Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Nominee Withdraws Name after Comment; White House on Year-End Presser; Trump Talks to Reporters. Aired 8:30-9:00a ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:33:118] BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump nominated Dr. Dean Winslow to be assistant secretary of defense of health affairs at the urging of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. And by all accounts he is supremely qualified. Thirty-five years in the Air Force, six deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, years in public and private health practice. But as Winslow testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, he said something about the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that he believes sank his entire nomination.


DR. DEAN WINSLOW, U.S. AIR FORCE COLONEL (RET.): Now, I may get in trouble with other members of the committee to say, you know, how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a fully automatic -- or a semiautomatic assault rifle, like an AR-15, which apparently was the weapon that was used.


WEIR: Dr. Winslow says he withdrew his name from consideration for that post and joins us from London to explain why.

Dr. Winslow, thanks so much for joining us.

DR. DEAN WINSLOW: Thank you for having me on the show, sir. And, good morning.

WEIR: Good morning.

Let's take us to that moment. Put that moment in context. You said you had just come from England, where you are now, were thinking, reflecting, mourning about this tragedy where a former airman had shot up a church there in Texas. What made you say that?

DR. DEAN WINSLOW, RETIRED AIR FORCE COLONEL AND FLIGHT SURGEON: Well, sir, I think it -- to put it into a little bit more context, that I learned of the shooting actually when I got off the plane at Dulles International. You know, as a fellow Christian, I was very saddened that -- particularly that 26 innocent men, women and children were basically slaughtered in a house of worship. So that, obviously, was weighing on my mind. I -- you know, clearly, I had no intention of becoming a poster boy

for gun control. My purpose was to serve my country again, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and work with Jim Mattis, who I have the highest regard for, as his assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. So that was my agenda that day. And I was frankly a little blind-sided by Senator Shaheen's line of questioning about the mass shooting and the role that the Air Force played in perhaps allowing this man to acquire the weapons that he did.

[08:35:31] WEIR: Right. Did you know the day, the moment that you had put yourself in trouble with such a charged topic?

WINSLOW: Well, honestly, you know, I plead guilty to, sure, a degree of naivety, you know, never having testified before the Senate before. You know, I -- frankly, I knew that I might be treading on some toes by doing it, but I honestly had no idea that saying what is -- I think most people in the world consider to be a reasonable comment would have caused so much problems.

WEIR: Right.

WINSLOW: Again, just a minor defense of myself, that there was a number of questions that went on before and I was actually in the process of explaining systems failures and how that one needed to look at other factors besides just the category of discharge and the Air Force's failure to notify authorities of this man's domestic violence conviction.

WEIR: Sure.

I think most folks, most Americans voters, laymen out here love some more honesty, some more bare-chested, you know, candid testimony in front of there, so you shouldn't have to apologize for your beliefs. That's really what they're about.

But you went on to write this op-ed. You point out that you are a marksman, a gun owner, but you say, quote, assault weapons in the United States are not being used to kill, quote/unquote, bad guys in self-defense or provide a well-regulated militia, but for entertainment, mass murder and domestic terrorism.

What do you say to a member of the NRA who wants their AR-15?

WINSLOW: Yes, I think that, honestly, you know, someone who's fired the military version of that rifle, you know, it's a fine weapon. And I just want to be clear that I fully support the Second Amendment. I actually support all the Amendments to the Constitution. But that these weapons really are essentially weapons of murder. They are designed specifically to kill human beings. And I'm just concerned that if you look at every major mass shooting, or at least most mass shootings that have occurred in the United States over the last few years since the assault weapon ban was allowed to expire, that the majority were committed with this particular weapon or similar weapons.

WEIR: You point out they're not optimal for home defense. They're challenging for civilians to control. They're lousy hunting weapons because of accuracy beyond 100 yards.

Obviously this speaks to the power of the NRA over lawmakers in this country. But having been through his now, did you talk to Jim Mattis? Why did you feel compelled to pull your name? And do you think that the White House could have fought for you more?

WINSLOW: Well, first of all, again, you know, I want to emphasize that the reason I put my name in consideration for this position originally was out of personal loyalty and great respect for Jim Mattis, who I think all of us would agree who have served in the military over the last 25 or 30 years, he's the finest combat leader of our generation and a person who's extremely thoughtful and a wise human being. And I think every person who's served in the military in the last few years would just love to work for Jim Mattis.

The other reason was that I felt very strongly. I loved the 35 years that I spent in the Air National Guard, in the Air Force and I really wanted to get back on the team.

WEIR: I understand why you wanted the job, but why did you pull out is my question? Why did you withdraw? Why not fight for that job?

WINSLOW: Again -- yes, well, I think -- I felt that since my nomination was on indefinite hold, that I wanted that position filled. Again, our service men and women and their families deserve to have an assistant secretary of defense for health affairs in that seat. And I did not want to put Jim or his team in the position of, you know, having to delay filling that position, so I felt the right thing to do -- after I spoke with General Mattis -- was to withdraw my name and he concurred with that decision.

WEIR: Well, for those interested, your op-ed is powerful, and it is really an indication of ideological purity is deciding who gets to serve these days.

Doctor, thank you so much for your time. Merry Christmas to you.

WINSLOW: No, thank you. Merry Christmas to you too, sir. Thanks.

WEIR: All right.



[08:39:50] Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon detailing his complicated relationship with the president in a revealing "Vanity Fair" interview. Does he have his eyes on the White House? We'll have more.


CAMEROTA: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."

White House officials suggest President Trump will sign the newly passed GOP tax plan into law this morning before jetting off to Mar-a- Lago for the holidays.

WEIR: Democrats fighting back against Republican efforts to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan warning him, do not allow the House Russia investigation to shut down.

CAMEROTA: The United Nations voting overwhelmingly to condemn President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Ambassador Nikki Haley taking names and only inviting nations who did not vote against the U.S. to a friendship party.

WEIR: And Congress will keep the government humming for another month by approving a short-term spending measure Thursday. The bill averts a shutdown and extends funding for the Children Health Insurance Program, that's CHIP, through March.

CAMEROTA: Is ousted White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon considering a run in 2020 if President Trump does not seek re- election. "Vanity Fair" reports that he told an adviser, yes, but Bannon's spokesperson says no.

[08:45:02] WEIR: For more on the "Five Things to Know," go to for the very latest.

CAMEROTA: OK, President Trump leaving Washington shortly to spend Christmas in Florida. Will he speak to the American public first or will he buck the end of year news conference tradition? We explore.


CAMEROTA: OK, President Trump leaves for Florida in about an hour. He is not expected at the moment to hold a former year-end news conference, as so many presidents have. But Press Secretary Sarah Sanders offered this on Fox News.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You never know, Bill. We like to keep you guys guessing.


CAMEROTA: Truer words never spoken.

Joining us now is CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter and CNN media analyst Bill Carter.

Great to see you guys.


CAMEROTA: So, listen, the president has a big legislative achievement that he could tout. That would be the yes column for why he should hold a press conference. But then there are all sorts of other threads that reporters haven't been able to ask him about. I mean just go down the list of sexual harassment and Roy Moore and et cetera, et cetera, and that would be in the no column of why he doesn't want to hold a press conference. So which one's going to win?

[08:50:18] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think his lawyers certainly probably are advising him against going out and doing that, that formal conversation where there's lots of questions asked. I can sit right here and think of a dozen questions that all of us have about Michael Flynn's firing, about the circumstances around James Comey's firing, about all of these other stories that all eventually tie back to Russia, that all are unanswered.

We're at a year, an end of a year, where norms, so many norms have been thrown straight out the window and holding press conferences is one of them. Typically presidents do this all year long. We haven't seen this from President Trump. I went back and looked. Every year since 2003 there's been an end of the year, you know, homecoming season, Christmas season, holiday season press conference from the president.

And then back in the '80s and '90s, they were pretty common then as well. But every single year since 2003 we've had one of these end of the year pressers. Unless he decides to do it in Mar-a-Lago next week, which could be an idea. Unlikely to see this here.

CARTER: But, you know, I want to note, though, that he tries the keep the press on the string by saying, well, you never know, you never know. Which, of course, has the effect of, it's kind of ruining some people's travel plans, et cetera.

STELTER: Oh, I don't think anybody feels bad for us, Bill.

CARTER: Probably not, but it shows, you know, the lack of, you know, respect I think he has for the press. I think that --

STELTER: Certainly. When he avoids questions, it's another way to play to his base that deeply distrust the media.


STELTER: But, remember, if you're a big supporter of President Trump, some of those supporters you've interviewed, Alisyn, that are very supportive of his presidency and rooting for him, they have questions for the president, too. And when those aren't asked --

CAMEROTA: Yes, but -- it's true. I mean, listen, of course I think that it is very important for transparency and daylight to be able to ask the president whatever we want and whatever's on the minds of the American public, but they think that he communicates directly with them through Twitter.

WEIR: Through Twitter.



WEIR: And also he's got his safe space in Fox, right?


WEIR: Has he done any interviews non-Rupert Murdoch?

CARTER: Not since --

STELTER: Not since James Comey was fired and Robert Mueller was appointed.

CARTER: Right.

STELTER: Remember when Comey was fired, Lester Holt was there the next day.

CARTER: The next day.

STELTER: He said things to Holt that many people believe are incriminating in that interview. Ever since Mueller was appointed, no interviews off of Fox or off of Christian Broadcasting.

CARTER: Right.

STELTER: So he really is, he's sting with those safe spaces.

CARTER: Right.

WEIR: And, Bill, you made a point about the Super Bowl.

CARTER: Exactly.


CARTER: That is a -- that's looking out there. If he avoids that, it's yet another thing broken.

And, you know, if it was Fox doing the game, I could see him saying I'll do it. But with NBC doing the game, I think he's going to find a reason -- you know, he'll probably tie it to his NFL opposition and saying, I can't do it because the players, you know, haven't listened to the public.

CAMEROTA: Bill, you just gave him a great suggestion.

CARTER: I did. Yes. Bad idea.

CAMEROTA: Even if he wasn't thinking that, now he's going to tweet that within the next half an hour, Bill.

CARTER: Now he's got the idea.

CAMEROTA: But that's interesting because remember when Barack Obama went on with Bill O'Reilly I mean when Fox had the game.


CAMEROTA: And he sat down. So, you know, look, that was not necessarily a friendly territory but -- STELTER: Right. Right. Obama didn't like going on Fox, but he did once in a while.

CAMEROTA: He went.

WEIR: Yes, that's right.

CAMEROTA: But he did it with -- right, he got big ratings.

STELTER: But, listen, maybe if Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan had a Fox News, maybe if they had a Sinclair, maybe they would only have appeared on those channels. Maybe every president, when given the opportunity in the future, will just be interviewed in what they view as their safe space.

But it is a new development with President Trump. It's very unusual that he's really only sticking with friendly pro-Trump interviewers. He's not going on late-night. He's not going on daytime shows. It's an interesting thought experiment, right? If you had a record-low approval rating, if you were disliked by the majority of the public --

CAMEROTA: I can't imagine that.

STELTER: I know, I can't imagine that.


STELTER: But what -- but what would you do? Would you -- would you be insulated? Would you stick only with your fans? Or would you try to appeal to the rest of the country by doing more than tweeting? I think that --

CARTER: One difference is he actually works for us. He has sort of a responsibility to, you know, convey information to the public. So their, you know, he could argue that what he's doing is really sort of another abrogation of his responsibility. He won't respond to the public.

STELTER: But doesn't it all come back to the Russia investigation, to the fears among his lawyers and aides that he's going to step in something, that he's going to say something that worsens the investigation.

CARTER: Clearly.

WEIR: But then sometimes he just can't help himself, you know, on the walk to the helicopter.


WEIR: A lot of times that's when he hangs himself.

STELTER: When he's talked about Charlottesville the first time.

WEIR: Yes.

STELTER: In the very -- the very early hours after Heather Heyer died and President Trump made the comment about all sides.

CAMEROTA: That was an impromptu presser.

CARTER: That was --

STELTER: That was an impromptu presser.


STELTER: It wasn't something that was formal. You know, he just -- he just -- he just kind of came out. We see the real Trump in those moments when he's walking to the helicopter, walking to Marine One. We may actually see that today when he's on the way to Mar-a-Lago. Anything's possible with this president. That's why it's been the greatest TV show on earth, right?

CAMEROTA: Well, on that note --

CARTER: More or less.

CAMEROTA: On that note, gentlemen, Merry Christmas.

STELTER: You too.

CARTER: Merry Christmas.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for being here.

WEIR: All right, Bill, always great to see you.

"The Good Stuff" coming up next.

CAMEROTA: Let's do that.


[08:59:14] WEIR: Time for "The Good Stuff" now.

And a Kentucky grandfather, Mark Townsend (ph), took his granddaughter out to lunch and witnessed a man at the restaurant in need. His shoes held together by duct tape. So Townsend slipped off his boots and ate his meal in his socks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Granddaughter said, pa (ph), said, why would you do that? I said because God spoke to me and said give him my shoes.


WEIR: The 13-year-old who witnessed the exchange was so moved she took a picture of Townsend's feet, posting it on Twitter, where it has generated even more buzz.

CAMEROTA: What a wonderful gesture on the part of that man.

OK, I have a present for you.

WEIR: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I've got a Christmas present for you. It's called "Amanda Wakes Up."

WEIR: Yes, I've heard.

CAMEROTA: It's my novel about an idealist journalist navigating her way through the topsy-turvy cable news world.

[09:00:04] WEIR: Perfect. I've been wanting to get this.

CAMEROTA: You're so sweet.

WEIR: I'm serious, every time I see it. Congratulations on the publication, but this is it.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

WEIR: Merry Christmas to you.

CAMEROTA: Only three shopping days left.