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Niger Ambush: New Details, Many Questions; Trump to Pitch Tax Plan. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We owe the families as much information as we can find out about what happened, and we owe the American people an explanation of what the men and women were doing.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The chairman of the joint chiefs says he will keep pursuing answers about why four American soldiers died in Niger. Among the questions, why did troops wait an hour to call for help once that attack began?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And President Trump heads to Capitol Hill today to pitch his tax plan to Republicans. He's promising no changes in your 401(k). So, which tax breaks could be in jeopardy?

A lot of questions --


BRIGGS: -- as this tax debate starts. How do you raise revenue?

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: It's all one very big puzzle. And so far, the president says the 401(k) is a -- that is a tax break that works. We're going to keep that one.

I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, October 24th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin this morning with the joint chief's chairman, General Joseph Dunford, vowing to keep searching for answers on the deadly ambush in Niger.

At the Pentagon news conference, Dunford provided new details and a new timeline of the attack on American and allied troops. Among the major revelations, the U.S. Special Forces and support troops were on their own once the firefight began, on their own longer than previously thought.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DUNFORD: About an hour after the initial contact was made, they requested support. It took the French aircraft, the French were ready to go in 30, and then it took them 30 minutes -- approximately 30 minutes to get on the scene. So, from that, I think it's a fair conclusion to say that about two hours after the initial on tact was made, the initial French Mirages arrived overhead.


BRIGGS: Why it took so long to call for help is part of the investigation. A White House official described Dunford's briefing as a deliberate effort to move past the heated rhetoric coming from all sides. But even with General Dunford's new details, many questions remain.

CNN's Jim Sciutto was at the briefing. He has more from Washington.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, unlike some administration officials since this deadly raid, General Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to the briefing room and said every question about this from the public or from the families is justified, and he will do his best to answer every question he can. But the fact is they still can't answer many questions.

He said this unit was returning to base when they were ambushed. They weren't going off on another mission. They weren't he said or he had no information that they went outside of their orders. He also said that they did not call in for air support until one hour into this firefight. And he said or at least his assessment was that that likely meant the commanders on the ground thought it was a firefight that they could handle.

Of course, it didn't turn out that way. But there are still many questions unanswered. One, why was Sergeant La David Johnson's body found 48 hours later and why was it found a mile away from where the ambush took place. They don't know the answer to that question. They also don't know why the intelligence that was given to these soldiers was that it was unlikely that they would have enemy contacts.

I also asked him, do they know if the forces that evacuated both the wounded and dead ever did a headcount to make sure that everyone was accounted for? Again, a question they don't yet have an answer to. I also asked him whether he would supply this information when any get answers to these questions, and General Dunford said without hesitation that yes, that he believes the military owes not only the family but the American public complete, in his words, transparency -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you for that, Jim.

CNN has learned Pentagon officials will brief senators on the Armed Services Committee about the ambush on Thursday. The chairman of that committee, Senator John McCain, says he is more satisfied now with the level of cooperation he's getting from the Defense Department.

But he tells our Manu Raju significant questions about the operation remain.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: What is the question you have after --

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Questions about the whole operation. Come on. Questions about why four men died? That should be the -- that's the question most Americans want to know.


BRIGGS: The White House pushing back after senators from both parties complain they had no idea how many U.S. troops were actually in Niger. The Trump administration insisting it notified congressional leaders in June about 965 troops conducting counterterror operations in Niger and Cameroon.

ROMANS: Among the things that those soldiers are doing, building a drone base among other things and helping local army there and, you know, to try to keep ISIS, Boko Haram, you know, the radical Islamist terror that's taking root.

[04:05:08] BRIGGS: Two thousand I think across the continent.

ROMANS: That's right.

The White House hopes the controversy surrounding President Trump's condolence call to the widow of La David Johnson is cooling after Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said the deadly ambush in Niger would be Trump's Benghazi.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford said this.


DUNFORD: I personally see no utility in comparing this incident to any other incident. What's most important to me aside from getting the facts is identifying those things that we can do better in the future. That's my focus.


BRIGGS: Johnson's widow telling ABC Monday she was upset by the president's tone on the condolence call and she says he stumbled over her husband's name. The president not taking the bait when questioned by reporters, though, he got in one last dig on Twitter.

We get more from CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.


President Trump was clearly eager on Monday to move beyond scrutiny over his condolence call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a U.S. soldier who was killed in that military operation gone bad in Niger. President Trump avoided reporters' questions about that operation as well as whether he had any additional sentiments to share with the widow who said she was upset with the president's tone on the call.

Now, Trump took to Twitter to insist he was respectful but he dodged any efforts from reporters to get him to elaborate on that fact. The White House knows it needs to turn down the heat on this situation if it hopes to refocus on some of the president's other priorities, particularly tax reform. Today, he heads to Capitol Hill to meet with senators as he tries to sell his plan and ensure he can get at least one of his major legislative priorities through Congress.

Back to you, guys.


ROMANS: All right. Sara Murray at the White House -- thanks, Sara.

President Trump vowing that tax reform won't touch your 401(k). The president vows there's no chance to the retirement savings plan via tweet, adding that the tax break works and it stays. That contradicts several reports from the weekend. Republicans working on tax reform, you know, they have been talking about reducing how much tax free money workers can invest, capping contributions to $2,400 a year. The current limit is $18,000.

Many popular deductions are on the chopping block. You have to have at the chopping block, right, if you're going to pay for tax cuts, if you're going to do real tax reform.

Despite Trump's pledge to -- the break is safe, this tax break is safe, its promises have not always become policy. Remember he promised his plan would bring huge tax cuts to the middle class yet the wealthy still get the biggest slice.

He's also selling corporate tax cuts as a middle class rate. However, when you really look at these number, foreign investors actually benefit more than the middle class from tax reform as it stands now. A new analysis found that $78 billion in corporate tax savings will end up overseas. That's three times the middle class tax relief for households under Trump's entire tax plan.

It looks as though the 401(k) is safe here. You know, and the thing is, is that the 401(k), you know, people don't put enough in it in general.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: And people are not saving enough. You're probably not saving enough for retirement, FYI. To take away the tax benefits of that is something that retirement

planners were really worried about.

BRIGGS: Something has got to give. You have to raise some revenue.


BRIGGS: This has to be deficit-neutral over 10 years if you get it through on reconciliation.

ROMANS: How are you going to pay for it? How are you going to pay for it?

BRIGGS: This is going to be difficult.

All right. A big step in the return to normalcy for parts of Puerto Rico. Public school classes set to resume this morning for the first time in over a month, some great news. Students return in two cities, San Juan and Mayaguez. A total of 109 school campuses reopening today out of the more than 1,100 on the island. Many school buildings remain damaged or occupied as shelters and roads in some areas are still impassable.

ROMANS: The Senate has released a large disaster relief bill to respond to a rash of recent hurricanes. Most of that money, over $18 billion, goes to FEMA's disaster relief program. Another $16 billion earmarked for the National Flood Insurance program. Additional funds designated for nutrition assistance or low income residents in Puerto Rico. Final passage of this $36.5 billion aid bill is expected by Wednesday, with Congress expected to take up more funding for disaster relief next month.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, the government response to climate change is lackluster, says a government report which warns of rising costs and consequences. Details next.


[04:13:34] BRIGGS: Welcome back.

A government report making dire new predictions about the cost of climate change to the government's faltering response. The study by the Government Accountability Office says the U.S. has spent more than $350 billion over the past decade responding to extreme weather and fire events. And it says costs will climb higher if global emotions don't fall.

ROMANS: The GAO report calls on President Trump to use the data contains to identify risks and craft appropriate responses to climate change. Just this year, hurricane and wildfire damage has cost the country of billions of dollars, damage worsened by climate change according to many weather experts.

BRIGGS: The Obama administration took several steps to combat climate change, including the EPA's clean power plan and the Paris climate agreement. The Trump administration is largely reversed course, rolling back those and other measures.

ROMANS: First Lady Melania Trump making good on her promise to combat childhood bullying. She paid a surprise visit to a middle school in a Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills on Monday, as part of "No One Eats Alone" Day. And she delivers some great remarks to students in the cafeteria.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: I encourage you to find a new friend and eat lunch with a new friend. So nobody becomes sad and stressed, and everybody feels included. I think it's very important that we choose the kindness and compassion.


[04:15:00] BRIGGS: The first lady is likely to face critics who say the president engages regularly in name-calling and other tactics that could be perceived as bullying.

Here's "Vanity Fair's" take on Mrs. Trump's event. Quote, Melania resumes doomed effort to curb her husband's favorite pastime.

ROMANS: Fifteen past the hour.

Ten times in suburban Tampa, the interim police chief and the city's mayor meeting with frightened citizens in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. Three people murdered there over the course of 11 days. Events started with a moment of silence with family members of all three victims in the audience.

BRIGGS: Mayor Bob Buckhorn calling on residents to do their part to help catch the killer.


BOB BUCKHORN, TAMPA MAYOR: Nobody comes into our house and does this, not now, not every. This is our streets, these are our neighborhoods, this is your community, and we are not going to let evil win this race. Not happening.


BRIGGS: Tampa's interim police chief, Brian Dugan, refraining from using the term serial killer. He says he doesn't want to use labels or stereotypes and risk boxing the vision of someone who might know the murderer.

ROMANS: All right. Five Michigan teenagers due in court today, charged with second degree murder for alleging killing a man by throwing rocks from an overpass.

Thirty-two-year-old Kenneth White was a passenger in a van on I-75, near Flint, Michigan, last week when a six-pound rock smashed through the windshield and fatally injured him. The local sheriff using the tragedy to send a sobering warning to young people. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF ROBERT PICKELL, GENESEE COUNTY: It's not a prank. It's second degree murder. I don't think anybody's laughing. If you make a bad decision, you could be spending the rest of your life in prison. This is not a prank.


BRIGGS: Police say the teens aged 15 to 17, threw a tire and about 20 rocks off two overpasses that night. One of the rocks weighed 20 pounds. Several vehicles were damaged. They're all being prosecuted as adults and face conspiracy to commit murder charges.

ROMANS: Terrifying.

All right. Bill O'Reilly, what's God got to do with it? He's on the defensive in the wake of another settlement. He says he's mad at God and what he says about his opponents. That's next.


[04:21:38] BRIGGS: Bill O'Reilly lashing out following revelations of a $32 million settlement with the former Fox News colleague who accused him of sexual misconduct. On a latest episode of his web series "No Spin News", O'Reilly says he is, quote, mad at God. Speaking of his adversaries, O'Reilly says if they could literally kill me, they would, and questions why his children have to be punished.

ROMANS: O'Reilly also invoking his children in denying accusations to "The New York Times", "The New York Times" which released this audio of their conversation.


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER TV HOST: We have physical proof that this s (EXPLETIVES DELETED) OK?

So., it's on you if you want to destroy my children further. All right. Because it's all crap. Why won't you be human beings for once? This is horrible. It's horrible what I went through.


ROMANS: Earlier, Monday, former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly described the revelation about O'Reilly as jaw dropping and said she emailed Fox News executives last year about O'Reilly's behavior.


MEGYN KELLY, HOST, NBC'S "MEGYN KELLY TODAY": However, O'Reilly's suggestion that no one ever complained about his behavior is false, I know because I complained. This is not unique to Fox News. Women everywhere are used to being dismissed, ignored or attacked when raising complaints about men in authority positions. They stay silent so often out of fear.


BRIGGS: There's the Megyn Kelly people have been waiting for. In response to that, a representative for O'Reilly sent CNN a pair of "thank you" notes that Kelly had sent O'Reilly.

ROMANS: Proving that she's polite and has good manners? I'm not sure what the thank you notes prove other than, you know --

BRIGGS: Not much.

ROMANS: All right. New legal troubles for the studio Harvey Weinstein co-founded. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launching an investigation into the Weinstein Company. The New York A.G. looking into whether Harvey Weinstein or other employees broke state or New York City rights laws. Investigators want to know how sexual harassment complaints were handled internally. There have been claims that some company executives tried to cover up Weinstein's misconduct.

BRIGGS: Earlier this month, "The New York Times" and "The New Yorker" reported on decades-long pattern of alleged sexual misconduct by Weinstein. He's denied all claims of nonconsensual conduct but admitted to some improper behavior and apologized for causing pain. The spokeswoman tells CNN that Weinstein is in treatment and plans to stay in therapy for another month.

ROMANS: Actress Kim Cattrall revealing some off-screen from her years starring on "Sex in the City". She told Pierce Morgan she was never friends with her three co-stars. She has taken heat from fans for turning down a third "Sex in the City" movie. Now, she's singling out co-star Sarah Jessica Parker who said she is disappointed, too.

Cattrall says, quote: This is really where I take to task the people from "Sex in the City" and specifically Sarah Jessica Parker, is that I think she could have been nicer. I really think she could have been nicer. I don't know what her issue is.

She says passing on another film was an empowered decision to end one chapter of her life and start another.

BRIGGS: Good stuff.

Time to get World Series, if you will. The Dodgers and Astros play game 1 of baseball Fall Classic tonight in Los Angeles. First time since 1970 the two 100-win teams are meeting in World Series. The pitching matchup for the opener Houston's Dallas Keuchel against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw against what could be the hottest World Series game on record.

[04:25:10] First pitch temperature set right near 100 degrees.

ROMANS: When you mean hot you mean hot.

BRIGGS: Hover in the mid 90s throughout the game. I think the hottest ever first pitch was 94.


BRIGGS: So, it's looks very comfortably going to break that record, 5:00 L.A. time.

ROMANS: All right. The torch lighting ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea takes place about one hour from now in Olympia, Greece. Former soccer great Park Ji-sung will become the first South Korean to carry the flame. He tells CNN he hopes next year's game in Pyeongchang can unify North and South Korea. The Winter Olympics begin on February 9.

BRIGGS: That's quite a task, yes.

There are people who are very worried about going to these Olympics from the media and the fan perspective. It should be interesting.

Ahead, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff goes on the record about the Niger attack. What Joseph Dunford says about the time line, who called for help and when, what questions remain about the ambush that killed four American soldiers.