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Widow of Sergeant La David Johnson Gives Interview; General Kelly's Comments on President Trump's Phone Call with Soldier's Widow Examined; Senators Stunned To Learn U.S. Has 1,000 Troops In Niger; Myeshia Johnson: Representative Wilson Is "100 Percent Correct"; Trump Vows To Bring "Biggest Tax Cuts Ever". Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, AUTHOR, "BECOMING KAREEM, GROWING UP ON AND OFF THE COURT": -- to the Anti-Defamation League's mentoring program, but we're going to work with some of these athletes through the ADL and hopefully coach them and show them the most effective ways of, you know, making a protest and making the statements that they want to make in the right way.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I encourage people to read your op-ed, and the upcoming book will be in my house. That's for sure. Big man, always a pleasure.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Nice talking to you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, there is a lot of news going on on this Monday morning. What do you say? Let's get after it.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When she made that statement, I thought it was sickening, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is going to be Trump's Benghazi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to see the death of Americans turned into some sensationalized partisan fight.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: We don't know exactly where we're at in the world militarily and what we're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Graham didn't know we had 1,000 troops in Niger. Did you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, we have conflicting stories. We want to be able to get the full, accurate story and get it right.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We're going to score a big legislative accomplishment here on tax reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People closest to the president whispering in his ear all want to do big tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want the very best tax package that can actually pass.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, October 23rd, 8:00 in the east.

Lawmakers are demanding answers about the deadly military mission that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers in Niger. Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its first hearing this week about this. This comes as leading senators admit they are stunned to learn how many U.S. troops are in the West African nation.

CUOMO: The Senate also plans to take on the long-awaited debate of the president's war authorization powers. This has been going on for years. Congress has been punting on its constitutional duty.

So for the first time, there's going to be some new context this morning. The widow of sergeant La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in that Niger attack, is speaking out. Myeshia Johnson is her name. And in a new interview of ABC just this morning, she talks about what President Trump said that did make her cry. Let's hear Mrs. Johnson in her own words.


MYESHIA JOHNSON, WIDOW OF SERGEANT LA DAVID JOHNSON: The questions that I have, that I need answered, is I want to know why it took them 48 hours to find my husband? Why couldn't I see my husband? Every time I asked to see my husband, they wouldn't let me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did they tell you?

JOHNSON: They're telling me that he's in a severe wrap, like, I won't be able to see him. I need to see him so I will know that that is my husband. I don't know nothing. They won't show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband's body from head to toe, and they won't let me see anything. I don't know what's in that box. It could be empty for all I know. But I need to see my husband. I haven't seen him since he came home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are also a lot of questions about the phone call you received from President Trump. I know you were in a car to the airport. Tell us what happened next.

JOHNSON: Me and my family was in the limo to receive my husband from, I think it was Dover, we went to.


JOHNSON: Dover. And we were nearly on the airport strip getting ready to get out, and he called Master Sergeant Neil's phone. I asked Master Sergeant Neil to put his phone on speaker so my aunt and uncle could here as well. And he goes on to saying his statement as, what he said was --


JOHNSON: Yes, the president. He said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways. And I was -- it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn't remember my husband's name. The only way he remembered my husband's name, because he told me he had my husband's report in front of him. And that's when he actually said, La David. I heard minimum stumbling on trying to remember my husband's name.

And that were hurting me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can't you remember his name? And that is what made me upset and cry even more, because my awesome husband was an awesome soldier. He did what it took other soldiers five years to do in three years in other five years. It took my husband three years to make E5. It takes other soldiers five to six years just to make E5. So if he was here, he would have been on his way to being an E6 or an E7. My husband had high hopes in a military career.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you say to the president?

JOHNSON: I didn't -- I didn't say anything. I just listened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you were upset when you got off the phone?

JOHNSON: Oh, very. Very upset and hurt. Very. It made me cry even worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman Wilson reported that and you explained she was in the car with you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's been close to your family for a long time?

JOHNSON: Yes. Yes. Miss Wilson -- my uncle-in-law was Miss Wilson's elementary school principal. And my husband was in her 5,000-role model program. That's why she's well-connected with us because she's been in our family since we were -- since we were little kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president said that the congresswoman was lying about the phone call.

JOHNSON: Whatever Miss Wilson said was not fabricated. What she said was 100 percent correct. It was Master Sergeant Neil, me, my aunt, my uncle, and the driver and Miss Wilson in the car. The phone was on speakerphone. Why would we fabricate something like that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything you would like to say to the president now?

JOHNSON: No. I don't -- no, I don't have nothing to say to him.


CUOMO: All right. That's Myeshia Johnson, the widow of La David Johnson, one of the four service members lost in this ambush attack in Niger. Let's bring in our panel, senior political writer for "FiveThirtyEight," Perry Bacon, and associate editor at Real Clear Politics A.B. Stoddard. Perry, this is not an easy situation for the widow to be in. She just suffered the worst loss in her life, she's got a baby on the way, she's got other kids to take care of. What was the takeaway for you from this interview?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT." I mean, first of all, my heart goes out to her. It was really hard to watch that, to watch her grieve on television, to see how that happened, to hear her talk about it, to talk about it in such detail is really emotional. And you can tell she's feeling it as well.

In terms of the things we do here in Washington, it's clear at this point Congresswoman Wilson was absolutely correct in everything she described last week, and the president repeatedly lied and dissembled and was inaccurate about what happened. Miss Johnson's comments were exactly what congresswoman Wilson said, and the president, for whatever reason, chose not to be accurate.

And it's also worth saying, I'd like to have a president on one of those phone calls would be prepared for, would know the soldier's name, would be able to have a conversation, would say the right things. And it's unfortunate that call went so poorly that she was crying after the call ended.

CAMEROTA: I mean, look, we've talked to many families who do say that the calls with the president went well. They were comforted by the president. I believe we have one coming up for you soon in this hour. So it's just this one that went wrong.

But A.B., beyond what her takeaway was and how she felt about talking to the president, I didn't know that she has yet to see her husband's body. That was -- wow. The idea that whatever happened to him, that his remains are not such in whatever condition that his wife can't identify them and see them. And so she doesn't have that level of closure of just knowing that it's him that is in there.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Yes, that was really the most profound part of it, to me, is that she needs answers about what happened and why his body is in this condition. And like she said, she can see a finger, if that's all she can see. But she really needs to know that that's him and that's that what really happened to him. She needs answers.

And like all the gold star families we hear from, she said the same thing, she echoed the same thoughts. She just wants people to know who her husband was, that he was a great soldier, that he had high hopes for a military career. People in these situations want us to know their names. And so while I give President Trump the benefit of the doubt of what

he might have been attempting to say on that phone call, because we heard his chief of staff, General Kelly, describe what he advised the president to say, that he was doing what he loved. It might have not gone the way he wanted it to go, but these families need to be treated a specific way. And running to Twitter and coming up with fake stories about how somebody has lied about the phone call, and obviously, that's not the way it went, makes it so much worse, makes their pain worse. She needs answers. She doesn't need a big fight on Twitter with the congresswoman. And, you know, I think we've, for the 18th time, we should all say it's time for the president as well as Congresswoman Wilson to stop talking about this.

[08:10:07] CUOMO: I hope that her presence on television motivates need to get Congress to find answers about this, to own their responsibility to oversee military operations. But Perry, people are going to be listening to hear how she vets the feud between Trump and Wilson. It is fair criticism that it takes two to tango here, right? Wilson has been doing her part to keep this feud going with Trump. Yes, he's the president. Yes, he's the commander in chief. Yes, he should rise above. But that's not who he is. Is it fair criticism to say it takes two to tango?

BACON: I don't think so, Chris, I don't. I really think in this situation, as Miss Johnson said, Wilson knows the family, she knew this Mr. Johnson, she's speaking almost as a family member in some way. She's grieving herself. So the idea that he needs to attack her personally, I don't know. I do not think this is a both sides situation where it's equal. Like, on Saturday, Congresswoman Wilson is at the funeral, and Donald Trump is tweeting attacking her. No! This is not where both sides are equally to blame here.

CAMEROTA: Perry, I want to stick with you for one second because of what I read in the notes that you said. After what happened with General John Kelly at the podium where he was giving his side of the story and he was talking about Congresswoman Wilson, that you now see him in a different light. How so? What do you now think his role is in the White House?

BACON: Up to now I think a lot of people, myself included, have thought of him as someone who was kind of not involved in these feuds the president creates. The president is often very involved in a sort of culture war in the country. General Kelly has generally avoided that.

But I think in this instance I was surprised to see him sort of jump into that and embrace that role, and then also embrace the role inaccurately. General Kelly has not done what the president has done until now, which is say inaccurate things. And it's hard to look at that video from what General Kelly said on Thursday and less than 24 hours later, Mrs. Wilson -- Congresswoman Wilson was not doing what Kelly said. Kelly wrongly, completely inaccurately described what she said.

CUOMO: Let's listen to the president talking about what Kelly's experience was with this call and why he felt the way he did. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call. He was -- he actually couldn't believe it. Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not -- and he knew -- I was so nice. Look, I've 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.


CUOMO: And that could all be true, A.B. It could all be true. And yes, there are counter-facts, why was Kelly listening? It's different on the protocol on that side. And obviously he's needed on these calls given what happened in this one. But how do you analyze what Kelly did in this situation, in terms of balancing his pain as a gold star parent, but he got it wrong about the FBI, he got it wrong about Wilson's presence on this call. How do you balance out the exigencies here?

STODDARD: Right. I really think that this has been very hard for all of us who looked at General Kelly as someone who sort of had the moral high ground and was kind of an unimpeachable character in public view until he really went after Mrs. Wilson in very vigorous, negative terms, calling her names, an empty barrel, he used it several times. And then he made up these facts. He might have remembered them that way, but they didn't happen that way.

So people are now looking, just like Perry said, at General Kelly in a different light, not as a gold star father, but as someone speaking on behalf of the administration and in defense of President Trump. It is really not fair to criticize Congresswoman Wilson for being one of the people listening as an intimate of the family, of the Johnson family on speaker phone. It is fair for General Kelly. He should have gotten up and said, why would he go on and talk to Alisyn Camerota of CNN and say this man as a brain cancer and other political things like this will be his Benghazi. That's the kind of thing that is unacceptable. I could see that she's getting upset about that.

But instead he went after her in this way that was incorrect, unfair, and really ugly. And I think he's lost some ground that we really counted him being on, and that's really changed the game in terms of the way we look at that relationship and what he says.

CAMEROTA: You know, Perry, there was another striking part about everything he said. So much of what General Kelly said was striking, that it's hard to -- it takes a lot of time to unpack all of it. So obviously we were all moved by everything he said about his son. But in terms of the politics, he also said, you know, that he's sort of had this awakening of things -- how much has changed. Things used to be sacred in this world, like, for instance, women, he said used to be treated sacredly, and gold star families used to be treated sacredly.

[08:15:00] Well, it's his boss, the president, that has denigrated some of these things. I mean, we haven't even talked about that because there's so much to talk about, but that was also a strange disconnect.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": I mean, if you look at that speech and read it carefully, at times, it almost seemed like he was criticizing Donald Trump while not criticizing Donald Trump. I mean, I know factually, we look at it, he was defending the president.

But in a lot of the comments he made, the chief violator of those things. I mean, Donald Trump speaks about women a certain way in his charges of sexual harassment. Donald Trump, you know, attacked a Gold Star family.

So, it's really hard to look at those comments of General Kelly and not think, you know, who do you work for and what do you mean by that?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, look, one thing is clear. That General Kelly is clearly not there to modulate or criticize this president because that press conference would not have happened the way it did.

And we just heard from a grieving widow who makes it very clear that Congresswoman Wilson, as A.B. points out, the way she talked about the president, the things that she said, fair criticism. This is a political feud. But she was there for the right reasons and that call went the way that she says it went. A.B., Perry, thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. So, a Senate committee is taking a closer look at the Niger attack that killed these four U.S. soldiers. Should Congress authorize military force in the wake of this ambush? Should they reauthorize it? We're going to talk to a Republican congressman about where they are with this, next.


CUOMO: The Senate Armed Services Committee says it's going to hold a hearing this week on the ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers in Niger. Top senators are admitting they did not know the U.S. had so many troops in the West African nation, Republican and Democrat. Listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I can say this to the families. They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. John McCain is right to tell the military, because this is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography. You've got to tell us more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard Senator Graham there. He didn't know we had 1,000 troops in Niger. Did you?



CUOMO: Let's discuss with Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. He visited the region surrounding Niger over the summer as part of a congressional delegation. Sir, good to have you on the show.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks, Chris. Great to be with you.

CUOMO: So Schumer doesn't know how many are in Niger. President Obama put the soldiers there in 2013, 800. It seems as though there's been an increase since then. Senator Graham says he didn't know and that this is an unending war without boundaries.

Let me ask you, why isn't the accountability here not for President Trump, he just got in there. It's on you guys. You have the congressional duty to declare war. You won't debate an AUMF. Graham doesn't know what's going on because he hasn't taken the time to figure it out and vote for it. The same for Schumer and the rest of you. True or not?

DENT: Well, first, Chris, let me say, I do think we need to update the AUMF. I have been supportive of that. It has not happened. I recall the debates during the Obama administration. Many of the Democrats wanted to put on a lot of operational controls on the commander in chief, and a lot of the Republicans didn't, and we could never get to a consensus.

I think that was really the issue. Now, with respect to Niger, I serve on the Appropriations Committee. I oversee military construction projects. In 2016, we put $50 million, we appropriated $50 million to refurbish an existing base for runways to take C-17s and other UAVs. We have a presence there.

Not just there, but within that whole Lake Chad region, supporting local troops to fight Boko Haram, ISIS of West Africa and of course, we are supporting the French operations in Mali. So, we do have all sorts of people in that region fighting a very dangerous foe, and ISIS in West Africa, especially.

CUOMO: Charlie, I get it. I'm not ascribing criticism to you, specifically, but I kind of am, because this AUMF, this is -- you know, everybody says, I love the Constitution. I'm all about the Constitution. I'm a constitutionalist.

This is one of the few outlying specific duties to Congress and we know why this AUMF hasn't been debated. Everybody comes on the show and says they're in favor of it, but it doesn't happen, because it's easier not to do it.

The presidents want the power. Whether it was Bush, Obama, Trump. They'll take the extra power from you guys. But it's your job to take it back and debate it, because look at what just happened in Niger, and we have top senators saying, they weren't even aware of how many men were there.

DENT: Well, Chris, I do agree with you that we should update this AUMF. Now truth be told, the 2001 AUMF, which was voted on before I came in the Congress in 2005, is still valid. Now, we can operate off of that, but, again --

CUOMO: Everything has changed so much, Congressman, that's why I'm saying it. How can you say we're doing the same thing we were in 2001? In 2002, there was another one, to authorize the war. Obviously, people felt burned and they didn't want to get into that situation again.

Obama came to you guys and said, when the red line was crossed, not crossed, whatever, in Syria, he said, will you give me authorization? And it didn't happen. But that's on you guys, just as much as it is on any president, correct?

DENT: It is on us, and I think Congress should reassert its Article I powers. Not just in this area but in others. I mean, we've seen an erosion of congressional authority over the years. And it started long before Donald Trump and certainly in the Obama administration, they overreached, I felt, in many occasions.

And before that, it also occurred, as well. So, yes, we've got to take back our Article I power, not just on the declaration of war or the use of military force, but any number of other issues I believe Congress has been stepped on by the executive branch.

CUOMO: Well, let's see what happens because you've got all the political currency you could want right now. You've got the widow of one of those fallen service members on tv this morning. I want to play a little bit of her sound.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president said that the congresswoman was lying about the phone call.

MYESHIA JOHNSON, WIDOW OF SGT. LA DAVID JOHNSON: Whatever Miss Wilson said was not fabricated. What she said was 100 percent correct. It was -- Master Sergeant Neil, me, my aunt, my uncle, and the driver and Miss Wilson in the car. The phone was on speakerphone. Why would we fabricate something like that?


CUOMO: She wasn't inappropriately listening in. The family wanted her there. She didn't make up the family's reaction to their perceived insensitivity by the president. Does the president owe Congresswoman Wilson an apology?

DENT: Well, I don't know exactly what was said between the president and this grieving widow. By the way, our sympathies go out to her and the other three families who lost their loved ones. Miss Johnson, I'm very sorry --

CUOMO: If you're sympathetic, Congressman, you just heard what she said happened.

DENT: Yes. I heard what she said and I -- look, I think the president -- I -- I heard General Kelly's explanation of what the president said, maybe he said this a bit awkwardly. I don't know that they had bad intent, but I think it would be a gracious thing --

CUOMO: Nobody is saying he had bad intent. But he and the general said that Wilson was full of it, she wasn't supposed to be on the all, and she was lying about what happened. And you just heard the widow, who should never be put in this position, but she has been. And there's plenty of blame to go around for that, but we now know that the call is what Wilson said it was.

DENT: Well, look, I don't think the president should have escalated this discussion. Look, we -- this is a grieving family. I've had the -- I've had the opportunity -- and it's a difficult thing to do, to talk to a grieving family at the loss of a loved one in war. It's a very hard thing to do.

So, I don't like to politicize this in any way. But at the same time, look, I think it would be better for the president -- it would be more gracious for the president to privately call her again and maybe try to clear things up. That's what I would do. I hope we're not beyond that.

We didn't need to get into a fight between the congresswoman and the president. It doesn't serve anyone's interests. We should -- certain things are sacred. You know, respecting and honoring the fallen should be one of those things that should never become political.

CUOMO: Let's move on from that. Thank you for your words at the end there, Congressman. You're coming to us from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A quick Google analysis of your district shows that tax cuts to the middle class will mean a lot to the people who put you in office.

What do you make of the criticism from Democrats that this plan, this tax plan, is not a middle class-focused tax cut. It benefits the top tier the most and disproportionately so?

DENT: Well, I guess my argument would be, anytime we touch this tax code, we need to simplify it and make it more fair. It's over 70,000 pages long. My constituents want it simplified. They want to see the underbrush cleared out. They would like to see rates lowered.

They understand that our business rates are non-competitive and we need to get to a 21st Century tax code. They understand that and I think they -- sure, I believe there will be middle class tax reductions in this plan. Can I say that nobody who's above a certain income will not get some kind of tax relief, they may --

CUOMO: But when the constituents come to you and they say, Charlie, we put you there to help us. Why are you helping the rich guys more than you're helping me and calling it a tax cut for me? What I don't you flip it and give me the disproportionate benefit. I need it more than they do. DENT: Well, we are going to give middle class tax relief. But also, we should be honest, too, Chris. You know, the top 10 percent of income earners pay a disproportionate -- of the tax revenue in this country, that's where it's coming from.

So, I mean, it's hard to have this conversation and saying, well, can anybody in the top 10 percent not receive end reduction. It's kind of hard to say that given that's where much of the revenue is. We're going to take rates down.

There's going to be a new low rate at 12 percent. It's going to go from seven brackets down to three. I think that's important and we're going to try to get this business tax code into the 21st Century so we can be competitive with Europe.

CUOMO: Well, just be ready for the debate of will small business be benefited as much as big business? Will the small guy be benefited as much as the big guy? Certainly, your constituents there in that district are going to want to hear that debate argued out in full throat.

We know that you're retiring after this term. You're going too soon, Charlie. It's good to have you on the show, as always, and we look forward to your role in the upcoming debate.

DENT: Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. I hope to continue to be a voice on a lot of these issue going forward. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, Congressman, be well -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, we're following some breaking news for everyone right now. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson making a surprise visit to Kabul, Afghanistan today. Tillerson is meeting with Afghanistan's president to talk about the U.S. commitment to that country.

You'll remember that this summer, President Trump announced more troops would be sent to Afghanistan to fight the war on terror.

Well, President Trump's condolence call with the Johnson family did not go the way the family had hoped. Now the family of another soldier killed in Niger is talking about their call with President Trump. Army Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright's brother joins us next.