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Trump Denies Offending Fallen Soldier's Family; Sessions: We Haven't Done Enough To Stop Russian Meddling; U.S-Backed Forces Drive ISIS Out Of Raqqa, Syria. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 19, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:32:21] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump denies offending the family of a fallen soldier, but the family of Sgt. La David Johnson says the president's condolence call disrespected their son and family.

Our next guest, Stephen Bishop, knows all too well what the families of fallen soldiers go through. His brother, Staff Sgt. Keith Bishop died nearly eight years ago during Operating Enduring Freedom. Bishop's helicopter crashed in Afghanistan.

Stephen Bishop joins us now. Stephen, thank you so much for being here.

I know, obviously, you've lived through this heartbreak yourself, and so what has it been like in these past few days for you to watch this spat play out between Sgt. Johnson's family and the president?

STEPHEN BISHOP, GOLD STAR FAMILY, BROTHER KEITH DIED IN AFGHANISTAN IN 2009: I kind of find it unbelievable that this is even happening, you know, to another Gold Star family.

CAMEROTA: What do you wish were happening? I mean, where did this fall apart? Where did this go wrong here, in your mind?

BISHOP: In my mind, I'm just going back from, you know, my experience when I met with President Obama. There's a way to address the families and in my opinion, it's a very simple way of just offering sincere condolences, and that didn't seem to happen in this case.

CAMEROTA: We're looking at a picture right here of you meeting with President Obama after your brother Keith was killed. Can you just tell us about this moment because I know that President Obama surprised your family?

BISHOP: Yes. We went down to Dover when the soldiers were being transferred back to United States soil. We only found out a couple of days -- a couple of hours before we were due to go to the airport that he would be there and we were all kind of taken aback by surprise.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it's a remarkable story because your brother was killed and you went for the dignified transfer and nobody -- you didn't know that the president would be there.

And just explain the power -- the power of any president -- I mean, this isn't about Democrat, Republican, it's about the President of the United States and seeing him there at that ceremony for your brother and what that did for your family.

BISHOP: It definitely offered us some comfort to know that he was there.

[07:35:00] And basically what happened is that all the families were in a large room. He came in, he addressed everyone -- you know, very somber, very soft-spoken. He spoke to us all in that room as a group and then he spent probably about the next hour and a half to maybe two hours talking to every single person in that room.

CAMEROTA: Tell us about your brother, Keith, and his sacrifice.

BISHOP: My brother joined the Army a couple of months after 9/11. I was actually at my mother's house when 9/11 happened and, you know, as everyone was, we were all in disbelief.

My brother, on the other hand, was extremely angry that this had happened. While everyone else was in shock he was walking around slamming doors. And he wanted to do something and that is why he enlisted right after September 11th.

CAMEROTA: And so, having lived through this, as you have, and having had the power of a president coming and showing his sympathy -- I mean, we should say obviously, President Obama didn't call all of the families, either. I mean, you know, there seems to be a lot of different etiquette and protocol in terms of presidents and their discretion, and how they choose to recognize this loss to families.

But since you had such a powerful experience with President Obama showing up, what is your advice for President Trump going forward?

BISHOP: My advice for President Trump going forward is really simple. It's not that hard to express condolences to somebody. Just something so simple as I'm sorry for your -- I'm sorry for your loss. We thank -- we thank your service member for their service and their sacrifice.

You know, someone -- a Gold Star family member should not walk -- or should -- after the conversation, should not feel worse, you know, after that conversation.

CAMEROTA: That makes sense.

Stephen Bishop, we should say it will be eight years this month that you lost your brother. We're seeing pictures of him and how handsome he looks in his uniform there and obviously, what your family did in making the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.

We thank you. Thank you so much for telling your story on NEW DAY.

BISHOP: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So big news that ISIS is out of Raqqa. CNN is finally able to show you what the reality is on the ground in that former ISIS stronghold. We have a live report next from Raqqa.


[07:41:33] CUOMO: All right.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made some news when he was in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He says the U.S. is not prepared to combat Russia's election interference. Take a listen.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Do you think we're doing enough to prepare for future interference by Russia and other foreign adversaries in the information space?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Probably not -- we're not, and the matter is so complex that for most of us we're not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.


CUOMO: Joining us now is Janet Napolitano, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and now, president of the University of California. It's good to have you with us, as always.

Is that true and, if so, why?

JANET NAPOLITANO (D), FORMER SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARIZONA: Well, because we don't know the full extent of Russian interference in our elections and we have no confidence that to the degree we have discovered what they have done, that they've stopped doing it. So this is one instance where I think I must agree with the attorney general.

CUOMO: What are the obstacles to combatting this problem? We've known about it for a long time.

I mean, you could go back three administrations and well, this is what they do. They'll say this is what the U.S. does, but you know it's there. Why can't you stop it?

NAPOLITANO: Because it's -- it is -- as the attorney general said, it's difficult and complex. And, were the Russians directly hacking into state voter files? We need to know that.

What was their degree of manipulation on social media? That's only now coming out.

So again, you know, there's -- there was a lot going on and you -- and it's now becoming public, and we have no confidence that it's been stopped. CUOMO: Fair criticism that politics plays a role here, whether it was the Obama administration's decision to not go bigger with what they learned about election interference during the campaign itself or now, the Trump administration in the form of the president himself having a hard time separating election interference from questions about collusion with his campaign?

NAPOLITANO: Well, there's always a political overlay in things in Washington, D.C. but what I think the American people need to be concerned about is the degree of actual Russian interference in a fundamental tenet of our democracy, which is our vote.

CUOMO: So, you going to -- you speak with your -- you know, you speak with your voice in terms of how you vote and who you put in there to do it, but do you think this is something that can be combated to a point of mainstream satisfaction?

NAPOLITANO: You know, one would hope so. And certainly, in terms of the integrity of the actual voting systems themselves, I think there are things the secretaries of state across the country can do to make the voting systems more impregnable to any kind of actual interference. The actual social media overlay on this, much more complicated to combat.

CUOMO: All right. Let's talk about another difficult issue to combat, DACA -- Deferred Action. President Obama put it in. You were there to execute that law -- that policy in terms of what we do with the Dreamers.

Now you have a lawsuit. There's a fundamental political question here which the right defines as do you reward people for getting here illegally and what do you do with these Dreamers who, by all accounts, are highly-productive people here in society versus do you find a way on the left, they'll say, to preserve and keep them here -- even make them citizens.

[07:45:05] Where are you on it and how is this a lawsuit?

NAPOLITANO: Well, first of all, I was there during DACA. It actually was executed by a memoranda that I signed --

CUOMO: Right.

NAPOLITANO: -- to the members of the department. And, you know, we did DACA because these young people are really caught between a rock and a hard place.

They were brought to the United States as young children. The average age is around six when they were brought to the United States. They've done everything we've asked of them.

At the University of California, we think we have approximately 4,000 undocumented students. The overwhelming majority of them are in DACA.

So we sued the Trump administration for repealing the policy because we contend that the administration violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the due process clause of the constitution, and we seek to vindicate those rights in the courts.

CUOMO: On a very simple basis for the uninitiated, the argument against your lawsuit would be ab initio, as they say in Latin. You know, from the beginning. They came here illegally -- they're illegal. And this is a nation of laws, as the president keeps saying, and they violated the law.

NAPOLITANO: Well, that means you need to understand DACA is deferred action. And what the Obama -- what we did in the Obama administration is to say that young people who met certain criteria, clean criminal records, in school, in the military, et cetera, who were brought here as young people, that we would defer action on any immigration violation which, by deferring action, also gave them work authorization.

And so, it's not as if we erased the immigration laws. We deferred action under the immigration laws.

CUOMO: The practical effect wound up being the same. As a way of criticism, that deferred action meant no action and that they got to stay here. And that encouraged more people to come in illegally and have kids here that then could anchor and have a life in American and subvert the system.

NAPOLITANO: Yes, there is absolutely no data to support that DACA was somehow a magnet for illegal immigration. And, in fact, the numbers show that illegal immigration to the country is at its lowest point in decades.

CUOMO: I need a quick take from you on something. We have the head of the University of Florida coming on. They have the alt-right leader, Spencer, which is another way of saying a white supremacist coming on there.

You've dealt with this. You've been criticized for how the University of California has dealt with free speech. What is your guidance on whether or not someone like Spencer should have the right to speak at the university?

NAPOLITANO: Well, as abhorrent as his views are -- his speech -- and, you know, he is entitled to First Amendment protection. And that means the University of Florida, like the University of California at Berkeley a few weeks ago, in order to protect the right to free speech, even abhorrent or hate speech, has to pay for the extra security that that requires.

And so, that's the rock and a hard place that the universities are put between.

CUOMO: Do you think that universities are trending liberal and are silencing speech that they don't like that comes from the political right?

NAPOLITANO: No, I don't. I think what we have been trying to do at the University of California is to protect the right to free speech, but also protect the safety and security of our campuses. CUOMO: All right.

Secretary Napolitano, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

NAPOLITANO: Good to see you.

CUOMO: Alisyn --


ISIS fighters have been pushed out of Raqqa. Now, CNN goes inside what was the headquarters of the terror network. We have a live report for you from Raqqa, next.


[07:53:01] CAMEROTA: U.S.-backed forces driving ISIS out of its self-declared capital in Syria but still, citizens of Raqqa cannot return home until the city is cleared of improvised explosive devices and landmines.

Let's take a look at what's happened in the past three years there. Here's Raqqa in 2014 and you can see these ISIS terrorists parading through the city center that they declared their headquarters.

Now, look at Raqqa today. That's Syrian Democratic Forces. They're the ones now celebrating in the city center.

CNN's Arwa Damon is live with a firsthand look for us inside Raqqa. This is the first time that CNN is broadcasting from that former ISIS stronghold. Arwa, tell us everything you're seeing.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, you were talking about the different stages of Raqqa and what it has been through. Well, this is the cost of trying to push ISIS out of a city.

The sheer scale of the devastation, Alisyn, is almost overwhelming. You don't see any pieces of the lives that families have left behind. Everything has been complete decimated.

This particular square -- right now, you see the flags of the Syrian Democratic Forces -- their various different units. This is where ISIS used to carry out its executions, its beheadings in public, and it would place the heads of its victims on those spikes for a reminder to anyone who might be walking by of what their fate would be should they decide to try and defy ISIS rule.

Commanders are telling us that they think it is going to at least take three months to try to clear Raqqa of all of the various different explosives that ISIS has left behind.

At the same time, they're still going after small pockets of fighters who they say are hiding out in the rubble. And they describe this as being something of a multi-layer battlefield. You had the fighting that was taking place in the skies. I'm not

talking about airstrikes here necessarily, but both sides were using drones filled with explosives and grenades to drop them on each other.

[07:55:05] Then you had the level of the fight, and you can actually see what happened on the ground.

And then you had the underground fight -- this complex of tunnel systems that ISIS had dug out throughout the entire city. Oftentimes, the SDF forces would go into a building thinking that it was clear and then ISIS fighters would just pop out from somewhere that was completely unexpected.

And that is what they have been facing here. Of course, the fighters are exhausted but they're very, very proud of how far they have been able to come. Especially, it must be said, the women fighters because they say ISIS was so brutal toward women.

That square that I was just talking about was also where Yazidis were sold -- the Yazidi women in an open-air sex slave market. That they take particular pride in knowing they played such a big role in driving ISIS out.

CUOMO: Now, it is good to hear that it literally took everybody to get them this hard-won freedom. The hope is that they'll keep it.

And that leads us to the question, Arwa, of where is the leadership? What is the word on the ground about where al-Baghdadi, the punitive head of ISIS and the other leadership ranks that were supposedly in Raqqa -- where have they fled to?

DAMON: Well, the logic is that al-Baghdadi and the senior leadership of ISIS actually fled Raqqa a long time ago. The presumption right now is that they are either hold up somewhere in and around Deir ez- Zor. That is where the frontline has shifted towards. They also could be out in the deserts of the Euphrates river valley in Al Anbar Province over in Iraq.

But when you talk to commanders about exactly that very same question they'll also be very quick to point out that even if al-Baghdadi is killed that doesn't necessarily mean the end of ISIS. Even if all territory is taken back from ISIS that doesn't necessarily mean an end to its ideology, and that is what really needs to be addressed at this stage.

You look at history. Osama bin Laden was killed, al Qaeda continued to thrive and grow. You look at ISIS' previous leaders -- its previous emirs, they were all killed, and the previous ISIS incarnation. And time and time again, the organization has managed to reinvent itself into something even more brutal.

A lot of people at this stage, Chris, are also talking about the importance of stopping the next phase of ISIS from reemerging from the ashes of these types of battles.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Arwa, it's just incredible to listen to your words and to look at the landscape behind you. I mean, it's just rubble. And so, how are they ever going to rebuild that city?

DAMON: And that's going to really be one of the key factors here because where do you even begin? Even when this is cleared, say in three-four months' time, and civilians can come back, there is hardly a building in this city that has not been destroyed by this fighting.

You drive through it and it's so eerie because you don't see any people. All you see is destruction. All you have is your own imagination to try to even begin to comprehend what it is that they went through.

Now, on the more practical side, there is a Raqqa civil council that has been established. They say that they have the beginnings of a plan. They realize that they need to begin coming in, clearing the rubble, getting basic services up and running. Getting kids back into school.

But who's going to pay for all of this? They've had pledges from some international donors, from some nations, but nothing concrete has really materialized at this stage.

And just briefly, to go back to the issue of putting kids back into school, these are children who have known nothing but the ISIS way of life for about five years now because remember, Raqqa fell to ISIS long before Mosul actually did.

All they know is violence, all they know is trauma. If we want to break these cycles of violence and trauma in the future, these children need to be shown a different way of life. That is absolutely imperative.

CUOMO: We've seen that challenge met and failed many times in the past in different places in that region.

Arwa, you and your team are the first ones on the ground being able to show U.S. viewers the reality there in Raqqa and the questions for the future ahead. Please stay safe and thank you for being there.

All right. There is a lot of news this morning. Let's get after it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the things that have taken place in the last 48 hours have not given the type of respect to families and the sacrifices.

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

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: I'm going to believe the family members before I believe Donald Trump.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is appalling the way that the Congresswoman has politicized this issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's really important is what the president says now. It's up to him to figure out how to try to move us forward.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I'm asking for a classified briefing about exactly what happened in Niger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are so many questions that really haven't been answered.