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White House Officials Knew About Porter's Abuse, Allegations And Scrambled To Protest Him; Red Herrings in The Russia Investigations; Attempts To Distract From Russia Investigation Working; White House Aide Resigns Amid Domestic Assault Allegations. Aired 11-12a ET
Aired February 7, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:20] DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: This in CNN tonight. I'm Don Lemon. A little past. 11:00 on the east coast. We have breaking news rocking the White House tonight. A top aide to President Trump, Rob Porter, resigning amid allegations of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. Sources telling CNN that senior White House officials knew about the allegations for months. Scrambled to protect Porter once they became public. But the White House is pushing back claiming Porter misled everyone in the west wing.
And breaking news tonight President Trump tweeting support for the massive bipartisan two-year budget deal in the senate which is designed to prevent another government shutdown tomorrow night. But the big question, will the house approve the similar measure in time?
Also ahead, the White House and Republican on Capitol Hill trying to discredit the Russia investigation by constantly tossing out red herrings, the problem is there are distractions, mostly phony stories, but they are sticking in many segments of the media and the country. People believe they are real. We'll take a look at them.
A lot to get to. I want to begin with Mark McKinnon he is a former adviser to George W. Bush. And John McCain who is executive producer of ShowTime's the Circus, he is joining us now. I need to tell our viewers there is new information coming up on the Rob Porter story. You'll hear from one of the people involved and so we are working on that. Make sure you stay tuned, because there is a lot to come.
Mark today Rob Porter is a White House -- I guess was a White House staff secretary, resigned amid domestic abuse allegations. He denies the allegations. Here is what we know. So the President didn't know. This is what we know, didn't know about the allegations but his daughter Ivanka was very upset when she saw the picture. This is a picture of Porter's ex-wife today. It is unclear. This is the picture that came out today. It's unclear when the chief of staff Kelly found out about the allegations. But sources say he relied on Porter who has been acting like a deputy chief of staff. This is a big story. What's your reaction to the news today?
MARK MCKINNON, THE CIRCUS ON SHOWTIME CO HOST: Well there is a lot of discussion, Don, about how it was handled in the last 24 hours, how the story changes and statement changed and the information we though changed. More disturbing to me is the full history of this and the fact that he was ever hired in the first place. There is a reason why people get security clearance in the White House. It's -- there is a lot of sensitive information that travels through the White House. And the fact that somebody couldn't get clearance should have been a huge red flag for the chief of staff. And he should have been fired then. So I think the real issue here is why somebody without clearance -- I mean -- and this is not -- this wasn't like the White House chef that didn't get clearance. This is the staff secretary that handles the most sensitive information in a White House. They handle the paper and the documents in the White House. It's extremely sensitive. So the notion that he couldn't get clearance it just boggles the mind.
LEMON: So when he couldn't get clearance -- doesn't that clearance come from the FBI which is being --
MCKINNON: Yes it comes from the FBI.
LEMON: It has been undermine right now. The FBI gave them the correct information, they didn't act on it and yet still they try to under undermine the FBI saying they are bias. The FBI -- the agency that you're trying to undermine gave you the right information, and you didn't listen to it.
MCKINNON: And what they're saying is we're trying to save you from yourself here. There is a problem, a red flag with a very sensitive personnel position at the White House.
LEMON: Yes. So, listen, Kelly has been defending Porter, Mark. Earlier today he said Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor. I can't say enough good things about him he is a friend and confidante. And then he released a statement tonight. I was shocked about the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society. I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I had come to know just becoming chief of staff and believes every individual deserve the right to defend their reputation. I accepted his resignation earlier today and will ensure a swift and orderly transition.
Tonight the White House says the first statement was drafted before the picture of Porter's ex-wife the black eye was released. A senior White House official also says that Porter misled people in the White House, including Kelly, Mark, even still, are you surprised Kelly issued a statement of strong support like that initially?
MCKINNON: It's just the wrong reflex in a position like that.
[23:05:00] The reflex should be to show empathy and concern for victims. The second thing is to protect the President. And so, you know, this is not an issue about what his work habits in the White House. This was an issue about his character and habits with women outside of White House.
LEMON: OK. I need you to stand by. I'm getting instructions. Go ahead, Maria. Ok. Mark, I want you to stand by, because I want you to get your
reaction to this. As I told you just moments ago we have new information you were going to hear from someone involved in this. On the phone right now is Josh Dawsey a reporter for the "Washington Post". Josh the "Washington Post" has been doing extensive reporting. You have been speaking to some of the women involved in the story, what are they saying?
JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICO: The women involved in the story are saying that they both raised flags to the FBI about his conduct during the period of his background checks. That they had contact info for the FBI agent. They gave an extensive idea of what happened in the past, and that they were surprised when, you know, he was able to still work in the White House at a senior level. We interviewed both of the victims -- or both of the women tonight. One of them said to us. My colleague Beth Reinhardt, said that he held her down and punched her. Obviously he denies that. But she gave a pretty vivid account. The other woman said that she was verbally and physically abused and gave contact of her friends who could stand that account up. We reached out to friends who she confided in at the time. And the friend described the scene where he dragged her out of a shower, according to the friend, and gave pretty extensive, you know, physical assault there.
DAWSEY: We spoke to both women tonight. They raised the red flags during the process. And then they felt the red flags were denied.
LEMON: Ok, Josh I want you to hold on. And viewers I want you to listen, pay attention, whatever you are doing, I want you to sit down or turn the volume up. The "Washington Post" posted some video of Porter's second wife, Jennie Willoughby and she speaks out on some of the abuse. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIE WILLOUGHBY, ROB PORTER'S EX-WIFE: Rob wasn't finished fighting at that point he was still angry. And he came and grabbed me by the shoulders here. And pulled me out of the shower in a rage. And immediately I'm seeing the terror in my face retracted and apologized and changed composure immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Rob Porter has denied this. Listen this is Jennie Willoughby. They had a separation agreement. In 2010 they had a temporary order of protection, you know, with that separation agreement. So there is a lot to discuss here. Josh, both wives shared stories with the FBI. They shared the story with the FBI. He supposedly couldn't get a permanent security clearance. What happened then?
DAWSEY: We don't know about the permanent security clearance. By all accounts the FBI poke to both of the women and he did not get one. Now in the White House there are a number of people who don't have permanent security clearances yet. Some of it is backlogged. Some of it is obviously concerns like these towards Mr. Porter. What we do know is that the White House was made aware of it several months ago. Back in 2017. And there seems to have been an effort at the White House to rally behind Rob Porter, to say they're not the accusations have veracity. They are not sure what to make of them. And they kept him in. If anything he was on the rise. He was a person who was handling the papers, briefings to the President and the accusations were not taken as serious inside the building until they emerged last night.
LEMON: Did you say January of 2017 the FBI made them aware of this?
DAWSEY: No we're saying late in 2017 that the White House became aware. Early 2017 the FBI had contact with both women, talked to both women. And we don't know specifically when the White House was made aware of this. We know a number of senior aides were made aware of this six, eight weeks ago at the minimum.
LEMON: Interesting. OK Josh standby, viewers again, pay attention. Jennie Willoughby, spoke about why some people might not have known about his personal life or this allegations hard to believe. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLOUGHBY: I'm not surprised that people who work with him in a professional capacity see him as a model of discretion, integrity and character.
[23:10:00] Because like I mentioned I think that he is, professionally he is intelligent. And he is measured. And he is certainly someone that I would trust in that professional position. And in his personal life he is also abusive and angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The White House defense is that they didn't know about all of the allegations, but should they have known? And what about how they handled it once they did find out, Josh.
DAWSEY: Last night obviously, the Daily Mail report came out. In that time period the White House put out a number of strong statements supporting him from the chief of staff, John Kelly to the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. Orin Hatch one of his former bosses put out a statement praising him. What changed by many estimations were the pictures of the blackened eye. After the pictures emerged White House officials including John Kelly were not convinced he needs to go. Rob Porter told various associates this morning that he plans to leave the White House and he needs to resign. There was an effort by many just to keep him in the fold as this developed. The White House is now putting out a statement this evening from John Kelly saying he was shocked by the accusations but earlier today myself and other reporters were told after the pictures came out that John Kelly stood by his statement praising Rob Porter. The pictures were released early this morning. And for many hours the White House had not taken this stance. As the blowback increased and some of the outside pressures came into play, there was a new statement from the chief of staff that was released tonight.
DAWSEY: If you read the statement carefully, he still says he stood by Porter and he thinks Porter has a right to defend his reputation. Just that he was shocked by the new accusations.
LEMON: Josh Dawsey, from the "Washington Post", thank you so much. I appreciate it. Do we have Rob Porter's statement that we can put up? Because you know, he says this is outrageous allegations, saying they are false. He is also calling this a coordinated smear campaign. Just go ahead and put that up, because I think it's important to put up what he is saying about this. As we do that let's go back to Mark Mckinnon. Mark again he is saying a smear campaign, but what does this say about how the White House is vetting people?
MCKINNON: That is the bigger problem, Don. The White House has to have not just high standards but it has the highest standards. This isn't a Denny restaurant doing security checks. This is the White House. There is a reason why there is that security check, because they are handling sensitive information and people can be compromised if there is information like this in their background. Imagine somebody going to him in a bar somewhere and saying listen if you don't do x or y we're letting this information out. That is why you have to be so careful about this. And the fact that the chief -- the White House chief of staff knew about this and, a, didn't act on it and actually hired him without the clearance was the first mistake. And you know should have been taken care of then and shouldn't have been in the White House.
LEMON: Mark, tonight a retired general who served with John Kelly says he no longer feels he knows the chief of staff anymore in light of what happened today. Kelly's comments about immigrants and DACA yesterday. And the general added this. He said I'll also say this old (inaudible), the command takes on the personality of the commander. It appears Trump brings out the worst in a lot of people. And Mark did you hear it that? Do you agree with that statement?
MCKINNON: Yes, I do agree with it. And it's certainly true of Donald Trump and the people around him. It's true of any President that there is an infectious thing that happens around Presidents. And it becomes very (inaudible) and it changes personalities. And people just tends to, you know character bends. I have heard great things about John Kelly. And I think a lot of us believed he was a good moderating force in the White House. But there's been several examples now and more than a couple just this week that certainly raise concern for a lot of us.
LEMON: Do you think he can survive this? Do you think he should?
MCKINNON: You know, it's been a series of things. I don't know who would replace him.
MCKINNON: I don't know who the last man standing will be there. LEMON: Or who would even want that gig.
MCKINNON: At the very least I hope it's a big learning moment.
LEMON: Thank you, Mark McKinnon. Always appreciate it.
MCKINNON: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: President Trump in the middle of another fire storm of his own making after the Democrats treasonous remark. Quite upset they didn't applaud during the state of the union address. And also now we have this. Let's discuss it with CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio he is the author of the "The truth about Trump," he has a piece in CNN.com called "Trump is bringing everyone down to his level." We talk to you about this piece, what do you think of this story out tonight about Rob Porter.
[23:15:07] MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well I think one of the things that also must be pointed out is that this is not only a problem where Porter could have been compromised. But what does it say about his impulse control, that he can't keep himself from allegedly beating women? This is a very bad sign. You don't then consider a man like this and say, well, he is doing a good job in the office. I mean, this is the White House.
LEMON: And so -- but again in falls on Kelly. He is the chief of staff. And this is -- you know who Walter Schwab is.
LEMON: He is the Director of office of general ethics. And here is what he say, he says so John Kelly falsely smeared a congresswoman. Tells as you failure to compromise on slavery causes civil war. Called dreamers lazy, protected a wife beater. Tell us again at press secretary meeting Sarah Sanders how we're never allowed to criticize the general. And then we didn't talk about how he treated the gold star widow. And on and on. Who is this person? You had another general coming out saying I don't recognize him.
D'ANTONIO: Well it's very easy to present only elements of your character when you're the general. When you're in charge and you're with a President who has a fetish about people with stars on shoulders, who is going to challenge this man's reputation until he reveals it? So now we see, he has character logical problems.
Who in the White House is strong enough to stand up by the standard set by the President, the president himself? We forgot Stormy Daniels, people are traitors. There is one thing after another.
LEMON: And treasonous. That is what you write with in your piece. You said the Trump presidency essentially reduces everyone to the level he operates. And that applies to John Kelly now. Is that applying to him?
D'ANTONIO: It sure does apply to him. I think it's a tragedy for his reputation. And it's a stain on the American military. LEMON: Here is what you write. You said unwilling or perhaps
incapable of operating by the usual standards of adult behavior. Donald Trump openly shares what's in his heart and mind and often it's a spray of juvenile insult, recklessness and ignorance. The outbursts hit everyone and everything within range. Bringing the potential for a contamination and thus demanding a response. It's only Wednesday night. The President has called, you know, Democrats who didn't applaud at the state of the union un-American and treasonous. The President's chief of staff implied immigrants who didn't sign up for DACA said they were lazy and didn't get the off asses and now he is defending a physical abuser.
D'ANTONIO: Isn't the President abusing us every day by debasing our public debate by literally soiling the language that we use? Have you ever said the words that you've had to say in your career prior to Donald Trump appearing?
LEMON: I said that last night. I said I have said words and sworn more on this show than I ever thought. I've said words that I never thought I would say. I said when it someone going to drop the f bomb on television.
D'ANTONIO: Soon I will be doing it, because this is what he tries to do to the world. I almost don't blame him.
LEMON: here is the thing though. Here is what gets me. When we talk about language and people complaint I can't believe you're saying this. I'm repeating the words the President said.
D'ANTONIO: Of the President of the United States.
LEMON: But then they say the language of John Kelly saying people are lazy and should get off asses, that it doesn't matter it's a throw away. You can't have it both ways.
D'ANTONIO: Of course it matters. Of course it matters. And he is not addressing privates in the army or grunts. He is addressing the American people with this kind of language. And he is describing his -- other people that are residents of America as of now still legal residents of America. And degrading all of us in the process. I think this is what Donald Trump is doing to the world. And it's something we have to call out every time he does it.
LEMON: Absolutely. I appreciate your perspective.
D'ANTONIO: Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you very much. Michael D'Antonio. When we comeback is the media fixating on the Russia connection to President Trump and his team while ignoring real scandals? We are going to breakdown some of the sensational headlines and story lines that the President complains are undercover, because most of them are simply are not true.
[23:23:07] LEMON: So as the special counsel progresses with the Russia investigation, the President and his Party have thrown out many distractions, attempts to discredit the investigation. They get in the news cycle, generate headlines and air time. And then they turn out not to be true. But the damage is done. Big headlines, little or no truth to them. The latest example in a long string of examples, newly released texts between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Agents involved in investigating a Hillary Clinton private email server who made critical remarks about President Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed both of them earlier last year after the Justice Department investigation began reviewing the messages.
The exchange shows Page referring to a meeting at the bureau set up because Obama wanted, quote, to know everything we are doing. President Trump after seeing it reported breathlessly on his network of choice, tweeted out this. New FBI texts are bombshells. The implication being President Obama had metaled in that investigation of Hillary Clinton and her emails. Here is the facts first. The texts sent months after James Comey publicly announced the Clinton investigation had closed and days before President Obama called out President Putin for Russia meddling in the Presidential election. A sources tell CNN those text refer to President Obama's concern over Russian interference in the election not the Clinton investigation. Senator Ron Johnson made the same false connection from the texts. He is of course the same Senator Johnson who last month took a joking text between FBI officials and turned it into a controversy about a secret society of anti-Trump agents lurking within law enforcement community. Only after it was made clear to him that he missed the joke did he back off. But the damage was done. It had become a talking point already. Some people still believe it.
[23:25:08] Remember the uranium one bombshell where Hillary Clinton stood 2accused of using her role as Secretary of State to approve the sale of American mining rights to a Russian government affiliated company. Republicans and President Trump insinuated she signed off on a deal that gave Russia control over 20 percent of American uranium holdings as a (inaudible) for donations to the Clinton foundation. Republicans claim they had a whistle blower who would expose the whole operation. Democrats briefed by the Trump Justice Department. The Trump Justice Department. They say they were told the whistle blower was too unreliable to use as a witness. Top Democrats and the house oversight intelligence committee's sent letters to Republican colleagues, a letter today stating just that.
And they said he offered zero evidence about Clinton and the Clinton foundation. These are just a few of the stories presented by allies of the President, stories that got a lot of headlines, sometimes a lot more headlines than the actual facts get. Stories presented a lot of the time on the Trump cable TV network over on the other side of town. Joining me now CNN political analyst Ryan Lizza and National Security analyst Shawn Turner. You wouldn't believe, Ryan the arguments I get in with people who I thought were rational and sane about uranium one. And I say have you read the information? Do you really know what goes into getting a FISA -- what happens when you want to get a FISA request? What happens at a FISA court? Most of them don't. They just know talking points they hear from the President and his allies and conservative media, mostly Fox News. The attempts to discredit -- they keep coming. Are they having any impact? SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there is not --
there is a lot of scientific research now about this phenomenon of fake news and why it's so hard to kill a fake story. There is a great piece in scientific American about this. And the authors note a phenomenon of the illusion of truth or what Stephen Colbert called truthiness. Once you get it in your head and it may have been reported by a respected news organization, it's very hard especially for partisans who constantly looking for information to confirm their biases, which frankly that is human nature. All of us do that. It's very hard for people to lose the idea, to lose the idea of that story or to give up the idea that it's true. And I think so many people are swimming in information every day online, and especially among political partisans, they're looking for stories and facts that confirm their -- the preconceived ideas about what's going on with scandals, with politics. And they seize on these things and don't want to let them go. And the more they're repeated the harder it is to kill them.
LEMON: I think that there was -- I shouldn't give my idea away. But there should be a network that is devoted to just going through the opening monologues of conservative media and fact checking them every single night to debunk. And I watch and I can't believe this, no one is fact checking. Everyone is on the same page. They load the deck with people who support them, they never had a dissenting voice. It's really unbelievable. And many Americans believe the bull crap that they are spewing. Shawn, do they affect the work of the FBI and Intelligence Community that the Mueller investigation in anyway.
TURNER: Don, I think it does affect the work of the FBI and the I.C. Everyone from Congressman to the President, to a long line of a talking heads have come on and they've disparaged the FBI and intelligence community. And you know, they try to do something that I think the people in the FBI and the I.C. see right through. They come on and say the concern is with the leadership of the agencies. But then they follow that up quickly by praising the men and women working in the agencies. I think the men and women working in the agencies see through that. You can't separate the attacks on the FBI and intelligence community from the very people who do the work and produce the products that you claim are biased and shoddy, and somehow prejudiced against the President.
So when we hear the attacks on the leadership and we say the people of the FBI and I.C. are hardworking and great people, well, you know the people need to understand that is a claim that false-false and it does have an impact on the working morals of those organizations.
LEMON: What is interesting, I think we are hearing the story out tonight about Rob Porter, why do you think he couldn't get the security clearance? Because the FBI had the information, gave it to the White House. It appears at this point that they ignored it for months. And allowed him to continue to work there, reportedly without a long term security clearance.
TURNER: Yeah, Don. And it's unconscionable he is not the first to be able to work if the White House and handle sensitive information without a security clearance. It's my understanding that Jared Kushner is still in the process of get ago secured clearance and other individuals who the President says you're on the team so you'll be allowed to do this.
LEMON: We have had so much breaking news. I have to cut it short. Ryan I'm giving you a chance to weigh in and give you the last word. My question is can we ever go back to facts.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the scary thing is we have now political professionals understanding the information environment so well that they understand all they need to do is come up with something and don't really care about the facts as long as their team -- as long as they can generate content that might be fake that their team can use to make an argument. I think that is what this Nunes memo episode is all about he is just getting anything out in the blood stream of the right to defend the President.
LEMON: I wonder that -- I said -- and I sit and watch over the last weeks since I haven't been working. I sit and watch and say, why is this person on television? If the average American knew the background of the person that they never met a green room they didn't like, that this person undermined the White House until they get in a position they want in the White House, then they would never, but we put them on television and people believe the crap they say.
LIZZA: Weaponizing the fake news in the service of a political Party.
LEMON: I got to go. Thank you all.
LIZZA: thanks Don.
LEMON: More on the breaking news stories. Sources telling CNN senior White House official even chief of staff John Kelly knew about domestic abuse allegations against top aide Rob Porter. If Kelly knew, how did Porter get hired in the first place? We'll talk about that.
[23:35:47] LEMON: breaking news tonight. Sources telling CNN that top aides to the president including chief of staff John Kelly found out top White House staff Rob Porter was hitting road blocks with background checks months ago. The reason allegations of domestic abuse from both of his ex-wives. Why did no one tell the President? I want to bring in now CNN commentator Bakari Sellers and Ben Ferguson. Gentlemen good evening, a lot of ground to cover in a short time Bakari, Ripple responded earlier tonight about the White House mess and an op-ed in the New York Times saying it almost makes you nostalgic for Reince Priebus never thought I would say that. Is there a problem for people who work the president or the tone that has being set from the top?
BAKARI SELLERS, FORMER HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: I just think nothing is new in this White House. Sometimes, I've been guilty of it as well we had the false sense of expectations for people such as John Kelly. Just think about John Kelly this week, yesterday morning he had the most race it trip of them all that black and brown immigrants particularly the dreamers are lazy. Now this morning he comes of and he talks about how Rob Porter is such a great man. And now today we realize he is not a great man in fact one of the least of us, because he puts his hand on women not once but twice and we can only assume that in multiple times in multiple relationship. The president doesn't choose the best people. He has had Nazis and racists around him. Let's check another box. He now has domestic abusers around him as well.
LEMON: A retired general told our Jim Acosta told us he doesn't recognize John Kelly from the time he serve in Iraq together. Are we seeing the real John Kelly or is this White House changing him.
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it's either. I think the bottom line is we don't know exactly what he knew about this incident. We know that it clearly flagged by the FBI. I think it's clear that he should not have been in the White House referring to Porter. I don't think this has to do with politics either. This is an issue of domestic abuse and violence that we should all not try to score political points on and condemn it for what it is. You do not put your hands on a woman. I don't care about any other political talking points of this that or the other, this individual if this is true -- and from what we've seen with the pictures and from the women I don't believe I don't have any reason to believe it's not true.
LEMON: But what about the extreme vetting. You can't brag on someone saying you're hiring the best and turns out to be the domestic abuse her. And the FBI warns you months ago about this. It's in the White House. It's politics. It's the White House President of the United States.
FERGUSON: Let me say this we don't know exactly what was in the warning. We don't know if there was issues that came up in the interview. I was listening to one of the women talk on the "Washington Post" video. She may have been telling them she thought he was fine to serve in the White House. She said that on the video that he could do the job and do it well. But that also -- so, again, I don't know what he was told we don't know what the President was told.
LEMON: Go ahead Bakari.
SELLERS: Just quickly you have the resources in the entire country -- you have the best resources in the entire world at your disposal one woman in particular. One had a blog up in April of 2017 in which she laid out the abuse that she suffered from this individual. And not only that but John Kelly the chief of staff knew from the FBI and promoted the individual. This was a power struggle. This is a power struggle in the White House. And John Kelly needed an ally that is why he was afraid to let him go. This is a black mark on the legacy of John Kelly. It is unfortunate that he put a domestic abuser above what our country needs.
LEMON: I want to put this picture up. This is a phot from the New Yorker tweeted tonight, this is from July of 2017 Corey Lewandowsky fired June 2016. Anthony Scaramucci fired July 2017. Sebastian Gorka August of 2017. Rob Porter resigned today they're all in that picture. So much more for the hiring the best people. Thank you both. When we come back, the President -- the Vice President disputing a story that he is in a feud with an openly Olympic skater but the reporter stands by her story. She will join me next and I will speak with the Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis to get his take.
[23:43:47] LEMON: Vice President Mike Pence is leading the U.S. Delegation at the opening ceremonies at the winter games in South Korea and pushing back tonight on a report he was snubbed by a member of the U.S. Olympic team. I want to bring in CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan who broke the Adam Rippon story in USA today. Thank you so much Kristine. It looks beautiful by your background. You asked Rippon what he thought about the Vice President leading the U.S. delegation. Here is his reply. You mean Mike Pence that funded guy conversion therapy. I am not buying it. What happened after that, Christine?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Well I wrote the story the next day, January 17th, Don. And it was basically also making the point by the way that the Vice President had denied that he was funding guy conversion therapy back and during the campaign in 2016. Put together this story put it online. And within one hour of the story being on USA today.com on January 17th I was hearing from the Vice President's office they wanted to comment. And of course we already had a comment but we let them comment. And they were refuting this and were very upset and angry. And I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe that the Vice President of the United States was focused on a figure skater comments and that is where the story stood.
[23:45:00] I kept hearing about from sources of course, I've covered the Olympics for a long time. People get in touch with me and I get in touch with them. I heard more and this is the story I was able to put out today, which was that the Vice President at the exact same time through his staff had people contact the U.S. Olympic committee to try to arrange a conversation with Adam Rippon. And Adam Rippon declined. And that is of course the story that is out there now.
LEMON: OK. So tonight Mike Pence office denied the USA today report, as you've been talking about trying to set up a meeting with him, here is the statement you talked about. So the USA today report is false and should be corrected. The Vice President's office did not reach out to set up a conversation with Mr. Rippon. As we have said before, the Vice President is supporting all the U.S. Athletes in the Olympics and is hoping they all win medals. What do you think of the response? Because again you stand by your reporting.
BRENNAN: Absolutely. Well, as I mentioned in the story, Don, I have two sources. But there are more people who told me things, even more deeper detail about Pence and his actions, reaching out to the U.S. Olympic committee. But that was on such deep background that the source didn't want to be mentioned as a source. We went with two. People were calling me. This is about one of the easiest stories I've broken in a long time. I feel incredibly comfortable with the reporting. I believe it to be true. I would never ever put it out there, if I did not, having done this a long time. The story is rock solid. That is the truth. It definitely happened. And obviously the Vice President and his staff is disputing. They have every right to. But the story is accurate.
LEMON: Thank you very much. I appreciate that Christine Brennan in South Korea. I want to bring in now Olympic diving medalist Greg Louganis author of "Breaking the surface." Greg, good to see you, thank you for joining us here. You're an Olympic legend.
GREG LOUGANIS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Thank you.
LEMON: You tweeted us in support of Adam Rippon. You said I am with you all the way. Pence has openly promoted ignorance about and hate towards the LGBT community his entire life and then asks me to his office for a photo-op which I declined. I think the V.P. dot protest too much.
LOUGANIS: Resist, equality for all.
LEMON: You have a history with Mike Pence. Talk about that. What dote he protest too much?
LOUGANIS: Yes. I do. I was in Indianapolis. I was actually there for Jeanne White, they were coming out with a new book about Ryan White, her son. So was helping them promote the book. As it turned out that is when Pence was working on the anti-LGBTQ legislation. And all of a sudden it was the HRC that was talking to me. And the athlete allies. And you know taking me here and there. And you know we tried to get into a press conference. But I was escorted out of that press conference. And once he learned when Pence learned I was removed then he invite me for a meeting. And I shared with him what it was like growing up being gay. And you know, I was born this way, being bullied and suicide attempts, and, you know, all his response was, "I'll pray for you." Of course he wanted a photo-op and I declined.
LEMON: And Ryan White -- Ryan white was -- he wasn't allowed into school, because of HIV aids diagnosis and eventually died in 1990. But he became the face of the HIV.
LOUGANIS: He was my hero.
LEMON: I just wanted to remind our viewers.
LEMON: But Adam Rippon and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn have already said that they won't be attending the White House after the Olympics for a celebration hosted by Donald Trump and the Olympics is all about representing your country, good sportsmanship, it is supposed to transcend politics. Is that lost, do you think?
LOUGANIS: No. It's a personal decision. It's your right as a human being to do what's -- what's comfortable for you. There -- you know, there are ways of -- I don't know that I'd go to the White House. I mean, with this administration, hell no. LEMON: Why do you say that?
LOUGANIS: Just with the -- you know, civil rights, and health care, and I mean there is so many issues that are affecting so many of my friends, people that I love. And, you know, and true life is about family, you know, shoot, if Donald Trump was in my family's house he would be escorted out with the language that he uses.
[23:50:12] LEMON: I'm just -- you say that, now we have, you know, Olympic athletes, we have an NFL player on last night who, you know, was on the winning super bowl team that said, I'm not going. You had the winning NBA team saying, I'm not going to the White House. This White House doesn't understand that -- they don't seem to understand and they don't seem to be changing their tune at all on the issues, on the reasons why people don't want to go to the White House. What do you think of that? Do you think they will change? Or does it --
LOUGANIS: Ah -- there's a lot of change that has to happen. I mean, I was at the women's March in D.C. last year, I was at the women's March this year in Orange County, because that is where I spent a good chunk of my life. It was such an honor to be there, and just the energy and the people coming together, that we're here to protect those that have come to this country, whether they're immigrants and our veterans --
LOUGANIS: You know, there is so many issues that are layered.
LEMON: The White House doesn't understand they represent all Americans, not just the 30 percent of hard core supporters that they think they respect.
LOUGANIS: Right, yeah.
LEMON: Greg, thank you. Always a pleasure.
LOUGANIS: Got to see you in New York.
LEMON: Absolutely. Any time. All right, we'll be right back.
[23:55:28] LEMON: As the world gathers for the winter Olympics, the White House is keeping a sharp eye on North Korea. Concerned its participation in the games may be nothing more than a ploy. Vice President Pence visiting U.S. troops in Japan on his way to the games in South Korea, issuing this warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENTIAL OF THE UNITED STATES: As the old book says, a soldier does not bear the sword in vain. Let the world know, we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with a response that is rapid, overwhelming and effective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Also today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is committed to ratcheting up pressure on North Korea and has developed a new set of sanctions. That is it for us tonight. Thank you so much for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow. Good night.