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American Soldier Killed in Niger Laid To Rest; Military Investigating Deadly Ambush of U.S. Soldiers in Niger; Trump Attacks Congresswoman as Soldier Laid To Rest; Bill O'Reilly Settles $32 Million Sexual Harassment Claim; Pentagon Document Contradicts White House Claim Trump Contacted Gold Star Families; Concern Over Puerto Rico Schools. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 21, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:05] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown in for Ana Cabrera on this Saturday.
And we first want to turn to South Florida, that is where the family of a US soldier killed in combat overseas this month is mourning as they laid their loved ones to rest.
That is an emotional gripping scene of his widow, Johnson's widow kissing his casket. He was one of the four American troops killed in the West African nation of Niger. Ambushed by what military analyst call a new affiliate of the terror group ISIS. And Johnson's funeral is happening at the same time that new information is emerging about what happened to him and his unit that day.
Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is following that. Michelle, the flow of information from the Pentagon is not really pleasing a lot of people. John McCain included, he says it's not sufficient, it's too slow. But what are we hearing? What have we learned about that Niger attack investigation?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: You know, there are some new details coming out. And I think some officials have been giving CNN information to try to clarify some things. What we're trying to show the areas that are still unclear and why, to kind of shed light on what we know and don't know. So, what officials are saying now is that, on this night, U.S. and Nigerian troops were working together. They were traveling to a village.
Nigerian troops needed to get some supplies and then they all attended a meeting of local leaders. And it was at that point it's believe that the U.S. troops got back into their unarmored vehicles and came under attack by around 50 ISIS fighters. But even that isn't 100 percent established. There was some back and forth reporting and whether they had even been able to get into their vehicles at that point.
But again, as I said, those vehicles were unarmored. And that led the questions of what kind of support do they have, why didn't they know the risk were so imminent. How was the intelligence? How is the coordination among U.S., Nigerian and French troops.
But here's some of what Senator McCain and Defense Secretary Mattis said about this.
Sorry, we don't have that sound.
Okay. So, there are still big questions that remain, but what we're told about the investigation is that Africa command is leading it. The FBI is now involved. They have people on the ground going over this evidence, and it's going to incorporate all four branches of the military. There's also been a little clarity on why French planes that tried to stop the fire fight about 30 minutes in didn't drop any bombs. Initially there was reporting or speculation that it was because they didn't have authority in Niger to do so. But it turns out they were trying to avoid hurting or killing U.S. troops on the ground.
BROWN: Because it was such a chaotic scene in the firefight. Let's listen to Senator Lindsey Graham who sits on the Armed Forces Committee. He says an uptick and terrorist violence in Africa does not surprise him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The war is headed to Africa. It's beginning to morph as we suppressed the enemy in the Mideast. They're going to move. They're not going to quit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So what makes Senator Graham say that the U.S. war on terror is headed to Africa, is there a pattern of these attacks, or activity to support that statement?
KOSINSKI: Yes. This has been a real risk, and something that's been growing over the last several years. In fact, there was a study by James that came out last year saying that these kinds of attacks by ISIS and others have quadrupled in Africa in the last six years. Boko Haram aligned itself with ISIS. There's been competition between ISIS and other groups and also, the resilience of Al Shabaab in Somalia, it was a march that President Trump allowed this greater authority for Africa command to not just target Al Shabaab when U.S. troops there -- and there were fewer than 100 of them are coming under attack, but to offensively target Al Shabaab.
So, the U.S. has recognized that this is a risk and maybe more should be done now before the threat grows even bigger. And we have seen these kinds of air strikes especially over the summer. In June, in July, there were offensive strikes against Al Shabaab in Somalia, and in August, U.S. troops there came under attacks. So they were able to do some airstrikes and that was considered defensive though not often.
So, what it tells you is, even in these places which are advise and assist missions, the U.S. troops helping these other countries, you know, ward off these threads, they're still very dangerous. And they do come under attack. This is hardly the first time -- Pam.
[17:05:23] BROWN: Right. It's a huge risk. Michelle Kosinski, great reporting. Thank you so much for that. And the military has released a few details publicly about its
investigation to this ambush killing two Green Berets and two support soldiers in Niger. Sources tells CNN 50 regional ISIS fighters were responsible for the attack two weeks ago. But how it happened remains a mystery.
I'm joined now by CNN military and diplomatic analyst, and former State Department spokesman rear admiral John Kirby in Washington. Admiral, Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee responded to a reporter's question about Niger and whether the military is overextended resulting in American sign in countries most in the U.S. has never heard of. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think most Americans want to do the following. Where there are threats, their allies and our allies, they want us to deal with it. We don't want another 9/11. We don't want the next 9/11 to come from Niger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, does he have a point there about why U.S. members are so in many places around the globe?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. He certainly does, and Michelle did a good job laying it out there just a few minutes ago in terms of the growing threat by Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda affiliates, groups like ISIS in Africa. And this is something quite frankly that the Pentagon has been tracking for several years now. We knew that as we squeezed ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as we took away what they claimed was a caliphate, that they would metastasize it, they would go to other places for safe haven.
We saw them go to Afghanistan. We've seen them go to Libya and certainly we've seen them in the Sahel in Sub Saharan, Africa. And that's what these troops are doing down there, trying to help partnered local forces deal with this threat better on their own using their own intrinsic capabilities. But you know, back in earlier this year, General Waldhauser, the Africa command commander, in front of Congress talked about the stretch on his resources.
I mean, he's got 53 nations in his area of responsibility alone, and he's got troops in most or many of them. And he said that he's got -- that only 20 to 30 percent of his intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance requirements are being met by actual resources. So, I think in addition to figuring out what happened here in this ambush, and they will. I think it's also time for a very serious conversation about how Africa command is being resourced and being supported.
BROWN: Right. Because in this case, they were in unarmored vehicles, there was not overhead cover at the time of the ambush, so it does raise questions about resources. There have been comparisons drawn, Rear Admiral Kirby of Benghazi, that this is President Trump's Benghazi. Is that fair? Is it too premature to make a comparison like that? KIRBY: I think it's way too premature. I mean, I get the
similarities here, you know, you have got a, you know, a speed issue, and you've got a resourcing issue, and could they have gotten help fast enough. I get that. The tyranny of distance I see but it's a completely different situation. And I think we really all need to be careful before we jump to conclusions here about what happened.
There is an active investigation going on. That's the appropriate course of action. Secretary Mattis has been spot on in saying, hey, look, you know what? We're not going to get out there and comment on stuff and speculate until we know the facts. So, I think we need to let that happen first.
BROWN: But do you think that we should know more at this stage? I mean, do you think the public deserves to know more about sort of some of the basic facts that aren't readily available and I bring that up because you've had senators such as Senator McCain of the Armed Services Committee say, look, information has been way to slow on this.
KIRBY: Yes. I know. I think the Senator had the point and it was good that Secretary Mattis went up there yesterday to explain, you know, to offer them a briefing, to give them some information. I do think and I had been critical of the Pentagon. I think, you know, 12 days ago, it took way too long for them to get out on this. This happened on the 4th of October. It took a couple days before they realized, you know, what it happened to Sergeant Johnson, I totally understand.
But I think surely after that, it would have been good for the Pentagon to come out with some general context about the mission and what their troops are basically doing there without violating operation security or the investigation, they could have done a better job putting in context around what those troops are doing down there. And you know, just yesterday Pamela, AFRICOM put out a sort of a background statement about the mission in Niger. It was actually quite well written and full of context, should have been done two weeks ago.
BROWN: I was going to say, we used that a while ago.
KIRBY: Yes. I think the Senator has got a point.
BROWN: All right. Admiral Kirby, thank you.
KIRBY: You bet.
[17:10:02] BROWN: And while American soldier killed in Niger was laid to rest today, President Trump was tweeting about something else. His upcoming release to papers related to the John F. Kennedy assassination. Details on that. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[17:14:22] BROWN: Well, the White House has spent nearly a week engulfed in controversy over President Trump's calls or lack thereof to Gold Star families. Naturally one would think the President would want to spend this week in trying to move on from that chaos, that controversy, especially on the day, one of the soldiers killed in that deadly Nigerian ambush is laid to rest.
But instead, he's actually telling the media to keep reporting on it, or at least one part of it when it comes to this controversy surrounding the congresswoman closed to that soldier's family.
This is what he tweeted. "I hope the fake news media keeps talking about wacky Congresswoman Wilson and that she, as a representative, is killing the Democratic Party." We should note that he's not tweeted about the fallen soldier La David Johnson who has been laid to rest in Florida today.
I want to bring in CNN's Boris Sanchez live right outside the White House for us. Has the President said anything, just about in general, Niger, anything, and the broader context beyond just what -- about the Congresswoman?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you said, Pamela, no sign on Twitter, the President not twitting about the situation in Niger or about Sergeant La David Johnson. However, he has twitted about a broad array of topics. You've mentioned some of the tweets about Representative Wilson from South Florida. He did tweet about the fake news media multiple times. He's tweeted about that famed dossier with salacious allegations.
He's twitted or at least he alluded to in one tweet to Russian-bought ads on Facebook. In another, he tweeted about anti-ISIS forces taking Raqqa, he's tweeted about the stock markets, the budget deal, tax reform, he even tweeted this, he writes, quote, "Subject of the receipt of further information, I will be allowing as president. The long black and classified JFK files, to be opened." Some context here, the President hasn't until October 23rd to decide whether or not to release these secret CIA and FBI files pertaining to former President John F. Kennedy. It is kind of a curious theme, right to tweet about today. However, the President insisted in an interview yesterday that his tweets are part of a broader strategy. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have friends that say, oh, don't use social media, see, I don't call it tweets. Tweeting is like a typewriter. When I put it out, you put it immediately on your show. I mean, the other day I put something out. Two seconds later, I'm watching your show. It's up --
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS HOST: You're right. You're watching your twitter feed.
TRUMP: Okay. And you know, they're well crafted. I was always a good student. I'm like a person that does well with that kind of thing. And I doubt I would be here if it weren't for social media to be honest with you. I have a tremendous platform. So, when somebody says something about me. I'm able to go bing, bing,
bing and I take care of it. The other way I would never be able to get the word out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: One final note Pamela, the President spent the day at the Trump's national golf course in Sterling, Virginia, it is the 83rd day that he has spent as president on a property that bears his name -- Pam.
BROWN: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you very much.
And I want to bring in New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof to talk more about this. He's visited North Korea recently. He has also written a number of insightful pieces on America's opioid crisis. So we certainly have a lot of bases to cover here, Nicholas. Thanks for coming on.
Let's first just start with, I was talking to Boris about. The President attacking a congresswoman on Twitter, fake news, twitting about the dossier in Facebook ads. But nothing about Niger or these soldier that was laid to rest today. One of the four fallen soldiers in Niger. The President says, his tweets are well crafted, some say he's a pro at distraction, what do you think is the case?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, you know, look, I enjoyed tweeting myself but twitter is like any toad. And, you know, with a gun you can shoot a target at 100 yards or you can shoot yourself in the foot. And it sure seems to me that President Trump has a remarkable capacity to aim downward. And you know, this whole week has somehow ended up being about him and these battles he has, and ways that undermine the credibility of the White House and unfortunately have dragged in his chief-of-staff who until now had pretty much been above politics in ways that distract from so many other challenges the country faces. From nine million kids losing health insurance to North Korea, to the very real issues of AFRICOM and these soldiers over there.
[17:19:13] BROWN: Right. It just makes you wonder if it's purposeful deflection. And you mentioned General Kelly, his chief-of-staff, who came out and defended the President this week, and during that defense he attacked Congresswoman Wilson. He told a story about a speech she gave back in 2015, the video of that speech then surfaced, it showed that what Kelly accused her off didn't exactly happen. The facts didn't exactly match up. A reporter asked the White House about Kelly's false claims. And I want to play you that clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he's addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money that -- 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, Nicholas, in the wake of that, you wrote about this moment. And this is what you said, quote, "I have reported in Despotic countries where commanders assertions, Trump's video evidence, we mocked those nations, now we have become one. Can you expand on that?
KRISTOF: You know, General Kelly is a smart guy, but smart people sometimes say stupid things. And he said something that I don't think he intended to lie, but he said something based on his recollections that proved to be verifiably, completely untrue. When that happens, then you should apologize and walk back. And instead, the White House doubled down, said that General Kelly stood by his remarks even then they were clearly contradicted by video evidence.
And then the White House had the gall to say that it's inappropriate to question the chief-of-staff, General Kelly, on this issue because he was a four-star marine general. And you know, that's what, I mean, that's exactly what these sort of tin pot dictatorships say when I go cover them, and it's embarrassing to have that happen here in the U.S.
BROWN: And to be clear, after she was questioned by CNN about that comment, she claim that she didn't say he couldn't be questioned, but that, you know, he put himself out there to make that statement. And that, you know, he believed it was credible. That aside, you know, speaking of Despotic countries, you went to North Korea recently. A new CNN poll finds that nearly 90 percent of Americans in North Korea poses a serious threats. Six in ten think the way President Trump has responded is, quote, "reckless," based on, being on the ground there, Nicholas, are Americans right to be worried?
KRISTOF: I think they are. In fact, if anything I think we may be too complacent about the risk of a war. John Brennan, the former CIA chief says, there is a 20 to 25 percent chance of a war erupting between the U.S. and North Korea. And I think that's about right. What I saw in North Korea on the ground was a country that is mobilizing for war. Everywhere you go, there are billboards showing missiles hitting the U.S. capitol, and destroying the U.S. flag.
Everybody knows about President Trump's comments about North Korea, because they fit into the Kim Jong-un of propaganda line that America is threatening North Koreans, so he needs -- Kim Jong-un needs nuclear weapons to defend the country. And both countries are on a hair trigger, here are some real possibility that some kind of minor incident as we periodically had in history is going to set off not just a clash and not just another war like Iraq or Afghanistan. But truly something more like World War II.
And he won, analysis has a million people dying on the very first day of session war. And I don't think that the political process or the American public has fully absorbed that fact. We could be in a catastrophic more in the coming monthsary or few years.
BROWN: That is certainly just frightening to say the least. You say, you were on the ground. They're mobilizing for a war really is petrifying. And I want to talk about something else that is really important and I know that you spent a lot of time investigating this. And of course, it's the opioid crisis. You have written a number of pieces on this topic. President Trump has says that the next week he will formally declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency. So, what are the first steps that need to happen to help solve this crisis, in your view?
KRISTOF: Well, I mean, I think the one thing we need to recognize is that until now, the narrative has often been about personal irresponsibility and weak individuals. And I think we also have to acknowledge that pharmaceutical companies helped create this crisis and their considerable responsibility. And, you know, back in the 1960s, 10 percent of people with opioid addictions began, I'm sorry, 20 percent began with prescription drugs.
[17:24:25] These days it's a substantial majority, that the routine is to go from prescription painkillers to heroin or similar drugs that end up killing people. And, you know, I must say that the country that has done a far better job than any other in trying to address this is Portugal. And they have responded by treating this not as a criminal justice issue, and finding people with addictions to arrest, but rather as a public health issue, and reaching out and trying to get people treatment.
In the U.S., only 10 percent of people with addictions get treatment. That should be a national disgrace and embarrassment. And Portugal has managed to reduce the number of deaths from overdoses to the lowest in Western Europe, whereas in this country, overdoses claimed 64,000 lives and it will be higher this year.
BROWN: Hmm. That is truly eye-opening. Nicholas Kristof, so much that we discussed. Thank you for bringing your very important perspective.
KRISTOF: Good to be with you.
BROWN: Yes. You too.
KRISTOF: And coming up, a shocking developments about former FOX News host Bill O'Reilly. Word of a $32 million settlement and a sexual harassment lawsuit. You were live in the CNN Newsroom. We'll be right back.
[17:30:10] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, CNN has learned that former FOX News host, Bill O'Reilly, settled a sexual harassment claim to the tune of $32 million. This was back in January. It was with a long-time FOX News legal analyst. "The New York Times" reports FOX News went on to re-sign O'Reilly a month later for a $25 million-a- year contract before eventually firing him in April. We just heard from Bill O'Reilly through a spokesman, and he says, "In
its latest diatribe against O'Reilly, "The New York Times" provided leaked information provided by anonymous sources that is out of context, false, defamatory, and obviously designed to embarrass Bill O'Reilly and keep him from competing in the marketplace."
CNN correspondent, Jean Casarez, joins me now to discuss.
Jean, we've now heard from the spokesman for Bill O'Reilly. What is 21st Century FOX say about this?
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, they say they were aware of the potential lawsuit, the threat of a sexual harassment lawsuit. They also said that at the time, Bill O'Reilly said it had handle it, personally, and confidentially. With that knowledge, FOX went on to re-sign Bill Cosby (sic).
And here's what they say, in part, in their statement: "His new contract which was made at a time typical for renewals of multi-year talent contracts added protections for the company, specifically aimed at harassment, including that Mr. O'Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations or if additional relevant information was obtained in a company investigation. The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract."
Pam, as you know, in contract, they always have moral clauses.
CASAREZ: But it appears that FOX News, with the knowledge they had, they went on to re-sign him and included more language rather than the just the verbatim generic morals context within the contract, and that is what they used to let him go earlier this year.
BROWN: Basically, they knew about the past sexual harassment settlement. They didn't know --
CASAREZ: To a point.
BROWN: -- didn't know how much it was. But they said basically they didn't want to surface any more of these -- these kinds of allegations surface, then you're out of here.
And what's interesting to me, from the spokesman's statement, is basically he's saying, this a salacious claim, anonymous sources, it's meant to hurt him in the marketplace.
BROWN: But it seems like the company is confirming that it's true, that there was a $32 million settlement on sexual harassment and then he re-signed a contract. I mean, that's what we know, right? That seems to be accurate.
CASAREZ: Right. But the company is saying that it was personal. He did it himself. They didn't appear to be aware of a lot of it. It was confidential, right, which could have even been the monetary matter. If you look at the facts, Bill O'Reilly himself personally settled and gave her $32 million.
BROWN: And he claims these allegations are just false, that they're not true. But $32 million --
CASAREZ: Maliciously smearing, he said.
BROWN: Maliciously smearing. But $32 million is a lot of money. Does that say anything about what may have happened. I mean, you wonder.
CASAREZ: That's why they're not included in trials, right? You never want to know the amount of the confidential settlement. It's a huge amount. We don't know what other confidential settlements have been, throughout history, because they're confidential. And very rarely --
BROWN: So it's hard to put it in perspective.
CASAREZ: We know it's huge, but how huge compared to others, I don't think we know.
Another interesting aspect, in the light of Harvey Weinstein and the investigations going on, on both coasts, right now, in regard to sexual assault allegations, and then, obviously, other people and the head of FOX News. Bill Cosby is the only one -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that has outstanding criminal charges. And we're right in the midst of a retrial that's going to happen in April where he could be sent away for years to prison. But at this point, he's the only one that's been charged criminally.
BROWN: But as we know with Harvey Weinstein, these sexual harassment allegations surfacing, there are several investigations, it appears, in relation to that. We'll keep following that.
Back to Bill O'Reilly and this lawsuit and the settlement, what about the FOX News legal analyst who brought the lawsuit? Has she been speaking out about it?
CASAREZ: Her name has come out as Lis Wiehl. Lis Wiehl has been someone we knew at FOX for many, many years. She was with the network. There she is right there. She was a legal analyst. She was a former federal prosecutor. She would be on Bill O'Reilly's show. She is so respected. Throughout my career, I was a big fan of hers. Still am a big fan of hers. And she's come out with books, best- selling books. So accomplished.
BROWN: Wow. Just a shock all the way around.
Thank you so much, Jean Casarez. CASAREZ: Thank you.
[17:35:05] BROWN: Thank you.
A revelation from an e-mail exchange contradicts the president's claims he had contacted virtually every military family who had lost a loved one this year. We'll talk with the "Roll Call" reporter who broke the story coming up.
But first, this week's "CNN Hero" has gotten more than a million books into the hands of needy kids and transformed dusty old libraries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: For a child, the library can be a magical place.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I'm officially the most awesome girl in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: It can transform you academically, but it can also nurture you emotionally.
What people don't realize is that school libraries are sometimes not funded at all. We provide libraries for underserved communities and schools.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: Our whole goal is to spread literacy, and the benefits of literacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Rebecca and the Access Books team transform a library. For more, go to CNNheroes.com.
[17:40:33] BROWN: Well, the fallout continues from claims made Tuesday by the president and senior members of the White House that Mr. Trump has contacted nearly every Gold Star family. This, after a Pentagon document has surfaced that contradicts those claims.
The "Congressional Quarterly Roll Call" has uncovered an exclusive e- mail exchange between the White House and the Pentagon that showed not only had the president not contacted virtually all the families of military personnel killed this year, but the White House did not even have an up-to-date list of those that had been killed, and only recently scrambled for a list of names and family contacts.
Here with us with more on this growing controversy is the reporter who wrote the store, John Donnelly, senior writer and reporter for "ROLL CALL."
So, John, tell us more about what these Pentagon documents reveal.
JOHN DONNELLY, SENIOR WRITER & REPORTER, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY ROLL CALL: Well, you summarized it quite nicely. It was Tuesday morning that the president made the statement that virtually all the Gold Star families have been contacted. Later that same day, there was a back and forth between the White House and the Pentagon to obtain the names and the contact information, the phone numbers of the survivors of those killed in the line of duty this year.
So what it shows is that, even as the president was making the statement, his staff was aware that it was not -- that it was probably not accurate. And there was a suggestion in the e-mails that the reason they needed to gather this information was so the president could start making some calls, presumably to make what was an untrue statement on Tuesday morning a true statement as soon as possible. That seems to be the implication from it.
DONNELLY: I would add --
BROWN: Go ahead.
DONNELLY: The only reason this matters is because the president claimed that he had made contact with virtually all the families. It wouldn't be a big deal if the president had simply said that he has made contact with some of the families. If he had said, as my predecessors have done. Instead, he acted as if he had contacted virtually all of them. And he tried to make it appear as if he was far better at this than anybody who had come before him. This is sort of his classic modus operandi.
BROWN: Yes. Let's listen to what he said and told FOX radio earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I write letters, and I also call. Now, sometimes, you know, if you had a tragic event, it's very difficult to be able to do that. But I have called I believe everybody but, certainly, I'll use the word virtually everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So on the one hand, he's saying that he writes letters and calls, and one the other hand, he seems to say he thinks he's reaching out to everyone. It seems like he didn't know what the truth was.
DONNELLY: It sounds like he knew it wasn't 100 percent.
DONNELLY: I guess you could say it wasn't necessarily a false statement. If you're very generous with what the word "virtually" means. But the news organizations have contacted numerous families, numerous Gold Star families, who have not been reached by the president. And so this shows what he says on Tuesday was not right by any sort of common-sense definition of the terms.
But again, this is not a requirement for the president to call every family of the fallen, but he made the claim. So -- and then he made the suggestion that his predecessor, specifically President Obama, was not very good at it. Further, he just can't seem to acknowledge if he says something that's wrong, same with General Kelly, it would be simple to say, I got it wrong. People would brush it off, but he kind of like -- it's a self-inflected wound, is what I'm trying to say.
BROWN: Yes. He sort of doubles down on it.
BROWN: There's no backtracking, no apologies here.
Is there anything else that stood out to you, looking at these documents, anything else you learned?
DONNELLY: You know, it's just -- to me, it's not only -- well, it illustrates something that I'm sure is happening over and over again virtually every day, which is a staff that is scurrying to try to fix what has come out of the president's mouth. You know, with all due respect to him, he's demonstrably has repeatedly made false statements. So they have to sort of backfill and react and scramble. And so this is how things are happening in the White House right now.
[17:45:08] BROWN: Like you said, make an untruth a truth. This was the reporting this week about the father of a fallen soldier who had been promised $25,000 by the president earlier this summer. It was reported by the media, the White House said a check had been sent. It was only sent that day after "The Washington Post" reporting.
BROWN: So it's sort of this pattern making an untruth a truth.
John Donnelly, thank you for that important information.
DONNELLY: Thank you for having me on.
BROWN: Well, tonight the five living former presidents of the United States are coming together to help the Americans devastated by recent deadly hurricanes. Up next, we'll go live to hard-hit Puerto Rico for an update.
But first, "Fit Nation" catches up with the oldest BMX racer in the U.S.
CNN's Sanjay Gupta has her story.
KITTIE WESTON-KNAUER, OLDEST BMX RACER IN U.S.: Folks to me, you've got to be kidding. You going to get out there and ride with those guys? I love a challenge.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORESPONDENT (voice-over): Kittie Weston-Knauer has been riding BMX bikes for nearly 30 years.
WESTON-KNAUER: At 69, I'm the oldest BMX racer in the world. You talk about fun, hitting a turn at 20 miles an hour, can you imagine that? That's where the exhilaration comes.
GUPTA: In the world of BMX biking, Killie has done more than break down age barriers.
WESTON-KNAUER: When I started racing, there were no women. Not that they didn't want to race. They were not encouraged. I said, hey, ladies, we can make an impact on this sport.
GUPTA: Killie worked with BMX sanctioning bodies to give adult women their own racing class.
WESTON-KNAUER: We went from two women. Now there are over 1,000 adult women who are out there racing.
GUPTA: Still, racing at 69 doesn't come without his challenges. Kittie has had had both hips and knees replaced. She also has severe arthritis in her hands.
WESTON-KNAUER: Age? Age is nothing but a number to me. As long as I can keep the two wheels where they belong, which is on the ground, I will be riding that bike.
GUPTA: Here next race is the Gold Cup Regional Championships in Texas. It's her first race back since breaking her ankle in June.
WESTON-KNAUER: I'm just excited I'm back on the track. I'm too old to be nervous
GUPTA: Kittie usually races in the 56 and older division. But since no one in her class is here, she raced against women nearly two decades younger than her.
WESTON-KNAUER: Am I competitive? You better believe I am. I'm going to give it my all.
GUPTA: Kittie finished the race in third place. Still, she won her age group.
ANNOUNCER: Ms. Kittie Weston-Knauer.
WESTON-KNAUER: It's not about coming in first, second or third. It's always about finishing. Every time I get on my bike, I win.
[17:52:33] BROWN: Well, members of a very exclusive club will be making a rare joint appearance in just a couple of hours from now. All five living former U.S. presidents will attend a benefit concert tonight in Texas to raise money for hurricane relief.
Meanwhile, President Trump gives his administration a 10 out of 10 on recovery efforts in Puerto Rico one month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. But many of the struggling residents say Puerto Rico looks and feels like it was hit yesterday, with more than 80 percent of the island still without power.
CNN's Polo Sandoval is in San Juan.
And, Polo, we understand there's a growing concern about schools in Puerto Rico. What can you tell us?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Parents here in Puerto Rico have been struggling to survive and feed their families and make sure they're safe. For perhaps the youngest people on the island, the students, it's been very difficult here. Many haven't been back to school since September 18th. That's children. Many U.S. citizens haven't set foot in a classroom for over a month. As we saw firsthand, it may take a while before some of those kids get back to class.
SANDOVAL: This school yard should be bustling with activity at the height of fall semester. Not today, not since Hurricane Maria threatened and later devastated Puerto Rico. The island's other 1100 public schools and the doors to this high school have been closed since September 18th. Today, the only signs of life are on the other end of the campus.
Room 204 serves as Margarita Fuentes' temporary home.
MARGARITA FUENTES, STORM VICTIM: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANDOVAL: This 52-year-old grandmother of 11 tells me, one moment to another, she lost her house and everything in it.
Her grandson led us up the mountainside to show us what's left of the family's homes. There isn't much else. A return to class may provide a welcome escape from reality.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANDOVAL: He says the first thing he'll do when he gets back to class is hug his friends. He doesn't know when that would be.
As long as displaced families like his are using schools as shelters, classes can't resume.
The Department of Education announced Friday that some schools on the island would reopen on Tuesday.
Teachers at this school say that won't happen here.
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
[17:55:04] SANDOVAL: "We have a lot of work to do," says Roxanna, a drama teacher, anxious to welcome her high schoolers back to class.
While there's optimist, there's no real timeline for when the students will walk down the halls again. After displaced families are resettled, there are still plenty of obstacles.
UNIDENTIIED TEACHER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANDOVAL: Classrooms in disrepair, roads are nearly impassable because of the mudslides, and there's no running water in town, leaving families to struggle to survive.
FUENTES: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANDOVAL: Margarita says she is staying strong and wants to see her grandchildren back in a classroom, just not this with you.
SANDOVAL: The governor in Puerto Rico saying the situation does look promising for schools on the west of the island. And here in San Juan, classes are scheduled to resume come Tuesday. But that lingering question, what about the rest of the island.
Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.
And I'm Pamela Brown, in New York. I'll see you one hour from now, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
"SMERCONISH" is next.