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Pence: WH Could Have Handled Porter Fallout Better; Gowdy Tells CNN House Launches Probe into Porter Handling; Trump's Lawyer Says He Personally Paid $130K to Porn Star; Senate Begins Immigration Debate as GOP Shrinks Timeline. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:24] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you. Hi everyone, I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN.

And let me just say, so much of what I'm about to tell you this is not normal. From a president refusing to publicly support domestic abused survivors to the completed out of chaos surrounding his administration tunneling of a top aide accuse of abuse.

Let's back up. This colossal blow back over Rob Porter, working at the White House is now whipped Congress into action and a member of the President's own party is leading the charge to find out who knew what and when about Rob Porter. Porter left his senior spot as former staff secretary last week.

For months, he worked right by the president's side, inches from him, even though he still could not get that full security clearance because of the allegations that he abused not just one but two of his ex-wives. Just hours after the FBI blew apart the White House timeline on when it was told about Porter's problems, you had the chairman of the House Oversight Committee announcing this investigation, this whole thing is going to be launched.

Republican Trey Gowdy said today right here on CNN that he has questions for White House Counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly and for the FBI.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I spent two decades believing women and children who alleged abuse, even sometimes when no one else did. So, whether or not there's a security clearance at issue or not, I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment, whether there's a security clearance or not.

So, yes, I'm troubled by almost every aspect of this. Who knew what, when and to what extent? And if you knew it in 2017 and the bureau briefed him three times, then how the hell was he still employed?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What's your plan on the committee? REP. GOWDY: To ask the FBI for a briefing. How thorough was the investigation, what did you share, with whom did you share it and what were the updates? If you updated the information four times, what was the second, third and fourth iteration of that update?


BALDWIN: Let me throw another question in there. Should John Kelly keep his job? The President reportedly is considering several potential replacements, but officially he continues to express his confidence in his chief of staff. Despite the fact that Kelly knew in November, according to sources about Porters alleged violent past.

Moments ago, vice president weighing in, also publicly backing Kelly, stressing that the retired general's long history of military excellence.


PENCE: Well, this administration has no tolerance for domestic violence, nor should any American. And, as I said, and as the White House has said, I think the White House could've handled this better.

John Kelly has done a remarkable job as chief of staff for President of the United States. And I look forward to continuing to work with him for many, many months to come.


BALDWIN: So much to talk about with me now. I have CNN Chief Local Correspondent Dana Bash and CNN Political Analyst Brian Karem who is also Executive Editor at the Sentinel Newspapers.

Diving in, Dana, first with you, so CNN source telling us that Kelly apparently was overwhelmed by all this fallout when he was learning about Rob Porter, of the abuse allegations and instead of going into damage control mode, he really went into cover-up mode.


BALDWIN: But despite this -- and you tell me what you're hearing -- the president still has confidence in his chief of staff.

BASH: Yes. I mean that was a source who I talked to, who expressed that notion that he went into major cover-up mode instead of trying to really figure out what went wrong or maybe if he knew what went wrong because he was a part of it, getting it out there right away.

And so, that really has been it continues to be the problem, Brooke, is that even right now, eight days after this first broke, a week after the publication of the pictures, we still don't really know all of the details. And that is problematic for the White House and it is problematic for the White House chief of staff because it ain't over. And it's not going to be over --

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: (t's just begun. BASH: -- until we get all of the details. So, yes, the vice

president, he doesn't freelance, he was very careful with his words.


BASH: He was clearly throwing some support to John Kelly, but he's not the decider. It's the president of the United States. And how these next few days go is a big question mark. And Trey Gowdy is going on CNN today.


[14:05:04] BASH: A Republican, a very loyal Republican, but also a very serious person. And when it comes to his former job as being a prosecutor saying, you know what, we're going to investigate this. This helps -- it's one of the items that gives the story another day of legs.

BALDWIN: No. On this whole -- Brian, it ain't over by the way. On this whole Trump has confidence in Kelly thing despite the FBI contradictions, why does the president even have confidence in him, period?

KAREM: Well that's a good question.

BALDWIN: Why is their praise to be warranted?

KAREM: That was a great question. It was asked yesterday in the press briefing room and, of course, he gave him a kiss of death when he said he was a really good man. So, that only means it's a matter of time before we may lose him.

More importantly, the whole crack of this scandal for those who think, oh, it's much ado about just misogyny, it has a lot more -- it's even more serious than misogyny which is a serious enough issue.

This issue has to do with who gets information in the most secret information. And particularly --

BALDWIN: National security?

KAREM: Yes. It's national security. And there were two issues this week which we haven't been able to cover or give, you know, justifiable coverage to. And that is the continuing Russian hacking investigation. But more importantly, something the President himself said in a speech Monday where he's renewing the nuclear arms race and says that he is not going to -- that the United States will not lead the way in disarmament and then -- and he is -- and then, of course, Mick Mulvaney came out and said they dedicated $50 billion to renewing and enhancing our nuclear arsenal.

So, the people who are in that White House are dealing with life and death issues, and not just for them but for everybody on the planet. And to have a guy such as -- well, as Mr. Porter, who has been accused of spousal abuse, being involved in that decision process is scary for this country. The man could be blackmailed or worse. BALDWIN: Right.

KAREM: And here we are, staring at it, trying to get answers. And we don't have it.

BALDWIN: So, as we at least that the House Oversight Committee they wants answers as Dana was talking about --

KAREM: Right.

BALDWIN: -- Trey Gowdy on NEW DAY this morning. You know, this full- blown investigation. Do you think, though, depending on what they find, you know, would that give the President an out? I know he has confidence and Kelly right now, but would give him an out --

KAREM: Sure.

BALDWIN: -- you know, maybe with Kelly earlier than later, Dana Bash?

KAREM: He doesn't -- I'm sorry. Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: I was just going to say, these investigations don't happen quickly at all. Particularly when you're dealing with a White House that is going to be reluctant to give over the information as we have seen in past investigations, Russia and its case in point.

So, my sense is that the political story and the heat on John Kelly is likely to move way faster, Brooke, than an investigation on Capitol Hill into what happened but also the broader question, which is what Trey Gowdy said he's going to look into, the very, very real and important question of security clearances.

KAREM: And, well, and keep in mind in this White House, what is normal is not normal. I mean normally an investigation would take a long amount of time. But with this president, he may decide by the press briefing today to get rid of his chief of staff. That, we don't know. But you have to take a look at what has happened since the first of the year.

I mean, it was a breakneck pace last year and very scary. But since the first of the year, it has gotten worse inside that White House. The information that they give us is less. His appearances are -- he'll come out in a pool spray or come out make a speech and we don't get to ask questions of him.

This is in a White House that is really in a bunker mode. And they're scared of what's coming forward. And so the president -- mean, he may make a decision out of fear or out of insecurity or out of meanness or out of the fact that he really thinks this guy should be gone. It could happen for a number of reasons at any moment. By the time we get off the air, we could have a new chief of staff.

BASH: Brooke, the one thing I just want to add to that is that, you know, you mentioned the top report that they got about (ph), you know, a cover-up.


BASH: And what I was -- the context of that was, what I was told from people who, you know, kind of -- look, this is a White House with a lot of different camps. But the one galvanizing notion among all of the camps is that people are upset because they have not been given the correct information from the top down. And that is especially noteworthy of the press shop.

I mean, you know, they can go out and say as much as they are told in terms of the truth. And so, look I mean is that --

KAREM: They spin what they've got but they don't get a lot.

BASH: It is not Sarah Sanders' job to be able to read the security -- the background checks or that kind of information. So, I guess my point is this that when you talk about Kelly and whether or not he's going to be and can be an effective chief of staff from now on, the decider, as I said, is the president.

[14:10:09] But whether or not people who work for him have confidence in him will help determine whether he can really be successful --


BASH: -- and incredible in his job. Because right now the feeling is he is not.

KAREM: Well, to that --

BALDWIN: We've got to go, Brian. I know you want to jump back in. We're going to look for you with the briefing. We can go on and on and on about this, but we need to get to Stormy Daniels in a second.

Brian, I appreciate you. Dana Bash, we'll see you back here. Let me move on to this other story today.

While the White House is still roiled in this fallout over the Porter scandal, one of the President's attorneys is now saying he's the one who wrote the check for another scandal just to make it go away.

President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen says he is the one who ponied up this $130,000 to this porn star, Stormy Daniels, ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, allegedly had this affair with Trump more than a decade ago. Now, she denies this affair and so does Cohen, even though he wrote this check and says he was never reimburse by either of the Trump campaign nor the Trump administration.

In a statement, let me just read it for you what Cohen has said. "The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or campaign expenditure by anyone. Just because something isn't true doesn't mean that it can't cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump."

A source tells CNN Cohen only recently told the president about this payment. Let's talk about this. CNN Contributor Larry Noble is with me, he's the general council for the Campaign Legal Center and former General Counsel for FEC, the Federal election Commission. Also with me is CNN Legal Analyst Mark Geragos, a defense attorney.

And Mark Geragos, so let me just get this straight. You have this --

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Happy Valentine's Day, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Happy Valentine's Day to you. You have this Trump personal attorney saying that he pays $130,000 from his own pocket. This guy sets up an LLC, doesn't tell his client. Claims he paid this despite saying the affair is false, all out of the goodness of his own heart? What?

GERAGOS: Do you remember the John Edwards case?

BALDWIN: I do, 2011.

GERAGOS: Because the lawyer there was fairing around in his private jet, the Paramore, and sometimes -- I will tell you, sometimes lawyers will do strange things. So I'm not going to condemn Michael did this out of the sense of loyalty or something else. I don't know.

But what worries me more, what if you peel it back, what I don't quite understand is that shocking to me that somebody has not offered a TMZ or somebody like that to pay the $130,000 to the young lady and tell her basically we'll indemnify you for a violation of the MDO -- MDA. We want you to tell our story. I'm surprised that hasn't happened, which leads me to believe that there's a lot more there that aren't here that meets the eye.

BALDWIN: Do you think he violated it?

GERAGOS: Yes. I think he did, actually. And I think usually though, Brooke, these MDAs say that you can -- the one exception of the MDA is if there is some legal process. You can't tell somebody, you can't pay somebody to not cooperate with a federal agency or a lawful investigation.

So, his defense to violating the MDA would be, look, there was an FEC complaint. I had to comply. I had to respond to it. And that would be the exception of the MDA.

BALDWIN: OK. Enter Larry Noble. Larry Noble, Cohen comes out with this in response to this FEC complaint filed by common cause, his government watchdog group. You used to work for the FEC. Is it a legal campaign contribution? I mean how can he say this wasn't at all related to the campaign or election if he did it to silence her?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. That's a really good question. But first of all I would like to say Happy Valentine's Day and I'd also like a lawyer who would pay $130,000 for me, but I don't have one.

BALDWIN: Feeling the love. Appreciate it, gentlemen. Go on, Larry.

NOBLE: It may very well be a campaign contribution. So, if it came just from him and he did it for the purpose of helping the campaign, then that is definitely a political expenditure if the campaign knew about it or he was acting as an agent of the campaign, then it's an illegal campaign expenditure. And it was excessive and it shouldn't being reported. But here's a --

BALDWIN: But he didn't say why he made the payment.

NOBLE: No. And there are also other things he didn't say in this. One of the things he said was that he was not reimbursed by the campaign or by the Trump organization.


NOPBLE: He did not say whether he was reimbursed by anybody else. The other part is the part you read about him saying that this was not a political contribution or expenditure and didn't violate the laws is, as a lawyer, a legal conclusion. That's what the FEC would have to decide.

So, him that saying it doesn't make it so. I think that, you know, and it is an important issue. There's obviously some bizarre nature, there's a bizarre nature to this.

[14:15:03] But it's an important issue because you can't really let people spend money outside of the campaign, not report it and not being responsible for where the money comes from because they could allow excessive contributions, prohibited contributions. And so this is something that the FEC should investigate.

Will they investigate it? The FEC is down to four commissioners, it takes four to take any action. They have trouble taking action when they have six commissioners. So, you know, it doesn't necessarily look good. But it is a serious issue.

BALDWIN: Let's g back to Stormy Daniels Bizarro non-denial that she did not write the statement denying the affair. Remember this?


JIMMY KIMMEL, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE HOST: I am denying this affair because it never happened. I will have no further comment on this matter. Your original statement, the signature on the original statement does not match the signature on this statement. Did you sign this letter that was released today?


KIMMEL: Do you have a nondisclosure agreement?


KIMMEL: You can't say whether you have a nondisclosure agreement. But if you didn't have a nondisclosure agreement, you most certainly could say, I don't have a nondisclosure agreement. Yes?

DANIELS: You're so smart, Jimmy. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: It's like she wouldn't -- you know, he wanted to sort of like read through that screen when she was not answering those questions. Mark Geragos, let's just say you're advising her. Who does she give the first tell-all interview to?

GERAGOS: Look, she's -- I know her lawyer and I've dealt with her lawyer on many cases. I'm sure her lawyer is telling her, there's nothing you can do or you're going to leave yourself exposed. And that's why she's taking the position she is. The only -- like I say, I'll go back to the first comment. I'm perplexed as to what we don't know is in the agreement.

BALDWIN: That somebody hasn't paid the money.

GERAGOS: Yes. Why wouldn't somebody put up the 130 grand? I can think of many outlets that would and say we'll indemnify you. Give us your story.

NOBLE: Look, if I can add something here?

BALDWIN: Yes, please.

NOBLE: Mark makes a very good point. You know, if the Federal Election Commission ever was to investigate this, they could get her to talk. As she said earlier, she can't just say we'll have a nondisclosure agreement, I'm not going to talk, they subpoena her.

So, these things are knowable. And we could find out exactly what happened here. It may turn out to be not a major issue. But it also could turn out to be a major issue. But it's, you know, it's being treated somewhat like as a joke by her. And, you know, and my concern is that this has kind of goes away eventually and everybody just says it's really bizarre.

I mean, you know, I never imagined I'd be talking about the president, his lawyer and a porn star when I started campaign finance law. But, you know, that's where we are right now.

BALDWIN: I never thought I'd be talking about a lot of things, but that's where we are. Larry and Mark, thank you very much.

GERAGOS: Thank you.

NOBLE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: The White House will soon face questions on all of this, including the future of the chief of staff there, John Kelly, and rumors about who could potentially replace him. Again now we're hearing the president has confidence in him. We're going to take that briefing in a just little while.

Also happening now, is Congress closing in on a bipartisan immigration deal and will it address DACA? I'll talk to a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:22:39] BALDWIN: And we're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Facing in March 5th deadline to reach a deal on the fate of DREAMer's, senators are now debating the issue, they're trying to find the best bipartisan agreement that the President will also support.

Now, the plan on immigration, President Trump says he would support, would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants covered by DACA. But it would also $25 billion for a border wall, hard line immigration enforcement and substantial cuts to legal immigration.

Lawmakers admit it's a bit of an uphill climb to try to find a plan that at least 60 senators will support.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It seems to me the consensus is to have big border security and big DACA, that the president is going to get his border security money and that we'll do a 1.8 million pathway forward to break the chain. We're going to say that parents can't be sponsored by the DREAM Act child they're brought in illegally. Because if you don't deal with that issue, 1.8 becomes 5 or 6 million, and pretty much call it a day.


BALDWIN: And, of course, you know, how it works in Washington. It's not just the Senate and President who have to be on board. It's the House has the like plan as well.

So with me now, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He is also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Congressman, great to have you on.


BALDWIN: On this Ash Wednesday. Now, that plan Senator Graham just described. A pathway to citizenship in exchange for the $25 billion in border security, is that something you, sir, could support?

GALLEGO: It's entirely possible the problem that we have right now is that this is a deal of many deals that we've heard. But the only thing that really has changed or hasn't changed is the leadership. Paul Ryan, Speaker Ryan, has been very weak. He is hiding from the freedom caucus. And that's the kind of leadership that we don't need right now.

We need someone that's going to have a spine that will allow this type of deal to come to the floor so we could work it out. We also need, you know, President Trump to stop being so schizophrenic when it comes to these negotiations. This type of deal has been on the table before. He had said in the past that he would take in and then he wouldn't, and now we have no idea where he lies. So, that's where the problem is.

BALDWIN: Do you think the president is schizophrenic? Do you think his plan is schizophrenic? Just so I'm clear.

GALLEGO: I think both to be honest. We have had many conversations with him and his administration and they're all over the place. And, again, that would have been so bad if Speaker Ryan actually had some modicum of leadership in terms of the house.

[14:25:03] BALDWIN: Wow. Let me ask you, Congressman Gallego about the President's plan to cut funding for food stamps. You know, one of the main ways he plans to save money would be sending meal kits to recipients, the administration says that would be a better idea that that shipping food directly is actually less expensive and less of a strain on a taxpayer than actually just giving folks money to buy their own food. What's your reaction to that?

GALLEGO: Well, look at the proposal it actually will make it more difficult for these families to get healthy meals. Because instead of having the time and ability to buy fresh fruit, fresh food and in general food that's better, you're going to have a lot of canned meals being sent out. You know, and this is not a solution that we should be looking forward.

And it's also deeply insulting that you're doing this to find savings after giving 1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts to the super rich in this country. You know, they show you where the priorities of this administration are.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me get you just on the record here, talking what this Rob Porter Scandal over at the White House. Your colleague in the house, Trey Gowdy, Chair of House Oversight, he announced this morning on CNN they're launching a full investigation into how Porter was able to work in the White House for a year on this interim security clearance despite these warnings, you know, from the FBI.

We know that the President's Senior Adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner has yet to receive his full security clearance. According to recent reports he's the one reading the president Intel briefings, not the President. Do you think Jared Kushner is a national security threat?

GALLEGO: Absolutely. Not just because of the fact that he can't pass the background check but all of foreign involvement with foreign investors and also some of the questionable investments that have happened since President Trump got elected.

But overall I just want to point out the hypocrisy of the Trump administration and the Trump campaign. They ran a one year campaign against Secretary Clinton based on the idea that she had somehow compromised information by having a server. And yet they have more than 30 to 40 people that are daily handling top secret information that should not be handling top secret information.

And, of course, for some reason, you know, the Trump administration does not see that problem.

BALDWIN: If you're saying that you think Jared Kushner is a national security threat, what do you think you and Congress should do about it?

GALLEGO: We've actually asked for many of times, including as members of the House committee for that Jared Kushner to be removed from any opportunity to actually handle classified information. And also I do believe the Republican Party actually needs to have some level of oversight instead of, you know, cowing to the president and bring up some oversight hearings to understand why Kushner is handling this information also whether or not he is compromised.

BALDWIN: Congressman Gallego, thank you so much.

GALLEGO: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up here, all the intelligence chiefs agree that Russia is actively taking aim at this year's midterm elections. So why does President Trump remain unconvinced of that? We're going to get into that next.

Also a place where facts matter. The remarkably honest response from the man we're just talking about, Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy about why he is retiring from congress.


CAMEROTA: Why are you getting out of this racket?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Because I miss my old job. I miss the justice system. I like jobs where facts matter. I like jobs where fairness matters.