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Trump Denies Account of Phone Call; NFL Press Conference; Goodell on National Anthem; Veterans on NFL Kneeling. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 18, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:17] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello there, I'm Briana Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.

At any moment, the White House briefing is set to begin and it's expected that officials will be put to task about what is considered the most serious and painful part of being a president, consoling the families of those killed in action.

President Trump is now embroiled in a new controversy about what he said to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in that ambush in Niger.

And the other big story that we're following, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expected to speak any moment now addressing the league's position on protests during the national anthem. We're going to bring you the commissioner's response.

First, this is the video of Myeshia Johnson mourning over her husband's casket. And before this heartbreaking moment, as she was traveling to greet his remains, the sergeant's widow received a call from President Trump.

Democratic Congresswoman Fredricka Wilson, who has known the slain soldier since his childhood, said she was in the car listening to the call on speaker phone when it came through.


REP. FREDRICKA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: I didn't hear the whole phone call, but I did hear him say, I'm sure he knew what he was signing up for. And I -- but it still hurts. And I asked them to let me speak with him and the master sergeant said, no, you can't speak with him. But I said, but I want to speak with him, because I was livid.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": To speak out to the widow. How did she hear it? What was her response?

WILSON: She was crying. She broke down. And she said, he didn't even know his name. So this -- this is -- this --

CAMEROTA: Did you hear that part? Did you hear the part where it left the impression that he didn't know his name? WILSON: She -- she heard the part that he didn't know his name. I'm

not trying to prove anything with the president. So the president evidently is lying because what I said is true. I have no reason to lie on the president of the United States with a dead soldier in my community. I have no time. I have no motive.


KEILAR: Now, the president hit back. He challenged the congresswoman for proof.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Didn't say what that congresswoman said. Didn't say it at all. She knows it and she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said and I'd like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said.

I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who is -- sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said. And most people aren't too surprised to hear that.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the proof, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Let her make her statement again and then you'll find out.

QUESTION: Are you saying that she (INAUDIBLE) --

TRUMP: OK, let her make her statement again and then you'll find out.


KEILAR: Joining me now is CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray.

So, Sara, has the congresswoman responded to the president's latest comment?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the congresswoman did respond on Twitter. I'm going to read you what she said. She's standing by her account. Says, I still stand by my account of the call between Donald Trump and Myeshia Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump, not "the woman" or "the wife."

Now, a local television affiliate also caught up with the congresswoman. She said the president was crazy. She said the president was insensitive.

It's also worth noting that Sergeant Johnson's mother also confirmed to CNN roughly the congresswoman's account of this call and said it was very accurate. Obviously this is all coming in the broader context of how the president has responded to this ambush that occurred in Niger. He was asked originally by me why it took him two weeks to say anything, why we haven't heard from --

KEILAR: Sara, I'm so sorry to interrupt you. We're going to come back to you. But let's listen in to Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, talking about protests.

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: And we are confident that Dallas will raise that bar even further. So I'm happy to introduce Charlotte Jones Anderson, who is going to give her view of what to expect in Dallas. Again, the ownership was very supportive and we're all very excited to be going to Dallas next April for the draft.


CHARLOTTE JONES ANDERSON, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, DALLAS COWBOYS: On behalf of the Dallas Cowboys, the city of Dallas, the city of Arlington and the city of Frisco, we are so excited that the NFL has given us this opportunity to host the draft in April of next year. And we have had so many great civic leaders in Dallas and across from Arlington and beyond that have really done a lot of hard work here, hopefully giving a lot of ideas to the staff of the NFL, to Peter and his team, and we really think we have come up with an incredible idea and concept that will really make AT&T Stadium shine, but also will deliver a unique experience and that is unlike anything that you have seen thus far at the NFL draft.

[14:05:05] But I think this is what the draft process is all about. It allows the cities to show their unique personality and hopefully invite not only fans from all over our region in Dallas, in the metroplex and beyond, but from those from out of state, that we welcome them to come to Dallas, to come to Arlington, to AT&T Stadium, to show their fandom and be a part of the draft in April.

So you'll see a little bit different variation of it when you get there. A lot of those surprises are in store and will be released throughout the next few months.

But, again, we'd like to thank all of those who have worked hard on this. But, most importantly, the NFL for giving Dallas and the city of Arlington and AT&T Stadium the opportunity to host the draft.

Thank you.

GOODELL: Any questions for Charlotte before she goes? I'm sure she doesn't want to stay for the rest of the show?

OK. I'm sure you know.


So we had a very productive set of meetings in New York here over the last couple of days. We had reports from various committees, including competition committee. We're very excited about the season that we have ongoing right now. We reviewed the six weeks that are -- we played to date and the margin of victory. We talked about the penalties per game. We talked about our game presentation and the changes that we've made and how that's worked. We talked about the focus on officiating. All very positive fan -- excuse me, very positive feedback on the game. We also spent a great deal of time talking about our partnerships. We

extended a partnership and expanded a partnership with Ticketmaster that we think will be very fan friendly. It will give our fans better opportunity to buy tickets on a secure basis and get them to -- on greater platforms, which you think will be very positive.

And, as always, we had a report under health and safety and our initiatives there and the impact that that's having on our game.

Lastly, we had a special visitor today. We had the commissioner of the NYPD, Jimmy O'Neill, and his chief of police, Terry Monahan. We have been -- and I specifically have had conversations with him for several months, so this has been quite a while in the making, to try to understand how we can continue to expand the relationships between our clubs, our players, our communities and the NFL. And he was very helpful in giving us insight into what their initiatives are here with the NYPD, initiatives that are going on in other parts of the country, of which I saw firsthand down in Miami as an example last week and saw in Philadelphia recently.

The relationship between the players and our communities and our law enforcement is very important to us. So that was very helpful.

And yesterday, as you know, I made a brief comment about -- and came down to see you. I'm sure there will be more questions about our meeting with the players and owners yesterday. We also spent a great deal of time with our owners alone today discussing our efforts with our players.

I would tell you that there's a great deal of support for the efforts that our players have identified, not only support, but a recognition, these are important issues for our communities. They're American issues and certain things that we really want to, as clubs and as a league, want to not only support but also be a part of and try to help lead with our players.

I think those are the key issues.

I would tell you, though, just on one other issue that we spent a great deal of time talking about this morning, was how much we believe everyone should stand for the national anthem. That's an important part of our policy. It's also an important part of our game that we all take great pride in. And it's also important for us to honor our flag and to our country and we think our fans expect us to do that. And so that is something that we continue to focus on this morning. But really talking a lot about the opportunity that exists with our players to try and go and really make a difference in our communities in a positive way.

So I'll let you take questions.

QUESTION: Commissioner, in regards to your statement yesterday, the president this morning tweeted that both you and the league had disrespect for the country. Is he wrong about that? And if so, why?

GOODELL: Well, as I just said, we respect our country, respect our flag, respect our national anthem. I think you look at our clubs and what they do on a daily basis. And you think -- look at our players and what they do and how they participate in that. We all feel very strongly about our country and our pride and we're going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Commissioner, how (INAUDIBLE) a person into bullying the National Football League (INAUDIBLE) expressed support for the flag burning. So it doesn't make any sense.

[14:10:09] GOODELL: Well, listen, you know, I understand. And we're not -- we're focusing on what we can do and what we should be doing as an NFL. I think we have a great opportunity here with our players to really work together and to try to help an make differences in our community. Things that we all believe are necessary to do. And that's what we're going to continue to do.


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) commissioner, it's in the game operations manual that players should be on the field for the national anthem, and stand at attention, hold their helmets I their hands. It's not a rule, but it's in the policy. So why not make it a rule? Since fans seem to want it. (INAUDIBLE). Why not make it a rule?

GOODELL: Well, I think one of the things we need to keep a focus on is, again, we believe that our players should stand for the national anthem. That's an important part of our game and our moments. And we believe in that.

I think we also have to keep focus on is, we have about six or seven players that are involved with this protest at this point. And this is something that -- what we tried to do is deal with the underlying issue and understand what it is that they're protesting and try to address that matter.

And so -- let me finish, if you can.

So the important thing for us is to be able to do that and take that opportunity to make real differences in our community. And that is really what's going to ultimately be the important aspect for us long term, because this is a long-term issue. We need to make sure we do that in the right way.

QUESTION: Would you agree that the image is suffering because of it?

GOODELL: I understand where -- how our fans feel about this issue and we feel the same way about the importance of our flag, about the importance of patriotism. And I believe our players feel that way. They will state to you, and they have stated to everyone publically, they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it's being interpreted. And that's why we're trying to deal with those underlying issues.


QUESTION: Thank you, Roger. Jim Trotter here, ESPN. GOODELL: I don't know where you are, Jim.

QUESTION: Right here in the middle. Middle right here.


QUESTION: You said you want the players to stand and there's been no change to the game operations manual. My question is, what happens if an owner who still feels that he can discipline a player for taking a knee, what response will we see from the league if that were to happen?

GOODELL: Well, Jim, we just had two days of conversations with our owners of which, you know, this was a fair amount of the conversation and I think -- I think our clubs all see this the same way, that we want our players to stand. We're going to continue to encourage them to stand. And we're going to continue to work on these issues in the community. We'll address issues -- I can't deal with hypotheticals right now. We'll deal with those issues if they come up. But for us, right now, that's our focus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark Massey (ph).

QUESTION: Roger, Roger, over here.

GOODELL: Yes, Mark.

QUESTION: At this point, what have your sponsors and the networks said to you about this issue? And what do you feel the effect is on your business right now of this entire (INAUDIBLE).

GOODELL: Yes, Mark, we had a report on that, too. Listen, we know how important this is to our sponsors, our partners, our licensees. It's important to us also. So we all shared that.

And we certainly are in great contact with them. We understand the issues. We want to make sure they understand our perspective and what we're doing. And, in fact, if they can help us, we want them to help us in those issues.

But all of this is part of the ongoing effort and understanding one another and making sure that we do the right thing in our communities and the right thing to support our players, but also do the right thing to make sure we get back to football and, in the meantime, people understand how important our country is and how important it is to make sure that we're doing things the right way to honor our country.

QUESTION: Roger -- Roger -- Roger, Roger, Roger, Byron Barnett (ph), WHDH in Boston.

What is your reaction to the lawsuit filed against the NFL by the Aaron Hernandez family and their allegation that the NFL doesn't inform the players about the risks of CTE?

GOODELL: Listen, I -- this is a matter of litigation. So that's something that's going to work its way through the litigation. I think there's been a great deal of focus on this issue of brain trauma. We've been through a great deal of litigation on this issue and settled a major case on concussions. So we'll let the lawyers handle that and deal with it.


QUESTION: Roger, Ron Mott (ph) of NBC News.

GOODELL: I'm sorry, you guys, I can't see you.


QUESTION: Hi, Roger. Ron Mott, NBC News.


QUESTION: When you talk about supporting your players, what form or forms will it take? Because some people reasonably presume that if players felt that this league were truly on their side and supporting them in these causes and these concerns, that they would not take a knee. So how is this going to manifest itself going forward?

GOODELL: Well, I think that --

QUESTION: Is the league willing to put the shield on the line to get into some sticky --

GOODELL: I think --

QUESTION: Political and social debates?

GOODELL: OK. I'm not -- we're not afraid of the tough conversations. That's what we're having with our players. That's what we had yesterday to make sure we understand one another and understand where they're coming from. And I think out of those discussions, they understand that the owners and the NFL really do care about their issues and what we can do to make the communities better.

[14:15:11] And so I think that's what dialogue is all about and listening and understanding so that we can get that kind of understanding between different parties. And that's what is complex about this, but that's why it's also really important to do, because I think that's where real change really happens. And that's the opportunity for us in our communities.


GOODELL: We've had discussions with them for over a year. And I think we have a very good understanding of the types of things that they're interested, and how they can get support from the NFL to do that. And we want to do that. And that's -- that could be in the legislative matters. That could be in the community with, can we participate in ride-alongs and try to make sure we understand what's going on the different communities across the nation because the problems in one market are different than the problems in another market. And so it -- that involves the clubs and the players getting together and making sure we truly understand what's going on in those markets. And that's where we see a real impact.

QUESTION: All right. Roger, Connell McShane with the Fox Business Network.

And I do want to ask you a business related question to the league. One of the things we've seen in the polling this week, Gallup had numbers that showed the popularity of pro football started to come down, but they also showed there's a big political divide whereas, you know, Republicans identifying as pro football fans down 50 percent, democrats only 3 percent. So it doesn't directly speak to the anthem protests. But what's your reaction to those numbers and what, if any, steps can be taken to reverse that trend?

GOODELL: Well, we believe doing the right thing is what you ultimately have to do. And I think listening to our players, understanding our players, trying to address those underlying issues and making our communities better is where the real opportunity is. And that, long term, is going to benefit us. And so that's what our focus is and that's how we're going to deal with it.

QUESTION: What about that split, though? That split between the -- between the parties? The political --

GOODELL: Does that -- dos that -- I don't think that surprises anybody. What we're trying to do is stay out of politics. That's not -- that's not -- we're not -- we're not looking to get into politics. What we're looking to do is continue to keep people focused on football.

QUESTION: Commissioner, you said --

GOODELL: So people come. So --

QUESTION: Commissioner, you've been talking about -- you said --




GOODELL: Ma'am, just a second.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Commissioner, as you've said, you've been in discussions now for over a year. More discussions over the past day and a half or so. Realistically, can you tell us and tell the American people, how closer you are today to resolving this?

GOODELL: Well, I think the fact is that we have about a half a dozen players that are protesting. We hope and we're going to continue to work to try to put that at zero. That's what we'd like to do. But we -- we want to make sure that we're understanding what the players are talking about, and that's complex. And we've taken the time. I personally have taken the time to go on those ride-alongs and to go and figure out, what are the things in our communities that our players are expressing and our clubs have a much better understanding of that from the meetings over the past several weeks, to hear directly from those players, and do the tough work to try to understand what is it we need to accomplish together? And that's what's -- that's what I think is really the opportunity and what's really happening.

So, yes, Judy, I see that (ph).


GOODELL: I can't -- I can't hear you, Judy. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Roger, did you come out of the meetings with the owners with an understanding that teams that have indicated they would discipline their own players for not standing will not discipline them?

GOODELL: No, we didn't discuss that. We -- it wasn't necessary. We had a -- we had a real focus on making sure that all of our teams understood the kind of dialogue that took place, the kind of things that they were interested in getting support from. And there was complete support for the NFL, each club supporting their players, and continuing the dialogue that they've had on the club level.

I would tell you, there's unprecedented conversations and dialogue going on between our players, between our owners, between our club officials, between the league, and that is a really positive change for us. And we think ultimately is going to pay dividends.

QUESTION: Commissioner, (INAUDIBLE).

You talked a lot about having productive meetings with the players. You personally, do you understand what they're protesting? And can you explain your understanding of that?

GOODELL: Yes. They're very clear about it. And they're actually incredibly knowledgeable, articulate and they spent the time to go into the communities and talk about that. And so they really, truly understand it.

They're talking about criminal justice reform, whether it's bail reform, whether it's talking about sentencing -- mandatory sentencing. They're talking about changes that I think will make our communities better that there is bipartisan support for across our nation and that need focus.

[14:20:14] They're talking about what we can do to support them to effectuate that legislative change and that's, again, very, very positive. They're talking about equality issues, making sure that we're doing everything we possibly can to give people an opportunity, whether it's in education or economic, and what we can do to try to effectuate that. And we believe, with the players, that we can help them. We can support them. And those are our (INAUDIBLE) issues, American issues, that are all important to deal with. QUESTION: Was there --

QUESTION: Roger --


QUESTION: Roger, hey, two-part question here. Number one, have you communicated --

GOODELL: Your taking two questions?

QUESTION: Well, do you mind?

Have you at all communicated with President Trump? Do you have any plans to communicate with President Trump? Second question is a football question. Pace of play. How have you -- how happy are you with just the fact that it seems that the games are going quicker this year?

GOODELL: Yes. I have not, to your first question. To the second question, we're very pleased with the pace of game changes. We've seen, in particular, what I'd call the double ups and that bother me so much on the commercial format. We've seen, I think, it's close to a 90 percent reduction in that this year, which I think is good for our fans. I think it's good for the experience of watching an NFL game, whether you're in the stadium or on television, or on another platform.

And I -- we said all along, this wasn't about reducing the length of games, it was the pace of the game. And so the 40 second clocks, as an example, that we put in after the point after touchdown and after the touchdowns have had a real impact. Centralizing replay and bringing the surface tablet to the sideline so the official can -- all of that sped up what we considered down time. Time that's not -- we don't believe is attractive to our fans.

So we're happy with it. It's only six weeks. We've got a long ways to go. But we're continuing to see what we can do to keep pushing that, because we believe that's good for the experience.



KEILAR: All right, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell there holding a press conference in the middle of what is a huge controversy involving the NFL and players who are protesting racial injustice and kneeling during the national anthem.

He said the players should stand for the national anthem and that football fans expect it. But he seemed pretty vague on how that's going to be enforced.

We have a lot to talk about here. My panel joining me now to unpack all of this, starting with Christine Brennan, CNN Sports analyst, "USA Today" sports columnist. What was your big take away?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: I really think that Roger Goodell did a pretty good job of being able to walk a tight rope between the issue of standing and the demands from the president and this constant background noise, if you can call it that, from a president of the United States, the constant noise that they're hearing from him and the players. And I think when he said this is unprecedented, that this is the kind of conversation that's never happened before in the NFL, Brianna, I think that is a -- an accurate statement. And that's a very positive statement.

Did he dodge questions? Absolutely. Did he not answer fully our journalists there sitting there saying, wait a minute, that wasn't the answer -- that wasn't even an answer to my question? Of course.

But the big takeaway is he repudiated Donald Trump. He refused to bow to the pressure of Trump saying that they must stand. The word "should," they "should stand" is the word that Roger Goodell has used all the way through this and it's the wording in the language for the guidance of the players. It's the rules and they still are the rules. The word is "should stand." And Donald Trump doesn't like that. I expect there will probably be another tweet soon. But Roger Goodell, I think, did a fine job of trying to navigate a very, very difficult issue.

KEILAR: And, Christine, as he walked that tight rope, he was pretty vague about whether owners should punish players. He was asked about a meeting that he had with them, if that was going to happen on an individual club basis. He said it wasn't something that they needed to discuss. What did you make of that?

BRENNAN: Right. Well, that means that they're not going to punish players. And there was a question about what would he do if a team did punish a player, and he did not answer that question. So the takeaway there is the players would not be punished.

And, you know, he was -- he said there were about a half dozen players, Briana, who are not -- who are taking a knee or otherwise protesting. That number is higher than that. So I think Roger Goodell got that number wrong. Might be trying to minimize the situation.


BRENNAN: Clearly it is a very small percentage if the number is 15, if it's 25, 30. And, of course, how do we interpret that? Taking a knee definitely is seen as a sign of protest. But what about locking arms, which has -- the players have said is a sign of protest. And it's way more than six or seven.

[14:25:02] But Goodell clearly wants to do that because he is walking a very fine line. And, again, no sympathy for him. But with Donald Trump roiling the waters. And that's all that this is. If Donald Trump doesn't do what he did in Huntsville nearly four weeks ago, this is not happening. So, in a way, Trump getting involved is actually going to lead to some good change within the community. As Roger Goodell said, they really do seem to care about that. And I take him at his word on that.

KEILAR: Nia Malika Henderson, what is the president going to think about what he likely just heard?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, we'll have to see. I mean does he see this for what it is, which I think it is actually a defeat. Roger Goodell isn't towing the line, isn't listening to Donald Trump in terms of what Donald Trump said that the league should do, right, that they should bench players, they should fine them, they should get them off the field if they mount this kind of protest. So that will be interesting to see what the takeaway is.

I thought also what was interesting here was Roger Goodell essentially saying that these are American issues that the players are protesting about, right? The issue of criminal justice reform. The issue of bail reform. Never said the word police brutality, which I thought was really interesting sort of dodge there. I mean there are many things that he didn't say, as Christine Brennan talked about there.

KEILAR: That's a very good point.

HENDERSON: But that -- yes, but that was interesting. I mean sort of saying that this isn't just a black problem. This isn't just in inner city communities. It's a real American problem that the league now wants to address.

But, at the same time, he also said, we don't want to get into politics. We want to get back to football. It's going to be very hard to do those types of things, right, if you're talking about legislation, which, at some point, Roger Goodell talked about, you are going to have to put the shield on the line, as one of the journalists talked about there. So it will be interesting to see what this next phase is for the NFL, a league that has dealt with sticky situations on controversial situations before with domestic violence and domestic abuse and also with the sort of CTE charges and problems that are out there as well.

So -- but all in all, I think Trump -- you know, there was a question of whether or not he would win this culture war. It seems, at this point, that the league is drawing a line in the sand and not giving the "w" to trump.

KEILAR: Paul Rieckhoff, you're the founder and the CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thanks for being with us and lending really an important perspective here, and that's the perspective of veterans, because the president has said that this is, even as players say it's about racial injustice, the president has said, no, this is disrespectful to the flag, this is disrespectful to the troops. Where is the divide among veterans?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER AND CEO, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Well, I think it's a very complex issue that really divides veterans on all levels. I mean what we heard when we polled over 8,000 veterans and troops most of all is that they don't agree. There's tremendous diversity. They're not a monolithic group. But they are paying attention. There are some trends. They worry about

being politicized. This is not really a veterans' issue. So when we asked them what was important in America, this didn't even rank in the top five. It was things like ISIS and hurricane support. So they don't view it as a veterans' issue. We don't own the flag. America owns the flag. And we've been really thrust into this argument in a way that has politicized things.

But The NFL does have a problem on their hands here. This is political. It doesn't look like the president's going to let it go. It's probably going to go all the way through the Super Bowl and maybe beyond. And some veterans are upset. Thirty-nine percent of the veterans we polled said they're not watching the NFL because of this. Most veterans support the right to free speech and they understand that's important, but many of them, you know, wouldn't kneel themselves.

So it's complicated and it's diverse. But it's not just a veteran's issue and I think that's important for all Americans to understand. We're just one voice in this national discussion. An important one, but not a monolithic one.

KEILAR: All right, you guys, stand by for me because we are moments away from the White House briefing as President Trump is saying that a lawmaker is lying about his phone call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger. We'll be back with that in just a moment.