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Rohingya Crisis; Trump In Ugly Feud Over Condolence Call; White House Defends Trump's Call To Gold Star Widow; White House Struggles With Details Of Niger Ambush; Trump Pitches Tax Plan In Meeting With Senators; Trump Attacked Gold Star Family Last Year; Trump Claimed Obama Didn't Call Military Families; Some Gold Star Families Say Trump Has Not Called; Trump Sends $25K To Soldier's Family After Expose; President Obama Returns To Campaign Trail; Puerto Rico In Shambles A Month After Storm; Security Guard Shot By Gunman Breaks Silence. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired October 19, 2017 - 02:00   ET




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ahead this hour the president and the grieving family of a fallen soldier at odds over his condolence call.

Was it insensitive or was it "very nice"?

SESAY (voice-over): The U.S. secretary of state with strong words for Myanmar where he lay blame for a growing humanitarian crisis.

VAUSE (voice-over): And the grand call of outrage over sexual harassment moved from Hollywood to California's capital, where dozens of women in state politics have said enough.

SESAY (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers from around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE (voice-over): I'm John Vause. Great to have you with us for the third hour of NEWSROOM L.A.


VAUSE: We begin at the White House where there's a lot going on; a bipartisan health care deal the president supported just a day ago is now being slammed by Donald Trump, effectively killing that deal before it even really got off the ground.

SESAY: President Trump is making a push for his tax plan, meeting with members of the Senate Finance Committee, all while dealing with the fallout from criticism from the Gold Star family that he dealt with them disrespectfully. VAUSE: The president denies he told the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson that he knew what he had signed up for. Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson is close with the family and listened into the condolence call on a speaker phone.

Even so, Donald Trump says she fabricated that claim.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I 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.


SESAY: Well, the mother of Sergeant Johnson told CNN the congresswoman's account was very accurate.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: This man is a sick man. He's coldhearted and he feels no pity or sympathy for anyone, this is a grieving widow, a grieving widow who is six months pregnant.

This is a young woman. She's only 24 years old. She weighs maybe 110 pounds and she has two other kids, 2 years old and 6 years old. And 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.


SESAY: The White House disputes that version of events and says chief of staff John Kelly and others were listening to the call.

VAUSE: Just short of nine months in office and President Trump has had his chances to be the consoler in chief, comforting the nation during times of tragedy.

SESAY: But critics say even at his best he is struggling. CNN's Tom Foreman reports.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Harvey slams Texas. The president salutes the calamity then spins to the relief effort.

TRUMP: It's been really nice. It's been a wonderful thing. It's -- as tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing. FOREMAN (voice-over): Maria's dark clouds hit Puerto Rico and he

embraces the silver lining.

TRUMP: But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died and you look at happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing, nobody's ever seen anything like this, what is your -- what is your death count as of this moment?



FOREMAN (voice-over): Even when a gunman slaughters dozens in Nevada, he looks beyond the sadness.

TRUMP: And what happed in Las Vegas, it's in many ways a miracle. The Police Department has done such an incredible job.

FOREMAN (voice-over): For his political opponents, President Trump often runs long on political posturing and short on empathy, especially when it comes to the military.

TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.

FOREMAN (voice-over): During the campaign he trashed Senator John McCain, a longtime prisoner of war in Vietnam.

TRUMP: He's a war hero because was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?

FOREMAN (voice-over): Trump accepted a Purple Heart from a veteran even though he never served, let alone got wounded.

TRUMP: I always wanted to get the Purple Heart.


TRUMP: This was much easier.

KHAN, GOLD STAR FATHER: You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And of course there was this titanic confrontation with the father of an American officer killed in combat, who spoke at the Democratic convention.

TRUMP: Who wrote that?

Did Hillary's script writers write it?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: How would you answer that father?

What sacrifice have you made for your country?

TRUMP: I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs. FOREMAN (voice-over): And it continues in so many moments that would appear to demand sensitivity, the president unapologetically focuses on optimism and strength.

TRUMP: I was having fun. They were having fun. They said, throw them to me, throw them to me, Mr. President.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Well, Iran's supreme leader is warning Washington that he will shred the nuclear deal if the U.S. quits. In a televised speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the U.S. president "a big mouth who pretends to be an idiot."

SESAY: He went on to say, "I don't want to waste our time to respond to the rants and whoppers of the foul-throated President of the United States. Everyone should know that once again America will receive a slap on its mouth and will be defeated by the people of Iran."

VAUSE: Fred Pleitgen joins us now live from Tehran.

Fred, nobody but the supreme leaders of Iran would honor its commitment to that nuclear deal and called on Europe to help save it. This seems like a big push to isolate the U.S.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does in ways, John. On the other hand, he was also quite critical of the Europeans as well. It was interesting for him to be saying these things.

What he was essentially saying is that he will still very much in favor of the nuclear deal that the Iranians would not, as he said, shred the nuclear dead unless the U.S. left the nuclear deal.

But he also criticized the Europeans, saying they shouldn't be talking about Iran's missile program because they have atomic weapons of their own, at least some of them -- of course, the Brits and the French he was talking about.

And he said if they want to criticize us, they can, quote, "go to hell." So he did have some very critical words for the Europeans.

But at the same time you can really see that he is trying to, as you say, isolate the U.S. and also he criticized the U.S. also for its policies generally here in the Middle East. He said that some of the harsh things that President Trump had been saying about Iran were because he believed that the U.S. is angry because Iran is so successful in places like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq -- John.

VAUSE: On the flip side of diplomacy, the U.S. is escalating its own diplomatic push against Iran at the U.N. The U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, accusing Iran of violating Security Council resolutions at will, saying Washington will no longer turn a blind eye.

So in this view tit-for-tat in diplomacy, who has the international support here?

Is it more support for Washington?

Or is there more support for Tehran?

Is there any way to know?

PLEITGEN: I actually think that all this goes back and forth a lot of the time. I think at this point in time with some of the critical things that President Trump said about the nuclear agreement you can really feel especially the Europeans and the E.U., like Federica Mogherini, the foreign representative of the European Union, really defending the deal.

And you can say on the side of the Iranians in this, saying that the deal is not only working but at this point in time it is the best alternative. But, of course, all of that continuously changes here in this region.

We see the Europeans also highly critical of the Iranians. For instance, earlier this year, the Iranians launched missiles for a test with Hebrew writing on them. They felt that was a big provocation. There were even some Iranian politicians who felt that that was a provocation.

And the Europeans are very uncomfortable also with some of these missile tests that the Revolutionary Guard here in this country is conducting. So it is something that does go back and forth. But certainly yesterday at that Security Council meeting, you did feel that some of others in that room were a little bit uncomfortable with Nikki Haley, because she also went off topic in that meeting.

But it really is the case with these provocations, tend to come from both sides and come at different times and you can really feel the tide internationally also shifting between these two players.

But certainly no love lost. You can tell at this point in time that there were any relations between the U.S. and Iran, they certainly seem to be deteriorating at a of very past pace and you can see that the Iranians really aren't willing to give any, even an inch of ground if you will in this war of words that's going on. Many people hoping it doesn't escalate into something more -- John.

VAUSE: Words are fine. We can leave it at that. Fred, thank you, appreciate it. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Tehran.

Well, the U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson says the world can no longer ignore the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed or driven out by Burmese security forces in what the United Nations calls apparent ethnic cleansing.

SESAY: A recent U.N. report says the violence has pushed nearly 20,000 Rohingya Muslims a day across the border into Bangladesh. Tillerson says it's clear who's to blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [02:10:00]

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We really hold the military leadership accountable for what's happening with the Rohingya area. If these reports are true, someone is going to be held to account for that. And it's up to the military leadership of Burma to decide what direction do they want to play in the future.


SESAY: Tirana Hassan (ph) is a crisis response director for Amnesty International. She joins me now from Geneva, Switzerland.

Tirana (ph), good to see you once again.

Amnesty International released a report on Wednesday, "My world is finished," Rohingya targeted in crimes against humanity in Myanmar.

Tirana (ph), tell me, how do the findings of this latest report change our understanding of what has been happening to the Rohingya since August?

TIRANA HASSAN (PH), AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Well, this is Amnesty International's most detailed analysis yet of the crisis in Rakhine State, which has pushed approximately 580,000 Rohingya now across the border into Bangladesh. And what found in our latest research after speaking to 120 Rohingya refugees, victims, witnesses is that it's not -- this is ethnic cleansing. There is absolutely no doubt of that.

But what we have now documented is that there are 11 acts listed in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, when committed in these sorts of circumstances rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

And consistently -- and the interviews that we've done with witnesses, with survivors, six of those have continually been coming up: rape, sexual violence, assault, persecution, forced displacement and even the denial of basic services like food. I mean, access to food is one of the push factors which has seen tens of thousands of Rohingya fleeing across the border in the most recent days.

SESAY: Tirana (ph), as you just made clear, there's no doubt from your organization's point of view that is ethnic cleansing based on the research you've done and the people you've spoken to. I want you to take a listen to this. This is Jati Sanguerra (ph), an official in the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I want you to take a listen to what this U.N. official had to say.


JATI SANGUERRA (PH), OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: At the moment, it has been described as what seems like a textbook example of ethnic cleansing by the high commissioner. It could meet the boundaries. But we haven't yet made that legal determination.


SESAY: Tirana (ph), you hear that and you think what, the U.N. is saying they still haven't made the determination as to whether it meets the legal standing for ethnic cleansing?

HASSAN: We most definitely do believe this is ethnic cleansing. What we have documented is widespread and systematic attack that is being affecting and targeting the Rohingya population as a whole.

As we know , there were attacks by a Rohingya insurgent group. The government then in response to that has claimed to been carrying you clearance operations or what it is, is essentially just collective punishment against the Rohingya population which is seen wide scale burning.

And the types of burning that we believe was actually -- has actually been done not only to punish the Rohingya population but to drive them permanently out of the area. And what is specifically and very important about the research that we've most recently released is that consistently in some of the worst attacks that we saw, the witnesses have been able to identify the insignia on the actual security forces' uniforms.

And we have been able to identify the army's Western command, the 33rd Light Infantry Division. And the border guard police have been consistent (INAUDIBLE) some of the worst abuses that we have documented.

And we're talking about killings, we're talking about rape, we're talking about the mass burning of civilian villages. And in line with what Secretary Tillerson's statement most recently, about the military leadership being responsible , this is very much in line with what Amnesty International also believes.

There must be justice and accountability. And the accountability of the Myanmar security services who have been involved in these attacks, a lot of focus has been on Aung San Suu Kyi but we do know that Minong Line (ph) is the commander in chief and he has the responsibility to reel these troops in.

SESAY: Tirana (ph), I have to ask you about the more than half a million who have crossed over into Bangladesh and are living -- really, they're existing in the most squalid conditions, just hard to even fathom.

How much international support is the government of Bangladesh receiving --


SESAY: -- to help with this enormous undertaking?

HASSAN: Squalid is a really apt word to describe the conditions in the camp. There are half of the Rohingya population, actually over half of the Rohingya population have now left Rakhine State in Myanmar and fled across the border into Bangladesh. The humanitarian response, regardless of the massive efforts that

have been made, is severely underresourced. But on top of that, dealing with any sort of mass population movement of this scale in this timeframe is incredibly difficult.

The humanitarian effort is stretched to capacity and we know for a fact that there are many without the basic access to services that they need, not enough food. Only the most basic shelter. And it really is a rescue for disaster so the international community does have to step it up and commit to the humanitarian response.

But we would be amiss to talk about the humanitarian situation only in Bangladesh because we have to remember that in the Rakhine State itself, the humanitarian effort, the humanitarian relief has actually been cut off from Northern Rakhine State since August 25th.

So we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who have had absolutely no access to services that they survived on, including just access to food. And our researchers have been on that border and people have been coming in and literally falling to the ground faint because haven't had access to food and they are starving.

SESAY: We've seen horrific pictures in recent days coming from Rakhine State, stuff that you cannot unsee. Once you do see the scenes, you have to think, where is the world? Where is the world, where is the accountability?

Tirana (ph) Hassan, thank you. Thank you for joining us to talk about this. We'll keep the conversation going.

HASSAN: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: After three days of national mourning, thousands took to the streets of Somalia's capital, demonstrating against those responsible for a deadly bomb attack. Police initially tried to restrict access to the scene but eventually protesters were allowed to gather.

The twin bombings killed more than 300 people, wounded 400 others. There has been no claim of responsibility. Suspicion falls on the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, which has used large truck bombs in the past.

SESAY: Still to come, female lawmakers in California are speaking out again sexual harassment. They're among the latest to take a stand in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.




VAUSE: There are just two words, it seems, actors Alyssa Milano sparked a powerful rallying cry heard around the world when over the weekend she tweeted, if you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write #MeToo as a reply to this tweet. Milano didn't take credit. The idea, she said, came from a friend. And a similar --


VAUSE: -- #MeToo campaign was created 10 years ago. But her tweet came in the wake of graphic accounts of sexual assault by movie producer Harvey Weinstein and also revelations that so many in Hollywood have been willing to look the other way to remain silent, effectively giving tacit approval for the most powerful to exploit the most vulnerable.

As of Wednesday for the record, more than 40 women now accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct and using the MeToo hashtag, millions of stories have been shared, exposing the disturbing scope and sheer magnitude of sexual assault and harassment around the world.

Former U.S. Olympic gymnast Michaela Maroney (ph) revealed on Wednesday she, too , is a victim using her verified Twitter account under the #MeToo hashtag. She alleged former team doctor, Larry Nasser (ph) repeatedly molested starting from when she was just 13 years old.

Here's pari of what she wrote.

"For me, the scariest night of my life happen when I was 15 years old. I had flown all day and night with the team to get to Tokyo. He had given me a sleeping pill for the night and the next thing I know I was all alone with him in his hotel room, getting a "treatment."

I thought I was going to die that night.

Nasser was arrested last November on charges of criminal sexual misconduct. His lawyers did not respond to our calls about Moroni's allegations.

But that groundswell was speaking out, publicly saying, "Me, too," has read from Hollywood to California's capital. More than 140 women, a bipartisan group, including lawmakers and lobbyists have called out what they describe as pervasive sexual misconduct by powerful men.

In a letter to the "Los Angele Times," they wrote, "Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities. Why didn't we speak out?

"Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of shame. Often these men hold our professional fates in their hands."

Cristina Garcia is a Democrat, an elected member of the statehouse. Her signature is also on that letter. And Cristina is with us from Sacramento.

Thank you so much for being with us and telling us all about this letter. And, Cristina, I'd like to start with your experience. You signed that letter. So what have you gone through over the years? CRISTINA GARCIA, CALIFORNIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Two wks after I got elected I had a lobbyist grab my butt and after I yelled at him and I told the senator who was with me, he told me to be quiet and not say anything about it because he had a lot of power and it was best for my career that I didn't say anything.

After that, I've had who have held me a little bit too long, who talked to me about my body or my dress when I'm trying to talk to them about my legislation. You know and a number of other incidents over the five years that I've been in the legislature --


GARCIA: -- being inappropriate with other women.

VAUSE: Well, (INAUDIBLE) I was going to ask you that because clearly by the number of women who signed this letter, your experience is not unique.

GARCIA: No. Far from unique. And I think there are a lot of women who haven't signed the letter or haven't shared their #MeToo and it's fine. They don't have to share it, out there who are also victims and are not ready to share that trauma with anyone yet.

VAUSE: From what it sounds like, the culture and atmosphere with state politics there in Sacramento, it sounds incredibly similar to the movie industry here in Los Angeles, powerful men essentially holding the careers and the fate of women hostage in return for staying silent about sexual harassment.

GARCIA: I think that it is that you have a real imbalance of power and the balance is concentrated in one gender. And when you see that I think you see the abuse. And I think it's personal. The more imbalance that power is, the more of that abuse that you see.

And I think we can look at the numbers; the state legislature is less than 25 percent are female. You know, less than 25 percent of the capital chief of staffs are female. And we can look at lot of other states.

And women aren't empowered. And so I think this is about power, this is about humiliation, this is about testing the boundaries to see how much you can get away with that power. And what we're seeing here with this letter is that enough. We want this to end. We're speaking up but we're also asking those people with power to stand with and be the change agents that we need.

VAUSE: What is surprising, California is meant to be this progressive state. You're leading the nation and the world on issues like environment, immigration.

But on this issue, there seems to be a real disconnect.

So how do you explain that?

GARCIA: Again, it goes back to how many women are empowered and less than 25 percent of the legislature are women. And a lot of us aren't holding powerful positions. So it's just I think a dynamic that we live in a man's world and you start to think that this is normal or --


GARCIA: -- this is the price of doing business in this area.

You aren't free to say anything because when you do, you're told you're crazy. People don't want to work with you. They say you're overreacting. And you just end up keeping quiet a lot of times. But it's a trauma that you carry and it's something we should never have to put up with and I always keep saying, for those of you who have seen this, speak up. You have power to help stop it and the burden cannot be all on the victims.

VAUSE: OK. There should never be consequences, just speaking out, right?

So when we look at what's happening at the moment, is what some people described as this watershed moment, is this the moment when everything changes

Or is this just online outrage that will last for a few more days, maybe a weeks when we hear a few more stories and then slowly, as things often, they sort of all quietly returns to sort of how it was, no one really bothers about making any more changes and moving forward?

GARCIA: Well, I think the question is do people want continue to be complicit or do we want to create an environment that we can be proud of?

For the victims, there's a single way: we carry that burden, that trauma all of our lives. And so I think again we're going to keep speaking up. We're setting up as a capital community, we've come together and we oftentimes talk about this amongst ourselves.

But we're now inviting the rest of the community to be part of the solution. And I want to be positive. I've called some my colleagues saying I don't know how to put this but I want to work with you.

And so we're going to take advantage of that and we're going to have a conversation and figure out solutions to this. But ultimately the real change happens when women are empowered, when we're when were on those board rooms, when we're leading organizations, when we have parity in the legislature. When we're the chief of staff, and so I think that that's the bigger of getting rid of this culture, not just in the capital but everywhere we see this.

It's not unique to the capital or to Hollywood. We see in lots of other places where the men have a disproportionate amount of power.

VAUSE: Equal numbers in the board room, in the state legislature, in the Hollywood studios and of course equal pay would also go a long way as well.

Cristina, thanks so much. Great to have you with us. Really appreciate it.

GARCIA: Thank you.

SESAY: Well, another record day and a new milestone for investors on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 160 points, closing above the 23,000 mark for the first time ever.

Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq rose slightly to record highs as well.

And that does it for us. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. Rosemary Church takes over after this quick break. You're watching CNN.



[02:30:14] REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: Basically he said, "Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts."

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- didn't say what the Congresswoman said, didn't say it at all.


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: A bit of he said, she said between President Trump and a Democratic Congresswoman, a Gold Star widow grieving for her fallen husband caught in the middle.

Hello, everyone, I'm Rosemary Church at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world.

The White House is defending President Trump's condolence call to that Gold Star widow as appropriate and respectful. The Democratic Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, who was listening on speaker phone, says, Mr. Trump did not know the fallen soldier's name and said, quote, he knew what he signed up for.

The soldier is Sergeant La David Johnson, killed along with three other Americans in Niger. He leaves behind a wife and two young children, and a third child on the way. The woman who raised Johnson confirmed the congresswoman's account was very accurate. CNN's Sarah Murray has more.


SARAH MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Commander in Chief's sparking controversy, facing criticism for his handling of one of his most solemn duty, a condolence call to the widow of a U.S. Serviceman killed in Niger.

TRUMP: 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 the widow,

Myesha Johnson, her husband knew what he signed up for. But I guess it still hurt. Sergeant La David Johnson was killed in an ISIS attacked 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.

WILSON: 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.

MURRAY: Sergeant Johnson's mother who was also present for the call confirmed the congresswoman's account to CNN. Despite the President's denial, the White House isn't disputing the specific words he used, but agent says, Trump's tone was appropriate.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President's call, as accounted by multiple people in the room, believe 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 tried again to jumpstart his legislative agenda. Today, Trump acts a bipartisan deal to reinstate Obamacare cost-sharing subsidy, which help low-income enrollees by health care, insisting the payments are nothing more than a bailout for insurers.

TRUMP: It'd been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody has ever seen before. I am not going to do anything to enrich the insurance companies.

MURRAY: That, 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'll 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 --

MURRAY: Sarah Murray, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: So, let's talk more about this with retired Rear Admiral John Kirby and Larry Sabato, who is the director at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.


[02:34:57] CHURCH: Now, I do want to start with President Trump apparently telling the widow of a soldier killed in Niger that her husband knew what he had signed up for. Now, that's according to a congresswoman who heard the conversation, Mr. Trump denies he said that. He claims he has proof. But the soldier's family has confirmed he did actually use those words. The White House says, there's no recording of the conversation. And White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn't confirm whether he actually used those words or not.

So, John Kirby, to you first, with all your military background, what was your reaction to the words the President used when he spoke to the widow of that fallen soldier?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, you know, I was a little bit surprised by the word choice, it is something that you -- that I did hear over the course of my time in the military. Hey, look, we signed up for this. We know, we signed up for this kind of thing.

So, you can almost see maybe somebody, an advisor telling him that in context of -- before he got on the phone, in context of this young man's service. But clearly, it wasn't the right thing to say in that particular moment. I mean, what every Gold Star family -- a Gold Star family is those who have lost a family member in service to this country in uniform. Every Gold Star family handles grief in very different ways. And so, the calls need to be very careful -- carefully worded and you really need to focus on your condolences and, you know, promise of support to them going forward.

So, I think, ye, obviously, poor choice of words clearly landed the wrong way with the family, and that's really the thing that matters the most is how it landed with them and going forward and making sure that they get the support that they need.

Now, I wrote a piece tonight, I actually believe that the President should apologize to them. Even if he did say it and he felt he was not being offensive, obviously, it landed the wrong place with them, and I think he should acknowledge that.

CHURCH: Yes, I mean, in addition, of course, the widow was pregnant. Larry Sabato, your reaction to those words that the President used? SABATO: And President Trump will never receive an A in any course dealing with diplomacy. So, it was a poor choice of words, I doubt it was more than that simply because there's no reason for Trump to go out of his way to insult someone in that situation. But, you know, let's be honest, he's done this before in lots of circumstances, in fact, one of them involved a Gold Star family living right here in my town of Charlottesville, the Khan's, who had lost a son. He was actually one of my students at the University of Virginia. He died in Iraq in the U.S. Army in 2004.

And we can remember President Trump as candidate from attacking the Khan's. But, you know, in a sense, I don't think this is the central issue. The central issue is that this became a controversy because Donald Trump insisted upon trying to elevate himself in denigrating his predecessors, particularly, Barack Obama. And we now know what he said was absolutely untrue. He does this time and time again, he gets himself in hot water.

CHURCH: And John Kirby, President Trump also says he has called every family of all soldiers killed in action since he's been in office, but it turns out, he hasn't. CNN has spoken to two families who say they never got that call, despite being told they would receive one. What does that say about the President's word on sensitive matters like this, and how he and, of course, his administration are dealing with this?

KIRBY: Yes, it's another blow to his credibility. Look, I don't even know why you would -- why you would feel like you have to say that. I mean, every President handles combat desk differently. And that's OK, there's no set protocol, every President has to do this for themselves and some of that time -- some of those times, it requires a phone call. Sometimes the -- a letter is the best approach, sometimes just meeting with the family off in a corner somewhere is really all they need.

It doesn't have to be uniform approach. So, why he would make such a wide -- broad brush kind of promise like that that ended up turning out to not be factually true is beyond me. I just don't understand it. This is the one thing that no matter what political strife you are, every Commander in Chief should hold as a solemn duty. Taking care of the families of the fallen and treating them and their sacrifice that they are making, their loved ones made with dignity and respect. And it's just -- it doesn't need to be a competition with your predecessor and it shouldn't be public, it shouldn't -- you shouldn't publicize the fact that you're reaching out in any way whatsoever.

CHURCH: And Larry Sabato, we are learning that the sympathy statement was drafted after U.S. troops were killed in Niger, but it wasn't ever released. The White House, we understand, said, they decided to get White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to address this issue instead. Was that appropriate given the circumstances?

[02:39:50] SABATO: Well, it's difficult to say because there really are things that the rest of us don't know about this particular mission and why this unfolded the way it did. And why the White House reacted the way they did.

I'm sure in retrospect, they would do all of this differently. But again, you mentioned Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Today, she accused every one of politicizing the matter. The person who first politicized the matter was President Trump. Now, I agree with the Admiral Kirby, we ought to be focusing on the needs of these new Gold Star families and their -- and the children, I completely agree with that. But, again, this has become a controversy because President Trump has again, mischaracterized, misstated and maybe even lied. We simply know at this point, we have to check every single thing he says, everything.

CHURCH: And John Kirby, we still don't know what happened to these four soldiers, why they died, under what circumstances? From what you're able to piece together, what do you think happened in Niger? And is the White House hiding something? Why all the politics surrounding this, even drawing in the death of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's son?

KIRBY: Well, so, two very big issues there. On the mission itself, I don't want to jump to conclusions here. Obviously, they were on what we would typically call in the Pentagon (INAUDIBLE) Foreign Internal Defense Mission. This is sort of training advising local forces to -- so that they can better defend their own citizens. In this case, obviously, there was a counterterrorism element to it. But I don't really know much more about the mission than that and I think the Pentagon is investigating it. We need to let that investigation go and get completed before we -- you know, before we jump to any conclusions about what happened on that night.

Now, I do think Senator McCain makes a good point today in the saying, you know, the White House hasn't been more forthcoming with basic essential details about this. I understand they don't want to get ahead an investigation, Pentagon leaders don't. But they do, I think, owe a better accounting to the American people and to Congress about what the purpose of the mission was and how it proceeded. And if it's beyond me, I don't understand why they aren't just going right up to Capitol Hill. And even if this is just a closed-door briefing, kind of walking them through what we think we know right now. I think that's important, and the American people should have that expectation.

CHURCH: And Larry Sabato, we're also learning that President Trump offered a fallen soldier's father $25,000 in a phone call, but never send it. Not until the Washington Post wrote a story about it. What did you think when you heard that story?

SABATO: Well, I remembered David Fahrenthold's excellent reporting for the Washington Post during the campaign, lots of promises of money from President Trump, never materialized, and he got the goods on that. Now, this may or may not have been another case. The White House is claiming that it's taking a long time to work out the details of this $25,000 check. Well, President Trump said it was from his own resources. I don't think there's any law against a President taking out his checkbook and writing a check and mailing it. It could have happened very quickly. But again, we'll give the benefit of the doubt to the White House until we know all the facts. CHURCH: And John Kirby, the last word from you. --

KIRBY: Yes, if I can just add -- if I can just add onto that, I mean, Larry makes excellent points, of course, but I think we also need to focus on the inappropriateness of the promise to pay a family from a personal account of the President in United States. Look, when you deploy -- when you go overseas as a military member, you elect what family members you want to receive your death benefits and your insurance payments.

Now, that's a very solemn decision, everybody makes it, I had to make it, and you don't want to insert yourself -- you know, the President should not be inserting himself into a family business, personal family finances, and business. I think it's a completely inappropriate promise for him to make. And now, what about expectation management. He gave his father $25,000. Is he going to pay every father, every mother $25,000, and what if they come calling for it? You know, it's just -- it's just terrible policy for him to do this. It's a terrible precedent to set.

CHURCH: John Kirby, Larry Sabato, good to talk with you about these very sensitive matters we do appreciate your perspective always, thank you.

KIRBY: Thank you.

SABATO: Thank you.

CHURCH: And President Trump is getting support from a number of Gold Star families Corporal Frank Robert Gross was killed in action. His father tells CNN, he doesn't think the President is getting fair treatment, listen.


CRAIG GROSS, GOLD STAR FATHER: My perception of this story is that his words are basically being taken and misconstrued. I believe that if you interviewed him personally, one-on-one, you would find that he's very, very empathetic and very compassionate, not only toward Goldstar families but also in regards to our active duty, I believe he has a big heart for them as well.


CHURCH: And the brother of a slain U.S. serviceman told CNN, Goldstar families don't want the issue politicized, honoring the memory of the fallen should be the priority. Well, former President Barack Obama has not said much since President Trump took office, but that could change, Thursday. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has the details.

[02:45:10] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, about nine months after President Obama left the White House here, he's going back on the campaign trail today campaigning for Democratic candidates in the Governor's races in the States of New Jersey and Virginia. Now, President Obama has been more active than President Bush was in his first year out of the White House, but he still tried to remain largely on the sidelines. Well, he is beginning to campaign more and he'll be doing it in these key governor's races.

Of course, Virginia and New Jersey, these two U.S. states hold their elections in off-years of presidential year cycles, so they'll be holding their key races. Democrats are trying to use both of those states as ways to sort of rejuvenate the party, if you will. President Obama is still largely considered one of the leaders of the Democratic Party in the absence of anyone else. So, he will be back on the stump campaigning in those two states of Virginia and New Jersey significant help the Democratic candidates over the finish line. Of course, the big question is what he will do going forward? He's writing a book, doing other things, how much he'll engage in future Democratic races, is always a question here? But that today, he'll be back on the campaign trail, a place we've not see him since a year ago during the presidential campaign, Rosemary?

CHURCH: Thanks so much to our Jeff Zeleny reporting there from the White House. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in mid-September and our Leyla Santiago has been reporting from there ever since.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One month later, there are still people gathered at the church, hoping to get supplies that come in here in this area. And their lives are on display on the sidewalks, you can see furniture, you can see paintings, even a Christmas stand down here. This home doesn't have part of its roof. There is no cell service here. Nobody has power. And food and water are limited.


CHURCH: Leyla's report still to come, plus the hotel security guard shot by the Las Vegas gunman and hailed as a hero breaks his silence. We will hear his account of what happened that night. We're back in a moment.



[02:53:02] SANTIAGO: -- to reach communities cut off by the storm. Despite President Donald Trump's visit and his own rave reviews of the recovery, more than 80 percent still don't have power, about 40 percent of the cell towers remained down. And roughly, a third no running water. Banks that are open have lines that can be hours long. More than a hundred bridges damaged, 18 closed until further notice, cutting off entire communities.

Rebecca Rodriguez tells us her family's bakery has been here for decades. Well, yes, this is how high the water came which is at least four feet. The only light here comes from our camera.

What once smelled of fresh bread is really now -- it smells like something is rotting in here. And she's upset because none of these will be covered according to her insurance.

Every day brings uncertainty. Of all the things you had in here, this is what you've saved.

ANGEL ST. KITTS, RESIDENT, PUERTO RICO: This is what I've been able to save. Because the mattress, I throw it out, the bed, I throw it out, the chairs --

SANTIAGO: This isn't much.

ST. KITTS: Yes, but what can we do?

SANTIAGO: As time passes ...

ST. KITTS: All watches.

SANTIAGO: These are all your watches.

ST. KITTS: Watches. I'm thinking --

SANTIAGO: Disaster has become a way of life.

ST. KITTS: It's no good.

SANTIAGO: As if Maria --

ST. KITTS: It's a mess.

SANTIAGO: -- never left.

And when you ask people on the island, how long it will take to recover, how long will it take to get to a sense of normalcy like pre- Maria, they will tell you, this is not a matter of months, this is likely now a matter of years. Leyla Santiago, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


CHURCH: Extraordinary images there. We move on now to another big story we've been following for a while now, the hotel security guard hailed as a hero for his actions during the Las Vegas massacre is now sharing his story about what happened that night. Jesus Campos was shot and wounded by the gunman but still helped authorities figure out where he was. Here's what Campos told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.


[02:55:16] JESUS CAMPOS, SECURITY GUARD, MANDALAY BAY HOTEL: As that door is closing and it's so heavy, it almost slammed, 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 the burning sensation, I went to go lift my (INAUDIBLE) leg up and I saw the blood, that's when I called it in on my radio that shots have been fired.


CHURCH: 58 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded in the Las Vegas shooting earlier this month. And still ahead for us, Florida's governor has declared a state of emergency in one county, not for a natural disaster or tragedy, but in anticipation of a white nationalist speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Preparations are already underway, the governor and university officials fear Richard Spencer's appearance will lead to violent protests, and we will talk with someone from the County Sheriff's office there about their concerns. That is coming up, next hour. Thanks so much for watching. I'm Rosemary Church. The next hour of NEWSROOM starts in just a moment.