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FBI Timeline on Porter; White House Pushes Back on Porter Allegations; Intel Chief on Russia Meddling; FBI Concerns over Memo; Porter's Ex-Wives on White House. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:18] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

And a fascinating day it is. President Trump's top intelligence team up on Capitol Hill testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee dramatic, important testimony on several fronts, about Russian election meddling in 2016 and in the current election year, about other threats from Russia, including cyberattacks on the United States. Grave testimony about China and its efforts to use cyber and other weapons to attack the United States, undermine our economy and question our national security. New information about North Korea. And important new information about a scandal now engulfing the Trump White House.

Remember, Rob Porter, the staff secretary, forced to resign earlier this week after allegations surfaced from two former ex-wives about domestic spousal abuse. One of the big questions has been, who knew what when inside the Trump White House? When did an FBI background report get to the White House containing allegations of this abuse? The White House has given a bunch of mixed answers about this.

A short time ago on Capitol Hill, listen here as the FBI director, Christopher Wray, reluctant to give the details of what was in the report, but follow the timeline closely.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: I'm quite confident that in this particular instance the FBI followed the established protocols. 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.



KING: Again, that's the FBI director on Capitol Hill a short time ago. With me today in studio to share their reporting and their insights,

Eliana Johnson of "Politico," CNN's Phil Mattingly, Olivier Knox of "Yahoo! News," and Darlene Superville from "The Associated Press."

When you just -- what you just heard there from Christopher Wray, preliminary report in March, full report in July, some follow-up work later, and then, more recently, some additional work. That from the FBI director is not what we have been told from White House officials about when they got this information. There's been some -- how much of it went to the security office. How much actually made its way up to the White House Counsel Don McGahn. Did Don McGahn disseminate that on to the chief of staff? A lot of murky here. But just the basic timeline there. The FBI director making crystal clear they had information much, much earlier than they have conceded.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes. It means as far back as March and most certainly in July, the White House had a full background file on Rob Porter and they closed their investigation -- they closed their file in January. That is wildly inconsistent with the information that the White House press office gave to the news media and to the American public.

We heard Press Secretary Sarah Sanders say yesterday, this is -- this was out of the White House's hands. We were letting the law enforcement process take its course. And if the law enforcement community decides this process needs to change, they are going to have to make that decision.

We now know that's wrong. Now, it's unclear if the press office was given inaccurate information by higher-ups in the White House. But what we do know is that they conveyed information that was not correct.

KING: And hold the thought for a second. I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, one of our Justice Department reporters, who has some details on just what the FBI did tell the White House officials about Rob Porter and his application for security clearance.



So as the FBI director -- you played there, that sound -- had been saying the preliminary report went to the White House in March. What we've learned is that during that preliminary report, from two sources, we're told the FBI raised concerns about Porter and these allegations concerning a possible domestic violence assault. That stuff was all raised with the White House.

Remember, it was in January that the FBI interviewed the women that were involved in this. And it was after that point they put together this report. And in March, at least in the preliminary report, what we're told is some of that information was shared with the White House. You know, one person from -- a law enforcement official told me that the White House basically just chose to ignore this information. At least that's what it seems to this person. But insisting that everything that they knew up until March, they shared that with the White House.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate that reporting. Come back to us if you get additional details.

And then, again, we're back to the issue about management, about judgement, yes, also about Rob Porter's alleged conduct and whether somebody who is alleged to have done those things should be anywhere near the White House, let alone in a job where you're handling the most sensitive information, standing side-by-side with the president of the United States all the time.

[12:05:01] As we get into this, this is now an issue, not just of Rob Porter's conduct, of an issue of White House credibility. White House credibility. From the chief of staff, all the way down, and the president's the CEO. He runs the operation, so it includes him.

You mentioned about the press office not getting straight information. This is this morning. This is this morning. The deputy White House press secretary on Fox News.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The FBI would not give a background check investigation directly to senior White House officials. It goes to a security office where then it's relayed maybe up the chain, maybe not. But what we know about Rob Porter specifically, and that's the incident that everybody's talking about, is that his background check investigation had not been completed yet.

Prior to an adjudication, the White House is not going to step into the middle of a process and short-circuit it.


KING: Had not been completed yet. Factually not true. There are stronger words you could use for that, but that's factually not true.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, it's wrong, at least based on what the FBI director said, what Shimon is reporting. And just to give you some context, as I was walking through the Capitol to come over here today, I ran into a top Republican aide to a member that is very close to the White House, who showed me his phone with Director Wray's statement on it related to the Rob Porter timeline and just said, oh, man, this is as bad as it gets.

That's the context outside right now. There's a recognition, even amongst White House allies here, that not only do these stories not add up, but what happened today, what the FBI director said today, makes what is already a very confused, somewhat discombobulated process than I think even top White House officials would acknowledge they've mismanaged over the course of the last couple days, significantly worse.

And I think the interesting element here that I'm struck by is, this is a very traditional screw-up, right, where a White House that continues to kind of get away from scandals or show a shiny object to get away from scandals that you would think would sink any other administration, this is a White House doing what past White Houses have done and gotten in trouble for. You don't get the story straight from the very beginning. You continue to dissemble. You continue to try and throw other things in the way. And they're now in trouble and, frankly, have a lot of explaining to do.

KING: And it's lasted a week. We know from everybody's reporting, just about every news organization that covers the White House, the president's been on the phone. He's frustrating. He's vent to his friends and associates, how can this be? Why can't this go away? Why is the media doing this to me, is how the president puts it in these phone conversations.

Does he get and do the people at the top levels of the White House get that, a, this is a big problem to begin with. They had a man credibly accused of domestic, violent, physical abuse against his two ex-wives working at a very sensitive job and now they won't tell us and tell the American people, who pay their salaries, they won't give us a straight answer of who knew what when. Do they get that?

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It seems that they do get it because was it Sarah or Raj that said last week that they realized they did some things wrong and they could have done a lot better in terms of handling the situation. But when the reports came out, when "The Daily Mail" first reported on the allegations, the initial instinct from the White House was to come out and defend Rob Porter. Even the president's tweet over the weekend seemed to defend him. So it's -- I think it's still an open question as to whether they really do -- do get it.

KING: Whether they get the urgency of this.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "YAHOO! NEWS": Yes, I think they have -- I think they have three problems. One is the underlying behavior, which is problematic. Now they've got a problem in that the FBI director's flatly contradicted the White House lying. For a week they've said the background investigation was not complete. So the people who were supposed to explain this to the American people now have an massive credibility problem on that issue.

And then the third problem, and the one that I think really could be the biggest is that we know that there are dozens of other officials at the White House operating in some sense of capacities who also don't have their full security background, their full security clearance, and that's the only thing that came up in the hearing as well. And that's our -- that could -- that could really mushroom into something.

KING: Right, 30 to 40 of those officials, including the president's son-in-law. And you get complaints from some in the administration that they can't act on some of the others -- they don't feel that they can act on some of the others and say, look, you need to get another job or you need to take a leave of absence, you need to clear this up so you can get your security clearance, that they can't act on that. They can't put pressure on other people because the president's son- in-law is sort of the poster child for can't get a security clearance, so what would the standard be.

I want to stick with Rob Porter for a minute and what we hear from the FBI Director Christopher Wray. A preliminary report in March. Shimon's very important reporting, it included at least some of the domestic abuse allegations. March. That's almost a year ago. That's the earliest days in the administration.

Then, a follow-up report in July. Then he said they were requested to go back for more information. That leads me to believe that the White House has no choice here now but to -- whether it's Chief of Staff Kelly or somebody else come out and give a full accounting here because, forgive me for being a tad suspicious, was that the White House saying, Rob Porter says this is not a big deal, Rob Porter says this is all an exaggeration by these women, can you go back and check this out?

Now, there's nothing wrong with that if it was done to be -- can you go back and check your notes? Can you maybe re-interview them? Can you do this quickly to give him, to borrow a phrase, due process. If it was, however, an effort to just stall and to push back and to minimize what the FBI was telling the White House, well, that's -- I'm, you know, I'm not using the word criminal in the criminal legal sense, but that's criminal in terms of the type of behavior they would be protecting.

JOHNSON: We know from plenty of reporting that's been done that Rob Porter was relaying his version of events to both Chief of Staff Kelly and to White House Counsel Don McGahn. First and foremost to White House Counsel McGahn. So I do suspect that it was the White House saying, go back and press the FBI to ask more questions.

[12:10:17] I suspect that there is going to be more and more focus on what Don McGahn knew and when he knew it, particularly because he was contacted by Porter's ex-girlfriend around Thanksgiving. And one of my burning questions is, what did she say and, you know, what were the contents of that conversation? And also because the White House Counsel's Office plays a role in vetting White House employees, and, you know, has some role in the security clearance process.

MATTINGLY: And I think this brings the White House to a decision. This either flushes out what they have refused to go into detail on, which they've repeatedly said we're not going to go into details about the investigation. We're not going to go into details about the investigation. We're not going to go into the details about the security clearance process. We're not going to go into the details about the timeline.

They have a decision to make. Either now they move off of that, because they feel like they have to, which I think it would be incumbent upon them to do that in the wake of what we saw at the hearing, or they continue down that track, which I think is only going to create more problems. And certainly going to just throw huge road blocks in front of the administration on anything they want to do besides this issue for the days and weeks ahead.

KING: Right. And including this morning, on national television, when you have the deputy press secretary saying things that are just not true, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's being given bad information. But like saying things that are just not true, they're just, at the first rule of holes, they say stop digging. They continue to keep digging and making their credibility crisis deeper here.

We'll come back to this story a bit later in the program.

Up next, though, Russia meddled in 2016 and Russia will do it again. That's a foregone conclusion for the chiefs of the intelligence committee who work for Donald Trump, but not necessarily for their boss.


[12:15:52] KING: Today, a marathon hearing up on Capitol Hill. All of the government's top intelligence chiefs assembled before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The intelligence community chiefs sounding very different from their boss, the president. Their tone set here on the question of Russia election meddling by the president's director of National Intelligence.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence, to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political figures in the United States. There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.


KING: President Trump's director of National Intelligence, appointed by this president. No doubt Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and has used the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for influence.

Correct me if I'm wrong, have we ever heard that from the president of the United States?

KNOX: Briefly under pressure at one point he said --

KING: Russia did it.

KNOX: Yes. It was something like that.

KING: Yes, but not -- not to the idea that --

KNOX: No, there's a chasm in the tone between the president and his top national security advisers, including actually his national security adviser, who was really thundered about Russian, a meeting just a couple of months ago, an open meeting. Yes, there's a chasm between all these guys, the way these guys

portray Russia's past, present and future meddling and the way the president does. The president views it, I think, entirely through the prism of, this is an attack on my legitimacy and therefore I can't lend it any credence.

KING: Can't lend it any credence, even though you had a half dozen very serious people. If you're a Democrat, maybe you don't like Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats because they were once Republicans in the Congress. But a pretty impressive group of intelligence leaders up there giving very -- testimony with gravitas, testimony with grave concerns about Russia.

To your point, just to get it in here, more often than not when the president talks about this, it's like this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months they've had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It's a Democratic hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that, frankly, the Democrats should have won because they have such a tremendous advantage in the Electoral College. So it was brought up for that reason.


KING: Again, all six of the intelligence chiefs up there, some of them military leaders, so they came -- they're held over from the prior administration. But the new FBI director, the CIA director, the director of National Intelligence, those three appointed by President Trump, all saying, actually, no, this is not a hoax. This is very serious.

We've had -- we've talked about this before because every time they're called up there this happens. But now we are one year and one month into the administration, or look at it the other way, 10 months away from another election and the president of the United States does not talk about this. The criticism, mostly from Democrats, but also some of the Republicans is, it's not so much as, why won't the president say it, it's, what are they doing about it? What -- from an administration standpoint, what are they doing about it?

MATTINGLY: Right. And I think that's the biggest concern you hear on Capitol Hill is, move aside the investigation, move aside the politics on this, everybody can agree that when primary voting starts, what, next month at this point in time, things need to be in place on the state level to try and prevent things from happening again, particularly when you look at the depth of some of the reporting out in terms of the kind of -- what Russians were able to do or what Russians were able cyber-wise to do on the state level with voting roles, things of that nature. Not switching votes, not changing the election away from Hillary Clinton. Nothing along those lines. But I think when you talk to people at the Department of Homeland Security, when you talk to people on the committee level, they're wondering right now, as we head into this key kind of stage in the next election, what has actually been done?

Now, the intel chiefs were saying, we've done stuff. We've done a lot of things. You guys might not know about it. But CIA director Mike Pompeo also said, not only do we expect things to be happening in 2018, things are already happening in 2018 right now. And I think the concern on The Hill is, if you don't have it from the top, and I think the concern on the state level too, when you talk to state election representatives, if there's no push on the top, if there's no emphasis or enthusiasm behind the need to do something about this from the very top, will anything ever get done, particularly now that we're so late in the game in this campaign season.

[12:20:01] KING: And as we wait for more details -- what are they doing to help the states? What are they doing to try to get FaceBook, Twitter, other social media companies to be more disciplined, more diligent, if you will, in looking for the meddling? What we get mostly from the Congress is a more partisan debate over the investigations.

And we had the release of the so-called Nunes memo, the House Intelligence Republican memo, last week over the objections of the FBI director, who just happened to be sitting there today. And again, remember, the president of the United States releases this memo over the objections of his new FBI director, who, when asked, said this.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: We had then and continue to have now grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum because of omissions. We provided thousands of documents that were very sensitive and lots and lots of briefings, and it's very hard for anybody to distill all that down to three and a half pages.


KING: Again, the president of the United States, his boss, says the memo vindicates him. That's what the president tweeted, this vindicates Trump. Chris Wray, the FBI director, we had then and continue to have grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum. A divide. It's not funny, though. I mean it's -- this is the interesting part about this. We get amused by this because it's President Trump often at war with his own people --

JOHNSON: Well, I think --

KING: But it's a big deal.

JOHNSON: Look, he's not just at war with his own people. There is that Nunes memo, which was released. But there's also the Graham/Grassley memo out of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which largely backs up the claim in the Nunes memo. And I think, by and large, Chuck Grassley, Republican senator from Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, they're by no means Trump lackeys. And their memo really does substantiate the idea that the -- that members of the Obama administration or the FBI got a FISA warrant out on Carter Page on relatively flimsy evidence. So I don't think -- I mean it's a partisan issue. But I do think that there's been some serious evidence submitted to the American public that this FISA warrant was taken out on flimsy-ish evidence.

KING: So is Chris Wray protecting his people because he was not there at the time, or does Chris Wray disagree with this?

JOHNSON: It's -- I -- I don't want to speculate on, you know, what his motivations are, but I think the Nunes memo came out and it did strikes a lot of people. You know, what were the national security implications here? I think that -- that caution was sort of -- or all the hysteria about that beforehand was sort of dismissed out of hand by people who read the memo and couldn't see what the national concerns were.

KING: And the next chapter will be, if the Democrats can somehow come to agreement on redactions to get their version put out --


KING: The saga will continue. Promise.

Up next, the White House says President Trump supports victims of domestic violence. Rob Porter's two ex-wives, they beg to differ.


[12:27:05] KING: Welcome back.

Today, more calls for the president to express his support for victims of domestic abuse. And so far no public comments, no tweets from the president, just a statement read by the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, saying, of course President Trump takes domestic violence seriously.

If that's the case, here's a question, should there then be some White House outreach to the women who went public with their allegations of spousal abuse by a former top White House aide?

CNN's MJ Lee has been doing some reporting on that top, joins us now from New York.

MJ, what were Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby telling you on this question?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, John, what has been so striking throughout this Rob Porter fallout is the inconsistencies between what the White House has been saying publicly and how they have been behaving behind the scenes. And the latest example, as you noted, is the fact that the White House is now saying so forcibly in public that the president himself, above all else, cares about victims of domestic abuse. This is something that we all heard Sarah Sanders saying repeatedly yesterday at the White House press briefing.

Well, when I reached out to both Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, the two ex-wives of Rob Porter, who said that they went through years of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, they tell me that as of this morning they have not heard from a single person at the White House since this stories broke last week. Here is what both Holderness and Willoughby told me this morning.

Holderness said, I think it makes me -- how it makes me feel is not as important as the message it sends to others. Reaching out to Jennie and me would, in some small way, provide support for their assertion that they take domestic violence seriously.

And Jennie Willoughby tells me that she's not surprised but she is disappointed. She went on to say that, I am concerned with how this sets a standard for what is or isn't acceptable as society navigates how to handle domestic abuse going forward.

Now, John, as you know, at least two White House spokespeople have already said they could have handled all of this differently. I think this probably going to be the latest example that falls under that bucket.

KING: MJ Lee in New York.

MJ, appreciate that reporting.

Let's bring it into the table.

It's a difficult one in the sense that Rob Porter worked for the White House. The president has publicly defended him. But should somebody at the White House reach out to these women who say, if you take offense to that, we apologize? We -- the president was not trying to offend you. The president, you know, was trying to just say he wished Rob well. How would -- how should they handle this?

JOHNSON: Well, look, I think, first things first, the president privately has condemned Porter. All the reporting is consistent on that. "The New York Times" reporting that he called Porter bad garbage and others reporting that he's referred to him as a sick person. But, publicly, he cannot bring himself to say that, and I think that's the source of the problem.

So would it have been wise for people at the White House to reach out to the ex-wives? That does seem like a really sensitive situation. I think it probably would have stopped some of the bleeding for somebody at the White House to explain what the president has said privately and has difficulty in expressing these things publicly. I think people by now know that the president sometimes gives inconsistent messages and it does seem like it would be difficult for that to cause too much harm.

[12:30:11] KING: Their voices have been fascinating and I think they deserve to be