'This Week' Transcript 2-11-18: Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway

PHOTO: Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to President Donald Trump, poses for a photograph during an interview at the White House, Aug. 3, 2017 in Washington, D.C. PlayChris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images
WATCH Kellyanne Conway: Trump has 'full confidence' in chief of staff, 'not actively searching' for replacements

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: White House chaos.

UNIDENTIFEID MALE: We all could have done better over the last few hours -- or last few days in dealing with the situation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chief of Staff John Kelly on the ropes after botching the response to abuse allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter from two ex-wives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rob is abusive and Rob is flawed and definitely has anger.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In his first response, President Trump downplays the allegations, defends the accused.

TRUMP: He says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No sympathy for the women, no public defense for his chief of staff. Will Kelly keep his job? Has President Trump made his problems with women even worse? Tough questions ahead for counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.

Plus, debate and analysis on our Powerhouse roundtable. We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin. The facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. Two White House aides resign this week, charged with abuse by their former wives. President Trump defended the men, railing against mere allegations that ruin lives. That fits a pattern for President Trump.

And behind the scenes, he is seething. His team is cracking. The knives are out for Chief of Staff John Kelly and the president's closest personal aid Hope Hicks. A staff shake-up is looming, just another week in the Trump White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We certainly wish him well. It's 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That was President Trump's first response to the resignation of staff secretary Rob Porter after Porter was accused of abuse by both of his ex-wives.

Porter's second wife Jennifer Willoughby said this to The Washington Post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER WILLOUGBY, THE WASHINGTON POST: He came and he grabbed me by the shoulders here and pulled me out of a shower in a rage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: His first wife Colbie Holderness says he punched her in the face on a trip to Italy in 2005, leaving this black eye.

Both women shared their stories with the FBI a year ago, which found the claims credible. One factor preventing Porter from getting a permanent security clearance, no mention of that from President Trump on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

And on Saturday, he doubled down with this tweet: "people's lives are being shattered and destroyed by mere allegation. Some are true and some are false, some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing, any longer, as due process?"

Trump has a history of dismissing claims of abuse and sexual misconduct against friends like Bill O'Reilly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I know Bill. Bill is a good person. I don't think Bill would do anything wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Allies like Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And you know you have to listen to him also.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And of course himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign.

As you have seen, I am a victim of one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: All contributing to his low approval rating with women, just 29 percent.

And this latest White House crisis maybe the final straw for chief of staff John Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you saying that the chief of staff of this White House had no idea that Rob Porter's two ex-wives had domestic violence allegations against him when they made those claims to the FBI? That John Kelly did not know that? How is that possible the chief of staff did not know that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, again, this is part of an ongoing investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tough questions for Kelly, after he initially called Porter a man of true integrity and honor, despite reports that he had known about the allegations for months and taken no action. The chief of staff has told Trump he is willing to resign. And the president now sounding out possible replacements, including economic adviser Gary Cohn, budget director Mick Mulvaney, and congressman Mark Meadows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are joined now by counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. Kellyanne, thanks for joins us. A lot to get to this morning.

Just playing off the end of that piece there, though, I've also been told that you're on the short list, possible short list for chief of staff, that the president is very high on you. Would you accept if he asked?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, that would be news to me. I have spoke to the president last night about this very issue, and he wanted me to reemphasize to everyone, including this morning, that he has full confidence in current chief of staff General John Kelly, and that he's not actively searching for replacements.

He also has full confidence in Hope Hicks as communications director and long-serving aid.

There are a lot of, I think, unsourced stories out there, but when it comes to those two individuals, the president has full confidence in their performance.

And I would also say, I do serve at the pleasure of the president. It’s – I think it’s incredible important to focus to subvert your ego to the greater good, which is for the country. And I consider myself one small molecule trying to push for an agenda that makes us more safe and more prosperous.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to more on that coming up, but first – so he hasn’t complained? The president hasn’t complained on the phone about John Kelly and Hope Hicks to his friends and associates?

CONWAY: He hasn’t complained to me, and I spoke with him last night and asked him this question pointedly. He asked me if I was going on any shows, I said yes, I said and I would like to hear directly from you and not just speculate or not even say from perspective what I see, which is day in and day out working with his two – with John Kelly as my Chief of Staff.

And the president wanted me to reemphasize that this morning.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good to hear that. Let’s get to the president’s tweet from yesterday, I want to put it back up for our viewers to see. President writing, "people’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false, some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?"

Does the president believe that Rob Porter is falsely accused?

CONWAY: Well, Rob Porter no longer works at the White House. These stories were breaking overnight on Tuesday and again on Wednesday morning, and by Thursday he was out of the White House.

And you have to look at the result here. Rob Porter’s gone from one of the top aides to Donald Trump, our president, to no longer working there. I think the president, like the rest of us, were shocked and disturbed by the allegations. This is not the Rob Porter any of us have worked with.

But George, you’re looking at contemporaneous, police reports, at pictures, at detailed allegations by these women. And yes, we are a nation of laws, we are a nation of due process, and all sides should be heard out, but you also can’t ignore what you see in front of you. And I think that’s what – what we’re all saying.

I think -- look, we take domestic abuse very seriously, child abuse, drug use, sexual harassment. All of these are serious issues, but they’re not Republican or Democratic issues, these are scourges on our society of many, many decades.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. But Kellyanne, you just said you take this seriously. You just said the president is shocked. The president himself has not said that. He didn’t say he was shocked. He didn’t say he was disturbed by this -- by these allegations, he didn’t say that he was taking domestic violence seriously, he said you have to pay attention to the fact that Rob Porter says he’s innocent.

And then he talks about mere allegations, people being falsely accused. So let me ask you again, does the president believe that Rob Porter is falsely accused?

CONWAY: The president believes, as he said the other day, you have to consider all sides. He has said this in the past about incidents that relate to him as well. At the same time, you have to look at the results. The result is that Rob Porter is no longer the staff secretary. It is -- it is -- the president tells me that he learned just this week, when the rest of us did, what these allegations are, what -- these pictures, the contemporaneous, police reports, the detailed information as having been provided to the FBI.

And we are all trying to process that against the person that we worked with for over a year. But this president has -- I think he’s doing a great job for America’s women. We have to look at the full picture. You have 800,000 women took new jobs last year because of his leadership. You have women who work at over 300 companies now that are getting wages and benefits and capital investments happening within their own communities. We are a safer, more prosperous nation, that includes all of us, including the nation’s women because of Donald Trump’s leadership.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m trying to figure out why, then, the president sent out the tweet yesterday. Anyway, "is there no such thing any longer as due process?"

You know, that’s usually applies to court proceedings. But let’s take it in this context. Didn’t the wives -- ex-wives of Rob Porter follow due process? They went to the FBI over a year ago, made their testimony over -- over a year ago, Colbie Holderness provided the photo that we all saw this week.

They didn’t go public, they went to the FBI. The FBI held up, reported this to the White House. Rob Porter’s security clearance was held up, yet nothing happened for months and months and months.

CONWAY: Well, I understand that the process in place is one that has gone on for many, many years. And of course, we’re all subject to it, George. Perhaps you were as well when you worked in a White House. And the -- we respect the process and we also rely upon it.

I know, I submitted my FBI forms. Obviously, I got my clearance last year. But others have had an interim clearance. And what I understand is, from White House Counsel’s office, is that there are a lot of -- there’s a lot of misinformation.

And there’s a lot of information going out in the public right now being reported as fact by people who couldn’t possibly know. And -- and so they won’t discuss individual FBI investigations. We have to all respect that, I believe. But at the same time, an interim security clearance was granted to Rob Porter to allow him to continue. That is the case for others who work in the White House currently and in other White Houses.

But this is a processes that’s gone on a long time and we respect and rely upon that process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but the point is, Kellyanne -- of course I was subject to the same processes. In most White Houses, you talk to former staff secretaries, former -- people who’ve worked on this in the past, if credible allegations from two former wives about domestic violence were brought forward, the permanent security clearance would be denied. Rob Porter did not get the permanent security clearance. And that person would no longer be working in the White House.

Are you now saying that Don McGahn and Chief of Staff Kelly were not told before this week about the allegations against Rob Porter? Because that is what has been reported. You said this is false reporting.

CONWAY: No, no. What I’m saying is false reporting is -- is some of the information about Rob not getting a permanent security clearance. He was not denied one, the process was ongoing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He didn’t get it. But, yeah, he didn't get it, and the FBI brought forward these allegations, they found the allegations credible. That was the reason he didn’t have the permanent security clearance, correct?

CONWAY: And people like me are learning that just this week when everybody else is – when you’re learning it. So what I – what I’m saying to you is that there is a process in place that we rely on, and we respect, and that was being followed here.

I’m also told that that is why investigations continue and not why they are ceased. There probably are instances, I would – I’m guessing now, that there are probably instances where the FBI is looking at someone’s background check and says this person cannot, will never get a security -- and actually poses a threat to the nation, shouldn’t be working in this White House.

That was not the case here as far I can tell. But let me repeat myself about these women...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well -- hold on -- let me -- let me interrupt you right there, because you just said something. Colbie Holderness she told the FBI that she thought Rob Porter was vulnerable to blackmail because of these allegations.

These allegations were brought more than a year ago. They were found to be credible. They were presented to the White House chief of staff and the White House counsel, yet nothing happened.

I...

CONWAY: But George, I personally don’t know that to be true. So I’m not a good source for you on that. I personally don’t know to be true who received that information and when.

I would not as counselor to the president, I'm not White House counsel. I’m not chief of staff. I’m not others within that line. I would not be made privy to that, and good because that would -- that is about somebody else’s investigative process that probably should not be shared broadly.

Let me repeat, I am very well aware in having read those articles many times now, that what these women said to the FBI, I’m very aware of the contemporaneous police reports and very aware of the pictures.

And -- and so that, as one backdrop, the other is that you really have to ask the individuals who were in the direct line what they knew and -- and I will tell you something else, that it’s -- it’s actually good that the rest of us don’t know things like that, because this information affects all of the people involved in any one investigation, including -- including the women who came forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I do appreciate that. In fact, we did ask for White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to join us this morning. We were told that he was not available. But you say you spoke with the president. Has the president seen the testimony of the two former wives?

Has he seen the pictures? Does he believe them?

CONWAY: I know the president has read the articles. I know he saw exactly what the rest of us saw. It is not clear to me that he has seen any underlying documents that the FBI may have in possession.

So -- and again, he accepted the resignation within -- within 48 hours of these stories running, resignation tendered, resignation accepted, clearing out your desk. His staff secretary no longer works there. And it’s a – it’s a disappointment in terms of what the president said the other day, that this is somebody he worked closely with who we -- we didn’t -- nobody suspected this, nobody knew this. He was a highly competent member of the senior staff, but all that melts away when -- when confronted with this information in terms of whether or not this man can continue in this job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Kellyanne, why can’t the president say so? You know, there does seem to be a pattern here. When a friend or an ally, a man of the president’s gets in trouble, these allegations of abuse or sexual harassment, the president’s sympathies immediately go to the man whether it’s Bill O’Reilly or Roger Ailes or Roy Moore or Rob Porter.

Why is that? And do you understand the problem that creates for the president?

CONWAY: What I understand is that this is a man who shows great compassion and understanding for -- for women on many different issues. I frankly, wouldn’t work there if that were not the case.

I could be dozens of other places for lots of money. Why would I -- why would someone like me and many other women be there? He is an excellent boss to work for, an excellent boss for women, for working mothers frankly, and I believe he’s there. I know that he’s there as president of the United States because he wants to do well across all Americans, in other words do good for the country and we are a more prosperous nation.

Unemployment among women is at an 18 year low That should matter to people. And I do see him express sympathy. And he has many times come to the aid of women privately, whether he has secured employment for them or given them a hand up, read an article about them and had his team back at Trump Tower contact them and try to help them, that’s the Donald Trump I see and I know. And I really would ask everyone else to look at that many times as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well...

CONWAY: You can -- you can feel many different things about the same situation. But I know that he has great empathy and compassion. In fact, when he had the press pull in on Friday where he made those comments, he was meeting with two gentlemen who he invited into the Oval Office because he had read their story about they attending the inauguration. He sent them money. And they used the money for their ailing father.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. But at the time he talked about...

CONWAY: That got no coverage.

STEPHANOPOULOS: At the time, he talked about Rob leaving -- pointing to Rob Porter, saying he was innocent. As you know, there’s been a strong reaction to this from Democrats...

CONWAY: He did not say that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ...on Capitol Hill. He said -- he pointed to Rob Porter, saying he is innocent. That’s exactly what the president did say.

But I want to talk to Kirsten Gillibrand. She put out a tweet responding to the president yesterday. She said, "the president has shown through words and actions that he doesn’t value women. It’s not surprising that he doesn’t believe survivors or understand the national conversation that is happening. If he wants due proves for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let’s have Congressional hearings tomorrow." Do the president’s accusers deserve due process?

CONWAY: George, let me say something, those accusers have had their day on your network and elsewhere for a long time. They were trotted out again late last year. And I don’t need a lecture from Kirsten Gillibrand or anybody else who protected and defended and harbored a sitting president who had sexual relations in the Oval Office and was impeached for lying. I don’t need a lecture from her or anybody else. And she since, of course, has said that President Clinton had (sic) resigned.

But let’s call this for what it is, that’s a Democratic party bereft of any ideas and any accomplishments. Every single thing that’s happened has been without them. In the course of a month, her Democratic party voted to shut down the government, sat on their hands when patriotic things were being said and honored at the State of the Union, including a 12 year old boy who put flags on 40,000 veterans’ graves. Oh, and not a single one of them voted for a tax cut that is already helping millions and millions of American workers, including women.

So this is about a party auditioning for 2020, perhaps herself included, going so far to the left. Remember what they said, that they’re not going to deal on anything until they get DACA. The president put forth the first piece of document to Congress on DACA on October 8. What are they doing? He has said he will -- he will give a pathway to citizenship for the 1.8 million, but he also has the budget caps going. We have 6 billion for opioids. We have 4 billion for veterans. We’re going to fund our militaries, General Mattis has said we are. Where is the Democratic leadership?

And yes, these are all very serious, serious considerations when it comes to women in the workplace. I’ve been talking about it for years myself. And I’ve been a victim of it myself. But the fact is it can’t -- you can’t look at the victim based on her politics or where she works and you can’t just talk about this issue in a context without recognizing that this is a Democratic Party bereft of other ideas and accomplishments.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You packed a lot into that answer. I want to ask a final question on this subject. On Thursday, the president’s spokesman, Raj Shah, said that this situation could have been handled better by the White House. Does the president believe that as well? We’ve been told that he was unhappy with that admission by Mr. Shah.

CONWAY: Well the president looks at it very swift that all of these stories and the photographs and the contemporaneous -- the details were coming out into public view late Tuesday into Wednesday, resignation tendered and accepted, out of the building by Thursday. He took very swift action. And the person no longer works there. There was no go take a breather, get yourself the help you need, come back, do a different assignment in some other agency or department.

He’s gone. And that is -- that is handling the situation very expeditiously. And one that caught all of us -- most of us, all of us, very unaware.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm not sure it caught all of you unaware. You just admitted that you weren’t in the loop on this. And there’s credible reporting that...

CONWAY: I’m glad to not be in the loop on that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That – that both Chief of Staff John Kelly and the White House Counsel had known about these allegations for -- for several months.

CONWAY: Well, General Kelly tells me otherwise. General Kelly has said otherwise. And you would have to ask him the questions squarely. I can only speak for what I knew and the conversations I’ve had with the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So he’s now -- he’s now denying that he knew about these allegations for months?

CONWAY: You would have to talk to General Kelly about that, but I want to tell you from the president’s perspective, because you ask me a question about what the president thought. This is what workplaces everywhere across the country should see, a swift action. And it is Rob Porter who felt he should resign, and he did, and the president is saying that while he was there he did a very good job, he’s talking about his work performance, his output, and at the same time the person no longer works there because of what you and I have seen and read.

And if -- listen, all of these issues, apart from this White House, apart from ABC, apart from any work place, issues of child abuse, drug use, domestic abuse, intimate partner abuse, these have been scourges on society for decades, George, and if everybody wants to have a serious conversation about it, let’s have it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is not what we’ve heard from the president. One final question on this release of the Democratic memo that has not been released now. The president says he wants more redactions subject to what the FBI decides.

But it’s getting some criticism, not only from Democrats, but also Republicans. Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan saying both the Republican and Democratic FISA memo should be released. I’ve read both memos, neither one endangers national security. The American people deserve the opportunity to read both memos. Do the American people deserve that?

CONWAY: The president is inclined to declassify the memo, but it went through the same process, meaning legal counsel and national security team looked at it, and they feel that it needs -- that it reveals sources and methods, that were not the case in the Republican memo. So now it’s going back to the Congress, George, so that they can do what they need to do so that the memo can be released.

And I understand Congressman Schiff, you’ll have to ask him -- and I understand Congressman Schiff is complying with that process as well.

So the president is inclined to do -- to have released both of them. But the Democratic memo is much longer. It’s much more involved. And those who are in a position to know national security and lawyers have said that it contains sources and methods that could be very compromising. So they want to make sure that that is cured before it is released to the public.

But look, this president has called for transparency and accountability. We know now that -- through Christopher Steele, that the whole reason for the FISA warrants being -- being granted in the first place, to surveil a former campaign adviser, who Donald Trump has said he’s never met and who Carter Page has said he never met Donald Trump, we know that the entire expenditure that was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, paid for by the Clinton Campaign.

This president has been victimized by this for over a year. And so we have to be very careful about investigating all of this. But in terms of sources and methods, that -- that is not just a congressman on a TV appearance saying this is what I think. This is what I know. This is serious business. And if it takes a little bit extra time to get the -- get the transparency and accountability out there, we should all respect that. The president is inclined to declassify it the way he did the other.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there’s a lot of dispute over whether both were handled the same way. But we have got to leave it there. Kellyanne Conway, thanks very much for your time.

CONWAY: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we'll be right back with the man who held Rob Porter's job in the Clinton White House, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back now with Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, now an ABC News contributor, and Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, he served as staff secretary in the Clinton White House.

And, Congressman, let me begin with you. You held the job that Rob Porter held. You just heard Kellyanne Conway say there that they were basically following the regular process.

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Right. Look, I did that job. You know, when I did that job, the FBI sent agents from the Montevideo Field Office in Uruguay to the small Peruvian village where I worked with the Jesuits between college and law school. That process is incredibly exacting. And these guys knew in the first month of the administration about a fact pattern that would have permanently disqualified him from doing the job.

He never should have been in the chair. You know, there -- on that desk there are a stack of red folders marked top secret. Every day our nation's highest secrets are seen by the staff secretary. There's a burn bag under the desk because when you're done, you incinerate those materials. The idea that someone without a security clearance was allowed to be there in the first place, despite these allegations, and was allowed to stay there with no plan for getting him a clearance, is not the normal process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So when the FBI brings this to Don McGahn, the White House counsel, what's supposed to happen?

MALONEY: What's supposed to happen is they're supposed to say, we've got a problem with this guy, DQ him, sideline him. Let's find out what the facts are because you don't want him in the chair reading material that is so sensitive that only the president can see it in some cases, and the staff secretary. People don't understand that the national security adviser doesn't give a memo to the president. He gives it to the staff secretary who gives it to the president.

That means the staff secretary literally sees everything. You know this. And therefore you cannot have someone seeing our nation's secret who has a secret of their own. They are so easy to blackmail, that's why you do a background check.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Christie, how do you explain this? This clearly -- Don McGahn clearly knew about this several months ago, credible reports that John Kelly did as well. Where's the breakdown here?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, ABC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the breakdown is obviously in the process. I went through this, George, when I was U.S. attorney. Every assistant in the United States Attorney has to go through the same type of background check that you're talking about. And the fact is, when there is a problem that comes up, they don't give you like progress reports. But when there is an issue, ultimately, it comes to the employing agency to make this decision.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. It's not the FBI's decision. It's the...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: No, it is not the FBI's decision. The FBI is a collector of facts and information that they then present. In our case it was to the Department of Justice. And then you as U.S. attorney spoke with the people at the Department of Justice and say, here are the facts, are we comfortable with providing clearance to this person or not? Are there are standards? And there were certain standards in the Bush Justice Department on drug use and other things that would automatically disqualify someone.

So ultimately this is the decision of the White House. And so depending upon when it was presented, whether it was presented to Chief of Staff Preibus or whether it was presented ultimately first time to Chief of Staff Kelly, along with the White House counsel, they're the decision-making parties here that present that information to the president. So clearly there was a breakdown in process.

Now he's out of the job now. And that's the appropriate thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but only after it became public.

CHRISTIE: Listen, what I'm saying though is that I'm not justifying the breakdown in the process, George, what I'm saying is that that's ultimately where it had to have landed. And it should have landed there sooner if, in fact, people had been focusing on it, paying attention to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So should someone else pay the price for this?

CHRISTIE: That's going to be up to the president ultimately about whether or not he views this as such a failure of competence in terms of the management that he needs to bring someone else in.

MALONEY: Well, look, from what I understand, John Kelly's story now is that he did something within the first 40 minutes after the first 14 months of ignoring it. That's not acceptable. The fact is there's no way he didn't know about this. He's up to his neck in it. And he chose not to deal with it. And that is not competent. We brought this guy in, a lot of us thought, to put some order in the White House. We thought Kelly was the guy who could manage the place.

But if you're going to clean up aisle eight, you can't be throwing around jars of tomato sauce. I mean, you cannot make a bigger mess than you're cleaning up. And to have a guy in the staff secretary's job, I mean, seeing all of our nation's secrets -- and by the way, can I just back up? You've also ignored two women who said the guy beat me. I mean, there's a right and a wrong to this as well. What does it say about the value system that they want that guy so much that they're willing to ignore those credible allegations and then give him a security clearance that he'll never be able to earn?

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the answer to that?

CHRISTIE: I don't think there is a good answer to that. I mean, the fact, George, is that the reason I look at these allegations and view them as credible is because they were done contemporaneously. As prosecutor, you're always trying to examine evidence, right, and the credibility of evidence. And one of the ways we examine that is, were these allegations made contemporaneously or were they made some time a long time afterwards? Which you would say, well, why is there a gap?

Here, with both of Mr. Porter's ex-wives, they did what we instruct women to do, which is to go to the police, one of them obtained a restraining order, to document the abuse, one of them had a photograph taken, and to be able to put those things in line and to get out of the situation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And not a word about that from the president.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, the point from my perspective, George, is, I look at this, and I can't help but do it, not as a former governor, but as a prosecutor. And when you see credible allegations like that, you have to take them seriously. Should there be due process for Rob Porter in terms of any legal action? Of course. Everyone is entitled to that. But as an employer, you have got to look at this and say, are these allegations credible? And if they are, then we've got to take action.

MALONEY: Right. There's no due process when you're talking about whether someone gets a senior level West Wing job with the highest national security clearance.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a privilege.

MALONEY: It's a privilege. And my butt would have been kicked down the stairs within five minutes of learning something about this. And it would have been the right thing to do. So they had to make a value judgment on this. And by the way, what s the plan? The guy is never going to get a national security clearance, and yet every day he is reading our nation's top secrets and could have been blackmailed...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: But one thing, George, all I will say about -- I think there is some requirement for due process. And that's why the employing agency has to make judgments on the facts that are brought in. I don't think it's enough to say that any allegation should dismiss it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, but...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: In this instance...

STEPHANOPOULOS: … we're talking about a year.

CHRISTIE: But, listen, in this instance, I've already said my opinion on that, OK. But what I'm saying is, I think for the congressman to say there's no right to due process here, there is.

MALONEY: No, Governor...

CHRISTIE: There is a right to due process for an employing agency to make an absolute evaluation of the credibility of allegations. I'm saying to you, from my perspective, that given the contemporaneous nature and the documentation of these allegations, they were credible enough for people to...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So does John Kelly have to tell...

MALONEY: But, if I may, you just wouldn't put the guy in the job while you gave him that process.

CHRISTIE: Well, you know everybody goes at the job first, right?

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: I mean, on January 20, people can't have all their clearances...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Everybody gets...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Everybody gets interim clearance.

MALONEY: That's right. And that's normal. But in this case they learned in January of 2017 of these allegations, which means that normally you don't have that in front of you when you give an initial clearance. You knew the guy was never going to get cleared. And therefore it seems to me the appropriate thing would have been to say, look, you get your day in court, we're going to do some process, but you're sit on the sidelines while we figure it out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're out of time. Does John Kelly have to go?

CHRISTIE: I think the president has got to make that call. I think in the end we have got to hear from John Kelly as to what he knew. And we haven't heard that directly from him yet. And I think the president needs to hear that before he can make an evaluation of competence. In the end, George, this is about competence. And you have to, as the chief of staff, be able to competently run the place.

If there's allegations (INAUDIBLE), the president is going to have to make that call.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you both very much.

“Roundtable” standing by. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable is ready to go. And all week long, you can get the latest breaking news on politics with the ABC News app, download it during the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Did anybody happen to see the State of the Union Address? You have the other side, even on positive news, really positive news like that, they were like death and un-American, un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just marvel at some of the things he says and does, like, what, two days ago, anybody that didn't stand up and clap for him was un-American and then maybe even treasonous?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say it was tongue-in-cheek. Democrats can't take a joke.

BIDEN: Well, I mean, he's a joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You can be forgiven if you forgot about that controversy, afterall it was just on Monday.

We're going to get to the roundtable now. Joined by our chief political analyst Matthew Dowd; Megan Murphy, the former editor of Bloomberg Business Week; also David Axelrod who served as a senior adviser to President Obama, now the director of the University of Chicago's institute of politics; Republican strategist Alex Castellanos; and our senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, doing double duty today. Thank you.

Matt, let's talk about all the fallout coming here. You've worked in a White House. David is worked in a White House as well. We just heard from Congressman Maloney. Where was the break down their in this Rob Porter story?

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, can I just respond to Kellyanne Conway? Whoo! I mean, that's -- her relationship with truth is most charitably described as it's complicated in this.

To me, this fundamentally -- first of all, we obviously (inaudible) any abuser. Secondly, in today's day and age, the default position should be believe the women, that should be the default position. But fundamentally, and this is where I fault Kellyanne Conway, this is where I fault General Kelly, this is where I fault the general counsel, and this fundamentally is where I fault the president, is this is allowed to exist in America in every single walk of life because people enable it, because they decide that the ends justify the means. They decide that somebody is doing their job well.

And I'll disagree with Governor Christie on something, this isn't just about competence, this is about a moral problem, a moral situation that the president, through his own actions, through his own actions over the years, has allowed this to fester and this is what happens.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We saw the reaction at the White House when this Daily Mail first reported this. It appeared to be some shock, even though several staffers have known about this for weeks, maybe months.

CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we're back in the early days of this Trump administration in terms of chaos land. And I think seeing Kellyanne Conway on the show here this morning, they're very much still struggling what the messaging is on this one.

So, if the message this morning is Rob Porter is out, he resigned, therefore we did the right thing, we got rid of an accused wife beater, let's just go back to a couple of days ago when Sarah Sanders said Rob Porter resigned on his own. He was not forced out. And General Kelly and Sarah Sanders are both publicly quoted effusively praising him. And then when the photos come out, General Kelly said he stood by his praise of Rob Porter.

And then you've got these the comments in the Oval Office, which really seemed extraordinary, but really are not that remarkable at all when you're talking about the pattern of this president coming to the defense of men accused of abusing women, much more so than he's ever come to the defense of a victim or an accuser.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Alex Castellanos, in this way the president is actually pretty transparent. What we saw in that Oval Office pool spray, what we say in the tweets yesterday morning is exactly what he thinks.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's what he is. You know, this president, in many ways, is the predator, the T Rex that his voters sent to Washington to protect them from the other smaller slimier predators in Washington. He's instinctive. He's visceral. There's a reason he has problems with women. I think this president would sayI never grabbed a woman I didn't respect. That's a real problem.

But a lot of Trump voters I think also look at this and say, wait a minute, we're going to stone this guy? Even the mullahs in Iran give you a hearing before they stone you. Yes, let's believe the women, but trust, but verify. The mob has gathered. Charges have been made, is that enough?

MEGAN MURPHY, FORMER EDITOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESS WEEK: Look, I want to take what Matthew said and double down on it. Women die because of silence in this situation. Women die because they're not believed. Women die in these situations. It is of the utmost seriousness.

And I want to say to any women who have heard these stories, and we should make this very clear, if you have this, if this is happening to you in your relation, let's take this out of politics for a second. If this is happening to you, please come forward, as Chris Christie said. Do exactly as these women did, contact your local law enforcement, tell your family members. Please come forward and say it.

And also to our first responders, so many of our police force who are on the front lines dealing with this true epidemic in society, thank you so much for responding to it.

It is not about the mullahs in Iran, it is about women and believing them.

CASTELLANOS: Rob Porter may be a creep who pummels with his fists...

MURPHY: He's more than that.

CASTELLANOS: Rob Porter may be a reformed creep who has learned something and become better for it. He may be an innocent man. We don't know.

Yes, let's believe, but let's also listen..

DAVID AXELROD, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGOT: Listen, they have had the information, Alex, for 13 months. So, it's not as if he -- by the way being removed as staff secretary is not stoning, OK. But they've had the information...

CASTELLANOS: It's destruction of a life.

AXELROD: Well, so is domestic abuse.

CASTELLANOS: And we're all against that.

AXELROD: They had this information for 13 months, and that is what is astonishing. The fact is General Kelly was brought in to make the trains run on time. And he was either asleep at the switch or he willfully ignored the evidence that he was shown. And that's inexcusable. That is inexcusable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have to wonder, what was Don McGahn thinking when the FBI comes in and says here are the pictures. Here are the allegations, not from one, but from two women if there's no follow up investigation?

DOWD: To me, they all could be faulted -- General Kelly can be faulted. This goes back to the president of the United States. This is not a staff problem. This is not a management problem. That's like saying Pablo Escobar has a staff problem because drug smugglers and drug dealers worked for him. Donald Trump could not pass an FBI and background check or get security clearance if he worked as staff at the White House based on all his actions, based on 12 credible women that have accused him of sexual harassment, based upon his first wife who in her first divorce proceedings said she was raped by him, then recanted, based upon a guy that defraud thousands of people in a university situation. This is a guy, as president of the United States, who allows and enables this.

So, why wouldn't the general counsel, why wouldn't the chief of staff basically say it doesn't matter, we have this guy as president?

VEGA: You know, we hadn't heard from the president for the first three days that this controversy was out there in the press front pages, lead of every broadcast. He wasn't supposed to speak to reporters that day, that they were brought into the Oval Office and he made these comments where he praised Rob Porter. Those were his first message, that was his first message, to praise Rob Porter.

The problem I think for this White House right now, for the is what is the message that they are sending to women in this country, to women who have been beaten, to women who have been assaulted, to women who have been molested by men to say that even if you have the evidence, we don't believe you. That's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: He sent Kellyanne out this morning to fix that a little bit, talking about female unemployment.

MURPHY: Yeah, Kellyanne harkening to that (inaudible) statistic.

And look, we all what female labor participation force. You know what the biggest way to do that is to make policies that enable and empower women, that is child care, that is maternity leave, that is giving women the force and the -- to hold their jobs, to be consistent in the workforce and to be supportive when they accuse people in power ahead of them of abuse, which is what we have here. And for 13 months, they knew about this, they did nothing. It is appalling. It is an appalling indictment of this White House.

We should not sit here and treat this as the latest outrage. It is another outrage that should really have people leave -- they would not be anywhere first -- and when Kellyanne said that this is how a workforce treats these kinds of incidents, I say no. I would never want to work in this White House. I don't anyone around this table would. It is not how it should be...

CASTELLANOS: Nor would any of us be invited -- I would love to believe that a ratcheting economy is going to help Republicans in 2018. I don't think so. I don't think the opposition to Donald Trump and his predatory behavior at times is about dollars and cents, it's cultural, it's personal, it's visceral. Women are going to come out in droves in 2018.

AXELROD: There is no course correction for personality.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Actually on this point, Steve Bannon, talking to Michael Lewis at Bloomberg, says this, "it's not me too, it's not just sexual harassment, it's an anti patriarchy movement. Time is up on the 10,000 years of recorded history. This is coming. This is real."

Megan, I think you agree with this, David -- OK, let's separate some of the grandiose rhetoric there, but this is real. The resistance here is...

AXELROD: Oh, listen, whe nyou -- just look at what's happened in the last -- since the election in special elections across the country in Virginia. There has been a movement driven largely by women coming out in record numbers. Those marches that we saw the day after the inauguration and again this year, those are not just one-day events. This is continuing into elections.

And I think the great threat to Republicans in the fall is exactly what Steve Bannon is talking about. Everything indicates that that is going to be a real problem.

DOWD: I think that -- fundamentally agree with Steve Bannon on this, which is -- and he's saying this is a bad thing, right. He's saying the end of the patriarchy...

MURPHY: Mark that quote.

DOWD: ...is a bad thing. He's right. Men, and mainly white men, have ruled our country and this civilization for thousands of years, and that is coming to an end, slowly but surely as our country transforms, as the world transforms, into a much broader country in this. And he's right. And there is a major pushback. And I think Donald Trump's election was a major pushback in that people didn't like the fact that that patriarchy was coming to an end. And that's what we're seeing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's kind of the source of his strength -- the strength that he still has, that core base.

CASTELLANOS: Which is why he doesn't release a Democratic memo. The worst thing you can do in Donald Trump's world is to display weakness. Elections have consequences. Democrats eat your memos. Strength is the only thing that holds a dissolving world together, and that's what Donald Trump displays.

DOWD: It's not a dissolving world, it's a growing world.

CASTELLANOS: Oh, my god. It's atomizing.

MURPHY: But I also hate to frame this as men and women. Look, there are tons of fantastic men out there surrounded by them right now, men who deplore this behavior, deplore these comments, deplore sexism, are fantastic bosses, fantastic husbands, fantastic people who support and empower women. Let's not put this as men and women.

AXELROD: I agree.

MURPHY: And the end of the patriarchy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's an important point.

MURPHY: If women being empowered about women, it's also about greatness.

CASTELLANOS: It is the end of the hierarchy, though, and I call those the good old days. But the world is changing. Male authority is gone. So it is men and women.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things you are saying, you mention the world dissolving, as well, one of the things you are seeing is that inside this White House they are dissolving again. The culture kind of cracking apart. They have turned on each other in the wake of these allegations.

VEGA: And one of the people at the center of that is John Kelly right now. He certainly has a target on his back. In fact, our reporting is that he talked to the president within the last 24 hours last week of this story breaking and offered his willingness to resign should the president accept it.

There are certainly factions, there always has been. You know, for awhile this really started to kind of straighten itself out over there. And then after this story, this chaos erupted again. We saw a photo recently of everyone from Omarosa, Scaramucci, Rob Porter, everyone in the photo is gone.

John Kelly was brought in to be the grown up in the room. This has been not a good week for him in any way. It was only a couple days ago that he made those same comments calling Dreamers lazy, let's remember that.

So, it turns out...

AXELROD: Listen, I gave -- people -- you know, people were hoping that John Kelly would rub off on Donald Trump, the fact is Donald Trump has rubbed off on John Kelly. And there is no -- just going back to what Matthew said, everything in every White House flows from the top. And if the president is a dysfunctional personality, you're going to have a dysfunctional White House. And it doesn't matter who you bring in as chief of staff, you can manage down, you can't manage up with this president.

So, anyone who takes the job next -- I think Reince was there for 192 days, Kelly it's been 172. Whoever there next is going to run into the very same problems. The problem is the president.

CASTELLANOS: The scary part is not that John Kelly hasn't done a good job, it's that he has.

DOWD: Well, I think -- one thing I'll disagree with David on is this president has done something really well which is his ability to reveal people for who they fundamentally are. I don't think these people change because of Donald Trump, I think they are revealed for who they really are.

And anybody that goes into that White House, there's already in my mind a question about their moral center, but being in the White House reveals fundamentally who these people are. We've seen it over and over and over.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The question, though, for someone -- we heard Kellyanne deny it. She said that the president is not -- is happy with John Kelly, has full confidence in John Kelly. Listen, all the reporting is...

VEGA: The president is furious with John Kelly and Hope Hicks. There's no doubt about it.

AXELROD: But he's not actively searching for another chief of staff.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you have to imagine somebody has called for this chief of staff job, what do they say to the president? What do they demand? What can he induce, how can he induce them to take it?

MURPHY: It's as David said, the problem is the president. When you hear names like Gary Cohn, when you hear these -- you actually want to say to these people is that what you are willing to do, are you willing to degrade your humanity, your integrity, your very being, and what you want to leave as a legacy to this country? It is about this country. It is about what they want to project. And if that's what Gary Cohn or someone else that goes in that job, you are leaving your humanity...

AXELROD: But there is always someone who is willing to say, I owe it to my country, you know, maybe I can have the impact that others didn't on him. That's a false hope.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's especially true, though, in the job of chief of staff. I mean, you were getting to this point, John Kelly has, perhaps as Matt said, revealed himself. But there's probably also no question that a dozen times a day over the last six months he has prevented disaster.

CASTELLANOS: His hair is on fire. And he has probably done a better job than we think. But let's also remember that despite all the outrage and the moral concerns we have about what's going on in this White House, half of the American people saw this, knew what it was, and chose it in preference to more of the same, the status quo, the decline of the country, a country weak and not respected in the world, and a country where the politicians put themselves and their interests ahead of the interests of what they thought was the people's interest.

And neither party has changed or learned since Donald Trump was elected. It's still in many ways the same choice, so...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: Half the country did not -- half the country...

CASTELLANOS: … that's what empowers Donald Trump.

DOWD: Half the country did not choose what is going on today.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: A huge percentage of the people that voted for Donald Trump voted for Donald Trump in spite of being -- what he was doing. A quarter of his voters said he wasn't...

CASTELLANOS: Because of the alternative.

DOWD: … competent, said he didn't have the temperament, and hoped he would be different as president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Right. And thought the alternative was much worse.

MURPHY: But they did not vote for misogyny, having people who are domestic abusers in the White House. That -- to say that again and again is wrong. That is not what people voted for.

AXELROD: Megan, they saw the "Access Hollywood" tape, OK? They understood what his attitude was towards these issues. So they overlooked that in voting for him.

MURPHY: To overlook it, to vote for him in spite of that does not mean that people condone this treatment of women, that they condoned the marginalization. And we should actually talk about...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: They voted for him in spite of that.

MURPHY: They voted for him in spice of it. But they do not condone the way he treats women and the way this administration has.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: … hope or perhaps expect that he would change. Maybe it was a futile hope.

But that's all we have time for today. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News Tonight." I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.

END

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