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Trump Under Fire for Comments to Fallen Soldier's Widow. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 18, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Disrespecting the dead. An ugly feud erupts over President Trump's dealings with families of U.S. troops killed in combat. A Democratic congresswoman is standing by her claim the president was disrespectful during a phone call to one soldier's widow.
[17:00:43] And now, after a report the president promised the father of another dead soldier $25,000 and never followed through, the White House says the check has been sent.
The White House also says the chief of staff, John Kelly, is disgusted and frustrated because of the deaths of U.S. troops, including Kelly's own son, are becoming politicized. But is the president himself to blame?
Heated Sessions. Angry Democratic senators confront Attorney General Jeff Sessions, demanding answers about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Sessions' refusal to answer questions about Russia's election meddling and his own interactions with Russians during the presidential campaign. Is the special counsel, Robert Mueller, going to question the attorney general?
Whiplash. President Trump appears to do a 180-degree turn, backing away from a bipartisan health care bill that only yesterday he was signaling he supported. Will millions of Americans see their insurance and deductibles go up?
And going public. The Las Vegas security guard who was shot when he discovered the mass killer's room finally tells his story for the first time. What did he see?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including some shocking allegations about what President Trump said during condolence calls to the family of U.S. troops killed in action. A Florida congresswoman says the president told a dead serviceman's widow, and I'm quoting, "He knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts."
And now, after "The Washington Post" reported the president offered another dead soldier's grieving father $25,000 but never followed through, the White House just confirmed that the check has been middle. Including the death of chief of staff John Kelly son in Afghanistan is appalling and disrespectful.
Also breaking, President Trump today backed away from a bipartisan compromise designed to stabilize Obamacare and resume subsidy payments that are supposed to hold down prices and deductibles. After signaling as recently as yesterday he was open to the deal, today the president says payments to insurance companies are something he can never support.
We're also following today's tense question and answer session on Capitol Hill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisted he had no improper conversations with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, even though he met with Russia's ambassador several times. Sessions refused to discuss his conversations with President Trump and dodged Democrats' questions about the Russia investigations.
One of those Democrats, Judiciary Committee member Senator Chris Coons, he's here. He'll take our questions. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with our White House correspondent Sara Murray. Sara, this feud over the president's treatment of soldiers' families is getting even uglier.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this is the most difficult duty for any president, is to speak to a family member when a soldier has paid the ultimate sacrifice.
But today the White House is facing scrutiny new not just for the president's tone in a phone call with one widow, but also his response more broadly to an attack that left four U.S. servicemen dead.
MURRAY (voice-over): The commander in chief sparking controversy again today, facing criticism for his handling of one of his most solemn duties, a condolence call to the widow of a U.S. serviceman killed in Niger.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
MURRAY: The president disputing an account that he told widower Myesha Johnson her husband "knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts."
Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in an ISIS attack in Niger in early October.
The account of the conversation came from Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat who was present for Trump's call. She admonished the president Wednesday.
REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: This is a grieving widow, a grieving widow who is six months pregnant. This is a young woman. She's only 24 years old. When she actually hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, "He didn't even know his name." Now, that's the worst part.
[17:05:14] MURRAY: Sergeant Johnson's mother, who was also present for the call, confirmed the congresswoman's account to CNN.
Despite the president's denials, the White House isn't disputing the specific words he used. But aides insist Trump's tone was appropriate.
SARA HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's call, as accounted by multiple people in the room, believed that the president was completely respectful, very sympathetic and expressed the condolences of himself and the rest of the country and thanked the family for their service, commended them for having an American hero in their family. And I don't know how you could take that any other way.
MURRAY: The incident adding to the scrutiny of Trump's response to the attack that left four U.S. soldiers dead. It was the deadliest combat incident involving U.S. troops since he took office.
When asked earlier this week why he didn't address it publicly for nearly two weeks, Trump turned it into an exercise in political score- boarding, falsely claiming President Obama and others did not call the families of fallen soldiers.
TRUMP: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.
MURRAY: The latest controversy enveloping the administration, comes as Trump tries again to jump start his legislative agenda. Today, Trump axed a bipartisan deal to reinstate Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies, which help low-income enrollees buy health care, insisting the payments are nothing more than a bailout for insurers.
TRUMP: They've been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody's ever seen before. I am not going to do anything to enrich the insurance companies.
MURRAY: That's after suggesting he would be open to such a compromise just a day earlier.
TRUMP: The solution will be for about a year or two years, and it will get us over this intermediate hump.
MURRAY: Today, the president shifted to tax reform in a meeting with the Senate Finance Committee, insisting the time is right for a major legislative overhaul.
TRUMP: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, in my opinion. This is something that will be really unique. The timing is right. (END VIDEOTAPE)
MURRAY: Now, so far the White House still has not given an answer as to why it took the president so long to address this attack and the loss of life in Niger. Today, John McCain, who's the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration has not been forthcoming about what happened in that attack.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Pretty disturbing stuff. Sara Murray, thank you.
Now let's get more on this afternoon's revelations that the president sent $25,000 to the family of another dead U.S. soldier.
I want to go to our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins, who's working the story for us.
So update our viewers. What is the White House now saying about this, Kaitlan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. The "Washington Post" reported this afternoon with the drama of all of these calls and the president saying he's been more attentive to the families of fallen soldiers than his predecessors that when the president called the family of one fallen soldier, Dillon Baldridge, a 22-year-old who died in Afghanistan over the summer, that the president spoke to the family, the father of the soldier specifically, Chris Baldridge, for about 15 minutes.
And then Baldridge told "The Washington Post" that the president said he was going to write him a $25,000 check for his loss.
Now, the father says that when he got a condolence letter in the mail later on, that there was no check. It was just a letter from the president. And he said he was disappointed, because he was surprised that the president had offered them -- had offered him this.
So then the White House published a statement a little bit after "The Washington Post" published the story, saying that the check, indeed, had been sent and that they thought it was disgusting that the media was using this story to advance their agenda. And we've now confirmed that the White House sent this check to the family of Dillon just today, Wolf.
Now, he died in June. The "Washington Post" reported today that the president had spoken to him a few weeks after that, but the check was not sent until today, Wolf.
BLITZER: And it wasn't sent until, what, "The Washington Post" informed the president that they had this information, they were seeking White House comment? Once "The Washington Post" told the White House about the story, they then decided they'd better send the check, is that what you're hearing? COLLINS: That's right. "The Washington Post" says in their story
that they reached out to the White House today, and then a White House official also has confirmed to me that the check was not sent out until today. So that just goes to show you that the White House is saying that this should be portrayed as a sincere gesture from the president, because it was a personal check from Donald Trump.
But it's clear that there were some mixed signals here if this call happened a few weeks after Dillon Baldridge died in June and that the check was not sent until mid-October, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. Kaitlan Collins, with her reporting from the White House.
[17:10:00] There's another aspect of this entire controversy. Politico is now reporting the White House staff actually drafted a sympathy statement about the U.S. troops killed in the Niger ambush, but the statement was never released.
I want to go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's working his sources. What are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, bottom line here, remember, is that for 12 days after these four soldiers died in Niger, the president didn't say anything about their loss, whether it via Twitter, in his many encounters with reporters or any statement that had his name on it.
Politico is now reporting, though, that the very day after they died on October 4, on October 5, that the staff of the National Security Council did draft a letter from the president, expressing both the president's and the first lady's condolences for the soldiers lost. But that statement never issued or released in his name. Politico says that, ultimately, it was decided to have Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a portion of the statement from the podium there, and she did say something the next day about the White House being sorry for the loss, but not the president himself. That the difference here.
And, of course, it was only after this became very public and there were many public calls about the loss of these troops and questions as to why the president had not commented that the president finally did make comments in his name.
BLITZER: All right. Another aspect of the story. All right. Jim Sciutto reporting for that for us. Thank you very much.
With us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, are you concerned how this Niger mission unfolded?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I am, Wolf, and I'm asking for a classified briefing about exactly what happened in Niger. We've got many American trooped deployed in the region who are part of a multinational effort against both Boko Haram and ISIS and AQIM. I've got some concerns about the operational details of the incident
as they've been reported publicly, and I'm looking forward to getting a more robust briefing from the Department of Defense.
BLITZER: Why do -- you just heard Jim Sciutto's report and what Politico's reporting. Why do you believe that statement from the White House, from the president about the Niger ambush and the killing of these American troops was never sent out?
COONS: Well, that's hard to understand how they might have failed to get that statement out. All of the reporting you've just covered about the back and forth with the families of fallen soldiers is disheartening.
I represent, as you know, the state of Delaware. Dover Air Force Base is where every American who falls in service to our nation is first brought. I've gone there for dignified transfer ceremonies with President Trump, with President Obama. And I think it's important that we try and elevate this above partisan politics and just recognize our president has a job to comfort the families of those who fall and to do it publicly and privately, whether in statements about their loss or in making appropriate and respectful calls to the families of the fallen.
BLITZER: Is an investigation -- I know the Pentagon's got its own investigation underway, but should Congress launch a full-scale investigation to answer the questions surrounding this is-affiliated ambush and the killing of these four U.S. troops?
COONS: I'll tell you, Wolf, I am concerned about an ISIS affiliate in Nigeria. It is a breakoff fragment of what used to be Boko Haram. I'm concerned about the growth of an ISIS affiliate in Niger and Mali, and I do think that deserves our attention.
Whether or not this specific incident and some of the operational shortcomings rises to the level that we need to launch a full investigation, I'll wait until we get a classified briefing to make a judgement call here. It was a relatively small operation, but we lost four Americans, and it seems there were some shortcomings in intelligence, in air cover and in the planning and execution of this particular incident.
BLITZER: I want to get your reaction to that "Washington Post" report that the father of one fallen U.S. soldier was told by the president back in June that there would be a $25,000 check sent to him. Check was never sent, but the White House today confirming the president today sent that check. What was your reaction to that when you heard that report?
COONS: Wolf, I've got a very mixed reaction. It's quite generous of the president to send a personal check of that size to someone, but it's, unfortunately, thoughtless to make that commitment and not follow through on it.
He has a great deal of responsibilities as the president of the United States, and whether it's the failure to make a timely statement about the four American soldiers lost in Niger or to follow through on that commitment, I think there's some execution issues here that ought to be addressed.
More importantly, we need to, all of us, be mindful of the sacrifices of the men and women of the United States armed forces and the importance of not overly politicizing whether or not they're appropriately comforted in a timely way. All of us should be recognizing and remembering those who have died in service to our country.
BLITZER: As you know, President Trump brought up the death of his chief of staff's son, General Kelly's son in Afghanistan back in 2010, to justify his accusation that previous presidents didn't call the families of fallen U.S. soldiers, but listen to how the White House responded today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I think that General Kelly is disgusted by the the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost. I think he's disgusted and frustrated by that. If he has any anger, it's towards that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction to that? Because it was the president who brought General Kelly into this entire conversation.
COONS: That's right. And my hunch is that General Kelly and any family that has lost someone in combat would rather not be made into a political football either way.
As I said before, I think it's important for us to reduce the amount of politicization here of questions that the president first brought up about who does and who doesn't reach out to the families of the fallen.
In my experience, President Obama took very seriously his responsibilities in the times that I joined him at a dignified transfer ceremony in Dover, but I frankly think what matters most is that we encourage our current president to be more of a unifier and that all of us involved in politics focus on the losses of those who served and lost their lives in the line of duty.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a heartbreaking story. And of course, our deepest, deepest condolences to all of the families of those who've served this country and have fallen in battle.
Senator, there's a lot more -- there are more important developments, very important developments unfolding up on Capitol Hill right now. I want to get to that. Need to take a quick break. We'll resume our conversation right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:21:28] BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's one of the senators who questioned the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, earlier today. But the attorney general didn't answer some very, very specific questions on some extremely sensitive issues.
Before we continue our conversation, let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, today's hearing had quite a few tense moments.
MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Wolf. In large measure because Jeff Sessions just would not answer a number of questions, particularly about his conversations with President Trump, saying a number of those were covered, were just confidential, even though he did not assert executive privilege.
One Democrat on the committee, Dick Blumenthal, told me afterwards that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is the one who's going to have to get to the bottom of some of Jeff Sessions' answers, as he would not answer questions to the committee.
But one thing that Jeff Sessions did say: the country is not prepared for Russian interference in the 2018 elections.
RAJU (voice-over): For the first time as attorney general, Jeff Sessions returned to the committee where he served as a senator, and Democrats did not give him a warm reception.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You're saying you are privileged?
RAJU: At the heart of the dispute was Sessions' testimony during his confirmation hearing in January, when he said he had no contacts with Russians during the campaign season. After press reports later revealed he did, Sessions acknowledged interacting multiple times with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak but said there was nothing to it.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You subtly changed your story. Since you qualified your denial to say that you did not, quote, "discuss issues of the campaign with Russians," what in your view constitutes issues of the campaign?
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, let me just say this without hesitation, that I conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country.
FRANKEN: That suggests that...
SESSIONS: No, no, no, you had a long time, Senator Franken. I'd like to respond. No, Mr. Chairman, I don't have to sit in here and listen to his... FRANKEN: You're the one who testified.
SESSIONS: ... charges without having a chance to respond. Give me a break.
RAJU: Today, Senator Patrick Leahy said his former colleague may have misled the committee.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: My concern is you were part of the Russian facade and went along with it. And I'm sorry. I've known you for years, and I'm sorry you would do that.
SESSIONS: It did hurt me to say you think I'm part of a facade. I'm not part of a facade.
RAJU: Sessions was also asked if Special Counsel Robert Mueller interviewed him as part of his special Russia inquiry. He paused for several seconds before answering.
SESSIONS: Well, I'd be pleased to answer that. I'm not sure I should without clearing that with the special counsel. What do you think?
DICK: I'm just -- have you been interviewed by him?
RAJU: But Sessions did not answer many questions, particularly about his conversations with Trump over the firing of FBI Director James Comey and whether the president fired him to end the Russia probe.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Did the president mention to you his concern about lifting the cloud on the Russia investigation?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, that calls for a communication that I've had with the president, and I believe it remains confidential.
FEINSTEIN: But you don't deny that there was a communication?
SESSIONS: I do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication between the president that I consider to be confidential.
RAJU: Still, Sessions did not hesitate to criticize Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.
[17:25:19] SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, I don't think it's been fully understood, the significance of the error that Mr. Comey made on the Clinton matter.
RAJU: The chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley, said many questions about Sessions' contacts with Russians could be cleared up if the FBI simply briefed the committee.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The FBI did not do that. And now that we have conflicts -- and now we have conflicts that I think could have been avoided if the FBI would have just been more transparent with the oversight of this committee.
RAJU: Now, Wolf, in some other news in the Russia investigation, we are learning that the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier today interviewed former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski becomes the latest official to be interviewed as part of the Russia probe. The same committee also has previously interviewed Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.
But, Wolf, I can tell you tonight a number of Republicans on these committees believe it's time, by the end of the year, to wrap this up. They don't want to see this drag on into an election year, but some Democrats say, "Look, there's a lot more to investigate and a lot more questions that still need to be answered" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. Manu Raju reporting.
Let's continue our conversation with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, you were there, Senator. Did you hear an explanation from Sessions as to why he wouldn't answer those specific questions about his conversations with the president? Were you satisfied with his answer about confidentiality?
COONS: Wolf, I wasn't satisfied. The attorney general's job is to uphold the laws of the United States, not to be a close political ally of the president; and that's a role that has sometimes been confused in our history. I wasn't satisfied that he was fully forthcoming in answering the questions that were appropriate for the committee to ask of him.
This was the first time he's appeared in front of the Judiciary Committee since the abrupt firing of Jim Comey, frankly, the first time he's appeared as attorney general. And I think he should have been willing to answer questions.
If the president didn't fire Jim Comey to protect himself from the ongoing Russia investigation, then I see no reason why the attorney general couldn't have simply said so. And his refusal to answer that question, I think, raises more questions.
BLITZER: Senator Chris Coons, thanks very much for joining us.
COONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, a new account of the Las Vegas mass shooting given by the hotel security guard who discovered what was going on and was shot by the gunman.
BLITZER: Breaking news. A new report from "The Washington Post" documents President Trump's dealings with families of troops killed in action, including one man who says the president offered to pay him $25,000, never delivered on his promise. A White House official tells CNN the check was sent today.
[17:32:35] The story comes during a week of controversy surrounding the president's treatment of Gold Star families. Let's get more from our political experts.
And Gloria, let me start with you. You spent a lot of sometime studying Donald Trump over the years. You believe he would have written that check, sent that check today if "The Washington Post" had not contacted the White House and informed them that this -- the check was never received...
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No.
BLITZER: ... by the father of this killed U.S. soldier?
BORGER: Well, it seems to be more than a coincidence, Wolf, that the check is written today, the same day that "The Post" makes inquiries about it, given the fact that the president had the conversation over the summer.
And, you know, you remember that when the president said he was going to donate "X" amount to veterans' groups and that also did not occur until after "The Washington Post" made inquiries about it. So I think you'd have to say, Wolf, that, you know, this does look a bit suspicious.
However, the president did make an offer of a personal donation to a father in grief who was saying that his ex-wife was going to get the death benefit and he had no money and needed something, and the president did, verbally at least reach out, and today they're sending the check. And I think it's clear it's because they were called on it by a news organization.
BLITZER: David Chalian, how do you see it?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, the coincidence is clear. There's no doubt that the call from "The Washington Post" caused them to follow through and caused the president to actually send the check.
It's also in that same phone call over the summer that Gloria's talking about the president took a moment after offering it to make sure to note to this grieving parent that this is something other presidents haven't done but that -- that he is doing. So he wanted credit for this gesture, for writing this check, but didn't follow through with actually delivering on it until asked about it.
BLITZER: You know, Nia-Malika Henderson is with us, as well. Nia, the president was already getting lots of grief, incredible backlash for the comments he supposedly delivered to the -- to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger.
According to this congresswoman, this Democratic congresswoman from Florida, who was listening in on the conversation on a speaker phone, the president said he knew -- he said to the widow he knew, referring to the -- to the fallen soldier, "he knew what he signed up for." [17:35:03] Listen to how the congressman -- congresswoman, who
represents the family and has known the family for many years, spoke about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: For him to say that this young man stayed in school, did all the right things, went into the service, became a sergeant so quickly, that he signed up for his own death? That is so insensitive.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: 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."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, Nia, the family of Sergeant La David Johnson confirmed what the congresswoman said, Congresswoman Wilson's account of this phone conversation. How did this unfold?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sounds like President Trump made these phone calls to these families and that people were on the call with him. John Kelly, for instance, was on this call.
According to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, their account is that the president, at least in sentiment, was expressing condolences and was very respectful to the family. Obviously, what we're hearing from the family is that they took it in a very different way.
It sounds to me like the White House is saying, at least in part, that the president's heart was in the right place. He wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to communicate the right thing, but his words didn't necessarily match up to that.
The president, of course, has come out and said he didn't say those words at all and that he had proof that he didn't say those words. The White House has also said that there's no transcript or recording of that conversation. And the White House also seems to be suggesting, sort of take John Kelly's word for it.
But, you know, but you hope for these families that they are able to get out of the spotlight in this way. It must be hard for them, being the subject of these conversations and the back and forth with this president.
BLITZER: You know, David Chalian, the president did tweet right after this congresswoman spoke out, Democratic congresswoman. "Totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action, and I have proof. Sad."
Listen to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said today when the whole issue of General Kelly, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff who lost a son in Afghanistan back in 2010. Listen to how she framed this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost. I think he's disgusted and frustrated by that. If he has any anger, it's towards that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But, David, it was the president himself who brought General Kelly and his fallen son into this entire conversation.
CHALIAN: Yes. General Kelly's disgust and anger and frustration should be directed towards one person: his boss who sits in the Oval Office. Because it was Donald Trump who got on conservative talk radio and threw out General Kelly's name to enter into the political bloodstream to start muddying the waters of this conversation and help Donald Trump politically in this scenario by saying, "Hey, you know what? Somebody should ask John Kelly if Barack Obama called him when his son died."
Now you know, Wolf, that General Kelly has spoken about his son not that often and has made clear he really wants that to be a private part of his life, not part of his public life as a four-star general, now as White House chief of staff. And yet, his boss completely injected him into the middle of this political to and fray, which clearly, as Sarah Sanders says, is frustrating to the chief of staff.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Gloria, how do you see it?
BORGER: Well, I'd see it the same way. If I were General Kelly I'd be upset that whatever private conversation I had with Donald Trump about whether I got a phone call or didn't get a phone call from Barack Obama when my son was killed in action, became a political football when the president mentioned it on talk radio as a way to deflect criticism from himself and onto his favorite nemesis, Barack Obama. And using General Kelly and using his deceased son this way is disgusting.
And, of course, now it, you know, the story has snowballed because, you know, there's a question of what the president said in his phone calls. And it goes on and on and on and on.
But this started for General Kelly when the president brought him into this.
BLITZER: Yep. All right. Everybody, stand by. Because there's more. There are more developments unfolding even as we speak. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:44:22] BLITZER: We're back to our panel. Gloria, after putting his support behind the Alexander-Murray health care deal in the Rose Garden yesterday, the president today backtracking. He tweeted today, "I am supportive of Lamar as a person and also of the process, but I can never support bailing out the insurance companies who have made a fortune with Obamacare."
Take us behind the scenes. Why has the president flipped?
BORGER: Well, the president flipped because conservatives didn't like what they saw, and they didn't realize that. So within 24 hours, Republicans in Congress have whiplash. The president says he supports the compromise, and then he comes out and says he doesn't support the compromise, because conservatives say they didn't get anything in this deal. They didn't get any kind of market reforms and the flexibility they were promised to the states. They say the states already have in some way, shape or form.
So the President had to backtrack here. He likes the idea of bipartisanship, but there are lots of Republicans asking the question of whether the President actually knew what was in the compromise.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Nia, do you think that Republicans and Democrats share some serious frustration over the President's reversals on sensitive issues like this?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, because we've seen it before.
We saw it with DACA where Chuck and Nancy, as the President likes to call them, thought they had reached some sort of deal with the President. And then days later, he seemed to waffle on that. Not even days later, just, you know, hours later, he seemed to waffle on it and question what Chuck and Nancy said in terms of that deal.
We saw that even with the House's healthcare sort of repeal and reverse early on, with the President praising that deal when it came out of the House, and then calling it mean later.
So if you are on the Hill, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, it's hard to know what the President thinks and whether or not he'll change his mind. He seems to believe what he says in the moment. But you check in moments later, and he could be on a very different side of the aisle.
I think part of the problem, he doesn't necessarily have any ideological leanings. He doesn't -- he's not really steeped in policy, he ultimately wants to make a deal. And he isn't necessarily concerned with what is in that deal, but the impression that he can come away with a win.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There is more news we're following, including -- we're going to bring you the harrowing firsthand account of Jesus Campos, the security guard who encountered the Las Vegas gunman just moments before he carried out the deadliest shooting in modern American history.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:51:31] BLITZER: More than two weeks had passed since the massacre in Las Vegas. We're finally hearing a firsthand account from the man who may have prevented the killing from becoming even worse.
Brian Todd is following the story of Jesus Campos for us, the security guard at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Brian, tell us more about his encounter with the gunman.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Jesus Campos says the shooter, Stephen Paddock, fired at him through his hotel room door as Campos was walking away from the room.
Tonight, Campos' riveting account reveals new information about the shooting and about the presence of another person in that hotel hallway.
TODD (voice-over): For the first time, we're hearing the dramatic account of the critical moments just before the carnage began in Las Vegas inside the hallway of the Mandalay Bay Hotel's 32nd floor.
JESUS CAMPOS, SECURITY GUARD, MANDALAY BAY HOTEL: I don't know how he was shooting --
ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": Yes.
CAMPOS: -- but he shot out.
TODD (voice-over): Hotel security guard Jesus Campos is breaking his silence tonight for the first time, telling his story of what unfolded during the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
In a new interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Campos says he was responding to an alarm that had sounded on one of the two doors that led to a stairwell next to the gunman's hotel room.
When he arrived, he found one of the doors had been screwed shut with metal brackets. Unable to enter the stairs, Campos says he started walking back down the hallway, away from the shooter's door with his back turned.
CAMPOS: As that door is closing and it's so heavy, it will slam. I'm walking down this way. And I believe that's what caught the shooter's attention.
As I was walking down, I heard rapid fire. And at first, I took cover. I felt a burning sensation. I went to go lift my pant leg up and I saw the blood.
TODD (voice-over): Police say the shooter had fired about 200 rounds through his door at Campos.
How lucky is he that he gets hit once? ART RODERICK, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES MARSHALS
SERVICE: Absolutely lucky. I mean, that's a straight shot down what we used to call a fatal funnel. I mean, you know, it's just a hallway.
And he is so lucky that he was able to duck into one of these cubbyholes. Luckily, there were cubbyholes. A lot of hotels don't -- just have flat walls and then a door.
TODD (voice-over): Campos' arrival in the hallway may have also saved two lives, including engineer Stephen Schuck.
STEPHEN SCHUCK, BUILDING ENGINEER, MANDALAY BAY HOTEL: And that's when Jesus, he leaned out and he said, take cover, take cover. Yelled at me, and within milliseconds, if he didn't say that, I would have got hit.
TODD (voice-over): As the bullets were flying down the hall, Campos says a guest also appeared in that hallway.
CAMPOS: There was a female that came out, and I told her to go back inside. It wasn't safe. Shortly after, that's when Stephen was approaching, and I told him to stay back and get cover. And that's when more rounds were dispersed.
TODD (voice-over): Campos says, immediately after he was shot and took cover, he called hotel security dispatch on his radio. At about that time, police say, Stephen Paddock began opening fire on the crowd below.
How many lives might Jesus Campos have saved by drawing the shooter's attention and possibly speeding up his plans?
RODERICK: The number is incalculable. I think that if he didn't come up and get the shooter's attention the way he did, who knows how long it would have taken them to figure out it's coming from the 32nd floor. You know, we got to respond to it. There could have been a lot more people killed in that venue.
[17:55:00] TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Campos is being hailed as a humble hero by this studio audience and many around the country.
TODD: Las Vegas police have not said who that woman in the hallway was or what she told investigators.
A spokeswoman for the Mandalay Bay's owners, MGM, tell CNN they couldn't be more proud of Jesus Campos, that he's a hero.
A spokesman for Campos' police union didn't comment specifically on Campos' interview, but told us they're pleased that he has resurfaced and is in good health.
We got no comment on the interview from the Las Vegas police. We're told that Campos has met several times with investigators, Wolf. BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.
Coming up, new controversies erupting over President Trump's dealings with the families of fallen U.S. troops, including a report the President promised a dead soldier's father $25,000 this summer, then never sent it.