Return to Transcripts main page


Chief Of Staff Defends Trump; Bush, Obama Take Swipes At Trump; Puerto Rico Recovery One Month Later; What's Next For Raqqa After ISIS? Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 20, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:47) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you elect to call a family like this it is about the most difficult thing you can imagine. There's no perfect way to make that phone call.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A rare and highly personal moment in the White House. Chief of Staff John Kelly defending President Trump's handling of a condolence call made to an Army widow.

RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: And two former presidents both warning in strong terms against the forces of division that propelled President Trump to power.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Rene Marsh.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's 2:31 out there in Los Angeles where I think they're still celebrating.

MARSH: They are.

BRIGGS: The Los Angeles Dodgers headed to the World Series.

That is not where we start. We're still locked in this condolence call controversy.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly making an emotional appearance in the White House briefing room Thursday. Kelly defending the way President Trump handled a condolence call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger.

Kelly also condemned Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who has sharply criticized the president for using insensitive language on the call.

Kelly did not hold back.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and broken-hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife and, in his way, tried to express that opinion that he was a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into.


MARSH: Well, the story didn't end there. Late last night, President Trump weighed in with a tweet. "The fake news is going crazy with whacky Congresswoman Wilson, a Democrat who was secretly on a very personal call and gave a total lie on content."

Well, it is worth noting Sgt. Johnson's widow invited Wilson to listen to the call.

We have a lot more on this. We want to bring in CNN's Sara Murray who's at the White House.



White House Chief of Staff and retired four-star general John Kelly making an extraordinary appearance in the White House briefing room. He talked about something he rarely speaks publicly about, which was losing his own son in Afghanistan, and provided a window into the advice he gave to the president about how to talk to family members of a soldier who has paid the ultimate sacrifice.

KELLY: And he said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families, but let me tell you what I tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend Joe Dunford told me because he was my casualty officer. He said Kell, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent.

MURRAY: Now, Kelly offered up this explanation at a time when President Trump is under scrutiny for the tone and for the words he chose when he spoke to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. That's one of the soldiers who was killed in a military operation that went awry in Niger.

This is not the narrative the White House wants but how difficult it is to get away from all sides, whether it's Kelly, whether it's the Congresswoman, whether it's President Trump politicizing the death of a U.S. soldier.

Back to you.


MARSH: Sara Murray outside of the White House.

Now, we want to bring CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer. He's a historian and Princeton University professor.


BRIGGS: Good morning.

MARSH: The first question for you -- I mean, second time Kelly appears in the White House briefing. Is he becoming Trump's explainer-in-chief, essentially?

ZELIZER: Yes. I think he's taking a new role. He's one of the figures now who is a public spokesperson for the administration.

It's no longer just John Kelly behind the scenes trying to quote- unquote control the president. He's actually carrying forward with some of the president's message and that's exactly what he did yesterday.

[05:35:00] BRIGGS: Look, Gen. John Kelly had to take a call no American ever should have to -- the most heartbreaking phone call ever, and we should give deference to the general for losing a son in Afghanistan in 2010.

But he got a lot wrong yesterday.

One, his mischaracterized the relationship of this Congresswoman and the family -- close family friends. There was no secret listening in on this phone call. The widow put it on speakerphone. She wanted everyone to hear it.

But is the chief of staff holding the media -- holding a Democratic congresswoman to a higher standard than he is his boss, the President of the United States, when it comes to politicizing these condolence calls?

ZELIZER: Well, in fact, the administration can be seen, including Chief of Staff Kelly, as politicizing this call, meaning this started with the comments of the president which were shocking to everyone listening and all of a sudden this has blown up into a rather big issue.

And here, you have the chief of staff going after a congresswoman who, in fact, the family friend of the deceased.

BRIGGS: Yes, it would have nice just to hear the chief of staff hold his boss accountable.

This started with Sara Murray asking the question why haven't we heard anything from you, so far, about the soldiers that were killed in Niger? A very simple answer.


BRIGGS: We're still searching for information on this with our military leaders and the Pentagon. We mourn those American heroes and their families. MARSH: Yes.

BRIGGS: But he didn't do that. He didn't want this to end.

MARSH: Yes, and it --

BRIGGS: Personal grievances.

MARSH: Right, and it still remains unclear why he didn't come out sooner to -- and the context is he was tweeting a lot about the NFL.

But I do want to move on --


MARSH: -- to something else that was very extraordinary yesterday. We heard from former President Bush -- George W. Bush, as well as former President Obama. But what was really stunning was hearing from George W. Bush. Hearing from a Republican essentially bashing a Republican-sitting president.

What does that say about --

BRIGGS: But not by name.

MARSH: No, not by name.

BRIGGS: Let's listen to it first and get your reaction.

MARSH: Yes. We have this out.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it could seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we've got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry. To demonize people who have different ideas. To get the base all riled up.


MARSH: Bush went eight years without criticizing Obama but he's clearly criticizing Trump. What does it say about the state of the Republican Party?

ZELIZER: I think there are many people in the Republican Party who have two fears.

One, in the short-term, what happens to the Republican Party under President Trump. What are the kinds of political losses they will suffer? And one is larger. I think you're hearing genuine concerns from former President Bush. What is the cost of this administration to America's role in the world and here, within the United States, to a party that plays to an extremist base, rather than what Bush originally wanted to do back in 2000, which was to broaden the coalition of the GOP and create a permanent majority.

I think he sees President Trump going in the exact opposite direction, shrinking what it means to be a Republican.

BRIGGS: All right, put your historian cap on for one second on a yes and no question. Have we ever seen a Democrat and Republican president speak with one voice criticizing a current president?

ZELIZER: Not like this. We've seen former presidents back in a political fray --


ZELIZER: -- but not like what we saw yesterday.

BRIGGS: I'll tell you what else we have not seen. We have not seen Paul Ryan --


BRIGGS: -- provide levity --


BRIGGS: -- cracking jokes last night at the Al Smith dinner. And he did a fantastic job, even if someone may have taken offense -- listen.


PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I know last year that Donald Trump offended some people. I know his comments, according to critics, went too far. Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and they said that his comments were offensive. Well, thank God he's learned his lesson.

Every morning, I wake up in my office and I scroll Twitter to see which tweets that I'll have to pretend that I did not see later on.


BRIGGS: Now, it's not clear if he'll be subject to a tweetstorm later this morning --


BRIGGS: -- but how do those types of moment humanize politicians?

ZELIZER: Look, they show a little bit that they understand what everyone else is watching and they understand some of the problems that exist. And when you hear someone make a joke it's easier to relate to them.

But people will ask if he thinks these things -- if he can joke about these things why isn't Speaker Ryan, why isn't the Republican Party actually doing something about the issues they are joking about? And that's a natural question for many people to ask.

[05:40:03] BRIGGS: And the answer is they want tax reform, right?

ZELIZER: They want tax reform and they want a majority.

BRIGGS: All right. Julian Zelizer, great to have you.

MARSH: Thanks so much.

BRIGGS: Have a good weekend, my friend.

ZELIZER: You, too.

BRIGGS: All right. America's labor market is red hot.

Jobless claims just hit the lowest level in 44 years. Only 222,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That's the fewest since March of 1973.

It could also mean a rebound from hurricane-related job losses. The U.S. lost 33,000 jobs in September mainly because of Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Those storms could also be the reason for this low count.

The Labor Department said it's difficult to collect precise numbers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida. Power outages and infrastructure damage disrupting the process.

Still, claims are historically low. Numbers have stayed below 300,000 a week for more than two and a half years. That's a sign of a strong labor market, as is the unemployment rate currently at a 16-year low -- Rene.

MARSH: All right.

Well, coming up, Raqqa, Syria. It has been reduced to rubble. What's next for the city now that ISIS has been defeated there?

We'll go live to our reporter live in Raqqa, next.


[05:45:25] MARSH: Well, President Trump meeting with the governor of Puerto Rico giving his administration's response to Hurricane Maria a perfect 10 out of 10.

The president arguing that the damage inflicted on Puerto Rico was quote "worse than Katrina." This, just weeks after saying during his visit there that Maria wasn't a real catastrophe like Katrina.

Meantime, recovery efforts on the island are proceeding slowly.

CNN's Bill Weir joins us now with the latest on the ground.


BILL WEIR, CNN HOST (on camera): Rene, Dave, about three million Americans spent another night in the dark and the heat without power. That is the question on so many minds here, when is it coming back on? So I went looking in search of answers and I started at a place that you might actually recognize.

WEIR (voice-over): It is the most popular music video ever. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" has been viewed on YouTube over four billion times.

WEIR (on camera): But most of that massive audience probably didn't realize the video was shot in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in all of Puerto Rico.

Welcome to La Perla. For years, this place was written off as being drug and gang infested. Community organizers fought against that stigma. Hadn't been a murder here in six years.

And then came "Despacito" and suddenly, this rough side of town was a tourist destination and the economy started to blow up. People felt good about themselves, but then came Maria.

WEIR (voice-over): The excited scramble for a single bag of ice is proof that potable water and power are still elusive luxuries over a month after Maria, which puts enormous pressure on the men paid to electrify Puerto Rico. They are journeymen linemen contracted by Whitefish Energy, a small 2-year-old company out of Montana.

It raised a lot of eyebrows when they were given a $300 million contract without any input from the Army Corps of Engineers.

WEIR (on camera): You know, the headline down here for a couple of days was how the hell did you get this contract? You're a brand new company, right?

ANDREW TECHMANSKI, CEO, WHITEFISH ENERGY HOLDINGS: We've been around for a few years and, you know, we specialize in difficult and mountainous terrain projects. So all I can say is we took the call and we're here.

WEIR: Whitefish Energy is not the only power company working on this problem. There was another multimillion-dollar contract handed out to a much more established company yesterday.

But, Sen. Marco Rubio says the Army Corps of Engineers is still trying to come up with the plan to fix the power grid in Puerto Rico more than a month out.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: A long road ahead there. Bill Weir, thanks so much. Meanwhile, with the U.S. and South Korea currently carrying out joint naval drills off the Korean Peninsula, the North is upping the ante.

Pyongyang has taken the unprecedented step of sending letters to several countries urging them to unite against the quote "heinous and reckless moves of the Trump administration." Only Australia confirmed to CNN that it received the note.

Also this morning, North Korea's Central News Agency slamming what it calls saber rattling and repeating the warning that the North is ready to retaliate.

MARSH: All right.

Well, the Los Angeles Dodgers back in the World Series for the first time in 29 years.

BRIGGS: It's been a while.

MARSH: That's a long time. Well, that comes after crushing the defending champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 last night in game five of the NLCS.

Now, it was an epic night for Enrique Hernandez. The lightly regarded utility player blasting three home runs and driving in a post-season record seven runs for the Dodgers.

The fall classic begins Tuesday night with L.A. awaiting the winner of the Yankees-Astros series which could be decided tonight in Houston. I know you've been talking --

BRIGGS: It could be.

MARSH: -- a lot about the Astros.

BRIGGS: Yes. You know, that's -- we want a game seven, right?


BRIGGS: I know Yankees fans don't.

But game one of the World Series Tuesday in L.A., 102 degrees --

MARSH: That's hot.

BRIGGS: -- record heat. They won't mind it in L.A. They waited 29 years.

All right. The ride-hailing wars just got messier.

Lyft raising a billion bucks. What does that investment mean for Uber? Details on "CNN Money Stream," next.

But first, the beauty industry is full of very big names but somehow the new beauty brand Glossier has developed a cult following. Here's how the founder is using social media to find new customers. [05:50:03] (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EMILY WEISS, FOUNDER, GLOSSIER: Glossier is different in many ways from most beauty companies. First of all, they have a highly-curated selection of products. We're not interested in making a bunch of stuff and throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks.

We also are only available direct to consumers. We don't sell through department stores or multi-brand stores. That allows us to do many things.

One is we're able to communicate directly with our customers. We know exactly who she is, exactly what her preferences are, how to personalize to her needs, and we're able to ask her what she wants.

My relationship with beauty is complex, probably like many women. I think of it like dressing up, like clothing. It's a way to feel good, to feel your best, and to express yourself.

We may be three years old but to me this is still very much day one. We have such a climb ahead of us to meet, you know, the demand. And we have so many more products we're making.

I am definitely restless, which I guess is like the key ingredient for being an entrepreneur.



[05:55:46] MARSH: Well, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces declaring they are the new authority in Raqqa after driving ISIS out of the Syrian city.

CNN is live in Raqqa this morning. Let's turn to our Arwa Damon. She is live there. Hi, good morning, Arwa.


We're actually at the stadium where the final battle against ISIS took place inside Raqqa. You have a ceremony -- it's the official liberation ceremony attended by various different fighter as well as local leaders, tribal leaders.

And then, you have the wreckage of the stadium itself in the lower levels, and there's fighting positions leading down into the lower level. You can see the length that ISIS went to to try to fortify itself, especially in this position. ISIS fighters punched holes through the walls creating something of a rat run so that they could move through undetected.

It is also where ISIS held many of its prisoners believed to have been the largest ISIS prison inside Raqqa, in fact. And it is surrounded by sheer and total devastation.

This entire city has been decimated. You barely even find traces of the life that was.

The people who are attending this ceremony, Rene, they are by and large the individuals who are going to be tasked with trying to somehow rebuild this city. Members of the Raqqa Civil Council who are going to have to figure out how to get the money and the expertise to reconstruct. But just as important is going to be building Raqqa's social fabric.

MARSH: All right. The brave Arwa Damon live for us this morning in Raqqa. Thank you so much, Arwa.

BRIGGS: Now, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning.

Global stocks higher after the Dow and S&P 500 just managed record highs. Stocks rose after news broke that Fed governor Jerome Powell could replace current Fed Chief Janet Yellen. Powell is seen as market-friendly. Yellen's term is up in February.

The market fell earlier in the day mainly due to tech stocks, especially Apple which dropped 2.4 percent on reports of low iPhone sales.

United also plummeting 12 percent. The airline's profits fell due to flight cancellations during the hurricane season.

Workers can stash away $500 more for retirement in 2018. The government will raise the 401(k) contribution limit to $18,500 next year from its current level of $18,000. This is the first jump since 2015.

Money in our 401(k) grows tax free so it's a good way to save on retirement, but there's a limit on how much you can contribute each year. The IRS reassesses the amount annually.

The ride-hailing wars just got a bit messier. Google parent Alphabet is leading a $1 billion investment in Lyft. Google previously invested in Lyft's chief rival, Uber.

This pushes Lyft's value to $11 billion but that's still a distant second to Uber, worth about $70 billion. This money could help Lyft while Uber tries to recover from a year of P.R. disasters that include executive changes, legal scrutiny, and claims of sexual harassment.

MARSH: Well, it's great to join you.

BRIGGS: Yes, my friend.

MARSH: And thank you for joining us. I'm Rene Marsh.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson joining "NEW DAY" in the 7:00 a.m. hour.

Have a great weekend, everybody. We'll see you on Monday.


BRIGGS: President Trump on the attack again, accusing Congresswoman Wilson of lying.

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: He said I guess he knew he was getting into.

KELLY: His way tried to express that he's a brave man. He knew what he was getting himself into.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was trying to do a little damage repair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He called her an empty barrel a few times.

OBAMA: Why are we trying to be cruel to each other? That's not who we are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you've got anything to say other than this is a tragedy, get some duct tape out and shut up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had we anticipated this attack we would have devoted more resources to it.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There may be a reason for subpoenas.

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The U.S. military does not leave its troops behind.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your new day. It's Friday, October 20th, 6:00 here in New York.

And here's our "Starting Line."

The president just can't let it go.