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Navy Ship Collides with Oil Tanker; President Trump to Address Nation on Afghanistan Strategy; Analysts Examine Relationship Between Trump White House and Breitbart News; Rep. Keith Ellison: Trump Has "Sympathy" For White Supremacists. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to make sure that they don't have some larger issue going on culturally or procedurally inside the Navy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. president is planning a nationwide address Monday night to announce the path forward in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're doing now is not working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are issues that we all want the president to succeed in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president doesn't know what to do and this is why it's taken so long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the president has been standing on slippery ground for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are serious issues with our president that aren't going to go away, that aren't going to get better and, indeed, with the pressures of the job may very well get worse.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, August 21, 8:00 in the east. And we're doing some breaking news for your right now. There's an intense search under way for 10 missing soldiers, sailors after a U.S. Navy destroyer collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore. This is the fourth crash this year involving a U.S. ship based in the Pacific.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The president will have a chance to address the nation tonight. He can talk about those missing sailors. But his main goal is to tell you and instruct you on what the U.S. military strategy is going to be for the 16-year long war in Afghanistan. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Ryan Brown live at the Pentagon. What do we know, Ryan?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the collision between the USS John McCain and that cargo ship in the Straits of Malacca east of Singapore, we're learning that the ship sustained heavy damage. There was a lot of flooding, several compartments aboard were flooded. The ship was able to make it on its own power back to Singapore where it is now.

The USS America, another ship has just also docked in Singapore and is going to help to salvage and perform additional search and rescue operations with the McCain. And again, during that collision five sailors were injured. None of those injuries life threatening but 10 sailors have gone missing. The Navy is in the process of notifying the families of those soldiers.

And there is a massive search effort underway involving U.S. aircraft as well as aircraft and ships from the Republic of Singapore searching a wide area of that heavily trafficked parts of the waterways near the Straits of Malacca.

And this all coming just two months after a similar collision took place between the USS Fitzgerald and cargo ship, that collision costing the lives of seven sailors and in launching an Navy investigation into what went wrong, the Navy relieving the commanding officers of that ship from their posts and saying that the Navy was already reviewing its procedures for training and accreditation for the watch personnel, those personnel whose job is to maintain that ship's situational awareness and to make sure that these similar types of collisions do not happen. So the Navy was already reviewing that in the wake of this news of the collision between the McCain and another ship just two months later, it's bound that they Navy will continue reviewing those policies and procedures in the day to come. Chris?

CUOMO: There also has to be a little bit of a look of why does this keep happening from the threat side, a threat assessment? These are all private vessels that they keep colliding with. Ryan, thank you very much.

So, President Trump has been a long-time critic of staying in Afghanistan. It has been 16 years of blood and treasure there. So what is the way forward? He's going to announce it tonight in his first formal primetime address to you. CNN's Sara Murray is live at the White House with more. What do we expect?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, this is a big moment for President Trump. And it comes at a time when his credibility, when his character, when his leadership capabilities have all been in question against that backdrop, he is going to step in front of the American people tonight and try to make the case that he has the right path forward when it comes to Afghanistan and that they should trust him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: 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, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: 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.

[08:05:08] MATTIS: We're 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 is going to be very difficult for this president to lead if, in fact, 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 10 Americans saying they're embarrassed by the president's conduct.


MURRAY: Now tonight we will see teleprompter Trump addressing the nation in of course a very somber role as commander in chief. But tomorrow we could see a very different President Trump. That is when he's hitting the road for a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona, a state where both Republican senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have been harshly critical of the president. Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our political panel to discuss. We have CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian and Josh Green and senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight Perry Bacon. Great to have all of you here with us. Karoun, let's talk about the president's response to this tragedy that's unfolding, or this apparent tragedy. At least there's ten missing U.S. sailors off the waters of Singapore. Last night, he was asked about this. Questions were shouted at him from journalists and it seems as though he wasn't fully briefed, though, frankly, President Trump never engaged in the political speak. I will take this under advisement. We're watching this very closely. He doesn't say things like that.

But is it conceivable that -- he repeatedly said that's too bad, that's too bad. Is it conceivable that his advisers wouldn't have briefed him at that point by 8:30 last night?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": If he was briefed it doesn't mean he necessarily knew what his response was going to be. As we've seen from Trump in various other situations, he likes to say I have all the facts. Granted he tweets about things before he has all the facts fairly often. But in situations like this where it's a major crisis where he's got to act presidential, we've seen him before has this a little bit of a dear in the headlights thing and say things that seem like they are innocuous enough to him that end up not being not innocuous to the rest of us because they don't get detailed enough because they're not presidential enough.

So if he wasn't briefed, it's a genuine reaction. Even if he was briefed and he didn't know how to respond, we've seen a Twitter response from him but we haven't not a strategic response of we're going to be doing this to review these procedures Navy wide.

CUOMO: Even the Twitter response seemed out of character. Even the way it was formatted, it was using different hash tags that seemed different than what he usually tweets, looked a little bit more official.

But that's style. And tonight we're getting to substance. And this is a major test. He's coming into this -- you could say Afghanistan, he didn't start this. This is 16 years. Everybody knows it's a mess. There's really no good options. That's why Mattis is saying it's a regional strategy not just about Afghanistan.

But he as president, he has a new foe or new critic on the outside in the form of Steve Bannon. His ideas about Afghanistan and staying out were largely shaped by Steve Bannon. He has that on him tonight as well as coming out of Charlottesville and his moral standing taking a huge hit. This is big for him tonight.

JOSH GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And as we saw from those tweets, there was absolutely no daylight when Donald Trump was a candidate about what his position about Afghanistan would be. He would withdraw. He was the only one strong enough to do that.

Now push comes to shove and it sounds like the announcement tonight, rather than being a withdrawal, will be an increase in troop levels. This is the first policy fight we've seen that is a clear loss for Steve Bannon. Bannon and Mattis, the generals, were fighting over this. The generals won. Bannon lost. He's on the outside. But if you look at "Breitbart News" this morning they're already going after the president's Afghanistan strategy, criticizing this increase in troop levels. So he is going to have a new and prominent critic on the outside that he hasn't had at this point in the administration.

DEMIRJIAN: It's not the first time we've had to see the president take a different tone than what he campaigned on. He saw him shift on NAFTA. We saw him not dismantle the Iran deal. He promised a whole bunch of things that when he became president and it's a matter of national security and a matter of keeping the world a stable place and not making things worse that he shifted tact, and I think this falls in line with those things since we're not going to see him say full withdrawal tonight.

[08:10:04] GREEN: And that list is getting longer and longer and longer it seems. We're only seven months in.

BOLDUAN: But Perry, this warped strategy for Afghanistan was promised more than a month ago, Mattis said it would be happening in mid-July. So is it too cynical to think that they rushed this together tonight to get away from Charlottesville last week?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": I'm not sure of the exact timing and why. They've been talking about this review for a long time. And I assumed it would come out some time in August. I think it might be a little cynical to say this day was picked for that reason.

I would say on the policy itself, Trump might have been, if he was trying to become more popular or do what the public wants, there is some skepticism in the public about these wars and having more troops there. I wonder in this case if Trump had the courage of his convictions from earlier if he would be in a better place, at least politically. I think there is some demand in the public for less -- fewer troops abroad for the U.S. versus Trump's policy now is probably not that different from the status quo. Going from 8,000 to 12,000 troops is not a big shift either way. He's basically kind of continuing the policies of Bush and Obama, of staying in Afghanistan. Just by campaigning on the opposite.

CUOMO: Josh, where are we with where Bannon's head is and what this war is about? There was such a weird turnabout last night. One of these cronies tweets "War," he gives the interview with "The Weekly Standard" where he says our presidency over that we fought for. Then he clarified with you and others, no, no, no, I'm not bad on the president. It's other guys. He goes after H.R. McMaster in "Breitbart" right away. What's the state of life?

GREEN: I think Bannon wanted to leave amicably and he was adamant in talking to reporters that he was not fired. This was a mutually agreed upon departure, although I don't know how much choice he had about leaving or staying. But the issue with Bannon is that he has these set of beliefs that he

thinks the country has endorsed by electing Donald Trump. As we just talked about, Trump promised all these things and he's either unable or unwilling to carry through on them as president. So I think Bannon sees himself as someone who is going to nudge Trump into what he considers the proper direction, probably by mowing down his internal opponents, using "Breitbart News."

The big question for me, I tried to get Bannon to say if Trump doesn't do this, will you eventually take him on directly? He wouldn't answer the question but I think the answer is yes. If Trump slide too far in the directions of these generals, of the people that Bannon called White House Democrats, then you might really see Bannon going after Trump directly and that would unleash fireworks of the likes we have not seen yet.

CAMEROTA: The problem is that the White House Democrats that he refers to are Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, her husband. So how's that going to work if "Breitbart" goes after them?

DEMIRJIAN: That's blood and flesh and relatives and everything else, and that seems to be sacred for the president. He does listen to them even if he doesn't agree with them. So if he goes after them too hard it is not going to work out too well for Steve Bannon at all, it would seem. But again, it's going to be, how far is he going to push? How hard is he going to push before they push back? And is there going to be that coordination before it actually happens or are we just going to see those trains colliding in public now because Bannon is on the outside?

GREEN: And what's especially awkward is Donald Trump tweeted after Steve Bannon left, good for Steve, going back to "Breitbart News" to battle fake news. He essentially gave an endorsement to "Breitbart."

CUOMO: After not having a statement when Bannon was leaving on the dignity of the exit that he took.

GREEN: Right. But within 24 hours of that tweet "Breitbart" was writing nasty things about him.

DEMIRJIAN: This is part of everything that gets jumbled up with Charlottesville, right, because there was an exit plan before, as you've reported and others have reportd, but then Charlottesville happens and all of a sudden everything is through the light of Charlottesville because it was really, really bad, but a self- inflicted thing that has screwed up the way we seen everything from the Bannon's departure to Afghanistan plan to absolutely and everything else that was happening.

CAMEROTA: Perry, your final thoughts on what we're going to see in the days ahead?

BACK: I think the key question here is what does Donald Trump do? I think there's a piece in "Breitbart" making the comparison, the worry in the Breitbart community and Ann Coulter and conservatives is that what happened in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger ran as a conservative and then at some point moved to the middle. "Breitbart" actually mentioned that comparison last week.

The worry is if you're Steve Bannon what you're trying to do is keep Donald Trump from listening too much to the Democrats and more liberal people in the White House and keep the wall build, keep him fighting NAFTA.

I think it will end up happening that Donald Trump will stay pretty nationalist because I think Donald Trump himself has a lot of views that Steve Bannon had as well. It's not like Donald Trump is a blank slate. He has been talking about trade deals and how terrible they are for years and decades. So I think he will stay on this same path because Steve Bannon was a person who basically agreed with Donald Trump already.


That's why he liked him so much. I think he will stay in the same pathway.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much for all that reporting for us. CNN will bring you live coverage of President Trump's address to the nation tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

Right after the president's address, stay tuned because we're going to have a live town hall event with House Speaker Paul Ryan. It's hosted by our Jake Tapper at 9:30 pm. What does Paul Ryan think about all of these developments?

CUOMO: It will be good to finally hear him on the record about it.

President Trump still facing backlash from his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville. His moral standing suffered. Several lawmakers now questioning his abilities.

We'll talk with one of his Democratic critics who actually suggested that the president may be sympathetic to white supremacists, next.


CAMEROTA: President Trump facing backlash over his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville. One Democratic congressman going as far as to suggest to the "Washington Post" that President Trump has an affinity for white supremacists.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: The reason he is reluctant to denounce white supremacy and neo-Nazis and Klans members is because he has some level of sympathy for them.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is that congressman, Democrat Keith Ellison. Good morning, Congressman.

ELLISON: Good morning. How are you doing? CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. Just tell us what you mean by that? What do you mean that the president has some sympathy for neo-Nazis and white supremacists?

[08:20:07] ELLISON: What I mean is that if you look at the facts, the evidence that's been entered into the public record already, there are a few things that are inescapable.

One thing is that he did not immediately denounce the neo-Nazis and the Klan. By the way, the flags they were marching under are the flags that enemies were killing Americans in civil war and World War II.

He didn't denounce those things. He said it was both sides when he finally did come around to saying something. But look at the record during the campaign, when David Duke -- when he won Louisiana, David Duke endorses him. He takes a long time to say anything about that.

You know, we know that Richard Spencer, a noted and open and avowed white supremacist coins the term alt-right. Then he hires the guy who says that he's offering the platform for the alt-right, Steve Bannon, who has been advising him right up until just a few hours ago really.

CAMEROTA: Right. But what does sympathy mean?

ELLISON: Wait a minute.

CAMEROTA: So I'm clear on your position, you think he is like minded, that he is a white supremacist?

ELLISON: I'm not saying he is one. I'm saying the positions that they have articulated are positions that he does not feel an urgency to denounce and distance himself from. That piece of evidence right there is something that all of us have to ask ourselves why.

Now, if he is not sympathetic to them, then the best person to clarify this is the president himself. He himself can say I absolutely denounce these people. He can do more than that.

He can have a national convening where he talks about how we move forward as a country, one America, liberty and justice for all, everybody included. And yet that's not what we're seeing.

We're seeing him, you know, be morally ambiguous and I think that this is of something that is of serious concern. Basically, I named what --

CAMEROTA: Let me just give you a little bit more fodder here. He has been all over the map on David Duke, in terms of the KKK. Back in 2000, Donald Trump, obviously just a regular citizen, gave this interview with Matt Lauer where he was very strongly condemning David Duke.

And then over the years, and certainly during this campaign, he seemed to be much less sure about how he felt about David Duke. Let's just recap this for our viewers. Listen to this. ELLISON: Right.


TRUMP: Well, you've got David Duke just joined, a bigot, a racist, a problem.

David Duke endorsed me? OK. All right. I disavow.

I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know what you're talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.

(via telephone): I know who he is, but I never met David Duke.


CAMEROTA: OK. So, Congressman, you heard there in 2016, he didn't know anything about David Duke, but if you rewind the clock to 2000 with Matt Lauer, he was very clear, David Duke is a bigot, a racist. He's a problem.

But why do you think that that means that he's now evolved and come around to share some sort of sympathy or like mindedness with David Duke? Couldn't it just be as simple as he thinks those folks who support David Duke are part of his base and support him?

ELLISON: Well, then what difference does it actually make, right? I mean, the fact is that if he really believes them and is a true believer or if he is just opportunistically exploiting them to support him.

The net effect is people who fought the Nazis, people who fought the Klan, who are standing up for core American values still end up getting hurt and diminished in the process.

I mean, I'm talking about the pragmatic effect of the president's moral ambivalence around the Klan and the Nazis. The fact that, you know, if he will not come out strongly and denounce these people.

And then actually affirmatively pull the country together around shared values, then we are left to speculate as to why he won't. I think one of those possibilities is what I said.

CAMEROTA: Sympathy?

ELLISON: Perhaps, yes. I mean, let him clarify if that's the case. I mean, think about it. He is the one who has created this question about where is Trump on the Klan and the Nazis and white supremacists?

You look at websites like, you know, the "Storm Frontier, Daily Stormer," they were all very happy at his response. They feel like he was endorsing them. If you listen to those people, they feel he is an ally and a friend.

And so, I think it is incumbent upon the president to make it clear, they have no quarter because he hasn't done that. [08:25:03] CAMEROTA: So, the question is what will you and other Democrats beyond just speculating and speaking out about this, what you can do about it. You know, Congressman Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, she tweeted this.

"Potus is showing signs of erratic behavior and mental instability to place the country in grave danger. Time to invoke the 25th Amendment." Do you agree?

ELLISON: Well, let me tell you this. I know his judgment is absolutely off. Jared Nadler and a few others have introduced (inaudible) emotion. I think that has a lot of merit, but what am I doing?

I'm -- you know, this last weekend, Democrats joined and partnered with people all over this country, we had 160 events where we were talking to neighbors about how to really build a strong, unified country around shared values, economic prosperity for everyone.

We did 160 events on which we knocked on doors, made calls and engaged with our neighbors and so we are being a part of this massive surge forward. Counter to Trump's moral ambivalence.

You saw 30,000 or so in Boston, thousands in New Orleans. I was in Durham when they -- the day before when people were protesting there and calling account to some of these confederate monuments.

So, my point is that, look, you know, most Americans are appalled by what happened in Charlottesville. They are not slow to respond to it. We're trying to work with them because at the end of the day, we've got to change what happened at the ballot box.

And the ballot box is going to be the one where we restore anybody who is willing to say we have one America and is not slow or confused or doesn't quite get it or thinks that he doesn't want to alienate his base.

We want to change the outcomes at the ballot box. Obviously, we want Democrats to win, but even if Republicans who step forward and say no, this is wrong. I respect that.

So far only about 24 Republicans have publicly named Donald Trump and told him that his moral ambivalence is not what this moment calls for. So, that's what we're trying to do, organize and move forward.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Congressman Keith Ellison, thank you very much for taking time.

ELLISON: Thank you.


CUOMO: Organize and move forward are also going to be terms that may apply to the president's big address to you about Afghanistan tonight, a primetime speech directly to the American people about what to do with the 16-year war in Afghanistan. The fate of his signature items like health care, the wall, tax reform, what's going to happen with all of those without Steve Bannon? Next.