tv CNN Newsroom With John Berman and Poppy Harlow CNN October 18, 2017 6:00am-7:00am PDT
good morning, everyone. i am poppy harlow. >> i am john berman. we want you to remember two things this morning, four americans were killed serving their country and four families are grieving this morning. remember that. remember them. amid the new developments in a controversy that is beyond uncomfortable, it's flat out unseemly. today president trump is
attacking the remarks that he made insensitive remarks. >> and this is the heart wrenching video of the moment at the miami video as she lay her head on her husband's casket. congresswoman fredricka wilson said she heard the president's remarks to mrs. johnson on speaker. she says the president said, quote, he knew what he was signing up for. and president trump says the congresswoman was lying. on cnn a short time ago, the congresswoman first learned the president's tweet and here is how she reacted? >> i don't know what kind of proof he could be talking about.
i am not the only person that was in the car. i have proof, too. this man is a sick man. he's cold-hearted and he feels no pity or sympathy for anybody. this is a grieving widow that is six months pregnant. this is a young woman. she's only 24 years old. she weighs maybe 110 pounds, and she has two other kids. two years old and six years old. when she actually hung up the phone she looked at me and said, he didn't even know his name. that's the worst part. >> let's talk about that. what did you hear? tell us about this phone call? >> i did not hear the whole phone call, but i did hear him say i am sure he knew what he was signing up for but it still hurts. i asked them to let me speak with him, and the master
sergeant said, no, you can't speak with him. i said i want to speak with him, because i was livid when i heard that, and i was livid because this was a young man who i reared in my community of miami gardens. he came through my mentoring program. his father was a student at my elementary school. i was his principal. i know them. for him to say that this young man stayed in school and did all the right things and went into the service and became a sergeant so quickly that he signed up for his own death? that's so insensitive. >> let's go to the white house, and our joe johns is there. anything else from the president or administration responding to this? any evidence of the proof he says he has? >> reporter: that's a good question and reached out to the
white house press office, and there's a scheduled 2:00 p.m. news conference, and hopefully we will get more. the president will be with the finance committee, and that will be an opportunity. look, this is a painful conversation about what is appropriate for the president to say and what is not and what is empathetic and what is not when speaking to family members of fallen service members, and it's edged on by the congresswoman you heard there, and she said she was present -- that's important, and she witnessed the widow of sergeant johnson, and being reduced to tears by the president's words, and the president, of course, pushing back this morning on twitter, and essentially calling the congresswoman a liar saying she fabricated that story and saying he has proof. the congresswoman in turn
standing by her story on "new day" this morning. listen. >> i am not trying to prove anything with the president, so the president evidently is lying. because what i said is true. i have no reason to lie on the president of the united states with a dead soldier in my community. i have no time. i have no motive. >> reporter: so there are a lot of threads to this story, and as you said at the top, poppy, one of the big threads is what is the proof the president was talking about. there's a larger question about what happened to these four green berets in niger, what was the intel recon, air aport, backup, and where was it and why wasn't it there? >> those are the important questions this morning, and the pentagon is launching a review
in the niger ambush into the death of sergeant johnson and the u.s. servicemen killed there. two weeks after the attack, of course, there are so many questions. cnn's barbara starr is at the pentagon. >> good morning to both of you. you would expect the pentagon and the military to launch a review of a situation like this and that's what they are doing. they are starting with actually trying to formulate a precise timeline that we are told by defense officials hour-by-hour what happened, how did it unfold. it starts with the intelligence the team had when they went to this village. this is an area where there had been insurgent activity but not the area they were going to, and they had been there many times before, the military had, and not encountered problems and did not anticipate this ambush. did they go in with faulty intelligence or proper
intelligence? who gave them the intelligence that led to this mission? they were supposed to go to the village and they were training and advising local nigerian forces. how did they not know 50 isis fighters were there? so they will look at that. they will look at the air support from the french military that came in 30 minutes after the firefight. niger does not allow offensive operations in its country, so those aircraft were only able to fly low and push off the isis fighters, but it's our understanding from multiple sources no bombs were dropped or missiles were fired and they did not have the authority to do that. they came in 30 minutes later, and that means the team was in a firefight for 30 minutes and the ultimate question, how did sergeant johnson get left
behind. they did not find his body for 48 hours. there's a lot of intelligence to be looked at here, and of course the key question, was there any point at which he might have even been alive for a brief period of time when he was left behind, and how did he get left behind is going to be the ultimate question. of course they are talking to everybody involved, including the other team members who are back at ft. bragg talking to intelligence officials and looking at every piece of information. >> barbara starr at the pentagon. thank you for the update. we appreciate it. let's talk more about the cnn military analyst, colonel steve warren is here and cnn political analyst, april ryan. there are a few things harder for any president than speaking to the families of the fallen. what should happen in those conversations? >> first of all, let's be clear that sergeant johnson and his comrades are all american heroes. i am glad you said that at the
top of the story because that's important to remember. what should happen? it's very difficult. those are so sensitive and these are matters of the heart and matters of tremendous loss. these are family members who have lost a loved one violently in combat. these are family members whose loved ones have been away normally for weeks, if not months, before this strapbtragen happens, so we have frayed nerves and on-edge family members in the process of previousin grieving, and it's a difficult phone call to make. >> a congresswoman of florida says the president, in her mind, seemed insensitive. what do you take away from her comments? >> what i take away from her comments, she was in the car and there was a speaker phone where she heard -- and others,
according to what she said, and the president is now saying that he has proof. if he has proof it's time for him to show it. this president, unfortunately, has a credibility issue. many in the country is like the boy that cries wolf, and now the question is, is he telling the truth? i have no reason to doubt the congresswoman. she is stalwart in her push in florida in helping people. she has been on the front lines of trying to bring back our girls from nigeria, and she's on the front lines of helping those in need. from trayvon martin's brother, she brought him in as an intern to work in her office, and now she's consoling somebody she considers family in the car with her former employee that worked in the school where she was a principal, and her son went to go and meet the casket, and i
have no reason to doubt what she said is true. i don't understand why she would politicize this. >> colonel, there's a lot of discussion about this, and outrage, certainly from some. a combat veteran who served under the obama administration wrote this morning, his name brand brandon friedman. he goes on to say i did two tours in combat and never met a soldier that thought dying was a reasonable result of their service. your thoughts of that in this broader context? >> this is a tricky one. as a combat veteran yourself, you have to prepare your mind for this possibility and when you deploy this is a conversation that you have with your family. so it is very difficult. nevertheless, we know that we are in harm's way. there's never a question when
you are in a combat zone or when you are conducting a foreign internal defense mission as these green berets were doing, or when you are even conducting a train operation. this is a dangerous profession. we do lose our brothers in arms and sisters in arms all too often. so it's important to keep that in mind. sometimes i feel like a lot of veterans feel this way, that sometimes folks don't know how much danger is associated with service, because there's danger associated with it even in peace time. >> april, again, one of the things that has been discussed here is what is being called the politicalization of these soldiers and sacrifices being made. general kelly lost his son in afghanistan, and he didn't talk about it for years and years and now he's the chief the staff, and the president is talking about his son but general kelly
is not, and how do you think that plays in his understanding or lack there of of the sensitivity surrounding this loss? >> you have to remember, this president did not serve in the military. he was deferred five times. it makes you wonder, understanding that he once called general kelly his friend, and i remember i was on pool duty on memorial day when we traveled to arlington national cemetery, and we actually, when this president was president, we went to the grave site of general kelly, and i ran into him, and i said how do you feel today, sir? he said, sad. one word. that was that day. i am sure somebody who understands the magnitude of service to this nation, and an understanding what it is to possibly give your life for the freedoms of this nation, and then to have what is sacred to
you, your son's death to be politicized, i am sure that does not play well. i am thinking about what he said to me during pool duty, when we were in arlington national cemetery going to his son's grave site with the president and the vice president of the united states. it can't be easy for him. >> no, it can't be easy for him or the families of these four fallen soldiers. and those are the folks we should be remembering this morning and today amid this controversy. great to have you with us. thank you so much. in just a few minutes, jeff sessions will be up on capitol hill in front of a senate hearing but he is getting some words today from the president of the united states, asking the justice department over reports that fired comey drafted a statement on clinton's e-mail investigations months before the
investigation. >> there are a series of tweets. it seems like the president is either hitting at sessions before he testifies or trying to line up questions from lawmakers to sessions. either way, let's go to capitol hill with more. >> reporter: this is the first time former attorney sessions will come before the committee, and democrats in particular were going after him, and after that hearing where he said he had no contacts with russians during the campaign season, it turned out he did. he had multiple contacts with the russian ambassador, and those questions will come to light at the judiciary committee. and even though he was asked the senate intelligence committee, where sessions said he did not do anything wrong, and he tried to make the case he was
misleading in the testimony, and democrats are not satisfied with how he answered those questions. at the same time there will be a lot of questions about how the attorney general sessions discussed the james comey firing with the president of the united states, and whether or not sessions is going to invoke any executive privilege to reveal conversations with the president over the comey firing, and expect questions from republicans as well as to whether or not there will be a separate investigation into comey's handling of the clinton e-mail investigation, and the president suggests there should be a separate investigation, and let alone all the other big issues left to answer like the immigration policy, and expect fireworks today, guys. >> we will be watching that very, very closely. this is an important hearing on capitol hill. jeff sessions spoke to the committee last spring and they
have a lot of questions for him. >> they kept saying he was invoking executive privilege, and it was not that, and will he do that again? >> will he be asked about the latest statements from the president? >> no question. and then more reaction from the florida center. of course, he was a constituent of the senator who spoke with the widow just yesterday, and what she said to him, next.
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of a fallen soldier, a wife whose husband and her had two children and another on the way? you see her right there, the widow of la david johnson grieving at his casket. democratic senator, bill nelson, knows all too well. he spoke with her yesterday and joins us now. thank you for being with us. >> thanks. thanks, poppy. >> what did she say to you? >> well, i am sure my words were
totally inadequate. i was just trying to tumble out words to express appreciation on behalf of a grateful nation for his service and sacrifice, and she was consumed in grief, as you would expect. very subdued and somber. you know, it recalled for me back many, many years when i served as a military officer, and one of the toughest duties when you have to be the notification officer to the next of kin of those killed, and that's a sobering experience. and it was yesterday, as well, for me to call mrs. johnson.
>> i am sure that call was appreciated. you are, as you said, a veteran. you are also the senior senator from the state of florida and now a member of your delegation, representative wilson, is talking about the phone call the president had with the widow. there's this controversy. she says the president was insensitive, and he says she's lying. what do you make of the back and forth this morning? >> well, i will not get into the controversy. i can tell you this about the congresswoman. she was particularly close to this individual because she does this mentoring program in miami called 5,000 young men. it's to bring up the young african-american young men to be the best they can be and to have other role models of which they
can achieve. you can imagine the pride with which fredricka wilson has of seeing so many of these young men make something of themselves, and in particular, in this case, of sergeant johnson having served his country as he was in a very elite unit. so that's the comment i would make about the congresswoman, fredricka wilson. >> you know, senator, you said just yesterday along with a growing number of your members of congress that this needs to be investigated. i wonder if the sergeant's widow, mrs. johnson, has questions about what happened to her husband, how it could have happened? i know an open casket was important to have, and she cannot have that, we are told by representative wilson, because
of his face, he was left two days before they recovered his body. what questions did she have? >> we didn't talk about that. it would have been inappropriate for me to talk about that. i was trying to console her and love her and give her comfort. the question of the investigation, sure, there needs to be an investigation. whenever we have deaths in the military like this, we need to know what happened exactly, how were they mouse trapped? did they have the appropriate rescue capabilities? were they sufficiently armed? did they walk into a trap so that we won't do that again. what is it that caused them to have to abandon his body or to leave him dying in order that they didn't even get back for two days? all of that, we need to know.
>> senator, next hour jeff sessions appears before the senate judicialairy committee, and the president is talking about a letter that then fbi director james comey drafted as far back as may where he outlines rational for ultimately egg jean ron egg rxonerating hiy clinton. he is saying the timeline is fishy. what do you make of it? >> i have no idea. let's see what the information is. again, i think it's a good thing that jeff is coming before the judiciary committee of which he used to be a member, and he ought to lay it out. what he ought to speak with is clarity. guess who is speaking with the greatest clarity on capitol hill now? it's john mccain. why? because john mccain doesn't have anything to lose.
that's what we ought to have. that kind of dialogue up here, and plus we ought to have the mind that john mccain has when yesterday he was trying to be trapped into saying, oh, he was going to fight with the president, and how did he respond to the reporter? he says, i don't want to fight with the president, i want to work with the president. i want to get things done. that's the attitude we ought to have up here. >> good luck with that. we really mean it. thank you so much for being with us. >> appreciate it. the president this morning pushing his tax plan, a new cnn poll shows what americans think of it. >> more from our chief business correspondent, cnn's christine romans. >> the polling shows that americans are not so sure about the president's tax plan. we look at those in favor of it. 52% oppose it. that's the highest number of opposition we have seen in the polling so far. 14% are unsure.
that splits largely along party lines. look here, do you think your family will be worse off, better off, or the same, 31% worse off, and 24% better off, and 37% about the same. it's interesting because the president has been trying to frame the tax debate for everyday americans, and he said it would be a middle class miracle. and many say it's about corporate tax reform, and big tax cuts for companies and the ability to bring their cash from overseas and get that to work in their company's by buy backs and paying down debt and the like. if you let companies have more of the money, lower tax rates, that will be good for paychecks and middle class americans, and at least for the polling that's not resonating yet. >> thank you so much. >> you are welcome. we have our eye right now on capitol hill.
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he will face questions on the russia investigation, among other things. joining us now, our panel. despite what is going on with the controversy of what he did or did not say to the widow, or because of it the president
has been active on twitter and making comments about the russia investigation. let me read this. many people not interviewed, including clinton herself. comey stated under oath that he didn't do this, obviously a fix. here's the kicker with jeff sessions headed to capitol hill. where is the justice department? is he doing this to distract from what is going on in niger, or doing it to get the senate to ask about comey, or what?
>> he's nervous about russia, and he hurt the feelings of the gold star wife, but it's about russia. the circle is tightening. his press secretary, former press secretary, has been interviewed by mueller. president trump is trying to layout a way to counter attack, and that's all he knows how to do. it seems to me, a weak counter attack. democrats don't like james comey either. to find a receptive audience of james comey, the investigation seems to be leading there. >> two facts. one is the timeline. we know from our reporting of what was posted publicly, james comey, when he was fbi chief he started to draft the reasoning
as to why hillary clinton may be exonerated, and then july 2nd, they interviewed clinton and then on july 5th, they recommended charges. the president is right that the draft happened before but he's wrong that comey testified as such and comey was lying that he decided before. here's that testimony with comey. listen to this. >> director, did you make the decision not to recommend criminal charges relating to classified information before or after hillary clinton was interviewed by the fbi on july 2nd? >> after. >> the president says comey stated under oath he didn't do this. alice, what questions should sessions face on all of this today? >> i think the difficulty that sessions is in with regard to the russia investigation, the probe is that he's in a tight spot given that he was on the campaign while a lot was going on and he recused himself from
the investigation and from being involved in this and he's in a difficult spot. he has to come clean with all of his information. there's a couple investigations going on. the one in congress and then the mueller investigation. i think from what i hear with the investigation going on with house and senate members, that is nearing its completion. quote, possibly by the end of november, they have two dozen more witnesses. from what i hear they are going to lean toward no collusion. that is separate from what we have with the mueller investigation. i think the president is concerned about what will come out of the mueller investigation. he is convinced this indicates he didn't win the election fair and square. he won the election because he connected with the american people and worked hard and won the electoral college, but in this view he looks at it as a slap in the face to his election
victory. >> he won the election because hillary clinton smeared hillary clinton at the end, and vladimir putin, and without those two he could not beat clinton and kaine. it's not just me. the nonpartisan site that looks at this stuff, you can see when comey came out 11 days before the election, and with no real basis at all threw hillary clinton back into it and said i am reopening the situation. >> we had the "access hollywood" tape, too. this is about connecting with the american people. >> it's not november or october 2016, and there's irony in the fact that these tweets from the president today is talking about the fact that comey was too soft on hillary clinton, and the reason he gave for firing is he was too hard on hillary clinton, and you are saying jeff sessions
has to come clean. he suggested he might invoke executive privilege as a reason for not answers questions, and we will see if he answers questions today. i want to get your take on the controversy surrounding the phone call to the willow of sergeant johnson. >> i spent a little time yesterday looking at stars and stripes and the coverage from the local newspaper. this is a guy, 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, another baby on the way. he was a hero and gave his life for our country, and the president did not offer the proper condolences to that widow. it's the hardest thing the president has to do, but he failed. he was sergeant johnson's kphapbt commander-in-chief. you look at mr. lincoln's letter
to mrs. bixby who lost five sons, and president roosevelt's letter to a mother that lost five sons in world war ii. when the marines were killed in beirut, ronald reagan, a son of one of the killed marines came up to him and said can you bring my dad back? this was his sacred dude and he blew it. he insulted and hurt that woman's feelings. >> you you are a pro at this, and we know the president lashes back and he said i have proof. should he have said anything? now that he says he has proof, what should he do from here? >> we are not paying tribute and honor to the fallen heroes. i think it's important, look, we have to be careful -- none of us heard this conversation except for those in the car and the president and whoever this was
there. this sentence taken as is and standing alone does not show the compassion you would expect, and he also says it has to hurt. i would give him the benefit of the doubt that this conversation was filled with thank you for your sacrifice, he is a hero, and i am confident he expressed sympathy -- >> based on what? he has never shown any empathy. >> he says he is not political. the biggest frustration in a time like this is soldiers become ponds in a political gain, and we cannot do that and we need to honor their service and take them as the heroes they are and not use this to be political. >> let's do it. >> thank you both very much. frustration running high in puerto rico as people there one month after maria hit are still struggling for bare necessities. just clean drinking water. these are american citizens.
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today marks one month since hurricane maria hit puerto rico and the devastation still being felt so badly throughout the island. one-third of the island does not have running water and 80% still without power. >> and ed lavandera continues to be there and is reporting on the ground. look at this. >> reporter: as local legend has it, the first to get electric light more than 100 years ago, and now people wonder if this could be one of the last places to get the lights turned back on. to understand what they are struggling with, the mayor tells us to jump into his police
humvee for a ride. we drive deep through the mountain valley. he says things are moving so slowly it's like the hurricane struck just yesterday. the area is high in the mountains in central puerto rico, and it's home to about 27,000 people. the logistical nightmare maria left behind is everywhere. it took weeks to clear some of the major roads. no electricity anywhere in the city, and it has taken weeks for officials to understand how desperate the situation is here. he asked for generators and they have not come. he says that evacuation helicopters did not arrive in time to get the people out of here to save their lives and
they ended up dying. local crews deliver meals and water to 1,500 families and that's still not enough, and he's not convinced the relief supplies are reaching the residents here. >> the mayor says he has heard there's food and water sent for this town and he believes it's just sitting in san juan and not making its way here. the mayor said major help only started to arrive in the last two days, and fema is processing disaster claims and getting logistical help from the military. is it too slow? >> speaki he said the line between live and death is thin here. cnn, san juan, puerto rico. >> 81% without power a month -- >> 30 days -- >> a month after.
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all right, new this morning, the president with a fresh attack on the nfl. he writes, the nfl has decided that it will not force players the to stand for the playing of our national anthem. total disrespect for our great country. >> so it's not just the nfl. the nba tipped off its season opener with players making their own statement. the cleveland cavaliers locking arms during the anthem. let's go to coy wire for more on what could be ahead. coy? >> hi, poppy. hi, john. the nba has a rule that players
must stand for the national anthem, but they're able to make their statements in other ways. for lebron james last night in the nba season opener, he was wearing shoes with "equality" across the back. now, the nfl, it does not have a such rule requiring players to stand for the anthem. but some wondered if a rule forcing players to stand would be discussed at yesterday's meeting between owners and players. the topic wasn't even discussed. the aim of the meeting was to get the focus back on the original intention of the protests, which was shedding light on racial and soes y econom economic inequities in america. eagles' safety malcolm jenkins was at the meeting. here's some of what he said was discussed. >> the players and the owners came to an agreement that these aren't really issues that are player issues or owner issues or community issues. they're issues that affect all of us in our communities. >> we'll continue that too talk the next few weeks about how we
can collaborate in making sure we tell the stories right way. that we take ownership and a narrative. and that we clearly express to our country what the work is that we're trying to do. >> of the 12 or 13 players who were at the meetings, one notable not there, colin kaepernick's, whose attorney said that the former 49er who first started the movement of protesting during the anthem was not invited by the league, but jenkins, from who you just heard said that kaepernick was invited by the players and did not know why kaepernick did not show up. kaepernick remains unsigned and has filed a collusion grievance against the owners. >> cowire, thank you. keep us posted. all right, we are moments away from the attorney general, jeff sessions, set to be likely grilled by senators. you see people as they're making their way into the room. this begins in just moments. you'll see it live here. stay with us. that goes beyond assuming ingredients are safe... to knowing they are. going beyond expectations... because our pets deserve it.
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all right. good morning, everyone. i'm john berman. >> and i'm poppy harlow. top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. eastern. we do have breaking news. attorney general jeff sessions in the hot seat, literally, about to sit down for this senate judiciary committee. you're lacking at live pictures of capitol hill, where at any moment, his former colleagues in the senate will likely deliver a grilling. and they really want answers, actual answers this time, from sessions. >> all right. this is a big deal, especially after jeff sessions avoided testifying before this committee last spring. i want to go up to capitol hill right now. our manu raju speaking with the senate whip, dick durbin, right now, who will be part of this today. let's just dip in. >> -- spoke to the senate judiciary committee. he actually did not -- he said he didn't have any contacts with russian officials. and it turns out that he actually did, with sergey kislyak. how much do you think that the committee, the democrats are going focus on