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Pentagon Sends White House ISIS Fight Options; Couple Sentenced for Terrorizing Child's Party; Trump to Deliver First Address to Congress; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Congressman Vela, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time, sir.

And a little bit of news from the congressman now --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Who he is going to bring.

BERMAN: Who he's going to bring. You know, Jose Andreas, to the speech.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: That will be interesting to see, to say the least.

HARLOW: All right. Take a look at this. We have Wilbur Ross, the Commerce secretary, being sworn in by the vice president, Mike Pence, just moments ago there in Washington. Another key member of the president's Cabinet making it through the Senate confirmation process.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: The Pentagon sent President Trump a new battle blueprint for how to defeat ISIS in less than a year. You'll remember this is something the president called on from his generals.

Some of the options on the table, sending U.S. artillery into Syria, putting U.S. spotters on the front lines there.

[10:35:07] This also comes as President Trump gets ready to sell his budget proposal to Congress. That includes a big boost in military spending and some painful cuts to the State Department.

BERMAN: Yes. And today more than 120 retired military leaders are pushing back against those cuts. They sent a letter to lawmakers and to the White House writing, "The State Department and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way."

President's own Defense secretary, James Mattis, once warned against State Department cuts, that was back in 2013. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think the -- it's a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department's diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget if we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.


HARLOW: All right. With us now, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, also our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon who spent a lot of time there watching this fight against ISIS.

And Barbara, let me begin with you. Walk us through some of the options because today is day 30, right, when the president said have me a plan, a new plan to defeat ISIS? What are the options that you're hearing he likes most and that the generals think is most realistic?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, where we are right now is they had an initial meeting at the White House yesterday. These are not yet quite options. Think of them more as preliminary ideas. That blueprint notion that you were talking about. The Pentagon, other agencies putting forth some of their ideas about how you could meet the president's requirement to accelerate the fight against ISIS. Under a framework of trying to defeat ISIS within a year or less.

But not just a military defeat. Using that diplomacy from the State Department, using financial measures, possibly from the Treasury Department to also defeat ISIS. The ideas of putting artillery units on the ground, putting more spotters on the ground, very costly. It comes with some risk. The president would have to be willing to accept that risk to U.S. troops.

It would accelerate the fight but again I think the underlying theme here is it isn't the total solution. There has to be that broader approach because if there was that military silver bullet, literally, that would defeat ISIS, it would already be in play and commanders would tell you it's much more complex than that.

BERMAN: And Arwa Damon, you have been on the front lines in the battle. The military battle against ISIS in and around Mosul. So what would make a difference in that military battle? And to Barbara's point, if you expand beyond that in fighting against the idea, what would be helpful there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's one thing also to take into consideration as we're discussing all of this. And that is that the battlefields in Iraq and Syria when it comes to fighting ISIS specifically are very different. In Iraq, yes, the Iraqi military does want to see more U.S. support, but they are getting quite a bit of it, and it is making a difference. Those coalition air strikes, the U.S. advisers that they have are one of the key factors that allowed the Iraqis to move to the point that they're at right now where they're trying to push through western Mosul. In Syria those dynamics are completely different because there isn't

necessarily one reliable entity that the U.S. would be able to partner with the same way that they are in Iraq and to go to that point of what happens after ISIS is militarily defeated because look, we've seen all this before. We have seen extremist terrorist organizations in Iraq militarily defeated only to a few years later regroup, come back stronger, more capable and better equipped than their previous incarnations were.

That's the cycle that needs to be broken and that's the cycle that all the generals know cannot be broken with bombs alone. There has to be the follow-on stage. That's going to involve politics. That's going to involve money. So that is really what needs to be focused on, as much if not more than the military aspect of all of this.

HARLOW: Barbara, tell us what you make -- you're so well sourced in the Pentagon. Just a reaction to and the content of this letter from 120 generals, including General Petraeus, who we know, you know, is close to the president. What do you make of them saying, look, don't be so quick to make a major cut to State Department funding because that hampers us in the overall fight?

STARR: Well, I think this is a very longstanding view for many years now in the fight against terrorism. Terrorist entities don't really go away just because you put a bunch of tanks on the battlefield or you launch a bunch of air strikes. Any military commander will tell you it's going to take more than that.

[10:40:04] And you heard General Mattis back when he was on active duty just a moment ago say this very thing. If he doesn't have a State Department, he has to buy more bullets.

What you are really talking about in this letter is the notion, I think, that the things like the State Department, agencies like USAID, the agency for international development, even the Peace Corps, U.S. embassies around the world. Their essential function to some extent is conflict prevention because diplomacy is talking about to foreign governments. Diplomacy is about being there in places like Afghanistan. Having a presence that is nonmilitary, nonthreatening, and maybe able to work with local governments, with local people for the very ultimate goal of conflict prevention so the U.S. military doesn't have to go there.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Arwa Damon for us as well, thank you guys both very, very much.

Still to come for us, an unbelievably troubling story. A group of African-American children terrorized at a birthday party. Now the couple responsible found guilty learns their fate. That's next.


[10:45:37] BERMAN: All right. This morning, a Georgia couple is facing years in prison for terrorizing an African-American child's birthday party. The child's family was celebrating with a cookout, a bouncy castle, snowy cones, when this happened. You can see this convoy driving past.

HARLOW: Right. And you see some confederate flags on some of those trucks. They were shouting racial slurs at these children. At one point one of the men got his shotgun out and threatened to kill partygoers. They've just been sentenced, this couple.

Nick Valencia joins us with more on the sentencing. Unbelievable.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable. What makes this all the more sickening, Poppy, is it seems to have been inspired by Dylann Roof, the self-proclaimed white supremacist who shot and killed nine churchgoers at an African-American church in Charleston. In that shooting, Roof used the confederate flag as a symbol for his racism and it seemed that the couple in this incident did the same.

It was in July of 2015 the couple gathered with 13 other friends. They put a convoy together and on that convoy put confederate flags. They wanted to make a symbol, a statement, they said, about the confederate battle flag. That's when they showed up at an 8-year- old's birthday party, an African-American child and they threatened to shoot and kill some of the adults at that party. They also threatened to shoot and kill some of the kids.

During the hearing, both the -- Jose Torres and Kayla Norton, the couple that's charged with this heinous act, they sobbed uncontrollably during the hearing and right before the sentencing they spoke to the court.


KAYLA NORTON, CONVICTED FOR TERRORIZING CHILD'S PARTY: I want you to know that was not me. That is not me. That is not him. I would never walk up to you and say those words to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This day affected my life and it affected my children's lives. I forgive you. I forgive all of you.


VALENCIA: For his part in the threat, Jose Torres was given 20 years with 13 to serve in prison. That's the individual on the left there. On the right, his girlfriend, the mother of his three children, was given 15 years and six to serve in prison. Each got one year longer than the state recommended.

It was also during this hearing, guys, interesting to point out, that the judge took the opportunity to also chastise the Douglasville Police Department where this incident occurred saying that they didn't do enough on the day that happened. Neither Torres nor Norton were arrested that day.

Douglasville Police Department releasing a statement on Monday afternoon saying that they didn't want to take -- they didn't want to jeopardize the investigation so they wanted to take their time with the investigation which is why no arrests were made. But this couple certainly looking at a long time in prison for what they did -- Poppy, John.

BERMAN: Facing justice. Obviously our thoughts are with the family that was terrorized at that child's birthday party.

All right. Thanks, Nick. Appreciate it.

All right. A new wave of threats against Jewish centers across the country. According to new numbers into CNN this morning, 31 bomb threats were made to Jewish community centers and day schools Monday in 16 states. So far this year, there have been 100 incidents reported. 81 locations across the United States and Canada.

HARLOW: All right. Tonight, a crucial moment for the president. His first address to a joint session of Congress. We hear it's going to be optimistic about what's ahead for this country. Will it be talk of a shining city on a hill? I don't know. We're going to have Reagan's former speechwriter joining us.


[10:53:25] HARLOW: In tonight's address in front of a Joint Session of Congress, the White House is promising that President Trump will deliver a bold, optimistic vision for the future of this country.

BERMAN: Will he deliver on that promise? Should he? What does he need to say tonight before Congress and the American people?

Joining us now is Clark Judge, a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. He's now the founder and managing director of the White House Writers Group.

Mr. Judge, thanks so much for being with us. I want to play you before we begin to talk about the speech tonight something the president said this morning about his own communication so far from the White House. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now in terms of achievement, I think I'd give myself an A because I think I've done great things but I don't think I've -- I and my people, I don't think we've explained it well enough to the American public. I think I get an A in terms of what I've actually done but in terms of message, I'd give myself a C or C-plus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. How are you going to change that then?

TRUMP: Well, maybe I change it during the speech.


BERMAN: So a C-plus in terms of messaging and communication. This is your field, sir. Do you think that's a fair grade?

CLARK JUDGE, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT REAGAN: It's pretty fair grade. Maybe a little low, but pretty fair grade. His question -- what he said about not explaining the reasons, the thinking, they were very focused on getting points on the board. The executive orders, overturning past executive orders. Some of them worked. Some of them didn't. But now they are going to Congress. He's had, I'd say, a kind of shock and awe first month which has got the attention of a lot of people.

[10:55:07] Now he goes to Congress. He's got to work with Congress. He -- as I read this morning's statement, he's going to say -- he's saying basically the time when he can just do it on his own, which was put nominations and the sort up is passed. He now has to work with Congress on developing a program.

HARLOW: So in order to work with Congress and not infuriate Congress, even some in his own party, should this speech tonight, as the lead editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" puts it, be free of any Miller- Bannon-esque moments, right? Should he stay away from that rhetoric? Should he stay away from that and really deliver a speech unlike one we've ever heard from this president?

JUDGE: No, he shouldn't step away from everything he's done but he needs to -- and he was saying this morning on the other network that he needs to move the tone more towards pulling together on common areas.


JUDGE: That's what legislation is about. He's made some good steps, by the way, behind the scenes. He's had people -- staff over to the White House, a bowling party, that sort of thing. The sort of -- the sort of social get-together that the past administration didn't do and paid the price for it.

BERMAN: And that goes a long way in Washington.


BERMAN: There has been outreach behind the scene, you know, on Capitol Hill. The question, has there been outreach to the rest of the country, the people that did not vote for Donald Trump? How does he do that?

JUDGE: Well, the biggest thing you can do is get the economy rolling again. Get up to three -- plus 3 percent growth. That means jobs for people. It means jobs for all people. It means getting a sort of spirit going again in the country. That's his first task. He's made a good start going after the regulations. He'll make another start tonight with the tax program. That's his big, big task. And if he does that, he'll have a lot of the country behind him. Much more.

HARLOW: You know, Clark, you make an interesting point saying presidents are judged in two ways on these speeches. They are judged in terms of the public perception, what the American people get out of it, and how Congress takes it. And you actually said that you think President Obama was somewhat of a failure on both fronts.

JUDGE: Right.

HARLOW: What's the page that this president can take from that?

JUDGE: Well, a big part of it is that you've got to spend time with Congress. Every successful president dealing with Congress has spent a lot of time. Harry Truman used to go up to the Capitol Hill and play cards with them. Ronald Reagan had beers with Tip O'Neill and drinks on Friday, many Fridays. So you've got to -- it's not magic. You've got to work at it and you've got to work at it day after day.

It's -- Theodore Roosevelt said that the biggest task of the presidency is to get along with Congress. And that means with specific people, the leaders, the rank and file. You've got to work at it. He's doing it, by the way. Trump is making -- President Trump has made a start at that. He doesn't have that receptive an audience in the Democrats, but that's part of being president. The opposition is always going to be unhappy with you up to a point.

BERMAN: You know, quickly, a lot of people say that they've never seen the country as divided as it is right now. Do you think that is a fair assessment of the country?

JUDGE: No, no, no. We had lots of -- President Reagan came in with large majorities, which is somewhat different than this, but we had a Congress, particularly on the other side in the other party that was very -- the party was divided. So it looked like we were pulling a lot of Democrats in, but, in fact, a lot of those people ultimately left the Democratic Party. Those who remain aren't that different from the Democrats today. More extreme. More ideological. Less inclined to compromise, but that's part of the game. You've got to deal with them.

HARLOW: It is indeed. Clark Judge, nice to have you on. We'll watch, we'll assess and we'll Monday morning quarterback tomorrow. Thank you.

JUDGE: Thanks a lot.

HARLOW: Thank you all for being with us. Tonight the president will hold his first address before a Joint Session of Congress. You're going to see it right here on CNN. Our special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. So glad you're with us. We'll see you here tomorrow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, John. Thanks, Poppy. Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan.