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President Trump Won't Approve Release of Democratic Memo; Trump Administration Speechwriter David Sorensen Resigns After Being Accused of Domestic Abuse; Pres. Trump Defends Porter, Doesn't Mention Women; Source: Kelly Made Clear He Would Resign if Pres. Trump Wanted Him To; Third-Ranking Official at Justice Department Resigning. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 9, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:48] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the second hour of "360" in a big, mostly bad definitely, consequential news day for the White House.

On the table tonight, we've seen the Republican memo alleging abuses in the Russia investigation, but the President tonight decided we will not see the Democratic rebuttal, at least right now.

Also, tonight what has all the appearances of White House cover-up, spousal abuse allegations against a top staffer, allegations some had known about for months. And Vice-President Pence's strange Olympic moments, just steps away from Kim Jong-un's sister.

We begin with the memo story, the President's decision, CNN Jim Acosta tonight for us at the White House.

What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you're not going to see this memo. That's the latest. The White House has decided, the President has decided he is not going to declassify the Adam Schiff memo, the memo that was going to come from the minority of the House Intelligence Committee that is going to rebut. The Devin Nunes memo last week that was essentially released and declassified by the White House with very little redactions or accommodations made to the Intelligence Community despite the objections coming from the FBI.

A very different process appears to have unfolded this week despite of what we heard from the White House that the process would be exactly the same as what we heard last week.

But to get to the nitty-gritty, Anderson, let's show you on screen what is said in a letter from Don McGahn to the House Intelligence Committee Democrats. It essentially says, sorry, but you're not getting the memo. And not so many words, it says, "Although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5th memorandum," that's the Schiff memo, "because the memorandum contains numerous or excuse me -- yes, numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time."

And, Anderson, there's another letter attached to that letter to the Justice Department instructing the Justice Department to work with House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee to try to arrive at a memo that all sides can agree upon. And apparently along with that, we did not see this, but along with that in terms of what was sent up to Capitol Hill, the memo included some redactions and revisions, some suggested redactions and revisions that they want the Democrats to take into consideration and work with the Justice Department on.

And of course, we would be remiss, Anderson, if we did not talk about all the political considerations that went into this. Of course, what happened over the last couple of weeks, I think we have one other thing to show our viewers and that is how the FBI objected to the to the release of the Nunes memo. This was a week ago. We could put this up on screen if we have it. This was January 31st, Anderson.

"As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." That was about the Nunes memo. It was still released anyway, Anderson, by all appearances.

I think any objective observer would look at what has happened tonight and see two very different scenarios, two very different processes despite whatever the White House is saying, a different standard appears have been applied here to the Schiff memo in terms of what is going to released.

And I think political considerations went into effect here. The President did not want to see a 10-page Democratic memo rebutting everything that was in the Nunes memo that he was holding up as vindication for all of his comments about the Russia investigation.

COOPER: What's behind the timing of all this? And is there any indication about how long it might take to work with the FBI and the Justice Department to review the memo that as it exists now and maybe make changes?

ACOSTA: Well, it seems to indicate in all of this that they would like to get this done sooner rather than later. Of course, if you're a House Democrat on that Intelligence Committee, my guess is that they're going to be looking at this with great suspicion and worry, I would imagine, that this is going to take a good period of time.

The House Minority or excuse me -- the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already put out a statement tonight saying, what are you hiding, Mr. President? And so that appears to be the tone of this debate that's going to be moving forward over the next several days. They're just not going to be happy, and they're going to charge.

And I think with some basis that a different standard was applied here as we were saying in the last hour. The President said at the State of the Union speech 100 percent we're going to release that Nunes memo. I don't think it was ever 100 percent this week, Anderson, when it came to the Schiff memo, far from it.

[21:05:02] COOPER: Yes. Jim Acosta, appreciate it.

Here to talk more about the mother of all Friday night news, Jeffrey Toobin, Van Jones, Scott Jennings, Maria Cardona, Paris Dennard, and Anne Milgram.

I don't know how we found so many people on a Friday night.



JEFF TOBBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It helps that we have no light.

COOPER: Well, that's true. So, yes. So, Jeff, you read this letter, what do you make of what's going to happen?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, the unfairness is so obvious and so egregious. I mean if you are going to trust the FBI, you have to trust the FBI with regard to the Democratic memo as well as the Republican memo. The Nunes memo came up last week, and the FBI objected, and the White House said, we don't care, we're going to release it. Today, the Democratic memo comes up, and the FBI objects, and they say, oh, we have to respect the opinion of the FBI.

I don't personally care whether either memo comes out, but there should be the same standard applied to both.

COOPER: Scott?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I will frame this a different way. This memo comes over to the White House. It's 10 pages. We don't know what's in it. Clearly there's sensitive information in it. And they say, we're not going to release it tonight. We are inclined to do so. The President orders his own administration to work with the Democrats to arrive at a solution and, tonight, Congressman Schiff of the Committee has said, I will gladly work with the administration to come to a memo that can be released.

Now, I've said from the beginning, I thought if one comes out, both should come out, and I think it strengthens the White House's argument about the Nunes memo if they show the confidence to let the Democratic memo come out. And if they don't ultimately release this memo, I'll come on here and raise holy heck about it.

But I think it is prudent to measure twice and cut once on sensitive information. And if the memo comes out and they arrived at a solution that everybody is happy with, we'll all be better for having the caution here.

JONES: So, why didn't they have that caution on the Republican side?


JENNINGS: Because it was a short memo and there wasn't anything in there to redact. TOOBIN: Classified information isn't about how many pages it is. It's about the content. And obviously the FBI had a problem with the short memo, why is that not a legitimate issue?

JENNINGS: They have a problem with any memo. We're already over that rubicon. They're coming out.

JONES: I don't think anybody looking at this can feel great tonight. It looks terrible. And at this point the problem you have is you rush out a four-page, three-page press release which has no precedent in how our Congress has given oversight to our intelligence community. Zero. It's not how it's done.

Now, you say when our guys do it, we're Republicans, when our guys do it, it's good. We're going to push it out there. When your team does it, now suddenly we have standards. We have criteria. We have concern. We've got a whole building full of people who the FBI said shouldn't be able to walk in the front door, but we've got standards for you.

And once you're in that world, your confidence in the idea that we aren't just living under some kind of one-party rule starts to go to the toilet.

CARDONA: You know what, this is censorship pure and simple. And what is so ironic of what you were saying, Scott, is that the President was so hell bent on releasing the first memo without even seeing it. He hadn't even seen it and he was already saying, yes, we're going to release it immediately. And what was the reasoning for them to release it immediately? Because it was so important for the American people to see transparency. I'm sorry but that goes out the window. It's so hypocritical. And I don't think Adam Schiff was so happy to see this happen if you look at his tweet tonight.

JENNINGS: He says he's going to work with them.

CARDONA: He's not so happy.

JENNINGS: He's going to work with them.

CARDONA: What choice does he have?


CARDONA: What choice does he have?


JONES: He has no choice.

COOPER: Paris, the FBI said about the Nunes memo that they had grave concerns about it being release. I don't see them saying they have grave concerns about this memo, there's just been directed by the President to work with the Democrats.

PARIS DENNARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF BLACK OUTREACH FOR PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, look, someone -- these memos are political in nature when you look at what is going on inside of the memos. And you can ask yourself, well, did the FBI think that this memo had something to do with vindicating the Trump administration as to why that they felt grave concerns because it wasn't redacted to the level that many people thought it was going to be.

It was politically damning for the Democrats. It was actually something that was beneficial to the Trump narrative about what transpired. But I think we are in a rush to judgment here when you look at what happened tonight. The President did not say, this memo is not going to come out. He said at this time. And then as Scott pointed out, he asked his own government to work to get a solution so that this memo can come out in a way that the FBI is okay with it and it appeases both sides.

JONES: So, why does the FBI matter now, Paris?

DENNARD: Say what?

JONES: Why does the FBI concerns matter now if they didn't matter last week?

DENNARD: It's not a function of what mattered then and what matters now. What matters is the memo, according to what the President said, is going to come out but not right now.

[21:10:02] CARDONA: But why not right now?

DENNARD: We don't know. We haven't seen it.


COOPER: With all due respect, he also said he would release his tax returns but just not right now.

CARDONA: We're still waiting for those. They're being redacted.

DENNARD: Well, we can talk about tax returns, or we can talk about the memo. And if --

COOPER: It's more about the President's word. You're putting great faith in what the President's word that you believe he really wants this memo to come out.

DENNARD: If the president did not want this memo to come out, tonight the memo -- the letter would have said from the White House counsel, the letter will not be -- the memo will not be released.

CARDONA: And that could come out tomorrow.

DENNARD: But it didn't, so stop rushing to judgment.

CARDONA: We don't know that will or not.

(CROSSTALK) JONES: Paris I'll tell you what concern is, you could put out a memo that he likes, but it could be so redacted and retracted with so many scissor cuts and black marks on it, well, but I put it out. In other words, once we are over this barrier that we've never been over before, where we're just going to litigate what our Intelligence Community does by press release, by partisan memo, and in public, it seems to be totally unfair to handcuff one side to these standards and not the other. That's the problem.

COOPER: And the White House kept saying that they were going to subject the Democrats' memo to the same rigor, quote/unquote, that they subjected the Republican one, which clearly the President wanted that released from the get-go.

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That's very true. And if you look at the first memo, one of the deep concerns that I have is it was completely conclusory and they really were no facts. And even the impression it was giving about FISA, I think, you know, on its -- it was calling the Carter Page information essential. You know, there's no way that that FISA would have been approved based, in my opinion, just on that Carter Page information. So I think it was misleading in that way.

It also made it seem as though there was no information give to the judge about the nature of Christopher Steele, when very clearly said that he was working for someone, so the judge would have known bias. So to me, just the underlying memo, the first memo itself was misleading and should not have gone out in the way it did. And so to not release -- I don't think the first one should have gone out. I mean I feel very strongly that this is a terrible way to run the American government and think about national security. But once it's gone out, it's hard for me to see what standard would have been applied here other than if there was a specific source or method. And in that case, I do think there's a difference story.

COOPER: We're going to continue the conversation after a break. We also get reaction from a Democratic member, the House Intelligence Committee. And later, despite knowing the allegations against White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter for months, top officials kept him on board, promoted him even. The President even praising Porter today now that he's gone.


[21:15:36] COOPER: The breaking news tonight. The President will not release the Democratic rebuttal for the Republican memo that alleges FBI abuses of its surveillance authority.

Joining us now by phone, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut.

Congressman Himes, I spoke to you earlier this week. You told me you were worried about redactions from the memo, but you didn't say you were worried about it being blocked completely. Are you surprised they took this action? REP. JIM HIMES, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No, I'm really not. I quite frankly would have been surprised if the White House had let our memo go out at all. You know, I've never seen anything about Donald Trump that suggests -- particularly after he mischaracterized the memo as -- his claim that this was all a hoax, I'm not one bit surprised. And it was --

COOPER: I think we're --

HIMES: -- the White House, the Justice Department and the FBI were very clear that it would be, in their words, extremely reckless to release it. I guess they had some concerns that the Democratic memo -- the President decided that he would be extremely reckless with the memo that has falsely made his case, but it's not going to be reckless or whatever with the memo with them. There has have been this memo which are furnished.

COOPER: The letter from the White House said they're blocking the memo at this time, not forever. Do you think the White House will eventually release it?

HIMES: Well, they left that door -- and so of course we will pursue that. Again, when you -- after FISA application, which is what happened here, declassifying other -- you know, it's hardly the big step. The big step is declassification in the first place. So we -- but we are going to pursue this.

Look, this is very obviously a strategy to time in that we move on to other things -- you know, nobody will remember what the underlying Nunes memo said to begin with. And so we're going to find an effective way to prevent the final line in the story showing very explicitly that the allegations against the FBI and the DOJ were simply manufactured. We're not going to learn that until we're several news cycles down the road at best.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of how long it might take to work with the FBI and the Department of Justice to their satisfaction?

HIMES: Well, no sense whatsoever. Again, remember that the Department of Justice and the FBI -- again, their words, said it would be extremely reckless to release the Republican, the Nunes memo, and the White House said, we don't care. We're doing it anywhere -- anyway. Now, we're in a --

COOPER: Yes, I'm sorry. We are obviously having cell phone difficulties with Congressman Himes. Congressman, appreciate --


COOPER: Yes, I'm sorry. We'll just end it there. Congressman Himes, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel.

JONES: Look, I think that if this memo ever comes out, the people who would get it back will be able to use it as an advertisement for a black magic marker. That's what's going to happen.

COOPER: Do you think it's going to be --


JONES: It's so heavily redacted. They could say, well, we'd say we release it, we'd say we work with you and release it. But the reality is Donald Trump has no interest in anybody going back and punching holes in this ridiculous story.

COOPER: Right. I mean, he has said this is a bombshell.


COOPER: -- his vindication.

JONES: Yes. He's already staked his presidency on these three or four pages, saying this vindicates me. This proves that the FBI is out to get me. Now, is he going to then sign off on a counter- document that points out that almost everything in the original thing is hokey and baloney and nonsense?

He's not going to do that. He's not going to be psychologically prevented from joining that. So what you're going to have is a bunch of back and forth and nonsense and it's going to fade in public eye. And when it comes out, whatever he lets out is going to be inadequate to the task.

COOPER: But essentially would -- that the FBI would be culpable in that. I mean, if that's the case, because the FBI said, look, the Nunes memo, we have grave concerns because of material --

JONES: The FBI does not want to continue this precedent of now we're going to litigate all their oversight and press releases them part of the memos over and over again. So they would be willing, I think, to take a hit now and not continue at this -- strength.

JENNINGS: You just raised the correct point. This is not Donald Trump sitting at the resolute desk in the Oval Office with a pen editing the memo himself. He has turned this task to the FBI, the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice will sit down with the Democrats on this committee and work it out. So this is not a Trump-edited document.

[21:20:02] This will be law enforcement looking at this and coming to a solution, which is a key difference. And look, I want to agree with you on an issue. If they send out a document, you know, things redacted and there's only a couple of words left, that would be a mistake because I think it strengthens their argument to let all the information fly and let the people decide. It shows confidence in what you're doing. So I agree with you on that. But the task of editing goes to the law enforcement, not people in the Oval.

CARDONA: We don't know that. We don't know who's doing it.

TOOBIN: You either trust the law enforcement or you don't. And the fact that you release the Nunes memo over the objection of law enforcement really, I think, damages your argument when you say, I'm not going to release the Democratic memo based on the objection of law enforcement.

I mean, all I think that -- you know, we're saying here is there should be one standard for Democrats and for Republicans. Is that so crazy? Is that wrong?

DENNARD: No, it's not crazy nor it is wrong. But I think we're missing the bigger point. The bigger point is the FBI, for whatever reason, has become very political. And if you go back --

TOOBIN: Says who?

JONES: But why do you say that?

DENNARD: If you go back to the narrative that the President's been putting out, if you look back at things that Eric Holder has did or did not do, Loretta Lynch and the conversation that she -- that happened on the plane or at the tarmac, I'm sorry, but the law enforcement, the Department of Justice, FBI, the politicization of these two entities has gotten us to this point now.

And this is the point that the President has been making. So when you look at the Nunes memo that came out, it reinforces the point that the President has been saying in the whole campaign is, you can't fully trust that they are going to be the FBI or the Department of Justice, do right by the American people because there are some things in there. You may call them hokey, but there's things in there that look suspicious. There things in there that are political.

COOPER: Which means everybody you can't trust are the people who actually, the President says everybody you can't trust are the people investigating the President. He has no problem in trusting police officers on the street or any police department in the country when it comes to -- you know, he has no problem trusting people who have been accused of abuse, but the FBI, who happens to be investigating him, that's the one. Is that just a coincidence?

DENNARD: And I think also, is it a coincidence that that same FBI is not having the same standard as it relates to President Trump or the Trump campaign as it would to Hillary Clinton or the Clinton campaign?

CARDONA: What do you mean by that?

DENNARD: Well, what I mean by that is the President has said, if you -- for instance, if the Russia investigation is one that the American people care about because they believe in Russian meddling that happen in this election, then, they would go with such vigor, and you would be just as vigorous in your call for the FBI, the Department of Justice, and everyone, the news media, to go after every single thing that might be seen as an impropriety of the Clinton campaign, be it uranium, be it Russia.

CARDONA: That was already looked at, Paris, and it was completely debunked as a conspiracy theory. So let's not go back there. You've become -- You and Trump become the entities that are politicizing in a much -- in a much more pernicious matter in any administration have.

COOPER: -- the FBI is politicize?

JONES: I just see it differently, Paris. I mean honestly, and I've been hearing this more and more, this kind of almost discrediting of the FBI. The FBI is political. It's corrupt at the top, et cetera, et cetera.

And then when I try to figure out where is the evidence of that, it's because you feel the FBI wasn't tough enough on Hillary Clinton. That's basically what it comes down to.

And yet the FBI destroyed Hillary Clinton's campaign by coming out, you know, twice with these things. So I think on our side of it, the FBI, first of all, it's strange for me as a liberal Democrat to be sitting here trying to defend the FBI because no, you know, civil rights leaders and other people have had a very tough time with the FBI. But even we haven't made the case that the FBI is a corrupt partisan organization in the hands of the Democrats trying to destroy Republicans. You've got to go way beyond, like, normal life to think that that's true.

DENNARD: Sure, but the point that you just made about how you feel or some feel that the FBI sank Hillary Clinton's campaign proves the point that I'm talking about, which is there are -- not the whole FBI or not the whole Department of Justice, but there are people, and some of them are at the senior levels who have made decisions or judgment calls that have been political in nature.

COOPER: Right. But they're the same people that you're accusing of being biased for Donald Trump are the same people the Democrats are saying destroyed Hillary Clinton's campaign.

DENNARD: And it reinforces my point that the FBI, DOJ, and all these others happen to become very, very political.

COOPER: But if they're political, then they're incredibly confused because you both seem to be arguing that they destroyed or have bias for the other person.

DENNARD: They shouldn't be political at all, and that's why it's important to have the same vigor on the left as they have on the right.


MILGRAM: I think that this is a deeply unfair conversation for law enforcement and for the FBI for a number of reasons. First of all, it's not the same as the United States Department of Justice where the President picks the attorney general for a term and serves at the President's pleasure essentially. The FBI has a statutory term of 10 years. Obama extended it for two extra years for Mueller and there's a reason, because the FBI is supposed to be incredibly independent.

[21:25:04] I've worked with the FBI throughout my entire career. They are appointed by whoever is the FBI director at the time. So most of the men and women who are in the FBI now, they're career folks. They've been there 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. They were appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents. I do not know the political party of any police officer, any FBI agent with whom I have ever worked.

The most political thing that I've ever seen happen in the FBI was the firing of Jim Comey. The first time I ever was concerned about the independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was when President Trump fired Comey.

DENNARD: Have you read his tweets?

MILGRAM: This is about institutions, right? Donald Trump one day will not be president. Robert Mueller will one day not be doing an investigation. This is about the American public and the ability of law enforcement to be -- to basically do their job.

COOPER: Right. We got to take a quick break.

There's word tonight of yet another White House departure over spousal abuse allegations. Also given how much was known for so many months about the spousal abuse allegations against Rob Porter, does -- well, that's how the White House handled it amount to a cover-up. We'll talk about that, next.


COOPER: More breaking news in this growing landfill of news dumping from the White House which just happens to be on a Friday night.

Late tonight, we learned of another staffer leaving after spousal abuse allegation, David Sorensen, is a member of the White House speech writing team. He denies the allegations. That's on top of Rob Porter's departure. And the President's portrayal of that is simply lost of the White House and to rob Porter.

He called attention to Porter's claims of innocence and spoke about the man's talent but said nothing about his accusers or even the issue of domestic abuse in general.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say obviously a 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'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.


COOPER: And we should note that like David Sorensen, Rob Porter denies the claims against him as well.

Back with the panel. Joining as well is MJ Lee and Tara Setmayer.

[21:30:00] MJ, what's the story? I mean, this wasn't as if the President was suddenly caught off guard by a bunch of cameras that happened to wander into the Oval Office. There were -- cameras were actually brought in. The President must have known he was going to talk about this. Was anybody -- do we know did anybody brief him about what he might want to say?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I'll address what Trump said earlier today in just a second. But I just wanted to say having spoken to both Jennie and Colby earlier this week and you obviously got to sit down with one of the ex-wives last night. It was a great interview. Having spoken to them over the -- on the phone the course of the week, it was so striking to me both as a reporter and as a woman hearing them be so reflective and honest about the abuses that they've said they suffered from Rob Porter and sort of reflecting on what they said they didn't know at the time that they were being abused.

It was heartbreaking for me to hear Colbie Holderness talking about the fact that he -- that she was repeatedly being choked but didn't realize that her life was in danger. That he would throw her onto the bed and lean his body into her and hurt her, but didn't realize that her life was in danger. That he punched her face, leaving a black eye. The photos we have all seen by now. And even then she didn't realize that her life was in danger. And it was only when she met with a trained therapist for the first time that she was told that her life was actually in danger. That was heartbreaking.

And the thing that kind of haunts me in thinking about what President Trump said earlier today is that for the Colbies of the world, of 15 years ago, because she's now able to know, she gets her life was very much in danger. For the Colbies of the world who are listening to the President say those words, I think what stays with them is the fact that President Trump said the person being accused, Rob Porter, said that he is innocent. What will stay with the Colbies of the world is also the fact that he didn't say anything about how domestic abuse is a problem.

COOPER: Right.

LEE: And that violence is not OK.

COOPER: One of the things that Jennie Willoughby said to me last night was that when she was considering taking out this temporary protective order, which a police officer recommended she get after he returned to her residence and punched his hand through the window, that she went to a bishop in her church to talk about this, and the bishop actually counseled her. He raised the concern that the bishop had that if she got a temporary protective order, one day it might become public and it might hurt Rob Porter's career.

I was thinking about that when the President was talking about Rob Porter's career today as opposed to talking about anything related to any women.

LEE: That's right. And this bishop that actually Jennie says worked at the same workplace as Rob Porter. So the person that she was supposed to be getting counseling and help from was looking out for his career and didn't want her to do something that could go in the public records and potentially damage his future.

And I think this sort of brings us to an important point, you know, we've been talking a lot about John Kelly, the Chief of Staff and his handling of all of this. And there's a lot of interest in sort of the palace intrigue right now of, you know, is President Trump angry at John Kelly? He certainly appears to be, at the handling of all of this, this week. And obviously, the who knew, what, when, all of this is very important.

But I don't think we should lose sight of the sort of bigger mistake that John Kelly made other than angering Trump is that he knew for months --

COOPER: Right.

LEE: -- for a very long time, that there were issues in Rob Porter's background, but yet he still continued to elevate this man.

COOPER: Van, I mean can John Kelly stay on the job?

JONES: You know, I don't see how he could do worse than he's doing. I mean think about everybody. I mean Republicans, Democrats. Oh, my god, John Kelly's coming. Maybe I can sleep more than two hours at night. You know, maybe there's some sandy will return, maybe there will some order. If anybody could do it, it will be him.

And he gets in there, and in some ways he's worse than Trump. I mean don't forget, I mean he is aggressively covering up for this guy. He apparently, if you believe our reporting, and I do, is then coming -- he's trying to engage in a cover-up of his own mistakes, trying to tell other staffers, listen, say I did a good job. Say I was -- and the staffers are leaking, saying, why is John Kelly asking me to lie about him covering up for an accused wife beater? This is not a reality television show. This is the White House under John Kelly. What would he have to do to get fired at this point? I don't know.

COOPER: Scott, can he stay in?

JENNINGS: It strikes me that there are clearly people who have it out for John Kelly right now. Some inside and some outside the White House. And I read today that John Kelly had told the President if you want me to resign, I will. That's different than tendering your resignation. I've also heard that Kevin McCarthy, the congressman from California, member of leadership, could be the leading choice among some people to replace him.

What I don't understand about the strategy this week is when all this became known, they chose to die on a hill that had already been abandoned. [21:35:04] Rob Porter was either fired or resigned. We don't know the timeline exactly because they never issued a timeline, which was a mistake. Then they went and tried to die on a hill that they had already abandoned. I don't understand it. And then the President came out today it would have bee better --

COOPER: When you say die on a hill they already been like continue to --

JENNINGS: The Porter Hill. Porter Hill has been abandoned. He was gone.

COOPER: Right.

JENNINGS: And they should have said that what he did was terrible. It's clear to me too, he was clearly -- he knew this was coming. He tried to pressure one of the women into --

COOPER: Jennie Willoughby, he tried to --

JENNINGS: There are reports coming out of the White House, people I talked to, that he was misleading people in the White House about what had happened. We don't know what he told the FBI. This was not someone worth defending before or after the information became public, and all of it hurt the President and the presidency today.

COOPER: So why --

JENNINGS: And that is a terrible thing.

COOPER: Why does the President of the United States defend him today?

JENNINGS: I don't know. I don't know. But for his presidency and for the way women and really all Americans are going to view the way he looks into these things, I worry that no one is saying, Mr. President, the long-term view of how you're going to be perceived on handling this cultural movement at this time of your presidency is being damaged.

COOPER: Tara, I mean, there's now a second White House staffer, David Sorensen resigning tonight amid domestic abuse allegations that he denies. Is that a sign that the White House might be kind of looking to establish backgrounds more seriously?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that it's just means that the wool is being pulled back now because they have no choice because he -- now, everything is under more scrutiny. And he should have resigned if there's some pretty serious allegations there as well. And, you know, we can't -- I guess they've learned from the disaster how they handled Rob Porter with this situation with the second one.

But I have a theory about why Donald Trump would not come out today and show empathy for the women, because, a, he's a narcissist, so he can't show empathy. B, because if he were to acknowledge these women were victims, he would be tacitly acknowledging his own failures as a man with women. He is accused of sexually harassing and potentially sexually -- a sexual assault of women. We heard his own voice talk about grabbing women by the genitalia proudly because he can. Donald Trump's own -- his Howard Stern interviews, I mean he's -- there's a litany of examples of how he sexually objectifies women, and he finds some kind of validation in that.

And if he were to actually show empathy for these women and step up to the plate and be the moral leader that the American people deserve in the office of the presidency, then he would have to face his own criticism and failures, and he will not do that. As a result, the office of the presidency suffers.

COOPER: I want to continue -- we're going to continue this conversation. I want to hear from Paris and Maria as well. We're also going to hear what former Vice President Joe Biden had to say about Rob Porter, the allegations, and the President's response.


[21:41:06] COOPER: Before the break, you heard the President speak almost wistfully about his former Staff Secretary Rob Porter while saying nothing about the three women who have accused him of serious assaults and abuse or even about domestic violence in general. He called attentions of Porter's claims of innocence and talked about the man's talents. Today, former Vice President Biden seized on that and had this reaction.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Irrational apparently was, I don't know what apparently was what you see in the press, but he did a good job. He was really good at his job.

I just read before I walked on stage a statement from the President saying he wishes him luck. He has so much talent. That's like saying that ax murder out there, he's a great painter. No. Think -- translate this into every day terms. Is there any other crime -- and it's a crime -- where there would be an explanation that the reason why we shouldn't pay attention to the transgression is because they're good at something?


COOPER: Paris, you know, I mean, there's what the President's capable of in terms of speaking and empathy and stuff, and then there's what people around him would advise him, does it make any sense to you that they would have ushered the press corps into that room, clearly the President knowing this -- he was going to say something that nobody -- I mean, I don't know if somebody had said to him, you know, you might want to mention something about the overall issue of domestic violence even if you don't want to talk about the allegations of these women in particular?

DENNARD: Listen, the communication director was in the room. The Chief of Staff was in the room -- in the Oval Office at the time. I don't know what was said or what was not said. But I know the President sometimes struggles with nuance. And by -- what I mean by that is the President speaks and talks about people in terms of their capability what -- how he knows them. They were a good soldier, good fighter. He worked for me. He was good. And that's what he commented on.

But what he failed to do was talk about the nuanced portion of well, Rob might have been good at his job as staff secretary, he might have been a good, you know, at Harvard or wherever he went to law school. But the personal side of what he did is a problem, and it's sort -- if you look at where the American people are right now, it overshadows his professional resume.

So I think that it's possible for the President to come out and say what he said about Rob Porter but still have sympathy and empathy for the women.

COOPER: Maria?

DENNARD: I think he sometimes -- he misses the mark when it comes to the nuance of what he says.

CARDONA: He has no sympathy. He has no empathy. And he doesn't just struggle with nuance. He struggles with humanity.

DENNARD: Well, I think if you want --

CARDONA: At the end of the day -- yes, it's all fake sympathy.

DENNARD: Why, you don't know --


CARDONA: At the end of day, we have seen this President, and we all know about how, in the administration and the organization, the tone is set at the top. And from what we have seen not just -- and during Donald Trump's presidency but throughout his lifetime, for him, women are expendable. Women are not deserving of dignity. They are not deserving of equality. They're not deserving of humanity. We have seen how he treats women day in and day out.


CARDONA: And Tara went in and talked about all of the instances when he has degraded and objectified women. So when you have that tone at the top, you're going to surround yourself with people -- or the people that are surrounding you are going to take that cue from you, if you are the President of the United States, in the Oval Office, they're going to see something that comes through your desk to say, oh, well this guy beat his wife. Oh, well, you know, if the President of the United States can grab women by the genitalia, then this is not a big deal.

[21:45:11] But I want to talk about how insidious this is in other ways. One of them is, what does this say to our young girls? I'm a mother of a 10-year-old girl who's very curious, and she sees those pictures of that woman with a black eye and she's asking me, mama, what is happening? Why is that woman with a black eye? And so, yes, it's a great opportunity to talk to our little girls about conversations, but we have to talk to them about how this President degrades women and how he is not a role model.

How does this also look on the international stage when we are supposed to be the country that goes out and stands up for the rights of women and girls around the world? And this is what the President of the United States is acting like? And this is what the people that are surrounding him that are supposed to be advising him are acting like?

And at the end of the day, the Me Too Movement here, what does this say from the President on down about the Me Too Movement? It says to them, you are worthless.

SETMAYER: And, you know what, it was a teachable moment that he missed, to your point. And I think this is consistent with a lot of examples from Charlottesville and the way he treated gold star families. And now this. He's missing the greater context of what's happening here because he always operates from self-interest.

The fact that he went on and on about this guy's resume and all of these things without mentioning the women just shows you what's important to Donald Trump. This is only where it's at now. Rob Porter's only out because the picture of that woman's black eye became public.


SETMAYER: If there was no picture, Rob Porter would still be staff secretary in the White House right now because he looked the part, and he made the President look good, and that's all that mattered. And we can't have that kind of moral deficit coming from the people who are supposed to, A, represent -- they work for us, taxpayer money, but, B, from the office of the presidency. And we as a society need to determine if this is the kind of leadership we want in the future.

DENNARD: Two things we forget in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty. And I think that they were going off of speculation, allegation. But when they saw the photo, that makes it a lot harder --

CARDONA: The FBI brought it to their attention. The FBI, Paris.

DENNARD: When the President --

CARDONA: No security clearance.

DENNARD: When the President saw the photo, when John Kelly saw the photo, that changes things --


COOPER: But, Paris, I mean, in all honesty, when there's an order of protection put out at the recommendation of a police officer and there's a handwritten account by, you know, the wife several months into the marriage, you know, about Rob Porter coming to the house, they've already separated, you know, refuses to leave. He puts his hand through a glass window on the door. I mean it's not as if this happened in a vacuum. There was no trail here. There was a trail.

SETMAYER: Multiple women.

COOPER: And the FBI knew about it.

SETMAYER: Multiple women, and even the woman that contacted Don McGahn in the White House. I mean, it wasn't just

CARDONA: Don McGahn is another one who's complicit.

LEE: I don't think we should forget about the ex-girlfriend who --


COOPER: We're going to continue this discussion. I do want to take a quick break.

Also what we're learning about the number three official in the Justice Department stepping down. What that could mean for the Russia investigation.


[21:51:14] COOPER: Well, as Friday night news dumps go, this one is practically super fun side and we asked if there's even more the Justice Department for -- thanks, Jeff. The Justice Department formerly announcing that Rachel Brand, its number three official is leaving in the coming weeks to take a position in a private sector.

In a statement, Sessions praises Brand as a lawyer's lawyer who has played a critical role, and who has "Shown real leadership." Brand, in return, praises Sessions leadership at the department saying I've seen firsthand his commitment to the rule of law and to keeping the American people safe. Here's what that Attorney General said at a Justice Department event last week.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all for being here, and thank you, Rachel, for your kind words and more importantly for your strong leadership as our third in-command of the department. Those two, Rod and Rachel, are Harvard graduates. They are experienced lawyers. They -- Rod did 27 years in the department. Rachel had a number of years in the department previously. And so they both represent the kind of quality and leadership that we want in the department.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. Jeff, you know that --


COOPER: How unusual is it for someone to leave this position after what only in nine months?

TOOBIN: Nine months. Super unusual. And, you know, she's a superstar. She -- I met her when she was involved with Supreme Court nominations during the George W. Bush term. She was the senior lawyer with the Chamber of Commerce during the Obama administration. You know, obviously, a major up and comer. And here she has this job that people wait their entire careers for to be the number three in the Justice Department and all of the sudden she leaves after nine months.

Now, I guess it could be that this job at Walmart was so lucrative and so wonderful that you wanted to leave. But this is just weird. This is a weird thing. And it suggests the possibility that she just wants to get the hell out of the Department of Justice because, you know, the President hates Sessions, the President hates Rod Rosenstein. And if Rosenstein had gotten fired, the Mueller investigation would have left -- would have been left on her lap and maybe she just didn't want to deal with that.

COOPER: Scott, do you know her too?

JENNINGS: I know her. Yes. And I saw her from Supreme Court confirmations in the Bush administration. And I second everything you said, superstar, up and comer. Sort of, is one of the best Republican lawyers in the country.

I don't think we should speculate about being weird. I mean, going to be the General Counsel of one of the biggest companies in the world strikes me as once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. So I would try to high -- if I ran Walmart, I'd try to hire Rachel Brand too. If I ran any company, I'd want to hire Rachel Brand.

MILGRAM: This is extraordinary unusual in the history of the Department of Justice. This is the number three person, they run the civil -- essentially the entire civil apparatus of the department. The number two person runs the criminal apparatus. This is the best job in America first in a lawyer. They all going to be the General Counsel of huge Fortune 500 companies.

JONES: In a couple of years.

MILGRAM: Yes, in a couple years and there are 499 other Fortune 500 companies that she could have gone to in two or three years. So nine months is an extraordinarily short amount of time. I think she is playing a record to jump out in her parachute. I don't know why. But, I mean this to me --

CARDONA: I can speculate on that.

COOPER: What does it mean for the -- does it mean anything for the Russia investigation?

MILGRAM: Well, I think it comes into play and I don't, you know, we're speculating but the narrative at least that we've hearing is that, if the President were to fire Robert Rosenstein, Rachel Brand would manage the investigation. So what I think it really does is calling to question if the President were seriously considering firing Rob Rosenstein, who's next? Right now, it's the Solicitor General.


TOOBIN: Yes. Noel Francisco, another very distinguished Republican lawyer. What the complexity that could arise is if he does fire Rosenstein, he could name a new deputy attorney general, who would then supervise the investigation and he would have handpick the person.

[21:55:09] And it's also possible that he could pick someone who would be the acting deputy attorney general. So that means they wouldn't have to be confirmed by the Senate. So there is the possibility that the President could install someone supervising the Mueller investigation, who would then be the person who could fire Mueller.

JONES: You know, before that is all possible, here's what we know. It is so hard for women to climb these ladders. And it's hard and you can be brilliant, you can be great or whatever, but you see the kind of docking and dashing (ph) you have to be able to do to get there.

For her to get there and leave this, I think it's bad and I think it looks bad. And I think if you like daughters tonight, you're watching TV and you're saying yourself, my god, a woman can get punch in the face, the President wants to (INAUDIBLE) about it. A woman can get to the top of our government in terms of -- you know, this Department of Justice is a big deal. I'm a lawyer too. This is a big deal job and you can even survive nine months.

There is something wrong. There is something wrong in America and they're dumping staff out and dumping staff out and dumping staff out. And at the end of the day, you got to wake up in the morning, you raise a family in this country and it's not a good night for --


DENNARD: This is a good day for -- when you look at -- if I had a daughter, I would say, you know what, you can work your way up to be the third in line at the Department of Justice and you can choose to go and be the head of Walmart in terms of the legal division. That's a good thing for women to be able to do --

JONES: I admire you so much, Paris.


DENNARD: -- women in the legal profession at the Supreme Court -- which the Supreme Court. Look at this White House or look at your friend, Mercy Schlapp, look at Sarah Huckabee Sanders, look at all of the other women in the senior levels that this Republican president has (INAUDIBLE) positions of power to lead this country. I would look at young woman say, you can be proud. That's what I would say.


COOPER: We got to wrap it up. Van, final plug and then we got to go. JONES: Look, I admire your optimism and your determination, a good spin on this. I see it very differently. And I will tell you -- and I will tell you this. Nobody tries to be there for nine months, nobody.

COOPER: A quick programming note, tell you about a new episode of "THE VAN JONE'S SHOW", airs at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. We'll be right back.


COOPER: It's been a quite a news day or a news dump, depending on how you look at things, the memo controversy, the Porter revelations, the Sorensen departure. It's our world tonight.

And Erin Burnett is back to tell us more. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.