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Report: U.S. Investigates Civilian Deaths After Airstrike in Iraq; Schumer Calls on Ryan to Replace Nunes as Intel Cmte Chair; Trump Says Open to Work with Democrats. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up the U.S. investigating reports that more than 100 civilians may have been killed in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq. We're live inside Iraq with the latest, just ahead.


KEILAR: The U.S. military is investigating claims that more than 100 civilians were killed in a recent coalition airstrike in Iraq. Officials say the March 17th strike targeted an ISIS truck packed with explosives. An Iraqi commander reports 112 bodies have been pulled from the rubble. Moments ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis stressed that the U.S. military does everything possible to avoid civilian deaths.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties. We are keenly aware that every battlefield where an enemy hides behind women and children, we go out of our way to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries and that's up to you to sort out.


KEILAR: Arwa Damon was part of a team that traveled to Mosul today. She's joining us live from Irbil, Iraq, with that report just outside where the battle for Mosul continues. What can you tell us, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The battle certainly is still continuing. We did see a lot of attack helicopters overhead, explosions in the distance. We do know that the Iraqis at least are saying that they are trying to modify tactics because of these reports of civilian casualties. They are going to be calling in less airstrikes. The airstrikes do take place after the Iraqis initially put in that request for a strike against a particular target ask gets moved up the chain of command. They are going to be using more ground movements, using more of their sniper teams, drones, they are very sensitive to the fact that this is a humanitarian battlefield as well.

But the bottom line reality of it is hundreds of thousands of people still remain trapped in this pocket and this area of west Mosul that ISIS is putting up its last stance and almost every single home has a civilian family in it or in some cases you have instances where families try to get together in what they believe to be sturdier buildings. In fact, ab eyewitness to that strike you were talking about earlier, he was just a few houses down where it took place described how when he asked his family were fleeing, they heard voices screaming out from underneath the rubble. Please save us, we're still alive. In one of those homes, there were six families hiding out. It's a very difficult, if not impossible, situation both for the civilians and the soldiers trying to advance and clear ISIS out of the last stronghold.

KEILAR: Arwa Damon with that report from Irbil, thank you so much. Firsthand reports from those who witnessed the aftermath of the airstrike have been graphic and heartbreaking. CNN spoke with the Los Angeles Times reporter who visited the scene and describes what she saw.


MOLLY HENNESSEY-FISKE, WRITER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Some areas where homes were completely destroyed in rubble so we had to pick our way through. So, we could see parts of people still stuck under the rubble. Hands, feet, there were some remains that were wrapped in blankets. Most of them that they had retrieved they put in body bags and the body bags and unzipped to show us that some of the victims were women, including at least one pregnant woman and children. There were some babies as well.


KEILAR: Joining me to discuss this is David Kenner, the middle east editor for Foreign Policy magazine. You hear a description like that. Pregnant women, babies killed in an airstrike like this. People look at that and say why can't this be avoided. Tell us about sol of the challenges, if they are going to be airstrikes in an area like this and how this could be avoided.

DAVID KENNER, EDITOR, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: That's a great question. These deaths are obviously a gift to ISIS and their effort in Iraq. What the U.S. military is coming up against right now is the fact that their bombing in the most densely packed area of Mosul. People are crowded together and it is very hard to distinguish the fighters from the regular civilians. The Obama administration loosened some of the rules of engagement in December and January to try to make the liberation of Mosul faster.

[15:40:00] But some of those changes might be coming back to bite the United States now. There's also the possibility that Donald Trump has loosened the rules of engagement further. And that's also causing these civilian casualties.

KEILAR: So, this is a bit of an after effect from what you saw under the Obama administration. You said it could be Donald Trump, but also there was just this keen desire to retake Mosul that is pushing some of this. KENNER: Right, it's hard to parse the interplay of these various

factors. We have a President right now who said you have to take out the families of terrorists. Who openly criticize is the Obama administration's rules of engagement as too strict. It's entirely possible that the Trump administration loosened the rules of engagement to such a degree that civilian casualties are more likely. The families of terrorists. Who openly criticize is the Obama administration's rules of engagement as too strict. It's entirely possible that the Trump administration loosened the rules of engagement to such a degree that civilian casualties are more likely. This rhetoric might make commanders more likely to take risks where they wouldn't have to before. But the surge has been so dramatic that it really does seem like we're looking at a pattern here rather than something that could be attributed to bad luck.

KEILAR: Very important point there. Thank you so much.

Next, President Trump suggests he may reach out to Democrats to push past the failure, but would this work. Tom DeLay joins me live to weigh in on that and what he thinks of the freedom caucus.


KEILAR: We want to bring you this breaking news. Chuck Schumer, the Senate leader, just on the Senate floor there calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove Nunes as the chairman of the house intelligence committee. Nunes came out giving cover to the white house and Donald Trump's claim that President Obama had had wiretapped him, an erroneous claim, and had gone to the white house the night before that last week and gotten some classified information that he still has yet to share with other members of his committee. Classified information this he's apologize d now over two members of his committee. Chuck Schumer saying that House Speaker Paul Ryan needs to replace Nunes. We'll continue to follow that. The white house is trying to regain its footing after losing the battle on Capitol Hill to win approval of Donald Trump's agenda. Trump blaming two distinct groups for killing his replacement bill. The far right group the freedom caucus and Democrats as well. The President has to win over one of these groups. Here's one path he says he's considering.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: What would be really good, with no Democrat support if the Democrats when it explodes, which it will soon, if they got together with us and got a real health care bill, I would be totally open to it and I think this is going to happen.


KEILAR: Willing to work with Democrats, I want to talk now about this with former house majority leader Tom DeLay. He's also the author of "Revival, Revolution, Rebirth." You got the nickname the hammer. You are one of the best arm twisters of your age. So, when you look at this and you hear Donald Trump, I don't mean to just compliment you on that. That's something people both sides of the aisle would agree with. When you look at Donald Trump saying he might reach out to Democrats, do you think that's a good idea? Would that be a strategy you would have pursued?

TON DELAY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, let's see. John Boehner did that when he couldn't get the conservatives to do anything. He lost his speakership. I can also remember Bush 41 going to the Democrats and raising taxes and violating his pledge, destroyed his presidency. It's not a good idea just because you're a little upset with the Republicans and the conservatives who are standing on principle, by the way, and it's sort of a rookie mistake. Now I'm going to work with the Democrats. It's very dangerous and very risky.

KEILAR: You say they were standing on principle. This was a bill that would have cost more and ensured fewer people in the house freedom caucus. The uber-conservative group would not get on board endangering spelling the demise of this bill. Would you do? Especially looking forward as the President has to give tax reform a try.

DELAY: It was doomed back in 2010 when the American people were calling to repeal of Obamacare. Replacement is a politician's response to the left and media to demand that there be a replacement if you repeal Obamacare. That was the beginning of the end. And then they came in and wrote a bill that I call Obama blight. It kept all the infrastructure, it kept subsidies, it kept welfare programs, it kept all the things that Obamacare has except taxes and mandates. It was doomed to failure from the beginning. I see this as an opportunity. And I'm very excited about what the future holds.

KEILAR: If you are the House Speaker, if you're Paul Ryan, what are the top couple things to regroup?

[15:50:00] DELAY: I would try to get off repeal. I would throw it to the Senate. I wouldn't write another bill in the house based upon Senate rules. The 60-vote thing is something the Senate uses a as an excuse when they don't want to do anything. The repeal of Obamacare was passed in this Senate a year ago. So, start building a market in the insurance business and the bills are already out there. Selling insurance across state lines, creating risk pools, co-ops, all the things that you need to be ready for people that are coming off of Obamacare to go into the market and buy the insurance they need. Then as it is right now, political pressure is being built like crazy because Obamacare is imploding. So, at the right timing, the political pressure will be building and you can repeal Obamacare and have a market for people to go into.

KEILAR: Your strategy was more to start on the right, wasn't it? To sort of start right and build left?

DELAY: Well, when I saw this bill coming out, I thought oh, my goodness. This is not good. What you do in the house is you set the standard, and I did it for 11 years without losing a vote and I called it grow the vote. You start working with the members, and you start from the right and you move to the center, and when you get 218 votes you go to the floor, and instead they had this consensus idea where the Senate leadership and the house leadership and the white house all are going to come together and write a bill and then present it to the members and say take it or leave it. Well, it failed. They left it. KEILAR: They certainly did. Tom DeLay, thank you so much for your

insight on this. We certainly do appreciate it. And up next, since taking office President Trump has spent eight consecutive weekends at properties that bear his name. He says he's getting business done, but Democrats want to know who he is meeting with. We'll have that next.


KEILAR: This just in to CNN. President Trump making good on his promises to roll back Obama-era regulations. Just moments ago, with the stroke of his pen Trump signed his name to four measures that halt rules enacted during the final days of Obama's presidency, and among them government contractors won't have to report labor law violations. Also, the President voiding some rules there as well. Some other rules as well, I should say. Now, Democrats are demanding that the Trump administration reveal who is visiting Donald Trump's properties including Mar-a-Lago. This is the name of the bill called the "making access records available to lead American government openness act."

I will say it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but there you see. It spells out Mar-a-Lago, and this comes as the "Washington Post" reports that the President is spending one out of every three days since he took office at a property that he owns. Let talk now about this with Larry Noble. He's a CNN contributor and general counsel for the legal center, and he's former general counsel for the federal election commission. So, Larry, this is what Democrats want. They want visitor logs, and not just from the white house, and we're still TBD to see if that's going to happen under the administration, as it did the last, but they want visitor logs to Mar-a-Lago. Is that a fair request?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it is a fair request. First, under the Obama administration they did put up visitor logs to the white house. What you have here is a really unusual situation where the President is not going to Camp David, is not going to another government place but is in fact going to one of his businesses and then holding business meetings there, and he's doing it not just at Mar-a-Lago. He's going it at golf courses. In fact, instead of saying he's playing golf, they are saying he's holding meetings, but they are not saying who he's holding meetings with, and I think the public has a right to know who the President is holding meetings with, who is coming into the white house and coming in to whoever he's doing business to talk to.

KEILAR: We don't know if he's golfing when he's at the golf course although the time seems to indicate that he is or maybe the meetings are while he's golfing with people. Is there a precedent to this, when George W. Bush went to Crawford, Texas and was on his ranch, did he release visitor logs there?

NOBLE: Not that I'm aware of. President Obama was really one of the first to do that, but also, I don't know that President Bush was going to Crawford as often as President Trump is going to one of his properties. Crawford was his private residence, and here you have the issue also of, you know, why is he touting his properties by doing this? Is he really just advertising his properties? Again, you see him bringing world leaders to these places. You talk about him having meetings and he vetted some of his appointees at his properties. He's really making his business part of the government or the government part of his business.

KEILAR: 33 percent of the days or about 33 percent of the days that he's been President have included a visit to a Trump property, as you mentioned. Keeping in mind, can you imagine him going to a non-Trump property. That might also seem a little odd, but in your view, is this a major conflict of interest?

NOBLE: Yes, I think it is, because every time he goes to a Trump property, he's advertising the property, and we already know that people are going to Mar-a-Lago because they want to see him. They want to see who is there. Are they going to see a -- a foreign leader? Are they going to have -- is there going to be a crisis while he's there? It is a major problem, and, you know, when you mention that it would be odd for him to go to another place, another hotel, another restaurant, that's only because he has really made it his business to promote his businesses. He should go to other places. He should try to golf someplace else and should go to another restaurant because he's the President of the United States.

KEILAR: So, you would expect him to sort of change his life as President. You think that that is obviously more important than maybe him living as he did before?

NOBLE: Yes. I think he had a choice to make when he decided to run for President, as everybody does. Being President is the most important job in the world, and it's the most powerful job in the world. Have you to think about what you're willing to give up to do that, and it's not clear he was willing to give up very much, and, you know, people decide not to go into the government every day because they hear about what it's going to cost them, about disclosure, about limitations on what they can do, and other people decide that sacrifice is worth it. Public service is worth it. You can't have it both ways, and he's trying to have it both ways.

KEILAR: Public service is definitely a sacrifice.


KEILAR: Larry Noble, so appreciate you for joining us and "The Lead" with John Berman today starts right now.