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Trump to Visit Border, Rally Base in Arizona; Trump Unveils New Afghanistan Strategy; Navy: Remains found after Destroyer Collision. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 22, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MANNY GARCIA, WON PULITZER FOR COVERAGE OF ELIAN GONZALEZ STORY: -- he would love to one day come visit and thank the folks in the United States who helped him out.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That will be interesting. All right, Elian airs Thursday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Manny Garcia thanks very much.
All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.
Very shortly, President Trump heads to a red state with a Republican governor, two Republican senators on the border which he's itching to build a wall. So why are so many Republicans so nervous? We'll count the reasons in just a minute.
First though, the president promises U.S. troops will fight to win America's 16-year war in Afghanistan, America's longest war. The president's prime-time address to the nation was short on specifics, but in a serious departure, maybe not so much from President Obama, but from Donald Trump.
CNN's Ryan Browne at the Pentagon for us with the details of this new plan. Ryan?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, I think one of the big changes that President Trump kind of proposed last night was this shift from a timetable, timeline based plan for Afghanistan to a conditions based plan for Afghanistan. Again, this is kind of going as President Obama's policy where he surged troops his first year in office on Afghanistan, but put a strict timetable on that surge.
President Trump not saying how many troops he will increase. Although we believe that it is going to be some number, small number of advisers will go to Afghanistan in addition to those 8400 or so that are already there. Some other items as well, some increased targeting President Trump alluded to last night potentially going after ISIS in Afghanistan, al Qaeda in Afghanistan but also Taliban, kind of mainstream Taliban targets. And again, continued training of Afghan forces.
But I think -- the biggest kind of new idea is this, you know no timetable. This is something that military has long sought. It believes - the military thinks it strengthened its hand both against the Taliban and Afghanistan. But also encourage countries like Pakistan and India that the United States is committed to a long term solution for the region.
So, this is kind of what the military has long been advocating, this kind of enduring presence in Afghanistan, enduring counterterrorism presence. But while the military has been proposing this, this is actually something that candidate Trump and citizen Trump were actually strongly against this idea of an enduring commitment and Trump acknowledged a bit of a change in his ideas on this last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My original instinct was to pull out, and historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. In other words, when you're president of the United States.
However, our commitment is not unlimited and our support is not a blank check.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWNE: President Trump clearly signaling that he listened to his National Security adviser, H.R McMaster and his Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis in pursuing the way ahead in Afghanistan. We'll wait and see whether or not those changes are felt on the ground. John?
BERMNA: All right. That was the speech last night. Ryan Browne, thank you for much.
What about the speech tonight? This one is in Phoenix, Arizona. And this one has a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding it. Let's go to the White House now with Kaitlan Collins for a preview. Kaitlan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, John. We know that there are going to be thousands of supporters and likely protesters outside of this rally here tonight in Phoenix. But there are two key figures from the state that will not be attending. That's Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.
We know the Arizona governor is going to greet the president at the airport, but he will not be attending the rally. Because he says law enforcement tonight is going to be his first priority. We actually saw a pretty startling statement from the mayor of Phoenix who asked the president to delay his rally -- amid of all these high into political tensions in light of the violence that happened in Charlottesville recently.
And then, also, we know the president is at odds with the two Republican senators from this state, Senator John McCain was the one who voted no on the health care bill that - the no vote that essentially doomed the health care bill. We know the president hasn't forgotten about that, John, because he brought it up during his press conference at Trump Tower in New York last week. And then, Senator Jeff flake has been a very vocal critic of the president. We know from his staff that he will not be attending the rally tonight, either. We saw last week, the president go after him on Twitter and essentially endorse the woman who is going to challenge him for his Senate seat. Trump said that Senator Flake was weak on borders, toxic and a nonfactor in the Senate.
So, people will be watching tonight to see if the president is the same one we saw last night when he unveiled his Afghanistan policy, very careful, and measured and reading of a teleprompter or if he'll return to his normal rally style, John, where he goes off script pretty often.
[10:05:11] BERMAN: Yes, again, people talking about the president like he is two separate people expecting may be something different than the evidence over the last 71 years has shown. One of the controversies surrounds Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court. Obviously, a birther in his own right, the president has hinted that he might pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio at some point. Will he be at the rally? What do we know about the pardon?
COLLINS: Well, we know that he has not been invited. He told CNN that he has not been invited yet but he is going to leave his schedule open. So - if an invite shows up at the last minute, he can make it to this rally.
But we know the president has said he was seriously considering pardoning this man. He called him a great patriot. But this is someone who is a deeply divisive figure in Arizona. The Phoenix mayor said that if Trump came there tonight to their city and pardon this man, that it would show that he was there to divide the nation. John?
BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House.
I want to go back to the Afghanistan speech. Joining me right now Republican Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska, he's on the Armed Services Committee and spent his life in the Air Force, retired Brigadier General.
So, Congressman - General, thank you very much for being with us, you say, "The president is providing clear guidance and is empowering the military to execute and deliver decisive outcomes." in Afghanistan. Clear guidance, can you have clear guidance without a clear statement on troop numbers?
REP. DON BACON (R-NE), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think it's important that we don't communicate to the enemy exactly what our plans are. So I support the president when he said that we are not going say how many and for how long. I think that was a failure of the previous administration. -- This number of troops but only for this long. I don't think it's going to communicate all those details to the Taliban.
I do think, though, the president made clear that he wants to win and the pulling out would have been a disaster. So he -- during the campaign, he talked about that. I'm glad he switched on that because if we would have withdrawn our forces from Afghanistan, I think within a year or two years, the Taliban would be in control and we would have to go back in. I appreciate his commitment to stay engaged in Afghanistan and to go after the Taliban.
BERMAN: You say -- you used the word switch there. So you are acknowledging this was a different position than you heard from then Donald Trump in the campaign. Some people including at "Breitbart" say he flip-flopped.
BACON: Well, he switched from the campaign. He also changed what President Obama was doing. President Obama was doing time based standards. I think we needed to have success and make decisions based off that. I think the president made it clear that we cannot let the Taliban win. Otherwise, we have to go back in in a year or two just like we did in Iraq. When we pulled our forces out of Iraq in 2011 that was disastrous policy that was penned for the day and I think he -- what happened in Iraq, so we can't let happen in Afghanistan.
BERMAN: The timeline, the end date, the removal of that. That does appear to be a very clear change. And that is something that would be referred to as measurable here, removing that. As far as defining victory and defining the actual goals, listen to what the president said last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: From now on victory will have a clear definition, attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terrorist attacks against America before they emerge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, Raheem Kassam at "Breitbart" has been very critical by the way of the president's speech last night, noted that, that list of victories, the clear definition of what a victory is doesn't include real measurable. Attacking our enemies, that isn't a victory, is it, Congressman?
BACON: Well, I spent a year in Iraq. We had lots of measures of success that we looked. When I got through during the surge, when Petraeus showed up, all the standards that we were measuring were terrible. We were having 120 Americans killed a month. You can measure the number of attacks, how much territory the enemy controlled versus how much territory that government was governing. We can use those same standards in Afghanistan.
I think the president was saying somewhat of that, but that -- specifically, those are the things that we could measure. We could measure how much the Afghan government has control over vs the Taliban, the number of attacks. And what you want to see is over a period of time, those attacks going down. Right now, the Taliban controls about 45 percent of the territory in Afghanistan. That's unacceptable. We can measure that. And I think there are clear measures that we can look at. And right now, they don't look good. BERMAN: All right, Congressman, politics now. The president headed to Arizona tonight to give a political speech, a lot of people still talking about his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville. House Speaker Paul Ryan told us here at CNN last night that the president messed up in his response to Charlottesville.
[10:10:00] Do you share that sentiment?
BACON: Well, on one hand, I think he was very clear that white nationalism and Nazi - the Nazi party is terrible. I find, you know, they are a disgrace. I think what I would have said maybe a little differently is I would have stood with the protesters against white nationals, against the Nazis.
But I also think and this was lost by some on the other side of the aisle. That no matter the rightness of our cause, we can't resort to violence. I don't care if you are on the right side of the issue or not. I didn't fight and I didn't deploy four times to Iraq in the Middle East just watch Americans beating up other Americans.
I think I did fight for freedom of speech, though. So I'm concerned when -- I worry about the vitriol in this country on both sides. I think the president was trying to get to that. I think it could have been said a little more clearly, though.
BERMAN: Said a little more clearly. All right Congressman Don Bacon, General, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate your time.
BACON: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. So, this could get pretty tense. Hours from now, the president will be in Arizona for this campaign-style rally. The question is, what will he campaign for and for whom? For instance, that state's Republican incumbent senator, will he say words against him as he has been doing?
And is a race against time. The attorneys for a man scheduled to be executed in just hours say he did not stab a woman to death. And they say the DNA tests prove it.
[10:15:34] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. That was President Trump last night. This was his speech about strategy in Afghanistan. But you might have noticed those words not at all about Afghanistan, very much about his response, much criticized response to the violence in Charlottesville. Let's talk about this with CNN political commentator, Shermichael Singleton and Jennifer Psaki. Also with us, Susan Page the Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."
You know, Susan, I know that the last hour, that statement last night, not like the president's first response to Charlottesville, sort of like his second response to Charlottesville. But they're not like his third response to Charlottesville or everything we have heard since then. So, how believable is it, Susan?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, let's see what he says tonight in Arizona when he's not presumably going to be reading off a teleprompter the way he was last night. Will he be talking about love and acceptance and tolerance and the importance to treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated ourselves or will we hear the kind of language that we traditionally have heard at Trump rallies which is more ruckus and little more designed for his core - to rally his core supporters.
BERMAN: Shermichael, -- it always seemed to me the easiest thing in the world for President Trump to do exactly what Susan Page just said, go to Phoenix. Just weed out loud what you said last night at the top of your speech about Afghanistan and then everyone will say, OK, maybe, time to move on. Can he do that?
SHEMICHEAL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we most certainly know that he has the ability to do so, recall Monday's remarks and then translate to Tuesday, off-the-cuff, was a complete disaster.
Look, I think, the president has to keep in mind though hewas elected by many of the people that will probably be at the rally tonight, he is the president of the United States of America. As president, you're not only speaking to the individuals who voted for you, you not only speak to the, quote, unquote "red states" or "blue states." You speak to the collective, this great collective we call the United States.
And so, I think the president has to be cognizant of that at this rally tonight. I'm almost certain a lot of Republicans will be watching this because for many in the party, they are beginning to wonder, what is next? Can the president show stability and discernment particularly on this issue because what you risk is isolating a lot of Americans. I'm an African-American, happen to be a Republican. If there are other minorities in the party, I think it's legitimate to beg the question, is there a place in a party for diverse people that this type of rhetoric is tolerated? And I think the president needs to make it clear that it is not.
BERMAN: Do I sense anxiety or uncertainty in your voice about whether or not he is capable of that?
SINGLETON: You most certainly do. I think if you look at history, it will tell us that we just are not sure what President Trump will or won't say tonight. But, you know, I have to have some level of confidence in him as I would have in any individual. I think the president is well aware of his remarks Tuesday and the negative connotation that a lot of people received from what they heard and saw. And I think it is becoming upon him to make the right steps to correct that error and it's my hope that he will. I can't say with certainty, but it's my hope.
BERMAN: You know, Jen Psaki, this is not just about President Trump right now. This is about the United States of America and sentiment in the United States of America and overnight in Charlottesville, at the city council meeting, we saw a lot of anger. We saw a lot of people very upset still.
In this case, they were specifically upset about how that city had responded to the hate rally, the Unite the Right rally there. And people were, you know, complaining about the police response and whatnot. But you can see how nerves are. Obviously, I don't think you will dispute that the president's response to Charlottesville only made the situation worse. But what is the way out of this, as we look at this anger, Jen?
JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look. I think, first, you know, one president's scripted remarks in a speech are not going heal the pain that the country is feeling from what he said repeatedly last week. So he does have a role. He is contributed to this in a significant way. But this has always been addressing racial issues, racial challenges, racial issues with the police.
[10:20:02] It's always going to be local, something that needs to happen at the local level and working for President Obama as I did for almost 10 years, he felt that way.
Now, I think, he played much more of a role in healing the country than the current president has, clearly. But he felt this need to be discussions and debates. Sometimes they're going to be tensed, sometimes there are going to be disagreements at the local level.
And so, I think what we saw last night was that there's still a lot of pain. There's still lot of hurt about what happened last week, how the president responded, how a number of people responded. And I don't think that's going to be healed, including by the president until there's a lot more conversations and debates and that we hear more from the president on a consistent basis about how he wants to bring the country together instead of just a one off written speech.
BERMAN: All right, response to Afghanistan. There was criticism from an interesting front about the president's, what he calls new strategy in relation to Afghanistan last night. If you look at "Breitbart" overnight, they had a whole bunch of headlines not particularly flattering but the one that caught my eye, President Trump's America First base on happy with flip-flop Afghanistan speech.
You know, Susan Page, is "Breitbart" laying down a bit of a gauntlet here saying, look, we are here, we are not going let you forget what you told some of us in your base. And by the way, hi, I'm Steve Bannon.
PAGE: Exactly. Steve Bannon left the White House on Friday. It is on Monday that "Breitbart" unleashed, really a torn of criticism of the president for changing course from his - some of his campaign positions when it comes to whether to stay in Afghanistan and in fact, to double down with even more troops there. And it is clear that Steve Bannon is devoted to an ideology, not to a person that he is going to unleash "Breitbart's" fury when President Trump does things he disagrees with.
And the question here is, will the president's core supporters be swayed by "Breitbart" or will they listen to the arguments that President Trump made last night in making his case for Afghanistan.
And here is another question, was the speech a one off for President Trump or will he return and try to make the case to Americans that America's longest war is one that needs to go on a while more.
BERMAN: It's interesting. Will he keep talking about Afghanistan in other forms as well?
All right, guys, anytime I do a panel and I can get unanimity, I think, it's a great thing. I think we are going to get unanimity on this next subject right now, which is at "The Daily Caller." For whatever reason, because they did not have enough to do, because the eclipse wasn't enough to keep them happy, decided to criticize the clothing worn by Baron Trump.
The headline was, you know, it's about time the president's son starts dressing the part. Some might suggest it's about time "The Daily Caller," you know, keep things like this to itself. People like Chelsea Clinton. Let me read this. I have it right here. Chelsea Clinton in other words says, "It's high time the media and everyone leave Barron Trump alone and let him have the private childhood he deserves."
Shermichael, of course, everyone should let him have the childhood he deserves. Of course, "The Daily Caller" should be criticizing his T- shirt, which by the way, I like and would wear myself because it's a very nice shade of red.
SINGLETON: I mean, John, he's a kid, for Christ's sake. You know, sometimes I think, we really go too far in our political rhetoric and the things we tend to focus on. Allow him to be a kid. Yes, he's a kid in the White House, but at the end of the day, he should have all of the fun and explorations as any other typical American kid. And if that means wearing a shirt and basketball shorts and maybe even a baseball cap if he wants to, let him do that. Let him enjoy being young. Because I can guarantee, when he gets older, he is going to wish he was young again.
BERMAN: You can wear that cap backwards if he wants.
Jen Psaki, you know, you have been inside communications shops before. If you are inside the White House and you see something like that from "The Daily Caller," you know, what do you do? Do you call? Do you threaten them? Do you just try to make it go away by ignoring it? Do you just say this is just some site trying to you know get clicks?
PSAKI: Well, you know, the momma grizzly in the White House right now, which there's always one. So maybe Melania Trump now is Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton before that. It's probably pretty angry. And I think any White House staffer will know that.
So, what we would do and I would say the media was quite receptive to that, it really appeals to people's humanity and appeal to people as parents, not just reporters, as parents, not just editors about the fact that kids should always be off limits. I don't care if Barron Trump wears a rainbow Tutu and a sparkly T-shirt and has black eye make up on nobody should be writing about it, he is a kid.
BERMAN: All right, guys, agreed. As I said, unanimity, a rare thing but we did achieve it today. Shermichael, Jen, Susan, thanks so much. Good discussion.
SINGLETON: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: All right. Divers find the remains in the search for the 10 missing sailors of the USS McCain. We have new developments just ahead.
[10:29:12] BERMAN: This morning, the navy confirms that some remains of 10 missing sailors have been found. This after the U.S. destroyer, USS John McCain collided with an oil tanker off the coast to Singapore.
CNN's Matt Rivers is there. Matt, what are you learning?
MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just got back from a press conference with the commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet, Scott Swift and the admiral was the first to inform us that this had turned into a tragedy. It was during the day today that divers that were working on the USS John S. McCain which had been moored and appeared not far from where we are right now.
Actually managed to get into some of this sealed compartment and the damaged part of the ship, that have been sealed during the flooding that happened as a result to that accident. And they were able to find some remains of the 10 missing U.S. sailors. The admiral was not specific in terms of how many U.S. sailors were found there. The other thing that happened was the Malaysian Navy which has been assisting in this search, actually found the body in the waters near where this incident happened. That body in the --