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John Kelly Defends Himself on Rob Porter Scandal; Dow Falls Over Trump's Trade War Threats; Trump Asked Kelly to Remove Kushner, Ivanka Trump; Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 2, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They had a pretty good life in New York. Maybe at least it's best for them to go back.

All right, guys, thanks very much. That's it for me. The news continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin. And we begin with breaking news out of the White House.

Chief of Staff John Kelly meeting with reporters a short time ago and defending himself for his role in the Rob Porter scandal. Porter is the former White House aide fired when allegations of domestic violence surfaced.

Let's get straight now to CNN's Abby Phillip. Abby, what's Kelly saying?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Brianna. Kelly is vociferously defending his reaction to this Porter scandal. He is saying, going back over this timeline that he first learned of these allegations on February 6th. That's the day that reporters from the "Daily Mail" came to the White House with these allegations of physical and emotional abuse against Porter by two of his ex-wives.

John Kelly says he did not ever consider resigning over that situation because he said, quote, "I have absolutely nothing to even consider resigning over." But he did add that he says the White House did not cover itself in glory in how it handled the situation. But he blamed a mix-up with the press office over why they sent out statements praising Porter even after photos of his battered ex-wives had been released into the public.

Meanwhile, Kelly is also, you know, going over this timeline and insisting that he did not get information from an office called the White House Security Office about problems with John -- with Rob Porter's file. He says he never learned about any of this stuff until the media came to them. And when the media did come to them, he says Porter resigned. He accepted that resignation.

And now I have to read -- I think it's important to read here a statement that we've just gotten. Our MJ Lee has gotten from one of Porter's ex-wives. The ex-wife said John Kelly said, when he first learned of these allegations he characterized them as emotional abuse. Jennie Willoughby said this. "My only comment is sadness. It's the sadness I felt when Kelly defended his first statement of defense of Rob, saying they only thought it was only emotional abuse. He changed the statement after realizing it was physical abuse. That is insulting to anyone in an abusive situation now. Emotional and psychological abuse is abuse."

Now meanwhile, both of those ex-wives tell CNN's MJ Lee today that the White House still has not reached out to them about these allegations, but clearly this telling by John Kelly of how this all went down really goes against a lot of what we've learned.

You know, sources told CNN that people in the White House, including Kelly, knew about these allegations long before they came out in February and, you know, perhaps how we square this circle is just the way in which Kelly said this to reporters, to us in that room when we were in there. He said he did not hear from the security office about the specific allegations or problems with Rob Porter's file.

That's a very specific telling of the situation. And it doesn't cover what we have heard from our sources, which is that on multiple occasions, there were people who came to folks in this White House with these allegations. We also know that the FBI had, in their possession, these photographs long before the "Daily Mail" published them in early February.

KEILAR: Very good point. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.

Let's discuss this further with CNN Politics reporter and editor-at- large Chris Cillizza and also CNN Politics senior writer Juana Summers with us as well.

OK. So your reaction to this latest news, this defense from John Kelly that we're hearing from Abby?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Right, Brianna. This is pretty stunning. As Abby Phillips said this goes against the majority of the reporting that we had. We've reported at CNN that not only was Rob Porter someone that John Kelly had a lot of confidence in, he was even actually being considered for a promotion here. And I have to imagine John Kelly is someone who's constantly talked about as the grownup in the room at the White House, someone who's looking to install order in this West Wing.

Listening to those most recent comments, I have to wonder, even if he didn't know the full scope of what was going on, as he said, if you heard even an inkling of these allegations, whether it was emotional abuse or physical abuse as seen from one of his ex-wives from MJ Lee noted. Why didn't he dig in and figure out what was going on here as he's supposed to be the kind of the disciplinarian trying to bring some order to this chaos in the White House?

KEILAR: What do you think, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I mean, I think that John Kelly has learned the lesson of Donald -- the central lesson of Donald Trump's life learned from Roy Cohn which is never, ever apologize for anything and act outraged when people say, well, then you should apologize.

KEILAR: And also -- but also deviate from the facts.

CILLIZZA: Well, that's the point here. I mean, like, I guess you can debate whether he had something to apologize for in his own mind. What is more difficult to square, because it's not subjective, are the facts. We know last fall Kelly knew at least something of the allegations against Rob Porter. Now he says I didn't know the extent of them. But remember that he had information on the day that -- by the way, Hope Hicks was helping to craft the Rob Porter statement in support of Rob Porter.

[14:05:10] He had information. Now did he have all the whole picture of the ex-wife with the black eye? The timing is very close. The point is, he had much more information. This was not someone flying blind about what was alleged about Rob Porter. What was clear then and, frankly to me now is, John Kelly liked Rob Porter. He thought Rob Porter did a very important thing, which is serve as a gatekeeper to Donald Trump, which is what John Kelly wanted to do when he came into the office.

Limit the amount of information. John Kelly -- Rob Porter played a role John Kelly needed and therefore John Kelly was willing to defend him despite -- to Juana's point would have to be concerns based on what you know. Either he's the least curious person on earth about this or he willfully didn't care to pay attention to it.

KEILAR: It's -- right. I mean, that's the point. It's --

CILLIZZA: I mean --

KEILAR: It seems so obvious that he would have been fired about this and yet he's sort of pushing it off on the personnel office.

SUMMERS: Absolutely. I think that's the really stunning point here is that this is something that came to him. We found out that -- the people in the White House, including Kelly, knew about this. And I think Chris is absolutely right. They made a value judgment.


SUMMERS: Decided not to look into this because Porter was valuable, because he was someone that Kelly personally liked and saw professional value, and they decided that these allegations without the picture -- sure, he didn't have the pictures but the allegations on their face should be enough.

KEILAR: Or they thought maybe it wouldn't come out. OK, so there's another story percolating that is fascinating by Maggie Haberman, who obviously has a number of very good scoops coming out of "The New York Times." And this is Maggie talking about her reporting about the president trying to get John Kelly to actually push his daughter out of the administration.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is really less about Ivanka Trump. It is primarily about Jared. But he has said repeatedly to aides, you know, Ivanka Trump gets terrible press because of me. You know, this is all people taking attacks at me onto my daughter, this is terrible. However, Jared Kushner is someone with whom he is now frustrated. He goes back and forth between being, you know, feeling bad about what has happened and then being irritated by the fact that Jared Kushner has become a liability of sorts in his own right. He is getting a ton of negative headlines on his own.

It's all about the meetings he is taking. There is a lot of focus on investigations. He will talk about how, you know, Jared's getting killed, Jared's getting killed. And he is not always saying it with any sense of sort of self-reflection or this is an extension of how they're looking at me. Trump does not like when people attract negative headlines that could be a problem for him. And now he has a member of his extended family getting that in droves.


KEILAR: That's very Machiavellian.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, I can't wait to see what's next on this episode of, like, Trump the White House, you know what I mean? It is very reality TV showy. It's like, well, sure, she's my daughter and he's my son-in-law but I'd appreciate you pushing them under the bus. You know, I mean, I do think Maggie's last point is the most important one because this is what we know. Donald Trump hates negative press. He's OK with negative press. He thrives --

KEILAR: About him.

CILLIZZA: But he doesn't like it when other people create it. Right? Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean -- I mean, there's a long list of people.

KEILAR: And he does --

CILLIZZA: If they're in that list.


CILLIZZA: Even if they're family. Now they have a higher bar.

KEILAR: But he has a limit. That's what's clear.


SUMMERS: He does and he's a person who doesn't want to be upstaged fundamentally. And to be clear, there have been questions about Ivanka Trump's role as a senior adviser since she joined the administration. She tends to walk this line between at moments wanting to be the first daughter, not be asked serious questions about allegations against her father. Wanting to be seen as a senior adviser who wields influence on her father as an administrator. But here she is upstaging the narrative that her father wants to have as president of the United States.

And that's why rule 101 of the Trump White House, he is the star of his show. Don't do anything to get in his way.

CILLIZZA: And just one other quick thing is like just from a logistics point of view, neither of them have permanent security clearance.

KEILAR: That's right.

CILLIZZA: And yet there -- if you made a list of the five most central advisers to Donald Trump, they're on everybody's list.


CILLIZZA: So how do they go about doing their jobs, particularly Jared, given his portfolio? How do they go about doing their jobs just day-to-day. Forget the broader -- you know, the rise and fall of their relationship with Donald Trump.

KEILAR: Chris Cillizza, Juana Summers, thank you so much to both of you.

Now we have some more breaking news this hour. Wall Street is fluctuating wildly as President Trump doubled down on his threat saying trade wars are good. His sudden decision to slap punishing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports reverberating around the world.

I want to talk this over with CNN Money editor-at-large, Richard Quest. He is also the host of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS."

Richard, first the stock market. Your take on what we're seeing today.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN MONEY EDITOR-AT-LARGE: You're seeing a knee-jerk reaction following on from yesterday just continues. It was down more than 370 points at its worst. And we can -- I mean, we can -- look, the market, Brianna, was already fragile.

[14:10:05] What this talk of tariffs did was tip it over the edge. Now why is it coming back? Why are we starting to move back? Because there is a feeling in the market that it's a wait and see. He's made the threat. Will the president carry it out?

You have to put this into context, though. There is just unanimity on the other side of criticism from the IMF, to the WTO, to the European Union to the Chinese. Just about every international organization, including many Republicans, including the speaker of the House have all said that this is a very bad idea, to impose these tariffs.

KEILAR: So the big fear, Richard, is that other nations are going to respond in kind and raise prices and that American consumers are going to pay?

QUEST: I'll go further than that. This is not a fear. This is a racing certainty. Make no bones about this. If the U.S. does broad- based tariffs on steel and aluminum, the European Union has already said it is looking at tariffs on Harley Davidson, bourbon and Levi's. Now they are obviously symbolic in terms of we're going to get your attention. But what happens when China does soy beans? What happens when Brazil or Europe does some other parts, some crucial parts of U.S. agriculture?

And you can take this to the bank. If the U.S. does full-scale tariffs on steel, there will be full-scale retaliation in return.

KEILAR: Richard Quest, thank you so much.

Next, a chaotic week in the West Wing might be an understatement. What we're now learning about the future of National Security adviser H.R. McMaster? One of his possible replacements is someone who is calling for a preemptive strike against North Korea.

And retiring Senator Orrin Hatch apparently not a fan of anyone who supports Obamacare calling them, quote, "the stupidest, dumbass people" he's ever seen.

My next guest is a key architect on the Affordable Care Act. He's here to respond.


[14:16:39] KEILAR: The president's announcement on tariffs isn't the only thing causing chaos at the White House. The West Wing full of friction this week with multiple resignations and major developments in the Russia investigation. And now "The New York Times" is reporting that the president has asked Chief of Staff John Kelly to push Kushner and Ivanka Trump out of the White House and back to New York.

Again here's CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman who broke the story.


HABERMAN: This is really less about Ivanka Trump. It is primarily about Jared. But he has said repeatedly to aides, you know, Ivanka Trump gets terrible press because of me. You know, this is all people taking attacks at me onto my daughter, this is terrible.

However, Jared Kushner is someone with whom he is now frustrated. He goes back and forth between being, you know, feeling bad about what has happened and then being irritated by the fact that Jared Kushner has become a liability of sorts in his own right. He is getting a ton of negative headlines on his own.

It's all about the meetings he is taking. There is a lot of focus on investigations. He will talk about how, you know, Jared's getting killed, Jared's getting killed. And he is not always saying it with any sense of sort of self-reflection or this is an extension of how they're looking at me.

Trump does not like when people attract negative headlines that could be a problem for him. And now he has a member of his extended family getting that in droves.


KEILAR: Joining me now to talk about this more, we have CNN political commentator Paris Dennard and Bill Press, who is host of "The Bill Press Show."

Paris, would the president really push out his own daughter?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think the president would utilize his chief of staff to push out his daughter. But I do think if that conversation was going to be had, that he would have it directly with Ivanka.

You have to remember she's in a unique position being his daughter and being a trusted adviser throughout the campaign and now in the West Wing. And so what we have to remember is simply this, the president does not want his daughter, someone who he loves, to have these negative headlines and be attacked personally like she is. And so he has to figure out, is it best for my daughter's counsel to be inside the White House or outside the White House?

KEILAR: So what do you make of Maggie's reporting then that runs counter to what you would certainly expect from the president relating to Ivanka Trump?

DENNARD: Yes, I don't know if I believe Maggie's reporting, to be quite honest with you, but what I --


DENNARD: Because I don't think that's how the president would operate. And I do know that what can be done is that the president -- he seems to have put something out in orbit or people will be allowed to say sort of things that aren't actually as it seems. And so that may be the narrative that they're putting out there but that may not be the actual truth of how this is going on.

KEILAR: What do you think, Bill?

BILL PRESS, HOST, "THE BILL PRESS SHOW": I have no problem believing that Donald Trump would ask John Kelly to throw Ivanka, his own daughter, under the bus. But I think the important thing is that he would just do it. I mean, he cares about himself, he doesn't care about anybody else.

But I think the problem here is, look, they look like a nice couple. I don't know them. They're family. But they cause nothing but trouble for Donald Trump since they've been in the White House. It is double trouble. So Jared has all these problems with these foreign banks. He can't even get a security clearance.

DENNARD: That's just not true.

PRESS: Stories --

KEILAR: No, he -- well, he can't get a security clearance.

DENNARD: He has -- no.


DENNARD: He a security clearance. Let's be accurate.

PRESS: No --

DENNARD: He has a security clearance. It is not at the highest level.

PRESS: OK. OK. He can't get a top --

KEILAR: (INAUDIBLE) was revoked.

PRESS: He cannot get a top security clearance and yet he's supposed to be in charge of the Middle East and prison reform and Mexico and all of that. And then Ivanka --

DENNARD: Why do you need a top secret clearance for prison reform?


[14:20:09] PRESS: If I may, if I may, then Ivanka is out there, still hocking her products. She's getting bad publicity. They -- I just think the president would be better off -- he would be better off if they just went back to New York.

KEILAR: Paris, the president came out, tipped his hand about his plan for tariffs on aluminum and steel, and it seems to go against what so many people close to him were saying he should be doing. They're not happy with it. They're upset with it. What do you think about him disregarding all of that advice?

DENNARD: At the end of the day, he's the president of the United States and the president makes the decision. He gets the advice and counsel from those around him. But ultimately on matters of domestic policy, international policy, foreign affairs, he makes the final decision. The people voted for him for his decision-making ability and for what he wants -- how he wants to guide this nation. And so he makes the best decision based upon what he believes is best for the American people and American interests and businesses.

PRESS: But I think this speaks to a problem, Brianna, which is nobody knew what the hell he was going to say before this meeting. John Kelly wasn't even in the White House at the time. They did not know. He said, maybe I'm going to do it, maybe I'm not going to do it. Nobody in Congress knew. The people in that room didn't even know. So the decision-making process -- David Gregory just made this point -- has really broken down. We don't know where he is on guns. He has this big meeting. He's not really said I'm going to do this. I'm going to take on the NRA but then he doesn't. Now he walks into these tariffs. I mean, the whole place is out of control.

KEILAR: And then he targets Alec Baldwin with a tweet. He says, "Alec Baldwin, whose dying mediocre career was saved by his terrible impersonation of me on 'SNL' now says playing me was agony. Alec, it was agony for those who were forced to watch. Bring back Darrell Hammond, funnier and a far greater talent."

That original tweet, we should mention, was sent at 4:00 a.m. and there are people, as our Gloria Borger is reporting, close to him, Paris, who want him to succeed as you do --

DENNARD: As well I should.

KEILAR: They are worried that he is unraveling when they see things like this.

DENNARD: I think -- well, today is Friday, correct?


DENNARD: Tomorrow is Saturday. "Saturday Night Live" comes on tomorrow night. He's going to reprise the role. He's doing to do it again. The president is known to get up very early. He operates on very little sleep.

KEILAR: This is early even for him, right?


DENNARD: I mean, he had a very early day today. He was just at Billy Graham's funeral, which is a wonderful service. And he's been leading this country in the morning for Bill Graham very well with dignity and with honor. And so I don't think this is anything more than what President Trump normally does. He tweets about -- and quite frankly, Darrell Hammond is a lot better and is a lot funnier. And that's the truth.

PRESS: You know, you have to admire somebody like Paris, who will go to any length to defend anything that Donald Trump does.

DENNARD: I like my president.

PRESS: Let me say this. I'm -- he's my president, too, OK? I want to believe that when Vladimir Putin says we've got missiles now that can get around any U.S. defense system, I want to believe when the National Security adviser, McMaster, looks like he may resign, Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser, may resign. Rex Tillerson may be out. He's attacking Jeff Sessions. Now his daughter and the son-in-law are may be on the way out.

I want to believe the president of the United States has more important things to worry about even at 4:00 a.m. than Alex, as he calls him, Baldwin. I mean --

KEILAR: So he did --

PRESS: Get serious.

KEILAR: Then he retweeted with Alex spelled correctly. But Paris, final word. Maybe final word?

DENNARD: The president can multitask and do many things at once. But the average life of any White House employee which I were, I have served 18 months. This administration, it might be a little bit shorter because of all the (INAUDIBLE) pressure that's happening. So these departures that are speculative, Rex Tillerson went on the record with "60 Minutes" and said he's not going anywhere and he is 100 percent behind this president and this administration.

PRESS: You can't believe anything --

DENNARD: So if anybody who wants to be --

PRESS: Any of them --

DENNARD: So now you're going to just -- so now we have anybody serving in government because --


PRESS: Back to Alex Baldwin. The problem is the president is this --

DENNARD: So you want to focus on Alec Baldwin? All the other things --

KEILAR: If fairness, I asked about Alec Baldwin.

PRESS: And she asked the question --

DENNARD: And he went back to Alec Baldwin.

PRESS: She asked the question -- I did because I want to make the point. The problem with the president is he's more interested in cable TV or "SNL" than in running the United States of America.

DENNARD: No. He's interested in tariffs and trade and national --


PRESS: He's a tabloid president. And let's face it, TV is over, Mr. President. Run the country.

DENNARD: He is running the country.

KEILAR: Bill Press, Paris Dennard, thank you so much to both of you.

And just ahead, outgoing Republican Senator Orrin Hatch ripping into both Obamacare and its supporters, calling them the, quote, "stupidest, dumbass people."

[14:25:01] The architect of Obamacare joining me live, next.


KEILAR: A Republican senator with some harsh language attacking the intelligence of Obamacare supporters. Here is retiring Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, speaking before a conservative think tank.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: We also finally did away with the individual mandate tax that was established under that wonderful bill called Obamacare. Now if you didn't catch on, I was being very sarcastic. That was the stupidest dumbass bill that I've ever seen. Now some of you may have loved it. If you do, you are one of the stupidest, dumbass people I've ever met. This is one of the most regressive taxes --