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Niger Ambush: New Details, Many Questions; Trump to Pitch Tax Plan; Senate Advances $36.5 Billion Disaster Relief Bill. Aired 4:30- 5a ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:30:23] 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.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: American troops waited an hour to call for help when they came under attack in Niger. So, why, how did U.S. forces get separated?

Here more from the chairman of the joint chiefs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And billions of dollars in much needed hurricane relief appears to be on the way. And now, officials in Puerto Rico, they're making a pitch for Amazon to call the island home.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.


I'm Dave Briggs. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

We begin this morning with the joint chiefs chairman, General Joseph Dunford, vowing to keep search for answers on the deadly ambush in Niger. At a Pentagon news conference, Dunford provided new details in a new time line on the attack on the American and ally troops. Among the major revelations, the U.S. Special Forces and support troops were on their own once this firefight began, longer than previously thought.


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 contact was made, the initial French Mirages arrived overhead. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Why it took so long to call for help is part of the investigation. A White House official Dunford's briefing as a deliberate effort to move past the 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.


BRIGGS: Substance and style perspective, very different briefing. Jim, thanks.

CNN has learned Pentagon officials will brief senators on the Armed Services Committee about the Niger ambush on Thursday. The chairman of the committee, Senator John McCain says he's more satisfied now with the level of cooperation he's getting from the Defense Department, but he tells our Manu Raju significant questions about this operation do remain.


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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: The White House pushing back after senators in both parties complained 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.

BRIGGS: 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.


[04:35:03] 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. And that's my focus.


ROMANS: Johnson's widow told ABC Monday was upset by the president's tone on that condolence call and she says he stumbled over her husband's name. The president ignoring questions by reporters about the controversy, though, he did get one last remark 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, thank you.

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. Students return in two cities, San Juan and Mayaguez, 109 school campuses reopen today, 109 out of more than 1,100 on the island, a perspective there. Many school buildings are damaged, some of them are being used as shelters and roads in some areas are still impassable.

BRIGGS: The senate has advanced 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 by Wednesday with Congress expected to take up more funding for disaster relief next month.

ROMANS: Amazon's competition's bid for a second home is heating up. The companies received 238 bids for a second headquarters, spanning 54 states, provinces and territories across North America, including a last-minute bid from Puerto Rico. The hurricane battered territory is a bit of a long short, but officials wanted to show it could bounce back from Hurricane Maria, and the island could use the economic boost.

Amazon's new headquarters will create 50,000 high-paying jobs. It will invest $5 billion in the new facility. Amazon says the campus will be the full equal of its Seattle headquarters. The company has added $38 billion to Seattle's economy since 2010.

Amazon announced plans for second headquarters HQ2 in September. Cities went into a frenzy with elaborate gestures or offers for big tax incentives. Proposals were due last week. Amazon says it will make a decision next year. Some of the things that these towns and cities have done has been remarkable of what they've been trying to do.

BRIGGS: Jumping through some hoops, tax breaks --

ROMANS: Yes, they want Jeff Bezos' money.

BRIGGS: Who doesn't?

The government responds to climate change is lackluster. So says the government report which warns of rising costs and dire consequences. We'll have the details next.


[04:42:52] ROMANS: A government report making dire new reductions about the cost of climate change and the government's faltering response. This is a study by the Government Accountability Office. It 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 far higher in the future if global emissions don't fall.

BRIGGS: The GAO report calls on President Trump to use the data it contains to identify risks and craft appropriate federal responses to climate change. Just this year, hurricane and wildfire damage has cost the country billions. Damage worsened by climate changes according to the experts.

ROMANS: 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 has largely reversed course, rolling back those and other measures.

BRIGGS: First Lady Melania Trump with a surprise visit to the middle school in a Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. The visit was to combat childhood bullying as part of "No One Eats Alone" Day. Mrs. Trump encouraged students to make new friends outside of their social group.


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.


ROMANS: The first lady likely to face critics who say the president, her husband, engages regularly in name calling and other tactics that could be pursued as bullying. For example, this is "Vanity Fair's" take on Mrs. Trump's event. Quote: Melania resumes doomed effort to curb her husband's favorite pastime.

BRIGGS: Left herself wide open for that. Tense 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. The event started with a moment of silence with family members of all three victims in the audience.

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


[04:45:00] 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Police say they are look to go question this person caught on surveillance video. 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 risks boxing the vision of someone who might know the murderer.

BRIGGS: Five Michigan teenagers due in court today charged with second degree murder for killing a man by throwing rocks from an overpass. 32-year-old Kenneth White was a passenger in a van on I-75 near Flint, Michigan, last week when a 6-pound rock smashed through the windshield and fatally injured him.

The local sheriff using the tragedy to send a sobering warning to young people.


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.


ROMANS: 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.

It's a tragedy there.

Forty-six minutes past the hour. Toys "R" Us' collapse is already hitting toymakers holiday sales and online shopping is to blame. Details on CNN "Money Stream" next.


[04:50:57] BRIGGS: Former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly lashing out following revelations of a $32 million settlement with a 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 kids in denying accusations to "The New York Times", which released this audio.


BILL O'REILLY, FORMER TV HOST: We have physical proof that this is (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. (END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: I don't see what the defense is there.

BRIGGS: None. There is none.

ROMANS: I see a very aggressive don't F with me.

BRIGGS: Once a bully, always a bully.

ROMANS: Earlier Monday, former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly described the new revelations about O'Reilly as jaw dropping and said she emailed Fox News executive 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: Strong.

In response to that, representative for O'Reilly said CNN a pair of "thank you" notes that Megyn Kelly had sent O'Reilly.

ROMANS: I read those thank you notes and they were very thoughtful. It shows Megyn Kelly has good manners. I don't what it -- I don't know how --

BRIGGS: Personal experience.

ROMANS: How it depends -- I don't understand --

BRIGGS: I've worked there, I've never seen a talent the way Megyn Kelly went out of her way to be nice and generous to people around the office. On the other hand, I've never -- in 20 years in this business seen anyone treat people as despicable as Bill O'Reilly, everyone, anchors, producers, you name it.

ROMANS: Fifty-three minutes past the hour. New legal troubles for the studio Harvey Weinstein cofounded. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launching an investigation into the Weinstein Company. The New York AG looking into whether Harvey Weinstein or other employees broke state or New York City rights laws. Investigators want to know how sexual harassment claims were handled internally. There have been claims of some company executives tried to cover misconduct by Weinstein.

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: Do you think we're at a turning point in this, in different industries? I mean, you look at the mutual fund industry yesterday for example, had news on the front page of the "Wall Street Journal" about investigations into sexual misconduct and harassment there. You look at Hollywood, you look at television news.

BRIGGS: Let's hope.

ROMANS: Are we at a turning point? I wonder.

BRIGGS: Let's hope that, you know, it began with Gretchen Carlson, hopefully empowering women to speak out. Let's hope.

All right. A chance of storms today ahead of a shot of cold air moving into the east.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri with the latest.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

We're watching a pretty busy pattern here shaping up for portions of the Northeast today, even the Mideast getting wet weather out of this and cold enough air in place here to support some snow showers across Michigan and parts of say, northern and eastern Wisconsin as well with us. And not a major accumulation maker here, but definitely going to be the beginning of cooler temps the next couple of days. Could pick up a couple of inches out of this, notice the cooler air back behind us, reinforcing shots that essentially sets up shop here going into Saturday and Sunday, and we get multiple rounds of cooler air really slated going into the beginning of this weekend.

Also watching what's happening down in the western Caribbean, 15 percent chance inside the next five days, another tropical system form.

[04:55:01] At this point, model guidance in this stirring environment, do want to take this to the east out toward Cuba, potentially leading parts of extreme southern Florida, inline for wet weather, but not a major player as of right now as far as a concern for the United States. So, here's what it looks like for the high temperatures, 71 degrees enjoyed in New York, 66 in Atlanta, Chicago only makes it up to 47 by this afternoon, guys.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you for that, Pedram.

All right. 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. Cattrall has taken heat from fans for turning down a third "Sex in the City" movie. Now, she is 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.

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

BRIGGS: Shouldn't we all thank her? "Sex in the City 2" is one the worst movies on record. We should all write her a public thank you letter.

ROMANS: I missed the whole "Sex in the City" thing.

BRIGGS: Good call. Oh, the series. The series, I never missed a single episode.

ROMANS: Really?

BRIGGS: Phenomenal. Up there with Seinfeld.

ROMANS: Really? With Seinfeld. Come on, Seinfeld?

BRIGGS: It's good stuff, it's good stuff. "Sex in the City".

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: All right. To baseball, where the Fall Classic might feel more like the midsummer classic. Dodgers and Astros game one of the Fall Classic tonight in L.A. It's the first time since 1970 that two 100-teams meet in the World Series. Pitching game one matchup is Dallas Keuchel for Houston, Clayton Kershaw for L.A.

Could be the hottest World Series game on record, literally first pitch at dodger stadium near 100 degrees. And the forecast stay in the 90s throughout the game. We've never had a first pitch more than 94 degrees. So, this could be brutal for the fans in L.A.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: But they're ready. It's been 1988. They'll take the heat.


All right. Let's check out CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global stock markets mostly higher, after the Dow snapped its six-day winning streak. All three major indices inched back from records. Last week, the Dow and the S&P hit record highs all five days, but the stock market was way down by tech and industrial stocks.

Today is the second day of the very busy week of earning season. So far to good. Of the 97 S&P 500 companies that have reported, 73 percent have beat expectations. Today, expect AT&T, GM, Caterpillar and McDonald's. General Electric stock has the biggest plunge in six years. It fell 6.3 percent after six analysts cut the stocks' price target. Shares are now down, look at that Dave, 39 percent this year. What is going on at GE?

It's raising concerns GE may cut dividends for the first time since the Great Depression. GE was once the most valuable company in America, but it suffered years of mismanagement, shrinking dramatically over the past decades. The company lost $70 billion in value this year alone. It plans to slash $20 billion more in costs over the next two years.

Toys "R" us, its collapse is hitting toymaker sales right before the critical holiday season. Shares of Hasbro plummeted nearly 10 percent yesterday. The company says its holiday sales would be lower that expected, blaming the recent bankruptcy of Toys "R" Us.

Hasbro's bad news hit rival Mattel as well. Mattel shares fell 4 percent.

The failure of Toys "R" Us is yet another sign of the rise of Amazon. More people doing their holiday shopping online instead of stores. Toys "R" Us, of course, is going to try to reorganize under bankruptcy and says it will be open for the holidays.

BRIGGS: What industry is safe from Amazonification?

ROMANS: I know. You just look at Amazon, you know, all these cities, 238 cities and municipalities falling all over themselves to get the Amazon headquarters while you're looking at malls and big box stores really struggling.

BRIGGS: They're taking over the world.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest from Niger.



DUNFORD: 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.


BRIGGS: The chairman of the joint chief says he'll keep pursuing answers about what led to the deaths of four American troops in Niger. Among the questions, why did troops wait an hour to call for help once the attack began?

ROMANS: And President Trump heads to Capitol Hill today to pitch his tax plan to Republicans. He is promising, he is vowing no changes to your 401(k). So, which tax breaks are in jeopardy? How do you pay for tax reform if you don't give something up? BRIGGS: Big policy lunch --

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: -- for the GOP senators and the president today and to start talking about that.

ROMANS: Really important stuff.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs, Tuesday, October 24th.

We begin this morning with joint chiefs chairman, General Joseph Dunford, vowing to keep searching for answers on the deadly ambush in Niger. At a Pentagon news conference, Dunford provided new details in a new timeline of the attack on American and allied troops.

Among the major revelations here, the U.S. Special Forces and support troops were on their own once this firefight began, longer than previously thought.