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Trump Discusses Infrastructure; Trump Ignores Questions on Kelly; Ryan on Breakdown in System; Conversations over Possible Kelly Successor; Oversight Investigating Porter Scandal; FBI Director Contradicts Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Infrastructure, including broadband Internet access. Rural communities have not been treated fairly. So we're going to spend $50 billion on rural infrastructure and Internet access, which is so important. A workforce initiative that invests in our most valuable resource, the American worker, and we're doing a lot of that.

And we had a meeting -- I had a phone call this morning with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I suggested that he invest more and open up more plants. They announced, as you know, a number of plants are coming in to Michigan and other states. But we want them to bring in more. And they will do that. He said they will do that. And we expect to have some announcements pretty soon.

We have a lot of -- a lot of companies are moving in. A lot of people are coming into the United States. They were leaving, and now they're coming in. All good for our workers and good for our country. More power for state and local governments to choose projects. We want them to choose the projects they want, the most important projects, because they know best the needs of their people. So we want these states to be very much involved in the choice of where this money goes.

After spending trillions of dollars overseas rebuilding other countries, it is time to rebuild our own country and to take care of our citizens. The money that we've spent overseas, not to mention in the Middle East, whereas of two months ago we had spent $7 trillion, and yet if we have to fix a road, we can't fix it. If we have to fix a tunnel, we don't do it because we don't have the money. We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. It's ridiculous.

The American people expect all of us to work together to serve their needs. This is an issue where I really believe we can find common ground between Republicans and Democrats. It's the infrastructure issue. It's something great for our country. It's something that our country needs.

And again, we have Democrats here. We have Republicans here. We've had other meetings. We will have meetings in the future, including new meetings with this group. This is a very capable group of people. And I think we're going to come up ultimately with a solution to the infrastructure of our country, which is in very poor condition. We're extremely happy with the bill that was passed because we had to

take care of our military. Our military was in bad shape. Now we've had the biggest spending ever, and our military will be stronger than it's ever been before. We needed that. I want to cut costs, but we need that.

Now I want to spend that money on the military wisely. I want to see if we can get twice the planes for half the price, essentially. I want to get -- we're going to make sure we buy maximum equipment and other things with the dollar, not that it's going to be wasted. So our military will be in better shape than ever before.

And now what we're going to do is have our discussion. So we appreciate it. Thank you all very much. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you all.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you -- did you staff (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone. Thank you, everyone. Thanks, everyone.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States -- let's listen for another second -- the president of the United States there you see ignoring questions. A meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House trying to promote his infrastructure plan, which has uphill sledding on Capitol Hill because of both Democratic and Republican objections. The president also again trying to sell his agenda at a time his White House is frankly in a deepening crisis.

The president refusing to answer questions at the end there about what he knew and what other people on his staff knew and when they knew it about allegations a former top White House adviser, Rob Porter, had physically violently abused two of his ex-wives.

A shifting mood in the Republican Party today. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee says that committee wants to ask questions. Speaker Paul Ryan also speaking out about this.

Let's get straight to our Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

And, Jeff, I want to start with this question.

Last night this town was abuzz with rumors that once again the president was about to pull the trigger and change his chief of staff. John Kelly is on the job this morning. Turns out it was just buzz last night. But that buzz is emanating from the building behind you, which has to make it hard for anybody to do their job, I would assume especially the embattled chief of staff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, no question. There was so much talk last evening and a lot of it was coming from here at the White House, but even more of it was coming from outside the White House. There is no question that people who have not been happy with the chief of staff, people whose own access has been restricted, have taken this opportunity -- they smell blood in the water, if you will -- to go after John Kelly, to suggest that he's on the verge of being out. We've seen some officials and aides and former aides do this publicly, like Anthony Scaramucci. He said yesterday that John Kelly should go. And others have been saying privately he should go.

But, John, the reality here is, the president, we are told, still believes in and has confidence in and does not blame his chief of staff for this whole episode. Not saying he's not particularly thrilled with him, but he does not blame him entirely for this. So as we stand now, John Kelly is still the chief of staff. And we're told that's not changing any time soon.

But as always, John, it's a one day at a time proposition around here.

[12:05:09] KING: And so help me further on that because a couple of days ago it was the president himself on phone calls floating the possibility of changing his chief of staff --

ZELENY: Right.

KING: Or floating the idea of, what if I did this person, what if I did that person.

Last night it seemed to be coming from other White House aides and all around the town from Trump allies and people who, some of them frankly don't like General Kelly. But we have heard Kevin McCarthy, he's the House majority leader. We have heard Gary Cohn, the chief White House economic adviser, and we hear Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director. Those are the three names you hear most often when this comes up. Sometimes, again, from the president. Sometimes from others who are trying to nudge General Kelly out the door. Why those three?

ZELENY: Well, John, there's no question the president is trying to feel people out. They're trial balloons, if you will. You float these names and see what the reaction is.

But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, without question, has developed a close relationship with the president. But he was asked this morning on Capitol Hill if he's up for the job. Watch what he said.


QUESTION: I understand that you've had some conversations with the president recently. I'm wondering if you can confirm that you've talked to him about exploring the opportunity for chief of staff. Are you interested in that position at all if he offers it? Would you serve him if you are asked?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Come on, just because of the jacket.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's a jacket, man.

MCCARTHY: First of all, I have not spoken to the president about anything about a job and I never have. And there is no job opening.


ZELENY: So making clear there is no job opening, saying he's not spoken to the president about the job. But we do know that Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, is close to the president, and he has worked on a close relationship, even giving him his favorite Skittles.

So, John, the reality here is, if there is a change at some point, those are three possibilities. But again, right now, important to emphasize, we are told that the president is just fine with John Kelly in this role. Also probably fine with watching him sweat it out a little bit, John.

KING: Jeff Zeleny live from the White House.

Jeff, appreciate it. Come back if the story changes over the course of the next 50 minutes or so.

On Capitol Hill today, the top Republican in the House -- this is important -- showing support. The House Oversight Committee now says it will have an investigation of who knew what when about Rob Porter. And listen to the speaker here very clearly giving his opinion on those who commit domestic violence.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I mean, come on, clearly we should all be condemning domestic violence. And if a person who commits domestic violence gets in the government, then there's a breakdown in the system. There's a breakdown in the vetting system. And that breakdown needs to be addressed.


KING: Here with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times," "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, Carl Hulse of "The New York Times," and Mary Katharine Ham with "The Federalist."

I don't think we need to translate for people watching at home, but let's, just in case, when the speaker says, come on, everybody should be condemning domestic violence, there's a certain person who works at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who had Rob Porter in his employ who has not. That would be the president of the United States.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That's right. He actually came out last week after the allegations were well known and after Rob Porter had resigned and said essentially, it's a tough time for him, it's very sad, he expressed sympathy for Porter, but no sympathy for the women who are his alleged victims. He didn't make any sort of generalized statement about domestic violence or no tolerance for that. He has sent out Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his spokeswoman, to say that to reporters this week, but he's been given opportunity after opportunity, including as recently as yesterday at the White House by reporters who were present for events with him to say his own piece about domestic violence and if he considers it unacceptable. He has not taken that opportunity and --

KING: Had another opportunity right there.

DAVIS: Absolutely. And he --

KING: I think he just --

DAVIS: He's avoided talking about it.

KING: Right. It --

DAVIS: And it's clear that he does not want to make an issue of it. Whether it's because of his own allegations in his past or because he doesn't find it unacceptable, nobody can know. But that is the sum and substance of what we've heard from the president, which is essentially nothing.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": This story is now in its eighth day and everyone is asking, why doesn't he just put out a least a perfunctory statement condemning domestic violence without even necessarily going all the way and insinuating (ph) Rob Porter did something wrong.

I have a theory about why he may not be doing this and there may be some element of political signaling to a certain type of Trump voter who grew up in the '50s or grew up in the '60s, has a very different conception of gender roles. It's not that they support or condone domestic violence, or that the president does, but I do think that there is a backlash many of these people feel to the Me Too movement. They don't like seeing millions of women on the streets demanding their domestic and workplace and sexual autonomy. It doesn't sit right with them. And I think the president is kind of signaling to them, yes, I hear you. I understand. He grew up in the '50s. He's talked about, when was America great again, his slogan. He's referred to the '50s. And nostalgia is a core part of his repeal.

KING: Well, unless they can recruit a lot of Archie Bunkers and raise them a lot of money really fast, I'm not sure that's the right message in a midterm election year. But, OK, if that's --

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": You might have said that in 2016 as well, though.

KING: I might have said that -- you're right. You're right. We have been proven wrong before when we have -- when we have, shall we say, miss underestimated what was going to happen in these situations.

I want to come back for a minute now to General Kelly's situation because when you're being undermined -- now the White House today says the president's on board with General Kelly. We do know, though, in the past 72 hours, the president is making phone calls, asking friends and outside advisers, what do you think? Should I keep him? Is it his fault? What do you think of, you know, Kevin McCarthy? What do you think of Mick Mulvaney? What do you think of Gary Cohn? The president is doing that. That undermines the chief of staff.

[12:10:07] Now we know that -- I don't know if he can have a senior staff meeting because it would be a circular firing squad in the sense that they're split again. He came in to fix the factional (ph) White House. Now we have another factional (ph) White House with a lot of people saying it's General Kelly's fault. Some other people saying it's Hope Hicks and Sara Sanders who dragged this out. Other people saying, Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, should have known about this months ago, should have been raising red flags. Again, the people that are supposed to be running the United States government in a circle, mad at each other, not trusting each other, blaming each other.

What is the status -- last night -- let me add this before I toss it -- last night I was at dinner and getting calls that Kevin McCarthy will say no if he's asked. No way, Kevin McCarthy has talked to some of his colleagues and they've convinced him, take the job if he's asked, assuming that a phone call might be coming. That didn't happen. One of these mysteries of bizarre Donald Trump Washington. But what is going on?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. I would say the status is very uncertain because this is a changeable situation. Anything can happen. The president could be struck with the idea now is time to make a change. The testimony by the FBI director was really damaging yesterday. I mean that was really something that extends this scandal.

And on McCarthy, I'm still having a hard time seeing why he would take the job, honestly. You know, he's the majority leader. Paul Ryan's future is kind of uncertain. And we're talking about the very -- the lack of security -- job security in that job. Why would you take that job? You know, Mick Mulvaney makes more sense to me as somebody who's already in there.

But, you know, John, and all of us know, this could happen this afternoon or it could not happen for weeks.

KING: Right. But, again, General Kelly's coming to work in a building where, if you believe this -- what sources are saying -- and we believe what these sources are saying, not that they can effect this to happen, but among those who say, no, let's make it Gary Cohn, the president's daughter and the president's son-in-law who, you know, want to have (INAUDIBLE).

So, again, you're John Kelly. You work for President Trump. But you know about Jared Kushner and Ivanka. What do you do?

HAM: Well, so all of these things, as you were saying, are buzz until the second they're not. Like there's -- someone's imminently going to be fired until they're not fired or they are. But, I mean, there's no way of sort of predicting how the shoe drops on that. I do think this feels different than some of the other turnover

because Kelly made mistakes. McGahn made mistakes. It's fairly clear cut that that is something that happened here. So they're not -- they're not being undermined for no reason. And those guys were supposed to be the stabilizing force. So if the stabilizing force is destabilized, then it's a whole different brand of upset. I mean when Scaramucci in a blaze of glory went out of the administration, I don't think anybody expected that Scaramucci was going to have a perfect and disciplined tenure there. Kelly's a different story. And I think when you talk about whether he should go, perhaps in other situations a person who had done this would go.

KING: Right.

HAM: But what is behind door number three?

KING: Right. That's a great point. And Scaramucci now among those out on Twitter saying Kelly has to go. The man has an axe to grind, folks, so consider the source, but he does still talk to people inside the White House and he's doing that on their behalf. This is people who work for John Kelly and John Kelly's boss, at various moments of the last three days, undermining him, undermining him, which is a hard way to run a railroad.

And to your point about people are getting the attention here. Here's a Republican chairman of a Republican committee in Congress, the House Oversight Committee, saying I need to investigate the Republican president's White House. I want to know who knew what when.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Who knew what when and to what extent? And if you knew it in 2017 and the bureau briefed them three times, then how in the hell was he still employed?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Will the Oversight Committee be launching an investigation into this?

GOWDY: We did last night.


KING: Amen in the sense that Democrat or Republican, Congress should conduct vigorous oversight of the executive branch, especially when you have a person who's allowed to stay in the job for months and months and months, credibly accused of horrible actions. This is not smoking pot or running a red light or not even paying your taxes. These are horrible -- this is horrible conduct, a sensitive job, stayed on for at least months.

The White House, in the conflicting and shifting answers of the last week, now is of the idea that like this didn't get to us. It might have been in the White House security office in a file somewhere. I mean that's a -- that's a total copout. Think about it. Even if you accept their judgment. So this was in a file. They knew the guy couldn't get a permanent

security clearance. He was in one of the most sensitive jobs in the administration. And if you accept their argument that it didn't get to John Kelly or it didn't get in detail to Don McGahn, they didn't ask? Hello.

DAVIS: Well, and we now --

KING: That's -- in a way that's almost worse than knowing he has a problem but we're personally loyal to him so we're going to kind of stall and try to give him some time.

DAVIS: And we now know that John Kelly did actually make an effort last fall to get his hands around this problem of the fact that there were so many people in the West Wing and throughout the White House who had interim security clearances. He held a meeting. He said, we're not going to issue any of these new interim security clearances. And for people who are serving under interim clearances, we have to go back and figure out why they're not finalized and get them finalized and resolved.

[12:15:01] So it strains the imagination to think that after he gives that instruction, somebody senior, either in his office or in the council's office or Joe Hagan (ph), who to whom the White House personnel security office reports, wouldn't then have gone back and said, OK, well, what's the problem with this person? What's the problem with this person? What is the problem with Rob Porter?

HAM: Who was a right-hand man to Trump in a lot of ways.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: And that's -- and given that they had the FBI files by then, we know, it's impossible to think that somebody didn't point it out and say, well, this must be the issue for him. What are we going to do?

KING: And they have refused, in part maybe because right hand doesn't know what the left hand's doing and they all haven't gotten together and got their facts straight. But they have refused to give us, the American people, the public, a consistent timeline that we can all agree on, as opposed to shifting explanations every day. So perhaps with the House Committee looking into it, they will demand the right documents --

HULSE: Well, I think the interesting thing too, Trey Gowdy is retiring.

KING: Right.

HULSE: He's not sticking around. He's not running. I sensed from him, you know, a real interest in getting to the bottom of this. I think what we've all been talking about is there's a growing problem for the Republicans with this Me Too movement. And I'm sure there is part of the base that's saying there's a backlash. But the voters they're going to need -- and we saw it in election again in Florida last night -- are the ones who are saying, what's going on with this White House, you know, that they harbored a credibly charged domestic abuser. You know, the president is paying off a porn star. This is all about treatment of women. And I think people -- Republicans on The Hill are really concerned about this and they want some real answers from the White House.

KAPUR: And every -- every professional communicator in D.C. knows that the story is not going to go away until they stop shifting their explanations, until they offer one, consistent, clear version of events about what happened.

Just to go back to John Kelly very briefly. The countdown clock seems to have the gun with him and President Trump. President Trump, we know, you know, in the past has gotten tired of people, have gotten bored with people, gotten upset with people. It's not clear to me that he's actually going to go.

I was texting with one former White House aide moments ago who said, this is survivable for Kelly in theory because the president, number one, has a bias towards stasis in his White House. He's always dealing with one crisis or another. And it's not clear who would replace John Kelly. It's not clear who wants that job even. So it's -- there are a lot of open questions. With people like Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon, the knives were out for weeks or months before they actually, you know, got pushed out. And with other people, like Scaramucci, like Tom Price, for instance, it was pretty instant. So we don't know.

KING: Should read -- should read my inbox from last night. It's interesting. Let's just leave it at that.

We've got to take a quick break. When we come back, remember, the president didn't like his first FBI director because he didn't think he was loyal enough. How about the second?


[12:21:42] KING: Welcome back.

The president, who fired his first FBI director because he didn't believe him loyal enough, got a stiff series of messages yesterday from his second FBI director. First, Christopher Wray shredded the White House line that officials didn't know about domestic abuse accusations against Rob Porter because, as White House officials were saying, his background check was still in process. Nope.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July that soon thereafter we received request for a follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November.


KING: And during that same hearing, also this, when Wray was asked if he would share details of the Russia investigation or if he agreed with all those presidential tweets calling the FBI a mess, in tatters.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I'm not going to discuss the investigation in question with the president, much less provide information from that investigation to him.

You know, there are 37,000 people in the FBI who do unbelievable things all around the world. And although you would never know it from watching the news, we actually have more than two investigations, and most of them do a lot to keep Americans safe.


KING: He also said that his agents are trained not to pay any attention to the noise on social media. Pretty clear who he was maybe talking about there.

But it's fascinating. Now, the FBI director's supposed to be independent. The FBI director's supposed to call him as he or she sees it. But knowing the history of Donald Trump and James Comey, what do we make of Donald Trump and Christopher Wray after that?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, I think you -- first of all, you don't mess with the FBI. And I think that has become clear from the testimony yesterday and from Wray's attitude about all of this. The White House, earlier this week, went out and said -- told all of us at the briefing when we were asked about Rob Porter, well, you know, you'll have to talk to the intelligence agencies and the FBI if you want to know why this clearance could have happened when there were bad allegations in his past, especially laying it at the foot of the FBI. They had to realize that the FBI was going to push back on that.

And I think what you have here is Wray, very understandably, wanting to show that he is going to be independent, he's not going to be -- he's not going to succumb to these requests from the president for loyalty, which we know that he likes to make, and that he is going to try to be a neutral arbiter, even with all of this political sort of vitriol coming at him from the White House, from a president, when the president is normally supposed to stay very far away from either -- even talking about an investigation that involves him or his administration.

KING: I assume that this is one of the things that doesn't go over too well with the president, though, when he -- as he does watches coverage of it.

HAM: Yes. I mean I think that's certainly true. There's also the strange element of Trump where he doesn't like someone just to be prostrate. Like, he doesn't mind someone pushing back every now and then. And I think Wray got out of it fairly clean when he was at one point asked to get rid of McCabe and did not at that time, pushed back on that in the proper way. It helps that he doesn't have the super emo showboaty James Comey affect about him, I think, because I just think it's a better look for the agency and looks more professional and is less likely to rile the president. [12:25:11] HULSE: But I thought his demeanor actually struck me

because he seemed very calm and confident and enjoying what he was doing and saying. He liked delivering that message.

HAM: They got the receipts (ph).

HULSE: And I talked to Democratic senators last night who were involved in that and they were still surprised at how definitive his answers had been, and they didn't anticipate that going in.

KING: And I think that he was -- you could tell, to your point about the demeanor, that he was looking for, and yesterday was a chance to have a public platform to send a message to his employees, to the agency, which has been under constant attack from the president, from others in the president's orbit, and from Republicans in Congress, including, there was the Devin Nunes memo, which we know the FBI director objected, asked the president not to make it public. The president did declassify it and make it public.

Now the FBI director, yesterday, could have said, asked and answered, we're on the record about that a week ago. I don't want to talk about. But, instead, he offered this.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: 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: I mean calm, relatively soft spoken, but -- but we have grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum, the very memorandum the president says vindicated him.

KAPUR: The president fired one FBI institutionalist who wasn't going to do his bidding and got another FBI institutionalist who's not going to do his bidding.

Now, it's important to know that James -- as James Comey was before and Christopher Wray is now, they're caught in a very difficult position. As the FBI director, you are going to want to defend your bureau and make sure, as in the case -- you know, as in the Rob Porter case, that you convey that the FBI did its job.

And he's in a very difficult position because the president and his allies are launching frontal attacks on the FBI. What is he to do? He can't agree with that. Of course, I'm sure he doesn't personally, but he can't give any credence to that if he wants to be the FBI director and have the confidence of the people who worked for him before (ph).

KING: And another points the Democrats wanted to make during the hearing yesterday, you have all six of these intelligence chiefs up there, all of them said there's no question Russia meddled in 2016, all of them said there's no question Russia is continuing to meddle in the 2018 elections. And Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked the FBI director, well, if this is happening, if they meddled in 2016, they're actively doing it again this time, the president has asked you to do something about it, right?


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

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

REED: Are they directed by the president?

WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president.


KING: Again, candid, honest, not as specifically directed by the president. The point being made by a lot of Democrats -- and I hope they would be made by every American -- I get the president's -- you know, don't question the legitimacy of my victory. You won, sir. You'll be president for three more years. But the idea that he won't speak out and condemn this, there's the FBI director again saying not specifically directed by the president.

DAVIS: Well, he doesn't see those two things as different issues. He said, you know, we understand you wanted some legitimate, but what about the issue of the fact that a foreign power, Russia, tried to interfere, and wouldn't you want to direct your intelligence agencies to prevent that from happening again. He sees that as the same thing. If he does the one, he's essentially conceding the other. And he's not willing to do that. So --

HAM: I am a little -- I am a little skeptical that should Trump specifically direct Wray to do something about anything related to Russia, that anyone would think that that was an awesome idea. So he's -- it's a little bit of a catch 22 there.

DAVIS: Fair point.

KAPUR: If you look at language, he is trying not to thumb the president in the eye because that's the way you get fired in this administration, but he's also telling the truth because he's before Congress and, again, he believes in the institution he's serving.

KING: All right, up next, another fun one. The Senate now debating immigration and what to do about DACA, the dreamers, and who to blame if nothing gets done.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Only in a 1984 world where up is down and black is white would the American public blame Democrats for this. They know where Trump stands.