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AT THIS HOUR
Soon: Trump Leaves For Arizona Visit, Campaign Rally; Trump Lays Out Afghanistan Plan With Few Details; Treasury Hits Russian Chinese Firms With Sanctions; Trump Calls For U.S. Healing In Speech On Afghan War; Ryan: Trump "Messed Up" With Charlottesville Remarks; Pence: I Want "More Monuments Not Less"; Trump "No Place For Bigotry, No Tolerance For Hate". Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired August 22, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Clarissa Ward in for Kate Bolduan. This hour, President Trump is set to leave the White House and head west to Arizona for a visit to the border town of Yuma and later, a campaign-style rally in Phoenix.
This is coming just a day after his very scripted speech on his strategy for the war in Afghanistan and a week after his very unscripted and controversial response to the violence in Charlottesville.
The big question right now, which President Trump will we hear tonight?
Let's start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who is at the White House. Kaitlan, obviously Arizona an important state. Trump carried it in November. Immigration is a hot button issue. He's been critical of both Republican senators there. What are we expecting to hear tonight?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, we are not likely going see the President Trump that we saw last night where he was very scripted, as you said, very measured and careful as he outlined his Afghanistan policy.
Instead, we will see the Trump that we typically see at these campaign-style rallies, very rambunctious and shoots from the hip. But the question that's on everyone's mind tonight is will he go after those members of his own party?
There's a lot of tension in Arizona with the mayor of Phoenix telling the president to delay his rally there tonight because of all the tensions in the country because of the violence in Charlottesville.
It's pretty obvious that the president decided not to go do that, and instead going forward with this rally. But also, he has been at odds with the two Republican senators from there.
We know that he is still frustrated with John McCain after he voted no on the administration's effort and that the Senate's effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
We know the president hasn't forget about that because he brought it up during a press conference at Trump Tower in New York last week. We also know that he has been going after Senator Jeff Flake.
This is someone who has been very critical of the president and last week, in a tweet, Trump said that he was weak on borders, toxic and a nonfactor in the Senate and he essentially endorsed the woman who is trying to take Jeff Flake's Senate seat.
So that's what we'll be watching tonight to see if the president continues to criticize these two senators -- Clarissa.
WARD: And Kaitlan, on Afghanistan, is the White House saying anything about President Trump's refusal to be drawn on any specific numbers when it comes to increasing troop levels there?
COLLINS: They are. They are actually batting down the notion that the president was distancing himself from the decision to deploy thousands more troops to Afghanistan by not naming a number last night.
Michael Anton (ph), who is the director of Strategic Communications for the National Security Council said it was absurd that the president was distancing himself from that idea and that Trump knows he is the commander-in-chief and he owns this decision.
Instead, by not naming a specific number of troops, Michael Anton, said that the president was giving tactical authority to the Pentagon and just outlining regional strategy for the area -- Clarissa.
WARD: All right. Kaitlan, thank you very much.
I want to discuss the president's Afghan war strategy with our panel. We have Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who was assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs in the Bush administration.
We have Retired Lieutenant General David Barno, who was the commander of combined forces in Afghanistan. We have Ambassador Dan Feldman, who was the State Department special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Obama administration.
And we have Dr. Rebecca Grant, who is a national security and military analyst, and president of Irish Independent Research. So really, an all-star panel here.
General Barno, let me start out with you. What were your initial thoughts about the president's speech last night and how is his strategy for dealing with Afghanistan distinctly different from President Obama's?
Well, I have to say I was a bit taken aback from what I heard in that speech last night. In my view, President Trump now doubling down on the strategy of his predecessor, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. There was very little in that speech that couldn't have been given by either of those two earlier presidents in 2005, 2009 or 2012 in Afghanistan. So, there's far more continuity in this approach than there is anything different from this particular president.
And that's a completely reversal from what we heard from then Candidate Trump during the campaign and even much of the initial indications as he was looking at options for this strategy over the last several months. That surprised me.
WARD: And so, I guess, the question then, General Kimmit, is how does this become a winning strategy? Is there anything that gives it an edge over previous strategies, which, you know, for those of us who have spent a lot of time on the ground in Afghanistan don't appear to be working terribly well.
[11:05:04] BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (RETIRED), FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, I would say three things. First of all, what is working well is the last 16 years we have not had a major strike on the United States such as 9/11 because of the counterterrorist efforts that we are doing in Afghanistan.
Number two, I think there is a minor difference. President Bush and President Obama put large numbers of forces into Afghanistan and used American forces in direct combat. This plan is one where we spend more time doing advice assistance training, over the shoulder assistance.
Thirty thousand put in by President Obama, 4,000 put in by President Trump, I think it really is a different tactic. And last, the emphasis on Pakistan, which is nowhere close to the view that President Bush, President Obama had with Pakistan.
Those presidents saw Pakistan as either neutral or a quasi-ally. It was put to rest last night how President Trump feels about Pakistan.
WARD: Well, it may have been put to rest how he feels about Pakistan, but it's one thing to say, OK, we need to talk Pakistan, they need to take more responsibility. They need to stop harboring terrorists.
Ambassador Feldman, you have seen for yourself that the reality of actually getting Pakistan to do that is somewhat more convoluted. Same thing with talking about the Afghans need to take the lead here.
Did you see any indication that Trump's strategy for dealing with Pakistan and Afghanistan is in any way an improvement on the Obama strategy?
AMBASSADOR DAN FELDMAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: I would agree with General Barno. I actually think what we heard last night and what was surprising was the fact it was relatively status quo. Many of these things were ready tenants of the Obama strategy and the Bush strategy before that, including being very tough on Pakistan. I mean, you had the commander of the Joint Chiefs say several years ago under Obama that the Haqqani network is a (inaudible) arm of the Pakistani intelligence services. I mean, there were plenty of times when the past administrations have been very, very tough on Pakistan, although, frequently chose to do it in more private settings to be more effective.
I think what is really missing in this, and though, I welcome sending a few thousand more troops to help stabilize the situation, what President Trump called for was an integrated political economic and military strategy. But we heard virtually nothing about the political and economic strategy.
And so, for all the things you just said, whether it's talking tough with Pakistan, whether it's engaging the region, trying to incentivize a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban.
Whether it's laying out a vision for the Afghan government in terms of what is expected for them or whether it's how we deal with our NATO allies and what we seek there. You will need a very, very robust, diplomatic and political engagement strategy. We don't see any sign of what that will be or who can do that right now.
WARD: Well, you raise a very interesting point there that really struck me when I was listening to the speech. It was almost kind of buried in there, this idea of a potential future reconciliation with the Taliban.
And Dr. Grant, I'm just wondering, based on your analysis of the situation on the ground, how realistic is that right now? Does the Taliban have an incentive to come to the negotiating table?
REBECCA GRANT, NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Clarissa, that struck me, too. We know there's been more connection between the Russians and the Taliban. So, that's a little worrying. But here is what I think the essence of what Trump is trying to do.
He wants to try the tactic that have worked in Mosul, get our combat advisers a little closer to the firing line, coach our Afghan allies, use air power. They are on track to double the number of air strikes this year. Already 1,245 air strikes, they are going double what they did last year.
If he can make them progress, little by little as we saw in Mosul, then you say, yes, maybe the Taliban are part of the solution. We know President Trump doesn't like to telegraph on military operations.
It's like he thinks the ghost of Dwight Eisenhower is going to get him if he says too much, but he is trying to let this play out slowly on the ground and I think that's why he didn't give a specific troop numbers too.
WARD: Yes. He doesn't like to be drawn on specifics, which, you know, one can understand from one perspective, but it also is quite convenient on another level because you don't have to answer for what the specific methodology would be. I want to play you all some sound from President Trump last night when he was talking about the idea of shifting from deadlines to a conditions-based exit. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I have said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[11:10:05] WARD: General Barno, just very quickly, your thoughts on this? What are the conditions then that would allow the U.S. to finally leave Afghanistan?
LT. GENERAL DAVID BARNO (RETIRED), FORMER COMMANDER OF COMBINED FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, I think that's an open question, a more difficult issue is how to get to those conditions. I presume the administration is looking for a stable Afghan government and military that's capable of sustaining the fight against the Taliban largely on its own.
That's a long-ways from where we are today and I think how the president is going to get there, that is part of articulating your strategy. You have to identify what is the road map to get us there.
It's not telegraphing your punches and identifying what your exact objectives are, but the American people and the Congress, you know, folks that are fighting over there deserve and to understand what is the theory of victory here?
How do we get to that and how long is it going take potentially and how much are we willing to spend given that we have already been there for 16 years?
WARD: Indeed. All right. Panel, thank you so much everyone for joining us with your perspective.
This just in to CNN. We have learned the Treasury Department is taking action to isolate North Korea even more. CNN's Diane Gallagher is here with the details. Diane, what are you learning?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Clarissa, this is about China and Russia, but in reality, it is about North Korea. The Treasury Department in the past hour, announcing a new round of sanctions on Chinese and Russian entities and individuals.
Ten groups, six individuals who they believe could be assisting in some way North Korea's nuclear missile programs and also the energy trade efforts there. The Treasury Department, the secretary, Steve Mnuchin saying that some of these individuals may also be allowing the North Koreans to access U.S. financial system or even the exportation of workers. Now obviously, Clarissa, you are aware, that over the past month or so, as the rhetoric is ratcheted up, the United States admitted that they need China if they are going to work through any sort of diplomacy here, but they may have that on their side.
I mean, the past month, a little bit earlier, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously, including Russia and China to add additional sanctions on North Korea. This is the Treasury Department now going after of course those groups and individuals now.
WARD: All right. An interesting update. Diane Gallagher, thank you so much.
Coming up for us, the debate over confederate monuments has not cooled down in Charlottesville. We will show you the chaos that erupted at a city council meeting there.
And the social media post that has the wife of Trump's treasury secretary in some hot water. See what she said. Stay with us.
WARD: You can see their anger boiling over in Charlottesville, Virginia in the first city council meeting since the deadly rally by white supremacists. Protesters accusing city leaders of having blood on their hands for not removing the confederate statues before the hate groups could rally around them.
President Trump in his speech last night on Afghanistan acknowledged the nation's racial tensions that he helped inflame. This as the leader of his own party says the president, quote, "messed up" with last week's inflammatory comments.
A lot to talk about here with our panel. We have Keith Boykin, a former Clinton White House aide and Democratic strategist, Karoun Demirjian is a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," Patrick Griffin is a campaign strategist and adviser to four presidential campaigns, and of course, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.
Keith, let me start with you. I mean, you saw the anger in that room and then you heard the words of President Trump last night, clearly trying on some level to make amends or start the healing process. Do you think his words last night were enough to begin that healing process or are people not ready let go of this yet?
KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the two words I heard a lot last week were moral clarity. I don't think that the president, even when he tries episodically to speak about an issue from the teleprompter or scripted remarks is speaking with moral clarity.
You can't, on one day, talk about unity and the next day tweet about how you hate your enemies and these people are divisive and the outside agitators are anti-police. These are the types of mixed messages that the president of the United States is communicating.
It's time for the president and John Kelly, if he's capable, to have a heart-to-heart with the American people that's based on sincerity, not based on what the pundits are telling him to do. He needs to speak to us from what's in his heart. I fear what is in his heart is hatred. That's not good thing for America.
WARD: You work at "The Washington Post." "The Washington Post" had this poll out recently, I think we have it here, we can get it here. The approval ratings or lack of approval, 56 percent of people disapprove of the president's handling of this situation.
What is your read on whether there was any sort of soothing bond in his words last night? Would those numbers be affected or is this, you know, it's easy to read from a teleprompter, but what you do is more important than what you say.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I would be surprised if he could get a majority of people to think that he handled this well given what happened last week. And the fact that he back and forth between Saturday and then Monday and then Tuesday in what he said.
[11:20:08] So there's a lot of people that he's lost already. Last night was a moment for him to try to reset. He did it in a slightly different way by using the forum of the military and the example of the military and the various backgrounds of everybody in the military.
It's a cohesive unit in whole. It's a different approach to this problem, which he hasn't managed to do very convincingly or well. The clean-up (inaudible) before, and now the question is, does he maintain this going forward?
He has campaign-style rally today in Arizona. It is a different environment. I's not Twitter, but it's more Twitter-style Trump that would come out in this environment as opposed to, you know, giving a very serious speech in front of a whole bunch of soldiers.
So, if he can maintain the line that he struck yesterday, I think he could win some people back for how he's handled this. But he lost a whole bunch of people because it was such a mess.
He had his own party, most people in his own party coming out and either taking a very hard stand of where they stood about white nationalists or repudiating the president saying not good enough, you have to do more.
WARD: To that point, Patrick, of course, we heard from Paul Ryan on a town hall with Jake Tapper last night, the speaker of the House saying, listen, Trump messed up. I don't think we often hear that kind of direct critique from Ryan. What was your read on that?
PATRICK GRIFFIN, ADVISER TO FOUR PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS: Well, I think the speaker was right. President Trump did mess up last week. It was a very bad week. When you create moral equivalency with white nationalists and others who are equally disgusting and people who are there to oppose that kind of thing, it gets very, very murky and very bad.
The point is right. The president does have problems and healing to do in his own party. However, I think last night was a very good beginning for this president. I have on more than one occasion criticized President Trump for both his tweets and the things he says.
Last night was a very solid reset. He used a presidential opportunity to behave presidentially, even his style and tone last night was, I thought, very un-Trump. I don't know if that's what happens when the president is exposed to a solar eclipse or not.
But the Trump we saw last night was very presidential, all about healing and he used this effort in Afghanistan to talk about healing our nation at home first. It was a very good speech for the president.
The problem is, most of his enemies always go back to that reset point, that de-facto point that Trump is a racist, I don't think that is true even though his behavior last week was not good.
WARD: I want to draw your attention to -- we heard from Vice President Pence this morning on "Fox and Friends." Chris Cilizza, I would love you to listen to some of his thoughts on the issue of statues in Charlottesville, and then we can talk about it after we take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Someone who believes in more monuments, not less monuments. What we ought to do is we ought to remember our history, but we also ought to celebrate the progress that we have made since that history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARD: I mean, Chris, you heard it there. More monuments, not less monuments. What is the strategy here?
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I think everyone from Donald Trump on down understands a fight over moral relativism between white supremacists and people who are there to protest white supremacy is a stone-cold loser, politically.
No. A debate over monuments, which should come down, stay up, be built is, at least a way to pivot that conversation in a way that is at least worthy of debate as opposed to 99.999 percent of the public viewing things one way and Donald Trump viewing things the other way.
So, you have Pence doing that, Trump did a little of it last week and you do have Trump delivering an odd message out of his mouth, but a message that I think for a lot of Republicans they were happy to hear, which is a pass of acknowledgement without saying I'm sorry that he understands he screwed up the Charlottesville situation. The problem with the Trump presidency thus far, it's been a series of false starts down the presidential road. He gave what I thought was a quite good speech to the bipartisan joint session of Congress, sort of a state of the union in your first year.
But then soon after that he kind of reverted back to his campaign form. The question is can he keep it up for any sustained amount of time or is this always a reinvestigation back to the main, which is Donald Trump unbound.
WARD: And did you get the feeling, Chris, just very quickly, that, you know, this was sincere, this was President Donald Trump speaking from the heart or that potentially this was a script that was kind of pushed on him by those around him who are only too aware of how destabilizing this whole Charlottesville episode has been?
CILIZZA: Well, let me take the coward's way out and say I do think it is hard to know what ultimately motivated him. Was he getting advice from people close to him that Charlottesville was a huge problem in terms of his response? Sure.
But Donald Trump has gotten advice to do things before and has not taken it. To me the question -- look, you have to give him credit for the speech he gave. It was a good speech that hit on the right notes.
[11:25:11] At the same time, is it impossible to separate what Donald Trump said and done as a candidate and as a president from that speech last night? Him speaking about love and unity and peace does not jive with what he has presented as a candidate and as president.
Can he do that in a setting that is going to be much more difficult to maintain that kind of tone tonight in Arizona? Can he do it three days from now? A month from now? Can he take some questions from reporters and do it? Those are the questions that really matter.
WARD: They are indeed. We have a lot more to talk about. So, guys, stick around, please. After the break, we are going to be discussing President Trump's big campaign-style rally in Arizona. What tone will he strike and will he pardon former sheriff, Joe Arpaio? We will be right back.
WARD: Just minutes from now President Trump leaves the White House --