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10 Missing, 5 Hurt after USS McCain Collides with Oil Tanker; Trump to Address Nation in Prime Time; How Will Bannon's Departure Impact Trump Agenda? Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 06:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, August 21, 6 a.m. here in New York, and we do begin with breaking news for you.

[05:49:09] Ten U.S. sailors are missing after a Navy destroyer collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore. This crash is the fourth incident involving a U.S. Navy war ship in the Pacific this year alone.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A cluster of incidents raises questions of readiness and causation. So the commander in chief will address the nation tonight to discuss this incident and, principally, to unveil his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Will the president's plan call for the deployment of more U.S. troops to the region? If so, will that be seen as a betrayal by his base and their new advocate on the outside, Steve Bannon?

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Ryan Brown, live at the Pentagon with more on our breaking story. What do we know about these souls?

RYAN BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this collision between this much larger oil tanker and the U.S. John McCain took place just east of Singapore, east of the Straits of Malacca.

Now, this ship is -- The McCain suffered heavy damage. We're told that flooding took place in several compartments, including a sleeping area as well as a communications area. The ship was able to make it back on its own power to Singapore, just arriving earlier this morning.

Now, again, ten sailors are missing, five sailors were injured, four of those were evacuated via helicopter due to the nature of their injuries. None of those injuries are life-threatening. Those ten sailors, a very active search operation involving U.S. aircraft and aircraft from Singapore and naval ships from Singapore is going on in an attempt to locate those sailors.

And as you mentioned at the top, this comes after several incidents involving U.S. naval warships in the region, including just two months ago the USS Fitzgerald similarly colliding with a cargo ship in the region. That cost the lives of seven sailors. The U.S. Navy still investigating that collision.

But one of the things they've already done is kind of kind of looked at the procedures on who is taking responsibility for the watch, who is responsible for these types of things taking place. They're reviewing their training procedures and their accreditation procedures.

And on the Fitzgerald the Navy moved to relieve the leadership of that -- of that vessel from its duty. They relieved the officers from their duty as kind of a result of that investigation. We'll see what happens with the investigation into the McCain collision -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Ryan. Thank you very much for all of that.

So joining us now is retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is a CNN military and diplomatic analyst. Admiral, thank you very much for being here with this disturbing news that we're trying to make our way through. How does something like this happen?

REAL ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Well, there's probably a thousand different ways, Alisyn, how something like this can happen. I mean, it's -- it's unusual. I know it sounds a little strange for me to say that, but it's unusual for ships to collide, although I know we've had several here in recent months.

But typically, there are a range of procedures that the watch crew, the crew that are actually driving and navigating the ship, will follow to avoid collisions.

It's very difficult to tell by looking at the gash on the side of the ship there on the port side aft exactly how this could have happened. I think they will obviously be investigating that. But this is a very busy area. This is a traffic separation scheme, as Ryan said. Think of it like many lanes converging on a bridge or a tunnel when you're driving. So you have lots of ships trying to get through a narrow passage.

Now, there's -- obviously, you go at a safe speed. There are procedures you follow with the maritime authority to report your location, your direction, your speed, your destination, to try to make sure that everybody gets in there safely and can pass through without incident.

Obviously, that didn't happen here, but it's just nobody telling right now how this could have happened.

CUOMO: Right, but not only is it unusual for this to happen, but you have very specific rules, especially with military vessels about distances they're supposed to keep. And there are so many guidance systems and watch systems. This cluster of incidents does raise suspicions about whether or not there is any connection between these incidents, whether they are just, each one, a one off and about training. We know with the Fitzgerald, action was taken.

Is there any concern at all about whether or not, you know, there's any bad actor going on here?

KIRBY: I think the short answer to that, Chris, is yes. I can assure you that the Navy has already done this in the wake of the Fitzgerald collision, already taking a look at their fleet-wide training, their fleet-wide procedures, watch standing processes, everything. They're taking a look at this to see if there's a systemic issue here broader throughout the fleet or even throughout this region to see if there's something they can fix. That will certainly be, I think, accelerated in the wake of what happened here to the McCain. They'll take a harder look at this.

There's absolutely no question that they will want to make sure that they don't have some larger issue going on culturally or procedurally inside the Navy.

CAMEROTA: Admiral, President Trump is already responding to this. We have the moment that journalists first asked him about this upon the news breaking. So listen to this moment.





CAMEROTA: OK. I don't know if you could hear that. He said that twice. "That's too bad. That's too bad." Then he's just tweeting after that, thoughts and prayers are with our U.S. Navy sailors aboard the USS John McCain, where search and rescue efforts are under way.

The first one, the "That's too bad, that's too bad," received some criticism. Obviously, it appeared he didn't know many details. How does -- how does that happen when a president needs to be briefed and then speaks to the press?

Well, you would think that in the wake of a situation like this, you would be getting a briefing, at least as detailed as possible by his national security team, maybe chief of staff John Kelly. And it doesn't appear to me just by looking at that video that he had gotten briefed on this. Now who knows? I mean, I don't know how soon after the incident he was asked that question. It's possible they just couldn't get to him soon enough.

So that would explain, I think, why he didn't offer much information or, you know, didn't come out with a more full or comprehensive statement, but I think his tweet will be welcomed by the men and women of the McCain and their families and the Navy.

[06:05:08] What I would look for tonight, I hope, when he has a chance to talk about his Afghanistan strategy that he will start by talking about this incident and really passing on his condolences. It's important for people to remember that you now have ten families

who are going through hell. They don't know where their young sailors are or what their condition is. And I think it's really important for the commander in chief to address them and to talk about the anguish that they're going through, as well as the Navy family, writ large.

CUOMO: Certainly, John, it will be the easy part of the task this evening. He's got some daunting task before the nation when he addresses us about the Afghan policy. John Kirby, thank you very much.

So this will be the first formal prime-time address to the nation by President Trump. He's going to unveil his long-awaited plan for the nearly 16-year-long war in Afghanistan.

CNN's Sara Murray live at the White House with more. What do we know?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Chris.

This prime-time address is going to be a huge moment for President Trump. It comes at a time when his credibility, when his character, when his ability to lead is under question by many Americans. He's going to have to stand up tonight and convince them that his strategy is the right path forward for Afghanistan.


TRUMP: It's a very big decision for me. I took over a mess, and we're going to make it a lot less messy.

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump set to outline his strategy for America's path forward in Afghanistan. A major test for the new commander in chief, one that could put more American troops in harm's way. After meeting with top administration officials at Camp David on Friday, the president announcing Saturday he had made a decision after months of deliberation and delays.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The president has made a decision, as he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people. It is a South Asia strategy. It's not just an Afghanistan strategy.

MURRAY: The president has been presented with a wide range of options. Everything from a full withdrawal to the deployment of up to 4,000 more soldiers, adding to the more than 8,000 American forces already there. That's an option recently ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon opposed.

The founder of the controversial security firm Blackwater has also lobbied the White House to begin relying more heavily on private contractors. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis remaining tight-lipped about the details, but he gave this sobering assessment in June on the state of the nearly 16-year-long war.

MATTIS: We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. MURRAY: Trump has questioned the purpose of America's continued

involvement in Afghanistan, repeatedly advocating for full withdrawal on Twitter, before running for president. Officials say he remains deeply skeptical, but his doubts have come up against hawkish generals in his inner circle. Any troop increase, sure to meet at least some resistance from Democrats.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I don't believe putting more American soldiers in Afghanistan is the answer.

MURRAY: This crucial national security decision comes amid questions about the president's leadership capability and mounting backlash to Trump's defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville last week.

TRUMP: You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's going to be very difficult for this president to lead if, in fact, that moral authority remains compromised.

MURRAY: The president's approval ratings taking a hit, dipping below 40 percent in three key Midwest states that helped Trump win the presidency, with six in ten Americans saying they're embarrassed by the president's conduct.


MURRAY: Now, tonight, we are going to see Teleprompter Trump. We will see carefully-crafted statements as the president acts in his very somber role as commander in chief, but tomorrow we could see a very different version of the president. That's when he'll be holding a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona, a state where the two senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have been sharply critical of the president.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Sara. Let's bring back Rear Admiral John Kirby. We also want to bring in Maggie Haberman and Abby Phillip.

So Maggie, let's start with the president's reaction to this unfolding tragedy of these ten missing sailors. He said, "That's too bad. That's too bad." That was at about 8:30 last night. What's the reaction to his reaction?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that the best-case scenario is that he was not briefed on exactly what was going on, that there were ten soldiers missing, that there were five injured at that point. It was still an unusual reaction.

If he wasn't briefed, you have to wonder why at that point. He has a lot of members of the military around him who clearly can get information to him. His immediate reaction was still unusual for a commander in chief, especially one who's on the verge of addressing the nation in his first formal address. CAMEROTA: What should he have said, or what would a traditional

reaction be?

HABERMAN: A traditional reaction if you had not been briefed, you know, is I'm aware of the situation, and I'm getting progress reports or something along those lines. He is somebody who I think just still doesn't fully understand what the resting state of the job of president is in that you are on all the time. It's not as if you get sort of momentary breaks. It's not as if you will be, you know, given credit for sort of sounding a motive, you know, while you're learning what's going on.

[06:10:19] Look, he's not a politician, right, and so we know that. And a he is often prone to saying things that seem, you know, unusual in an elected official. But the concern, I think, that people have with the president is that, if there is a continual grading on a curve of what he says, that you start to define down what is acceptable for a commander in chief.

CUOMO: Well, I wonder if the description of why this happens is as accurate as saying that he's not a politician. Because he usually gets benefit when you say that. Yes, that's right, he's not a politician. That's a good thing.

HABERMAN: That's exactly right.

CUOMO: I think it's that he doesn't have leadership qualities. He's never had to practice these before. He's never run a team. He's never had to be out in front and give the kind of guidance that are expected in situations like this, John Kirby.

And you know, even if -- if this is the way he reacted and he knew, that's one thing. But I think the bigger concern is that he didn't know. That his reaction to the information was, really? Oh, that's too bad.

What is the chance that the president of the United States wouldn't have known about what had happened and that there were missing sailors?

KIRBY: Well, pretty small.

CUOMO: Right?

KIRBY: Yes, you would think that it would get to him very, very quickly. Again, I don't know what the communications setup is like or how -- or the circumstances of who was around him. But you would hope that, at least this happened, you know, during the Obama administration. You know, we were able to get the word to President Obama very, very quickly.

And I just want to follow up on what Maggie said. I think that -- I think she's right. I think, look, even if he hadn't been briefed, a better way to say this would have been, "Hey, look, I don't have all the information," but we're looking into this. This is obviously very serious and tragic. And our hearts go out to all the families in the Navy, that kind of thing. You know, you want to kind of put some sort of emotion into that I think would have been better than "That's too bad." I think it did come across as kind of glib.

I also think -- and I said earlier -- it would be great for him to address this tonight in the speech, and I'm sure that he will. At least I hope he does. But you know, there's a lot of time between now and then. And it sure would be nice to hear the commander in chief, in some -- even if it's just in a written statement, something a little bit more comprehensive than a tweet, kind of talk about where this -- where this goes and what this means to the nation.

CUOMO: They also may not be considered missing by then, either.

KIRBY: Yes. We won't know. I mean, we won't know.

CAMEROTA: Abby, that leads us to tonight. And so he's going to be making this address about Afghanistan. I mean, why Afghanistan? Why now? Do we have any sense of what the timing is on why he's doing this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is a decision that's been really delayed for quite a long time, and it reflects the difficulty of the decision that he faces. He has really bad options in Afghanistan, like many American presidents have had in the past. And they sat down at Camp David Friday to hash out some of these things. One of the interesting things about that meeting was the degree to which John Kelly tried to enforce a kind of adult in the room sort of situation here for people who, in the military, to brief the president completely and fully. You heard Mattis say over the weekend that we tried to go into the room without preconceived notions.

So the timing reflects the fact that this is kind of decision time, it's really the moment -- you can't kick the can down the road any longer. And Trump has to kind of decide both a discrete decision about numbers, how many troops are going to be in Afghanistan, but also a broader decision about, philosophically, where he wants to go with his presidency. Does he want to engage further in the longest American war, or does he really want to take a U-turn and pull back?

And that's why he has to do this in a public address, because it's beyond just numbers. It's about his vision for the country, his vision for his presidency. And it's also about American lives. I think it's good that he understands and is responding to the fact that this is a big decision. It's about human beings.

CUOMO: But he's got more American lives at play in Korea at the DMZ. He's got more American lives at play in Iraq. It is an interesting choice to start in Afghanistan, which is just a complete sinkhole. I mean, it's called the graveyard of empires for a reason. What do we know about the motivation to start with the most difficult task?

HABERMAN: I think in a lot of ways it's because, essentially, the Middle East wars over the last 16 years and engagements have been an avatar for everything in the post-9/11 foreign policy and national security realm. And this is something -- look, I think he doesn't want to start with Iraq for a number of reasons. I think Syria is what it is. And he has sort of dabbled with Syria in discrete little areas.

I think on Afghanistan he's been under a lot of pressure from various corners to come up with a holistic strategy. So you had this troop authority granted to step up the number of troops back in June. But it was clear that nothing was going to be done until there was something more holistic.

What I expect you will hear the president say tonight is something about how this is essentially a strategic retooling. Now, what that looks like, what concessions they may be getting in exchange for stepping up the number of troops, I don't know.

I do think that there are significant portions. To Abby's point, there are no good options here. There's nothing that this president has in front of him that is a good option...

CUOMO: Then why start there? Because if he's looking for points on the board, if he's looking to, you know, show successes...

PHILLIP: I mean, we are losing.

CUOMO: Right.

PHILLIP: I mean, we are losing, and you can't just ignore that. That's going to become apparent every time.

CUOMO: But it's no different now than five, six years ago.

HABERMAN: Because it's a breeding ground for a lot of dangerous forces in a lot of ways. And I think that's the main reason. I also think -- and it's a way for them to frame this as an aggressive fight against terror.

That said, I do think you are going to have a substantial number of his supporters say, you know, he was very adamant...

CUOMO: Get out.

HABERMAN: Get out, do not engage anymore. Every candidate discovers -- Obama had the same issue, Obama also talked a very large game about not engaging in the Middle East anymore, and he found out pretty quickly that that's not a great option, either.

So however, Obama did have a surge and, you know, the results were not fabulous. So we'll see what happens.

CAMEROTA: Admiral Kirby, your thoughts?

KIRBY: Yes, look, I think why now? He has to do this, because six months in, he hasn't had a strategy for not only the war in Afghanistan but the region. And so -- and the Taliban is making gains. There is a pretty significant ISIS presence there, which is growing in fits and starts, as well as al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. And what -- remember what we started out doing here 16 years ago is

trying to keep Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for another 9/11 attack as it was back then.

Now, we have made progress. There has been success, but over the last couple of years, when troop levels came out and, in the wake of a unity government in Kabul that isn't working so effectively, the Taliban is able to make gains. So we are at a point now where you've got to do something.

Now, what we heard in that little clip of Secretary Mattis, he said it's not just Afghanistan strategy. It's a South Asia strategy, which tells you there's going to be something in the air about Pakistan, and hopefully, it's about getting harder on Pakistan for the safe havens that they allow on their side of the border for groups like Hakani (ph). So I hope what we see is a geostrategic, a little larger strategy overall.

CUOMO: Lest we forget where Osama bin Laden was found. You have Pakistan. You have Iraq. You have so many places in the region that are equally as hot as a breeding ground for Afghanistan. We'll see what he says.

John, Abby, Maggie, thank you very much.

We're going to bring you live coverage of President Trump's address to the nation tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern. And right after the president's address you're going to have a live town hall event with House speaker Paul Ryan breaking his silence, hosted by Jake Tapper at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.

CAMEROTA: That will be fascinating to get his response to all of this.

Now that the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is out of the White House, how will it impact the president's agenda? Our panel digs into that next.


[06:21:31] CUOMO: So we all know now that President Trump's chief strategist did not go quietly after being forced to leave his post at the White House Friday. Steve Bannon already granting interviews, getting back to work at Breitbart, the platform he says was designed for the alt-right.

So how will his departure impact the president's agenda? Let's bring back the panel to discuss: Maggie Haberman, Abby Phillip and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

So look, they can ignore it. They can deal with it overtly, but Bannon is going to weigh in, especially if you're going to be talking about Afghanistan, because this is such a fundamental part of his philosophy. We should be out of there. The president supposedly bought into it, and that leads us to tonight. HABERMAN: Well, look, there were many issues on which Steve Bannon

clashed with almost everybody else within the White House; and certainly Afghanistan was a huge piece of that. He believed that the U.S. should not be further drawn in. And then he, you know, was advocating this sort of privatization plan that was pushed by somebody named Eric Prince, who was a relative of the cabinet secretary. As it turns out, that did not go through any of the normal channels. It was all this kind of side process that Bannon had going.

I do think, though, that Bannon sees himself as the keeper of this campaign pledge that the president made, which was, you know, not getting further drawn into these foreign wars. And I suspect you will see, you know, Breitbart, Bannon's website, reacting pretty strongly to whatever comes out of the president's mouth tonight.

CAMEROTA: So Errol, I mean, in Bannon's exit interview with "The Weekly Standard," he said that he likes the term "Bannon the Barbarian." He feels jacked up. He can't wait to get his hands back on his weapons. He said he's revved -- he's going to rev up the machine.

What does any of that look like going forward?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it looks like chaos. I mean, it's the kind of tough talk you hear from people who are actually not all that tough. He's in a much weaker position than he could ever be inside the White House.

Even in combat, on the losing side of internal battles inside the bubble is a real position, as opposed to flinging bricks from the outside, which is where he is now. They've lost a bunch of advertisers at Breitbart. They make, you know, horrible mistakes of fact that they have to apologize for. It's just not the same thing.

Now, to the extent that Steve Bannon wants to be a political warrior and nothing else, yes, maybe he is in the right place. Because that's what they're going to do. It sounds like they're going to sort of snipe and insult and try to get themselves into the news cycle and...

CAMEROTA: But not the president. He says he's still going to have the president's back.

CUOMO: Right. That's the question. He said -- he gave "The Weekly Standard" interview and a couple of other ones. And then, there was another turn in the cycle where he made it very clear that he wasn't talking about the president.

CAMEROTA: Right. He's going to cover for the president.

CUOMO: When one of his cronies, he tweeted the word "war," and what he said about the presidency being over that he and Trump had won, he then said, "But I don't have any quarrel with the president. This is about others."

Here's the rub, though, to Errol's point: He has a president who is uniquely sensitive to criticism from the outside. So while he may not be as powerful, because he's not on the inside, what he says is going to bother the president, correct?

PHILLIP: Now that Bannon is back at Breitbart, you should take a look at what Breitbart is talking about. And it's -- it's been instructive over the last few days. A lot of what they've been talking about has been the same old, same old in terms of internal disputes. And those are the kinds of things, that, sure, Trump doesn't like criticism, but he doesn't really mind his people...

CUOMO: As long as it's not him.

PHILLIPS That's kind of what we're seeing out there from Bannon at this moment. From Breitbart at this moment. If Bannon will reel that in we haven't seen that just yet.

And another -- you know, just to Errol's point about Bannon flinging bricks from the outside. One thing that he does have from the outside is the backing of a major Trump patron, the Mercer family. They're considering, potentially, ventures that would be backed financially, very well that would really be a force in the conservative media world.

[06:25:19] So there is the potential out there for there to be, really, just like a rock thrown in the middle of the pond, and the ripples having really incredible effects in the political world.

HABERMAN: I also think that there's nobody who looks as good -- people never look as good to Donald Trump as when they're walking away from him. And so, you know, I think that you saw time and time again his ability to, you know, continue to contact all sorts of people, especially late at night, you know, on his cellphone, in the White House residence or, you know, the regular phone.

But, you know, Corey Lewandowski, who was the fired campaign manager, is now back working for one of the outside groups. Dave Bossie, who had, you know, come to -- you know, tension spots with the president, is now back in his favor.

The president has a way of always wanting what is not there. And so I think that we will see how that plays out. I think that he was very frustrated with Bannon and unhappy with him toward the end, but he was taking pains on Saturday to tweet very nice things about Bannon and about Breitbart. He's not interested in, you know, a full-out war, either.

CAMEROTA: OK, Maggie, one more topic that came up this -- over the past week that we need to talk about: the president's mental stability. So you hear people starting to talk about it, including some Republicans. Senator Bob Corker used the term "The president has not demonstrated the stability." He didn't say mental stability. So...

CUOMO: Big distinction.

CAMEROTA: I think so. I agree. I think it is a big distinction, but still, now that has taken on something of a life of its own about whether the president is mentally fit. HABERMAN: I'm not a therapist, and I never got my psychiatry degree

so I'm not going to comment on that. But -- and I think that you are hearing it from various corners. I know Brian Stelter did something about this last night.

I don't think that's what Corker was saying. I think that what people are concerned about is just that you are seeing the president -- you know, is known to like drama and excitement, and he sees things as a show. This was a person who spent, you know, whatever it was, 14 seasons on "The Apprentice."

I think that he has invested a fair amount of time in keeping the show going and less on doing the job. And I think that that is what Bob Corker was talking about. Whatever the reason is, I do think that it has a wearying effect on people watching the show, who would like to see something get done. You have Republicans concerned that they are squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here.

PHILLIP: And there's an lot of frustration with the idea that the president does not compartmentalize his feelings about things. He tweets them instantly. He clearly allows it to affect all aspects of the job. And the presidency is a really big job and one that requires people to put aside certain things and deal with the task at hand. There are -- what Republicans like Corker are trying to say is focus on the job.

CUOMO: Get over yourself. Surrender the meat of the week.

PHILLIP: And the stability of the institution...

CUOMO: None of them will get what they want.

PHILLIP: ... is beyond whatever is going on with Donald Trump. And I think that's what people want to see more.

CUOMO: They will never get it.

LOUIS: It's not going to happen. This is something, you know, you tell him his house is on fire. His way to put out the fire is to start a new fire. I mean, that's been his style through the campaign, and it has succeeded for him. So, you know, that's always been the problem with Donald Trump. You tell him to do what has -- you know, all of us sort of worry, but it doesn't worry him because the way he has acted, the chaos, the division and so forth, it made him a billionaire, and it made him president.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

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