tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN October 19, 2017 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT
happening now, breaking news. stunned. a remarkable statement by the president's chief of staff over the condolence call raises. john kelly says he's stunned by criticism of the president's call to a widow of a fallen u.s. soldier. but will his remarks only fuel the up roar? perfect score. president trump meets with puerto rico's governor and scores washington's response to the hurricane disaster as a 10 out of 10. the president says he believes puerto ricans are seeing the effort. we'll get a reality check from cnn's bill weir who is on the ground and will join us live from puerto rico. yes and no. president trump further muddies the water following a bipartisan
plan after flip-flopping several times about his support. tonight, his legislative director tells cnn the white house will not, repeat, not support the current deal. is the bipartisan deal dead? and public rebuke. george w. bush denounces and the trumpism. the former president bemoans the casual cruelty and what is his plea to america's leaders right now? we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world. i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." the white house chief of staff john kelly inserting himself further into the controversy over president trump's condolence call to a
widow of a soldier killed in niger. a congresswoman described the phone call as insincere. john kelly said he was stunned at the criticism of the president's call. he advised the president making it and also offered thoughts on what to say. also, james mattis says that an investigation is under way right now into the niger ambush that killed four american soldiers. critics are voicing frustration at the lack of information, including senator john mccain who says a subpoena may be required to learn more about the attack. mattis is said to be privately discouraged about the lack of details but he says publicly that accurate information will eventually be released as soon as it's available. also tonight, president trump is rating the response to
the hurricane disaster in puerto rico a 10 out of 10. more than three-quarters of the island are still without electricity a month after the hurricane hit. we'll go live to puerto rico at this hour for an exclusive look at the effort to restore a desperately needed power. we're covering all of that and much more with our guests, including former defense secretary, former cia director leon panetta and our beyonds and specialists will also standing by. let's begin with breaking news out of the white house, the very rare and truly remarkable statement by the white house chief of staff john kelly about president trump's condolence call. our senior white house correspondent jeff zeleny has the very latest. jeff, the president and his team clearly want to move on from this controversy? >> reporter: wolf, there's no question that the white house is eager to turn the page on this and chief of staff john kelly is eager to set the record straight. you could see the emotion in his
face and hear the emotion in his face as he talked about his own son's military death and then went on to blast a florida congresswoman. white house chief of staff john kelly forcefully defending president trump's call to a widow of an american soldier killed in niger. >> he called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could and he said to me, what do i say? i said, there's nothing that you can do to lighten the burden on these families. >> reporter: trying to diffuse a firestorm the president himself sparked this week, kelly said he guided the president through the phone calls. >> let me tell you what my best friend told me, because he was my casually officer. he said, kell, he was doing
exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. he knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. >> reporter: the president's call tuesday to myesha johnson, the pregnant widow of sergeant la david johnson, stirred controversy after frederica wilson said that president trump disrespected the soldier by saying he knew what he signed up for. kelly blasted the and sought to explain the president's words, not retract them. >> i was stunned when i came to work yesterday morning and broken hearted at what i saw a member of congress doing. a member of congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the united states to a young wife. and in his way tried to express
that opinion. he's a brave man, the fallen hero. he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. there's no reason to enlist. he enlisted and he was where he wanted to be and exactly where he wanted to be with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. >> reporter: kelly spoke as a retired four-star marine general and gold-star father whose son robert was killed in afghanistan seven years ago. his son's death was injected into the controversy after he said president trump never called him after his son died. it was mr. trump who made that private conversation public. >> he asked me about previous presidents. i said, i can tell you that president obama, who was my commander in chief when i was on active duty, did not call my family. that was not a criticism. that was just to simply say, i don't believe president obama called. that's not a negative thing. >> reporter: what kelly did not say during the extraordinary white house briefing was that president trump first injected
politics into the rose garden on monday. >> if you look at president obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. >> reporter: kelly's voice cracked with emotion as he spoke about the week-long controversy but would not answer questions about the president's role in it. >> when i listened to this woman and what she was saying and what she was doing on tv, the only thing i could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth. and you can always find them. because they are in arlington national cemetery. i went over there for an hour and a half, walked among the stones, some of whom i put there because they were doing what i told them to do when they were killed. >> reporter: his appearance in the briefing room was to turn the page on an unseemly debate. this came after the president met with the governor of puerto rico and gave himself a perfect grade on the response to the hurricane-ravaged island. >> i would say it was a ten.
>> reporter: the president three times gave the government top parks. >> i give ourselves a ten. >> reporter: that conflicts with the reality on the ground where less than one-quarter of the island has power and nearly one-third of people have no drinking water one month after hurricane maria struck puerto rico. so the congresswoman, wolf, has not yet responded to our questions about what she has to say about the white house chief of staff, but taken all together, wolf, i'm struck that the president says he did not say those words. the chief of staff john kelly said in fact the president did say those words. he said they were misconstrued and he said that he was furious that the congresswoman listened in on it in the first place. he said, wolf, that should have been a sacred conversation. >> the controversy over the president's calls to gold star families follow the deaths of those four u.s. soldiers in niger and that ambush is now
under investigation. our chief national security correspondent jim sciutto is working that part of the story for us. the pentagon is facing serious criticism so far for a lack of answers. >> it's been 15 days now since this deadly raid where these four soldiers were killed and even some of the most basic questions haven't been answered. the exact time of the raid when the white house was notified of this raid and the deaths of those soldiers but also bigger questions, the circumstances of how and why that four-soldier sergeant la david johnson was left behind, whatever language you'd use, even though john kelly suggested that he knows that he has classified information that he hasn't shared yet. this, as we are reporting, that general mattis himself, not satisfied with the questions he's getting from inside the pentagon. tonight the head of the u.s. military is demanding answers. >> the loss of our troops is
under investigation. we and the department of defense would like to know what we are talking about before we talked and so we do not have all of the ak crate information yet. we will release it as rapidly as we get it. >> reporter: two weeks after the ambush, discouraged by the lack of information that he's received from his own people on the isis attack in niger that killed four u.s. soldiers and injured two more. the 12-member u.s. army team was meeting villagers in a town on the niger/mali border. they were walking back to their vehicles when up to 50 isis members attacked them. the americans fought back but were only armed with light weapons, such as rifles. >> there had been nearly 30 trips along this area already and they had reason to believe that they were in a permissive environment. >> reporter: after 30 minutes, french aircraft flew by to try to disperse the attackers from
the air and later to evacuate the wounded. the u.s. had to rely on a private contractor to air lift out the dead. in the chaos, sergeant la david johnson was separated from the team and left behind. commanders launched a large joint u.s. niger and french operation. 48 hours later, nigerian troops recovered his body. today, secretary mattis answered hard questions about what went wrong. for one, why the military's own intelligence assessed it was unlikely the team would run into enemy forces. >> this specific case, contact was considered unlikely but there's a reason we have u.s. army soldiers there and not the peace corps, because we carry guns and so it's a reality. it's part of the danger that our troops face in these counterterrorism campaigns but, remember, we do these missions by, with and through allies.
it is often dangerous. >> reporter: and as the families grieve, another question. why was a u.s. soldier left behind on the battlefield? >> the u.s. military does not leave its troops behind and i would just ask that you not question the action to the troops that were caught in the fire fight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out and once. >> john kelly faced another hard question about the niger mission, which is why are u.s. forces there and this was his answer. he said that u.s. forces there advise and assist nigerian forces so that he, in his words, thousands of u.s. soldiers and marines don't have to go in their place. as you know, that's a strategy that the u.s. has used in afghanistan, libya and many other countries. it's worked in some places, hasn't worked as well in other places here. we lost four soldiers including sergeant la david johnson.
>> general mattis says a thousand troops are in niger right now. jim sciutto, thank you very much. now back to the very dramatic and new emotional developments, chief of staff john kelly, a gold star father revealing that he had advised president trump against calling the families of the fallen soldiers but also offered advice on what to say. >> so he called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could. and he said to me, what do i say? i said to him, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families. but let me tell you what i told him. and let me tell you what my best friend joe told me because he was my casualty officer. he said, kell, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.
he knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. he knew what the possibilities were. because we're at war. and when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. that's what the president tried to say to four families the other day. >> powerful words. joining us now with more on the breaking news, the former defense secretary and cia director leon panetta. mr. secretary, thank you for joining us. i want our viewers to know you worked with general kelly when you were defense secretary. he was still on active duty as a four-star marine corps general. what did you think of what general kelly chose to do today with that very emotional and powerful statement? >> well, wolf, i have a lot of
respect for john kelly. he was my military aide when i was secretary of defense. he's a great marine. he's somebody who has served in combat he absolutely understands what it means to lose a loved with un one in battle. so i understand where john was coming from. he is, at the same time, the chief of staff. i think he was trying to do damage repair here on this whole issue which has just gotten blown in a hundred different directions. what's happened here is we've lost the main focus and the main focus should be on those brave and courageous soldiers that lose their lives in the line of duty and it should be on those families who have lost a loved
one. that's where the focus ought to be and we've lost that focus because of the politics of the moment. >> i want you to watch, mr. secretary, another part of that statement, another part of the news conference in the briefing room that general kelly had. >> it stuns me that a member of congress would have listened in on that conversation. absolutely stuns me. and i thought, at least that was sacred. you know, as a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. women were sacred and looked upon with great honor, and that's not the case now as we've seen with recent cases. the dignity of life, that's gone. religion, that seems to be gone as well. gold star families, i think that left in a convention over the summer. but i just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield,
i just thought that might be sacred. >> as you know, the dnc, democratic committee convention, khizr khan spoke. what do you make of that? >> you know, i understand what john is saying. he's from boston. he's from a family that has had its roots in boston and in this country but i also want to say i don't think we've lost sight of the sacred duty that men and women perform who are in uniform and fight and die for this country. frankly, that's one of our great blessings. and i don't think we ought to demean that in any way. the fact is, it's sacred. it's one of the best things that we have going for us in the
united states. and i would hope the president, chief of staff and everyone in the congress this recognize that we owe a great debt and move on from this kind of politicizing of this issue, move on and try to figure out how we protect their lives in the future by avoiding the kind of wars that we've seen in the past. >> was general kelly today politicizing this issue? >> well, you know, he's chief of staff to the president. he's doing damage control. i think in the end, when you engage with a congresswoman, one way or the other, it becomes politics. that's the reality. >> do you think the president pushed him to go out into the briefing room and do this? >> i'm not so sure. look, i -- i understand where
john's coming from and i think he probably, in many ways, was saddened by the fact that this whole debate began from the beginning. i believe that he really does understand that this is the wrong place and the wrong time to kind of raise these kinds of issues. but the fact is, it happens. and i -- i honestly believe that john probably did this pretty much on his own. but again, he did it as chief of staff to the president. a president who began this issue by commenting on what past presidents did or did not do in talking to the loved ones of those that had lost their heroes in battle. i think that was the wrong thing to say at the time and very frankly, i think we ought to drop it, move on and deal with the real issues that involve the national security of this country.
>> but would any -- i think you would agree, none of this would have been discussed if president trump hadn't tried to compare himself to previous presidents and actually it was the president who brought up general kelly's own loss, right? >> yeah. i think that was the problem here. i think this president has a habit of when he feels like he's on the spot and he's being asked something uncomfortable, looks to scapegoat to somehow excuse his behavior and that causes trouble and it caused trouble in this situation and now it's been politicized and i really do think that we ought to go back to the main focus which ought to be our men and women in uniform that bravely put their lives on the line. that's what we ought to think about. and to some extent i'll tell you, this whole controversy, i don't particularly like this
controversy because of the way it's handled and the kind of accusations that are being made. but in the end f. , if it makes americans understand that there are men and women fighting and dying and we have to realize that -- sometimes we forget that -- that probably is a good thing. >> general kelly was also asked about the attack in niger that killed those four u.s. soldiers. what does it say to you that the defense secretary, james mattis -- and you were once a defense secretary -- is openly disappointed by the information, the accurate information that he's getting about this isis attack? >> well, you know, i can understand what jim mattis is feeling right now because you lose four people in battle and you wonder what the hell happened and you want to find out and so i'm glad they are doing an investigation here. the fact is, we have special
forces operating out of african, in that part of the world. they are fighting terrorism, whether it's boko haram oral shabab or isis. and in this case, it was isis. but the fact is, these are dangerous areas and there's no question in my mind that there was an intelligence breakdown. they did not know that there was isis in the area and there turned out to be 50 of them who opened fire on forces and were told that everything was okay. and so i do think an investigation needs to happen with the intelligence and why was it that this one individual was, for whatever reason, left behind. and thirdly, why do we not have our own u.s. air power covering our forces. i think when you're operating in those regions, you need to have u.s. air cover and air
protection. >> well, you know, because it is really -- i'm a former pentagon correspondent. you're a former defense secretary. you send these green beret troops and u.s. army specialists out into a dangerous area with only rifles and the air power that they have, these french mirage jets, they are not even allowed, according to the niger government, they are not even allowed to launch strikes. they can only fly over and try to scare these isis terrorists. they can fire at them. that sounds incredibly ridiculous. >> yeah. when i read that, that we got french air power there and that all they can do is fly over and not engage with the enemy, i was astounded because, very frankly, this is dangerous territory. we're fighting dangerous terrorists who will not hesitate to shoot and kill our men and
women in uniform. and if you're putting our troops in that kind of situation, i think you have to back them up. not only with good intelligence to make sure they know where the enemy is but also to give them the air support that would come in and help protect them when a fire fight breaks out. >> and you know, general mattis, the defense secretary today, said there was about 1,000 u.s. troops in niger. they have no air power. no u.s. warplanes are allowed in there. if you were defense secretary right now, mr. secretary, what would you do? >> look, i think it's important that we have special forces there. we are fighting isis. we are fighting terrorism.
this is a war we've engaged in since 9/11. we haven't defeated them, even though we've had some success against mosul and raqqa. we're still going to be fighting isis in different parts of that region, if not the world. and so deploying our special forces, but you can't deploy them without the backup that we need that we're able to fulfill the mission that they're involved with. >> we're going to have to take a quick break. very quickly, some have suggested for the trump administration, this is benghazi. do you agree? >> well, you know, i was offended that benghazi became a political football in which we lost sight of the people who lost their lives there. i hope this doesn't become a political football because, very frankly, what we ought to focus
on is the lives that were lost and what do we do to make sure that doesn't happen again. >> we've got a lot more to discuss, mr. secretary, including the incredibly intense situation off the korean peninsula. we'll take a quick break and resume our conversation right after this. ♪ if you have moderate to severe plaque psoriasis,... ...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...
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a very grim new assessment with north korea as the tensions between the kim jong-un regime and the u.s. escalate. we're back with former cia director leon panetta. mr. secretary, one of your colleagues john brennan yesterday seemed to estimate that the chance of an actual military conflict with north korea are now either one in four or one in five. do you think the chances are that high? you know, i hate to put odds on whether or not we're going to be in a nuclear war. that strikes me as really taking a shot in the dark. the reality is, the tensions have gone up and we've had an exchange of rhetoric between the leader of north korea and the united states that i think has increased tensions there between north korea and south korea and
the united states. but as to whether or not we in fact will have a war and what are the chances of war, i think a lot still depends on whether or not there is diplomatic leadership on the part of the united states working with our allies to try to determine whether or not there isn't a way to try to avoid that kind of horrible conflict that would take place. so i'm still betting that if we squeeze north korea, increase the sanctions, that we'll have a better chance at trying to hopefully bring them to a negotiating table. >> when president trump visits south korea next month, part of an asian tour, there's a discussion now whether he should actually visit the demilitarized zone that separates north and south korea. what advice do you give him? do you think he should actually
go up there? >> i'd be very careful about doing that only because it could be an incendiary move in terms of how the north koreans react to that and right now we don't need to engage in that kind of effort. i do think that it would be important for the president to visit south korea, to visit japan and our allies and to reinforce that relationship to visit china and put additional pressure on china with regards to that conflict. but as to visiting the 38 parallel, i'd be very careful and try to at least get the best intelligence possible as to what the ramifications might be of such a visit. >> i think you've made some good points, as you always do.
mr. secretary, leon panetta, thanks for being with us. >> good to be with you. there's more breaking news. more on the remarkable and emotional defense of president trump's condolence call by the white house chief of staff general john kelly and his reaction to criticism by a democratic lawmaker. >> it stuns me that a member of congress would have listened in on that conversation. absolutely stuns me. i promise. to have and to hold from this day forward. till death do us part. selectquote can help you keep your promise. with life insurance starting under $1 per day. but you promised, dad. come on. selectquote helped jim, 41, keep his promise by finding him a $500,000 policy for under $27 per month.
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we're following breaking news. white house chief of staff john kelly trying to calm the controversy over the president's condolence call to a widow of a soldier who was killed in niger. john kelly said he offered advice on what to say. >> he said to me, what do i say? i said to him, sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families. but let me tell you what i told him and let me tell you what my best friend joe dunphrey told me because he was my casually officer. he told me, kell, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.
he knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. he knew what the possibilities were because we're at war. and when he died and the four cases we're talking about in niger and my son's case in afghanistan, when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. that's what the president tried to say to four families the other day. i was stunned when i came to work yesterday morning and broken hearted and what i saw a member of congress doing. a member of congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the united states to a young wife. and in his way, tried to express that opinion, that he's a brave man, a fallen hero. he knew what he was getting himself into because he
enlisted. there's no reason to enlist. he enlisted. and he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be and with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken. that was the message. that was the message that was transmitted. it stuns me that a member of congress would have listened in on that conversation. absolutely stuns me. >> let's get some more with our correspondents and analysts right now. john kirby, you know general kelly and you work with him at the pentagon. what do you make of his appearance today? >> i can tell you it was something that he wanted to do, and it was gut-wrenching to watch him go through that. i can just imagine how it was painful to talk about his son and his own loss in that very personal way and there's nobody i know more credible on the pain and suffering that gold star families go through like john kelly and that certainly came across there. i was, though, sorry to see that the press conference and his comments got as political as
they did, especially towards the end and his takedown of representative wilson. she knows this family. it's not like she wiretapped this call. they wanted her there. they wanted her to listen to it and we need to keep that in mind. it's also really important -- he talked about the message that was transmitted to those families and i get it and i've heard those words inside the military. but transmission of a message isn't receipt and we need to at least allow for the possibility that a young 24-year-old woman with two kids and one on the way just became a widow. her life is devastated. is going to hear those words a little differently than when he did when he was in active duty and a three star general and hearing it from another friend. >> the president said he tried to say it in his own way and we don't know how the president said it and exactly what he said and clearly wasn't interpreted that way. it clearly wasn't. >> kaitlyn, you cover the white
house on a day-to-day basis. do we know why general kelly decided to come out and deliver that powerful message? >> i think it's pretty clear that the only person in that white house who was qualified to come out and answer these kinds of questions was john kelly because not only does he have the credibility of being a four star general but he's also gone through something devastating like this and he was brought into this by the president when he invoked his son and implied that barack obama had not called the kelly family when his son robert kelly died which john kelly confirmed today. he said he didn't mean it as a criticism when he said he didn't call. he just stated that he didn't call. i think both things could be true here. president trump could have call called sergeant johnson's wife and try to convey empathy, which is what john coally just
defineddefined right there and it is also true that the wife received it in a much different manner. she was at the airport when her husband's remains were being brought in. so i think both of those things could be true and it could have been a mixed message. >> jeffrey, i just want you to weigh in. how did you see it? >> well, i think it's also worth remembering what started this whole controversy. and as you were doing the introduction, i was like, what planet are we on? the controversy over the president's condolence calls. like what country has controversy over condolence calls? it's an example of what a surreal moment we are in. but remember what started this was when president trump had -- i'm sorry. president trump made false statements about president obama's practices with regard to gold star families. no one told donald trump to make these false statements. and you saw how obama's staff
was enraged by this because this is something -- he took seriously as virtually all presidents take seriously. so, you know, yes, maybe there was a misinterpretation but there's no misinterpretation that donald trump made false statements about barack obama's practices in this area. >> and what general kelly did not do today is talk about how he felt when the president injected his son into the entire conversation when he said it was on talk radio to ask general kelly because he didn't get the phone call. i doubt that general kelly was pleased that his private conversation with the president about what happened during his own grief was made public and now he had to go out there and do a little bit of cleanup for the president which is what he was doing. >> a very significant day. jeffrey, we also heard from two former presidents today.
i want to play a clip for you today. he took a swipe at president trump without mentioning his name. listen to this. >> but what we can't have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before. that dates back centuries. we thought we put that to bed. i mean, that is looking 50 years back. this is the 21st century. not the 19th century. >> jeffrey, i want your reaction. >> i remember him. i thought he was in the witness protection program. it's just so startling. he has really disappeared as a
public figure and, you know, i think democrats are going to be very glad to see him again because it is a party without a clear leader and he remains certainly very popular among democrats and probably certainly compared to the incumbent president, is very popular. and in his indirect way, i don't think anyone can mistake who he's talking about. >> let me play a clip from another former president, george w. bush, also criticizing trumpism. kaitlan, listen to this. >> we've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. at times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. argument turns too easily into animosity. too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best
intentions. for getting the image of god we should see in each other. we've seen nationalism distorted into nativism. >> strong words from him as well. >> it was a remarkable speech we heard from that former president because though he did not mention the current president's name, a lot of those remarks were directed to him as he spoke about bullying and instilling civic values and how do you instill them in children if you don't live up to them yourself and it reminded me of a statement that george bush and his father both put out after those deadly clashes in charlottesville after president trump said there was violence on both sides. they didn't name trump in that statement either but they were clearly talking to him saying you must reject this, you must reject anti-semitism. but that was a very stunning speech from him at trump. we rarely saw him say anything, if ever, when president obama was in office.
>> very stunning indeed. stand by. much more ahead including president trump seeking praise from puerto rico's governor in response to the hurricane disaster and gives his own administration a ten out of ten. we'll go live to the island for a reality check. >> when we came in, did we do a good job? military, first responders, fema, did we do a great job? building a website in under an hour is easy with gocentral... ...from godaddy! in fact, 68% of people who have built their... ...website using gocentral, did it in under an hour,
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more than three quarters of puerto rico without power a month of hurricane maria ravaged the island. the governor at the white house as president trump praised the federal disaster response. >> it was a ten. i would say it was probably the most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels. even when you talk about lives saved, you look at the number. this was, i think worse than katrina. it was, in many ways, worse than anything people have ever seen. >> bill is in san juan for us tonight. he's been spending a lot of time in puerto rico. bill, the president ranks the federal response a ten out of ten. what do you rate the federal response and do residents in puerto rico there seem to agree with the president?
>> reporter: well, i won't put a 1-10 on it. imagine if donald trump tried to sell an apartment building where 80% of the apartments had no power and over half had no water. there are 2.6 million americans in the dark here in puerto rico tonight. so, power is very much on the minds of the people. i went in search of answers and started in a place you might recognize. ♪ >> reporter: it is the most popular music video, ever. it has been viewed over 4 billion times. but, most of that massive audience didn't realize the video was shot in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in puerto rico. welcome. for years, this place was written off as being drug and gang infested, community organizers fought against that stigma.
hasn't been a murder here in six years. then came this song. suddenly, this rough side of town was a tourist destination. the economy blew up. people felt good. then came maria. now you have conjunctivitis, the clinic is without power, no roof on the school. there is no hope that help is coming anytime soon. tourists wanted to come here, she tells me. they came from africa, china, south america. after maria, nobody comes. it's like a ghost town. so the doctors will see people in the dark here? the doctor shows me around a powerless hospital. is it true that luis donated a generator? five generators. they are trying to get it installed, but they are going to the mayor's office to fill out
paperwork. you need permission? gotcha. the scramble for a bag of ice is proof that water and power are luxuries over a month after maria. it puts enormous pressure on the men paid to electrify puerto rico. >> homes depending on power that runs through those lines over there. that's the armory, the main spinal column. maria devastated it, crushed it. how do you fix it? guys like troy and nick. guys who aren't afraid of heights and you send them up to heal the lines. they are journey linemen contracted by white fish energy, a small, 2-year-old company out of montana. they raised a lot of eyebrows when they were given a $300
million project without input from the army corps of engineers. it was how the hell did you get the contract. you are a brand-new company, right? >> we have been around for a few years. you know, we specialize in difficult and mountainous terrain projects. all i can say is we took the call. we are here. >> reporter: they called you? >> we called each other. >> reporter: he struck a deal with the publicly owned utility, notorious for high prices, rolling blackouts and a $9 billion debt. is it a risk for you as a businessman? >> it's a risk. it's a risk. you know, when you come down here and see what i see and you have that skill set, it can have an immediate skill set, it becomes a mission. >> reporter: not just a job. >> not a job, it's a mission. >> reporter: how long before juice is flowing? >> it's a good question. we hope to have this line up in three to four days.
>> the governor is promising 95% power back by christmas. >> yeah. >> reporter: is that reasonable? >> it's going to take a lot of people to reach that deadline. >> reporter: a lot more? >> a lot more than we have today. >> reporter: they have 300 linemen on the island with 700 on the way while they wait for bucket trucks and bulldozers stuck in florida ports. it is anyone's guess as to when they will have the lights back on here. until then, there is little to do but take care of each other. the kids, no school, the elderly with no hospital and they clean up just in case the tourists ever decide to come back. now, white fish isn't the only power company working. today, there was another big multimillion dollar contract awarded to a much more
established company. marco rubio says they are trying to figure out the plan to get power back to the island. wolf, more than a month after the storm. >> bill, great reporting for us. see you back here tomorrow as well. that's it for me. thanks for watching. erin burnett out front starts right now. >> without front, next. breaking news. the defense of president trump's controversial call to a gold star family. is the white house hiding something when it comes to the ambush? lots of questions, not many answers. john mccain, tonight, threaten subpoenas. plus, president obama and george w. bush taking swipes at president trump tonight. we go live to a campaign rally where former president obama is about to speak. let's go out front. good evening, i'm erin burnett. out front tonight, the breaking news, general john kelly breaks silence. an extraordinary press conference from the