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Vice President Pence, Sister of North Korean Leader Sit Together at Olympics; President Trump Defends Aide Accused of Domestic Abuse. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 9, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:02]

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, he has never talked on camera like -- like this before.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Why -- I mean, total blast-from-the-past story, why is this so interesting to you today?

TOOBIN: Because it's this incredible window into an amazing period in American life, when the country was really coming apart.

The 1970s, there were 1,000 political bombings a year in the United States. Think about what that means. And, you know, February 4, 1974, that was the kidnapping. And it was in the middle, middle of that.

But, also, it's a personal mystery and drama. Did Patty Hearst join with her captors or was she a coerced victim for the year-and-a-half she was with him? That mystery remains fascinating to a lot of people. And there's a lot of evidence for both sides in this story.

BALDWIN: We will tune in. "The Radical Story of Patty Hearst" premieres this Sunday 9:00 Eastern here at CNN.

Congratulations.

TOOBIN: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much, Jeffrey Toobin.

Let's roll along, shall we? Hour two. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. It's a Friday afternoon.

And here's what we have for you. Moments ago, in his very first remarks on the scandal, the president of the United States defended his former aide, the one accused of abusing two former wives and, oh, by the way, the president didn't say a single word about the women, not a word.

We're talking about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter. This week, images of Porter's alleged abuse against his first ex-wife went public. See the black eye. His second ex-wife and an ex- girlfriend have also accused him of hurting them both physically and emotionally. But, again, President Trump did not speak about these women, instead,

sitting there, offering kind words to the man who has engulfed his Oval Office in a firestorm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well.

It's an obviously tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad.

Now, he also -- as you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So, you will have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Also, CNN has learned Porter himself told White House counsel Don McGahn in January of last year, more than a year ago, that his ex-wives could provide information that would be damaging to him.

And now from the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, we're hearing, who, according to sources, knew in November of last year that Porter could not get full security clearance, we have also learned that the chief of staff directed his own staff, his senior staff, in a meeting today to give an account of Porter's removal that some in the meeting considered to be untrue of what we've heard publicly and also from folks within the White House.

Let's begin at the White House with our senior correspondent there, Pam Brown.

And so, Pam, give me the details on this meeting with the chief of staff today.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The chief of staff, John Kelly, held a routine meeting with a dozen or so staffers today. In this meeting, he sought to clarify his role in the handling of Robert Porter's departure here from the White House.

He told staffers this morning, according to a source familiar with the matter, that he handled situation with Porter within 40 minutes of seeing that picture of one of Rob Porter's ex-wives with a black eye, he said, within that timeframe.

That is when he secured Porter's resignation from the White House. As you will recall, though, Sarah Sanders said that he would then be staying on board for a while to ensure a smooth transition. But then the next day, Raj Shah, the deputy press secretary, said that Porter had been terminated. It's really been all over the map here in terms of what exactly

happened. Some of the staffers walked away from this meeting feeling as though Kelly's portrayal of events was accurate in how he handled it. Others, though, were not so convinced.

They felt like he wasn't being fully forthcoming, because White House officials over the last couple of days have said privately that Kelly actually wanted Rob Porter to stay on board, that he didn't want him to leave and that he wanted to fight it.

As you will recall, you look back at the statements this week, Brooke, the initial one from John Kelly on Tuesday, when the first Daily Mail report came out, only talked about his character, saying he was a man of integrity, strongly defending him.

It wasn't until late Wednesday night that John Kelly put out the following statement, still defending him, but then acknowledging domestic abuse.

[15:05:02]

Last night, also, John Kelly sent a memo to White House staffers, saying that basically domestic abuse cannot be tolerated and saying that there is counseling available for any White House staffers who need it.

But certainly there's a feeling here, Brooke, at the White House that the way it was handled just this week was all over the map, let alone all these questions about why it wasn't handled sooner back in November, when John Kelly first found out about this, and even before, when White House counsel Don McGahn knew about this, knew about the FBI interviews with the ex-wives and the FBI interview with Rob Porter himself.

BALDWIN: Can we talk about Hope Hicks, the White House coms director, who has been romantically linked to him? She was part of crafting that over-the-top statement from White House. How irked with her is the president?

BROWN: Well, our reporting from my colleague Kaitlan Collins is that the president is irked in the way that she handled this situation. She helped draft part of the White House response, along with other White House staffers.

The president has not been happy with the handling of the whole situation this week and he has told people around him he feels as though Hope Hicks, which is one of his closest confidantes, the communications director, someone he views as his own daughter, according to people we have spoken with, that he feels like perhaps she put her own interest before his in the handling of this Rob Porter situation, because, as we have been reporting, Hope Hicks and Rob Porter have had a -- have been dating for at least the last couple of months.

And so the president himself is not very happy and is looking to move on from this controversy. But, as you pointed out, he spoke about it for the first time today and made no mention of the women who are alleging domestic violence by the former staff secretary here, Rob Porter.

BALDWIN: Nope. Nope. Not a mention.

Pamela, thank you.

I want to start there. I have with me a panel. I have got Tara Setmayer, board director of the group Stand Up Republic and CNN contributor, also political analyst Patrick Healy, who is deputy culture editor of "The New York Times," and Penny Lee, who once served as executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.

Good to have all of you with me.

I mean, can we talk about how the president didn't mention the women once, Tara?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Why would he?

BALDWIN: Because he should.

SETMAYER: We are looking at this, expecting him to be someone he's not. That's not who he is.

As appalled as we all are, and justifiably so, this is who Donald Trump is. He has shown us his inability to be the moral leader that the American people used to expect of the office of the president, coming from the office of the presidency.

Every day that situations like this come where it should be just the right thing to do, Donald Trump just doesn't seem to have that chromosome. He just doesn't. And how many times have we seen this? Charlottesville. We could go down the list.

BALDWIN: I would go even more specific. In fact, I started making a list of--

SETMAYER: Roy Moore.

BALDWIN: -- hearing him -- exactly. Hearing him say he says he's innocent. I believe his innocence. I thought of Roy Moore, the president on Roy Moore. I thought of Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly.

In fact, watch this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and I was surprised by it. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you will have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.

Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen, and, you know, you have to listen to him also.

He has been a friend of mine for a long time. And I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he has helped them, and even recently. And when they write books that are fairly recently released and they say wonderful things about him, and now all of a sudden they're saying these horrible things about him, it's very sad, because he's a very good person.

I have always found him to be just a very, very good person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Penny, do you think the reason why he doesn't mention the women is because, if he were to, it opens a big old can of worms?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think that's part of it.

But also this is a person, to Tara's point, that he doesn't have it in his own chromosomes. This is a man who when confronted with his own words from a tape in which he advocated abusing women, said, that's not me.

So, there's just an unbelievable disconnect. And his first instinct is always to defend the male and give no credence whatsoever. But this was also not only a failing of him. And I do believe it starts from the top down, but John Kelly.

BALDWIN: Yes.

LEE: John Kelly knew what was in those FBI reports, knew that he was not going to be able to get top clearance, and still put him in one of the top positions in the entire White House.

BALDWIN: Right.

Adding on to John Kelly, Patrick, I was talking to one of the reporters of "The Washington Post" who was breaking a little more news, that Kelly had a meeting with senior staff today that said essentially -- he was telling his staff, look, I took immediate action within the first 40 minutes of removing him, of learning of the abuse allegations -- learning that the abuse allegations were credible was the word that "The Post" used, which is obviously in complete contrast from what we have heard publicly and also from the folks in the White House and what we know, that he knew months ago.

[15:10:20]

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. The timeline here is really unclear.

And usually when a crisis happens in the White House or in Congress, you know that the media is going to want to do what we call a ticktock, which is what happened when, who knew what?

(CROSSTALK) HEALY: And the timeline is just very unclear, because the sources that were talking to "The New York Times," CNN, "The Washington Post" certainly on Tuesday and Wednesday were giving totally different kind of statements.

And the reality was the White House went very quickly, as it does, with allegations from women about abuse into bunker mode because this hits very close to home for President Trump. His instinct is not to say domestic violence and domestic abuse will not be tolerated.

That instead is a talking point that a spokesperson needs to write up for a press release. His instinct is to say, well, you know, but the guy says he's innocent, so we really have to pay attention to that.

That's because that is where Donald Trump comes from. These women have made accusations against him over the last several years, and his view is brand the women as liars and you get to move on.

BALDWIN: Had an author sitting here a couple minutes ago who wrote a book on the gatekeepers on chiefs of staff, saying that John Kelly just actually doubles down, his opinion, doubles down on the worst instincts of the president.

And when I read the piece in "The Post" this afternoon before coming on air about John Kelly says, well, I took immediate action after I discovered that these allegations were credible, it's the word credible I kept thinking, because does credible mean, oh, all of a sudden, bing, the White House believes in this because suddenly there's suddenly a photo of a black eye?

Imagine if those photos didn't exist.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: Exactly.

If those photos didn't exist, Rob Porter would still be in his job. And that's the bottom line. That's the sad reality. And this is also exactly why the MeToo movement is so important. This kind of handling of accusations against powerful men or men that are valuable in a situation, particularly in the private sector, has been going on for a long time, which is why a lot of women don't come forward.

This is why they feel helpless, because no one believes them. And it's swept under the rug. But when you are working in the White House, which should be the pinnacle example of the best of the best--

BALDWIN: Morality.

SETMAYER: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

HEALY: Well, and you also have to get a security clearance.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Oh, by the way. Right.

SETMAYER: That's another thing. The whole reason why you have security clearances is to make sure that you're not compromised.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: And when you have something like this out there, you have a serial domestic abuser working in the White House handling sensitive information, and the FBI comes to you, and says -- to the chief of staff and says we have got a problem here, that should have been taken care of.

And this had been -- all I have to say is the silence of the Republicans on this is very disturbing to me. If this had been the Barack Obama or Clinton administration--

BALDWIN: The family values folks.

SETMAYER: --with this kind of thing, forget about it. They would be -- I mean, they would be apoplectic about this.

So, the fact that they're so quiet about it just bothers me.

BALDWIN: Let me play some sound, just rewind you back to -- it was just October of last year, when General Kelly was briefing the White House press pool and said this about what's sacred.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases.

Life, the dignity of life was sacred. That's gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SETMAYER: He's a hypocrite for that.

BALDWIN: Just wanted to play that from October.

SETMAYER: Hypocrite.

BALDWIN: Just last thing to the two of you. Does he last a week? Is it tough to get someone in his job? What do you think?

LEE: Yes, I think it's incredibly difficult to get somebody in his job knowing what's out there.

But it seems you're getting people that just want it for their own glory or want it for their own edifice. And so you will have somebody at the end of the day, somebody will step into that role. I don't know that he can continue much longer, because as that clip alluded to, there is no bright line in the White House.

There is no trip factor in which somebody crosses over and says that's enough. It's just this incredibly moving goalpost in which that's excused and that's excused and that's OK because it came from the man. It's just really disturbing.

HEALY: And John Kelly was hired to make the trains run on time and bring order here.

BALDWIN: Totally.

HEALY: But it turns out like a lot of people are looking for him also to be kind of a moral center in this White House that a lot of people felt like was lacking one.

And that seems to be compromised here. But the reality is that Donald Trump has thought a lot of about his New York friends. There are people on the hill if he has to borrow someone.

There are people -- Chris Christie, he's out of a job.

BALDWIN: Mick Mulvaney.

HEALY: Who knows. Mick Mulvaney.

There are people who can step in. But it's more just the narrative of chaos and the absence of a center, whether it's good administration, whether it's a moral center, you know?

[15:15:02]

BALDWIN: I just so admire those women for speaking up.

SETMAYER: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: I know he denies, denies, denies, but, still, reading that blog post, "And so I stayed," just powerful. Thank you all so much. Appreciate it.

How about this? Boxed in. The vice president, Mike Pence, feet away from the sister of Kim Jong-un. We now have some backstory behind these photos and how they ended up sitting so close to one another.

You're watching CNN on a Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A single photo really resonating across the world today, the vice president of the United States with the sister with America's biggest nuclear adversary sharing the same VIP box at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games.

You see here Vice President Pence and his wife, Karen, sitting just a couple feet apart from the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong- un. Pence and Kim Yo-jong did not at all interact.

[15:20:01]

But CNN did confirm that vice president knew in advance that the North Koreans would be seated nearby.

And then this historic moment. You have Kim shaking the hand of South Korean President Moon, despite the onslaught of threats from the North just in just the past month.

So, for some perspective, Fareed Zakaria. He's with us today, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

It's so good to have you on, as always.

Can you talk about -- and it's my understanding from Blue House, from the South Korean presidential residence, office, that Pence and the Kim sister were supposed to be sitting behind one another. And I guess they're a little farther apart.

But, nevertheless, given all the history, how do you think that picture is resonating in the world?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, it's a huge -- it's historic and it's a real victory for South Korea.

BALDWIN: Why?

ZAKARIA: Because the South Korean president, President Moon, had really wanted to change the trajectory of the relationship between North Korea and South Korea, which was sort of very conflictual, very tense, very hostile.

And he wanted to move it in this direction. And he, working with the International Olympic Committee, have, for months, been trying to see if there was some way to make this happen.

The United States and the Trump administration has really not been on board on this. They have been much more hostile, much more threatening. I'm not saying which -- who is right in this situation. All I'm saying is that the South Koreans have won in the sense that they got what they wanted.

They ended up with a North Korean -- the North Koreans agreed to march with the South Koreans under a combined banner. Remember, the last time you had an Olympic Games in South Korea, the North Koreans not only didn't participate, not only did they boycott, they actually tried to sabotage them and basically perpetrated terrorist attacks weeks before the Games.

BALDWIN: On a plane. On a plane.

ZAKARIA: Yes, on the plane.

And so here you have a situation where they have completely changed course. They're on board. They're marching with them. They send -- and the sister of Kim is -- this is a huge deal. This is a family dynasty. She is in many ways the second most important person in the country.

BALDWIN: Do you think any of the president's overtures or bellicose rhetoric factors in to the way in which the two Koreas are, I don't know, communicating?

There's now the possibility over this lunch that they're having this evening there, tomorrow, that the North Koreans may be inviting President Moon to Pyongyang. How does Trump factor into all of this?

ZAKARIA: Right.

I think the Trump policy has been quite incoherent, honestly. Really, one day, there's a threat. Another day, he talks about meeting with them. If there was some kind of calculated good cop/bad cop routine, it would be one thing. It feels pretty undisciplined and incoherent.

One day, Trump talks about how it might make sense for him to meet with the guy. The next day, he talks about totally destroying the entire country. I think more than anything else, what President Moon, the South Korean president, has done has been very cleverly to use the Trump administration as something of a bad cop, and it's played the good cop.

And, by and large, he, President Moon, has been able to achieve his goals. It's unclear that the United States has achieved its goals. We -- the United States should want to get into a negotiation with North Korea about nuclear weapons. That has to be the goal.

And right now, I don't see a path there because, honestly, President Trump seems to be of two minds. I think with President Trump, often what you see is what you get. He's a very transparent person. He can't decide whether one day he wants to be the tough guy, the next day, he wants to be the deal-maker.

BALDWIN: OK. Here's what I'm wondering, last quick question, is you have these North Koreans playing on this ice hockey team, right, with the South Koreans. Are there just a ton of North Korean minders down at the Olympic Games? How do they make sure these North Koreans don't stay in South Korea?

ZAKARIA: Yes, they have a lot of minders. And remember there's family. Each of these sports -- these athletes will have family back home who will be tortured, imprisoned, killed if these people do anything.

But it's a big concession for the North Koreans, because the North Koreans are a minor part in what is a South Korean extravaganza, right? So, if you think about it, there is no equality here. The North Koreans are a small appendage to this massive South Korean contingent.

As I say, big victory for South Korea. They have managed to use the Trump administration. But the Trump administration has not gotten what it wanted out of this at all. BALDWIN: Feels like they're rolling out the red carpet a bit for this

Kim sister, and Pence is over there on the side a bit.

Fareed, thank you so much. We will watch "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" Sundays 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. only here on CNN.

Thank you so much.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here, new details in this abuse scandal rocking the White House and insight into Rob Porter's relationship with the president.

And, moments ago, former Vice President Joe Biden slamming President Trump for his remarks this afternoon that praised Porter's work. We will play that for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:21]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

It's an obviously tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad.

Now, he also -- as you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So, you will have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well.

Did a very good job while he was at the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)