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Trump to Unveil Afghan War Plan in Prime-Time Address; U.S. Today: Secret Service Can No Longer Pay Hundreds of Agents; Trump to Arizona for a Campaign-Style Rally Tuesday. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:05] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

President Trump speaks to the country about the war in Afghanistan, America's longest war to date. He will be unveiling his strategy, which is widely expected to call for additional troops.

Whatever the decision, it comes six months since his last major address and nearly 16 years since the war begun. The U.S. and its allies brought down al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the insurgent cy has dragged on ever since, and despite years of training Afghan forces and hundreds of billions of dollars, the government in Afghanistan is not strong enough to stand and fight on its own.

American combat operations officially ended there more than two years ago. But, of course, the fighting continues. So, tonight, the president is expected to call for additional troops in a war that has already cost the lives of more than 2,300 American servicemen and women, wounded countless more, killed tens of thousands of Afghans and cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

For years, before President Trump was responsible for the conduct of the war, back when he was just Donald Trump and quick to reply on Twitter, he was firmly against the war.

October of 2011, he tweeted: When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.

In March of 2012: Afghanistan is a disaster. We don't know what we are doing. They are, in addition of everything else, robbing us blind.

January of 2013: I agree with President Obama in Afghanistan. We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money? Rebuild the U.S.

March that same year: We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard and quick. Rebuild the U.S. first.

When citizen Trump became candidate Trump, however, his views -- well, as they say, evolved.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe that American boots should stay on the ground in Afghanistan to stabilize the situation?

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wouldn't totally disagree with it, except, you know, at some point, are they going to be there the next 200 years? You know, at some point, what's going on? It's going to be a long time.

We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn't know what the hell what they were doing and it's a mess. It's a mess. At this point, you probably have to, because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave. Just as I said Iraq was going to collapse after we leave.


COOPER: Later on said that he was talking about Iraq, although at end he references Iraq, and it seems to be different. Anyway, there he is grudgingly accepting the geopolitical case for apparently for staying in Afghanistan.

Here he is fastening unto a different reason, a variation of his refrain about going to Iraq. In his words, taking the oil.


TRUMP: So, we fight in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan has great mineral wealth. People didn't know. Great mineral wealth.

Nobody knew, but Afghanistan has great wealth in minerals. And nobody knew this. So, China is taking out the minerals on this side of the ridge, and we're fighting over here. How stupid are we?


COOPER: But despite all his criticism of President Obama, if President Trump announces tonight, he's expanding the U.S. presence, he'll effectively be continuing his predecessor's policies, whether he admits it or not, and as the president prepares to address the nation tonight, he's going to be asking the country to trust his judgment where American lives are concerned at the precise moment the polls show the majority of people do not.

Athena Jones is at Joint Base Myer, next door to the Pentagon, where the president is going to address the nation.

So, what else do we know what the president is going to lay out in his speech tonight?


Well, we're going to hear more than just Afghanistan. We also expect the president to address how the U.S. can better work with other countries in the region, like for instance Pakistan. We know the White House wants to see Pakistan do more to fight terror networks.

We also know they've been developing a strategy to counter the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan. Unclear how much we're going to hear about that tonight.

I can tell you that Vice President Pence was set to speak with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ahead of tonight's address. We're still awaiting a readout of that call.

But we know that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India today. A State Department spokesperson says that the topic was how the U.S. would like to work with each country to stabilize South Asia through a new, integrated regional strategy. So, we expect to hear the president talk about that tonight -- Anderson.

COOPER: Do we know how much the president's national security meeting this weekend presumably shaped what he's going to say? Because obviously this is a debate that's been going on for a while in the administration.

JONES: It is. That's the big meeting that we saw the president send out a photograph, a class photograph of the generals and military leaders who were in attendance. Vice President Pence cut short his trip to Central America to come and attend the meeting. And the president in a tweet on Saturday said that was when the decision on Afghanistan was made.

We don't know exactly what was discussed in that meeting at Camp David. But we do know that there has been some intense debate during this months-long deliberation about Afghanistan strategy, regarding just how much more military and financial commitment the U.S. should make to this 16-year-long war. Folks like national security adviser H.R. McMaster were among those arguing for increased engagement, while people like now departed chief strategist Steve Bannon were arguing the opposite.

[20:05:08] Bannon opposes adding troops, adding U.S. troops to Afghanistan. And that is in line with the kinds of tweets and commentary we saw from candidate Trump during the campaign. And from citizen Trump four years before that, with the president, as we expected to announce an increase in troops in Afghanistan, it certainly looks as though a hawkish argument won.

But, Anderson, the president faces a challenge tonight in convincing his supporters that increasing engagement in Afghanistan is the right move --


JONES: -- considering he spent so long arguing for full withdrawal -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Athena Jones, appreciate that. We'll check to you later.

To Athena's point, a second ago, if, in fact, the president expands the American footprint in Afghanistan, it's going to be a blow to the kind of inward looking U.S. foreign policy that Steve Bannon supported, his White House chief strategist. He, of course, is back at Breitbart News, already.

And the publication is taking aim at its former West Wing policy opponents. Take a look at some of the headlines. What is the goal in Afghanistan? Washington does not know. H.R. McMaster endorsed book that advocates Koran-kissing apology ceremonies. And, never shy, America first. With Steve Bannon out, globalists push for more war abroad.

Clearly, the president's former adviser isn't letting up on the advice now that he's on the outside shutting in. There's also word he's ready to go after some of the people he butted heads with in the West Wing, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump among them.

Joining us now from the White House is CNN's Jessica Schneider.

So, Bannon certainly didn't waste any time getting back to work at Breitbart. How much of his fingerprints are on some of these headlines? Do we know?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it seem like a lot of thinks fingerprints are on these headlines. Steve Bannon has made his mark at Breitbart and he's made it very quickly. Within hours of his ouster here at the White House, he was back at "Breitbart", leading an editorial meeting and back to his old job that he had before he joined the campaign as executive chairman.

And he's really not being shy about the fact that he will be pushing his agenda. Again, within hours of his ouster, he told "The Weekly Standard" this. He said, I got my hands back on my weapons. I'm going to crush the opposition. And it seems that way in a lot of the headlines we've seeing throughout the past few days at "Breitbart".

Specifically today, as to President Trump's possible increase of troops in Afghanistan, we saw two different headlines today from columnists there, saying Trump's Afghan plan, why the U.S. will neither win nor lose. We also saw another column that said after 16 years, why would more troops or money help?

So, yes, we're seeing Steve Bannon's mark at "Breitbart" very quickly -- Anderson.

COOPER: And as far as Bannon or his allies going after members of the administration they butted heads with, General McMaster, Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn, how much could that ratchet up in the days ahead?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the targets are very clear, and the message is already very clear. We know that reportedly Steve Bannon had these people in his sights, in his target. In fact, the editor in chief of "Breitbart" put it this way to "Vanity Fair" as well, saying that he wants to beat their ideas into submission. Steve has a lot of things up his sleeve, to very ominously pointing at what is to come.

Of course, we know that those targets do include Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. We know that Steve Bannon has mockingly referred to them as Javanka, their celebrity nickname. Also pinpointing Gary Cohn, the president's chief economic advisor, labeling all three of those as New York Democrat globalists. Of course, that going against everything that Steve Bannon believes in.

And then, of course, Steve Bannon has his sights set as well on national security adviser HR. McMaster. His deputy, Dina Powell, labeling them as hawks, which, of course, we might see some of their fingerprints on President Trump's plan in Afghanistan.

So, a lot being pushed out of "Breitbart" already, Anderson. And it's only been a few days.

COOPER: Yes. Jessica, thanks.

I want to bring in the political panel, Tara Setmayer, Alice Stewart, Ryan Lizza and Kirsten Powers.

I mean, so much for, you know, resigning or being fired and kind of going away gracefully and not revealing things that you learned while you were working for your employer. I mean, there's -- it doesn't seem like that's Steve Bannon's philosophy.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Very old fashioned of you, I think.


COOPER: No, it's very old fashioned. I mean, what happened to that thing of just like keeping the secrets you learned while you doing your time (ph)?

POWERS: Yes, I don't know what is going to happen and I don't think they should have expected it to happen. And I wonder if some of the people who really advocated for him leaving aren't going to regret it, because he's somebody -- he's much more dangerous outside because of what he knows and also because -- look, Breitbart is going to operate now on a much more effective fashion with Steve Bannon back there, right?

I mean, whatever you want to say about Steve Bannon, he knows what he's doing. He knows how to get his message out there. And it will be much more effective organization in terms of targeting the issues that they care about.

COOPER: Well, he also has a lot more information that he's learned. I mean, he had a security clearance. He's been in meetings. He's been in probably important role.


POWERS: Exactly. Yes. And I think that he, you know -- the other thing you have to remember is that Donald Trump pays a lot more attention to the news than he pays attention to people who are right in front of him. So, you have a lot more influence over him if you can get people ginned up in the outside world, in the news world, versus just sitting there trying to talk to him. [20:10:05] COOPER: Ryan, at what point? I mean, it seems like

they're trying -- Bannon is trying to portray himself as trying to, you know, keep Trump on the populist side and kind of save that Donald Trump, which his base loved. At the same time, we're hearing quotes from people at "Breitbart" talking about, you know, being involved in impeachment if the president doesn't, you know, adhere to that.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, look, I visited Bannon twice in the White House, once in March and once in July. I had long conversations with him. And what I can say is he viewed himself as surrounded by enemies, surrounded by people --

COOPER: Enemies in the White House?

LIZZA: In the White -- he had his concentric circle, right? So, people in the White House like Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner and McMaster, and, look, those are the top people, right? So, he's losing these battles on personnel, because the top people were not in his camp ideologically.

And then he had the larger Republican establishment, like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, who he believes and has said publicly did not accept Trump's populist, nationalist agenda. That Bannon believed he was sort of the keeper of the flame of that agenda. There's been a white board in his office where he had all the campaign promises, of which he helped write. He believe he was the guy that was protecting that agenda from all the people who came into the Trump world after the election.

And let's be honest, he lost, right? He doesn't believe in the tax cut plan that being put forward by the Republican Party. He wasn't a big believer really in the Obamacare plan. And to the extent he tried to get it through, he failed.

His trade agenda never really got off the ground in the way that he wanted. He was against the strike in Syria. He lost that battle. And now tonight, it seems like he's against the president's plan in Afghanistan.

So, we're seeing the most ideological, the person who defines Trumpism more than anyone else, now on the outside as someone who's lost the larger battle and he's going to fight that from his perch at "Breitbart" instead.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For those that wonder what difference does that make -- look, I spoke with a "Breitbart" editor just moments ago. They have 50 million unique viewers each month. That is a powerful voice. And Steve Bannon will continue to do what he's been doing, that is, as Ryan said, hold the president's feet to the fire, try and influence him to continue to carry the flame that got him elected.

Bannon was instrumental in that connecting with the working class people, pushing this nationalist, populist nationalist agenda. And he felt as though it wasn't getting done when he was in the White House. And he will point out a lot of the people we just named, Jared, and Ivanka, and Gary Cohn and others, he views them as the West Wing Democrats, saying they would be more comfortable in a Clinton administration.

So, what Bannon will do, and they say they're going to continue to do what they've been doing, they're going to push back on the globalist ideas and increasing the footprint militarily. But he's going to do it, communicating directly to the people. And they say they are even embolden and more aggressive now that Bannon back at the helm.

COOPER: It's interesting, Tara, whether this is going to be one of those relationships that President Trump seems to have with people who officially have been fired or resigned. But he still is, you know, there was Corey Lewandowski, who was never clear, like, is he really been fired? Like, he's still receiving calls from the president, you know, even when he was on panels.

So, is Steve Bannon one of those people?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's the difference, I think, that makes Steve Bannon's situation unique. Steve Bannon was never really a Trump acolyte, whereas Corey Lewandowski and some of these others were cultish followers.

COOPER: Bannon was late to the party.

SETMAYER: Yes. He saw Donald Trump as a vehicle to get his movement out there.


SETMAYER: And Steve Bannon is very much a true believer in that world view. So, a lot of this was self-interest for him. So, now that he's out of the White House, his loyalty was never to Trump, it was, like you said, he felt that this movement was the priority, and he would protect that at all cost, even if that means turning on Trump at some point to protect that movement, this populist, nationalist world view that "Breitbart" pushes.

And Steve Bannon, love him or hate him, is a really smart guy. So, he understands how this medium works. He has a lot of money behind him. Billionaire Bob Mercer is behind him. And they will -- they will use this platform in a way to either make Trump's life miserable and try to get him to acquiesce to their world view, or it could be wonderful.

But I'm -- you see this already. I mean, he hasn't been gone for a week, and you already see the #war coming from "Breitbart". And Steve Bannon is excited about this political guerrilla warfare he seems to get off on engaging in that.


COOPER: -- in the White House being hawks. He certainly uses a lot of war terminology.

SETMAYER: Yes. LIZZA: Yes. And just on your point of whether Trump will rely on his

advice or not, I think he does have a history of doing that. One longtime Trump adviser once said, he values your advice more when he's not paying for it.

[20:15:01] And, you know, he has a long history of keeping these guys on.

I think, you know, I gave a long list of fights that Bannon lost inside the White House. It's fair to point out -- he really did change the Republican Party on immigration. He and Trump changed the Republican Party. They were going in a different direction on immigration when Bannon, when Trump came along and then Bannon and he pushed the president to remove the United States from the Paris climate deal. So, not all of his fights, not all of his battles were lost.

COOPER: It is interesting, though. You know, we're going to be hearing from the president in 45 minutes or so, and, obviously, bringing it live and we'll talk about it afterwards, as well. But, you know, from what Donald Trump as a citizen said about Afghanistan to what we believe he's going to say tonight about, you know, expanding maybe several more U.S. troops as advisers, I mean, it is a sea change. And, obviously, the office changes one, it's much different if you're president, you're responsible for this, instead of just a real estate developer, you know, with a Twitter machine.

POWERS: I think, but also when he was running, the things he said, and I think he said he was running on, was not to expand in Afghanistan.

COOPER: Right.

POWERS: And so that was something that really set him apart from all of the other candidates on this stage.

COOPER: Right, no nation-building.

POWERS: Right. I mean, really --

COOPER: That's what we're doing.

POWERS: -- what's distinguished him and, you know, it can be one of the things that you have Republican voters who were tired of these overseas adventure.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We're going to bring you late information on the president's address tonight, as the top of the hour approaches, when the president will be speaking live.

When we come back, find out why the Secret Service cannot pay its agents for protecting the first family, even for hours already worked. The details from "USA Today" are startling. I'll talk to the reporter who broke the story.

And later, after President Trump's speech outlining his new Afghan strategy, Paul House Speaker Paul Ryan faces his voters at a CNN town hall event in Racine, Wisconsin. That starts at 9:30, right here on CNN. A big night ahead.

We'll be right back.


[20:20:54] COOPER: New reporting out today that the U.S. Secret Service is unable to pay its agents and its bills. According to "USA Today," more than 1,000 agents have already hit limits for salary and overtime allowances. Only Congress can raise those caps. Even if it does, some agents will still not be paid for hours they already worked.

Now, one problem is this administration has more people to protect. Forty-two members of the Trump administration, including 18 Trump family members have protection, compared to 31 during the Obama administration. President Trump travels almost every weekend, which costs more than staying put in the White House.

As of today, the 213th day of the Trump presidency, President Trump has spent 65 days at Trump properties, that's almost one-third of his administration. Each of the president's five children also have full- time Secret Service protection that follows them wherever they go and they travel a great deal, as well. Recently, Trump kids have been to Lake Placid, Aspen, North Dakota, within the U.S. And abroad, the Dominican Republican, Germany, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, among many others.

The irony is that before he was president, Donald Trump was incredibly critical of President Obama for his travel, which was not as frequent as this president. In 2011, Trump tweeted: The habitual vacation of @BarackObama is now in Hawaii. This vacation is costing taxpayers $4 million plus, while there's 20 percent unemployment.

And, why did Barack Obama and his family travel separately to Martha's Vineyard? They love to extravagantly spend on the taxpayers' dime.

Some of the money the Secret Service pays to rent golf carts at Trump resorts or stay in Trump Towers is paid to the Trump Organization, we should point, meaning that the Trump Organization is tactually making money from the Secret Service and from taxpayers.

The Secret Service responded to the "USA Today" story, claiming this doesn't have anything to do with the size of the Trump protection needs or the president's frequent travel. They said, quote, "This issue is not one the can be attributed to the current administration's protection requirements, but rather has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in operational tempo.

Joining me now is Kevin Johnson, the "USA Today" reporter who broke this story.

Kevin, it's an amazing story. So, what the -- the Secret Service now has come out with a statement saying it's just an increase in operational tempo. But I don't quite understand, it seems like a big part of the -- or at least a part of the increase in operational tempo is they have so many more members of the Trump administration to cover and so much more travel.

KEVIN JOHNSON, REPORTER, USA TODAY: That's correct. The Trump family has 18 members who are covered by security details. And that has driven a large part of the increase, as you mentioned earlier, up to 42 from 31 during the previous administration. So, the -- in talking with Director Alles, I spoke to him personally. He indicated that President Trump -- he acknowledged President Trump's large family, but he also indicated that there's really nothing that he can do about that, and wouldn't attempt to do anything about it. His mission is quite inflexible. So, he's working with what he's been dealt.

COOPER: I think a lot of people are also surprised to learn that the Secret Service has to pay -- the Trump Organization to rent golf carts. I think, you know, more than, you know, tens of thousands of dollars so far just spent on golf carts because the president plays golf so much and the Secret Service, obviously, understandably has to follow him around, and paying to be in Trump Tower, although they have now this dispute and they're out in a shack I guess or some sort of trailer out on the street.

JOHNSON: Well, yes, that's a whole other story altogether. The potential conflicts that exist as the Secret Service carries out its mission in protecting the family members and others. You mentioned the trips that the family members have gone on, the sons have gone off to attend events that are related to Trump properties. Those are trips that the Secret Service has no say over what they do, and merely has become a condition of their protective requirement.

COOPER: Also, it seems like a lot of members of the administration, who in past administrations have not had protective details do now.

[20:25:03] I mean, I think the head of the EPA has one, I think the secretary of education has one, as well. Is that correct?

JOHNSON: Yes, there's a lot about this administration obviously is different. I think what is different really for the Secret Service, the way it was explained to me, is that they've never had this type of an arrangement where you have adult children who have business interests as far flung as they do. And require travel as part of that business.

So, it's been a new and -- a new challenge for them to adapt to this reality.

COOPER: Also, obviously, I mean, everybody who needs protection should get protection. They're working for the American people and they're working in government. What is the solution here? Is it just a matter of Congress appropriating more funds?

JOHNSON: Well, I think that there was an expectation last fall when this problem was first raised after a contentious election cycle, 1,400 Secret Service agents had reached their caps. They were maxed out in annual pay and overtime. And that prompted Congress to approve a one-time fix to ensure that all those 1,400 would be paid for the overtime that they earned during that whole season.

What -- there was that expectation, though, that the work would normalize after the inauguration. Obviously, that hasn't happened. So, what it will take in order for these folks to be paid, will be another approval by Congress to raise the caps and Director Alles has proposed or is talking with lawmakers about raising that cap from $161,000 to $187,000. But even with those caps, or with that cap, if it's approved, more than 130 will still not be paid what they're owed.

COOPER: Yes, that's incredible. To think they've already worked and will not be paid for the overtime.

Kevin Johnson, I appreciate your reporting. Really fascinating article in "USA Today."

Speaking of frequent travel straining the Secret Service budget, the president is leaving town again tomorrow to campaign in Phoenix, holding one of those rallies that he so enjoys. The city's they your last week or last week asked him to postpone the visit because it comes so soon after the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, but also he said because the possibility that the president is going to pardon the controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The mayor, who is a Democrat, said, quote: A pardon of Arpaio can be viewed only as a presidential endorsement of the lawlessness and discrimination that terrorized Phoenix's Latino community.

Arpaio faces up to six months in prison for ignoring a court order that he stop racially profiling people who he thought looked like immigrants.

Gary Tuchman is in Arizona, ahead of the rally. He joins us now.

So, there's been concern about what kind of response President Trump may get in Phoenix from those who don't support him. What's the reaction there right now?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRSPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I can tell you, it's not just the mayor of Phoenix. There's other local leaders who said to President Trump, please postpone this rally, shortly after the rally was announced this past Wednesday, which was just four days after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But nothing was canceled. All systems are still go for the rally to take place here at the Phoenix Convention Center tomorrow night. Meanwhile, all systems are go for large-scale protests across the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

As we speak, demonstrators are getting ready to participate in these protests. They're making signs. They're making banners. They're buying megaphones. They're buying large quantities of water, supposed to be over 100 degrees when this protest takes place.

It's nothing unusual to go to protests. Lord knows we've been to a lot of them at Donald Trump rallies when he was a candidate, when he's been president. But it's usually a few dozen to a few hundred people. It's expected, the seven or eight groups that are leading the protest say they expect thousands of people to be on the narrow streets right next to the Phoenix Convention Center while this is taking place. One of the leaders of the protest movement is the founder of a local software company.


TUCHMAN: You've rallied against him before.


TUCHMAN: And the largest number of people who showed up before?

ROBERTS: A thousand.

TUCHMAN: And what are you expecting for this rally?

ROBERTS: Ten thousand.

TUCHMAN: So, that's --

ROBERTS: Over 10,000 really. I mean --

TUCHMAN: So, that's the number of people on Facebook who said they are going to come?

ROBERTS: Yes. That doesn't count the people that are offline, you know, that don't RSVP on Facebook.

He's a bad example for my kids. He's a bad example for humanity, to be honest.


TUCHMAN: Now, the protest is scheduled to begin about an hour before the president arrives. There would be a lot of security inside the rally and also because of the large scale protests, outside the rally -- Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Gary, Arpaio was popular there for a long time, but he lost re-election last year. I'm wondering what people are saying about a possible presidential pardon of him.

TUCHMAN: Well, one thing we should point out, Anderson. Usually, the Department of Justice is involved in presidential pardons. The Justice Department says the wheels are not spinning regarding Joe Arpaio. They've heard nothing.

However, the constitution gives the President the power to issue a pardon without justice department blessings. So that could still happen.

A lot of these protesters were talked to, very angry about that possibility. He's been a lightning rod. He faces up to six months in prison. But I should tell you, we talked to a lot of Trump supporters today here in Arizona. They would like nothing more, many of them for Donald Trump to take the stage at the convention center and say, I pardon Joe Arpaio.


TUCHMAN: Are you going to the rally?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, I've been seven. This will be my eighth.

TUCHMAN: Your eight rally tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I love Trump, he's great.

TUCHMAN: He's been alluding to the fact that he might consider pardoning former sherif Joe Arpaio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I'm 100 percent behind that.

TUCHMAN: Tell me why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he's not guilty.


TUCHMAN: Trump rallies are always loud and boisterous. This one tomorrow is expected to be extra loud and extra boisterous. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Gary, thanks very much. We'll obviously following. Coming up next, new reporting on the collision at sea involving a navy warship and the search for 10 missing sailors going on right now.


[35:00:00] President Trump heading right now to Joint Base Myer for his address at the nation in about 25 minutes on Afghanistan, there's the stage right there. We have new reporting right now after the fourth mishap involving a U.S. warship and U.S. sailors may have been killed.

Search on for 10 missing crew members from the destroyer, John S McCain, which is named after Senator McCain father and grandfather. It collided with Singapore with a commercial tanker ship. Two months ago, the McCain sister vessel, the USS Fitzgerald hit a similar vessel of japan, killing seven sailors and made the USS Champagne hit a fishing ship north of South Korea. And in January another guided missile cruiser or the Antietam went aground in Tokyo Bay.

Now, bear in mind, ships like the McCain or equip state of the Art Radar are solar systems that give them 360 preview of anything that's suppose to be coming at them from below the surface to high altitude, which raises all kinds of questions, starting with how do you miss a giant slow moving merchant ship are exactly what happened?

Now, in a moment, what the navy is doing to try to fix the larger problems in the stream this have to be revealed. But first, our Chief National Security Jim Sciutto has late word on what may have caused this particular collision. Jim, what are you hearing (ph)?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: What's what a navy official is telling me that the crew lost steering, the simple ability to steer as it was entering these busy shipping lanes. And on the approach to destroy the Malacca and they weren't -- this is crucial as well. They weren't, for some reason, able to activate the backup steering system, which these advanced destroyers have. They don't know why they weren't able to do that. Then you have the collision and it was only after the collision that the crew was able to regain steering again.

COOPER: So it wasn't that they didn't see this ship, it was just say -- your sources saying they lost power?

SCIUTTO: They lost the ability to steer out of the way of it. So equally concerning, you can say. And this is the early part of the investigation, so they're just beginning to dig as to why that is. Was that a human error, was it a mechanical error? These are advance ships so the steering is -- it's not mechanical, it's not like you have a big screw that kind of turns the screws. There are wires connecting it. So it could be anything along that series of steps that causes to happen.

COOPER: All right, interesting reporting Jim, thank you very much.

More now on this sad string of incidents over the last few months, and what the navy is trying to do about them. Michelle Kosinski joins me with that. So I mean, the fourth time this year, a U.S. warship is involved in a mishap like that, the navy -- they've done like a day freeze of activity?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Even one of these accidents was shocking. I remember when the first one happened. And people couldn't believe it. And then there's another, and another, another. Even setting aside this one early this morning, seeing four times, but could have been something mechanical. You know, there are big problems in the other three. The last one that just happened in June, the USS Fitzgerald also there in Asia, it turns out, even though the investigation isn't completely over, members of the crew made serious mistakes.

So from that time, the navy has been looking at things more closely. But now with this latest accident, they want to do something much more. So they're doing this operational pause so that every U.S. fleet, every single ship across the U.S. navy will take at least one day over the next couple of weeks. It's not as if the navy is going to all shut down for one day.

But each one of these groups is going to take that time to assess everything. Even the basics. How did they deal with safety procedures? How did people on the ships and on the ground work together? And they also want to do a large scale review of the entire situation of the fleet and how things are working. And that's should include some mechanics.

And CNN talked to a top naval analyst today. It was a former commander and one of his theories was pretty intriguing. He said that it could be, you know, if they do find endemic problems if there such a reliance on all of this great technology on these magnificent ships, that could lead to some complacency and the problems that we saw just two months ago on the USS Fitzgerald.

COOPER: Yes. Michelle Kosinski, I appreciate your reporting.

Joining us now is Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, who served on number of warship, included the guided-missile USS Aubrey Fitch. They carry a force to all of the command and control ship USS Mount Whitney. Admiral Kirby, I mean to Jim Sciutto's reporting about the loss of steering, how does something, whether it is that or something else, I mean, how does something like this happen?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, it can -- I mean, if is in fact, loss of steering was at play here, it could happen any number of ways. Maybe you lose power in that part of the ship. Maybe maintenance wasn't done properly on issue -- some piece of the steering gear. Maybe there was just some, you know, machines break, so something could happen.

I mean I just don't know. We just don't know enough right now. I myself, in one transit of the Strait of Hormuz back in the late '80s that guided-missile Fitch that you talked about, he lost all power that he had and we couldn't move the rudder because there was no electrical power to move it. So I -- this does happen, it's rare but it happens and it certainly puts the ship and its crew in greater danger when it does.

COOPER: This idea of an operational pause, I talk to one commander, our former commander earlier today said, essentially that seems more like window dressing. That's not a real solution. That's just kind of a stop gap measure.

[20:40:02] KIRBY: I would disagree, and slightly agree. I disagree that it's just window dressing. I mean, it's an important thing for the navy to take some time out, review procedures, look at the training manuals again, make sure that the watch standing team and organization and certifications are all up to snuff and that the material readiness of every ship and squadron is also up to snuff. That's important stuff.

That said, Anderson I do agree with the idea that this isn't going to solve all the problems. That's why the CNO, Admiral Richardson, didn't just put his eggs this that basket. He ordered a comprehensive review now across the entire navy to take a look at this -- I'm sorry, across entire navy, the fleet in the pacific, not the whole navy. And to try to make sure that if we do have a systemic problem here, if there's something deeper going on, if there's a thread to pull through all these incidents, that we find out what it is and try to eliminate it.

COOPER: I mean four collisions or grounding this year, is it -- I mean, is that just a coincidence? Or is it a possible indication of some sort of systemic training issue or over reliance on high tech? KIRBY: Yes, we don't know. I mean, it's interesting that they're all happening in the forward deployed naval forces, we call it FANF, which is the Western Pacific Naval Forces that are home ported there. That's kind of interesting, all in one region, all of one force. I think they're going to take a look at that. That's why the CNO'S order was to take a comprehensive view of that force and see if there is a systemic issue.

It could be that -- I mean, look, every incident has to be investigated on its own, and I suspect for each one, there were a number of individual factors that came together that created the problem. But when you have four like this, all of them ship handling related in some form or fashion, and within about eight months, I think it's the right thing to ask yourself some tough questions. Is there something larger going on? Is it a leadership problem? Is it a training problem? Is it a funding problem? I mean, the navy has lived through a lot of fiscal uncertainty in the last few years. Thanks sequestration and living off a continuing resolutions. And navy leaders several years ago, you might remember, Anderson, were warning that there could be real training performance problem if the funding situation didn't get solved.

Now, I'm not blaming this on budget. I'm just saying that they're going to look at all those factors.

COOPER: Yes, well, of course the bottom line, seven sailors killed the last time, 10 missing tonight, our thoughts and prayers with their families.

KIRBY: Indeed. Indeed.

COOPER: Yes, Admiral Kirby. Thank you.

Up next, what to expect when President Trump makes a real prime time address to the nation and unveils his plans to the war in Afghanistan. He is just arrived at the base near the Pentagon with healthy speaking. We'll take you there for the remarks that begin 18 minutes from now. More on that when we continue.


[20:46:53] COOPER: We're just moments away from President Trump's prime time address to the nation. The commander-in-chief is just arrived at the venue where he's expected to unveil his new strategy for Afghanistan, which is of course, America's longest military conflict. The battle there has stretched on for nearly 16 years.

The Taliban now controls more territory than it did when the U.S. first entered Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11. Shortly after the President address Jake Tapper is going to moderate a town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Racine, Wisconsin. Jake got reaction, obviously to the President's address and other issue impacting the White House right now.

The President is going to speak soon at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, not far from Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Americans heroes who died on the war. I want to check in again with CNN Athena Jones who is there. Do we know any more about the plan the President is going to lay out in his speech?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. We expect the President to talk not just about Afghanistan but about south Asia as a region. This is going to be in Afghanistan and south Asia strategy.

We know the U.S. wants to work better with neighboring countries like Pakistan. The White House wants to see Pakistan do more to fight terror networks for instance.

We also know they've been developing a way to counter the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan. So it's possible we could hear something about that. I can tell you that Vice President Mike Pence was set to speak with Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani before tonight address. We're still awaiting a readout of that call.

And we know that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasizing this regional strategy. I spoke earlier today with the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. And the state department spokesperson says the topic of those calls was how the United States would like to work with each country to stabilize South Asia through a new, integrated regional strategy. So we expect to hear some focus on that. I can also tell you that Secretary Tillerson is expected to be at tonight's address, set to begin in about 10 minutes, 12 minutes. Anderson.

COOPER: Athena, I appreciate that.

As we wait for the President to address the nation, I want to bring in our panel, Retired Army General Mark Hertling, Nick Paton Walsh, Peter Bergen, Mike Shields, Jim Sciutto is back with us and Jen Psaki joins us as well.

General Hertling, earlier today, I heard you say that the U.S. is at an inflection point in Afghanistan. I imagine over the last, you know, 16 years, there's been a number of inflection points but what are your expectations for the speech tonight, if it is just a matter of a few thousand more troops, his advisers again focusing on trying to train the Afghan forces which is something -- I mean, I was there in 2002 in May, and forces were training Afghan National Forces.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. We keep hearing, Anderson, as people talk about the Afghan issue that it's different today than it's ever been before, or this is a new way to approach it. And truthfully there might be a little substance to that. It is a different time in Afghanistan. The Ghani presidency has been good. The combination of Nicholson, the Commanding General that's in charge over there with President Ghani has been a great relationship. They are doing things, although the Taliban has taken hold again and they control about a third of the country.

But here's the thing that when I'm specifically looking for in this speech tonight, Anderson. The first thing is, does the President own it? And does he try and influence the American people? He's got to give me as a citizen today more than the "what" of his strategy. He's got to give me the how and the why. He's going to influence the rest country, too.

[20:50:13] You know, this is one of the kinds of thing that a President does, is influence people to understand his rationale for sending American forces to an overseas location. In this case, it's relatively few. It will probably be about 4,000. But that's still a significant bump from the 8,000 that are there now.

The second thing that he might have to explain is, this whole South Asia strategy. And I agree with it, first of all. The federally administered tribal area between India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan has been critically important for the last 17 years, and not much has been done about it. The second thing is, will this strategy bring the Taliban to the table. I think they are ready to come to the table with the Afghan regime. But the question is, they haven't wanted to in the past. Because they felt the United States was leaving.

And then the third thing, something that's very important that we learned from Iraq is, are the forces that are going to be inserted there going to focus on a counterterrorism campaign. In other words, train the Afghan counterterrorism force as opposed to the entire army.

We saw some successes with that in Iraq. And there could be the same kind of things going on in Afghanistan. I think that's what General Nicholson is proposing.

COOPER: Well, Peter Bergen, I mean, most you and I have spent time in Afghanistan together. I mean, it seems like the Afghan commando forces that General Hertling was talking about they have had the most successes against the Taliban. But just in terms of, you know, training the Afghan national army, training the national police force, it seems like there's been a lot of talk about that, a lot of money put into it. And still, the same problems seem to exist year after year after year.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, yes, there's Afghan commandos, which are about 20,000 in number are doing disproportionate amount of the fighting and dying. But I think, just to add for what General Hertling said, another thing I think we're going hearing coming out of the speech is a line that I've heard repeatedly from people inside the Trump administration, which is their biggest kind of criticism of the Obama administration in this regard was the fact that when President Obama announced a surge of troops into Afghanistan in December 1st, 2009, a significant surge of 30,000 troops, he also announced the withdrawal date. You and I were at CNN reporting on this at the time. And the crawl on CNN even before the speech was delivered was the withdrawal date.

And so the news became the withdrawal date, not the surge. Of course, that affected the Taliban calculation, the Pakistanis calculation, regional players' calculation. So one thing I would expect out of tonight is that President Trump will not make some kind of announcement about a date certain withdrawal.

COOPER: You know, Jim, one of the things when you talk to village elders in small little villages in Afghanistan, which, you know, with the marines are doing outreach Helmand province and elsewhere, is -- you know, they would say, look we don't if America is on defense here or we're on the defense because we're not sure how long term America's commitment is. I imagine it's still an argument about how long term America's commitment really is, especially because President Trump early on, yours ago has been saying, we need to pull out. How long are we going to be there?

SCIUTTO: You know time and numbers, but certainly there's great fear there. I've run into the same thing, when you talk to the village elders, or villagers or young students, men and women, they have the fear about will America walk away again, right? I mean, that's a fair question. But the numbers are really key here as well because if you're talking about going from 8,400 troops as you have now to adding 4,000 or so, of course that's a 50 percent increase, but when you look at where troop levels have been in the past, in 2011 it peaked at 100,000 troops.

President Obama, when he had his surge, though it had the time limit that was a surge in the tens of thousands. And still then, I remember being embedded with U.S. marines in Helmand province in 2008, the time when country had 30,000 troops and the marines were telling me, listen, we don't have nearly enough people to cover this. Look over on that hill over there, the Taliban control that hill, right near and overlooking our base. So if you're adding 4,000 going to the mission is different. How do you take back a third of the country from the Taliban? That's an open question.

COOPER: Well also, Jen Psaki I mean, I remember early on, there was all this talk about, you know, it's not just going to the military. This is going to be a multi-pronged thing. The State Department is going to flood the zone with state department personnel to essentially donation building, which has now been done which the U.S. doesn't say, it's being done, but it's being done on the backs of our military, and, you know, which are not necessarily the ones who should be having to do this alone without any backup from the state department?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And I think many people in the American military today, or people who are retired would say that there can't just be a military solution here. And so I think what many people are waiting to hear from Trump tonight is what is that comprehensive strategy?

We've heard a little reference to reconciliation in that process with the Taliban. That would need to happen and should be probably be a part of Trump speech in order for him to lay out a comprehensive strategy. What is the broader south Asia strategy, how are you going to get these other countries engaged, what will be the difference. And in terms of what we do here, as the United States, the budgetary proposed cuts, the fact that Tillerson and the Trump administration have not fully staffed and put people in place. This is a place where we could really see an impact of that.

[20:55:23] COOPER: You know, Nick, you were just in Helmand province, I know, you are talking to the marine commanders on the ground. You know, in all the years you've been there, there's always been talk of what Pakistan needs to help more. We need to engage the regional partners, you know, Pakistan most of their military is focused on over the other border on India. And there's been complaints from U.S. forces for years about, you know, militants crossed over the border in Pakistan, the U.S. really can't pursue them. It's not clear to me how things can be different now that the administration is saying, well, we're going to work closer with Pakistan and get them to do more.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't really see how you can implement a regional strategy that suddenly changes the equations inside Afghanistan. So the Pakistanis recently did crack down on militants because they were feeling internal pressure because of terror attacks. But they have been accused of softening of late. So that will make always be a safe haven just across the boarder inside Pakistan.

But, it's not already been as bad, as frank in the last 10 years going there as it was last time, I was in Afghanistan. The Taliban increasingly control territory there. They're increasingly hard line. They are looking amongst the youth in Afghanistan to competing for recruits with ISIS who are even more extreme.

The idea of them suddenly coming to the negotiating table is far- fetched right now. One thing to remember, the leader (INAUDIBLE) his son reportedly gave his own life in a suicide bombing in just the last month or so. This is extraordinarily hard line leadership, not looking to suddenly come to the table. They're winning, frankly, militarily. I think most people accept that at this stage, even the short-term gains Afghan security forces.

He was dying at a rate of about 30 a day at the moment. The short- term gains are often taken back by the Taliban. So it's a very precarious situation, and it's one too with no real original ideas left to play. I mean, during the Obama administration, those tens of thousands of troops flooding the zone there, they brought trainers to the whole focus that the Obama administration gave in their messaging, delivered at times was that they were winning, they were getting those security forces ready. And it simply wasn't the case. We saw ourselves again and again, once U.S. backing disappeared, those forces simply crumbled.

So the idea that you can boost potentially trainers, or the number of people on the ground and assist in that training, and suddenly see a radical change in the potency of the Afghan national security forces, that's a little far-fetched. I think what we'll going to see today is a lot of rhetoric in which Donald Trump tries on wall. He's often tried to keep a little distance frankly for himself in the past, but also really a strategy that's perhaps just enough to perhaps keep the disaster of the Taliban sweeping into major cities of Afghanistan from happening. But not something that's going to radically change the map here, because really, frankly, every idea has already been tried. And it hasn't worked. There's a reason why, Anderson. They call it the graveyard of empires, not of that solace of the Afghan people.

COOPER: Mike, I want to play something that then candidate Trump said back in 2015 when he was asked about troop levels in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that American boots should stay on the ground in Afghanistan to stabilize the situation?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES: I wouldn't totally disagree with it, except at some point, are they going to be there for the next 200 years? You know, at some point what's going on. It's going to be a long time. We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn't know what the hell they were doing, and it's a mess. It's a mess. And at this point you probably have to. Because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave. Just as I said that Iraq was going to collapse after we leave.


COOPER: Again, that he later said he was talking about Iraq. But he didn't understand the question about Afghanistan. Mike, I mean, the President is expected to ask Americans to trust him on this new Afghanistan strategy. I mean, I guess the question, there's question about how much, I think Jen made the point, how much is he going to own this, and say that this is about winning. When you heard what he said as a candidate. He called it a mess. The U.S. made a terrible mistake getting involved in the first place. Many of the Trump voters like that he didn't want to ramp up engagement in overseas conflicts.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a lot of the Trump voters really liked that he was going to be strong, that he looked like he would be a candidate and he's proving as President that he would have a strong approach to these issues, whereas we've seen weakness from President Obama. I mean, in some ways, the most important aspect of the speech that he is giving it.

We don't know right now what our policy is in Afghanistan. He inherited this situation. And it was interesting hearing Jen say he's really got to lay out how he's going to handle Southeast Asia. I would challenge anybody to describe to me, what our policy in Southeast Asia was that he inherited from the Obama administration. And so the other thing that I find very interesting was Nick saying, sort of oh, there's no -- we've already tried everything. There's a general on the ground there, Nicholson, who doesn't believe that and who has a plan and the president going to listen to him.