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Trump: "Very Surprised" By Reaction To Gold Star Call; White House: Debating Marine General "Highly Inappropriate"; Sources: Sgt. Johnson's Body Found Nearly A Mile From Attack; Pentagon Reviewing Timeline Of Attack On U.S. Soldiers; Senators Interview Russians At Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired October 21, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sergeant La David Johnson was found nearly a mile away from the central scene of the ambush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. military does not leave its troops behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war is morphing. You are going to see more actions in Africa not less.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The military dictatorship that appears to be what the White House thinks the United States is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you want to get into a debate with a four- star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even for someone that's empty, we were stunned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you don't understand that reference, I will put it a little more simply as we say in the south, all hat and no cattle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a credibility issue with the president. Now there's a possible credibility issue with the chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIS no longer rules here. Once again left behind a city scoured by their occupation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I am Diane Gallagher in for Christi Paul.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. Final goodbyes today for a soldier who sacrificed his life for the war on ISIS. Sergeant La David Johnson who was just 25 years old will be laid to rest in his Florida hometown.

GALLAGHER: Now CNN has learned that Johnson's body was found nearly a mile from the site of the ambush in Niger, but there's still no word on how he was separated from the 12-member team or just why his body was recovered two days after those of the three other soldiers who were killed in the attack as well.

SAVIDGE: This, as the White House stands by its attacks on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson after she said the president's condolence call to Johnson's widow, Myeshia, was insensitive.

In a new interview, the president now described how the chief of staff, John Kelly, was outraged that Wilson was even listening even she knew Johnson and his family personally.

GALLAGHER: Meanwhile, Steve Bannon has delivered a blistering attack on former President George W. Bush questioning his intelligence and whether or not he fully grasps the nature of the speech that he gave on rejecting Trump-era nationalism earlier this week.

President Trump says that he was surprised that his chief of staff, John Kelly, was offended after a Florida lawmaker criticized the president's phone call to a Goldstar family.

For more on this, we're joined live by CNN White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. That's right. Well, the president explaining that he was very surprised to hear Congresswoman Wilson's account of this phone call that he had with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson.

The president also for the first time talking about his chief of staff, General Kelly, and his reaction to that phone call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: The president in that interview also continuing to push back against Congresswoman's Wilson's account of the call, insisting that he did in fact mention Sergeant La David Johnson's name during that phone call.

That's despite the fact that Sergeant Johnson's mother, the woman who raised him said that Congresswoman Wilson's account was very accurate. Of course, the president's discussion of John Kelly's appearance in the White House briefing room, well, that appearance was intended to try and push this controversy to the side to try and turn the page.

But instead it did very much the opposite because of Kelly's inaccurate claims about a speech that Congresswoman Wilson gave back in 2015, the White House, however, continued to defend Chief of Staff Kelly's remarks.

Insisting that Chief of Staff Kelly was indeed accurate, at least in his portrayal of Congresswoman Wilson, despite the fact that he got some of those facts wrong. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday in the White House briefing room defending John Kelly.

Suggesting that the press should not be questioning a retired four- star Marine general. However, yesterday, she put out a statement that far briefing, saying that it was perfectly appropriate to question anybody.

GALLAGHER: All right. Jeremy Diamond in Washington at the White House, thank you.

SAVIDGE: And that gives us just so much to discuss now. April Ryan is joining us. She's CNN's political analyst and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and Josh Rogin, a CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post." Good to see you both this morning.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

[08:05:08] SAVIDGE: April, let me ask you this, the statement that came from the White House press secretary, Jeremy just alluded to it, but it drew a lot of attention. Just listen.

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SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he's addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he wasn't wrong yesterday, I'm talking about getting the money, the money --

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: You could tell that she was trying to shut the conversation down there. But it did not come out the right way. I'm wondering what's your reaction, April? RYAN: Well, one, General Kelly gave information that they're still standing behind. So, if they're standing behind this information, show you us the information for proof. No one is trying to debate. No one is trying to get into a match with General Kelly.

We just want answers to the situation that's getting more and more complicated, and more controversy surrounding the deaths of these four soldiers. Particularly on a day when you have a funeral of La David Johnson.

Also, you have to remember, and I'm thinking about something you just said earlier. You have to remember that when the congresswoman -- I'm going back to the congresswoman, again, because they're trying to discredit her.

When the congresswoman heard the conversation, you have to remember the master sergeant who was in the car, received the call from the White House, and he put the call on speaker phone for all to hear.

So, it wasn't like the congresswoman was trying to find out what was going on or eavesdropping. This was a call that everyone in that car heard and the White House is now trying to discredit this woman and giving information that is making people question their information.

So, it's say he said/she said situation, but at the same time, you have a lot of people who are standing behind the congresswoman to include the Congressional Black Caucus, who are saying they're going to fight for her, because this is not right.

SAVIDGE: And it's a he said/she said over what has to be one of the most painful phone calls any person could ever have. Josh, apart from being out of line with the American tradition, it was also looking as if the White House was again contradicting the president's own Twitter history.

Because we can prove it, we can show it, here are some of the president's past tweets and in it, you know, he criticizes Generals Martin Dempsey, John Allen, and even Colin Powell. So, did the press secretary overstep in trying to make a point here?

ROGIN: Yes, I think so. I think it's clear that General Kelly owes Congresswoman Wilson an apology. He put facts about her that were wrong and even if he did that, you know, accidentally, the video is clear.

But the greater issue that you're speaking to here is that we've got an administration that's chockful of generals and former generals, right? We can't have a situation where their status and service, which we commended shields them from scrutiny and basic oversight. That's just untenable.

And you know, if that's an argument that Sarah Huckabee sanders is making it is not only sort of going against 200 years of democratic tradition, going against the president's own actions before he was president. But, you know, it's just not a workable solution for the relationship between this government and the press. You know, it's the president's choice to fill his administration with generals and former generals. It was those generals and former generals' choice to become political in their new roles.

And those are fine choices but that doesn't shield them from press scrutiny, from public scrutiny, from criticism, especially when they're making political statements and especially when the statements turn out to be totally wrong.

SAVIDGE: You know, General Kelly, I have the deepest respect for him, including the sacrifices that he has made in being a Gold Star family as well. When he spoke in the White House, they're extremely moving, very powerful.

But then to bring what it appears to politicize it at the very end, the very thing he seemed to be criticizing is -- it just seems to have damaged his reputation, April. I'm wondering whether you feel that he's not the same in your eyes?

RYAN: You know, General Kelly was very poignant at the very beginning describing in detail, in graphic detail, about how fallen soldiers brought back home and how they're prepared for their family to receive them.

When they come to Dover or wherever they receive them, that was poignant. But when he went down that line, you know, there have been questions about this administration's credibility from the president on down, and now he's got into the fray.

And if they're still standing by it, in order for this chief of staff, this new chief of staff, to regain his credibility, they're going to have to show us what indeed they have to support this claim, to continue to support this claim when we are finding video showing otherwise.

[08:10:09] And I think that's one of the ways that, you know, we would not question his credibility. But right now, he's standing right in the light of this president whose credibility has been questioned, come into question, on numerous occasions, and it's unfortunate.

SAVIDGE: He is the chief of staff so I suppose he does speak out.

RYAN: Right.

SAVIDGE: Josh, this is just an issue that goes nowhere. I mean, I understand why people are caught up it in emotionally, but really there are so many other things this nation needs to debate.

ROGIN: Well, yes, especially what happened that fateful day in Niger when four Americans lost their lives. That's how this all started. I mean, it's worth remembering here that the reason that this became a controversy in the first place is because for two weeks, almost, the president didn't say anything about these deaths. We know that there are some internal debate and decision not to talk about them. We know that there's been a lot of confusion about what happened that day, and we still don't have those answers.

So, you know, it's hypocritical for the administration to constantly criticize the press for, you know, distracting us from that core issue while essentially trying to distract us from that core issue.

So, they really undermined their own strategy here. They're talking sort of out of both sides of their mouth. And, you know, I think that everybody could find a way out of this sort of superficial debate over, you know, what is not a phone call.

But by focusing on the deaths of those four Americans, their sacrifice, and figuring out what happened that day, which is still a big --

SAVIDGE: Yes. We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much for bringing it right around where it needs to be. April Ryan and Josh Rogin.

ROGIN: Thank you.

GALLAGHER: All right. The U.S. soldier killed in the ISIS ambush in Niger, we're learning now details on just where his body was found, 48 hours after three other soldiers.

And this is all as Senator Lindsey Graham warns that more operations are to come. We are live in Africa, with details on this growing war on terror, next.

SAVIDGE: And GOP lawmakers are hashing out a new tax plan after House Speaker Paul Ryan says that they will propose a new top tax rate for the rich. Those details still ahead.

GALLAGHER: Also, Steve Bannon blasted former President George W. Bush at the California GOP Convention last night. His rant comes as part of his war against the GOP establishment, but is it hurting or helping the party? We're going to discuss it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: There's not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[08:16:47]

GALLAGHER: New details unfolding in the investigation into an attack that killed four soldiers.

SAVIDGE: CNN has learned that Sergeant La David Johnson's body was found nearly a mile from the site of the ambush in Niger. The FBI is on the ground right now helping to gather evidence as the Pentagon tries to pin down an exact timeline of what happened. CNN's Elise Labott reports.

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ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned Sergeant La David Johnson was found nearly a mile away from the central scene of the ambush according to four administration officials familiar with the early assessment. The Pentagon is still looking at the exact circumstances of how Johnson became separated.

Officials say the entire team led by Green Berets has been interviewed about the last time they saw Johnson. Nigerian forces found his body 48 hours after he had become separated.

Defense Secretary James Mattis was on Capitol Hill to meet with Senator John McCain, a day after he threatened to issue subpoenas for the information on the ambush.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I felt that we are not getting sufficient amount of information and we are clearing a lot of that up now.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We can do better at communication. We can always improve on communication and that's exactly what we'll do.

LABOTT: Mattis is defending his troops in the face of criticism.

MATTIS: Having seen some of the news report, the U.S. military do not leave its troops behind. I would just ask that you not question of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they gave everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once.

LABOTT: U.S. officials are starting to provide a clearer picture of the circumstances surrounding the attack. The U.S. team stopped in a town on the Niger-Mali border so the Nigerians they were working with could pick up supplies including food and water and then meet with village elders.

Investigators believed the ambush may have started when the U.S. soldiers were back at their vehicles perhaps even driving. With four Americans dead, the FBI is assisting Nigerian authorities with the investigation providing technical assistance and helping to gather evidence, a routine step when U.S. citizens are killed overseas.

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: First thing they're going to do is speak with the military personnel who survived the attack. They'll be analyzing every bit of electronic evidence, any kind of e-mail traffic that may have come and gone from that region and talk to all of the security forces throughout West Africa, who may have information regarding the movement of the people who attacked them.

LABOTT: About a thousand U.S. troops are in Niger supporting a French-led campaign against extremists. Senator Lindsay Graham now saying the war on terror is morphing and we could see more U.S. actions in Africa.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We don't want the next 9/11 comes from Niger.

LABOTT: At the Pentagon today, France's defense minister received full military honors and a thanks from Mattis.

MATTIS: Following the ambush of the U.S. troops in Niger last week, thank you for your support.

LABOTT: French fighter jets arrived on the scene to help the U.S. troops, but CNN has learned they did not fire on the militants because they could not I.D. targets and risk hitting the U.S. and Nigerian forces on the ground.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[08:20:10] GALLAGHER: And that was Elise Labott reporting. Now you heard her say the terror threat in Africa is large enough now for Senator Graham to suggest more aggressive counterterrorism operations.

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GRAHAM: You're going to have decisions being made, not in the White House but out in the field, now support that entire construct. So, the rules of engagement are going to change when that comes to counterterrorism operation. We're going to move to status-based targeting. So, if you found somebody who is a member of the terrorist organization, then we can use lethal force. They don't have to present an immediate threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: CNN's David McKenzie joins us now live from Johannesburg. David, we know that U.S. forces have been in Africa for some time. But what can you tell us about the terror threat in Africa, and more importantly, really what are U.S. forces doing there?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martin, there's a substantial and desperate terror threat in that part of Africa, in the west, particularly in the (inaudible) region. Now, it's mostly groups that are loosely affiliated with ISIS and al Qaeda.

In recent years, they've been hitting soft targets and military targets. It's worth noting that there have been several attacks by militant groups on Nigerian forces in that border region where U.S. forces ran into trouble.

This is not a new threat. It's a threat that will persists and as you say, the Americans have been in that region for some time. They've bolstered their presence in recent years, and recently opened a $100 million drone base in (inaudible).

So, to answer your question, the U.S. is mostly involved in intelligence gathering, reconnaissance and sharing information because of the size of that theater, almost the size of the continental U.S.

You can't really effectively have U.S. boots on the ground striking at militants as that legislator suggests, but what we can do and what the U.S. has been doing is trying to bolster those governments in the attempts to stamp out the terror threat.

SAVIDGE: You know, this is an operation that's going to go on for some time. David McKenzie, thank you very much.

GALLAGHER: Major General James "Spider" Marks described what conditions were probably like when the Niger ambush happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I can tell you that immediately an environment had been assessed in advance of the operation, as permissive. In other words, they went in in a light posture. They had no large weapons systems. They didn't have immediate air support.

So, what happened is, you walk into an ambush like that, and I think the initial reports coming back was that Sergeant Johnson was in fact one of the drivers of one of the vehicles of this convoy, carrying this special operations team into the village.

And that when this became an ambush site, when this became what we call a very contested beaten zone, a hot area, he was probably trying to get his comrades out of the area. He might have been in the vehicle by himself, picking up some additional folks.

So, we really don't know that in the confusion of the noise and the killing and the blood and the screaming what took place and he ended up a mile away. We'll figure that out. I do want to address the two- day period between when the ambush occurred and when he eventually recovered is a period that's unknown to all of us.

Again, they probably -- the soldiers probably tried to work their way back in there immediately and simply could not get back in because they were overwhelmed by the fire power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Still so much more we need to know. Now, to a new detail in the Senate investigation of any Trump campaign ties to Russia. The Intelligence Committee has interviewed several of the Russians who had attended the meeting at Trump Tower.

It was in June of last year, you'll recall the president's son, Don Jr., the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort were also there.

GALLAGHER: Initially, Trump Jr. reportedly said that the meeting was about Russian adoptions, but later he revealed that he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that was never provided. Now a second Senate panel, the Judiciary Committee is working to have Trump Jr. testify in a public hearing. SAVIDGE: Still to come, five former presidents coming together to help hurricane victims. The same week two of them take apparent jabs at the current president. Is the world's most exclusive club trying to send a message to its newest member?

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[08:28:54]

GALLAGHER: Welcome back. I'm Diane Gallagher in for Christi Paul.

SAVIDGE: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell.

GALLAGHER: OK, so all five living former U.S. presidents are coming together in Texas tonight for a relief concert. They're raising money for hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean.

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SAVIDGE: It is part of their "One America Appeal" campaign. The concert will also feature country and rock artists including Alabama. The show comes just days after both Obama and Bush took thinly veiled swipes at President Trump without ever directly mentioning his name. President Bush decrying what he called nationalism distorted into nativism. The White House meanwhile is denying that those criticisms were directed at Trump.

GALLAGHER: Yes. But President Trump's former chief strategist is not mincing words. He delivered a blistering takedown of former President George W. Bush.

SAVIDGE: Steve Bannon spoke at the California GOP Convention last night and bluntly questioned President Bush's intelligence and whether he even understood his own speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BANNON: President Bush to me embarrassed himself. His speechwriter wrote a highfaluting speech. It's clear he didn't understand anything he was talking about. He equates the industrial revolution, the agriculture revolution, globalization. He has no earthy idea where he's coming or going, just like it was when he was president of the United States.

I want to apologize up front to any of the Bush folks outside, in this audience, OK, because there has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Steve Bannon letting loose there. Let's discuss. With us now, Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist and author of "GOP GPS" and Andrea Bauer, CNN political commentator and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina. Pretty scathing words, you heard them from Steve Bannon. Saying there's never been a nor OK, let's get started here. Pretty scathing words, you heard them,

from Steve Bannon saying there's never been a more destructive presidency than George W. Bush's, questioning his intelligence at a Republican Party event.

So let's start with you, Andre. What is your reaction to this?

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there's no love lost there evidently I'm one of these Republicans who believes you fight, but you do it in -- behind closed doors. And I'd rather see us not air our laundry amongst who can't get along out in the news media. But it's going to happen. And, you know, I hope we'll continue to forge forward.

The Republican Party is experiencing growing pains right now. You've got a party that's continuing to grow whether you look at the governorships throughout the country or the House and Senate. And they're going to grow in next -- in '18. And so you're going to have different factions, some that are more conservative, some that are quite frankly a lot of Democrats that have become Republicans which is what's happened in South Carolina.

And so you're going to have different groups there with different perspectives and that's what's happened with Steve Bannon. He's, you know, more of the far right conservative group and he's not happy with a lot of things the former president did.

GALLAGHER: Yes, well, Andre, you called them growing pains. This is starting to look almost like a schism at this point. It's been going on for years. I mean, after the 2012 election the Republican Party had the autopsy, the party was supposed to change in a way that seems to be the opposite of what had happened.

Evan, how much of a threat is all of this now to the Republican Party, this divide?

EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Andre called it growing, and I'm not entirely sure what growing the Republican Party he's thinking of. Right now millennials or young voters 18 to 29, 23 percent of registered Republicans left the Republican Party between December 2015 and March 2017. More and more people do not feel that they have a place in the Republican Party. Millennials overall view President Trump, his approval rating with them is the worst among any generation. They're in the high teens to low 20s with 60 plus or 65 plus to 70 percent disapproval rating.

We're not growing the party. And if the perfect example is the California GOP which can't win statewide races, it can't do anything, and at this point we're seeing Steve Bannon just trying and burn it all down. Not focus on issues that are matter to other voters. We're becoming more and more isolated and pulling back. The party is contracting and the future is in serious trouble.

BAUER: I would disagree. You got 16 people, 16 well-known people that ran for president of the United States. You got a president that win in five different states than Republicans don't win. And one, you got a president that won more minority voters whether you look at Latinos and blacks. And one more of those than Mitt Romney. So you tell me how that's not growing? To me, that's growing when you pick up five states that nobody ever thought a Republican could win.

SIEGFRIED: Well, at the same time we -- or we won by 77,744 votes because in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. That was the margin of -- margin of difference for Donald Trump. When you talk about how we're growing, we are not winning over millennials. We're the largest generation in the entire United States, the largest sector of the voting bloc. And when we've been relying on baby boomers and rural voters to sustain us, rural voters account for 20 percent of the country according to the -- the United States Census Bureau.

Baby boomers are literally dying out and millennials are the only generation which we can to sustain us in the future. And when we're not winning them over less than 1 in 5 identifies as a Republican, and that's before Donald Trump. More and more of my friends who are 34 and under turn to me and say, what does the Republican Party offer me?

I can't walk into a room and try and recruit millennial voters who say, hey, the Republican Party is a place for you, when Donald Trump goes out and defends the people who are carrying tiki torches on Charlottesville. In fact that's the only group we've grown with. If you're running around and saying you will not replace us, the Republican Party is already starting to sound like an attractive place. It's not attractive for anybody else. It doesn't offer solutions.

(CROSSTALK)

GALLAGHER: All right. Real quick, Andre. Real quick, Andre. Let me move on to something real quick because what Evan just brought up there sort of alludes to what the past presidents, President Bush and Obama, taking those thinly veiled swipes. Maybe not so thinly really against President Trump's administration, it appears, on the same day Bannon sort of let loose on Bush.

[08:35:08] How rare do you feel like this is -- I mean, former presidents' bipartisan criticism of their successor? What do you make of the fact? Two on the exact same day, Andre?

BAUER: I'll say, again, we've got a president now that's going to upset the apple cart. That's going to take on the Washington crowd for too long that's been controlled --

(CROSSTALK)

GALLAGHER: But that's not what they were talking about, Andre. Andre, they weren't talking about the Washington apple cart. They weren't talking about establishment. They were talking about racism, they were talking about nationalism and nativism.

BAUER: It's their appointees that are still controlling Washington. And Donald Trump is trying to get them out of office and he's trying to take on what's been in control in Washington for years. And that's the big money. That's the corporate crowd. He's fighting that group and they don't want him to fight them. They want to keep making all the money. They want the American people to suffer. And we've got a president that's not worried about polling, that's not worried about offending people. He's fighting these battles that quite frankly no other person was willing to fight.

SIEGFRIED: I'm sorry, that's a complete insensitive malarkey as Joe Biden would say. I think that you have -- you're basically saying these are the people to blame for your problems. It's scapegoating. When you have at the California GOP convention last night at the mere mention of George Bush and John McCain, people started -- or booing and chanting "traitor." One person, according to the "L.A. Times" actually chanted "hang him."

That's not even decent behavior. When you --

BAUER: When did we start using California as a barometer for Republican Party politics? That's been a long time --

SIEGFRIED: Steve Bannon said California's Republican Party is going great. And it's the model that people want to go to. I saw the speech, I read the transcript. So I'm just saying whatever Republican gathering it goes to that is very Trump centric, they are going out and doing this. Nobody is denouncing this. This is absolutely despicable behavior when we could actually be -- and we have both chambers of Congress and the presidency. We could have tax reform. We could repeal and replace.

(CROSSTALK)

GALLAGHER: Evan, Evan, Andre, real quick, I want to talk about something in the president's own words here, though, because in a new interview with FOX Business News, new interview here, the president seemed to have some pretty great confidence, you're talking about getting things done that tax reform plan would pass.

Paul Ryan, though, saying earlier this week now there may be a higher bracket -- higher tax bracket and rate on the rich. Trump telling FOX News it's going to be there to protect the middle class. I want you to listen to what he said real quick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really not done very well over the last long period of time. And so when Paul mentions maybe one category which I'd rather not have. It may not happen. But the only reason I would have -- and he does say this, he's very plain on what he said . If for any reason I feel the middle class is not being properly being taken care of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: Is this evidence of the president compromising or is it he's just trying to avoid health care 2.0 here, Andre?

BAUER: I think he's -- look, we've got a president that has been more willing to compromise than we've seen in the past. He's gone to the Democrats when he needed to cut a deal. He's gone to the Republicans. He's offered -- he wanted 15 percent. He's come up to 20 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

GALLAGHER: But nothing has come of that yet, Andre. I mean, nothing has come of that, that attempt in compromise, and then he sort of burned the bridge afterwards?

BAUER: We're nine months in. And so -- something did come of the compromise. You got an extended budget now that may not have happened. You may have had the government shutdown. So he did find a way to make it happen. And working with Democrats. I mean, I know the Democrats want to criticize him. They ought to be happy they got a president that's walking across party lines and saying, hey, I'm willing to work with anybody who is willing to help the Americans move forward.

And on tax reform something is going to happen. You're going to see a tax plan pass. Will it help everybody? Absolutely not. But the number one goal of this administration is make sure the working folks have more money to take home in their paycheck. And it's about time somebody stick up for them because they don't have a lot of these in Washington other than the guy that ran against 16 Republicans and said I'm going to different and he is.

GALLAGHER: All right. Evan, real quick, I want to hear a quick reaction for me on the tax reform situation.

SIEGFRIED: Well, I think Andre and I will actually agree on tax reform. And that we won't even be contentious. The only thing that I don't like is the salt deduction elimination which allows places like New York, California, Illinois to triple tax its citizens and I don't think that's pretty fair. But at the same time, I think the president and the deals he's been making he didn't exactly strike a deal. The Democrats came and said we want this extension, three months. Republicans came in, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and said two-year extension. And President Trump said no. 18 months, no, 15 months, no. The Democrats got everything they wanted because Donald Trump wanted to strike Mitch McConnell.

GALLAGHER: All right, Evan, I'm going to have to cut you off there, Evan. I appreciate both of you. Evan, Andre, thank you so much.

BAUER: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Coming up, soldiers and civilians literally dancing in the streets as the ISIS capital of Raqqa is liberated and CNN is right there on the ground with this landmark moment in the war on terror. We'll have a live record from Syria coming up.

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[08:44:11] SAVIDGE: Now to a landmark moment in the war on terror. ISIS' de facto capital Raqqa, Syria has been liberated. Now family members of the terrorists are heading to refugee camps.

GALLAGHER: Yes, CNN is on the ground amid the rubble and rebuilding to witness firsthand what will happen next. And CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon joining us now from northern Syria.

Arwa, how are these camps handling these families? It's got to be so difficult, the camps are coordinating to walk this kind of line between giving mercy and maintaining security there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is incredibly challenging. Bearing in mind, though, that the majority of civilians who fled were really just being held hostage by ISIS. But there were some families who are believed to have been family members, the wives and children of hard core ISIS fighters and they were the last to leave Raqqa, be able to flee Raqqa.

[08:45:05] And they're the ones that are being held in this particular refugee camp, which as you'll notice is isolated from the rest of those refugees that are seeking shelter here. They need to be vetted and their tents are searched on a regular basis. They're kept under armed guards because there are security concerns, no longer allowed to move in and out, and they have had all sharp objects removed from them.

We did speak to one family who said that they were just civilians who were caught up in all of this. They tried to flee on numerous occasions and were unable to do so. But the conditions out here are pretty dire. And it is going to be quite some time before any of these families can actually go back home because the authorities say that it's going to take at least three to four months just to clear Raqqa of explosives, mines that ISIS left behind.

The camp is sprawling and even at the onset, it was ill-equipped to deal with the volume of people that were coming toward it, seeking shelter. There's not enough humanitarian assistance. There's not enough support. And the numbers are increasing on a regular basis, because even though the fight against ISIS in Raqqa is over that front line has now shifted toward Deir ez-Zor sending thousands fleeing for their lives on a fairly regular basis.

But crucial to ensuring that an entity like ISIS does not return once again is going to be ensuring that these families can not only go back home but that they can somehow rebuild the fabric of the of society of cities like Raqqa. They need support, we hear from council members, the Raqqa civilian council that is tasked of trying to rebuild the city because they need to somehow break the cycle of violence.

The children that you see here, they have known nothing but the ISIS way of life for the last four or five years. They have known nothing but brutality. Nothing but fear. Nothing but that kind of violence. And they need to be shown something else. They need to be shown a different way of life. And that is why it is so crucial that the reconstruction effort, when it can begin in Raqqa, has the kind of international support that it needs to be successful. Otherwise, the risk is that the cycles of violence continue. There is some sort of a security vacuum and something like ISIS or worse could re-emerge.

SAVIDGE: Arwa Damon, thank you very much for that very compelling look at how the war against ISIS sort of just moving to a new and different place. Thank you.

SAVIDGE: Terror in Tampa, after a third person was found dead in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Florida. Now officials believe all three murders are related. We'll have the latest on the investigation ahead.

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[08:52:05] SAVIDGE: A manhunt is under way this morning in Tampa as police say that someone is terrorizing the Seminole Heights neighborhood. Three people have been murdered in less than two weeks apparently without motive. The FBI and local police think that the killings are all related. And they're warning residents to stay alert and walk in groups.

GALLAGHER: Really frightening here, all three victims, bus riders, they were all shot at or near bus stops close to one another. Again police asking people to take a look at this surveillance video. Someone walking near the first crime scene.

As of right now there is no suspect but joining me by phone interim Tampa police chief Brian Dugan.

Chief, thank you so much. I do appreciate you joining us. Real quick, you said that all of these appear to be related. What is it? The fact that they're bus riders? What makes you think all of these shootings are related?

BRIAN DUGAN, INTERIM POLICE CHIEF, TAMPA, FLORIDA: Well, the reason they're related is the proximity and the way these killings are taking place. And the fact that all of our victims were alone. And that's why we think they're related. There are obvious signs to us. I'm not willing to say it's one person. You know, we don't have enough information at this point to really label it anything. But when you have three different people murdered within 10 days, within half a mile of each other, it's clearly related and it's very concerning to our neighborhood.

GALLAGHER: Could we be looking at a serial killer here then?

DUGAN: Well, we're not willing to label that. And I'm not doing that to be evasive. Sometimes when we label things, we start getting a focus on one person. And we don't know if this is a white male, a black female. You know, a black male. A white -- you know, that type -- I'm concerned that if we label it somebody, people might, you know, lose sight of -- you know, focus on something and lose sight of the big picture.

We don't have enough information to really call it something like that. And I need everyone in the neighborhood and the entire city of Tampa to be aware that at this point everybody is a potential suspect.

GALLAGHER: All right. Real quick, sir. What advice do you have for people who are scared? They don't want to leave their houses right now. DUGAN: Well, you know, when you have events like this, you know, I

think the first response is you lock your doors, and close curtains and you hide inside. And I'm actually asking people to do the opposite. We are asking people to come outside in groups. Don't walk alone. The one key thing that these three victims have in common is that they were by themselves. We're asking people not to go out alone. We're asking you to come back, come outside and take back your neighborhood, so to speak.

So let's not be held hostage by this. Turn your porch lights on. Last night, we were going through the neighborhoods and actually offering people porch lights if they didn't have them. Putting light bulbs in there. You know, lighting up the neighborhood, get people outside. And let's see what's going on.

GALLAGHER: All right.

[08:55:05] DUGAN: Let's get people out front. You know, we're --

GALLAGHER: Thank you so much -- thank you so much, Chief. I do appreciate that. I hope you guys catch this person soon. Thank you.

SAVIDGE: And that is it for us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning, that's for sure. The CNN NEWSROOM show will start then.

GALLAGHER: All right. Don't go anywhere, "SMERCONISH" starts after this quick break.

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