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U.S. Officials: Sgt. Johnson Not Captured, Executed In Niger Ambush; Carolina Panthers Up For Sale; CNN: Trump Confident He Will Be Exonerated In Russia Probe. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 07:30   ET

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


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump also faced scrutiny for igniting a feud with Sgt. Johnson's grieving widow, reportedly telling her in a condolence call that Johnson quote, "knew what he signed up for."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MYESHIA JOHNSON, WIDOW OF SGT. LA DAVID JOHNSON KILLED IN NIGER AMBUSH: The president 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: The president refused to back down, tweeting quote "I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson and spoke his name from the beginning without hesitation."

How the ambush occurred and exactly what happened to Sgt. Johnson are still mysteries. In November, additional remains from Sgt. Johnson's body were discovered and those could provide further clues. But Johnson's family complains that they've been left in the dark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Why couldn't I see my husband? Every time I asked to see my husband they wouldn't let me. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: The Department of Defense expects this investigation into the attack to be completed by January.

Let's talk more about it. We have Sgt. Johnson's mother Cowanda here with us, and his sister Richshama. They both join us now.

Ladies, thank you so much for being here. We're so sorry for your loss and the ordeal that you've all gone through.

Cowanda, let me start with you. So what do you think now that the military says that Sgt. Johnson was never in enemy hands, he died in the initial firefight?

COWANDA JONES-JOHNSON, MOTHER OF SGT. LA DAVID JOHNSON: It hurts me because La David honored his job and to be told seven different stories, it really hurts me.

CAMEROTA: Let me stop you right there. You -- in other words, you have already gotten lots of stories from the military and from the commanders. Tell us some of the evolution of what they've said to you.

C. JOHNSON: I'm going to just tell you the first story that we was told as a family that La David Johnson was possibly captured and we please do not post anything on the media because it's going to interfere in his investigation.

They said that he did activate his GPS. They said he did activate his GPS and they said he was on the move.

CAMEROTA: So the very first thing you heard was that he was possibly captured --

C. JOHNSON: Captured.

CAMEROTA: -- and they could see that he was on the move --

C. JOHNSON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- from his GPS.

C. JOHNSON: They said an elderly man out of the village came and he gave a offer. He said that we have an Army -- a United States Army soldier and they was willing to make a trade.

And later -- and later that day we got another call that stated that if they take La David -- if they took him outside of the border it wasn't going to look good for him. That was Thursday.

Friday morning around 9:06 we was told that my son's status had changed from unknown to killed in the line of duty.

CAMEROTA: Richshama, now that they have this different story -- that they say he was not captured, how have they explained some of these questions like where he was for those two days? Why they weren't -- they couldn't find his body for those 48 hours?

RICHSHAMA JOHNSON, SISTER OF SGT. LA DAVID JOHNSON: They haven't explained it to us. We find out everything via social media. They haven't talked to our family about where was his whereabouts. They haven't briefed us the proper way like they were supposed to.

CAMEROTA: So tell us about that. How -- what are your communications with the Pentagon and the military like? How often do you speak to them?

R. JOHNSON: Well, my parents and Myeshia speak to them. They don't directly speak to me, of course. But --

CAMEROTA: But do you hear from them, Cowanda?

C. JOHNSON: Absolutely not, and to see -- last night I was inside the restaurant with some of your colleagues and to see the investigation come ahead last night, I ran out of the restaurant because they never notified us that that was the final investigation. I seen it last night on Facebook.

CAMEROTA: You saw on Facebook that they said that he was never in the hands of the enemy -- that he did in the initial firefight? They hadn't told you that finding.

C. JOHNSON: No one knew nothing about my son's autopsy. We had his autopsy since November 12th -- that's when we had his autopsy, and --

[07:35:00] CAMEROTA: And you had access to it?

C. JOHNSON: We have his autopsy results. We have everything and we never spoke on it. And to see them put it on the news last night, I think it was very disrespectful to our family.

CAMEROTA: You want more communication from --

C. JOHNSON: I want the truth. If they would've just told us the truth behind the situation from day one, we won't even be sitting here because we would have closure and we can move on from this. But there's no closure because it's like my mom always used to tell us. If you tell one lie, you have to tell so many lies to cover up that one little lie.

And if they would've just told us that he did get killed in the line of duty and he was captured, we would have understood. We would have understood as his mom, his dad, his wife, and his siblings because we have talked about this numerous of times and we always -- he used to always say I can't get captured, I can't get captured.

CAMEROTA: And why would he say that?

C. JOHNSON: It was just something -- we always looked at movies and we always -- I was -- this here is what I feared from the day he told me that he was getting ready to go to the Army. I cried -- she'll tell you. My face was white because I cried so bad because I read so many different stories on this.

And to have that done to my family it hurts so bad because he honored the Army, and I wish they would've just honored him the way he honored them.

CAMEROTA: Well listen, the Pentagon says that they haven't concluded the investigation yet. Maybe they don't have all of the answers. I mean, is it possible they're not trying to mislead you, they don't have all of the answers? C. JOHNSON: Well, just tell us the truth, you know, and inform us what's going on. When I call they say that his investigation wouldn't be completed until the end of January. That was the information that I have received.

CAMEROTA: Have they told you why his body was found a mile away from the incident?

C. JOHNSON: (Laughing).

R. JOHNSON: No.

C. JOHNSON: No.

CAMEROTA: What are your lingering questions?

R. JOHNSON: My questions -- I just want to know why did they leave him, you know. In the Army, we are trained to never leave a fallen comrade, and they left him. You know, they left him. Being a veteran and knowing the procedures, they left him and it's just why?

CAMEROTA: You've never gotten a good explanation for why he was left behind.

R. JOHNSON: No.

C. JOHNSON: We were just given a lot of different stories and there's no reason behind it, you know. They, you know -- I heard so many stories and now to see they say that he was in bushes and he was taking cover -- that's what I read last night. I was like now, wow, where did these come from?

R. JOHNSON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: How is his widow doing?

C. JOHNSON: Myeshia is doing great. We is a family. We was a family before this happened and we're going to remain a family. We have to be, you know, supportive and make sure that we stay --

R. JOHNSON: Together.

C. JOHNSON: -- a family.

CAMEROTA: And about all the, you know, blowback of President Trump's call to her that he wasn't sensitive enough and that it wasn't in as timely a fashion as it should have been, what are your thoughts?

C. JOHNSON: I was on the strip (ph) getting ready to pick up my son's body so I really wasn't really concerned about that conversation with, you know, President Trump and Myeshia.

I think that it just wasn't the time for the conversation. I think if we was home and we were sitting in the house eating and drinking and he called, it would have probably been a little bit more different. But, you know, no one knows what to say to Myeshia, nor me, at this

time because everyone is trying to understand the same thing. We're trying to understand what happened out there on that battlefield.

So, you know, he's human just like us and, you know --

CAMEROTA: You forgive it. You forgive the bad timing or the awkward --

C. JOHNSON: I think it just wasn't --

CAMEROTA: -- sentence or whatever it was.

C. JOHNSON: I just think it was just the wrong time to be said. He did say it but I don't that he was, you know, meaning any -- you know, trying to throw it in Myeshia's face to make her feel bad. I think that he just didn't know what to say to her at that time.

And I'm sad that it have to go to, you know, the way that it went because it took the focus of what really did happen over there to La David. It went to something totally different.

And I don't think nobody in the whole case from Donald Trump to Ms. Fredericka Wilson was trying to mean any harm to anyone. It just was -- everyone has their right to voice their opinion and that's what happened.

CAMEROTA: Richshama, tell us about your brother.

R. JOHNSON: My brother -- my brother was awesome. He was -- he was our role model. He was the oldest out of us nine and he led by example, you know. He just wanted us to be great and I don't know -- I miss him.

CAMEROTA: You do, I understand. I've read about the cooking that he'd do and how funny he was. Tell me some of your memories.

[07:40:05] C. JOHNSON: I have so many memories about La David and I can't really say anything bad about him because I never -- from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade, I never received any calls of behavior. He was always creative. He always found something to do.

And you know, we had -- it was a big family so we always had to sacrifice to make sure that the kids was taken care of. And he did -- that's why he learned how to cut hair, that's why he cooks for his family because those are the things that we installed in him.

CAMEROTA: Because he was trying to make extra money and so he taught himself --

R. JOHNSON: -- Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- how to do these things --

C. JOHNSON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- to make extra money.

C. JOHNSON: He taught -- well, I taught them the sacrifices that you have to make for your family because I gave up a lot to make sure that they was taken care of -- me and my husband. We did all we can to make sure that they was provided for and he did exactly the same thing.

He loved cooking like I love to cook. He loved baking like I love to bake. He -- we did each other hair, so he's started cutting other people hair. He was in Africa cutting people hair.

R. JOHNSON: (INAUDIBLE).

C. JOHNSON: He was cutting a little boy's hair, you know.

He was something special and he is truly missed. When I look at my grandbabies, especially La David, Jr., he looks just like him.

CAMEROTA: He sounds wonderful.

C. JOHNSON: He was wonderful.

CAMEROTA: And you deserve answers.

C. JOHNSON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: What do you want to say today to the Pentagon or whoever has answers? What do you want them to know?

C. JOHNSON: Can you just please honor my son the way he honored his job? Just be truthful with us if nothing else is going to come out of it. It's just -- we want to know the truth so we can have closure and we can move on. And we can't move on because every time we look on the news there's something about La David.

He always said he wanted to be famous but I didn't think this was the way he was going to famous. I got cards and letters and all type of things that he always put I want to be famous. That's why he was riding a bike on one wheel.

He just always wanted to be famous and to see him be a famous -- and the Pentagon is lying to us. It hurts. I just wish they'd just be honest with us and we could move forward.

CAMEROTA: You deserve that --

C. JOHNSON: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- and we hope that there's answers when the final report comes out.

Cowanda Johnson, Richshama Johnson, thank you very much for sharing your --

C. JOHNSON: Thank you.

R. JOHNSON: Thank --

CAMEROTA: -- wonderful story about --

R. JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- your son and brother.

C. JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you for that.

One of the NFL's most influential owners is selling his team. The man on your screen is Jerry Richardson. He is done with the Carolina Panthers after this season.

The allegations that sparked his decision, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:47:06] CUOMO: The Carolina Panthers are going to be put up for sale at the end of the NFL season after allegations of workplace misconduct by the team's owner.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Coy, what do we know?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Chris.

An NFL spokesperson tells "CNN SPORTS" that the league is retaining outside counsel to investigate alleged workplace misconduct by Panther's owner Jerry Richardson. This follows alleged inappropriate behavior by the 81-year-old Richardson.

The Panthers said in a statement, in part, quote, "The Carolina Panthers and Mr. Richardson take these allegations very seriously and are fully committed to a full investigation and taking appropriate steps to address and remediate any misconduct," unquote.

After yesterday's home game against Green Bay, Richardson posted on the team's Website that he plans to put the team he founded up for sale at the conclusion of the season.

Among those expressing early interest, Alisyn, in purchasing the team, music mogul Sean Diddy Combs who tweeted that it's time for diversity among NFL ownership.

CAMEROTA: OK, thank you. We'll see what happens with that, Coy. Thanks so much.

So, we have some brand new CNN reporting that the president is saying that he'll be cleared in the special counsel's Russia probe soon.

A former campaign adviser is here next on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:52:24] CUOMO: All right.

New this morning, CNN reporting President Trump believes he's going to be cleared of any wrongdoing in the Russia investigation it the coming weeks. Privately, aides worry if that doesn't happen, Mr. Trump may have an epic meltdown and try to fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Would that really happen?

Let's bring in former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo. It's good to have you. Best for Christmas to you and the family.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Merry Christmas, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, bud, so what do you think? Would the President of the United States really make a move on Bob Mueller?

CAPUTO: No, I really don't think so. I mean, there's a lot of reason to believe that the Mueller investigation is kind of off the rails right now, but I think the president trusts the process and I think his team does, too.

You know, in addition, I think the president understands that if he does this it will isolate him in a way that he's never, you know, seen before, and he's been pretty isolated along the way here.

And also, at the same time, he doesn't have the support in Congress right now to do something like that because if he does this his approval ratings will dip into regions that we've probably never seen before and have a really toxic impact on the 2018 midterm elections.

So, there's a lot of downside to this and very little upside.

CUOMO: And also -- I mean, it seems to kind of just glaze over the -- or gloss over the reality of what he can and can't do. He can't just fire Mueller the way he would fire somebody else. He would have to go through the Department of Justice.

He would have to go through Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein made it, I thought -- you tell me -- pretty clear in his testimony that he does not see Mueller as a malefactor. So then, if he refused to fire him, then he'd have to fire Rosenstein, and we know how that deal goes from the Nixon Days.

CAPUTO: Right, that's true. It would have to go through several different steps and it would be like, you know, telegraphing a punch. It would be very difficult to do. The downside would be tremendous.

At the same time, you know, it's not clear -- I mean, we're seeing this Mueller investigation -- some of the things going on with two of the guys, Strzok and Weissmann. You know, it's not necessary that Mueller, himself, is out to get the president. That -- I mean, he's got a longstanding record of honor and service to this country. But we're seeing the investigation, itself, looking a little bit dodgy. And I think since he's already fired Strzok for those texts with his

lover -- fired the lover, as well -- or moved her along, as well -- you know, that's already been halfway taken care of.

As far as I'm concerned, if Mueller and his team comes clean on what really happened with Strzok and maybe gets rid of Weissmann for what he did, you know, supporting the deputy attorney general and her insubordination and then attending Hillary's victory party -- you know, those e-mails and texts were declarations of their joining the resistance. And with those two fellows gone and maybe some more of a shake-up, we could have a pretty solid investigation and move forward resolutely towards its conclusion.

[07:55:20] That's your characterization. I mean, it's hard to take a look --

CAPUTO: Sure.

CUOMO: -- at what we understand for the facts, you know.

Strzok -- his texts were done before he ever got involved with the Mueller investigation. They got rid of him.

You know that just as we kind of brushed it aside when Hillary Clinton and her team were making the exact same argument you guys are making now during the e-mail probe that guys are against us, they have political animus, of course, they do. People -- human being have political feelings. They talk about it, they write about it.

This isn't new. It doesn't mean that the Mueller investigation is looking dodgy. There's no basis for that.

CAPUTO: Well, I think there's basis. At least people on our side of the fence believe that, Chris.

But at the same time, I've got to believe the person most upset about this, beyond Donald Trump, would be Robert Mueller, himself. I mean --

CUOMO: He got rid of them.

CAPUTO: -- the investigation is under a glaring -- yes, but also, after he did that he should have, you know, been more forthcoming with information. Congress wanted to know immediately why he had done it and for some reason they delayed that for a long, long time.

A stand-up guy would have been -- would have come clean immediately. This thing -- he --

CUOMO: You don't think Bob Mueller's a stand-up guy?

CAPUTO: I believe Bob Mueller is after the truth here and he's following the truth wherever it leads. And I think the president --

CUOMO: So then, he is a stand-up guy. CAPUTO: -- and his -- well, I understand that. But listen, the slow reply -- the slow response to request for information on Strzok by the United States Congress was not a good look for the Mueller investigation either.

I believe --

CUOMO: But you don't think it was him trying to stay above the political fray? I mean, that's what this is. This is politics.

Strzok isn't Mueller. He's not a main guy --

CAPUTO: No.

CUOMO: -- on his team. He's not making decisions.

CAPUTO: Oh, I disagree. Strzok had -- at the FBI and in this investigation had incredible powers. He wasn't Trump's special --

CUOMO: How do you know with the Mueller investigation he had special powers or considerable powers? Do you know what his role was?

CAPUTO: I'm just -- his leadership role.

CUOMO: But did he --

CAPUTO: It was a leadership role. We know that.

CUOMO: How do you know that?

CAPUTO: We know -- we know that it's a leadership -- because he was one of the highest-ranking people in the FBI -- the number two guy in counterintelligence. You don't put a guy like that in there to make coffee, Chris.

CUOMO: No, I didn't say he was making coffee but there's a big difference between saying this is one of the main guys in the probe and that he's making coffee, you know.

I gave you the coffee thing with Papadopoulos. You can't just throw it out every time you want to minimize somebody, you know. Even I pay attention.

CAPUTO: I like it.

CUOMO: So look, I get that it works politically but are you a little concerned that this heavy-handed offensive against the FBI and Mueller could come back to bite you guys? I mean, you are trying to undermine confidence in some of the main institutions of our democracy.

This Russian interference was real. We are apparently nowhere in figuring out how to stop it for the next time that it happens in an election, which is almost a certainty.

Are you worried about playing politics in a situation that could be problematic? CAPUTO: I don't see any difference between today and what happened during the Ken Starr investigation during the Clinton administration. You know, this is pretty normal politics as usual.

We all are up in arms on a daily basis now on live television, 24/7 news cycle, but this is the way it goes in special investigations.

You know, at the same time --

CUOMO: But what about some integrity to it? I thought you guys were going to be better, Michael, you know.

President Trump said I'm not going to play those games. I don't need their money. I don't have to play that cheap politics. I'm draining the swamp.

But now, you guys always justify whatever you do by saying well, you know, this is what Obama did. Well, this is what Clinton did. I thought you guys were going to be better?

CAPUTO: Well, at the same time, Chris, we've -- we're in the game. It's baseball. We've got to play baseball. We can't go in there and start playing chess.

Donald Trump and this --

CUOMO: But you don't got to undermine the FBI.

CAPUTO: -- White House --

CUOMO: You know, you don't have to tell people that they're like the KGB. You know, that's a lot of crap coming out of people on your side of the fence. You don't want to undermine the FBI, do you?

CAPUTO: I'll tell you, the biggest problem the FBI -- not the FBI but the special counsel has right now is the public perception of what's going on inside there, and if --

CUOMO: And who's feeding that?

CAPUTO: -- Director Mueller gets into -- well, I mean, listen, when it comes down to it the truth is the truth, Chris. We got these texts and we got these e-mails which were declarations --

CUOMO: And the guy was gone.

CAPUTO: -- of membership in the resistance.

CUOMO: That's how you take it. There were political opinions --

CAPUTO: That's exactly what they were.

CUOMO: -- about Sanders and Trump from Strzok. I don't see -- you know, I don't see you guys running around defending Bernie Sanders.

CAPUTO: No, and if this were an investigation into Bernie Sanders I probably would be.

But at this time, we still have a high-ranking person in this investigation who was trolling for jobs at Hillary Clinton's victory party.

This thing still has some more tinkering to clean it up. I think Director Mueller can do it and I think this thing can go forward resolutely to a -- to a logical end, and I think it's going to be soon.

CUOMO: Well, we don't have any idea of the timing. We know that there's an urgency on the part of the White House but we'll see where it goes. Only one man knows right now.

Michael Caputo, appreciate your perspective, as always.

CAPUTO: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: You're always welcome on NEW DAY. All right.

CAPUTO: Thanks.

CUOMO: There is a lot of new this Monday morning. What do you say, let's get after it.