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Dunford Briefs Reporters on Niger; Manhunt in Tampa; Trump Tweets about Corker. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:33:31] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford briefing reporters on the Niger ambush that killed four American soldiers, and yet nearly three weeks after the attack there are still many more questions than answers.


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD JR., JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: 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 their men and women were doing at this particular time. And when I say that, I mean men and women in harm's way anywhere in the world, but they should know what the mission is and what we're trying to accomplish when we're there. And so those are all fair questions in my judgment.


CAMEROTA: OK. Joining us now is CNN national security commentator and former House Intelligence chairman, Mike Rogers.

Mike, it's great to see you. you're the perfect guest for this because you can analyze this on so many different fronts, obviously from the intelligence front and from the lawmaker front and then from the law enforcement front because you were part of the FBI.


CAMEROTA: So, let's start there. Why do you think the FBI is now involved in this investigation?

ROGERS: You know, of all the things I've seen come out in the press over the last few days, Alisyn, this was the most interesting to me in this regard. It's not -- it's not surprising. We have special forces around that region, and conventional forces by the way, training forces in places like Chad and other places to try to get their own troops up to snuff. This would have been consistent with that message. Remember, Boko Haram, and AQIM, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, all of those groups are operating in these lawless areas. So it's in the U.S. interests to try to help the locals fight this. None of that surprised me.

[08:35:01] The one thing that surprised me is that the FBI would be investigating. And that makes me question if they were outside of their protocols. Why would someone call in the FBI? The military has very, very good investigators, very capable investigators that could get to the bottom of this.

CAMEROTA: So you mean it's not customary for the FBI to be involved, because let me just read to you what General Dunford said when asked about his yesterday. He said with regard to the FBI, it's very normal for them, in counterterrorism operations, to conduct investigations, get information, intelligence, that may be related to threats to the United States. And I believe that's the capacity in which the FBI is conducting the investigation now.

ROGERS: It -- well, if that's what they're doing, then it would be separate from the engagement investigation. And they didn't make that very clear. If the FBI is investigating why they were there, that, to me, is an issue that -- and I'd like to know a lot more about.

The FBI would conduct -- and sometimes does participate -- in raids in counterterrorism patrols and other things to collect intelligence. That, in fact, can happen, and maybe happened in this case. We don't know. But if they're investigating something other than that, which is what the -- certainly the press accounts. So I think it's going to be interesting. I do think that they have to come out and make it very clear what the mission set was. Even if they cannot talk about a clandestine mission again, you don't want to disclose how our special forces are operating around Africa, because they're doing it in order to find out information on what the terrorists are up to and hopefully not engage them. in this case I think this was not an intentional engagement with the bad guys.


ROGERS: I think the bad guys found them.

CAMEROTA: Sounds like it.

ROGERS: You don't want to disclose that. But we should find out what the mission set is so Americans can feel comfortable about what we're trying to push back against.

CAMEROTA: Here are some of the unanswered questions that General Dunford couldn't answer yesterday. I mean not for lack of trying. He was quite, I think, honest about -- he just doesn't have enough information yet.

So, listen to this. I mean did U.S. forces have adequate intelligence? That's vital. Did U.S. forces have adequate equipment? We don't think that they were in armored vehicles. Did the mission change somehow? Were they -- did they think that they were going to have sort of conversations with locals and then something happened? How did U.S. forces become separated? Obviously that's a huge question. And then the most haunting one really is, why did it take 48 hours to locate Sergeant Johnson and really why did they find his body in the condition that they did?

Do you think that the FBI will be able to answer those better than the military? Will we get answers to those things? ROGERS: I would suspect that the military is going to do that portion

of the investigation unless there is something that we're just not aware of in the facts currently. That should be a military investigation.

And you have to remember, in this context, they had a superior numbered force attack a smaller unit of both Niger forces, as well as 12 special forces that were accompanying them on the patrol. Confusion can unset when you have contact with the enemy. So -- and it sounded like the battle lasted a long time. This was not a small firefight and then things broke up. It sounded like it went on for some period of time. In that there is likely to be confusion.

I wouldn't leap to a conclusion on why the body was separated, you know, the contact with the enemy tends to move. They may have been moving and then you would go back and police up your fallen comrades. So that in and of itself is not too shocking.

I think what we're going to have to figure out is, were -- did something happen that they were not prepared for in this particular engagement? And, remember, you know, our green berets are trained primarily for hearts and minds operations. They go out and train soldiers. They can -- they can put a hurt on you, don't get me wrong, but they want to go out and meet with those locals, build relationships, collect intelligence, try to co-op people in the local communities to help us push back against terrorism that is on the rise in Africa.


Mike Rogers, great to have your expertise. Thank you so much for being here.

ROGERS: Thanks.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there is a Tampa Bay neighborhood on edge because of fears that they may have a serial killer hunting people there in Florida. This man on your screen, the police want him. They say he's a person of interest after three homicides all in days. We have a live report, next.


[08:43:37] CAMEROTA: There's a manhunt underway in Tampa, Florida, this morning after three people were gunned down in the space of less than two weeks.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live in Tampa for us with more.

What have you learned, Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, the Tampa Police are no closer today to finding the killer who has terrorized the Seminal Heights neighborhood. I just spoke with Interim Police Chief Brian Dugan, who told me there's very little information that the police department is not sharing with the public. But the fact is, there is very little information for them to share. They have no suspects, no motives, no leads. A very frustrating process for this police department.


BRIAN DUGAN, TAMPA POLICE CHIEF: But I assure you these are linked. They are within one-half mile of each other. There was one -- the first two were within a few days. The next one was eight days later. And they're altogether. They were all alone. And it's, you know, the neighborhood is on edge.


HARTUNG: One important piece of information in the investigation. There was a video that was captured the night of the first murder of Benjamin Mitchell on October 9th. This video shows a person of interest. Police Chief Dugan tells me they're not calling the individual a suspect, but this is someone they want to bring in. Someone they want to talk to, to see what they could have seen. The chief told me, they've brought in a couple individuals who they thought could be that person. No information to bear there. They continue to look for the person in that video, Chris.

[08:45:07] CUOMO: All right, Kaylee, thank you very much. That is a frightening set of facts they're dealing with down there.

All right, another big headline for you. The Podesta Group says it is cooperating with Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation. Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta is chairman of the firm. NBC News reports Mueller's interest in Podesta has escalated into a criminal inquiry. CNN has been told the inquiry was always criminal in nature. The probe of Podesta grew out of Mueller's investigation into the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. How? Well, the Podesta Group is one of the organizations that Manafort used to help promote Ukraine's image in the west. So that is going to be another element of this investigation, which seems to be getting broader, but we don't know how much deeper it's getting.

CAMEROTA: So a new government report sounding an alarm on climate change and urging President Trump to act now. The report from the Government Accountability Office outlines the staggering economic consequences of inaction, saying the government has spent $350 billion over the past decade to respond to extreme weather and fire events. Early estimates show economic losses from three hurricanes and the wildfires this month are set to exceed $300 billion this year alone.

CUOMO: Crews are working to clean up an oil spill from a deadly blast on a rig in Louisiana. It happened more than a week ago. You probably haven't heard about it, even though it's probably the largest dump since Horizon. The volume of oil could be as much as 672,000 gallons. One person died in the explosion, seven others were injured.

President Trump taking aim at Republican Senator Bob Corker again, even though they're expected to cross paths today on Capitol Hill in a meeting that Trump was hoping to be about getting on the same page. The latest tweets that hurt Corker, and now Corker's talking back. We get "The Bottom Line," next.


[08:51:14] CUOMO: A big day for the president. He's heading to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators. The president's interaction with Senator Bob Corker, who's, of course, a Republican, is sure to be watched thanks to a couple of tweets he sent just minutes ago. The president writing, Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran deal and couldn't get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee is now fighting tax cuts. Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when I refused to endorse him and now is only negative on anything Trump. Look at his record.

Let's get "The Bottom Line" from CNN political director David Chalian.

What does this back and forth with Corker mean for the Kumbaya lunch today, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Listen, there is no evidence here that anything has changed in the relationship between President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate. It's not just Bob Corker, of course. John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, Mitch McConnell. You can tick through a slew of Republican senators who have been on the wrong side, from Donald Trump's perspective, of his Twitter rants. And so this -- on the day that he's trying to go and bring folks together to once again sort of go after one of theirs -- because it's a club up there, as you know, Chris, is probably not the wisest move. Of course, Corker is retiring and has sort of made a real public break with the president in ways that his fellow senators have not. And Donald Trump, as you know, is never going to let that lie.

CAMEROTA: This just in from Twitter. Bob Corker responding right now. Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president, hash tag alertthedaycarestaff. Which, of course, is a reference to when he said that it was adult daycare at the White House.

Wow, Bob Corker -- I mean, I know that you say like add him to the list of Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. I think he's in a different category, David.

CHALIAN: He is because he's politically free to do this in a much more substantial way because he's retiring, right?


CHALIAN: So it -- we saw that in his interview with "The New York Times" when he --

CUOMO: What does that mean, though? We hear it a lot, David. Help people understand that or help me understand it a little bit better. If you're not running again, you can then say things that you believe are true because otherwise what happens if you need to run again?

CHALIAN: Well, it's not true verses not true, Chris. I think it's more that you no longer are concerned about the political repercussions if you speak your mind fully, as opposed to shrouding it either in anonymity or keeping it more private conversations. You no longer fear whatever political backlash may be coming your way by taking on the president of the United States.


So Bob Corker keeps doing this. I mean this is why -- I mean you and I are now agreeing that he's in his own category. He was just on some of the network morning shows and he is really giving an unvarnished assessment of how he sees the president. So listen to this moment.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, look, I -- this is -- I've gotten to know the president in a very unique way over the course of the last year and I guess, like all Americans, i would have hoped that he would rise to the occasion and bring out the best in our nation, Charlie. Hopefully what presidents do is to try to bring the country together, to unify around common goals and not to debase our country, if you will. And that has not happened. And I'm beginning to believe that it's not going to happen and that --


CAMEROTA: So, David, I mean, in the halls of Congress there, because he's a short timer, does it matter what Bob Corker says?

CHALIAN: Well, it matters in two ways, Alisyn. One, he's a senior statesman from the president's party. There's no denying that. So having a senior's statesman from the president's party basically, if I can paraphrase what he just said there, declare the Trump presidency a failure is what he's doing there and having no hope that it's going to be able to turn around. Those are hugely reverberating words through the halls of Congress.

[08:55:12] I would also say that it is important because you'll recall that Bob Corker said just a few weeks ago that he believes he's speaking for many in his conference who haven't come out to say so publically.

CUOMO: That's the rub, though. That's the rub is, he doesn't get to be a proxy. One of the reasons that what Corker says is so kind of eye popping is because of people not saying it. McConnell, Ryan, I mean, you know, they would make a snake jealous the way they're able to kind of twist around to avoid saying anything about this president that in any way could be interpreted as criticism because they've got to worry about what's going to happen. But it starts to become deafening at some point, that no matter what the president does or says, Ryan joked about it the other night saying, you know, I wake up every morning having to figure out what tweets to pretend I didn't see. But, you know what, it's --

CHALIAN: He's going to ignore these about Bob Corker today, yes.

CUOMO: It's really not that damn funny. It's kind of his job. You know, that's why here's there is to lead. And this is the kind of moral agency they're supposed to be providing and aren't. So Corker looms even larger.

CHALIAN: Yes, Chris, I'll just say, if I was working in the White House this morning and I saw the president tweet this, the first question that I would ask myself is, OK, the president believes that there's nothing more important than getting the tax cut and reform legislation through. He believes that that is the path to success for Republicans and for his presidency in 2018 and beyond. How does what he's doing today accomplish that? And I would argue it doesn't.

CAMEROTA: David Chalian, thank you very much for "The Bottom Line."


CUOMO: CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman is going to pick up after this very quick break. We'll see you tomorrow.