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10 U.S. Sailors Missing after Destroyer Collides with Tanker; Defense Secretary Speaks about Navy Collision; Poll: Trump Approval Below 40 percent in Three Key States. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- destroyer was able to reach port under its own power. The search zone now for those 10 missing sailors and that's the key, that's where the focus is this morning. It covers 100 nautical square miles in one of the busiest shipping lanes on earth. And remember, there have been three other accidents, U.S. Naval accidents so far this year.

CNN Ryan Brown joins us now live from the Pentagon with the very latest. Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, again, this ship, the John McCain, has made it back to the port in Singapore after suffering heavy damage and flood damage, including several areas of the ship flooded with sailors having to do damage control in order to prevent additional flooding. Now, the USS America, an amphibian ship, has also arrived in Singapore to help with rescue and recovery efforts as well as to assess the damage to the John McCain.

We are told that the Navy has -- in addition to the 10 missing sailors. Five sailors were injured, nonlife-threatening injuries. They're receiving medical attention after being evacuated by helicopter, this massive search operation continuing along the path that the McCain traveled from the incident of the collision to Singapore, wide area of the ocean, aircraft from Singapore and the United States performing the search.

And again, you know, these developments are ongoing. We did hear from President Donald Trump about this issue initially as he de-planed from Air Force One. He was asked about the case. This is what he had to say.





BROWNE: Now, again, it's not quite clear if he was fully briefed on this at the time. You know, he made a tweet later - JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: -- the Department of State and its foreign policy. Want to begin by saying my thoughts and prayers are with the sailors and families of the USS John McCain. We obviously have an investigation underway. And that will determine what happened. I also fully support the chief and naval operations, Admiral John Richardson's efforts right now. He has put together a broader inquiry to look into these incidents and determine any of the causal factors to determine what's going on both immediate contributors to this incident but also any related factors. Once we have those facts, we'll share them with you.

QUESTION: You are putting the Fitzgerald, sir? I mean, together with this? --

MATTIS: The chief of naval operations broader inquiry will look at all related accidents/incidents at sea, that sort of thing. He is going to look at all factors, not just the immediate ones, which will fall rightly under the fleet commander's investigation of what happened to his ship. This is a broader look at what's happening.

QUESTION: Sir, is that broader 7th fleet investigation?

MATTIS: Yes, it is.

And as we discussed Saturday on the airplane coming out, this trip is part of the by, with, and through effort with our allies. It is -- what we're going to do here is find how we how we can better support one another (INAUDIBLE)

BERMAN: All right. We just lost the communication with Defense Secretary James Mattis who's in Jordan, announcing an investigation into the accidents of the USS John McCain. Of course, we saw that picture a moment ago, a hole in the hull of this U.S. guided missile destroyer. You can see it right there.

10 U.S. soldiers missing at sea right now and there is a frantic search in the chaotic waters off of Singapore to try to locate these soldiers. No update from the Defense secretary on their condition but he does say it is being investigated as well as - I use the word spate of accidents from the U.S. Navy. This is the fourth such event in just this year.

Joining me now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, also with us, CNN analyst, Kimberly Dozier. Guys, thanks so much for being with us.

Admiral Kirby, again, first to you, if this was just one accident, it would be bad enough. Ten U.S. sailors missing right now and the search do continue. But this is the fourth time, something like this has happened this year. That has to be a serious cause for concern.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It is a serious cause for concern. And the fourth time actually, John, in the same region under the same fleet. So, I'm sure that that's got Navy leaders attention in terms of, you know, is there something going on out there that they need to look at deeper. And that's why you heard Defense Secretary Mattis talking about a broader Navy-wide review that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson has now called for. Because you want to make sure that in addition to dealing with each incident and investigating it thoroughly, and - by the way, don't forget the Fitzgerald investigation is still going on, you want to take a broad look across the Navy and see.

[10:05:02] Do I have any larger systemic issues? Are there training needs that we have not been meeting? Are there readiness concerns? Is there equipment problems throughout the Navy that might have led to these incidents that we need to take a deeper look at? You want to make sure that you're focusing on personnel readiness as well.

So, I think this is wise. I think for them, you know, to take a wider view here and be willing to admit that there might be something broader going on here that they don't know about.

BERMAN: A broader naval-wide review. That was the news from Defense Secretary James Mattis who announced that just moments ago. And that's what struck me. You would think that in the aftermath of what happened to the Fitzgerald that every sailor would be on a state of heightened alert. Every vessel would be taking extra precautions, and nevertheless these accidents still happened overnight.

Kimberly Dozier, this is the fourth time it's happened in just that part of the world. All eyes right now are on North Korea, as we see what's happening in North Korea, how does this compromise the U.S. ability to deal with that situation?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it draws attention to the fact that the naval mission is possibly overstretched. That you have in the proponent -- in the words of proponents on Capitol Hill who want a bigger Navy, you have got too few people, too few ships, at too high and operational tempo trying to keep up. They have everything from monitoring what's happening with North Korea to offsetting Chinese naval attempts to expand Chinese territory, and it's just a tough up-tempo. When you talk to people on the Hill who has been fighting for things like the end of sequestration, they say this is why you need a confirmed Defense Department budget so that the Navy can plan into the future, grow with a few ships and increase its training.

BERMAN: All right guys, stand by. I'm going to come back to you in just a second because the other major news today also has to do with the military. Tonight in prime-time, President Trump will speak to the nation about U.S. plans in Afghanistan, of course, America's longest war there. What will be the U.S. presence going forward? Will the U.S. send more troops?

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now live from the White House with that. Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. Look, this is a huge moment for the president. He is going to be at Fort Myer in Virginia. He's going to be addressing the nation in prime-time and essentially explaining to Americans what he believes the right path forward is for Afghanistan. This is coming at a time when the president's character, credibility, leadership, capability, had all been under fire in the wake of his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville last week.

And there are going to be a couple things to watch for. One, of course, is what is the policy? We know the president has been presented with a number of options. Those include withdrawing all U.S. troops that are currently in Afghanistan. All the way to adding roughly an additional 4,000 American troops on top of the 8,000 already that are already there.

But it's not just going to be what the strategy is but how the president explains it. What does success in Afghanistan look like under a Trump administration? And if he does decide to send thousands more Americans over there in harm's way, how does he square that with some of the comments he's made in the past. Before he was a presidential candidate he would talk repeatedly and tweet repeatedly about how Afghanistan was essentially a waste of time, it was a waste of blood, it was a waste of treasure and that the United States should get out of that conflict.

So, if we see an entirely different approach from that president today, he's going to have to explain to the American people, to the people who voted for him, why he believes this is the right approach right now. And hope that he can gain the trust of Americans as he tries to move forward with this strategy. John?

BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray for us at the White House. Back here with us, Admiral John Kirby and CNN global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier.

Admiral Kirby, to you, we are told this is not just an announcement on troops. This is an announcement about strategy. And in fact, Defense Secretary James Mattis apparently insisted on a decision about strategy before deciding anything on troops. What does that mean?

KIRBY: Well, that's classic Mattis for you. You want to make sure you have the end state clearly in mind what are we trying to achieve and then back up from there. This is how we're going do it and this is what we need in terms of resources, and resources do include people. So, that's classic General Mattis thinking - Secretary Mattis thinking.

And I think that's right. And you heard him also say, John, that this is a South Asia strategy, not just Afghanistan. So he's thinking about this in regional terms. And when they say South Asia, what they're really talking about is also including Pakistan.

Because doesn't matter if you get everything right in Afghanistan, if Pakistan is still harboring terrorist groups like the Haqqani network, in those tribal regions, which they have, and permissively, then that's always going to make for a more unstable Afghanistan. Make it harder for anything you wanted to do to get done there. The other thing I hope I hear tonight, quite frankly, is support for the Unity Government in Kabul and for addressing governance throughout the country which is still struggling.

BERMAN: Kimberly Dozier, what will the president's announcement tonight tell us about Donald Trump's foreign policy?

[10:10:01] DOZIER: Well, I think it's going to tell us that he listens to his generals. From what I'm hearing he's likely to endorse the slight increase in troops with a sort of open-ended commitment and a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. troops. In other words, you have to get Afghanistan to a certain point before you pull or draw down American troops.

But one of the advantages he might have in presenting this is as a cost-saving measure. One of the things that Secretary Mattis has explained about is that in order to keep under the Obama troop cap of roughly 8,400 troops, what the Pentagon did was it would send U.S. pilots for instance, but not send their engineering brigade. So it would send instead contractors that could cost three times as much. So you could have a slight pulsing up of troops, but a lot of those troops being support troops that end up saving the American taxpayer money. I think you will see that argument.

BERMAN: We will find out tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Of course, CNN will cover this address live. Kimberly Dozier, Admiral Kirby, thanks so much for being with us.

So travel is expensive. Just ask the Secret Service. The Secret Service reported out of cash to pay its agents partly because of all the president's travel to all of his properties, not to mention his children as well.

Plus, Confederate statues come down at the University of Texas. One former southern governor says they all need to come down. Why he calls them monuments of treason.

And here comes the dark, just hours to go until the total eclipse, the total eclipse of the sun and the total eclipse of the heart. That may be even more important. And Bonnie Tyler, she will sing on a cruise ship during the eclipse but she will sing here on CNN first. Really?


[10:16:10] BERMAN: This morning, the post-Steve Bannon era begins at the White House as President Trump tries to move his agenda forward without the man who was his chief strategist. Will the staff shakeup, give the president a boost at the polls? There's some brutal new numbers out there showing his approval in three key states that he flipped from President Obama, his approval in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, now below 40 percent. That's not good in political terms.

Joining me now to discuss, S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator, host of "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered" which debuts tonight.


BERMAN: Tonight at 7:00 p.m. on HLN. Also with us, Angela Rye, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus and Andre Bauer, CNN political commentator, former Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina.

S.C., you're the only one launching a show today. So, I'll give you the first question here. The speech tonight, the president is going to lay out his policy on Afghanistan. This is you know, a military decision, one with wide-ranging consequences. But it happens in a political environment that is so charged electrically right now. What are you looking for?

CUPP: Well, look, if you were cynical, you could look at tonight's speech as an attempt by Trump and his administration to pivot off of a very bad couple of weeks, marked especially by the tragedy in Charlottesville. It's a chance to look presidential. War is serious. This could -- in his mind maybe make this administration look tough. He has got a chance to bring out Mattis and McMaster. Those are as we say a good look for the White House.

But you have to also be wondering if you're Steve Bannon whether you're tearing your hair out at the moment. Because for the Bannon wing of the Trump base, going back into Afghanistan or increasing troop levels, if he does that, this is the opposite of what Bannon's isolationism wanted to do to inform this White House. So, you have to imagine there had been a battle brewing between James Mattis, who just in June had said, we are not winning the war in Afghanistan and that's about to change. And Steve Bannon who wanted to get the heck out and has "Breitbart" behind him on that front.

BERMAN: He said we don't want to fight the war in Afghanistan, send private contractors to do this.

Angela Rye, it strikes me that this speech, again, about very important U.S. strategic foreign policy and military deployment happens at a time when Republican senators including Tim Scott of South Carolina are suggesting the president's moral authority is compromised. How does that make the challenge greater for the president tonight?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that the reality is he has got a lot to prove. You just talked about the poll numbers in three key states that are still unbelievable - that Democrats lost. And I think that certainly, Donald Trump has an opportunity to prove himself. The problem is with every opportunity that Donald Trump gets to prove himself he fails epically. We do hash tag epicfail. That's what he does -- every time he tweets and certainly every time he opens his mouth.

To S.E.'s point is that this is about war and this is no laughing matter. This is not just a simple tweet, 140 characters. This is a matter of life and death and we know folks are still certainly on the frontlines losing their lives to protect American freedom and values. So, he's got a lot to prove.

BERMAN: This is a policy that's been discussed and debated inside the administration for months now. By all accounts, that everyone we've heard from, taken very seriously. And he is announcing and at least so far, in an address tonight, not in 140 characters or less.

Andre, I want to go to you on those polls that Angela was talking about right there. Because they're striking from these three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, not just the top line number that the president is under water with an approval rating but he's also under water with key voting groups, including white non-college educated voters.

[10:20:04] A lot of people considered to be the crucial part of the president's base here. Look at that number there, 41 percent in Michigan, 44 percent in Pennsylvania, 38 percent in Wisconsin. That's a very tough number for the president with a very key part of his coalition, Andre.

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is. I think back to a show we have done before when I started telling you how questionable these polls were then you called me out when I threw back up a poll that helped my cause. But, you know, there is concern.

Look, Donald Trump has got to be effective in Washington to really leave a legacy and to push his agenda and have a good 2018 and a good 2020. And part of that is working with the members of the United States Congress.

Look, I've been in the executive and the legislative branch. You have no power if you can't get things passed. Donald Trump has got to be able to do that. He needs to forge not only bridges with Republicans, but he needs to find some key groups in the United States House and Senate as well that are on the other side of the aisle, to try to get -- when you look at healthcare, they only lost by one vote in the Senate. Each vote is critical.

And so, when you look at his juice out in the neighborhoods, if he's powerful there, a lot of these folks may be at more inclined to work with him. States like Michigan where folks like Kid Rock are thinking about running for Senate. If Donald Trump is strong, it helps maybe Senator Rock.

And so, that makes a big difference. And in Washington, if they think that you're popular, you're going to have a better chance of getting things passed. When we look at things in the future that he wants to have done, he has got to be able to get some monumental things passed like the economy, trying to do something, reigning in our spending, you know, so much of what the base wanted to see. But a lot of Americans, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, want to see things done. But as the economy gets better, a lot of those numbers will continue to get better.

BERMAN: S.E., I heard reaction. I don't know whether it was to the Senator Rock title.

CUPP: Well, there's that. But you know, Andre Bauer's point is correct. He's got to be able to work with members of Congress. The problem is when every member and senator returns from recess, they will not be able to avoid or dodge the issue of Charlottesville. Everyone will be asked. I mean, you've seen people roaming the halls of the Capitol, journalists. That's what they're going to face.

So, even if there is the willingness among lawmakers and the administration to move forward on an agenda and leave all this behind, the reality is they will all be asked to either defend or condemn Trump's actions the second they step foot back in Washington. That's going to create another headache for the president and potentially for lawmakers and his agenda.

BERMAN: I don't know if you listened to the Sunday shows yesterday, but each and every one of them were essentially saying how few Republicans they could find to come on the shows at all. Because no one even wanted to face questions right now. Look, I mean, in a week or two this could be vastly different. But one of the reasons is also, the poll of these key swing states.

Marist put it to people are you proud or embarrassed of the president? By a vast majority, people said embarrassed. But this is just among, again, the president's base, white non-college educated voters. And majorities or near majorities, Angela, said, they were embarrassed, which is an interesting word.

Now, there are Democrats who are taking this even a step further, Angela, with some outright questioning the president's mental capacity right now. Something we've heard from Jackie Speier. Form your facial expression -- I think you're going to believe you think that's OK?

RYE: I absolutely not only think it is OK, I think that we should have been questioning that a long time ago. Look, I've talked to members of Congress on the phone about why no one has introduced legislation that calls for the psychological evaluation of every presidential candidate who seeks that higher office, including the sitting commander in chief. I think it's imperative. Whether you're serving in the military or you're a lawyer like me who has to take a character and fitness portion of an exam to ensure that you can pass the bar. Why wouldn't we expect that for our commander in chief?

That's a baseline expectation that you are mentally sound enough to handle the office. He continues to demonstrate his inability to do just that. So, I don't see anything wrong with calling for that. I wish it would have been an expectation we had long ago. You also talked about, John, these poll numbers. I wanted to go back to that. Because you know, last week, we had an exchange about the polls where Ron talked about, you know, the economy is doing well. And that's great. We failed to talk about the economic lag time, which can be 9 to 12 months. So this would be a hash tag thanksObama moment. And I would say, you know, these numbers are not surprising.

BERMAN: I think you've used your limits of hashtags, Angela.


BERMAN: Andre, they're wrapping me. They're wrapping me, Andre, but I want to give you 20 seconds to respond to Angela. Andre?

BAUER: Well, number one, I think that the proof is in the pudding. Look at the fund-raising dollars between the Republicans and Democrats. Tom Perez is a good friend of mine, but they're not getting it done. And so, that is another indicator of where we are in confidence. People feel good about what's going on within the Republican Party.

[10:25:00] They see change happening. They see new job numbers. They see the stock market at an all-time high. They are getting some of the results they so desperately wanted. And so the proof is in the putting and in the dollars.

BERMAN: All right. Angela Rye, Andre Bauer, S.E. Cupp.

Good luck tonight, S.E.

CUPP: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up for us, -- the search is underway for ten U.S. Sailors after another U.S. Navy ship is in a collision at sea. Next, we're going to ask a former secretary of the Navy what needs to be done.


BERMAN: All right. Moments ago, the Defense Secretary James Mattis announced there is a naval-wide review of several recent collisions at sea. He said the investigation would provide a, quote, "broader look" at what's happening. This comes as the search continues this morning for 10 U.S. sailors missing after the USS John McCain -