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House, Senate Reach Deal on New Russia Sanctions; Trump's Legal Team Spokesman Resigns; Trump White House Talks to Senator Flake's Challengers; Video Appears to Show Baltimore Cop Planting Evidence; U.S. Apologizes for Airstrike that Killed 16 Afghan Police Officers; Niger to Host U.S. Drone Base Where Migrants Travel Through. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired July 22, 2017 - 17:00   ET



[17:00:38] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for spending part of your weekend with us. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

We begin with something unusual in Washington. New action and unity from Congress -- the goal punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. House and Senate negotiators agreed on a deal just today that if passed, it would also give Congress unprecedented ability to block the Trump administration from easing sanctions on Russia. The White House had initially opposed a key section of this bill that would limit the President's ability to ability unilaterally on easing sanctions.

I want to bring in White House reporter Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, we don't often hear these words bipartisan agreement and Congress in the same sentence. What's next for this bill? Tell us about it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's right, Ana. We don't hear that very often but House and Senate negotiators came to an agreement this morning on a bill that would place new sanctions on Russia in response to their meddling in the 2016 presidential election. And their military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. Now, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's schedule, this bill could come to a vote as soon as Tuesday. It would go to the Senate after that and could hit Trump's desk before August.

CABRERA: So Kaitlan, the bill would block President Trump from acting unilaterally to ease or end punitive measures against Moscow. We know Moscow wanted to get back those two Russian compounds here in the U.S. How does it work to prevent the President from doing anything without the consent of Congress?

COLLINS: Well, there's a key part of this bill that would mandate a Congressional review if Donald Trump decided to ease or end these sanctions against Russia. Now, that is something the White House has repeatedly tried to push back as this bill was crafted and hasn't had much luck. However, if Donald Trump vetoes this legislation, then he risks with sparking backlash from both sides of the political aisle from Republicans and Democrats. And he could have his decision overturned. Lawmakers are hoping that this bill will send a message to Donald Trump that they want him to take a very tough stance against Russia -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us. Thank you.

We are also learning more about that Trump Tower meeting last summer between top members of the Trump campaign and the Russian lawyer including the fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be investigating that meeting now.

Here's CNN's Dianne Gallagher.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent a letter this week telling the White House to preserve all documents related to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian attorney among others. Staff members received notice on Wednesday from White House Counsel informing them to preserve text messages, e-mails, notes, voice mails and any other communications related to the meeting.

According to a source who read the letter to CNN's Dana Bash, Mueller wrote in part, "Information concerning the June 2016 meeting between Donald J. Trump, Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya is relevant to the investigation. Russian court records obtained by CNN showed Veselnitskaya represented a military unit tied to one of the country's intelligence agencies in a Moscow property dispute from 2005 to 2013.

Veselnitskaya has previously denied that she was linked to the Kremlin. If Special Counsel's office declined to comment and a White House spokeswoman told CNN they do not comment on internal communications. This comes as the Trump administration appears to be looking for ways to undercut the investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The entire thing has been a witch-hunt.

GALLAGHER: "The New York Times" reports that Trump legal team is conducting a wide ranging search for conflicts of interest as the President's people publicly question investigators' possible political biases.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: These are significant donations and they clearly wanted the other person to win. Now whether that prejudices them in the investigation remains to be seen. But it is relevant information for people to have.

GALLAGHER: Justice Department rules allow employees to contribute to political parties and campaigns so that would not be seen as a conflict of interest. The President went so far in Wednesday's interview with "The New York Times" as to question Robert Mueller himself who Trump interviewed as a possible replacement for fired FBI Director James Comey before he was appointed Special Counsel.

TRUMP: What the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job.

GALLAGHER: According to Bloomberg, Mueller is reportedly investigating potentially Russia related business transactions of the President and his associates. Trump has suggested that Mueller doesn't have the authority to look into the Trump family finances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was looking at your family's finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what is actual --

TRUMP: I would say, yes. I would say, yes. By the way I would say I don' don't -- I mean it's possible that a condo or something -- so I sell a lot of condo units and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia.

[17:05:28] GALLAGHER: "The Washington Post" reports the President's team is looking into whether he can grant pardons to aides, family members, even himself.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President maintains pardon powers like any president would but there are no announcement or planned announcements on that front whatsoever.

GALLAGHER: The attorney representing Mr. Donald Trump and matters related to the Russia investigation called "The Washington Post" report nonsense and insists the President's lawyers are cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of the President.


GALLAGHER: Now that statement was from John Dowd. He's now the lead on the President's outside counsel when it comes to the Russia investigation. He's replacing Trump's long time personal Attorney Marc Kasowitz who CNN has learned is taking a bit of a more reduced role in all of this coming on the heels of the resignation of the communications strategist and spokesperson for that legal team, Mark Corallo.

Dianne Gallagher, CNN Washington.

CABRERA: All right. Let's talk all about all of this developments.

Joining us, CNN intelligence security analyst and former CIA operative, Bob Baer, associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics AB Stoddard. And politics reporter for The Daily Beast Betsy Woodruff.

Betsy, I want to start with what we last heard there from our Diane Gallagher that President Trump's legal spokesman Mark Corallo has resigned. And I understand, you have some new reporting on why that happened. What can you tell us? BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I spoke to some

of Corallo's longtime associates. One very close friend of his going back for several years, another person who's been a professional colleague for years and what they told me is that after the President gave that interview to "The New York Times" which you all just showed tape of, that it made it impossible for Corallo to stay on. That he would have looked at that. He would have seen a pr disaster that rolled out and given everything that these folks know about Corallo, as soon as the President sat down for that interview, it was inevitable that he was going have to leave.

Now, it's likely there were other concerns as well. Of course, Corallo has indicated to the media that he felt he was receiving some dishonest information, some bad information from other actors on the legal team. But the fact that he resigned immediately after that New York Times interview broke according to my sources is not a coincidence whatsoever. The President made it all but impossible for Corallo to stay.

CABRERA: Okay. I want to play a portion of that New York Times interviews so you can hear exactly what President Trump said about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Let's listen.


TRUMP: So, Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have -- which frankly I think is very unfair to the President. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If you would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, thanks, Jeff, but I can't -- you know, I'm not going to take you. It's extremely unfair and that's a mild word.


CABRERA: Two days later, there's this new report in "The Washington Post" that Sessions reportedly talked about Trump campaign issues with the Russian ambassador including policy issues that would affect Russia and what they may do as an administration should Trump be elected to the White House. So AB, what do you make of the timing of this new report?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, I saw Adam "The Washington Post" reporter who broke this story last night with some others speaking to Anderson Cooper last night and he made it sound like they've been working on it for a while. So, I don't know if it's directly connected to Trump unloading at "The New York Times" this week. At Sessions with "The New York Times" this week.

I think that, you know, it's clear that Sessions has a problem on his hands. He's going to have to correct the record and discuss why intercepts had picked up more conversation than he has admitted to. They have just called it substantive. We don't know exactly what it is. What campaign matters is, but it obviously sounds like, you know, if we're going to believe the Russian ambassador over the Attorney General and believe the intercepts then you know that it was substantive about what Russian policy towards what Russia would be under a Trump administration.

That's what we think. There's a lot we don't know. Senator Grassley who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee is tweeting today that he wants the leaker to produce more, because he would like to know just what substantive means and what it is that they discussed. But it's clear from the comments that President Trump made in "The New York Times" interview that he sees the Attorney General role as his lawyer out to protect and help him, not the nation's top cop. He made that perfectly clear that he thought it was Jeff Sessions' role to protect him and that's not the role obviously of the Attorney General.

Again, going back to loyalty, loyalty, loyalty. Bob, I know, you say you're inclined to believe Kislyak over Sessions about their discussion. But, you know, "The Washington Post" reporting is based on those Intel intercepts which reportedly captured Kislyak telling his superiors in Moscow about the conversation with Sessions. What didn't the Russian ambassador know his conversations are likely being recorded?

[17:10:20] ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's the question. What happens in incidents like this is that the Russian ambassador will send a message to Moscow and then someone will get on a cell phone or a phone and call him and say, are you serious that for instance Sessions has talked about sanctions and what Trump's going to do if elected and the rest of it.

So there's quite a bit of leakage. We're not reading diplomatic communications, but as I have said before, Ana, you know, diplomats just report what they hear. That's what they're hired to do. And he got to his position as ambassador to the United States probably the most important diplomatic position in Russia because he tells the truth. I mean, you don't write to Putin and make stuff up. You only maybe do it once. So this is why I tend to look at intercepts as solid. And they're probably an authentic port.

CABRERA: I'm looking down because I know that that was also included in "The Washington Post" reporting, is that Kislyak's reputation is to tell the truth regarding these conversations but there's obviously a gap in terms of what was discussed and how it's a he said/he said situation. How it's become that. We'll obviously wait for Sessions' testimony should there be more. He stands by his testimony back in June according to a statement by the Department of Justice.

Let me switch to this new sanctions bill, Betsy. The House and Senate reaching a deal today in this bill that would block the President now from lifting sanctions on Russia. How significant is it that the Republicans seemed to be standing up to the President on this issue? We know the White House had taken issue with them having their hard times when it comes to acting unilaterally in negotiations with this country.

WOODRUFF: This is a really big deal. Because it puts the President in a situation of heads I win, tails you lose. It's one of the most complicated and unpleasant political quandaries the President has found himself in since being inaugurated. And it's due to Congressional Republicans. It points to just how frayed how the relationships between the White House and The Hill have gotten. And an important component here and what White House folks are concerned about is, what happens when these sanctions package inevitably passes through Congress?

If the President signs off on it, he's in trouble. Because it undermines what he campaigned which was having a tow with Russia. And additionally President Trump is going to oppose this reason for the same reason that Obama opposed previous sanctions packages. White Houses hate having their hands tied when it comes to these diplomatic issues. However, if Trump were to veto this package then Congress inevitably would overturn that veto.

If the first veto of President Trump to be overturned was a Russia sanctions, that something that goes down in history as part of his first year in the White House and just underlines every criticism that he's got and about his unorthodox foreign policy.

CABRERA: Well, by the sounds that it's such a bipartisan deal this sanctions bill that it would likely result in no veto because the President wouldn't be able to override that Congress on this.

WOODRUFF: It's something that the White House has to decide. Right?


WOODRUFF: It's actually a challenge for them. And I'm not confident they have concluded which way they're going to go.

CABRERA: Bob, I'm curious how you think Moscow is likely to respond to this.

BAER: It's not going to respond well. But frankly, you know, congratulations to the Republicans to pass this. Let's don't forget we were attacked in 2016 elections. The Russians did interfere. And this is going to be a response and it's long overdue and, you know, congratulations to Congress. We absolutely have to prevent this from happening a second time. Next year's election or 2020. So, this had to be passed and it does put President Trump in a quandary. He doesn't like Congress to make foreign policy, but now it has. So it shows again a weakened presidency.

CABRERA: AB, we were talking about loyalty earlier. And funny you should bring this up because the new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, he's now announcing he is deleting some old tweets saying his views have evolved the President's agenda is all that matters. Now, it's important to note, some of those old tweets are supporting Hillary Clinton, bashing President Trump's plans to build the wall. Are we to believe that's all water under the bridge now with this president knowing how important loyalty is to him?

STODDARD: Well, I think that the President -- we know that he hand picks Scaramucci to come into the White House and rescue his communications operation because he believes he's one of his best defenders. And we have been listening to him in interviews that Chris Cuomo and others on CNN for months saying how much he loves the President, he's very smooth, he's very friendly, he's very upbeat, very calm, very articulate and the President is decided to put everything he's ever said behind him.

He made jokes about that yesterday. Trump was tweeting about it today. Trump has given to Hillary, Trump has a White House full of Democrats. Changing a position does not matter in Trump world whatsoever. If you're smooth as silk talking and Anthony Scaramucci obviously has the full faith and confidence of this president and especially because he basically has said, I'm going to let the President do, you know, whatever he wants and be who he is.

Now, if things turn south in a couple of months, and you know, the kids who backed Scaramucci's, you know, employment in this position, responsibility as communications director, if they decide that, you know, things aren't going well, Scaramucci will be blamed. They will not blame their father and father-in-law. So, he knows that going in. Why his eyes wide open and he is going to talk about how much he loves the President.

[17:15:53] CABRERA: And you're talking about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

STODDARD: Yes, they were the ones pushing for --

CABRERA: Right. Overriding Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon who --

STODDARD: He should be brought in and given total control.

CABRERA: Yes. AB Stoddard, Betsy Woodruff, Bob Baer, thanks to you all. Thank you all.

And a programming note, Anthony Scaramucci will be Jake Tapper's guest tomorrow on CNN's "State of the Union." So, stay tuned for that interview. That's at 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on CNN.

Coming up, a Republican in the hot seat in his home state. Why Senator Jeff Flake may be in danger of losing his job. And later, a CNN exclusive. We go on a rescue mission in the Sahara Desert where migrants are left die. How a major U.S. drone facility nearby could dramatically affect their plight. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:20:44] CABRERA: President Trump took to Twitter first thing this morning, surprise, surprise calling out Senate Republicans over their failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare. He tweeted, the Republican senators must step up to the plate and after seven years vote to repeal and replace. Next tax reform and infrastructure. Win. So, what happens when you're a Republican senator who gets on Trump's bad side? Arizona's Jeff Flake who's up for re-election is finding out.

CNN's Kyung Lah reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Seth and Chris show is on now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Jeff Flake in trouble? If so, why? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The answers lighting up conservative talk radio

in the red state of Arizona.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he's in our party, I would expect him to vote along with the majority of our party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Early on he was very, very much against Trump.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you have to support Trump in this state right now to win?

SETH LEIBSOHN, AUTHOR, AMERICAN GREATNESS: That's the question we're going to test with the Jeff Flake candidacy.

LAH (voice-over): Arizona Senator Jeff Flake's 2018 re-election already being challenged as a White House hunts for more loyal Republicans. Senator Flake never endorsed Trump's candidacy. Instead of going to the convention, telling a reporter, "I have got to mow my lawn." In September, still lukewarm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would still not vote for Donald Trump.

LAH: Trump then calming Flake very weak and ineffective. Their relationship since?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It was a bit tense.


FLAKE: They started out saying that I have been critical of him and I have been frankly.

LAH: A perilous path under a president who has a public penchant for revenge.

TRUMP: I think it's really important if somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.

LAH: Sensing vulnerability in Flake, Kelli Ward has already announced her candidacy.

(on camera): You have the Trump sign on the wall?


LAH: Why is there Trump sign there?

WARD: You know, because I want to make America great again.

LAH (voice-over): She lost in the primary to Senator John McCain last year but thinks it's different this time.

(on camera): Has someone from the White House specifically called you to encourage you to run against Senator Flake?

WARD: Well, you know, I have met with people at the White House. I was there a couple of weeks ago.

LAH (on camera): How real is this effort to oust Senator Flake?

ROBERT GRAHAM, FORMER ARIZONA GOP CHAIRMAN: I would say it's extremely real and I would be very concerned if I was the incumbent right now.

LAH (voice-over): Robert Graham, former Arizona GOP chairman and adviser to the Trump campaign, another Trump loyalist being courted to run for Flake's seat. Meeting with team Trump half a dozen times. Arizona State Treasure Jeff Dewitt is also in conversations with the White House for a Senate run.

(on camera): Is this a battle worth having when we talk about Senator Flake in the future of the Trump agenda?

GRAHAM: You start saying, okay, are we going lose to lose that seat as Republicans but even right now we're feeling the buffeting that happens in the Senate just with two votes, right? On the health care. And so, if you lose another seat what happens?

LAH: Flake's re-election campaign says, the Senator is closely aligned with the President. Voting with him 95 percent of the time this year. Whether that resonates with the Arizona Republican base --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God, I would never vote for this guy.

LAH: The interest in Senator Flake's seat isn't just coming from the White House. From external forces. It is much more intense internally within the state says Graham when you consider the amount of calls he's had from donors and the interests he's had from activists within the state. That he says is where the real action is when it comes to trying to put someone more conservative into Senator Flake's seat.


CABRERA: Kyung Lah reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, an officer suspended now after his own body camera appears to catch him planting evidence. How it could now affect dozens of other cases in one big American city.


[17:28:37] CABRERA: Caught on camera, video from the police officer's body camera is now raising serious questions over how the Baltimore Police Department operates. Check out this body cam video, it allegedly shows a Baltimore cop planting drugs during a January bust. There were a couple of other officers standing nearby. Now, the police commissioner has said this is, quote, "a serious allegation of police misconduct."

One officer in this video has already been suspended, two other officers placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. I want to bring in CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval who is joining us,

who's been following this story. And Polo, it's so interesting to watch this video and knowing on the back drop this is a Baltimore Police Department with history that isn't good. There's a deep public distrust already of police there, the city has faced growing violent crime. How damaging is this?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you don't want to know, Police Department would ever want to find itself in this situation. And as you just touched on, in a very important way, especially Baltimore. Given its past and several controversial incidents that the Police Department has found itself in. And adding to what the police commissioner said. Just this week, there is nothing that will deteriorate trust in the Police Department more than the simple idea of planting evidence.


[17:30:00] SANDOVAL (voice-over): If perception is reality, then this video does not help police community relations in Baltimore. Watch as the officer wearing the body camera appears to stuff a baggie of heroin into a can during a January drug bust. He and his fellow officers walk away, only to return a few seconds later. This time, the device's mic is active.


SANDOVAL: After scanning over some debris, the officer finds what appears to be the same can containing the same drugs.


SANDOVAL: Was this officer intentionally planting evidence or re- creating when and where the narcotics were initially found? An internal investigation will have to determine that says Commissioner Kevin Davis.

KEVIN DAVIS, COMMISSIONER, BALTIMORE POLICE DEPARTMENT: So if our community thinks that there are police officers who are planting evidence during the course of their duty, that's certainly something that will keep me up at night.

SANDOVAL: This is the latest controversy to rock a department struggling with growing public distrust.

CEDRICK ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: None of them are perfect. And there are going to be things that are going to happen that's going to create some concern.

SANDOVAL: In March, seven Baltimore investigators were arrested as part of a federal racketeering takedown. The group is accused of robbing people and defrauding their department. On Friday, two of the suspected officers pleaded guilty in court.

(SHOUTING) SANDOVAL: And police community relations reached a breaking point in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray while in custody. Residents clashed with police in the streets following the incident. All of the officers involved were eventually cleared of wrongdoing, causing further division between the community and police.

Cedrick Alexander, a former top law enforcement official, believes bridging that gap requires action on both sides.

ALEXANDER: We cannot give up on each other. Police need community. Community needs police. And we have to find a way in order to continue to build that trust and build those relationships.

SANDOVAL: Baltimore may be taking a step in that direction with Commissioner Davis promising transparency by releasing the body camera video.


CABRERA: I want to bring back Polo.

So this one incident is now prompting the review of 100 or plus other cases?

SANDOVAL: Right. The Baltimore city state attorney's office is saying they have to review about 100 cases to see if the integrity of the investigations were jeopardized in any way. That's because one of the police officers, mainly the one wearing the body camera, had a hand in the investigation, which now raises to question or at least increased scrutiny some of the cases. And now prosecutors have the figure out another way of proving the cases, again, because of this video. So not only has this become an issue for the police department but also down the street for prosecutors.

CABRERA: The plot thickens.

Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

SANDOVAL: Thank you.

CABRERA: Still ahead here in the NEWSROOM, an exclusive report from Niger where migrants are risking their lives trying to flee through the Saharan Desert. Why a U.S. aerial presence will be vital to their survival.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:37:05] CABRERA: The initial investigation now blames the U.S. Navy for last month's crash off Japan that killed seven U.S. sailors. One official told CNN a slew of things went wrong when the "USS Fitzgerald" collided with a Philippine cargo ship. The probe found multiple eras by the "Fitzgerald's" crew, including failure to take action in the minutes leading up to the incident. The Navy issued a statement saying it is still early in the investigation. Now after the tragedy, my colleague, Brooke Baldwin, spoke to Darrell

Martin, the father of one of the sailors killed in the accident.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: How proud of your son are you?

DARRELL MARTIN, FATHER OF SAILOR KILLED IN USS FITZGERALD COLLISION: Words can't describe how proud I am. I have -- wow. I kept every text from time he's joined the Navy. And there's just numerous texts that I have expressed how proud I am. I'm so proud to be his father. I could not ask for a better child. Never.


CABRERA: Investigators are also considering other factors, such as the speed the ship was traveling.

Meantime, the Pentagon is apologizing and promising a full investigation after a tragic mistake. 16 Afghan police officers killed by friendly fire. The U.S. airstrike hit a compound in southern Afghanistan Friday. Taliban fighters were the intended target.

Let's bring in CNN reporter from the Pentagon, Ryan Browne.

Ryan, how exactly did this operation go so wrong?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Ana, it's part of a string of operations that the Afghan military has been conducting and Afghan military and police have been conducting in Helmand Province. It's a large province in Afghanistan. There's a large Taliban presence there. And there's a lot of intense fighting going on right now. There's been a big uptick in the amount of U.S. airstrikes being conducted in the area in support of Afghan forces. We have seen hundreds of airstrikes in the last month, conducted by the United States. So there's more opportunities in this fighting for things to go wrong. And that appears to be what happened here. You had the remote outposts. They're changing hands multiple times. And it looks like the U.S. air support struck the wrong target in an attempt to support troops on the ground. There had been some successes by the U.S. military forces earlier in the month but, apparently, this time, they definitely did not hit the target they were intending to hit.

CABRERA: In recent months, we talked about the civilian deaths in other U.S. airstrikes. Ryan, how could this all happen when the U.S. military has some of the most technologically advanced weapons?

BROWNE: Well, they do have technologically advanced weapons and a lot of surveillance capabilities, surveillance assets. But there are much fewer U.S. troops on the ground than in previous years in Iraq and Afghanistan. When you don't have the advisers on the ground, with eyes on the targets themselves, that does open up some opportunity for mistakes to occur. This is one of the reasons that the Trump administration's currently weighing the strategy for Afghanistan. One thing they're looking at is additional advisors and U.S. troops. And one thing they could do would be to provide that ability, called forward air controllers, the ability to call in the airstrikes with more certainty. That's something they're weighing as the administration decides whether or not to send more advisers to Afghanistan and other places.

[17:40:29] CABRERA: Ryan Browne, out Pentagon reporter, thank you.

Turning now to a city at the crossroads of the war on terror. The U.S. is spending money to build a massive new high-tech drone base in a dangerous desert hub, a city filled with human smugglers, and Niger migrants desperate to leave and restart their lives somewhere else.

CNN's Arwa Damon traveled to West Africa for this exclusive report. Watch.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT (voice-over): This is no man's land. There is the serious threat of kidnapping. But the real danger? That of the very desert itself.

We're on a mission to rescue stranded migrants.

(on camera): It really only takes a few moments in the back of one of these trucks to get an appreciation of just how tough it is out here.

(voice-over): The Sahara is too vast for any army to control. And a recent government crackdown has meant smugglers are keeping off the main tracks and away from water points.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw when everybody was giving up, one of them died.

DAMON (on camera): People were dying around you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We had just one jar of water.

DAMON (voice-over): Best managed to survive for 224 days in the desert, but most of those who were with her, they didn't. Out of 27 people, only three women survived.

We met her at a transit center in Agadez, that's run by the IOM. She's waiting to return to Nigeria.

Agadez is a gateway for migrants in route to Europe. Last year, the E.U. pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to Niger to crackdown on smuggling. But what the crackdown has done is drive the operations underground and destroy the city's economy. Just everyone here lived off the migrant trade.

Agadez is a World Heritage Site that's been turned into a tinderbox. And it's also about to become the site of 21st century warfare's most modern technology.

COL. JOHN MEITER, COMMANDER, AIR BASE 101, U.S. AIR FORCE: This is the largest troop-related project in Air Force history. DAMON: Just outside of Agadez, the U.S. is investing $100 million building up Nigerian Airbase 201. And it is from here that the U.S. will launch its MQ9 Reapers, a hunter/killer drone with advanced intelligence gathering capabilities. The Reapers at AFRICOM Niger headquarters are currently based out of the capitol, Niamey.

MEITER: This is a nexus area or kind of a focus area of multiple threats to the United States, be it Libya in the north, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to the west or Boko Haram to the south. Niger is a central location from which the United States can operate.

DAMON: The American military mission to Niger is clear, but proposed foreign aid cuts by the Trump White House has thrown its long-term humanitarian commitment into question.


DAMON: In Agadez, a U.S. Army civil affairs team is already trying to reach out to the local population.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- in the morning.

DAMON: This is a dental hygiene workshop.


DAMON: On site, we meet a group of women leaders. And their top concern is youth unemployment.

Zara Ibrahim says terrorism is all around them. And that's why they don't want the youth to be idle, so that they are not recruit by something else.

But it's really only in the desert that you begin to understand the enormous challenges that come with physically securing this lawless land and why the U.S. aerial presence is so valued by Niger's government.

Finally, some 10 hours after we leave Agadez, we see a light signal. Some migrants have been stranded here for three days after their truck broke down.


[17:45:21] DAMON: They don't want their identifies revealed.

As we speak, one of the women starts praying under her breath.


DAMON: Then we hear the agonizing wails of another woman.


DAMON: And go to speak with her.

(on camera): I heard you crying.


DAMON: She says two of her four children were on another truck and the convoy just kept going towards Libya.



DAMON (voice-over): It's only at daybreak that we truly understand the remoteness of where we are.

The migrants ready themselves. They pile into the back of the trucks. They are reluctant to leave. They want to keep going to Libya and not back to Agadez.

This is the crossroads of the war on terror, of hope and despair.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Agadez.



CABRERA: Fascinating story. Thank you, Arwa.

One in eight American women develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and this week's "CNN Hero" was one of them. As she battled the disease, she saw the serious toll it took on her husband and son and she was inspired to create a way for families to reconnect and enjoy life again. Meet Janine.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: When the cancer bomb goes off in your house, it's devastating. It's financially, physically, emotionally exhausting.

There you go. You've got it, girl.

Our hope and our goal is to put a huge embrace on families as they're going through the breast cancer journey.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: To have them hit the pause button and just relax and play.


CABRERA: To learn more about Janine's story or to nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero," log on the

We're back live in the CNN NEWSROOM in a moment.


[11:52:05] CABRERA: Finally, this hour, Trump at the helm of two trucks and two health care bills. What does one have to do with the other?

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He did it in March, and now he's done it again.

UNIDENTIFIED COMEDIAN: And of course, his favorite activity, fake- driving a truck.

MOOS: And both times he's been mocked for it. Most recently, this week, when he got into a fire truck parked at the White House --

DOANLD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where's the fire? Put it out fast.

MOOS: -- for a "Made in America" event.

UNIDENTIFIED COMEDIAN: First, he pretends to be a firefighter and then he dresses up as a cowboy. Is Trump trying to be all of the Village People before the end of his term?


MOOS: But every time the president gets in a big rig, something happens. Beware of the curse of the truck-driver-in-chief.

(on camera): When the president gets behind the wheel, legislation crashes.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR: The vote on health care, not happening today.

MOOS (voice-over): Almost four months ago, the president got in a truck and blew the horn.


MOOS: But what really got blown that day was the House health care bill.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now we know they are postponing the vote, the scheduled vote that didn't actually happen.

MOOS: This week, the president climbed into a fire truck. That's Sean Spicer, visible in the side-view mirror, taking the president's picture. And guess what happened to health care in the Senate that day?

UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: This bill is dead.

MOOS: We're not saying the president's fake driving made health care road kill. We're just driving home the coincidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with that.

MOOS: Even when the president gets behind the wheel of a golf cart, driving over a putting green backfired. "Slate" called it "the most monstrous act of this or any other presidency."

Commented one golf fan, "I don't care if he's God, you don't drive golf carts within 20 yards of a green."

At least when he drove the fire truck he didn't turn on the siren, even if health care was going up in flames.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --


MOOS: -- New York.


[17:54:09] CABRERA: I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Thanks for being with me. I'll see you back here in one hour from now live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

For now, "SMERCONISH" is next.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish, in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in United States and around the world.

What can I say? It was a chaotic several days for the White House. Yes, words I could have used so often in the first six months of the Trump administration. Yesterday, I paid a visit to Sean Spicer in his White House digs for an off-the-record chat. It turned out to be his exit interview. My thoughts on Spicer's departure are next.

Plus, Mr. Schwarzenegger went to Washington. The Governator was talking gerrymandering and climate change, and we had a sit-down.

Also, no NFL team has signed free-agent quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Ex QB Michael Vick gave him hair-cut advice. But I'm about to ask Bob Costas whether Kaepernick has been blackballed.

But first, I scored Sean Spicer's exit interview and didn't even realize it at the time. I was in Washington on Friday to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger and for an off-the-record chat with Spicer at 9:00 a.m. I left the White House at 9:45. I didn't want to overstay my welcome because Spicer had told me he was meeting with the president at 10:00 a.m. By the time I returned to my hotel and turned on the television, word was breaking he had just quit as White House press secretary. No, I didn't know that his departure was imminent.