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Congresswoman Frederica Wilson Responds to Comments from President and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired October 20, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: 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. There are other big issues that we attack. 9:00 p.m. eastern tonight, I'm telling you it's just worth a watch for you to understand what we're up against.
There's a lot of news here on this Friday morning. What do you say, let's get after it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump on the attack again accusing Congresswoman Wilson of lying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said I guess he knew what he was getting in to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His way he tried to express is a brave man. He knew what he was getting himself in to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was trying to do a little damage repair.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He called her an empty barrel a few times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 diverted more resources to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There may be a reason for subpoenas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. military does not leave its troops behind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota. CUOMO: Good morning. It's Friday. Welcome to your NEW DAY. October
20th is the date, 8:00 in the east is the time. We begin with Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson fighting back against President Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly right here on NEW DAY in a great interview with Alisyn. We're going to show you what she said. She didn't want to respond to Trump's latest twitter attack in which he says she lied about the content of the condolence call with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson.
CAMEROTA: So instead, Congresswoman Wilson said that she wants answers on that ambush that led to Sergeant Johnson and the three other soldiers getting killed in Niger. Wilson also said that she feels for General Kelly and his loss, but that he is lying about her. So we begin with her reaction to the president's tweet calling her a liar. Listen.
REP. FREDERICA WILSON, (D) FLORIDA: My emphasis today is on my constituents and helping them lay our hero to rest. That's where my head is today. And I'm also concerned about him and his last moments. I want to know why he was separated from the rest of the soldiers. Why did it take 48 hours for them to find him? Was he still alive? Was he kidnapped? What's going on?
CAMEROTA: You're not alone. Senator John McCain, so many people are calling for an investigation into exactly what happened here so those questions can be answered. But I'm curious, congresswoman, did you hear General Kelly's remarks in the press briefing room yesterday?
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. I feel sorry for General Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son, but he can't go on TV and lie about 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? However, I named the building at the behest of Director Comey with the help of Speaker Boehner working across party lines. So he didn't tell the truth, and he needs to stop telling lies on me.
CAMEROTA: Well, his point was, I think, that, though you're right he didn't get the facts right on that, was that empty barrels make the most noise, and he was using that -- he was likening that to you, basically that you're --
WILSON: I think that's a racist term too. I'm thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel, and I don't like to be dragged into something like that. The only thing I want to be dragged into right now is bring back our girls who are the victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
CAMEROTA: But Congresswoman, when you hear General Kelly say the words "he knew what he was getting into," that sounds an awful like what you say the president said to Sergeant Johnson's wife. Does hearing General Kelly change how you heard that conversation? WILSON: That is not a good message to say to anyone who has lost a
child at war. You don't sign up because you think you're going to die. You sign up to serve your country.
[08:05:03] We're talking about a specific soldier. And when you -- every soldier is different and every family is different. And when with you have a young mother who is six months pregnant with two small kids, you say, I am so sorry that you lost your husband, Myesha Johnson. You call her by her name, and you say your husband. You don't say your guy. They were married. And you say I am so sorry. You have our deepest sympathy. If there's anything this nation can do to ease your pain as your president, please let me know. I am so sorry.
That's what I would've said and that's what he needs to practice to say. He doesn't need to talk about what people sign up for. That is unconscionable.
CAMEROTA: General Kelly also said yesterday that he was absolutely stunned by your reaction knowing, from where he sits, what the president intended, that he was stunned that you had misinterpreted it, according to him, and that he was stunned. He was also stunned that you would've listened in on that call because to him those calls are sacred. Can you respond to that?
WILSON: I wasn't listening in. I was in a car where a call was being taken on a speaker phone. I wasn't listening in. Please, don't characterize it as that.
CAMEROTA: Can you tell us how they are today? I know that this is going to be a very tough day for them, for Myesha and her children.
WILSON: This is a very tough day for them. Everyone is trying to get through this. Everyone is tired of the back and forth of the TV cameras, and the only reason I came on this morning was to say that I do not appreciate someone lying on me. If you lie on me I'm going to answer because I'm not going to let you get away with it. That's the way I teach my boys, and that's the way I live my life. Don't lie on me.
And also we're hoping that very soon everything will calm down and we will watch a new birth, a new baby born to the Johnson family, a new baby girl. We're looking forward to that and we will be there to support our hero's family.
CAMEROTA: OK, we have a lot to discuss with our panel, so let's bring in CNN political reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. So Ron, look, let's just start with the politics of all this. As you can hear, Congresswoman Wilson was in no mood, it sounded like to me, to take a conciliatory tone. She wasn't backing down in this sort of public spat that she's having with General Kelly and with the president. She heard what she heard. She's interpreting it the in the way she thinks is right, and so hard to know where we go from here. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think -- I agree.
And the president -- the president's ability to let things lie when they should has been pretty limited. He usually puts out fires with gasoline, so where this goes in that sense is unclear.
I do think there is one thing that she said that does point to where it may go, which is the questions about what exactly happened, and the desire for more transparent answers on what exactly occurred I think is going to get louder, because whatever else gold star families are owed by the president, by their government, they are owed a clear understanding of what happened to their loved one. And I don't think we have that yet, and I don't think more in Congress, even though it's a Republican president and Republican Congress, will find that acceptable.
CUOMO: Chris, what are you hearing in terms of the acceptance of the process of getting answers? By that I mean, John McCain saying I'll subpoena if I have to, but the ranking member on his committee, the Armed Services Committee saying I don't think that's going to be necessary. What are you hearing in terms of how quickly people are getting information from the Pentagon?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: I think still very early to say, Chris. I will say just having seen things like this happen before, the more political footbally it gets, the harder that's going to become.
[08:10:02] I mean, this is not Benghazi but look at Benghazi. I should say, we don't know enough to conclude one way or the other but look at what Benghazi became. It became a giant political football --
CUOMO: Largely because you had a fundamental discrepancy of why it happened and there was an insinuation --
CILLIZZA: That there was more there.
CUOMO: -- that it had been deceptive. Here we're not hearing anything.
CILLIZZA: That's right. And so I think what we need then is to -- my point is when you get into when it becomes a political back and forth is when you start -- this is a sad place to be. You start to have disagreements about the fundamental facts and the fundamental timeline. You want to get those things ironed out as soon as possible, because I will tell you when I was listening, I was sitting in this exact seat listening to Congresswoman Wilson and Alisyn's interview, and when she said, why was he abandoned, about La David Johnson, why was he left there, aren't you supposed to sling people across your back? I will tell you, and you heard about this in the interview with Congressman Taylor, that is not going to sit will well with a lot of people.
CUOMO: Taylor says it's not true.
CILLIZZA: It's going to become more and more political. And unfortunately the politics clouds the difficulty of the basic fact finding, which is what Ron is talking about, which is what you're talking about, which is what we need now rather than he said this, they don't like the military, they don't support us, they don't understand us. That's almost where we are right now.
BROWNSTEIN: But real quick, the Benghazi precedent, whatever you think about that, that was a Republican Congress that put enormous effort, just spent enormous time, money, every possible asset into trying to figure out every aspect of what happened. And, you know, I think it is a test for them whether they are willing to spend even a fraction of that effort, because until this blew up this week there had not been a lot of loud questioning about what happened. And the president went 12 days without publicly reaching out to the families. And we don't -- there's a lot we don't know, and there is a baseline now for what an investigation looks like. No one's saying you want to recreate that, but you need to take this seriously and provide the family and provide the country answers.
CILLIZZA: To that end, can I just encourage people to go on CNN.com. There is a really good timeline of what we know, what the White House said, a very detailed -- just get the facts as we know them. Obviously we don't know them all, but get the facts that we know them before we descend into political blame game stuff.
CAMEROTA: Look, if there's any silver lining of this going into the political and this spat the being so public is that it has brought gold star families to the fore. We are talking more about gold star families than we had in who knows how long, if ever. And General Kelly yesterday who obviously himself is a gold star father, Ron, it was extraordinary. The things that he shared about what it was like to be a gold star family, to get that, that condolence call, to be on the receiving end of that, what happens when a soldier is killed overseas, that was just an incredible press briefing yesterday.
BROWNSTEIN: It was. His service, his sacrifice, his commitment to the troops who served with and under him, all of that is unimpeachable, unquestionable. But he's not a nonpartisan figure anymore. He's not a general. He is the chief-of-staff of the White House, he is an advocate for his -- for the president that he serves. And he has shown every time he's come before that podium, behind that podium, he is a very powerful advocate for the president.
But that really -- it's important to recognize that's what he is at this point. And the fact that he believes that this was appropriate what the president said and the way he said it, that doesn't end the conversation really. That is his view and he has, as he showed, enormous credibility to make that argument. But it does not mean that it has to be received that way by the family or anyone else. And I think that's an important distinction even while, you know, the power of his commitment, I think, is what made his appearance so powerful.
CILLIZZA: Just to add quickly to Ron's point, General Kelly's boss is Donald Trump. Donald Trump, whatever you think of what congresswoman Wilson, what Myesha Johnson, what they heard versus what Donald Trump said, past presidents literally from George Washington on, it's usually a high road job. You take the high road. You don't get down in the muck. You don't back and forth every single thing that someone says because you know at heart it's really about what's good for the country, how do we move the country forward. Is this any way, shape or form beneficial to this family who is suffering? Whether or not you think you were right, OK, that's not the point.
He doesn't grasp that. He never has. Every fight we've seen him in whether it's Charlottesville, whether it's with the Kahn family. This is who he is and unfortunately that is a significant break from what the way in which every president traveled the path of the presidency before him.
CUOMO: Give us a quick button, Ron.
RON BROWNSTEIN: And to that point, I really wonder if the same message delivered from General Kelly with his experience and the life that he has lived would have been received very differently from Donald Trump given the message from President Trump given everything that Chris said, the backdrop to it and the life that he has lived. It's possible almost the same words might have been received very differently.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Ron Brownstein, Chris Cillizza, thank you.
CUOMO: And again we keep going back to what started all this. We still don't really know what happened with this deadly ambush. This is the largest loss of American military on trump's watch and at the hand of an opponent. John McCain, the Senator's obviously threatened to issue a subpoena to get answers. Is that necessary?
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. She serves on that armed forces - armed services committee with Senator McCain. Thank you for joining us. What do you know about...
JEANNE SHAHEEN: Good to be with you.
Well we don't know a whole lot about it as you've said. There's an investigation under way. We know that our soldiers were out on what they thought was a routine patrol. They met ISIS fighters who were very well organized, were obviously anticipating the arrival of some kind of U.S. and African troops.
We know that there was not air cover and other support when they were attacked and that it took a while to get cover to come back and that was the French, who did that. So we have a lot of questions and we need to get answers to those.
CUOMO: We hear that the FBI is on the ground helping the investigation. Is that unusual in a military situation?
SHAHEEN: I don't know the answer to that, Chris. I know that our troops who went out didn't have - clearly didn't have intelligence about what they were getting in to and so we need answers around that and I think if the FBI can help us get answers to these questions then it's important to have them there.
CUOMO: All right. So there is a key distinction between a process of developing the unknown, which is it just takes time to figure out what happened and things not being made public for political reasons. And that's what started this entire situation that we're in with the Johnson family right now and the president versus a Florida Congresswoman, is that 12 days went by and he hadn't said a word about this ambush even though it is the largest loss of life of American troops on his watch at the hand of an aggressor. What do you make of that time and of the time in the week or so since then?
SHAHEEN: Well, again, an investigation is under way. We need to get answers from that. It's unfortunate that the whole incident around talking to the families who have lost their soldiers, their loved ones and this ambush has become such a political issue.
What we need to do is to recognize the selfless sacrifice of our soldiers, when they've been lost, we need to try and help the family's grieve. We need to give them the privacy they deserve when they're trying to grieve and it's very disappointing that this is become a political issue. It should not be a political issue when our lost soldiers are concerned.
CUOMO: Right and at the same time there should be an urgency in getting that information out. Again, that's what started all this...
CUOMO: ...is wanting to know why. And let's be honest, a lot of the pressure that's coming from lawmakers didn't happen until we started going after why we didn't hear anything for 12 days, whether it's McCain saying he'll use a subpoena. Last two weeks we didn't hear anything from any of you guys. Is it because you didn't know?
SHAHEEN: Well, it's because - from my perspective, I was waiting for the investigation to tell us what had happened, so I think now we know that we need to provide some more urgency on that, that we need to get answers and we need to get them as soon as possible so that the public knows what is happened so that the families who have lost their soldiers in that ambush know what's happened.
CUOMO: In all those same factors as a way of segue, the urgency, needing to help out families with information in a crisis, that all applies to something that's happening in your State that we're taking on in a documentary tonight about the opioid crisis. Been covering drugs a long time. We've seen a lot of horrible things. I grew up in the age of crack here in New York City.
It was bad. Not like this. This is a combination of wicked traits that we've never seen before, starting in the medicine cabinet, it being synthetic. It coming through over prescriptions. The lethality. The inability to fight it. The inability to get away from it. How do you see this concentration of pain in that's taking place in New Hampshire? Other than West Virginia nobody's been hit. Why?
SHAHEEN: Well you're right. New Hampshire has the second highest overdose death rate in the nation and I think it's a combination of things. We have a lot of small communities where law enforcement is stretched and so people have moved in. It's the overprescribing. We know that it's the overprescribing of opioids that has led to this
crisis and now people when they can get their prescription medicines any more, they've switched to heroin and heroin is often laced with Fentanyl. And now we're seeing even straight Fentanyl because they can get it cheaper and easier and what we're seeing in New Hampshire is communities that are coming together to fight this horrible, horrible epidemic.
Law enforcement, I think you've been to the safe station program in Manchester where our firefighters are involved in helping get people into treatment and I think the thing that is beginning to make a difference and we still have a very long way to go is people understanding that this is a disease and that we've got to treat it like a chronic illness.
We've got to get people into treatment and understanding that we've all got to work together, that there isn't a magic silver bullet. Communities have to come together to fight it and that we're not going to jail our way out of this problem.
CUOMO: That's for sure. You don't have the capacity even if you wanted to lock them all away. It's not going to get them off the drugs or off the streets, you don't have the capacity. When they watch this documentary tonight, when people see it, they will have never seen a reality like this in communities.
These are caring communities. These are good people. We'll show people the problem but also what you're doing up there to solve it which is just as unique. And we'll take that on tonight. Senator, thank you very much for joining us.
SHAHEEN: That's great. Thank you. We need to show people what's happening and so we can fight it.
CUOMO: Yes, please and we'll tell everybody to watch tonight, 9:00 p.m. It's on our sister network HLN. Thank you Senator. Thank you for being on the show.
SHAHEEN: Thank you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: I can't wait to see that tonight, Chris.
Meanwhile, we've been talking a lot about condolence calls to gold star families this week. Up next we have a military widow who said she had a very different experience when President Trump called her, how she felt about that call, next.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The widow of Staff Sergeant Mark De Alencar who was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan this past April is sharing a very different experience about a condolence call from President Trump saying she felt the president understood her loss. We have a portion of the call that she recorded and shared with CNN. Here it is.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am so sorry to hear about the whole situation. What a horrible thing except that he's an unbelievable hero, and you know all of the people that served with him are saying how incredible he was and just and amazing - an amazing guy, and I wanted to call you and just tell you that he's a great hero.
NATASHA DE ALENCAR: Thank you, President Trump. Those words are very kind, and he was an amazing man and an amazing husband and amazing soldier, and I couldn't be more proud of my husband.
CUOMO: Natasha De Alencar joins us now. Thank you for being on the show.
ALENCAR: Thank you, sir, for having me.
CUOMO: Four days after you got the worst news of your life you got the call from the president. What'd it mean to you?
ALENCAR: I'm going to start first, I would like to pay my condolences to the four American heroes' families who paid the ultimate sacrifice like my husband did. I just wanted to let them know that I understand, and I get it, and I just want to let them know. My family to their family, we grieve with you.
CUOMO: How are you doing?
ALENCAR: Day by day. Day by day. Some days are good. Some days are bad, but it's getting better. My kids keep me uplifted and keep me busy, so by that, it makes each day a little bit better.
CUOMO: Big family, five kids between you, right?
ALENCAR: Yes, sir.
CUOMO: Big age range also. Are the older ones helping with the younger kids and dealing with things that are harder for them to understand?
ALENCAR: Definietely they would, but both of my - Mark and I's oldest kids are in school. We have one in Missouri and we have another one in Miami, but I have the 13, the 5-year-old, and the 16-year-old. They're all still in school, but they've all stepped up to the plate since their father passed, and they're just making me proud. We uplift each other.
CUOMO: You've got a lot on your shoulders, and everybody understands that, and we feel for you. Are you getting the help that you need? The things that military can do, that the government can do? How are you doing?
ALENCAR: The love, the support that I've gotten since my husband passed has been just - there are no words. I'm still getting people sending me letters and emailing me "you're my thoughts today. You and your kids are my thoughts today. Please don't hesitate if you need something," so I can't say anything else except that besides my family the Green Berets, the Special Forces, the Army in general, the community itself have been very uplifting and they are part of the reason why I am able to get up and take day-to-day to try to be the best mom that I can be now.
CUOMO: We always hear that the love is real among the brothers and sisters when they serve together. That that bond never ends, but there's also supposed to be a bond between all of us with families like yours that pay such a steep price. Has everything been done the right way for you in terms of the services and all the boring things that we don't often talk about, but they matter so much? When you're trying to run a household, you know, benefits coming through at the right time, insurance being picked up at the right time. Has that all been okay for you?
ALENCAR: Without a glitch, I've been blessed.
ALENCAR: Everything day-by-day has been great, so no problem at all.
CUOMO: Great. That is great to hear. So tell us a little bit about Mark because I know that it can be frustrating for the families that so much of the information about his service winds up being about how his life ended. But to a person we hear "this man made you feel - not just feel better - he made you better." He made you a better person. I've heard you say the same thing as well. What was lost when we lost your husband? Tell me about him.
ALENCAR: I feel the void with my husband being gone. Starting with my world, our little world, he was our hero first before America's, and the void we definitely see. He was just a very humble person. He's the type, like I said before, that will let you lead while he follows, but the reason you're able to lead and shine is because he allowed it. He never wanted to be recognized or recognitioned for all the things that he's done as far as a soldier and a husband or a father. He was just that kind of good guy, all around good guy. And so I think past (ph) I will meet with some of his brother's in arms and they will share and say the same thing, and I know it's true because of the things that they were telling me are the same things that I knew and I seen everyday for the past 15 years, so I was just blessed to have him in my life for 15 years because he has made me a better woman and he has --