports breaks one's heart as an American. What do you mean? What -- why wasn't the first thing the president of the United States do is jump out of his chair and say I want this stopped, I want you to use everything you've got to protect the American democratic electoral system, that's the oath I took as president, to protect the Constitution of the United States?

To be lackadaisical about it and in this case, to give zero direction is unbelievable testimony and deeply troubling about this president of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Jerry Connolly, thank you for joining us tonight.

CONNOLLY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, an intelligence official says the security clearance procedures must change. So, why is the White House balking?

And White House turnover off the charts. Why one in three Trump staffers has headed for the exits?


[19:42:01] SCIUTTO: Tonight, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, saying that White House staff still working on temporary security clearances should have their access to intelligence restricted. This after CNN confirmed that some 30 to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees, a group that by the way includes the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner are still operating without full security clearances.


COATS: I think sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot. But I have publicly stated if that is the case, the access has to be limited in terms of the kind of information they can -- they can be in a position to receive or not receive.


SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT now, former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, Carrie Cordero. She was also the senior associate attorney general in the office of the director of national intelligence. Former House Intelligence Committee chairman and retired FBI special agent, Mike Rogers.

I should note for our for our viewers that both of you have been through the security clearance process yourself.

But, Congressman Rogers, I'm going to start with you. Do you agree with DNI Coats that anyone working on a temporary security clearance should have some limitations on the intelligence that they are able to receive?

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I do, unless it is a very rare circumstance indeed and by now people who have been at the White House some length of time should have a determination on their clearance. So, you know, I get a little concern and I'll tell you why, it sends a really terrible message to the whole writ large of the federal government who goes through the process of an SF-86, which is horribly invasive, and you go through the background check and you get checked up, and you they hold you to the letter of the clearance law. That seems to be abandoned and that sends a really bad message about the importance of keeping classified information secret.

And so, I do worry about this and I worry about some vulnerabilities that it builds in to some pretty sensitive areas of the White House. And I think they're going to have to start making sure that the people who are there can get clearances. I think it's really important.

SCIUTTO: I want to get to that issue of vulnerabilities there, but first, Carrie, that group, I wonder if you agree with Mike Rogers but also we should note, that group includes one of the president's senior most advisors and family members, Jared Kushner. He would then have to have based on that rule in DNI Coats recommendation, his access to the sensitive intelligence restricted.

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE U.S. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: Well, you know, what's interesting, Jim, is that what DNI Coats said today about temporary clearance should be restricted in some way, that's actually consistent with long-standing policy that's already in place. So, there are -- we forget sometimes that this is not a system that's just being created. There are executive orders and internal policies that have existed for across different administration's of both parties and a current executive order that has been in place since 1995 was amended in 2008 actually provides that temporary -- temporary clearances could be limited in some way, and should only be tailored to the particular need at the time.

[19:45:03] So, I think the d and I was actually stating what current policy should be and the situation that he's finding himself in as someone with authority over classification matters for the entire intelligence community is a White House that isn't really playing by the rules.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Rogers, the White House has been trying to sell a story in effect that, well, you know this is on the FBI's shoulders here. That was yesterday. Now, today, it's on this tiny little personnel office and the White House no one's heard of basically saying they weren't really truly aware of what these allegations were. Do you buy that? Do you buy that that information didn't make its way to the senior officials including John Kelly there, that these serious allegations were affecting someone such as Rob Porter?

ROGERS: I mean, I would put it this way. Somebody in the White House knew that was senior enough to be able to make the decision to continue his employment there despite derogatory information provided by the FBI. Now, who that is in that structure you know could have -- is it plausible that John Kelly didn't know that? Maybe, but somebody in the White House did.

And this is where I think they get in so much trouble, they would have been better off to say, hey, we screwed this up. This guy shouldn't have been here. It is with -- the FBI found evidence that he was beating not just one but two wives. I mean this is pretty serious stuff and that should -- we should have never made this mistake.

This Porter story would be over, but this constant changing narrative just continues to get them in trouble on this.

SCIUTTO: Carrie, I spoke with Senator Blumenthal last night, and he, on the issue of temporary security clearances, he raised the question of vulnerabilities here. Rob Porter had a blackmail risk because these were no credible serious allegations that weren't public that could present a black male risk. But he raised the concern that perhaps some of these others 30 to 40 White House staffers who were operating under temporary security clearances might have a similar risk.

Do you think that that fear is founded?

CORDERO: Well, I do because the security clearance process exists for a reason. It exists because it's supposed to vet individuals for a variety of factors, including their trustworthiness, they're loyal to the United States, even there's strength of character. These are all things that are actually in the rules and policies that govern the security clearance process. And so, if you have a large group and 40 is a large group of individuals working in the White House who have not successfully gone through that process, then it certainly raises a lot of concerns.

SCIUTTO: Carrie and Mike, thanks very much.

CORDERO: Thanks.

ROGERS: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, staffers are running for the exits at the White House. Does anyone actually want to work there?

And the president's favorite insult. Hint: it starts with the letter S.


[19:51:02] SCIUTTO: Tonight, there are new calls for White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to step down even from some Republicans. His exit would mean another high-profile departure from an administration that already has the highest turnover rate in decades.

Joe Johns is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have the best people in the world, the best.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Candidate Donald Trump bragging on the campaign trail that jobs and his administration would go to top talent.

TRUMP: We're going to use our smartest and our best. We're not using political hacks anymore.

JOHNS: But as president, Trump is having problems keeping his staffers in place. More than one in three senior staff members have left the administration in its first year according to a Brookings Institution study.

TRUMP: I'm very, very proud of my picks. There's not a pick that I don't love.

JOHNS: The chaotic pace of resignations firings and departures in the Trump administration is much greater than the previous six administrations and on top of that, a large number of the people leaving are the president's senior most staff. Seven of Mr. Trump's top level positions saw turnover compared to one top advisor from the Obama administration and none from the George W. Bush administration during the same time period.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.

JOHNS: Some were fired like FBI Director James Comey and communications director for only 11 days Anthony Scaramucci.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: You guys heard me in the front, though, right?

JOHNS: Some resigns like press secretary Sean Spicer.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He understood that the president wanted to bring in and add new people to the team.

JOHNS: Then there are those who quit under pressure like national security adviser Michael Flynn, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

TRUMP: I felt very badly because Secretary Price is a good man.

JOHNS: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has weathered the storm so far despite Trump tweeting he was beleaguered last year.

And so is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who Trump said was wasting his time while trying to negotiate with North Korea.

The staff turmoil shows no signs of slowing. reality star turned White House aide Omarosa Manigault left the White House in December.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Omarosa was fired three times on "The Apprentice" and this is the fourth time we let her go.

JOHNS: And White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned last week after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced.

TRUMP: We wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it.

JOHNS: Porter's departure now raising questions about the future of Trump's second Chief of Staff John Kelly. Trump privately expressed frustration in Kelly's handling of the situation but publicly --

TRUMP: He's doing a great job. He will be here in my opinion for the entire seven remaining years.


JOHNS: Rapid turnover has been a part of life in this administration, at least so far. But the big question, of course, is who is going to be next to go? Jim, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Always the question. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

An OUTFRONT next, who is President Trump calling stupid?


TRUMP: How stupid is this? Stupid! How stupid are they? Stupid! Stupid!



[19:57:45] SCIUTTO: President Trump has claimed he has, quote, a very high IQ. Is that why he thinks so many things are stupid?

Here is Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump doesn't need a teleprompter to prompt him to use this word.

TRUMP: We're like a stupid people.

MOOS: And when he used it at a meeting on trade Tuesday. We started having stupid thoughts.

TRUMP: How stupid are they? How stupid is this?

MOOS: About how the president employs the word with which Forrest Gump took issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you crazy or just plain stupid?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stupid is as stupid does, Mrs. Blue. MOOS: What the president does is use stupid to refer to leaders who came before him.

TRUMP: We are led by very, very stupid people.

How stupid are our leaders.

MOOS: People love to cheer when a president calls out stupidity.

TRUMP: Leaders are too smart for our leaders because we have stupid leaders, OK?

MOOS: Sometimes President Trump targets an individual like former President Obama.

TRUMP: We have a president -- I think he is a stupid person.

MOOS: He once questioned whether people were stupid enough to vote for a rival he later picked to be his secretary of housing.

TRUMP: How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?

MOOS: Occasionally, someone calls him stupid back.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: It's either he is so stupid that he doesn't understand -- no, no, it is possible.

MOOS: Stephen Colbert compared President Trump to the world's greatest sprinter.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: He is the Usain Bolt of stupid.

MOOS: Sometimes, stupid are us.

TRUMP: They think they are stupid. And we are.

I mean, how stupid are we?

MOOS: But whatever you do, don't blame it on the president's vocabulary.

TRUMP: You know, I used to say grossly incompetent. But stupid is stronger, isn't it?

I have the best words. I have -- but there's no better word than stupid.

MOOS: But you know who isn't stupid?

TRUMP: Don't worry about it, OK? The mafia is not so stupid. Every time I turned on the news, I'd see such stupidity.

MOOS: He is seeing a lot of stupidity if he turns on this piece.

TRUMP: Stupid trade. Stupid people. MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

TRUMP: Stupid, stupid, stupid.

MOOS: -- New York.

TRUMP: Really stupid.


SCIUTTO: And there you have it. Thanks very much for joining us tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Erin Burnett.

And "AC360" starts right now.