Return to Transcripts main page


Pentagon Investigation ISIS Ambush, Including Aftermath; Trump Takes Credit for ISIS Win Saying, "I Totally Changed Our Military"; Forbes Says Trump's Net Worth Drops to $3.1 Billion. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The U.S. military is launching an investigation into the deadly ambush of four U.S. soldiers including two Green Berets during an operation in the African nation of Niger. While the President is facing backlash after falsely claiming his predecessors never called the families of fallen troops. The President made this remark while responding to a question about why he silent for 12 days on this topic and did not reach out to the families of the four soldiers. And here was his response today when he was asked about it on the radio.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (radio interview): Now, as far as other representors, I don't know. I mean, you can ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? You can ask other people. I don't know what Obama's policy was. I write letters and I also call. But I have called I believe everybody. But certainly, I will use the word virtually everybody, but I really speak for myself. I'm not speaking for other people. I don't know what Bush did, I don't know what Obama did. You can find out easily what President Obama did. All you have to do is ask the military people. But I believe his policy was somewhat different than my policy. I can tell you, my policy is I've called every one of them.


KEILAR: He did speak for those presidents yesterday back pedaling there today on the radio. President Trump drawing one of America's highest profile gold-star parents, the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, into a debate about how presidents deal with the families of the fallen. I want to bring in David Mackenzie, our CNN international correspondent. And David, while the response has been politicized, there are still so many unanswered Questions surrounding the deaths of these soldiers. What are you hearing?

DAVID MACKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, that's right. There will be an investigation and it is ongoing. What we know is, that this event happened on the border regions of Niger in West Africa and Mali. And it was an ambush of some 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters according to U.S. officials that descended upon these U.S. soldiers, the Green Berets, and the local soldiers from Niger. Four American soldiers killed. One, in fact, had to be abandoned, was lost in the field of battle, and only more than a day later recovered that body with the help of French forces. Now, many viewers might not realize that they are, in fact, boots on the ground of the American soldiers in that part of Africa. But, in fact, it's a growing presence.

At first, it was really an advice and assist intelligence operation. But you increasingly are seeing, Brianna, U.S. soldiers, particularly special forces, getting more involved in the fight against these militant groups. Now, while I said it was ISIS-affiliated groups, there's a large presence of al Qaeda in the Sahara and the Sahel. And it is less important who is affiliated with whom, but rather that these small bands of militants can both strike Western interests and, in this case, U.S. soldiers. It will lead to questions both politically and strategically what the U.S. is doing in these regions and how the soldiers can be kept safe and be effective in the counter terrorism operations -- Brianna.

KEILAR: That's right. No doubt, advisers is what the U.S. government would label them as to get past that boots on the ground designation. David Mackenzie, thank you so much for that report.

Meantime, ISIS has lost control of its self-declared capital in Syria. The U.S.-backed forced say they have ended military operations in the city of Raqqah, but it comes at a high price. This is what Raqqah looks like today in this exclusive drone video obtained by CNN. You can just see the devastation there after a month's long assault. Those U.S.-backed forces are clearing out the final pockets of resistance at this point in time. And this is a landmark moment in the decline of ISIS in the Middle East. A map here showing how little territory remains in ISIS control. And for this decline in territory, President Trump is taking credit. He says he was or has, quote, totally changed the military. Here's what he said.

[15:35:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military. And they have done a fantastic job. Yes, ISIS is now giving up. They are giving up. They are raising their hands. They are walking off. Nobody's ever seen that before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why has that not happened before?

TRUMP: Because you didn't have Trump as your president.


KEILAR: All right, for more on this, I want to bring in Nick Payton Walsh, CNN's senior international correspondent. So, give us some context here, Nick, what has changed between these two administrations, the Obama administration and now with President Trump in power? And can he really claim that everything is different now because of changes he's made?

NICK PAYTON WALSH, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's so hard, really, to answer that question in a sort of clear fashion. We don't know exactly how the rules of engagement have been changed for U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. And, you know, there's been a lot of changes on the ground, a lot of advances made, but these are the results of a policy that was put in place by the Obama administration. And the Obama administration plan to kick ISIS out.

All the moves, the strategy on the ground, was in place before Trump came to the White House. So yes, it's a bit rich, frankly, to suggest that all this occurred because he became president. It was already underway. It may have happened a lot faster because he may have loosened exactly when air strikes or artillery can be used against ISIS. And I have to say looking at the latter stages of Mosul and certainly in the fight for Raqqah, there's a hell of a lot of fire power being used. We don't know if that's because they loosened up when they are allowed to fire, how close civilians can be, et cetera. There's the hint that may be the case, often denied, but certainly we can't say there is been a brand-new policy introduced by the Trump administration. That's simply not true.

What we have seen today though staggeringly is ISIS collapse pretty much in their main stronghold. The only real place they are still held, the self-declared capital of Syria of Raqqah. Massively symbolic and in a matter of hours, frankly. We have seen them fall out of the hospital there in the center, the stadium, the places where they plotted attacks against the West for years. They are no longer in control of those now at all. In fact, there were startling images of the Kurdish American backed forces doing cart wheels, sort of somersaulting, spinning armored vehicles around the squares where ISIS once held public executions.

It is over for them in Raqqah, no doubt, but a different threat now emerges. They will scatter as a kind of ragtag insurgency. Some of the fallen fighters try to get back home to launch terror attacks in the West. Some of them staying in the deserts in Iraq and Syria looking to see where they can get sympathy in the local population and continue their violent warfare there.

And of course, ISIS will continue as well as an idea, a virus on the internet, inspiring the lonely, the disenfranchised, the deranged in the West to perhaps plow a car into innocent civilians on a high street, in a mall area somewhere. So, a lot certainly that would still be concerned about with ISIS, but today is a landmark moment. Those U.S.-backed forces saying they finished major military operations in Raqqah. That was really the only major town that ISIS could claim it had a name to. They're on the backfoot there for months, now it's really over and the caliphate as ISIS once claimed, may have that stretch of territory between Iraq and Syria, that's gone. And that is an enormous moment here.

It's not really Donald Trump's. Much of the work was put in place by Barack Obama and many of the military and diplomatic officers who've served through both those administrations. Maybe the rules of how they fought have changed under Donald Trump, but frankly, this is a broader moment for the West and the United States to perhaps look at how the concerted efforts have really taken is out as a territorial force in the Middle East. A bit of a messy future to come still though -- Brianna. KEILAR: Great insight. Nick Payton Walsh who has been following the

U.S. and its allies assault on ISIS now for years. We do appreciate it.

A career military officer is going to join me live in moments to discuss those claims by the President that he changed the military and ISIS is on the run because of him. We're going to fact-check that. Standby.


KEILAR: ISIS has just been defeated in their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqah. And President Trump himself is claiming victory. Adding that he's responsible for quote, totally changing the military. Republican Senator John McCain just reacted to that.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm glad to hear that. No, it's illuminating to me. I was involved in it throughout. Do I believe the last eight years were failed? Absolutely. Absolutely. There was no rules of engagement, there was no success, there was no strategy. So, I certainly agree that the last eight years were a dismal failure of our policies and strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.


KEILAR: All right, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona with me now. That was pretty interesting to hear Senator McCain say two things, he takes the opportunity, of course, to take a swing at the Obama administration. He didn't feel that they had a good Syria strategy. But then on the other hand when asked about President Trump changing the military, he said, well, that's illuminating to me. I have been involved in it throughout. What did you think?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL RICK FRANCONA (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, it's interesting, especially the ongoing debate between Senator McCain and the President. So, it was interesting that McCain took that approach. I have to say, I'm going to give Donald Trump some credit for changing the rules of engagement. And as Nick went through quite detailed on what was happening, it's right. Because what we had was President Obama was a deliberate approach to how we were going to defeat ISIS. The U.S.-led coalition was going to defeat ISIS. I think that that was never in question. It was how long it was going to take.

[15:45:00] When Donald Trump came into office, and I get my information from the Air Force pilots who are actually conducting these missions, and they tell me there was an easing of the restrictions that were placed on them by the Obama administration. Now, it wasn't a complete lifting of the rules of engagement. They still had to follow procedures, but they were able to react faster to emerge targets. They were able to drop more ordinance. They were to drop it closer. But let's also remember that the Syrian Democratic Forces, the units we were supporting on the ground in Syria, got much better. We had been training them for a long time. So, as they became more proficient, of course, it appeared that they were having more success. And we were able to conduct our missions on a much better manner with them. So, I'm giving credit to both presidents.

KEILAR: On the changing of the rules of engagement, is there a concern, because Nick Paton Walsh just said one of the things that is rumored to have happen is rules about how far away the civilians may be. Is that a concern that that could actually create problems for the U.S.? There could be blow-back from that, though?

FRANCONA: Right, that's a really good point. Because what was happening, especially in Raqqah, we saw this in Mosul and we saw it in Kobani where a lot of the liberated areas were basically flattened and destroyed. There are no buildings in Raqqah that don't show signs of the struggle. So as the units got more bottled up into Raqqah, we stopped conducting air strikes until the Kurds said, no, we still need additional air power. So, we developed a coordination protocol where any air strike within a certain distance of a Kurdish unit had to be authorized by the Kurds.

So, we did take that into consideration. For civilian casualties, we try and try to not have as many as -- to limit them as much as possible, but, Brianna, you're dropping high explosives in very concentrated areas. It is just going to happen. And I think we took as much precaution as we could, but yes, that is a consideration. Excellent point.

KEILAR: All right, Colonel Rick Francona, thank you so much. You are looking at video there from a drone overlooking Raqqah. So, you can see the damage that is in effect today. It's really stunning. And this is what is left behind after the defeat of ISIS in Raqqah.

Next, president Trump takes a dive on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. An editor from the magazine joining me live to explain how Trump lost an estimated $600 million in just one year.


[15:50:42] KEILAR: Did you know that America's rich are getting even richer? However, the President is apparently not. You now have to scroll way down this "Forbes" list of the 400 richest Americans before you find Donald J. Trump. He dropped 92 slots from the year before to number 248 now after his estimated net worth decreased by $600 million. It's now at $3.1 billion. And joining me now is assistant managing editor of wealth at "Forbes" Kerry Dolan to talk about this. So, Kerry, thank for being on. Tell us why we're seeing this huge drop.

KERRY DOLAN, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR OF WEALTH, FORBES MEDIA: Sure. Yes, the biggest reason for that $600 million drop you mentioned is the value of Trump's real estate assets in New York City. About $400 million of the $600 million drop is in the lower values for Trump Tower. He's got the lease for the Niketown store, which is right there at the corner of 57th and Fifth Avenue. That's dropped in value. A number of properties in New York have dropped in value. Basically, you know, retailers are suffering even high-end retailers because of the shift to e-commerce. More where Amazon's winning and brick and mortar retailers are losing out. That affects real estate property values.

KEILAR: So, I see how you can look at the physical assets and the real estate values and use that to get a figure, a pretty good figure, but without the president's tax returns, because he still won't release them, does it make it difficult to get the most reliable information or is it more of an estimate?

DOLAN: Oh, we're -- we would love to see President Trump's tax returns. That would help us with information on any partnerships that he has that we may not know about. The kinds of returns, using the profits he's making from various holdings. We are definitely estimating. We talked to tons and tons of real estate brokers who are super familiar with the properties, particularly in Manhattan. But at the end of the day, yes, we are estimating.

We do know, though, for example, we have been in touch with Trump's finance people and one of the assets that has dropped in value since last year is this hotel in Washington, D.C., the Trump International Hotel, which is not so far from the White House. And his finance people told us that he's taken on more debt since last year for that hotel. So that value dropped. And that's kind of harder news. Harder facts than our estimates than the real estate in New York City.

KEILAR: Why is that -- why has it dropped? You know, we've seen a lot of stories in the past about how it's just booked up by people coming in --

DOLAN: Yes, I know --

KEILAR: I actually checked it out last week. It seemed to be doing pretty well, at least, you know, eyeballing it, not that that necessarily means much. What's the reasoning?

DOLAN: It's definitely the business is doing well. We're not saying that business is weak. It's purely that Trump has a $170 million construction loan or a loan that he took out to complete construction. So, when we talk to him, him and his finance people, a year ago, so it would have been maybe August of 2016, they had not used that whole loan. They had a credit line but they had only drawn down part of it. When we checked in with them in February, we didn't get any more information. Because, you know, it's a little bit confusing, but we have a list of the world's billionaires that comes out in March. We updated Trump's net worth for that list. And we didn't get any information about the drawing down further on the credit line for the hotel there.

But when our reporters did contact Trump's people, they did disclose that this $170 million had all been used. Whereas a year ago they did not tell us. They said that only $60 million of it has been used. That's one of the reasons. Even though the hotel is doing well, it's net worth, so we subtract the debt from any assets values.

KEILAR: We'll see how they make it up with that $39 cocktail they have on the menu there, I will tell you. All right, Kerry Dolan --

DOLAN: Oh, really. KEILAR: Oh, yes. Indeed, it was sort of eye-popping. Kerry Dolan,

thank you so much. Appreciate it.

DOLAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: And next, Reese Witherspoon is joining the chorus of women sharing the metoo# on social media. Her story of sexual assault in Hollywood plus the eerie warning that one star gave about Harvey Weinstein more than a decade ago.


KEILAR: The scandal involving Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault in Hollywood keeps growing. Actress Reese Witherspoon now coming forward with an allegation of sexual abuse against a different unnamed director. At an award's event, Witherspoon revealed she was assaulted at just 16 years old. She said she's found it hard to sleep or think since the Weinstein scandal broke. Also emerging, still more evidence that Weinstein's behavior was an open secret in Hollywood. Listen to singer Courtney Love back in 2005.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any advice for a young girl moving to Hollywood?

COURTNEY LOVE, SINGER: If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party at the Four Seasons, don't go.


KEILAR: Weinstein has denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Brooke Baldwin and "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.