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Trump Chief of Staff: I'm Not Quitting, Not Being Fired; Trump Friend: The President is Not Isolated; 83% of Puerto Rico Still Without Power; 45 Dead, At Least 113 People Missing In Puerto Rico; Hostage Freed From Terrorists, Refuse To Return To U.S.; Rising Death Toll, Worsening Conditions; Wildfire Death Toll Climbs To 29, Hundreds Missing; Wildfire Death Toll Ties Deadliest Ever Fire in the State; West Wing Does Damage Control Amid Bad Headlines; White House Chaos?. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 12, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

By any ordinary standard for any ordinary White House, tonight might have gone into the books as a pretty good one. Five hostages freed from captivity at the hands of a Taliban affiliate, the president signs an order, whether you agree with it or not, doing what he promised to do about Obamacare, no major drama, no new scandals.

Sure, there was a tweet about putting a time limit on Puerto Rico disaster relief and a reaction to his claim, but a rising stock market somehow lowers the national debt, which is doesn't. That said, the daylight hours were pretty drama-free. Except for this, a rare press appearance by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to deal with all the hours days and weeks leading up to today which as you know have been far from drama-free.

The headlines had been punishing. Trump unleashes himself from would- be handlers, lashing out mornings, nights, and weekends.

I hate everyone in White House, Trump seethes as advisers fear the president is unraveling.

Corker calls the White House an adult day-care center in response to Trump's latest Twitter tirade.

Trump friend Tom Barrack's unprecedented cry for help.

What these stories share is they're coming either from close friends and allies speaking out or White House insiders talking to reporters, painting a picture of deep dysfunction in the West Wing and in many cases grave shortcomings in the president himself.

It turned into a tide. So, today, Chief of Staff Kelly who is described in some of the reporting as feuding with the president or on the verge of departure, voluntary or otherwise went before reporters and basically said they have it all wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When I read in the morning -- I read the -- I won't tell you what I read, but watch TV in the morning, it's just -- it is astounding to me how much is misreported. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are operating off of contacts, leaks, whatever you call them, but I would just offer to you the advice. I'd say -- you're maybe develop some better sources. Some person that works way down inside an office or -- well, just develop some better sources.


COOPER: Well, CNN's Sara Murray was at that briefing. She joins us now.

Do we know why General Kelly decided to make this appearance today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it seemed pretty clear that the general wanted to defend the White House, its procedures, but also his own fate in his own words. Listen to what he said about whether he may be considering leaving the White House.


KELLY: I would just offer to you that -- although I read it all the time pretty consistently, I'm not quitting today. I don't believe and I just talked to the president, I don't think I'm being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I'm thinking of leaving.


MURRAY: Anderson, this was General Kelly's open to reporters. This is one of the first things he said when he walked into that briefing room, took to the podium as chief of staff. He wanted to make it very clear that he's not planning on going anywhere.

COOPER: He was also very clear about what his role is and what his role isn't.

MURRAY: That's right. He essentially said it stopped trying to judge my effectiveness as chief of staff based on the president's Twitter habits. He made it abundantly clear that he does not see it as his job to try to control the president. He doesn't see it as his job to say Mr. President you should or should not tweet that but rather it's to make sure that the president knows what decisions need to be made, that he has the right information, that he has accurate information at hand and that he has the right people briefing him on his various options so he can reach a decision.

So, Kelly, obviously has gotten a lot of flak from plenty of chartering heads outside of the White House saying he's not effective because he can't control the Twitter tirades. Today, he pushed back very hard against that narrative.

COOPER: He also spoke about what the president feels are his biggest challenges right now. MURRAY: That's right. Among the biggest challenges, of course, we

know this, Anderson, you know this, he listed the media. He said that the media needs better sources. He said the president is frustrated by the press coverage he gets. He's frustrated when he reads accounts of conversations that he doesn't believe went the way he recalls them.

But he also said right up there with the press in terms of his top frustrations is Congress, the fact that Congress moves very slowly. It's a slow moving body. And in Trump's mind, he has the solutions to all these problems, whether it's Obamacare, whether it is creating jobs, whether it is tax reform, and it's Congress that's dragging their feet on implementing them.

And this is what we have also been hearing from those sources that John Kelly says we need to improve upon, that the president is very frustrated because he looks at Congress and he sees his legislative agenda stalled.

COOPER: Yes. Sara Murray, appreciate that.

More now on General Kelly's complaint about the reporting lately.

Joining us now, "The New York Times'" Michael Shear, CNN's Jim Acosta, and Dana Bash.

So, Jim, General Kelly says basically everything is fine. Stories to the contrary are misreported. You're in the White House every day. Is that in fact the case?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I guess being told that we need better sources is better than being told we're the enemy of the people, which is how the president described us earlier is this year.

[20:05:06] You know, I think General Kelly was expressing the same frustration that you hear from the president and other officials here in the administration. They feel like we're getting the story wrong, but of course that is always what you hear from a White House when your approval rating is mired in the 30s, which is where they are right now. They can't get out of that territory.

I will say just to echo what Sara was saying, I think what John Kelly said earlier today to reporters about what he views his job to be is exactly right. That is what we've been hearing from our sources as well, that one of the frustrations that General Kelly has had and one of the things that he's tried to clamp down on is the information coming into the president, the information coming into the Oval Office.

You know, before General Kelly was on board, you know, just about anybody could come into the Oval Office and give counsel to the president. It was sort of a "Star Wars" bar of outside advisers. He has clamped down on that and my understanding from talking to sources, he feels good about that. The question is, what is the outcome of that?

At this point, it has not resulted in a more orderly, more, I guess, synchronized White House when it comes to messaging.

COOPER: Michael, I mean, you have a new article for "The New York Times" that said General Kelly's remarks were, quote, partly about presidential cleanup. It also was perfectly clear that he knew Mr. Trump would be watching.

Is that all idea of basically an audience of one?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMESS: Right. What struck me was the tone was incredibly un-Trump like, right? Kelly came out. He was jovial with the press. He didn't come out and attack like Sean Spicer used to do or like President Trump often does at press conferences.

He was sort of bantering. He went out of his way to kind of soften the edges of some of the -- and kind of walk back some of the things that the president has tweeted or said. But at the same time, there were moments that you can tell he got in a quip against the press, knowing full well that President Trump is watching and part of the way that Kelly and others communicate with this president is through the television set.

COOPER: Dana, Kelly did seem to suggest that much of the White House press corps is relying on bad leaks from low level sources.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He did and that's his job to say that. You know, I'm not sure what other reporters sources are. I can say with a lot of certainty that the reporters you're talking to now have good ones, good sources. And so --

COOPER: Also, Senator Corker came out publicly and made some stunning statements as well.

BASH: Well, there's that too. Absolutely.

Look, I think that the idea of this press conference was so fascinating for a lot of reasons, but I think, remember, it was not that long ago that General Kelly was in the Marines. He was not in politics. And when he was first at the Department of Homeland Security, I interviewed him and brought p a quote that he had given when he retired from the Marines saying the thing that he dreaded most was being offered a job where he had to drive up the Beltway every day.

Well, Anderson, today proved that not only is he driving up the Beltway, he is kind of the ringmaster of the Beltway right now. He proved that he is a political force, that he is a political being by going out there and doing very rudimentary political damage control and doing it quite well in the sense that, as Michael was saying, he was very self-deprecating. He was jovial. He sort of got the toing and froing of what it takes to work with the press and not just against the press.

COOPER: Jim, also the idea that according to Kelly, his only frustration is the media that he has no frustration about trying to keep the president on message or away from Twitter rants. I mean, I guess that's -- what else is he going to say? But it does seem to fly in the face of a lot of reporting.

ACOSTA: I think that's right. But I -- to echo what Dana was saying, I do think that General Kelly's influence is expanding in this town. Look at the new pick for Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen is a deputy of General Kelly here at the White House. She is going to be the secretary of homeland security unless there's a major problem up on Capitol Hill.

But, look, I was talking to a couple of different sources today about the president's Twitter habits.

One of those sources said, and this was somebody who worked on the campaign, works in the administration, said, listen, during the campaign, we thought he would stop tweeting. When we got to around Labor Day because that's a serious part of the campaign. And then once we got into the transition, we thought he would stop tweeting, because, you know, it's serious. We're in a transition. And once he gets into office he'll stop tweeting because he's actually president of the United States.

The moral of the story is he's never going to stop tweeting even though it causes all of these problems here in Washington. I will tell you, Anderson, I talked to a friend of the president, who he talks to on a regular basis, short while ago, this person said, and this is a friend of the president, the tweets should be reviewed. But if you heard General Kelly earlier today, he has no interest inning do that. He feels like that can't be controlled.

BASH: Can I --

COOPER: Michael -- go ahead, Dana.

BASH: Can I say one thing? Obviously, we're focusing on Twitter because it is so unprecedented. But it's not just Twitter. It was a couple of nights ago -- and, now, I'm losing track of Trump time and space continuum.

[20:10:06] But he was standing with generals it was last week and he said this is the calm before the storm. I mean, talk about a chaos making comment. He doesn't need Twitter for that.

And I was told by somebody he talked to not long after that that he went back to the residence and watched cable television at night, that night and laughed, because he did that on purpose. He wanted to throw that out there in order to just stir things up because he enjoys doing that.

That is the kind of thing that General Kelly, nobody, they're not going to change him because that's who he is.

COOPER: Michael, it's also interesting because time and time again at this White House -- people from this White House have come forward and said, look, there's no chaos here, there's no problem here. I remember "The New York Times" reporting early on reporting about President Trump's attitudes towards the attorney general that he was mad about the attorney general, and the White House were saying, oh, no, there's nothing to that, and then, lo and behold, the president starts tweeting publicly about the attorney general and making public comments.

So, I mean, it does seem like time and again, we've heard nothing to see here, and then all of a sudden, there is something to see and somebody gets fired. Although Tom Barrack says fired is a strong word.

SHEAR: Look, I think that you can understand the motive for this White House or any White House to try to deny the story that's right in front of everybody's faces. I think back to the first days of the administration with the travel ban where that chaotic weekend that people were arriving at airports and there was utter chaos as to who could come into the country and who couldn't.

And I was talking to senior administration officials who were denying there was anything sort of out of the ordinary going on. And, of course, later, when they looked back on it, if you remind administration officials now, they sort of privately acknowledge, yes, that didn't go well. I think what you have is a kind of initial instinct and General Kelly, Chief of Staff Kelly showed it today, an initial instinct to try to deny, deny, deny.

And the truth is that the kind of reporting that Dana and Jim and my paper have done is really beyond denial at some point, right? You can pick with a fact or a little nitpick with a fact here or there, but at the end of the day, we're all getting the same picture. And we're delivering that to the American public and they're seeing that.

And so, the denials fall somewhat flat.

COOPER: And, Dana, I mean, "The Vanity Fair" report that's out this week claiming that Steve Bannon has said there's only a 30 percent chance of the president serving a full term, that Bannon told the president he should be worried about his cabinet using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. I mean, are the Republicans in Washington rooting for the president to succeed or just his agenda to succeed?

BASH: I'm sorry.

That's a very good way to put it. It's a well-put question because it really is telling about what is going on in Washington.

Look, I think that there are patriots genuinely and they want the presidency to succeed. There are very far Republicans on Capitol Hill who thought that a Trump presidency from the get-go was a great idea, but they kind of latched onto it, some say made a Faustian bargain to get their agenda passed.

That's why looking ahead, tax reform if this doesn't happen, then it's going to potentially really change the dynamic and change the answer to the questions you just asked.

SHEAR: And just to add one really quick thing. I think that what -- the $64,000 question that nobody knows the answer to is how much is his personal -- is President Trump's personal popularity and his personal fate tied to that agenda, right? It's unclear.

And so, on Capitol Hill, there's a lot of nervousness about do you back away, and if you back away, is that too much? Do you embrace him and then risk -- take all the risks that that entails. And so, the uncertainty is what adds to some of the confusion.

COOPER: Yes. Michael Shear, Dana Bash, Jim Acosta, thank you all. Appreciate it.

Just ahead, does one of the president's closest friends think that this White House is in crisis. He speaks with CNN's Gloria Borger who joins us next.

And later, the president's tweet on Puerto Rico seems to treat the American hurricane survivors there differently from the American hurricane survivors in Florida, Texas, and pretty much any place else we can remember. We'll bring you a live report from Puerto Rico tonight on 360.


[20:18:00] COOPER: At the top of the program, we talked about some of the less than flattering stories. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly spent the day trying to downplay or out and out discredit. One concern an old and close friend of the president who spoke with the "Washington Post" yesterday, the headline, just to remind you, Trump friend Tom Barracks' unprecedented cry for help.

He said he's been shocked and stunned, his words, by the things the president has said and tweeted and said of his old friend, quote, he's better than this.

With that on the table and a day when the administration was doing damage control, Tom Barrack sat down with CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

The big question, would he back down from his criticism or double down on it? Take a look.


TOM BARRACK, FRIEND OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: So when I say that sometimes things have shocked me, it's not unlike all of us, right? The president is dis-intermediating the establishment, and what's that he was sent there to do. And he's a revolutionary and a warrior of sorts.

He has a brilliant aptitude of being able to take severe positions which then allow them to draw back to a median.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me ask you about these reports that he is isolated, angry, frustrated, even at his own advisers and that he seems to be in a different place than, say, he was six months ago, feeling hemmed in, constrained. Do you -- do you sense any of that when you talk to him?

BARRACK: No. Quite honestly, zero. I think it's exactly the opposite, you know? And he has a great team.

What the president always did is curate points of view. So, you know, he had Bannon, he had Reince, he had Jared. He had a whole series of people around him who had different points of view.

As time has gone on, they've matriculated into other places. And you have --

BORGER: Or been fired.

BARRACK: Well, I mean, fired is a harsh word. You move from campaign to candidate to transition to governing. It's different tool kits. But today, you have the best adults in the sand box you've ever had at the White House.

[20:20:03] BORGER: But -- I mean, I don't have to tell you that -- about Secretary Tillerson calling the president a moron privately and how upset the president was about that and what friction that causes, of course, in their relationship. Am I wrong about that?

BARRACK: Look, I don't think it causes any friction because neither want --

BORGER: It doesn't?

BARRACK: Neither one of them really take too seriously what the reports of those kind of incidents are. I think Secretary Tillerson did a great job in saying that's an irrelevancy to what he's doing. And I can tell you, President Trump is so far above worrying about words.

BORGER: But there seems to be a disconnect because on background lots of people at the White House are saying this is a president who is mad, frustrated s isolated, tweeting about Senate leaders, getting in fights, you know, getting in fights with the leaders of the Senate. And you're saying he's fine.

BARRACK: Absolutely. And look, he's not --

BORGER: How do you reconcile that?

BARRACK: Here is how you reconcile it. First of all, he's not isolated. It's a president who has managed his whole life, for the 40 years that I've known him, he's been successful at everything, but he manages by conflict. So, he brings in various points of view, he listens to them all and then he curates a point of view based on differing ideas. Nothing has changed.

But what's made it better is General Kelly is creating a different menu for him to curate. So, a lot of these issues that used to come to him impromptu of the open door of the Oval Office have stopped. General Kelly organizes an agenda.

But I can tell you there's only one president. There's only one person who creates the agenda. There's only one person who makes those final decisions. BORGER: And there are reports that he kind of chafes at these


BARRACK: I don't think he chafes. I think he's learning to govern an ungovernable amount of work. Now, he's governing a different way.

Even the congressional agenda, you know, he didn't take on Senator Corker just on his own. Senator Corker made a statement, and as we've talked about, the president is a fighter. So rather than taking the diplomatic way out and saying, I'm not going to engage in this kind of dialogue with a member of the Senate --

BORGER: Why wouldn't he do that? Right. Why wouldn't he do that, though?

BARRACK: Why wouldn't he do, because he's a fighter, that's who he is. And he looks at his base and says, you know what? Everybody, everybody would like to see me not put up with a statement like that. And I'm not going to put up with it because I don't need it.


COOPER: Gloria Borger joins us, along with former senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, host of the "AXE FILES".

Gloria, what Tom Barrack told you was like 180 degrees different between what he told the -- from what he told "The Washington Post" just yesterday that he was shocked and stunned by some of the president's rhetoric. I read a transcript of the interview, I'd just got to call out a couple of things he said.

He said about the president, he's been the best communication in history. Tillerson, calling him a moron doesn't cause any friction because, quote, the president is so far above worrying about words.

Are you kidding?

BORGER: That struck me. That struck me too.

Look, Tom Barrack clearly heard from the White House on this. I don't believe he heard from the president directly, but I'm sure he will at some point. And I think it was creating, shall we say, a problem for him.

And I think he felt like in many ways the chief of staff felt today, that he had to get out there and he had to explain himself. And as you see, he really worked very hard to try and make it clear how much he admires the president and how the president cares about words and all the rest of it and kind of explain --

COOPER: The spin on everything, like nobody has been fired from the White House. They have all in his words matriculated.

BORGER: I know, right.

COOPER: Everything is -- that the president has been successful in anything and that -- yes, he said fired is a harsh word.

BORGER: Right. It's a little Alice in Wonderland, but I think Tom Barrack is ultimately loyal to the president and I think sometimes the president demands that he can see that loyalty, and he was particularly upset about, you know, the headline in the "Washington Post," which was he's better than that.

And I think that stuck in the craw over at the White House and we've all covered White Houses in which they have to do cleanup and I think this was a day of cleanup.

COOPER: David, is that what it is to you? It does seem like this interview is part of a larger pattern that we've seen today, the White House trying to get their arms around these stories and control the message on Kelly today at the podium being part of that as well.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, look, first of all, as I hear you guys talk, I'm wondering how Reince Priebus is sitting out his matriculation right now.


AXELROD: But, yes, look, I think that there is a pattern here where people try and send signals to the president, as I think Tom Barrack was trying to send him a signal through that interview.

[20:25:07] And sometimes they over shoot the runway. They're not well-received and then they are essentially ordered to clean it up, and they've been -- and they're notified in no uncertain terms that they should clean it up.

It does happen in White Houses that people have to cleanup things that they said. It doesn't happen to this degree, and it's very unusual for high members of the administration or friends of the president to use the media to send him messages, but that is how he receives messages. And sometimes you end up with situations like this.

COOPER: And, Gloria, you got the sense with this interview today was in direct response to all the attention the interview got yesterday.

BORGER: Sure. Yes, absolutely. I think that Barrack felt the need to go on the air and proclaim, you know, fealty in a way because he is a friend of the president. And I think that he felt badly about what had occurred and he's not going to say, gee, I really made a mistake or whatever, but when he heard from the White House, it's clear that they felt that I believe that they felt that he had made a mistake.

And this is a White House, don't forget, all the stories of the past week have been about an isolated, angry, frustrated president, about Rex Tillerson calling him a moron, about General Kelly thinking perhaps about leaving. And so, it's no coincidence that you have Kelly out there today joking about the fact that he's not leaving and he hasn't fired anybody. And Tom Barrack out there after his "Washington Post" interview trying to kind of be his own shovel brigade and make it right as far as the president is concerned.

AXELROD: One of the ironies about this, Anderson, is the notion that he is above reacting to these kinds of affronts, the president.

COOPER: Right, the criticisms by others, they're just water off a duck's back. I mean, that's --

AXELROD: This is a guy who will punch down at anybody who takes a shot at him, and there is no doubt that he was well aware of the reports about how unhappy Kelly was -- I'm talking about the president now.


COOPER: Well aware of Barrack's comments, and I have no doubt that he made his views known to both of them, and that their work today was not something that occurred to them in the middle of the night where they woke up and said, gee, maybe I ought to dial that back a little. I think this was at presidential urging.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, thank you. David Axelrod as well.

And just a reminder, you can watch "THE AXE FILES" Saturday night 7:00 Eastern Time. David's special guest this week is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Up next, three weeks after Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, the vast majority of the island still has no power. People are still struggling to get enough food and water. But now, the president says first responders can't stay forever. Details next.


[20:36:53] COOPER: As the people of Puerto Rico, American citizens of course, are still struggling to find even water and food after Hurricane Maria. The president is taking to Twitter. This morning he wrote, we cannot keep FEMA, the military and the first responders who have been amazing under the most difficult circumstances in Puerto Rico forever.

It's only been three weeks. Keep in mind as FEMA and the other first responders often do stay in disaster zones for long time and for sure longer than three weeks, that goes for federal dollars for recovery as well. But the 12 years after Hurricane Katrina penned at the Gulf Coast, there's still money in the federal budget for recovery almost half a billion dollars worth, yet three weeks after Maria went 83% of Puerto Ricans still don't have power and won't for months. The president already seems to be setting some of sort of a countdown clock to leave.

Ed Lavandera has reality check now from the ground.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Humberto Guzman is racing against time. His driven by the urgency to save the lives of Puerto Ricans sweltering in the aftermath.

(on-camera): Do you think people are just hanging on by a string here?

HUMBERTO GUZMAN, MEDICAL VOLUNTEER: And also that's what we're looking for that the elderly some more frail.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): We're in the town of Yabucoa which is a city that sits right on the water edge on the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, the eye of Hurricane Maria roared right through here.

(voice-over): Dr. Guzman and his team of volunteer doctors are offering medical care to hardest-hit areas of the island. The doctors have walked through 32 different towns in the last three weeks, checking in on storm victims like Erma Torres and her husband.

GUZMAN: People are living on the edge right now.

LAVANDERA (on-camera): You get emotional about it?

GUZMAN: They're opening their houses to us. And we're able to see conditions that they're living in. It's impacting for us.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The hurricane ripped part of the roof off their home, they've received little if any relief and they're not strong enough to stand in lines for supplies. Dr. Guzman worries that across Puerto Rico, there could be hundreds of storm victims not strong enough to survive.

(on-camera): Do you think the death toll now is accurate number?

GUZMAN: I don't think so, I don't think so. We've been through the island the last 20 days and we've seen the -- I'll see (INAUDIBLE) trouble.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Mark Sawyer leads a group called Wings of Hope and helps the medical volunteer with logistics and supplies. He says there are dozens of communities that haven't been reached by relief workers and with more than 110 people still listed as missing, he also fears that death toll will rise significantly.

MARK SAWYER, WINGS OF HOPE, PUERTO RICO: Every day is survival mode for most people. We go out in the more remote areas, I mean some of these people have nothing. It's crisis for them.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And Dr. Guzman fears for those storm victims who've been cut off from access to medical care.

(on-camera): And do you worry that the people that might die in the next few days or the coming weeks, that those were preventible deaths? If help would have gotten here sooner, that they would have been able be safe?

GUZMAN: Certainly, certainly. We've seen the struggles in the communities, we've seen the struggles in hospitals. In my opinion the death toll that is reported is really low.


COOPER: Ed, I'm wondering just the reaction on the ground to the president's tweets. What's it's been?

[20:35:05] LAVANDERA: Well, you know, its fascinating Anderson, as you can imagine. A lot of discussed of those tweets. You know, a presidential tweet these days might move around the world at the speed of light, but here in Puerto Rico it moves at a snail's pace. And a lot of times when you talk to people about those tweets, you're telling them about it first time. That's how hampered communications are.

But everyone we spoke to about it extremely angered. And as you might imagine obviously the mayor here of San Juan who's had her issues with the president, she responded to the president saying, "It's not that you don't get it, you're incapable of fulfilling the moral imperative to help the people of Puerto Rico. Shame on you." She wrote, and then governor of Puerto Rico responded, "The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our nation." So not just at the official levels but everyone we spoke to on the ground here today extremely angered by that tweet today, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Ed Lavandera thanks very much for being there.

Up next, an American mom, her Canadian husband and three young children who were born in captivity are now free after five long years held by terrorists affiliated with the Taliban. So the family is refusing to return home. We'll tell you why, how they were freed and what happens, next, when we continue.


[20:40:08] COOPER: The president last night promised important news from the country, the ones he said totally disrespected us, his words. Today, we learned what it is that we was talking about. Pakistani forces recovering an American woman, her husband and three children born in five years of captivity, the hands of the Haqqani Network brands the Taliban. Last night U.S. intelligence assets tracking the family let Pakistan know they were being moved. Pakistani commander stop their vehicle there was gunfire, five captors were killed, were told that captives were free.

The president today did two thing, he thanked Pakistan and claimed victory. For there are questions about the circumstances surrounding this and obviously welcome development as well as complications involving the family's repatriation. Our Michelle Kosinksi has the very latest for us tonight, from the State Department. So what more are you learning about how this family was rescue?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: So we know that U.S. intelligence had been tracking them, seeing movements in this remote mountainous area, this tribal region on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. So they notified the Pakistanis, and before the U.S. could launch some kind of plan or rescue operation, three hours later to their surprise they hear from Pakistan that it was over and they had the family safely.

So, there are plenty of questions, especially at first, around that. I mean how did Pakistan manage to end it so quickly? We know that there was no prisoner exchange and we know that the Taliban had wanted that. And we also know that for a long time U.S. has believed that Pakistani Intelligence has maintained some ties with the Haqqani Network. But it turns out this was a dangerous and violent operation and here's what family of the Canadian Josh Boyle told them about his, you know, last moments after five years in captivity as he was being moved with his wife and three kids in trunk of a vehicle. Listen.


PATRICK BOYLE, FATHER OF JOSH BOYLE: That five of them being in the back of a car being transferred. And a car being stopped, surrounded by Josh described 35 Pakistani army officials, a fire fight breaking out. That all five captors had been killed by the Pakistani army. And all five of our Boyles are safe and OK. Josh said he was hit with some shrapnel and our governments have confirmed that he was damaged in the leg. That's all with he know right now. About that.


KOSINSKI: The Pakistani military had confirmed many of the details but we're hearing very little tonight from the U.S. side, Anderson.

COOPER: And the husband, Joshua Boyle, who's Canadian, I understand had concerns about traveling with the U.S. military.

KOSINSKI: Right, so they wanted once they were rescued to go to Canadian High Commission, where they talked to both American and Canadian officials. That he didn't want to board plane back to the United States. A senior U.S. official told CNN that he was worried about facing law enforcement scrutiny because he had been married for one year to a Canadian woman who was the sister of a suspected terrorist who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay prison. And was suspected of trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, that family is expected of having terror ties.

So apparently he was worried about that. But tonight the Justice Department put out statement saying that there is no reason for him to fear arrest. So what's happening now is, is thought that they will stay in Pakistan for 24 hours or so where a plan will be sorted out as to where they go, whether its Canada or United States and when.

COOPER: Right, Michelle Kosinski, I appreciate that one.

We'll get perspective now from David Rohde who is a CNN global affairs analyst, online news director for the "New Yorker", he was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven months and 10 days before he and another captive manage to escape. Also with us is CNN national security analyst and author "United States for Jihad" Peter Bergen.

Peter, I know you've been talking to sources as well. I mean what more you've been learning about this?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the U.S. intelligence was given to the Pakistanis at 4:30, Wednesday afternoon, yesterday. Three hours later at 7:30 they launched the operation. It was largely conducted according to Pakistani officials by intelligence agents whether sort of perimeter ring of security provided by Pakistani military.

According to the Pakistani military official I spoke to, not only were some of the hostage takers killed but some are arrested. So it was even a still a developing story. We have the account of the Boyles who saw one thing, we have the encounter of Pakistani military official. The Pakistani military officials was very clear that there was no deal here with the Haqqanis. We know there's no prisoner exchange, there was no quid pro quo here. This was a straight rescue operation.

[20:45:00] By the way, one thing that's important Anderson very important is, these kind of rescue operations are often the most dangerous things that could happen to hostage. We've seen repeatedly even with, you know, very sophisticated SEAL team six operations in Yemen and Afghanistan that often the hostages killed by it, also takers wherein revertibly by the people rescuing. So the fact that there was absolutely the -- you know, that this went flawlessly, I think is something on the line but often that's not the case for these kinds of operations.

COOPER: And David, I know you spoke to U.S. -- U.S. intelligence official, I understand they told you sending U.S. forces into Pakistan was considered at one point.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It was, but there was concern about blowback. There was so much anger in Pakistan after the U.S. raid, the unilateral raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. That they were concerned about that. The officials that there was an issue of timing and that, you know, they -- the Pakistanis had forces in the area and so the decision was to tell the Pakistanis and have them go ahead and carry out the raid.

COOPER: Is it -- I mean is it surprising to you David that U.S. intelligence seemed to be aware of their location? And also the Pakistan was so quickly able to mobilize?

ROHDE: I'm not surprised. I think that -- I think this was a lucky thing intelligence-wise and I think some kind of maybe an intercept or maybe some human source that told them they were moving the captives. So I -- you know, I would say that was very rare. It's what's very rare is that the Pakistanis actually acted on the intelligence, you know.

And it's not clear if this represents a change in Pakistan's, you know, decade-long support for the Haqqani Network and other Taliban factions or this sort of one-off. They got this intelligence, they'd be embarrassed if they didn't act on it and they've done this, but nothing will change in terms of their long-term strategy of supporting the Haqqanis and the Taliban.

COOPER: Peter, I mean one of the things that president had said when he sort of hinted about this yesterday was saying that a military adviser come into him and said look this wouldn't have happened years ago, the Pakistanis wouldn't have done this. The question is, you know, should the -- does the president get some credit for tough rhetoric he's had toward Pakistan that this maybe motivated them in some way?

BERGEN: Well that's very possible but I will also say, I mean these hostages have been held for five years. There are hundreds of people in the U.S. government who've been working in one way or another at the FBI, the State Department, the CIA, NSA, you know, working to release these hostages. So, you know, the idea that it all started when Trump came in to office that I think I'm very skeptical of.

On the other hand other fact is he has toughened the rhetoric. And by the way the Obama administration was pretty tough with Pakistan, as Susan Rice visited and read them the riot act about their alleged support of the Haqqanis.

So, you know, that has been a kind of fairly stand of the American kind of dealings with the Pakistani. But certainly President Trump has it, up the rhetoric a little bit. Was at -- you know, was this is a response? It's hard to tell, because as David said, you know, basically this was a very, very lucky break in terms of the intelligence and people acting very quickly. And these are not things you can kind of, you know, just -- you can't plan for this. And, you know, the fact that they were moving hostages made it a lot easier to do this operation. Imagine for instance this was in the House, where it was well defended, and your looking at a much harder targets.

So this was window of opportunity that was pretty brief and acted upon quite successfully.

COOPER: It's also David extraordinary, I mean she had three children while in captivity.

ROHDEN: Yes, it is amazing. And that, you know, I'm biased from my own captivity. But I blame kidnappers most of all, five years, three children born in captivity is extraordinary. There are two Americans still being held by the Haqqanis, Paul Overbvy is a journalist and Kevin King was a professor at the American University in Kabul. There's an Australian captive as well. And around the world there's probably hostages continues, Austin Tice had still being held with I think the support of the Assad regime in Syria, these four Americans it's believed at least in Iran and three Americans in North Korea.

So this problem of hostage taking continues but this is wonderful news. I could not be happier for this family.

COOPER: Yes. Yes David Rohde, I appreciate with Peter Bergen as well to have you on.

Coming up next, breaking news. New deaths confirmed in northern California where wildfires they just continue to burn out of control. Forecasters are warning of worsening conditions tomorrow. We'll give the latest in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:53:22] COOPER: Well the death toll from the wildfires ranging across California has risen to 29. That gives it the horrible distinction of the time, the deadliest fire in the state. The 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles, as for the nearly two dozen fires burning right now. More than half of the deaths have occurred in Sonoma County, which of course wide country across the state. More than 8,000 firefighters working around the clock, trying to get the upper hand on blazes which are just ranging out of control.

Dan Simon joins us now from the hard hit town of Calistoga in the Napa Valley. What's the latest on there Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, it remains to be a precarious situation. We're in the hills just above Calistoga and were with a firefighting unit today, they were doing everything they could to save the community. At one point we actually saw the flames jump this natural barrier here highway 29, we saw the flames inch their way toward Calistoga, and we saw a lot of urgency, then we saw the firefighter just race to get those flames put out ultimately they did. But like I said it's still a fragile situation. I'm going to step out of frame here, because off in the distance, you might be able to see the hint of the flame there and just below, there are some firefighters are not too concerning about those flames at the moment. But they are standing by, because if the winds kick up then once again, it could be a dangerous situation for Calistoga.

They're just monitoring things, but by no means are we through with this disaster here in Calistoga and throughout the broader community Anderson.

COOPER: Is it known how many people exactly are still missing, because some were saying hundreds?

SIMON: It has been a moving target over the last few days. Right now it stands at 400, that really is a scary number Anderson, it goes up, it goes down. Hopefully that number will be paired down as people report that their loved ones have been found safely.

[20:55:10] But at this point 29 people confirmed dead as you said, that ties for the record. And unfortunately, this fire looks like it's in the history books.

COOPER: What's going to happen with the weather, is it expected to cooperate at all?

SIMON: Right now, the winds actually look pretty good. No wind to speak of, but tomorrow night that is when things are expected to kick up again, we could be looking at gusts up to 40, 50 miles per hour, according to the CNN Weather Center. So you better believe it, that firefighters will definitely be here in force. You got 8,000 of them. And they're operating virtually no sleep. But they've done a heroic job. We haven't seen too many structures that go up in plains over the past couple days, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, that's incredible the work they do. Dan Simon, thanks very much. Up next, the White House does damage control after a string of bad headlines, claiming there's a lot of chaos in the West Wing. What Trump's chief of staff told reporters today, when we continue.


COOPER: We begin the hour with perhaps the quote of the day, "I was not brought in to control him." That's White House chief of staff and Marine Corp General John Kelly talking about President Trump.

[21:00:00] The same John Kelly who it's widely believed why they're reporting until now barely disputed was brought into control the president of the United States. Today he gave a rare press conference that aimed a point it call water (ph) in all the stories lately most of the source to White House insiders are people close to the West Wing.