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Senate Panel Spoke to Russians Who Attempted Trump Tower Meeting; White House Defends Kelly's False Claim About Congresswoman; WH: "Impugning" Kelly's Credibility on How to Best Honor Fallen Heroes is Not Appropriate; Officials: Sgt. Johnson's Body Found Nearly a Mile from Niger Ambush; WH: Bush, Obama Were Not Criticizing Trump in Speeches. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 20, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

The story the White House wishes would go away is not going away, partially because the president and his team won't let it go away. The White House, the president, the chief of staff, John Kelly, all have been lashing out at a congresswoman who was there when the president called a grieving military widow, the wife of Sergeant La David Johnson.

Kelly spoke about it at length about the congresswoman yesterday. The president spoke about it all again tonight with Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was so offended because he was in the room when I made the call, and so were other people, and the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call. He was -- he actually couldn't believe it.

Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not -- and he knew -- I was so nice. Look, I've called many people, and I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this, to be honest with you.


BERMAN: We'll have much more on that later.

But we begin tonight with breaking news in the Russia investigation. Tonight, we're learning more about who has been interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju has that, joins us now.

Manu, what have you learned?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. We have now learned that the Senate Intelligence Committee has

interviewed several of the Russians who did take part in a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner. That meeting, of course, has been under enormous scrutiny in Washington after it was revealed that Donald Trump Jr. took that meeting once he was promised that he could get dirt from the Clinton campaign and after he was told that the Russian government was, in fact, trying to help his father win the presidency.

Now, we're now learning for the first time that several of the Russians who were in that meeting did in fact meet and discuss this interaction with the Senate Intelligence Committee, with Senator Richard Burr, the Intelligence Committee chairman, confirming that to us, that they did meet with several of them. He did not disclose who precisely they met with.

But what we do know, John, there were four Russians who were in that meeting, including the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, as well as a translator and another individual who did work for a Russian oligarch.

Now, this all comes, John, as investigators are still trying to determine the extent to which Donald Trump, Jr. And others tried to work with these Russians as part of any sort of effort to effect or interfere with the election. Donald Trump, Jr. said there was nothing to this meeting. It was simply a meeting. He then did he involved into a discussion of Russian adoptions, he said. But that's something that investigators are trying to determine whether there's anything more to that, John.

BERMAN: So, this committee and staff going through a checklist of who was at that meeting, both Americans and Russians at this point. Any sense when Donald Trump Jr. himself will talk to the committee?

RAJU: That is an open question. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr has said that he wants to sequence this in a way that he can talk to everybody else who was in the room before talking to Donald Trump, Jr. So, this is a real sign, John, that the fact that they've interviewed several of these Russians suggests they're getting closer to bringing in Donald Trump, Jr. in for an interview.

Now, several other committees on Capitol Hill do also want to talk to Donald Trump Jr., including the Senate Judiciary Committee, which privately had a staff interview with Trump Jr. last month. But there's a big partisan fight within the committee about whether or not to bring him forward to a public hearing. And that's something that one committee source told me could happen as soon as this month, but that has not been decided officially yet. No date set.

But the Senate chair -- chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Chuck Grassley, John, has told me that a public hearing is probably unavoidable at this point.

BERMAN: That will be interesting. Any sense, Manu, because you listen to Republicans, even Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee who keep on saying we haven't found any evidence that collusion occurred.

Any chance they'll make some kind of definitive statement on that?

RAJU: It's unclear exactly when that will happen, John. There are Republicans on the committee who are saying we need to wrap this up soon because there is no smoking gun yet, including Jim Risch, one of the senior Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling me they have reached essentially a deadened on a lot of key issues or point of diminishing returns.

But earlier this week, I had a chance to ask Senator Mark Warner who is a vice chairman of the committee and he said there are a lot more people still to interview.


RAJU: One member of your committee, a Republican member, said this week that you have reached a point of diminishing returns in investigating this issue of collusion. Have you reached that point of diminishing returns?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Listen, we want to keep this -- the number of individuals that the members have yet to see in terms of some of the principles that you and your colleagues have reported on, the members of the committee have not even had a chance to talk to the vast majority of those individuals.


[20:05:18] RAJU: Now, John, when I put that question to Richard Burr, I said, look, are you at a point of diminishing returns, he would not go there, but he said, we are reaching a smaller number of people to interview and he says it's still his aspirational goal to get this investigation done this year, John.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much for that breaking news.

Joining us now, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, former CIA senior officer and Russia Expert, Steve Hall, constitutional law scholar, Jonathan Turley, and CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck.

Gloria, I want to start with you.

In some ways, the white hot spotlight in Russia has seemed to have faded over the last four weeks, mostly because the Mueller investigation has been going on behind closed doors. And the Senate has been doing a lot of its work, the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

Where do you think this all stands right now and the significance of his reporting that the Senate intelligence committee is starting to talk to some of these Russians?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think the Don Jr. meeting is crucial. You have the campaign saying that there was no collusion with Russia. Then you have this e-mail which is about, you know, getting the dirt on Hillary Clinton and done junior expressing gratitude and hope, you know, that it works out. And then we hear that no, no, this was just about Russian sanctions.

So, this is sort of the elephant in the room here. And people are wondering whether, in fact, it's evidence of more that was going on or whether it was just a meeting that went -- that went nowhere, as Don Jr. says.

And I think you're right. I think that the special counselor Mueller is doing his interviews with current and former White House aides and the Intelligence Committees are doing their interviews. And I think that this is proceeding at pace. And I think what everyone is waiting for is trying to figure out what the special counsel has and what he is really interested in.

BERMAN: Yes. He's not going to tell us that until or if he ever wants to tell us that.

Jonathan Turley, to you, these Russians talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, what is the key insight they could provide? What questions would you be asking them?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, for the moment, this seems more political than criminal in nature. Colluding is not a specific crime in this context. But, obviously, this is an issue of great importance to the public.

Now, the White House and the Russians are likely to rely on other e- mails, including ones that were released recently where in trying to set up the meeting, the Russian lawyer at the center of was saying, I just want to talk about adoption. And then, it became, we have dirt on Hillary Clinton in a sort of second generation of e-mails.

That certainly undermines a criminal case. We don't know what Mueller has. So, there might be more there.

But for the moment, this is not -- if this is the elephant in the room, as Gloria says, it seems to be getting smaller by the day.

BERMAN: Steve Vladeck, do you want to weigh in on that?

STEVE VLADECK, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Yes. I mean, I think the key is what Jonathan said right at the end there, which is that we still don't know what Mueller has.

So, you know, when we're talking about the Senate Intelligence Committee, they're not really doing a criminal investigation. They're doing a political investigation. They're doing a counterintelligence investigation.

Whether any laws were broken really is going to be more Mueller's purview than theirs, and so, I think the real insight from Manu's reporting is that if the Senate Intelligence Committee is talking to these Russian witnesses, I think you can bet your bottom dollar that Bob Mueller is as well and indeed probably has already. And at that point, we're not just talking about the political theater of it. We're talking about whether the Russian witnesses are contradicting sworn statements that other people have made to Bob Mueller and his team. We're talking about whether there are false statements coming out of these meetings.

And so, I think the real point here is that everything that's happening in the Senate is really just a sort of distorted window into what's almost certainly happening behind the scenes with the special counsel, and that's where the rubber is really going to hit the road if and when we get there.

BERMAN: Steve Hall, these Russians talking to the intelligence committee have varying relationships with the Russian government and the Russian intelligence apparatus. So, what do you think their motivation is? What would drive them to answer honestly the questions posed to them by the intelligence committee?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA SENIOR OFFICER, RUSSIA EXPERT: It's a fascinating situation. And, you know, to answer the last part of your question first, I don't think that there's any reason necessarily whatsoever for them to tell anything close to the truth if they don't want to or if their Russian handlers or the Russian government doesn't want them to.

[20:10:00] Remember, my assessment on this is these people were most likely cutouts, in other words, people that were sent by the Russian government, not officials, not intelligence officers themselves, but people who had some level of deniability. No, I'm just a Russian lawyer, or I'm just a translator, something like that.

More importantly as a matter of law, I would be confused as to whether or not there is anything that they would say that could be trusted. I mean, could they be issued an oath? Are they subject to any type of U.S. jurisdiction? I'd also be very curious to know as to whether or not there were any official Russians in the room with them when they testified.

If I'm a Russian government officer, if I'm a Russian intelligence officer, I'm not sure I'd want my Russian cutouts to be alone in a room with a bunch of Americans who are trying to get to the bottom of what I was up to unless I had somebody there with him. So that would be a very interesting question to me. But now, just the fact that they testified, I'm not sure lends any credence to what they'd actually say.

BERMAN: That's interesting to keep that in perspective.

Gloria, you know, Manu reporting that Donald Trump Jr., it seems like unavoidable that he testifies in public to a different Senate committee right now. Put that in perspective for us. The son of the president of the United States could be giving sworn testimony on television to a Senate committee?

BORGER: Yes. That would be pretty interesting. I'd tune into that, wouldn't you?

Look, I think the questions that they want to ask him are going to revolve around whether he told his father about this and, you know, he has said that he didn't, but obviously, they're going to look at e- mails. They're going to get other testimony from other people. And the question is going to be not only what he told his father about this, but about that statement that came out of Air Force One that day when they were coming back from the G20 and all of these staffers were in with the president of the United States trying to come up with a statement about what this meeting was about that had to be revised a number of times because it turned out not to be true.

So, they're going to want to know what Don Jr.'s involvement was with that, what the president's involvement with that. And, of course, this goes in the end, to the question of, was anyone trying to obstruct in any way, shape or form any investigation into Russian involvement into the election and was that statement a part of this?

So, there are a lot of questions that they want to ask Donald Trump, Jr. That are of great deal of interest to the American public.

BERMAN: All right. That seems like a good question to ask a lawyer.

Jonathan Turley, we know Reince Priebus has been called in to testify to the special counsel. Sean Spicer, these are people who only worked for Donald Trump during his presidency. So, really, only the issue of obstruction could be, you would assume could be of interest right there.

How hard of a case is that to prove?

TURLEY: Well, I think it's a much more difficult case than people make out to be. You know, obstruction of justice generally raises the questions of obstruct what? Are they obstructing the grand jury investigation which is the more classic type of case?

This meeting in the Trump Tower with the Russians was pretty early, and it's hard to imagine that would be a case for obstruction. But we obviously don't know what Mueller has.

But the danger here is that when people go on the record, their risk is magnified. As a criminal defense attorney, this is the most precarious time for a client, in my view, because you have to stay between those navigational bacons, make sure that you haven't contradicted statements that you've made earlier under laws like 18 USC 2001, which is lying to federal investigators.

And in the mix, you have these sort of live torpedoes in the water which involves Paul Manafort. Mueller is putting a lot of pressure on Manafort to see, obviously, if he will cooperate and give him something.

BERMAN: And a lot of these people don't necessarily have the same interests right now, certainly legally speaking.

All right. Thanks, everyone, so much.

Coming up, it's a story the White House wants to go away, but they keep talking about it and saying things, frankly, that just aren't true. Chief of Staff John Kelly makes a false claim about the congresswoman. The White House won't acknowledge the mistake. We're keeping them honest next.

Also ahead, the White House also refuses to acknowledge that two former presidents were criticizing the current president. They didn't say his name, but honestly, the point was pretty clear.


[20:18:06] BERMAN: Tonight, we're keeping them honest with a wish from the White House that frankly we share, that the story of the president's call to a grieving widow and the controversy surrounding it would just go way.

The problem is, it won't go away if the president, his administration and the press secretary keep saying that are not true. Yesterday, the White House brought out Chief of Staff John Kelly to talk about it. Today, Sarah Sanders says that should have been the end of it, but it was the president who had to try to get the last word late. Last night, he tweeted, quote: The fake news is going crazy with whacky Congresswoman Wilson, who was secretly on a very personal call and gave a total lie on content.

Now, he's talking about Representative Frederica Wilson who is close with the family of Sergeant La David Johnson, one of four U.S. service members killed in Niger earlier this month. The congresswoman was with the widow Myeshia when the call from the president came.

Now, both the congresswoman and the woman who raised Sergeant Johnson say the call left the family feeling disrespected.

All this week on this program we've focused on Gold Star military families. Anderson heard their stories, heard about their fallen sons and husbands. How much they loved them. And again, we would like nothing more to focus just on them.

The White House really makes that impossible by continuing to say things that are not true. The latest example is John Kelly's attack on the congresswoman yesterday. He told a story about going to the dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami in 2015 dedicated to two agents that were killed in a firefight against drug traffickers. He falsely claimed that at that dedication, Representative Wilson took credit for getting funding for that building.

Here is how he characterized her speech at that event.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And the congresswoman stood up and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama and on that phone call he gave the money, the $20 million to build the building, and she sat down.

[20:20:11] And we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.


BERMAN: So keeping them honest, there is video of that speech and Kelly's claim just isn't true, in fact, or in spirit. "The Sun Sentinel" posted the speech. Representative Wilson speaks about the FBI approaching her office wanting the building dedication to happen in four weeks.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: Everyone said that's impossible. It takes at least eight months to a year to complete the process through the House, the Senate and to the president's office. I said, I'm a school principal, and I said, excuse my French, oh, hell, no. We're going to get this done.

Immediately, I went into attack mode. I went to the speaker, Speaker Boehner, and I said Mr. Speaker, I need your help. The FBI needs your help and our country needs your help. And we have no time to waste.

He went into attack mode and in two days pulled it out of committee, brought it to the floor for a vote. Representative Curbelo and I presented it. We all voted, and I dashed it over to the Senate and put our senators on notice.

Put it on your radar. Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio, who I believe have representatives here today, they hotlined it to the Senate floor in just two days. And guess what? The president signed the bill into law this past Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 with a bang, bang, bang.


BERMAN: So, she spoke about how she got help in naming the building quickly. Really the bulk of her speech was speaking glowingly about the courage of the two FBI agents and law enforcement and first responders in general. She did not talking about getting money at all as General Kelly said.

Today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was pressed about that inaccuracy.


REPORTER: She was talking about naming the building --


REPORTER: -- who she then went on to effusive praise. And that was the bulk of the speech.

SANDERS: She also mentioned that and she also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren't part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there.

What General Kelly referenced yesterday.

REPORTER: Tell us specifically, because --

SANDERS: Exactly what he said. There was a lot of grandstanding. He was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself.

REPORTER: Can he come out here and talk to us about this --

SANDERS: I think he addressed that thoroughly yesterday.

REPORTER: He was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money --


SANDERS: If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you, but I think that -- if you want to get into a debate with a four-star marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate.


BERMAN: Keeping them honest and with all due respect, as long as a government official says things that are not true, we will continue to report it even if it's a general who says it. If the White House truly thinks generals should be off limits for criticism or questioning, they may want to tell the boss.

In our latest installment if there's an old Trump tweet for every occasion, here are a few where he criticized Generals Martin Dempsey, General John Allen, General Colin Powell. So he's done it.

Let's go now to Sara Murray at the White House.

Sara, I do understand the press secretary Sarah Sanders just released a statement in regards to what she said in the briefing earlier that the media shouldn't question a four star marine general. What's she saying now?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Obviously, the White House has gotten a lot of push back over that remark from Sara Sanders earlier today, the notion that no one should push back against a four-star marine general. Remember, that's something that came out of Sara Sanders' mouth not something that came out of John Kelly's mouth.

This evening, she seems to be trying to moderate that comment a little bit. She said in a statement: Of course, every one can be questioned, but after witnessing General Kelly's heartfelt and somber account, we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how best to honor fallen heroes is not appropriate.

Now, obviously questioning his credibility in this is a different thing than just questioning his version of events, whether that was an accurate statement what he was talking about when he was describing the congresswoman at that 2015 building dedication. Obviously, the tape did not reflect the same thing that General Kelly recalled, as you pointed out, John.

BERMAN: No. It's a false equivalency or a straw man he's creating there. No one was questioning his credibility on the issue of how to honor fallen soldiers. They were questioning whether he made something up about her speech in 2015 and he appears to have done just that.

[20:25:01] At the briefing earlier, Sarah Sanders also mentioned that they were allegedly -- that there were more comments that Congresswoman Wilson made off-camera at the event that day. What's the White House saying about that? Do they have any evidence?

SANDERS: Well, this is a little perplexing because obviously the video of this speech that the congresswoman made came out and she does not make comments that reflect what General Kelly's version of events were. So, today, Sarah Sanders said there were other comments. She was grandstanding elsewhere of the she mentioned the funding elsewhere.

We went to the White House. We asked a number of aides whether they could provide those records, whether they had any records of those so far -- nothing from the White House. We are still waiting to hear -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray at the White House -- thanks so much.

Joining us now is CNN military analyst, General Mark Hertling, Admiral John Kirby and Paul Rieckhoff, head of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for America.

General Hertling, can we start with you? First of all, can I ask you permission to ask you a question as a retired -- is it OK that I ask you something?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I just wanted to say, John, I don't mean to be flip, but are you sure you want to get into a debate with me because I think I have most of the facts.

BERMAN: I'm not sure if it's appropriate. But what about that? What about the notion and Sarah Sanders said it today and President Trump, you know, implied it in the interview with FOX News that because he's a four-star general, anything he says should not be questioned.

HERTLING: Well, first of all, like him, I am also a retired general, and it puts him in the same cats gory as I am, which is retired. And even when he was active duty I would say you would certainly question him and he was before Congress on multiple occasions being questioned.

So, that whole line of philosophy is right down the drain. It's just ridiculous.

And, again, what I'm concerned most about, John, is the fact that we are using this general officer, my generals, my military to continue the divisiveness that is within the government today.

This is about demeanor. I'll give you a term. It's about table manners.

How do you treat one another sitting around the table? Is it continual insult? Is it continual attempts to find fault with someone else for what they said or what they did and continuing to -- or are we trying as a nation to really address some of the key issues that face us today?

As long as we're caught up in this craziness, and it is craziness, we're going to are not solve some problems and come together and do the things that leaders do, which is pull all sides together.

BERMAN: General Kelly said some really important, meaningful things about sacrifice and the appreciation for sacrifice and what families of those Gold Star families have to do. Really important that people should hear, but it's difficult to take that into account when he also says that are proven know proven not to be true.

And, Admiral, you know, Sarah Sanders was asked today if General Kelly was going to come out and complain what he said yesterday and she said he addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday. Do you agree with that?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: No. I mean, thoroughly in terms of he talked about it and gave a lot of detail. I guess that's accurate. But the details weren't accurate themselves.

And look, I was a spokesman. That was my stock and trade in the navy and then at the state department. And when you get something wrong, it doesn't matter from what level, you issue a correction. You just admit it. You say, look, the facts are wrong, we misstated it, here's the truth and you move on.

All she did today in addition to showing her ignorance about the military culture and about what General Hertling said that all of us should be open to scrutiny and questioning, in addition to that she I think flunked the fundamental rule of PR, which is if you make a mistake, admit it.

BERMAN: Paul, I want to ask you because again, General Kelly did say things that were deeply meaningful about sacrifice and Gold Star families here. Does it distract from that message when, again, he also said things that were not true?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, CEO, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Yes. I mean, this is all political now and I think it's gone on for a week. The country is exhausted by it.

There's another term which is important here is command climate. And that's what the president sets. He sets the command climate, the tone, for the entire White House. And I think what we've seen here is a tone that's more focused internally on political fighting than externally on our enemies.

And there's another pattern there that's very, very tremendous, which is using our troops as a shield politically over and over again, whether it's the national anthem, or now this issue throwing Gold Star families or retired four stars, you know, deepening the division that exists not just between our politics but between our military and the civilian population. That's very bad. That's bad for America.

And it also distracts us from fighting our enemies who are right now probably thrilled to see America ripping itself apart.

So, the president has also got to do one more thing, set a goal. What's the point here? Where are we going? Where does this end? And I think that's what the president really needs to address right now? How is it going to help our military, how is it going to help our Gold Star families, how is it going to help America?

BERMAN: All right. Guys, stick around. A lot more to discuss -- hang on one second. We're going to take a quick break. We'll continue this discussion next.

Also, we do have breaking news on the ambush that really is at the center of this controversy and, again, finding answers to that are so important. We have new details about where Sergeant La David Johnson's body was found and what it could mean for the investigation.

Stay with us.


[20:32:09] BERMAN: As we've mentioned tonight, the White House apparently would like nothing more than this for whole conversation about military families to go away. Sarah Sanders cast in today at the press keeping the story going. Listen to this.


SANDERS: I think that it's real simple. You guys are the ones talking a lot about that story, and he felt it was important to address you and all of America directly.

This story has been given an enormous amount of coverage over the last 48 hours, and he thought it was important that people got a full and accurate picture of what took place.

It should have ended yesterday after General Kelly's comments but it didn't. It continued, and it's still continuing today.


BERMAN: As we've pointed out, the president though, in his own way, continues to keep the story going. Again, he talked about it in another interview airing tonight on Fox. Let's bring the panel back in.

Admiral, let me start with you here. How do we now get past this? How does this move forward? What should the White House say over the next few days?

KIRBY: Nothing. They should just stop talking about this. I mean aside from -- you know, correcting the record about General Kelly's comments about the Wilson speech, aside from that, they should just stop and they should focus on the families of the fallen, making sure that those families of those four soldiers get all the support that they need and just stop talking about it.

I mean he couldn't help himself, and as you said, in another Fox Business interview tonight. Instead of making this a competition, just make it about those families and stop talking.

BERMAN: You know, General Hertling, last night you said you thought that one purpose of General Kelly going to the podium was to send a message to the president of the United States for him to look at what he's doing right now. Any sense, any sign that the message resonated?

HERTLING: Yes, I don't know. I did say that. I said it may have been an attempt that leading up.

But here's what I'll say too, John, to answer your question what you just asked, John. And that is, you know, we are wrapping ourselves in emotion. And, you know, Aristotle, a long time ago, said we should combine our arguments with facts, reason, and emotion.

And as long as we keep wrapping ourselves in the flag, there's no one that loves the flag more than me, there's no one that loves this country more than me. But if that's the only thing we're looking at and not the facts and the rationale behind different arguments, we're going to be in trouble.

So it's not only a requirement for our government officials to not -- to stop using the military and the flag as the barrier to all the things we're doing. You know, it's up to the people too to really find out the facts and the reasons behind things as opposed to just the pure bread emotion that comes through -- to the forefront in several of these arguments and that's what we seemed to be doing lately.

COOPER: You know, Paul, you said a bunch that the military community, veteran's community is not a model that it is. I mean, really, there's a diversity of opinion among veterans just like there is among every group in this county right now.

[20:35:01] But from folks you've talked to, people you're closed to, how are they responding to the last five days?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, CEO, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: They're disgusted. And I think at some levels, they're demoralized. And some folks are pulling away from the discussion, some folks are pulling away from politics. And I think we're looking for leadership.

I think this country is starved for leadership. And I think we're looking for a call to action. You know, often it comes from the White House. So that's the opportunity over the president.

What should everyone do? If they really want to support Gold Star families what should they do? We recommended they support nonprofit groups like Tafts (ph). They reach out to those families.

But the president can direct money, he can direct attention, he can direct the media. He can also focus on other things, like in Phoenix today, a 33-year-old veteran shot himself at the Phoenix V.A. OK, we've a massive suicide problem.

He can focus on other things that will help our military, strengthen our national defense, take care of our Gold Star family. He just have to shift that Twitter account onto something else and everyone else will follow.

BERMAN: I will say, Admiral, I feel like I know I personally have had more discussions with Gold Star families this week than in long, long time, hearing from them has been valuable. I mean, there is something that has come out of this.

KIRBY: Yes, I think that's right. I think the elevation that has come from the media coverage in that regard has been healthy.

Look, I think three lessons should come out of this entire sad week. One is that these Gold Star families all grieve in their own way. And none of them suffer this kind of sorrow in this sort of a cookie- cutter approach and you need to respect that.

Number two, messages transmitted don't always mean messages received. Yes, you may have say the same thing to all four families, but obviously, at least in one case, it was received in a way that hurt them. And he should just recognize that, be man enough to recognize that it was received in a different way and apologize for it.

And number three, and this gets to Paul's excellent point, I think it's time we have a very serious conversation, not just about the Gold Star families and the families of the fallen and the wounded, but about the civil military divide in this country and where it's going and how we can bridge those gaps.

All of us have responsibility, certainly us vets, but every American does and I think we need to have a serious conversation. And to Paul's point, that's what the president can be focusing on right now is how to have that conversation in a mature thoughtful way.

BERMAN: Guys, thank you all for having this mature thoughtful conversations that I do think it's a really important one.

Up next, breaking news about the deadly ambush that is at the heart of this whole thing. CNN has learned that Sergeant La David Johnson's body was found nearly a mile from the attack. But the Pentagon has now saying about this when "360" continues.


COOPER: We have breaking news on the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldier, including the one who is the subject of President Trump's condolence call, Sergeant La David Johnson. Four administration officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN that Johnson's remains were found nearly a mile from the central location of the ambush. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joins me with more.

Barbara, you've got new reporting on how the Pentagon is beginning to narrow down what happened to Sergeant La David Johnson. What are you learning?

[20:40:04] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They are putting the pieces together, John. What multiple sources are telling us from the administration is the Pentagon now calculates that La David Johnson was found perhaps up to a mile away from the central part of the ambush.

Now, they're trying to figure out how did he get there, who saw him last, where did they see him, how did he, in fact, become separated from the other members of their unit?

Clearly, one of the key pieces of information will be what other members of the team are able to tell military investigators about the ambush and about how it all unfolded, a top general now in charge of that investigation.

BERMAN: And officials previously told CNN that the French air support was not authorized to fire or drop bombs during this fire fight, now you're learning this was not the case?

STARR: Right. There's a bit of a clarification. And, you know, first reports often when new reports, additional information comes in, people clarify things. So we want to be very upfront about that.

What officials are now telling us is the French did have authority from Niger to fire their weapons but the jets that came in, they fly high, they move fast and the pilots were not able to discern the difference on the ground where the U.S. troops were, where the insurgence were. They didn't want to hit the U.S. obviously so they did not, in fact, fire.

BERMAN: Barbara, one other key development today we're learning that the FBI is assisting the Nigerian authorities in the investigation. What can you tell us about that?

STARR: They are doing that, they are looking at the intelligence trying to figure out exactly who the insurgence were, what part of ISIS they belong to and if they can begin to identify the insurgence and go after them.

I want to also add in that the Pentagon today is very adamant they did not stop looking for La David Johnson. They made a point of making sure we knew that Nigerian, French and U.S. forces were on the ground around the clock looking for him during that 24-hour period he was missing, John.

BERMAN: Barbara Starr, thanks so much for pushing for answers here.

Some insight now in the FBI's assistance with this investigation, joining me now, James Gagliano, retired FBI supervisory special agent.

And, James, the fact that the body is Sergeant La David Johnson, the remains were found nearly a mile away from the scene of the ambush, does that make it more challenging for FBI investigators to now get answers?

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY AGENT: John, sure, it's going to be extremely daunting going forward. We understand that flying out of New York or flying out of Fort Dix where the FBI response team coming out of the New York office would be launching from, it's 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Africa to get to Niger.

It's a daunting task, but the U.S. government has been doing this for a long time. They assemble what's called the foreign emergency support team. It's run out of the State Department. It's in interagency team. We'll just certainly have FBI investigators on board. It will have folks from the State Department and it will have security folks, communications folks, logisticians, folks that can handle what needs to be handled on the ground.

BERMAN: So this rapid deployment force, what will be their immediate mission?

GAGLIANO: John, the RDT or the Rapid Deployment Team is part of the crisis management response capabilities of the FBI. What their job is going to be is -- it's really a number of things, first and foremost now that the area is going to be secure and you're going to use military assets to secure, but they'll also bring in parts of FBI Swat teams and the hostage rescue team to secure it.

They'll bring in com specialist so they can have secure communications to the embassy there as well as back to the United States. And then it's going to be a painstaking crime scene investigation.

And, as you alluded to earlier, the difficulty in this is we're not conducting a crime scene investigation in Birmingham, Alabama or in Milwaukee. We're doing it 5,000 miles away in an area that's really sub-Saharan desserts. It's going to make it very daunting for them to do what they need to do, especially two weeks after the ambush.

Meaning, some of the evidence could be gone, some of the evidence are tell-tale signs of whether this was Boko Haram or if we know for sure it's ISIS. Some of that stuff could have been policed up by the enemy combatants after the gun fight.

BERMAN: Yes, look, two weeks after in what could very well be hostile territory. So based on your experience, how difficult is it going to be to get the answers that everyone wants here?

GAGLIANO: It's going to be difficult, John, but as daunting as it is, I've got the utmost trust and confidence in the folks that are going to be handling this piece. I've seen it done from the East African bombings in August of 1998, to the Eastern European war crimes, investigations in Slobodan Milosevic and turning up, you know, mass graves that have been, you know, basically put together, you know two years prior.

I'm confident. These teams have got experience of recent in Benghazi, in parts of Africa, other parts of Europe. They know what they're doing. It's going to be daunting, but they're sending the best investigators and the best security folks and we should get some answers here soon.

COOPER: All right, James Gagliano, thanks so much.

GAGLIANO: You're welcome, John.

[20:44:58] BERMAN: Up next, the White House responding to former Presidents Bush and Obama's criticisms about this era of politics by saying they weren't talking about President Trump. Really? We'll get into that next.


BERMAN: Today, the White House responded to scathing criticisms from former Presidents Bush and Obama against the current direction of American politics. This is what Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In general, does the White House feel it's appropriate for past presidents to be critical of the sitting president? And when was the last time President Trump spoke to President Bush?

SANDERS: I'm not sure the last time they spoke. But our understanding is that those comments were not directed towards the president, and, in fact, when these two individuals -- both past presidents -- have criticized their president, they've done so by name and very rarely do it without being pretty direct, as both of them tend to be. So we'll take them at their word that these actions and comments weren't directed towards the president.


[20:50:01] COOPER: Take them at their word, she says. The only problem is that the former Presidents Obama and George. W. Bush, they haven't actually said whether or not those comments were directed at President Trump.

What they did say yesterday, speaks for itself. Former President Bush called out nationalism, distorted nativism. President Obama called out politicians who say things just to get the base all riled up.

Joining me now, David Gergen, former adviser to four U.S. presidents and Michael Duffy, co-author of the presidents club about the code of conduct between former presidents.

David, simple question, any doubt in your mind that Presidents Obama and Bush were talking about President Donald Trump?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN AND CLINTON: None. None. They're both -- harbor deep sense of offense. And just sort of a -- I think hostile is -- it captures the mood people around those former presidents and I think the former presidents themselves. BERMAN: And, David, how unusual is it? Again, you have vast experience when it comes to both presidents and former presidents, how unusual is it to see something like this?

GERGEN: Well, Michael Duffy wrote an excellent book about this. But let me just take a crack out -- it's extremely unusual, so early in the term for former presidents to break ranks.

One of the -- there is a club, there is a fraternity, and it has certain rules. And one of the first rules is former presidents try to keep their mouths shut and try to stay above politics. They clearly violated that rule but they have done it because they think other rules in -- for the club have been violated by this president.

First is, a president should be a uniter, not a divider. You are elected as head of your party, but then you speak for all Americans. Secondly, you're supposed to bring out the best in -- of America as Lincoln said, to speak to the better angels of our nature. And thirdly, you know, you're supposed to be -- the current president, the incumbent is supposed to occasionally reach out to the -- his predecessors and seek wisdom and advice, and in turn, they try to help him. That rule has gone by the boards as well.

So, Michael, to David's point, was this a violation of club rules?

MICHAEL DUFFY, TIME MAGAZINE: I think David summed it up perfectly. It's really been a situation where the current president hasn't reached out to his predecessors.

And I think to just go one step further, I think that, certainly in the case of Obama, but really more notably today, yesterday, in the case of George W. Bush who is very careful about criticizing his predecessors said almost nothing critical in eight years about Barack Obama. I can't think one comment and it was gentle at best. For -- and now as well into Obama's first term.

For George W. Bush to give this speech at this moment is not an accident. It was both a plea for democracy and the kinds of human frailties that we need to keep it alive. And it was also a defense of the office of the presidency.

Don't forget, when you've been the president, you know how frail and tricky that office is, to maintain its power and they don't like it when someone comes in and seems rather bent on undercutting, if not destroying the office. And I think --

BERMAN: We think --

DUFFY: -- what you're going to see more of and what we saw this week, our former presidents saying don't mess with this institution. It's too important to both parties, too important to the country, too important to the republic to be treated this way.

BERMAN: You know, Michael what we see in public particularly among Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and George H. W. Bush, at least Michelle Obama, and former President Bush is really, you know, beyond a pleasant relationship, it's fun, it's funny. They seem to enjoy each other. That's what we see in public. What's it like behind the scenes, though?

DUFFY: Well, I think what you see is what you get, you know. There's no question. I mean it's interesting when you consider Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They're the two presidents in American history who are, if not the closest in terms of their age, they're the second closest. They are two men both born in the summer of 1946. They share -- though they come from different parts of our country and different parts of our culture, they actually have become great friends just as Clinton and Bush's father have. And you're right about Michelle Obama and George W. Bush.

So these are relationships that are real and, of course, you'll see that tomorrow on stage in College Station when five former living presidents are gathering. And that's only happened a few times in our whole nation's history.

So this is kind of a moment where people who have had the office and respect the office and are concerned about the office's future will be together and speaking. And we'll see if this comes up again.

BERMAN: You know, David Gergen, the speeches yesterday from Presidents Obama and Trump didn't feel like advice if you listen to them. It seemed like a takedown of Trumpism, a specific takedown of Trumpism. But honestly, Trumpism specifically in its own way is a takedown of the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. These things stand in opposition and Trumpism, as it were, won the last election.

[20:55:11] GERGEN: Won the last one, but there are more elections to come. And I think these both former presidents have their eyes on the future. I mean Barack Obama has his eye on the coming election in Virginia. It's only right around the corner. It could be bell to the election. We'll say if the Democrats lose that race, they're going to be demoralized, but if they can win that it's going to charge them up for the 2018 in getting candidates.

So I -- but I want to go back to this. The unusual thing about it is each one of these presidents over time comes to see himself as a link in a long chain, that, you know, that you have this office for brief period and you're the steward of the office and of the country's well- being for this brief period of time. And they like thinking of themselves as stewards and they have a natural tendency to become friends after leaving office.

Definitely, Bill Clintnton with the Bushes but look at Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter (INAUDIBLE) as Michael has written about. You know, they were -- they ran against each other.


GERGEN: But they became best friends. And back in the Clinton years, the Richard Nixon of all people became the person that Bill Clinton turned to.

BERMAN: Right.

GERGEN: So these are really important relationships. And now the two of them have turned against this president is a serious matter, it's a big deal.

BERMAN: It is a big deal. We will see what happens going forward. Interesting to imagine one day President Trump joining this club. How will he be a member of that? Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: Up next, new reaction from President Trump on the war of words between his Chief of Staff and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, why he says he was surprised, next.