tv CNN Newsroom With John Berman and Poppy Harlow CNN October 19, 2017 6:00am-7:00am PDT
good morning, everybody. i am john berman. >> i am poppy harlow. this has become the center of the major controversy for the white house. president trump continues to fight back against claims from family members his call to the widow of sergeant johnson lacked empathy. johnson is one of the four u.s. army troops killed by isis fires in niger two weeks ago. it was not until a reporter
asked the president on monday about those military deaths he addressed them for the first time. >> we did learn information about how the white house first planned to address the tragedy, and why he changed his mind. we are getting new details about a pledge to send $25,000 to the father of one fallen hero. joe? >> reporter: the white house has really offered few new details on why the president took so long to issue that public statement after the united states soldiers died in niger, but what we do know is the national security council did prepare a statement for the white house to release. it was not released, we're told, and the white house opted instead for the white house press secretary to make a statement from the podium, and they thought here that would
somehow be more powerful. meanwhile, we continue to follow the multiple threads of the multiple gold-star families and their interactions with the president of the united states. in fact, the family of army corps corporal, findin out the $25,000 death benefit would only go to the mother, the president offered to write a $25,000 check of his own to the father of balldride. still, they think the family says they think the president handled the situation very well. >> it was amazing, not knowing what to expect.
he was, again, very genuine. genuinely thankful for my son and his service, and very encouraging. he expressed, you know, a sincere gratitude and it was very, very nice. >> meanwhile the family of murphy, a soldier that died in syria earlier this year says they never received a call from the president at all. they talked to cnn on "new day" this morning. >> it's not about me. it's about my child. and all the other countless fallen heroes and those that are still over there now and the families that are here grieving, like i am and my husband is. that's what it's all about. i don't want it to be about me or about a letter, i want it to be about my child and what he
stood for. >> the white house says the president has interacted with all of the families whose cases went through the normal protocols of the white house military office. so far today the president does not have anything on his public schedule, however that could change. we do know that the president is meeting with the governor of puerto rico, so far, though, that's a closed event. back to you. >> joe johns at the white house for us this morning. thank you. we appreciate it. amid all of this the white house is facing a lot of questions. people want answers about what happened to those four u.s. soldiers that died in niger. >> sources tell cnn secretary james mattis is dismayed at the lack of clarity. cnn's barbara starr at the pentagon. barbara, you have been pushing this forward for more than a week now. what do we know and what don't we know? >> it's a mixed picture at this point and it still remains these are the initial reports coming
in according to multiple sources we are talking to. secretary mattis, i think, dismayed would be the accurate word from what people are telling us. not rushing things, but would like to see answers. the u.s. now assesses it was isis that attacked this team in niger, and they basically walked into an ambush of about 50 isis fighters armed with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns, and the u.s. team had only rifles. the intelligence they had at the time was clearly inaccurate. the intelligence said it was unlikely that they would run into any opposition on this mission and certainly they did. this was a location they had gone to many times before, and they were going to visit village elders and they were basically on a training and advice mission for the local forces accompanying them, and it was all supposed to go really pretty much as a routine effort, if
there's anything routine for green berets, but it did not go that way. when the firefight and ambush broke out, niger does not allow air strikes in its country, so the only thing that could be done to help them was 30 minutes later some french aircraft came in and flew low passes over the battle area to scare off the isis fighters and it was only after that that they were able to get evacuation forces in to help them. >> barbara starr, thank you very much. as john said, you have been on top of this from the beginning. we know you will continue to be and appreciate it. with us now is gold star mother, karen meredith. she comes from a long line of families that served this country in the military, and lost her only child, her son in iraq in 2004. he joined the army out of high school in 1995, and stationed in iraq in 2003 and was given the chance to lead his own platoon.
he died a year later on memorial day. karen, thank you for being here. >> good morning. >> as we remember your son and so many others every day, and especially right now, what is it that members of families that lose their children in battle need the most from leadership right now? >> i think what most gold star families would say is do not forget my child, and let us know that their lives matter, and so president trump, by not acknowledging these four deaths in niger made us feel like their service didn't matter, and their lives didn't matter and the families didn't matter. >> you think the delay -- it was a 12-day delay before we heard anything directly from the president, that is what the white house did wrong? the white house says the press secretary sanders did make a
statement from the podium. you don't see that as a enough? >> no, no, not at all. protocol -- from what i know, and i did receive a letter from president bush, but most people do receive a letter. they don't necessarily receive a call, so that's a little bit above and beyond. i think the timeliness of it, and also the delay of the president to even acknowledge what the incident was, one of my mottos in life is that americans find out about geography of the world by the wars that we are in, and so a lot of people didn't even know that we had troops in niger. i think that we still do need to know more incident. for the families, all they are worried about at this point in the first ten or 12 days is getting the body home because that's how long it takes.
it's unfortunate the phone call took place on the way to the airport to pick up the body. >> we will never forget the image we saw yesterday of, you know, johnson's pregnant widow, grieving and sobbing over his cass wet. we a -- casket. we are seeing that now. these men under 40 years old, it's their story and their lives and their memory is being lost in what is very much a political debate. >> well, and some people have said we should not the politicize our loved ones lives, but for me i wanted to call the president out on this because if i didn't say anything then people would think we are okay with the president not acknowledging our loss and sacrifice. but to watch mrs. johnson over her husband's casket just brought it all back to me even 13 years later, and it's -- i
wouldn't want to relive that first year for anything. >> these wounds, so many of them, they are wounds that do not heal for families and you know that all too well. you were talking about niger and how sometimes americans learn geography, and do you feel like there are unanswered questions that americans deserve the answers to in terms of what happened? >> well, i think that we do need to know why troops are stationed wherever they are. what is the mission? what is the exit strategy? if we don't know that we have no business being anywhere. we still don't have an exit strategy for afghanistan, but -- it's really important that we know. the military, unfortunately, sometimes doesn't tell the truth. it took the army 15 months to
tell me the truth about my son's death. i hope the four soldiers' families find out the truth about how their loved ones were killed and find out the details. >> lastly, any message you want to send to the families of the four service members we are looking at on the screen there? >> my biggest message would be a big hug, and we don't shake hands. gold star families don't shake hands, but i would give them a hug and say i'm sorry. that's all -- i'm sorry is a complete sentence. we just need to know that they are not alone, and there are plenty of resources to help them get through this, but they shouldn't do it alone. let us help them, those who have been before them and godspeed to them. >> karen, thank you very much for that message.
and for all your son did for all of us. >> thank you. >> all right. a lot ahead for us this hour. an entire florida county on edge this morning as white nationalist spencer gears up to speak at the university of florida where they are live, and then a new report, top trump staffers retweeted days from russian trolls days before the election. the white house faces new backlash over the handling of hurricane maria. >> all this stuff about bringing security contractors to ride shotgun on the trucks, i will get you 500 military vets, we're all down here for free.
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all-star political panel. molly, i want to start with you. gold star families are being called to find out if they received some kind of outreach from president trump directly. the white house says the sacrifice is being politicized here, but who is the pot and who is the kettle? is the white house blameless on how we got here? >> the president started this. nobody asked him to pick a fight with other presidents and to turn this into a contest and to make it into a political battle, and then to invite the question, since he's the one that brought it up about how he was interacting with the families and how he was calling them, about what he was saying to them. you know, if he's -- usually a counter puncher, but this is the case where he threw the first punch. >> alex, two things can be true, and that seems to be the case in this situation. one thing, yes, the president
has called some of the gold star families and at the same time he exaggerated and if not, didn't tell the truth, he called every single family and he walked that back on the radio and said virtually every family. what matters most? >> it's clearly not true he called every family and it's not true that his predecessors did not call when their family members were lost at war. it had nothing to do with if he had dealt with the grief of the families of america's war dead. this is a conversation he initiated. i think to molly's point, and she aleluded to the president talks about himself as a counter puncher, and he perceives any kind of question or criticism as a hard slam on him and his
character, and i don't think anybody -- certainly not the reporters that began asking these questions, and i don't think certainly the gold star families who have now gotten involved set out to start a fight with the president. >> look, members of congress are asking questions. there are still people looking for answers, here. john mccain says the white house has not been forthcoming. how did these four service members died? rebecca, also happening on capitol hill, progress on any kind of agreement on the health care patch to get funding for the insurance companies to provide insurance to low income americans now. do you know -- do you think the president wants any version of this to pass? >> he suggested he does. he has been a little unclear, to say the least, about what version he would want passed if
he supports specifically the murray/alexander agreement, or if he is opposing it because some cable news commentator made him think it was a bailout to the insurance companies. if the democrats can reach the agreement and send it to the president he will be in a tough position not to sign some sort of agreement. it's designed to keep the markets afloat, and really ultimately help consumers help the people who will be voting for republicans or democrats come next year, and remove some of the uncertainty, not only for insurance companies but for ultimately for consumers. the president has never been somebody who is clear on policy prescriptions. that's not his forte. i think this will be something as with all the big policy questions of the day that capitol hill will need to sort
out. whatever they set with the president, that's where the decisions come in. >> and the president chose to tweet about russia. let me read it to you. workers in the dossier take the fifth. who paid for it? russia? the fbi? the dems or all? is this saying the government manipulated some document to plot against him? >> maybe. i can't read his mind any more than you can. look, he's obsessed this with thing. he continues to -- as with the thing with the gold star families, everything is personal to him. he takes everything personally. this russia investigation that continues to hang over him, he
sees as a plot against him. he will seize on every bit of evidence to say it's a plot against me and it's everybody else's fault. i think what drives him crazy is he doesn't have any control over the course of this thing, and all of the tweets in the world and conspiracy theories are not going to sway the investigators looking into it. >> it might make sense if he were not president and was bitter about not winning, but he won. >> it's an extraordinary charge to suggest that the fbi was paying to put together a big giant dossier of negative information about him. he says it in passing right there, but that jumps out at you and it's not normally what you see, the president accusing the fbi of coming after him. >> no. >> we will have our friend, bet betsy woodruff on in a little bit.
>> there were retweets in the days prior to the campaign. the handle on that was tennesseegop, but it was the russian plant sending information about the hillary clinton out, and the senior staffers retweeted it, and we don't know if they knew that. >> i am not going to judge for a retweet, and it obviously is yet another choice by the president to detonate an issue that he doesn't need to be fighting on. if we reflect on everything we talked about on this panel and most of what has been talked about on television over the
course of this week, what has been largely absent is the president's tax agenda, which most people believe is the political crux of the entire season for him and the republican party. if you talk to folks on the hill, there's a sense of frustration verging on despair that they are now at a place once again like they were with obamacare repeal over the summer, and they were trying to push a boulder up a hill and now they are feuding with gold star families and now starting an escalating fight about russia. >> we will talk about the report next in a moment. one of the tweets came a week before the election talking about thousands and thousands of voter fraud issues being counted. that stuff matters, and you are going to retweet it and you are that close to the president, make you should know the source. trump talking about the stock market, obviously going way, way up. 23,000 for the first time. >> i love that hat.
>> dow 23,000. >> i got rid of mine years ago when it didn't happen. christine romans here with the president's claims it is unprecedented. >> i have a dow 10,000 hat. before these milestones, january, march, august, and then october 18th, went from 21,000, 22,000, and then 23,000. doesn't that look incredible. the president said it was unprecedented. but barack obama, the stock market was up 18%. donald trump and barack obama share that stock market gain, if you will. to hear a president talk about the stock market and cheerlead it like this, it's something we rarely see. and mnuchin saying if we don't
get tax cuts, the market will tank. unusual to have the treasury secretary talk about the stock market in that way, and he said the stock market won't go up if you don't cut taxes, and it was football language which was interesting. this market is going up because of the anticipation of tax cuts. >> maybe not today? >> tech stocks are down this morning. they carry weight and they spook things. today, 30 years ago today was black monday. >> it was, indeed. >> remember, john? >> it was five years before you were born. >> yeah, i was riding my bike that day. no, it was 30 years ago. i will remind everybody that terrible day in market history turned out to be the green chutes of the bull market. the governor of puerto rico
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>> there's still a lot of work to go ahead. there are things that we need to surface from the emergency, and we will talk about those issues, what the current needs are at the moment, and looking forward to recovering and rebuilding in puerto rico. in these emergencies, it might have the appearance they are stabilizing at one point and then you can have other things arise, and we want to take the big picture into consideration and recognizing we are in this together, u.s. citizens in texas and florida and puerto rico and the u.s. virgin islands. we need equal treatment and all the resources, and the resources to rebuild stronger than ever. >> how is the distribution and supplies getting to folks that need it? >> right now it's working. it's augmenting significantly.
we are working with the municipalities. the national guard is helping with the logistics. i sent out the auditors from the treasury department so they can have accountability over what is going on, and of course there has been investigations ongoing into the proper management of the resources, and the life sustainment efforts, hospitals, water, food, medicine and distribution and so forth and keeping clear if we don't focus on the mid and long term we could have a bigger problem. >> reporter: [ speaking spanish ] >> this is the governor of puerto rico and marco rubio, he says we need equal treatment and will take that message to the white house. he meets with the president shortly. 79% of puerto rico without
power, and one-third of the residents don't have running water. there were a group of war veterans that started taking matters into their own hands. >> as dawn brings maria's one-month after vernniversary, out of san juan by air and low to the ground. >> terrain. terrain. pull up. >> all the better to see the mudslides, broken bridges and shattered homes. we pass one of the biggest radio telescopes in the world. we are looking for intelligent signs of life in the american western mountains where people have been waiting for help for weeks. we land inside the airport, a group of big-hearted military veterans turned baggage claim into a bunkhouse and operations center. >> i think we are like 35,000 meals and i don't know how many crates of water, and that's where the small trucks we have. >> they came down on their own dime and shake their heads in
frustration with fema. if it were up to them, they would bring in the national guard, 15,000 at a time on two-week -- >> you have to pay them to sit, and you are wasting your money. for the security advisers to ride shotgun, and i will get you military vets, and we are all down here for free. >> we get a taste of the logistical headaches here, and maria obliterated the stretch of highway, and for little hope of road crews, the neighbors are building their own bridge. >> do you feel like americans in moments like this? do you feel taken care of? >> we are not people that say the government must help us, santiago says, we are all part of humanity, every person does the best they can. >> what kind of help are you getting from the outside?
>> we see fema, and we see the group that came from connecticut and they purified the water. >> are these the veterans -- >> yeah. >> we met them at the airport? >> yeah, they were beautiful people. >> thanks to junie and his mini monster truck, we get past yet another mudslide. >> could you use national guardsmen in two week rotations to come in. are you begging for more men? >> no, because we have 45,000 men. >> after the haiti quake, the u.s. had 22,000 troops on the ground in a foreign country. >> i don't know how much more we can bring. we are impacting the economy of puerto rico. >> isn't it true that fema had a presence in new orleans for seven years, right? people were living in fema
trailers for years? >> we were in new orleans just two years ago and we left 5,000 mobile homes there, and we were there for seven or eight months responding there, and we are going to be in puerto rico and the virgin islands also for as long as it takes. >> despite what the president says? >> you know what, we don't follow -- i don't see the tv, so i don't pay attention to that. i pay attention to the mission i have in my heart, which is fixing puerto rico. >> in just a few hours we have been out shooting, and an amazing development at abandon airport. the air national guard out of tennessee and kentucky arrived and are militarizing the airport, and they have 500 guys and more are coming and they have been sitting back home for two weeks champing at the bit to come, and so many layers of red tape, they just could not pull the trigger, and they are here now and they have supplies and will push them into the mountains as soon as they
possibly can. >> amazing to see. thank you for reporting on the ground in puerto rico. we will stay there. in the meantime part of florida under a state of emergency, hours before a planned speech from a white supremacist. ...isn't it time to let the real you shine through? maybe it's time for otezla (apremilast). otezla is not an injection or a cream. it's a pill that treats plaque psoriasis differently. with otezla, 75% clearer skin is achievable after just 4 months,... ...with reduced redness,... ...thickness, and scaliness of plaques. and the otezla prescribing information has... ...no requirement for routine lab monitoring. don't use if you're allergic to otezla. otezla may cause severe diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. tell your doctor if these occur. otezla is associated with an increased... ...risk of depression. tell your doctor if you have... ...a history of depression... ...or suicidal thoughts,... ...or if these feelings develop. some people taking otezla... ...reported weight loss. your doctor should monitor your weight and may stop treatment.
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campus since charlottesville. legally there was nothing they could do, they are a public university and cannot prevent him from speaking there despite the disgusting message he will spread. what are people saying? >> reporter: there's a lot of anxiety from students. i talked to multiple students yesterday, and they said their biggest fear was somebody was going to bring a gun on their campus and they could not stop thinking about charlottesville and the deadly rally that happened there. let me show you around because there's a concerted effort to make sure students feel safe. we know and have seen in other rallies and one of the biggest issues is protesters are not separated. there will be a section of protesters beyond the barricades, and then the swath
of land, about 50 yards in front of me, that's an area for law enforcement. the area beyond those barricades is where the other set of protesters will be. here's another important point. these trash cans, they bins are important. this is where all of the prohibited items will be tossed and law enforcement has been clear. nobody will be allowed with sticks, shields, umbrellas, anything that can be used as a weapon. just by the lay of the land here they are making a concerted effort, john and poppy, to make sure that everybody can express their first amendment right, but peacefully. john, poppy. >> we will be watching. thank you for being there and reporting on this. this is about to happen in a few hours. joining us ahead of the speech is a lecturer with the african-american studies program at the university of florida. thank you for being with us. you have written about it and talked about it and you equate
the mood on campus as a powder keg. what are you hearing from students and faculty? >> yes, it's definitely a powder keg and that's the feeling that students and faculty have on campus. me and my students have gone home, and some have left the campus on monday, actually, and it's really a concerning thing because 110 years ago, actually, the state of florida governor at the time, napoleon broward declared ethnic cleansing in the state of florida on african-americans. the fact that we have this rhetoric again in 2017, it's a very concerning thing, especially for a community and it's a very particular sensitive issue for african-americans, not only on this campus but all around the state of florida. >> white nationalism is a sensitive issue or should be for each and every american. i think we can agree on that, doctor. you take issue with a message
being sent by the university, why? >> many of the students and faculty are confused by the message, because on the one hand the university says it -- it says that they do not agree with richard spencer being on campus and it's a security issue, and that in certain situations it's said that the university can block these types of events if it's a security issue. so many of the students and faculty have questions in the sense that, okay, if you are going to spend over $500,000 on security, then why are we having this event in the first place? >> the state of emergency has been declared, as you know, and richard spencer has taken a hold of that and, you know, embraced it. he calls it flattering, saying i am in the same genre as
hurricanes and do you think that as editorial in the "washington post" says he's getting more credit out of calling it a state of emergency in the state of florida? >> most definitely. he's getting the attention he seeks and it calls into question what strategy our public institution will take in the future because, again, this is -- it's a big safety issue. right now we are basically in a police state where you go along certain streets, certain main streets are closed in gainesville. you see hundreds and hundreds and thousands of state troopers and different types of police officers, and that scares students, not only scares students but the citizens in gainesville. again, moving forward, public universities really have to figure out a strategy in labeling this correctly, which
it's a big security issue. we know from prior incidents what this group brings to the table. >> doctor, i think we are all counting on folks like you to spread the message of love, to be sure, not the message that will be delivered by spencer today. thank you. >> thank you. and then a trick by the kremlin turning citizens against each other. she's a world-clasr who's stared down the best in her sport. but for both of them, the most challenging opponent was... pe blood clots in my lung. it was really scary. a dvt in my leg. i had to learn all i could to help protect myself. my doctor and i choose xarelto® xarelto®... to help keep me protected. xarelto® is a latest-generation blood thinner... ...that's proven to treat and reduce the risk of dvt and pe blood clots from happening again. in clinical studies, almost 98% of patients on xarelto®
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election metdsling. the daily beast reports retweeted messages from a russian troll account, most notably don jr. and kellyanne conway, up to a week before the election. next hour we will speak with one of the reporters who broke that story. and this comes as cnn has learned some of the intricate plotses that the russians used, the tactics that they used to try to disrupt the united states population. drew griffin explains. >> reporter: in january of this year, well after the presidential election, new york martial arts instructor says he was contacted by a group called black fists, saying it would pay him to hold free self-defense classes for members of the black community. >> do you ever think this is weird? >> yeah. a lot of times i thought it was weird. >> reporter: weird, but the money was good. $320 a month, paid direct through paypal and google wallet, to teach just four
classes and black fists would pro moat it. what was also weird, no one from black fist ever showed up to meet him. his only communication was in text and far-away sounding phone calls from this man named taylor. >> yeah, hello. this is taylor. i wanted to confirm the self-defense classes that we talked about last time. >> reporter: the digital trail suggests the contact on the phone was part of a russian propaganda arm seeking to stoke racial tensions and disrupt the u.s. political system. cnn has confirmed the social media accounts connected to black fist are among the pages facebook identified as coming from russians, according to a source familiar up with the matter. links to those accounts appear on the black fist website and black fist, which portrayed itself as an activist group seeking to empower black americans, was likely developed inside the russian troll factory
in st. petersburg, russia. >> they convinced you. >> very easily. very easily. some of the things were, you know, sketchy, but at the end of the day, still fitness. it's just training people. >> reporter: look at what black fist said about its self-defense classes. they are by black for black and them know that black power matters. his contact also wanted these, videos and photos of blacks learning self-defense. he wasn't the only one. personal trainers in classes promoted in other cities, los angeles, lancing, michigan, according to event bright and other pages, were classes were being publicized there were dozens. in tampa, florida, amateur boxer chuck jefferson says black fist found him through instagram, offered to pay him $100 a class through paypal. he confirms it was the same voice on the other end of the
phone call. the same demand for videos to prove classes took place. and though the entire setup sounded odd he's having a hard time understanding why russians were behind it. >> so i mean when you have somebody that's going to pay you to do something you love, i mean, it's hard to see it like a negative thing. it's harded to see it in that light. but like i said, it was weird, it was different. >> reporter: the russian magazine rbc first identified black fist as well as dozens of other facebook, twitter, and instagram accounts, designed to look and act like real americans. they say we're all part of the russian internet research agency and had a reach of 70 million people weekly. >> all right. drew griffin, thanks so much for that report. we have new information on the deadly ambush on u.s. troops in niger and new questions about the white house response.