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Soldier Killed In Niger. Aired 11-Midnight ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 23:00   ET



[23:03:21] DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: This is CNN tonight, I'm Don Lemon, just a little past 3:00 here on the east coast, and we are live with the breaking news for you. A little past 11:00 excuse me, three after 11:00 on the east coast. A lot of breaking news right now. President Trump finally calling the family of troops who lost their lives telling a widow of Sergeant David Johnson quote he knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts. Earlier talk with congresswoman who was there when the sergeant's widow was called by the President. Watch this.


REP FREDERICA WILSON, (R) FLORIDA: We were in the car together in the limo headed to meet the body at the airport, so I heard what he said because the phone was on speaker.

LEMON: What did he say?

WILSON: Well, basically he said, well, I guess he knew what he signed up for.


LEMON: Our CNN political analysts April Ryan, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis, Alice Stewart CNN contributor Jason Kander, this is a real tough discussion to have. April, you've been there before for these conversations. You were by the side of President Bush '43 when he met with wounded soldiers and with President Obama when he met caskets. What do you make of what happened today.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALIST: Don, it is sad if indeed what congresswoman says is true and I have no reason to doubt her, because she is a woman who has a lot of compassion. She hired Treyvon Martin's mother in to her office to help the family. It sounds just like her to be in the car with the widow of the late Green Beret Johnson. Like you said, I was at the hangar at Andrew's air force base when the bodies came home from Benghazi at the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Collin Powell was there, because of the severity of this. I've been to the old Walter Reed east Georgia Avenue just up the street in Washington, D.C. with then-President George W. Bush. I just cannot -- this is -- this is tough. We have a President who is the moral leader who is supposed to support and unite and here you have a widow whose husband was not found until days later, he was the last one left, hearing he can't have an open casket and saying something like this. Did he say it to other families, if so it's not good that he said to this one? This President is not a word smith, we know this. He is not a word smith, but in times like this, word matter. Compassion matters.

[23:06:40] LEMON: Yes.

RYAN: Compassion matters. And it sounds heartless.

LEMON: I want to get the White House responds about the President of the conversations with families of American heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice are private. It's about common decency and respect and I'm sure the President will explain what he meant by it. We know he does call the families of the four officers a day after he was asked about it. For the President who said it's disrespectful to take a knee during the national anthem why a 13-day delay for fallen heroes in this country?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that question may never be answered. I can't imagine the grief that this family and all of the families are going through. It has to be gut-wrenching to hear this from the President has to pour salt in the wounds. Look, this is a difficult time for the family, for our country and certainly for the President. Could he have chosen his words better, yes? The fact is these conversations are private and I think if this had been an in- person meeting it would have within a little bit better.

LEMON: Didn't they rush it, following in the car.

STEWART: If you have the body language of an in person meeting that would be much different story. Very, very difficult. I have been in situations where we had school shootings and deaths with tornados, and he is good with this but this is not the President's forte.

RYAN: But he is President of the United States.

STEWART: He certainly is, April, this is just a difficult time. Is there a playbook for this sort of thing, absolutely not but this is a time we're talking about this instead of honoring these brave heroes.

LEMON: That is the right words. April, are you okay. You sound like you're very emotional about this.

RYAN: I'm okay, Don.

LEMON: Jason you're a former army captain, he knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts. Is that an acceptable way to speak to a widow?

JASON KANDER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's nauseous. You know what? I hear people say this before. I think we all had. We all heard people found out about soldiers dying and say something like this. I think it's important to talk about why people say that. People say that because they're seeking emotional distance from the situation. They want to avoid feeling that pain. And what you are the President of the United States, the commander-in-chief, you need to be able to lean into that situation and not just, yes, it is absolutely deeply important this that situation human being to human being to being able to console that widow and be there in that moment. There's a larger reason why this matters so much which is I want a President, any President, doesn't matter who, when they are making a decision about sending people to a dangerous place I want them to have as one of the things in their mind the visceral, emotional feeling, and that memory of that feeling in their mind when they make decisions about sending Americans into danger.

[23:10:00] And President Trump is seeking to distance himself emotionally from this, which is the reason people say that is what they is what they signed up for, then I don't know if he has the ability to factor in that feeling and the reality that people don't come home, that the most important person in your life may be gone in an instant when he makes these decisions about sending people in.

LEMON: Can we talk about, I don't want to pile on, but Saturday October 27th is the day the body of Sergeant David Johnson was returned to Dover air force base. President Trump was golfing. These four soldiers were kill in an ISIS ambush in Niger, do you think the White House is handling the entire incident, and is it a little oddly rushing the response. Maybe say I'll call you, we'll call tomorrow at 4:00 is that a good time.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah I think yesterday we were saying he needs to make these calls, today we're saying maybe he shouldn't have made these calls. Maybe that wasn't a good idea. If the primary goal presumably here is to console the widow, he obviously failed and failed miserably. However I want to be a little bit contrarian, if you just take the quote, we don't know.

LEMON: We don't know but still it sounds awful.

LEWIS: To me the quote I think it is really -- is open to interpretation. So for example if you say it sort of glib and dismissively, well, this is what they signed up for that is horrific. But there is a way to say it that this is heroic. When people sign up to join the military, to be first responders even, certainly to be green berets that moment they sign up is a heroic moment. Whenever they are deployed they know there's a chance they may not come back. I don't if that is terribly different than what the quote is the Donald Trump.

KANDER: How low are we going to set the bar for the standard for this President? At some point we have to say you know what you're bad at this, not just you're bad at this, and we have to question whether he has the emotional strength, moral courage and the fortitude to actually do this job. How low is the bar going to go?

LEWIS: Let's assume Donald Trump is not the great communicator.

RYAN: But he is President of the United States. He is the President of the United States and you can't normalize this one. Wait a minute. Let me say this. The optics. The sound of this, it does not sound right. He is questioned and talked about and chastised other Presidents, but when it is time for him to go in, he is not the consoling chief, he is causing angst in a time of grief for the family as well as the nation to hear the story play out. Just thinking about all this, this President went after John McCain the POW. It's not about politics.

This man put his life on the line for our freedoms, whether it is about taking the knee or saluting to the flag whatever yet John McCain is now the object of his fury and McCain is fighting for his life. He fought for this country. Then on top of that -- wait a minute -- I'm telling you from what I see from the unique perch I'm sitting in after covering Presidents for 20 years, I think I have the respect and understanding of what's going on so let me shed some light in dark places for you.

LEWIS: Please! Ok!

RYAN: Then you have a President who has five deferments. People have talked about that. He is had five deferments and at the same time this President is saying this to this widow. And there is a possibility that we're hearing that people from Iran as well as North Korea believing we could be setting a posture for war and they may war on us. You have a President saying this as we are in a tinder box of a situation.

LEMON: I got to go, I'm sorry. I have to go. I have to speak to a gold star father which is more important than this conversation. I want to hear from him. This gold star father can shed more light on this than any one of us and we'll talk to him right after this. We'll be right back.


[23:19:08] LEMON: Our breaking news, President Trump tonight reportedly telling the widow of Sergeant David Johnson who lost his life, quote, you knew what he signed up for but when it happens it hurts". Want to bring in a man who sadly knows what it is like to be family of fallen American hero, Paul Monti son, Sergeant first class Jared C. Monti was awarded the Medal of Honor by then President Barack Obama. Paul Monti, joins me now. Thank you so much, sir, for joining us this evening. We appreciate you and we honor the sacrifice that your son made. You know exactly what this family is going through tonight. Tell us about your son, army sergeant first class Jared Monti.

PAUL MONTI, FATHER OF SGT FIRST CLASS, JARED C MONTI: My son was kill in 2006 in Afghanistan. He was the co-leader of the group of 16 on a mountain top in Afghanistan. They were attacked by 15 or more Taliban. During the attack one of the soldiers was shot very seriously, wounded in no man's landed between his soldiers and the Taliban and my son decided that he would try to save that young man and went out to try to save him three times. On the third time my son was hit by an RPG and he was killed.

[23:20:44] LEMON: I'm sure you know that last night Pete Souza the official White House photographer during the Obama administration posted a photo on Instagram of you and your wife meeting with the President and first lady after our son was awarded the Medal of Honor. What can you tell us about this moment and all your interactions with the President and the first lady?

MONTI: All I can tell you is what I observed. I observed two people, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, who had a tremendous degree of compassion. They treated my wife and I extremely well, as I said they were extremely compassionate. We actually met them in the oval office, which is a first for a Medal of Honor presentation. It's a moment I'll never forget. Like I said, the compassion of both was overwhelming.

LEMON: So when you hear the President saying that other Presidents like Barack Obama didn't contact the families of fallen soldiers, when you heard that, what did you think?

MONTI: I have no idea where he came up with that. When my son was finally okayed to receive the Medal of Honor, Barack Obama called me personally and told me about it. That was in July of 2009. And the ceremony was in September of 2009. So I did have a conversation with him personally on the telephone. He told me that the nation was very proud of my son and that he himself was very proud of my son and that he knew I was very proud of my son. And I will never forget those words.

LEMON: When you hear these conversations are very difficult I would imagine for the President to have and for someone to call you. When you hear what happened with the widow tonight from the current President what was your thought?

MONTI: Um, you know, I really don't want to get political. But I -- I think that there could have been a little more compassion for this woman who just lost her son. Those words, well, you know, that is what he signed up for, are not the words that she wants to hear at this time.

LEMON: What do you want people to know about gold star families? I know that you -- the one reason you're doing this is because you want to honor these families and their loved ones.

MONTI: Exactly. Exactly. Becoming a gold star family member is not a thing anybody wants. It is a pain that never goes away. My son was killed eleven years ago and it's like yesterday. And this is the way all of the gold star families that I have encounter feel. They live day to day, they miss their child. They have basically lost their future. When you lose your parent you have lost your past. But when you lose a child you have lost your future and that is the way we feel.

LEMON: Mr. Monti --

MONTI: We will never, I'm sorry.

LEMON: No go on, please.

[23:25:00] MONTI: We will never be able to hold our children on our lap, will never go to a baseball game, a football game, or, you know, the symphony. Or just have a barbecue in the backyard with our lost child. That is -- that is gone. That is what you miss. That is what every gold star parent misses.

LEMON: Mr. Monti, thank you for coming on. Thank you for your sacrifice.

MONTI: Thank you.

LEMON: We want to say again that we honor your son. Fallen soldier army sergeant first class Jared C. Monti awarded Medal of Honor under the Obama administration and his father is Paul Monti. Thank you, sir.


[23:30:30] DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: It has been nearly a month since hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and people still struggling for the basic food, shelter, water, medical care, and less than 15 percent of customers with electricity. CNN's Bill Weir is in Puerto Rico with the latest, Bill?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, just after Maria blew out Puerto Rico we want to a rustic suburb called Aguas Buenas to an amazing couple in deep trouble and got word our story sparked from the veteran administration and I learned so much why the response for this hurricane has been so frustrating for so many.


WEIR: Immediately after Maria what remained of this hilltop community in Aguas Buenas took our breath away. Fallen transmission power laid on top of a shattered home. In the house next door, we found her desperately trying to preserve the last vial of insulin for her husband Miguel, a bed ridden Vietnam veteran. A month later. We are back, bracing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

That is a good sign. Got it back up.

It is the work of local lineman to make a point, showing me their Facebook page to prove they're just as good as the contractors from the mainland.

How long before power will run through these lines?

It depends on the weather, he says. They have two more of these giants to salvage.

What were you praying for just now?

TRANSLATOR: Praying to god give help from all of you.

WEIR: You need all of the help you can get.

Let's see if Deana and Miguel are home. Hola? Coma estes you remember me? How are you? Good to see you. She tells me Miguel is resting inside alive and well. After seeing our story the veteran's administration sent a nurse up the mountain with plenty of medicine. What about the future now. What do you think about next week, next

month, next year? I'm going to keep fighting. Going to stay in Puerto Rico. I'm not going to leave, she says and points up. They put a flag on top of the tower, they are just one example of Puerto Rico rising. But they are just one family in a township of around 30,000.

What's your biggest frustration today? What do you need more than anything else?

Blue tarps, the mayor tells me. I received 300. I need 1000. It's been raining a lot and people don't have roofs.

What do you think of President Trump saying Puerto Ricans aren't distributing the food fast enough? Because some of the towns did not distribute the food well there's a perception this is an island-wide problem he says, but that is not the case here, there are 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico, which means 78 mayors with different skills and methods. In the southern town of Petias the Secretary of State was outraged to find a dumpster full of spoiled food and unused fresh water, a mistake this mayor is determined not to repeat. Even though his teams have visited over 8,000 homes still have 2,000 to go. If this one is any indication they can't get there fast enough. Anita sits on a bed, soaked with rain water, the smell of mold thick in every room.

Do you have any idea how many people are in these kind of conditions? This is not rare he says, we encounter these cases. This touched me deep in my heart, today we're going to start helping her now, and we're going to move her to a more secure location.

We are so grateful that god sent you hear, Anita's sister-in-law tells the mayor. You see the conditions here. Please excuse me. The quickest help possible, please. She needs it.


[23:35:10] WEIR: Mayor told me he wants to lobby FEMA and HUD to convert a high school into semi-permanent shelter for folks in that desperate need. Try to imagine living like that for 30 days and you will understand why mental health is just as much a concern as the physical health of these Americans. Don.

LEMON: Bill Weir, thank you very much. When we come back. After seeing that report have to ask what happened to President Trump's love for Puerto Rico?


[23:40:06] LEMON: Presidents of Puerto Rico struggling to rebuild their lives nearly a month after a hurricane Maria devastated the island. I want to bring in now, CNN Political Commentator Ben Ferguson, Symone Sanders and Mike Shields and Bakari Sellers. Symone I will start with you. You saw Bill Weir's story, very different story from what the White House is claiming in Puerto Rico. SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah I think Donald Trump

left Puerto Rico unfortunately to rot. I'm not really sure why. I think the same way folks were critical President Bush about his handling of Katrina, equally to Donald Trump in how he handled the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I find it very concerning that, one, Donald Trump left the people of Puerto Rico to rot essentially, but also the people of the virgin islands.

LEMON: Yeah. To her point, I'm going to show the poll on President Trump approval rating dropped 20 points. Since hurricane Maria is 44 percent of do you think it is a signal to the President and the White House?

FERGUSON: I think anytime you see people that are suffering obviously you want the American government to do more. It's easy to say we must do more. I'm favor of doing more and getting more to the people of Puerto Rico. I don't think we've left the people of Puerto Rico, I don't think we've left them there to rot, I think that is a sad political talking point. I think there's a lot of good people at FEMA that are not Republicans or Democratic and are on the ground doing everything they possible by can to help these people, there's lot of volunteers, government aide ease workers that are trying to help people and get their live their lives back to where they were before. I'm in favor of more help going there. This is not a time to say we're letting people rot in Puerto Rico.

SANDERS: You said people -- more than 90 percent of Puerto Rico do not have power. Folks are drinking contaminated water, because that is all they have. This is a crisis. It's not hyperbole to say people are rotting, or dying, they absolutely are.

FERGUSON: Again, people are not rotting that is just not accurate.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, hold on, Ben, Ben, Ben there are other people on the panel let's be respectful. Mike I want you to get in. Here's Donald Trump speaking about the distribution of aide in Puerto Rico.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've delivered tremendous amounts of water and you have to have distribution of the water by the people onto island. So we have massive amounts of water. We have massive amounts of food but they have to distribute the food and they have to do this, they have to distribute the food to the people of the island. So what we've done is we now actually have military distributing food, something they really shouldn't have to be doing.


LEMON: Mike your turn. Why is the President Trump saying our military shouldn't help Americans in need?

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER RNC CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it is a bottom line business and if people are suffering which they are, the President will pay a political price for it. Turning it into bipartisan football is going too far we saw the president commitment to hurricane relief and the previous two hurricanes that hit the country, it's not as though he doesn't care, there's strong people in the White House that want to do this but the difference is servicing an island nation is harder. Didn't have to send U.S. Navy ship comfort to the coast of Houston, they had shelters and local government there had experience. Puerto Rico was an island. They sent the comfort ship down there, so not like the government said don't bother, now what they didn't think is how do we identify the right people in the hospitals and get the communications up to get them out to the ships. It's much more complex to help people on an island nation especially when the government is not up to par for this sort of things compared to places like Houston.

SANDERS: Oh, Mike, are we going to blame Puerto Rico?

LEMON: So Bakari --

SHIELDS: Turning it into a political football is doing a disservice to the good people who need more help. Until it is fixed there's going to be a political price to pay for this.

LEMON: I think Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin islands is near and dear to you. Go on your turn now.

BAKARI SELLERS, FORMER HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Yeah I think one of the things we're seeing right now and Ben and my friend Mike can articulate is there's no vision for how we're going to rebuild Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.

[23:45:08] This isn't Partisan this is about visionary leadership, either you help or you don't. You can't compare this to Florida or Texas because it is a more difficult challenge, but he is President of the United States of America. He is President of these islands. And think about this, Symone brought up a good point 80 percent of Puerto Rico is without power. The island of St. Jong in the Virgin Islands for 41 days, a 100 percent of the people are without power. We harp 100 percent of the people are without power. They had three hospitalities, all of which are closed, one has been condemned by the army corps of engineers. So it is an escape hatch for people to say we're playing politics, we're not. We're accurately describing a situation that we don't have to compare to Katrina. People can have their own issues separately, I'm not finished talking yet, Ben, but what we can do is challenge Donald Trump to have an idea that is more than water, more than flipping paper towels into a group of people but how are we going to rebuild this infrastructure and make sure people get the basic necessities that they need. Those are the questions Donald Trump needs to answer as the leader.

LEMON: I got to take a break. When we come back. Is the President using fallen service members as political pawns? We'll discuss that when we come back.



really don't want to get political, but I think there could have been more compassion for this woman who just lost her son, those words - well that is what he signed up for, are not the words she wants to hear at this time.


LEMON: That was Paul Monti, the father of Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti killed in Afghanistan that was back in 2006. Back now with my panel. Symone, I understand you're having some technical difficulties. What was your reaction to that, Ben?

FERGUSON: Look, I don't know if he was saying he signed up in this country, and this is what he signed up for go around the world and unfortunately it cost him his life. I don't know the whole conversation, I know what the politics to this are, I know what people are trying turn this politically.

LEMON: My reaction to the gold star father --

FERGUSON: He is responding to the report that a congress person who is obviously turning this into a political issue. And I think that is wrong.

LEMON: Bakari?

SELLERS: Well, I think that part of the concern that many of us have is that it was 12 days that went by and Donald Trump tweets about everything from Jemele Hill, NFL players, everything under the sun, but didn't even mention these four green berets who were killed in Niger. And then the first thing that he invokes is Barack Obama. So I guess to Ben's point to push back and that he was incorrect in that assessment is the President was the one who inserted politics in this. I'm sick and tired of trying to figure out where the bottom is for Donald Trump. He is made deplorable statement after deplorable statement. This was the same person who talked trash about POW's and Gold Star families. He doesn't have any more compass when it comes to talking about armed service members who give up and pay the ultimate price. This young man who they were talking about, his wife is pregnant, he has a child, two children, and so I hope that people go to look at Jake Tapper's twitter, Mike's twitter and actually donate to his scholarship fund, a legitimate scholarship fund that is been set up to make sure his kids are taken care of.

LEMON: And there's a gofundme, as well. The goal is $100,000, and its $68,050. Now. The soldiers killed in Niger, but he deflected by talking about the former president not calling families and this gold star father came on and said that is not true. Obama was compassionate. He doesn't understand why this President uses this as a deflection when it's not true.

SHIELDS: Look, I agree actually with what a lot of Bakari said. And this whole topic kind of makes me sick to my stomach to be honest with you. I'm sick for this families as a military brat I have the utmost respect for them. For us to be having this discussion is terrible. I think the President brought this on, of course, but this representative calling in and relying the conversation between the President and a widow is an absolute disgrace and disgusting. And we're back to where we are with these things. The President kind of started it and now a Democrat is going to try to make a partisan football out of it --

LEMON: I have to cut you off because I want to get Symone in. I am short of time. Go ahead Symone.

SANDERS: What Donald Trump allegedly said to the widow of Sergeant Johnson is despicable, disgusting, and we should all be disgusted --

FERGUSON: But we don't know the context, Symone.

[23:55:02] SANDERS: I am sorry, there is no context when that is appropriate on that particular phone call.

FERGUSON: You don't know what was said in the conversation. You're basing from what was said. -- Which is really sad.

SANDERS: What's sad is you sitting here defending these despicable (inaudible) that is what is sad here Ben. --


FERGUSON: I didn't defend anything except for - you want to go this hard (inaudible)


LEMON: I've got five seconds. I am sorry. I've got to go. Thank you. That is it for us tonight. Thanks for watching, and I'll see you back here tomorrow.