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Florida Congresswoman Responds To Trump, Kelly Criticism; What We Know And Don't Know About The Niger Attack; N.H. Firefighters On The Front Lines Of Opioid Epidemic. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 20, 2017 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:30:15] REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- and the one on the way.

WILSON: Yes, and we -- because we want them to be comfortable and to be able to go to college and live a good life. And they won't have their father to provide for them so the 5,000 Role Models is making that happen.

And we are so proud of our hero, so proud. And before long, we're going to name a street after him in Miami Gardens.

So when his kids pass down that street they'll say that was named for my daddy. He was a hero in the Army. He was a hero. He was a Green Beret.

I can just see his little son La David, Jr. now pointing that out to his friends.

CAMEROTA: Well, Congresswoman Federica Wilson, we appreciate you coming on NEW DAY with your perspective on all of this and helping us to remember La David Johnson. Thank you very much.

WILSON: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's bring back Chris Cillizza and John Avlon.

And it does bear repeating the family will have the body on display today for loved ones to come by and pray at the casket. La David Johnson, sergeant, one of four men lost in an ambush in Niger.

We still don't understand the circumstances surrounding it and, John Avlon, that was one of the big points of takeaway. If you get past the political back-and-forth with Kelly and the president and Wilson, the call was not communicated the way the president apparently intended it to be. Fine, put that to the side.

She said the family is -- has more anxiety, more pain over not knowing what happened to La David Johnson, how he wound up being killed, and whether or not he was left behind.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: That's right, and this was an attempt to move the ball forward on that.

Obviously, today is an incredibly sad day for the family -- and she referred to him as her son in a -- in a community sense -- a deep personal relationship -- with a baby on the way, which is heartbreaking.

It's clear that the family felt disrespected by the president, presumably unintentionally. But she said the president didn't seem to know his name. Referred to him to his widow as your guy rather than your husband or Sgt. La David Johnson.

I think the deeper issue is what happened. Why was he left behind for 48 hours?

Here's what we know and this is has been reported early on. There was a full effort to find him. There was a scramble for 48 hours to find him that was multifaceted, but we need to know more.

There are 650 Americans serving in Niger. Not a lot is known about their mission, generally, and it's appropriate to have an inquest politicized the way Benghazi was.

But it's fact-finding, not fault-finding to find out what happened. Why he was left behind and what happened to him in his final hours as a way of honoring the family, getting closure, and learning. We've got to elevate this.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm going to de-elevate it for a moment --

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: -- to the politics of this. Chris Cillizza, your specialty.

She was not exactly striking a conciliatory tone with Gen. Kelly or the president. She feels what she feels. She feels very strongly.

She said that she was offended by Gen. Kelly's comments about her being an empty barrel. She went so far as to say that she believes that's a racist term.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes.

CAMEROTA: It doesn't feel like this feud is going away unless everybody just drops it after this. I mean, unless this is the last word that we hear on this then, obviously, it goes away. But it doesn't sound like she was in any mood to reach and sort of hear their side for what they're saying.

CILLIZZA: Yes. If everybody drops it, Alisyn, I think we know by now, given who is in the White House and his interest in Twitter, it seems unlikely. Honestly, I was thinking as she was speaking that Donald Trump is probably watching or taping that interview and will watch it a little bit later and we will hear from him again.

The reference that you mentioned, the empty barrel being a racist term. Saying that John Kelly was lying about the role that she played in that naming -- security a funding in naming of that FBI building in Miami. Said that there was no room for misinterpretation in regards to President Trump's comment.

All of those things are likely to trigger Donald Trump into responding. That's what he does. He doesn't leave fights alone, he doesn't take the high road, he doesn't appeal to our better angels.

John Avlon used a good word, elevate this conversation. This is not something the president does on almost anything.

Go back to Charlottesville. It became a -- well, I was really right that there was violence on both sides rather than golly, it's really a terrible -- what does it say about this country that a woman lost her life amid white supremacists and neo-Nazi violence? What does it say about where we are? So what does it -- what can I --

[07:35:10] CAMEROTA: Yes.

CILLIZZA: -- do as president, right? That's not what he does.

What he does, he fights knife fights. Politically speaking, he's fighting knife fights every day. Close quarters, right?

He's -- everything is about running the ball one yard forward. Very little is about sort of, OK, what does this say about the country? Should the President of the United States be engaging in a back-and- forth with a congresswoman?

And by extension, Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a fallen soldier -- should this be happening at all, right? Should he just not place a private call to the family and say you know what, I'm sorry that you misinterpreted or I'm sorry that whatever was said didn't feel right to you.

CAMEROTA: Sure.

CILLIZZA: This is hard. I'm new at this. It's never easy. That would go a long way.

AVLON: I think also -- I mean, look, intentions aside, clearly there was a profound misinterpretation --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

AVLON: -- but it's partly a problem of his own making because we so -- are so used to the president being callous, and attacking, and dismissive. It's easy to read that into an apparent level of disrespect the family felt about not acknowledging him.

So this is a problem of his own making to the extent that he has diminished the presidency consistently by being callous so his intentions can be obscured by that context he creates.

CUOMO: And also, look, you always have to remember there's always a new opportunity. There's always another chance -- CILLIZZA: That's right.

CUOMO: -- to do things the right way, and we're hoping that opportunity is taken now.

Today is the day that the Johnson family's going to have La David in the casket on display for people to pay their respects.

The widow had wanted to give an open casket. That's not going to happen and that's one of their questions about why it's not possible.

So let's leave this part of the discussion there.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

We're going to get more voices on what needs to happen to get to the bottom of what happened in Niger.

Our next guest, congressman, former Navy SEAL, Scott Taylor. What can he tell us about this controversy, next?

CAMEROTA: OK. So as our nation remembers Sgt. La David Johnson and his colleagues, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Bryan Black.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:41:18] CUOMO: All right. Let's not lose sight of the big question surrounding these four service members losing their lives at the hands of ISIS-affiliated fighters in Niger.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Scott Taylor from Virginia. He's also a former Navy SEAL, served in the Iraq War. And as always, Congressman, I start by saying thank you for your service to the country and thank you for taking this opportunity.

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R-VA), MEMBER, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE, FORMER NAVY SEAL, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Good morning, Chris. It's great to be with you.

And please, let me -- let me give my deepest sympathies to this family of Sgt. Johnson and the rest of them. Look, I wish that I could protect them at this time. I wish that they were protected in their most vulnerable exposed time. I'm very saddened for this family right now.

CUOMO: We'll get into the dynamic that's going on between the White House, Florida congresswoman, and the family of La David Johnson, but what are your questions about this ambush?

I know you know missions like this much more than most Americans do and frankly, there's not a lot of information about what's going on in Niger, what happened to these four service members. What is your take?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, obviously, the mission -- the mission there your propping up a very ungoverned space in some of these countries in Africa, of course, and giving the governments there the tools that they -- that they need to be able to have a stable -- and to keep out any extremist safe havens, of course.

You know, these missions are dangerous. They're always dangerous like this. This is something -- you know, Sgt. Johnson was not just the one percent in the military of the nation, he was the one percent of the one percent.

So, you know, these missions are very tough and yes, there are some things that aren't -- that aren't out yet and some things won't be out. There will be an investigation. I know that that's probably already started. I'm sure that -- I think Sec. Mattis has initiated that.

But it's not -- it's not uncommon for grieving families -- it's not, you know -- and unfortunately, I've been through this many times with many friends and their families. It's not -- it's not -- it's not -- there are many times when families want answers, and they need answers, and they're asking for answers, and their grieving. And so this is a really tough time for that family right now.

And like I said, there's an investigation going on. And, you know, what -- some things will come out, of course, and some things won't because, you know, by the nature of them being classified.

CUOMO: What do you make of the concern that there may have been an intelligence breach here or a gap between what was understood about where these service members were going for this meeting, and what the actual environment was, and the operational security issues that went on surrounding the ambush?

TAYLOR: Well, I certainly have a few questions myself, having done these foreign internal defense missions before.

You know, intelligence is tough in some of these spots. In some of these ungoverned spots in these very remote areas intelligence is very tough, and I've heard that over the past few days, you know -- people talking about intelligence, intelligence. It's really -- it's difficult to have really good intelligence in some of these areas.

So like I said, I mean, it's being investigated. I'm sure I'll have a classified briefing on it.

CUOMO: Good.

TAYLOR: And again, some things will come out and some won't, by the nature of that.

CUOMO: No, no, I get it.

And in terms of now, as we start to go on terms of how this was handled. We didn't hear about this. It had to leak out.

The president had 12 days. He was talking about a lot of other things. He never talked about this even though it is the largest loss of life of American troops on his watch, you know, at the hand of an aggressor.

Why not? Why didn't we hear about it?

TAYLOR: I don't know the answer to that. And I will say, of course, when this -- when this went down I saw that and, of course, I hear about it through Special Forces channels --

CUOMO: Sure.

TAYLOR: -- very quickly.

[07:45:00] And, you know -- sure, I wanted to hear about it. I don't know -- I'm not privy to some information as you know, obviously, America isn't at the moment, right now. I don't know what the reason was for that. I just have to trust in our government that there were some reasons why some of the information didn't come out the way it did.

I did hear a lot of things, you know. I want to say -- I want to comment on this and folks are talking about it, how this subject Johnson was left behind and -- look, this is war and those folks were ambushed. And there's things -- the environment's very chaotic, obviously, when what's going on.

And just to say that he was intentionally left behind or something like that is ridiculous. And I take tremendous offense to that because I can tell you right now that everyone on his team, everyone around there, everyone in the command stopped what they were doing and were going there. And I know this for a fact, actually, that there were folks going to the fight to do everything they could to find this person.

So, you know, there's a lot of noise out there and there are a lot of people that are saying a lot of things without any knowledge at all of how these things happen. And, you know, I'm very saddened right now for the country, quite frankly.

CUOMO: Well, there is no good news in this situation, that is for sure. But it's very help that you reinforce what we know to be the commitment of American fighting men and women to protect their own and that no man is left behind. Movies have been made about that level of dedication.

And it's good to hear that you can verify that this wasn't about being left behind. There may have been circumstances that made him get separated. We need to know those answers. But thank you for that.

Now, we get into what we're all embroiled in right now. What you're seeing -- this back-and-forth between the President of the United States and a congresswoman in one of these grieving families.

Here is a piece of what Congresswoman Wilson said in her own defense about what happened here and why, just on the show moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILSON: I heard his remarks and I heard him say that I bragged that I secured the money for the building of the FBI building in Miramar and that's a lie.

You know, I feel sorry for Gen. Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can't just go on T.V. and lie on me. I was not even in Congress in 2009 when the money for the building was secured, so that's a lie. How dare he?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right. Let's start off with the general accepted principle that none of this needs to be happening right now. It certainly can't be of benefit to the Johnson family.

What is your take on this back-and-forth?

TAYLOR: Well, look, like I said, I've dealt with this many times, unfortunately more -- you know, we've buried more friends than I would care -- wish on anyone, right?

And I've seen President Trump -- I've been with President Trump at Dover receiving casket -- flag-draped caskets. I've been there at Dover when President Obama was there. It's very -- it is a very difficult situation for anyone, you know.

I will tell you that the notion that the President of the United States was calling a family with any intent to be callous or anything like that is ridiculous and that's offensive as well, too. This is the commander in chief. You may not like that he's the commander in chief, but this is the commander in chief calling a family.

I will tell you, and this has been my experience over the years, that yes -- that family members receive information differently. There's no question about that. And this is -- this is the most vulnerable time ever.

So the way that they feel at this moment will be different from six months from now or six years from now, and the way that they receive information may be different.

But like I said when I first started this segment, I wish that I could protect this family. I wish that they were protected by this Congresswoman.

I listened to her -- to her -- to her interview and I'm embarrassed, quite frankly. I'm completely embarrassed by the behavior. You know, she's even said in her interview that the family's tired of the cameras. Well, yes -- yes, they are. I'm sure they are.

I mean, she was on all these shows talking about it and you hardly saw one little line in this conversation with the president and the family -- one line. No contacts -- nothing like that. And look, I just find this -- I'm disgusted by it. I mean, I really am.

And I feel horrible for this family. I feel horrible for other folks around America. I'm just -- I'm saddened by the whole episode. And as you said, I think that we can generally agree that this is not helpful for anyone.

I know what that family is going through right now and I really wish that they were protected.

CUOMO: The president has done nothing to take the high road in this situation, Congressman. You neglect that in your analysis. What about that aspect?

TAYLOR: Look, as you said, I think that Gen. Kelly --

CUOMO: I mean, he is the president.

I hear you about the congresswoman. It's fair criticism. You're not the only one to put it out there.

TAYLOR: I understand.

CUOMO: But let's not forget how this started. We asked about the ambush, OK, and why nobody had been contacted, and he said exaggerations about past presidents and how they didn't really always call or often call. He started down this road. It then wound up asking well, have you reached out to the families?

TAYLOR: Well, let me -- let me say this.

CUOMO: And then, this back-and-forth started and he hasn't let it go. Last night at eleven he tweeted about her saying things that weren't true, keeping it going.

[07:50:05] TAYLOR: I understand. Let me say this. Like I said, I've been at Dover Air Force Base with President Trump.

CUOMO: Yes.

TAYLOR: I was at Dover Air Force Base when President Obama was there.

Both of them -- you know, neither one of them have a lot of experience in this, right? They were both uncomfortable when I saw their body language at Dover Air Force Base. But that uncomfortableness is probably necessary for someone who has to send folks into war.

General Kelly, I think, gave the president great advice when he said it's probably best that you don't call the family because as we -- why we're talking about this. Grieving families and sometimes grieving family members --

CUOMO: Sure.

TAYLOR: -- receive information very differently --

CUOMO: Absolutely.

TAYLOR: -- at times. So, you know, I hope that moving forward that the president will take Gen. Kelly's advice because he's been through this, he's seen this firsthand, he understands it personally. And I would ask the president to lean on Gen. Kelly for his advice.

I don't think what's happening right now between the congresswoman and the president is good for anybody. It's certainly not good for the family.

CUOMO: Congressman, thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for trying to get answers to what happened in this ambush.

Let us know what information we can get to the American people about it as you learn. Thanks for being on this.

TAYLOR: Thank you for having me.

CUOMO: Firefighters on the front lines of a very different crisis.

We went to New Hampshire. Why? It is one of the hardest-hit places by the opioid crisis. You have to see what they're dealing with on the ground there every day.

We've heard about opioids but you've never seen the reality the way we're going to show it to you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: I'm sure that by now you've heard about opioids are doing to this country. And I can tell you as a fact, we have never seen anything this complex and lethal in this country before.

The state of New Hampshire has been hit really hard for a variety of reasons. So we went there to give you a very raw look in this new series that we're doing. It will be on our sister network, HLN. It's called "INSIDE."

And part of what we wanted to show in this raw reality if what first responders are up against. These men and women who are about fighting fires and rescuing people, they are now first responders in a whole new way. Here's a little look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO (voice-over): New Hampshire's firefighters were surprised to find themselves on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. These guys get plenty of calls but they're rarely fires.

DAN GOONAN, CHIEF, MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE FIRE DEPARTMENT: I can tell you this isn't your father's fire department anymore. Primarily, right now, it's this crisis or epidemic or whatever you want to call it. But it's hit us like a ton of bricks in Manchester and --

[07:55:00] CUOMO (on camera): You've never seen anything like it ever?

GOONAN: Never, never. This really takes up a good solid half my job.

CUOMO (voice-over): It's not the job Chief Dan Goonan signed up for.

GOONAN: Back when I started in this business, if you did CPR once a month that was a lot. Now, it's every single day.

There are days that I think that, what's next? How many more people can we bring in?

CUOMO (on camera): And you can have a dozen calls like this a night?

CHRIS HICKEY, EMERGENCY MEDICAL OFFICER, MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE FIRE DEPARTMENT: Oh, absolutely. Last night, they had a dozen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: A dozen calls just overnight in Manchester, New Hampshire. That's where we were. That's where these first responders are and a couple of them are joining us right now from the New Hampshire Fire Department.

Chief Dan Goonan and emergency medical officer, Chris Hickey. Gentlemen, it's good to see your faces again.

HICKEY: Thanks, Chris, nice to be here.

GOONAN: How you doing, Chris?

CUOMO: Well, as you told me when we were up there, this story needs to be told. People know the headlines but they don't know the depth of the reality.

Since we've been up there, Chief, what's it been like these last few months?

GOONAN: Well, it's -- you know, sometimes I think we're just treading water and trying to make it through.

Last month was a big month for us. We had 118 overdoses and 11 deaths. So it seems like just when you think you are starting to make some progress you have a really bad month.

But since you came up here it's much the same as it was. We're really trying to battle this truly, an epidemic or a crisis. And sometimes I feel we're just like that -- just in crisis management and doing triage.

CUOMO: Chris, help people understand why these opioids are different than what you've had to battle in terms of street drugs before and why it's killing so many people. Why there's so many overdoses.

HICKEY: It's any combination of things but, you know, one of the biggest things were fighting now are the synthetic opioids, you know. These aren't things that are naturally occurring. They're engineered in the lab for a specific purpose and that's to feed people's addiction. You know, there's a demand for stronger and stronger drugs out on the street and what people are seeing now -- what we're seeing as first responders, it's like nothing we've ever seen. It requires more Narcan and it requires a quicker action and a quicker reaction by the men and women of the fire department, and AMR, and the police department to really try and get a handle on this.

CUOMO: And just quickly, not to get too much in the weeds, we go into it much more in the documentary tonight. But what is Narcan and why is it uniquely helpful when these people seem dead when you find them?

HICKEY: Well, Narcan is a medication that's created to break the bond the drug has with the brain. We can administer it in a variety of ways, whether it's intranasally, intravenously or intramuscularly. And what it does is, you know, you have somebody who literally looks blue and dead on the floor.

We'll breathe for them artificially. We'll administer this medication, as I said, through the variety of different ways and when that takes ahold and breaks that bond that the drug has, you wake up just like you see in the movies. You know, they wake up like nothing ever happened. They're as conscious and alert as I am talking to you right now.

CUOMO: I mean, and without that Narcan the chance that they survive very, very small.

Chief, what do you want people to take away from this documentary tonight? I know that what hit home for me when I met with you is when you were saying you had never seen anything that doesn't discriminate the way these opioids do -- rich, poor, black, white, creed. Whatever it is, you've seen everybody affected the same way.

GOONAN: Right. You know, the population that we serve -- I mean, these opioids are hitting everybody so it could be the kid next door or it could be something that's been, quite frankly, living on the streets for five years and couch surfing.

So, it really runs the gamut and it's really heartbreaking when you see these stories. Nobody wants to be an opioid addict, you know. They don't choose this lifestyle but once it grips you, you're done.

CUOMO: And it was interesting to hear from so many of the fellows up there that they came into it saying hey, this is about personal choice. Make better choices, get off it, be disciplined. But once it grabs you, like you said, it's got a hold on you that few are ever able to break.

Well I have tell you, fellows, everybody knows that our first responders are angels on earth and the best among us but I have never seen a group of guys more dedicated than you are up there to saving lives. And I wish you had an easier task in front of you.

And I know you're waiting for more help. I know you're waiting for more help from the state, from the federal government. Granted, Hammer is big interdiction program you have in New Hampshire.

It's working but not fast enough. We hope the attention tonight gets you some of the help that you need.

Gentlemen, thank you for what you're doing, thank you for the hospitality.

GOONAN: Thank you, Chris. We appreciate it.

HICKEY: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right.

Now look, you know, I've been covering this stuff for a long time. I'm telling you I have never seen what you're going to see tonight in this HLN original series. We call it "INSIDE" because that's what it is. We're just taking you inside these situations.

We start with opioids.