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President Trump: We Were "Cocked & Loaded" For Iran, But I Called It off With 10 Minutes to Spare; Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is Interviewed About Trump Calling Off Attack on Iran; Writer Says President Trump Assaulted Her in the Mid-1990s. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:14] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: The president first said you will soon find out about military action against Iran. Then he took no action against Iran.

Now, new remarks tonight. He is threatening if it comes to war, quote, obliteration like you've never seen before.

So, what should you believe?

Good evening. Jim Sciutto, here in for Anderson tonight.

That is the breaking news -- in the wake of President Trump's decision to abort a strike on Iran, just minutes before it was set to begin.

And it is not the only breaking news. Also tonight, a new and very serious allegation against the president, a woman coming forward accusing the president of the United States in terrifying detail of sexually assaulting her.

We begin, though, with Iran. CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now from the White House.

So, Abby, the president speaking to NBC tonight and seemingly simultaneously promising the possibility of military action but also saying he wants to talk.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the tough talk from President Trump is back from President Trump in this interview with NBC News. And even as he explains his decision to hold off on that attack on Iran that was expected last night, the president is also saying that he wants to talk, and if Iran doesn't want to talk and wants to threaten the United States instead, that there could be consequences.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not looking for war and if there is there will be obliteration like you've never seen before. And I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk, good. Otherwise, you're going to have a bad economy for the next three years.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Any preconditions?

TRUMP: Not as far as I'm concerned. No preconditions.


PHILLIP: The president is using a similar strategy with Iran he has tried to use in other parts of the world, notably North Korea. But so far, Jim, it doesn't seem Iran has any interest in talking to President Trump at the moment.

SCIUTTO: Well, the strategy hasn't worked with North Korea.

Do we know exactly why the president changed his mind at the last minute? He tweeted that this was about the number of Iranian casualties estimated, but that's typically information you would get long before a strike was planned.

PHILLIP: Well, the president never wanted to do this strike really in the first place. He has been kind of dragged along to this conclusion all along and has been resistant to this idea that there should be military action with Iran. And so, as he came into this decision making process over the course of the day, he was getting the input from his national security advisers who were according to our reporting unanimous in their view that a military strike was warranted here.

But even while President Trump says that this happened in the last ten minutes, our reporting is that he was briefed on the casualties earlier in the day, but our sources also say that that wasn't internalized until much later for him. And in those last few minutes or even that last hour, the president decided 150 casualties was too much for him. He believed that an unmanned drone strike was not an equivalent to a U.S. strike that would ultimately result in Iranian casualties.

So, that is why he ended up at this decision that he, frankly, did not want to go into military action in the first place.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you.

There is new reporting as well tonight on the dimensions of the aborted strike and how this all unfolded with the people who would have carried it out.

CNN's Barbara Starr, she has that. She joins us from the Pentagon.

So, Barbara, to Abby Phillip's point, you've worked at the Pentagon for years during several administrations. Is it standard protocol for the president to find out about the estimated casualties on the ground just minutes before a strike is under way?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I suppose one of the things is there are no standard protocols with this administration. He says he found out just beforehand. Typically, you know, a president would be very involved for some

period of time in looking at plans for a military strike. But this one ramped up very fast. The president was concerned about this, but we also know that U.S. military commanders were very clear that they could not assure the president even with a limited strike how Iran might react and that it would not set off a wider war and by all accounts that was something that military commanders communicated their great concern about to the president.

SCIUTTO: I spoke to a senior administration official this afternoon who said that the president's focus now is back on sanctions, not looking immediately at military options. From the Pentagon, from your post there, do you see preparations to at least keep those military options open and how quickly could that happen?

STARR: Sure. I mean, you know, U.S. warplanes, U.S. warships will remain on station in the Middle East with a very high state of readiness as they have been for some time. Don't expect to see any of that go away. And therefore, if Iran were to conduct another provocation, they would be ready to respond at the president's orders.

And I think that's where we really are going into the weekend, Jim. The U.S. very much on hold now waiting to see what Iran does next if anything -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's quite a turnaround in 24 hours. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

The president's turnaround has drawn criticism, including from members of his own party some of whom seem to have rethought their views of just 24 hours ago.

Listen to Senator Lindsey Graham shortly after his briefing on Iran at the White House.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): All I can tell you, if you're not willing to stand up to aggression, you're going to get hurt. This is an enemy of mankind. If you're not willing to take this enemy on, you'll regret it.


SCIUTTO: Full of venom (ph) and vigor there. That was a few hours before this operation would have taken place.

Today, though, a very different message, some might say contradictory from the now hawkish senator. Quoting from his tweet: I appreciate President Donald Trump's desire to be measured and thoughtful when it comes to Iranian provocations. What will be the response if they follow through to restart nuclear enrichment? I hope the United States will make this a red line.

That's one senator's view or views in 24 hours the case may be. Now, some thoughts from a Republican congressman who also has red lines on his mind. He's Adam Kinzinger, who serves on a foreign affairs committee and who served himself in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is now a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. We spoke earlier this evening.


SCIUTTO: Congressman, on Twitter today you compared President Trump's turnaround on Iran to Obama's turnaround, famous withdrawal from the red line on Syria. You think there's a direct comparison here. Tell us why.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I certainly think there is a risk. Look, the president has every right to not strike and I disagree with that decision. I think the problem is how publicly this played outputting out basically an era, putting out a line and backing away from it. If you remember back in 2013 when the president said the use of chemical weapons will result in X, Y, and Z, the prosecute be is when he didn't do it, people turned around and didn't it seriously and there will be a cost.

I worry about in this case. The way this played out today is actually pretty hurtful in the long run.

SCIUTTO: To your credit, Congressman, you are a rare Republican who will disagree with this president. You'll criticize him. You certainly agree with him on a number of things, but when you think he's crossed a line, you will say that.

Why aren't more Republicans in a case like this where the parallels are frankly clear and you could say President Trump got even closer this time before pulling back, why does so few of your fellow Republicans, why are so few of them willing to do so?

KINZINGER: So, today, I've actually seen there have been a number, not everybody, but there have been a number of people that have spoken out and been concerned with this. But I think a lot of it comes down to he's the commander in chief. They want to support him. He's obviously the commander in chief of the same party they are and there's a concern.

Quite frankly, Jim, and you know this because you talk to a lot of members of Congress, a lot of members of Congress don't know a ton of details about foreign policy. So it's hard for them to jump to we should have done this or this should have been the response or the reason.

I think in the bottom line of this is if Iran uses a weapon to take out an asset of United States of America, they ought to lose that weapon.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, yes, the president is commander in chief, but President Obama was commander in chief and Republicans at the time took no issue in laying into him, President Trump among them, for breaking through that red line.

KINZINGER: You're absolutely right. And I remember in 2013 how vocal I was with my own party. I said you have to treat President Obama and this decision with the same standard you would treat a Republican president. You would give a Republican president the authority to do this.

And if you remember, there was some in kind of the extremes of our party that said we don't want to give this president leverage to do it. I frankly think that's happening in the Democrats with President Trump on some of this.

The reality is if you were here in 2013 and you made statements and you see the similarities, you have to be consistent. That's the message I send to my friends everywhere.

SCIUTTO: I spoke to a senior administration official this afternoon who said that now the White House is again focusing simply on economic sanctions against Iran, not military options. That's a pretty remarkable turnaround. This time last night, the country was bracing itself if not for war, for military action and now that seems to be off the table at least for now.

What does that herky-jerky if you want to call it or that whiplash on policy, what does that do to American credibility in the region?

KINZINGER: So, I think that remains to be seen. I think the sanctions are working.

[20:10:01] I think they are devastating Iran which is why Iran is lashing out like they are. I still, again, I will like to see at least the destruction of the site that took out this drone at the very minimum, but that said it's not happening.

What does it do to the credibility? I think it depends how it plays out from here. If Iran does another thing similar to that, I think they would be underestimating the president to think that he again wouldn't act.

I think the pressure is on him enough. I think he came close enough that any other provocation would actually lead to a strike probably bigger than was planned last night. So I think this will be judged in history. It may be a blip we never talk about again. It may be a defining moment either way, but time will have to play this out.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, always good to have you on the broadcast.

KINZINGER: You bet. See you.


SCIUTTO: There's more inside the White House reporting on this next. Maggie Haberman will join us along with someone who had to speak for the Pentagon and the State Department on occasions like this one.

Later, more breaking news. The author who just accused the president of sexually assaulting her and the president's reply tonight. Also, how presidential candidate and -- I should say South Bend,

Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg handled a verbal barrage from his constituents over the police shooting he has pulled away from his campaign to handle.


[20:15:26] SCIUTTO: As we try to puzzle out what went into President Trump's literally last minute decision to stop an operation against Iran that was either already in progress or nearly so, it is worth considering what he believes now that he got out of it.

CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman has some new reporting on that. She tweeted out this morning, I'm quoting now: A source told me 30 minutes ago that Trump was pleased with his own performance last night, loved being in command by ordering the strikes and then ordering the stand down and the president just tweeted it.

As always, she gets a telling quote. And she joins me now, along with retired General John Kirby who served as a spokesman during the Obama administration.

Maggie, I wonder how the president can credibly feel he comes out looking good here when he backed off from what appeared to be a red line by his own definition here and of course he laid into President Obama for backing off his red line on Syria in 2013. Is he convinced that he looks strong here?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that even if he isn't convinced, he's going to say that he is, but he appeared very happy last night, according to everyone I spoke with who was in contact with him. He felt as if -- you know, he liked the power of it. He liked being able to approve a strike and then pull it back while it was in process, but before anything had actually been fired.

Look, it's still not clear. There's a lot that you put it very well. We are trying to tease out this puzzle of what happened yesterday. There are still a lot of questions about what exactly went down, what this new information was that he got. The strike was on according to multiple sources and then suddenly it wasn't.

I know that the president said publicly that the reason was that he had learned about the loss of life. We've been told by other people he was told much earlier in the day about what the potential casualties were, whether he was actually, you know, felt that he had been fully briefed, whether he was fully aware of what was being put in front of him, I don't know. But I think there is still more to learn about this episode.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Kirby, you've been involved in meetings where military action like this was discussed and decided. Is it credible to you that a president, the commander in chief, would find out 10 minutes or 30 minutes, the president has given two different time frames, but 10 or 30 minutes before the missiles are fired in effect about the estimated casualties on the ground? In this case an estimate of 150 Iranians possibly killed on the ground. Does that make sense?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALSYT: No, it's not incredible in terms of whether he was briefed or not at that late time. I know for a fact he would have been briefed much earlier than that. Look, the civilian casualty or even just the enemy casualty estimates as well as any collateral damage estimates by a munitions package is always in the up front of the brief that's given to the commander-in-chief or to the commander ordering or potentially ordering a strike. It's laid out right in the beginning. It's like the first PowerPoint slide. Here's what it's going to cost in terms of potential life. So, I'm confident that he had to have been briefed very early on for this.

Now, whether he digested it, whether he internalized it, where he understood it, I agree with Maggie, I don't think we know. And maybe they did have to come back to him right before with another reminder. Maybe he did ask for that. I don't know.

Or it's possible he's using it for an excuse for what might have been a politically motivated decision. I don't know.

SCIUTTO: Maggie, this president has defined his foreign policy to some degree as to be distinguished from President Obama's because he will enforce red lines and he of course to go a victory lap after ordering military action against Syria after use of chemical weapons there. But now you have Republicans like Liz Cheney making comparisons to the president, this president not enforcing a red line here.

How does the president handle that criticism?

HABERMAN: Well, I think he handles it by rejecting it but I do think hearing criticism from other Republicans of that nature, comparing him to what many people feel was pretty valid criticism of President Obama for allowing his own red lines to be crossed and not doing much, that is going to I think bother this president significantly. He has not laid out -- he seemed to be moving the red line yesterday, right? His public remarks, and I think he did it again in an interview with NBC, he suggested if it had been a manned drone, then there would have been a bigger issue, but since this was just a piece of technology, that was not really the same kind of thing.

So, there seems to be a shift there, but I think he's going to plow through it the same way he always does and essentially ignore it.

[20:20:02] I do think the comparisons to Obama are going to be of his takeaways from this what get to him.

SCIUTTO: Admiral, if you are U.S. adversary, and yes, this was unmanned, but it was $110 million drone flying in international air space, the U.S. says, at 50,000 feet, it is shot down into a million pieces out of the sky and the U.S. response is silence in effect. Does that embolden further attacks?

KIRBY: If, in fact, the U.S. response is silence, if they do nothing, then yes, I think this will further embolden the mullahs in particular. But even the Rouhani government to some degree, if there's no response from the American government, I hope that what they consider is a multi-level response. Not just maybe economic sanctions, but you could do -- there's military actions you could take that are not provocative but very demonstrable to try to dissuade and deter the Iranians further.

I don't think it's a complete mistake that this all became public today because clearly the Iranians understand how close it came. And that's not all together a bad thing.

SCIUTTO: That's a fair point. Admiral Kirby, thanks very much. Maggie, please stick around because up next there is more breaking news about this president. In a magazine excerpt from a forthcoming book , a woman claims the president assaulted her in mid-1990s at a New York City department store. Her accusation, why the president says it is false as well as one clear untruth in his denial this evening. That's all coming up.


[20:25:29] SCIUTTO: There's more breaking news tonight.

In an interview published in the latest edition of "New York Magazine", a woman claims that President Trump assaulted her 23 years ago in an upscale New York City department store. Late today, President Trump issued a blistering denial saying among other things he had never met the woman and that she was lying to, quote, sell a new book.

CNN's Jason Carroll joins us now.

Jason, tell us what we know about these allegations and what exactly Ms. Carroll is accusing the president of and what has he said about her?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president is issuing a very strong denial tonight against accusations he forced himself on author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll at a department store in Manhattan more than 20 years ago. Carroll raised the allegations in a just published "New York Magazine" article. Tied -- she tied the publication of it to her new book, "What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal".

In the article, Jim, she writes the following, and these are very serious allegations. The moment the dressing room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, puts his mouth against my lips.

She then continues. She says I am shocked. He shoved -- I shoved him back and he started laughing. He sees both my arms and pushes me up against the wall a second time. And as I bottom aware of how large he is, he holds me against the wall with his shoulder and jams his hand under my, quote, dress and pulls down my tights.

However, the president says I've never met this person in my life adding shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves or sell a book or carry out some sort of political agenda. He continues: no pictures, no surveillance, no video, no reports, no sales attendants around. I would like to thank Bergdorf Goodman, again, that's the department store, for confirming they have no video footage of any such incident because he says it never happened. False accusations diminish the severity of real assault.

Trump then goes on, Jim, to ask for help saying if anyone has information that the Democratic Party is working with Mrs. Carroll or "New York Magazine", please notify us as soon as possible. The world should know what's really going on. It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations.

Despite Trump saying they never met, Carroll published a picture showing her chatting with Trump. You see it there during a holiday party in the 1980s. "New York Magazine" says they reached out to Carroll's two friend whose corroborated what she did disclose about the attack at the time.

Trump says the story is made up and, quote, should be sold in the fiction section. He was taped during a 2005 "Access Hollywood" interview saying he liked to grab women their private parts adding when you're a star, they let you do it.

CNN has reached out to Carroll, but, Jim, she has yet to respond.

SCIUTTO: Jason Carroll, thank you. Disturbing allegations there.

Joining me now, again, Maggie Haberman. She covered the president long before he became commander-in-chief.

So, Maggie, here we are again, sadly another woman accusing the president not just of sexually assaulting and groping him, more serious allegations this time around. Physical force here. Your reaction?

HABERMAN: Look, these are obviously very disturbing allegations and they are very serious and it is not the first time this president has been accused of misconduct of some kind or another with women. We certainly know about the "Access Hollywood" tape.

I -- he certainly has the right to defend himself and his statement is more forceful than his statements have been on some of these in the past. But he has one thing that he tends to do with regularity which is to say he's never met someone when there's photographic evidence he has. And this is another example of it and it doesn't help his case when he's trying to, you know, fight back against a very serious allegation.

SCIUTTO: And for folks who might be seeing this picture for the first time, she is the woman on the left just over Trump's right shoulder, the blonde woman. She is the one who has made this allegation.

You mentioned his response. It is forceful. It hits back on a number of levels here. But on that one point saying he never met when there is photographic evidence, but also alleging a political motivation here even comparing this to what happened to Brett Kavanaugh. It's sort of a greatest hits of the president's defenses, is it not,

when faced with allegations like this?


HABERMAN: It is. I mean, but I also think that you have to look at it in the context of his -- where we are right now in terms of the election cycle and I think that's the prism for that response.

You know, there was a part if where it talked about if anyone knows if she's working with the Democrats, please let me know or something to that effect. And I think you are increasingly going to see any allegation, whether it's this kind or something else. I think you're going to see the President or his aides suggesting that it is part of a broader effort to undermine him.

SCIUTTO: No question. The other part of the President's statement which is notable, of course, is this claim. "All should condemn false accusations and any actual assault in the strongest possible terms." I mean, kind of claiming the mantle as it were to say that, well, you know, this is -- you know, I want to defend the actual victims of sexual assault.

HABERMAN: There has been some asymmetry for how the Republican Party broadly has dealt with accusations of misconduct when it has been among somebody who is known among Democrats like Harvey Weinstein and the way that they're drawing the line on that is he has been charged with something.

It's not the same when someone hasn't been charged such as Steve Wynn, the casino magnet and friend of the President who, you know, was recently -- he was basically kicked off of the RNC's fundraising, but still was around and still a donor, and why they are sort of suggesting this is not the same as what the President has been accused of.

I think that this President is aware and I think that his team is aware that he has trouble with women voters and they are looking to try to address that in any way they can.

SCIUTTO: No question. Everything through a political lens at this point.


SCIUTTO: Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up ahead, it is one of the intelligence community's least contested findings after the 2016 election. President Trump's attorney general is reportedly pulling in threats, trying to see if there are disagreements among analysts who produced those findings. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:35:45] SCIUTTO: President Trump's attorney general appears to be looking into a high confidence finding of the U.S. intelligence community assessment of the 2016 election that Russia did indeed interfere specifically for the benefit of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.

"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that William Barr is now looking at whether there were disagreements among the intelligence analysts who produced that assessment. And we'll also see if there was a political motive for those findings and that this is making the intelligence community nervous.

Joining me now is retired Lieutenant General James Clapper. He was, of course, the director of National Intelligence when that report was issued. General Clapper is now a CNN National Security Analyst as well as author of "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence". Just 50 years of show in intelligence. Director Clapper, good to have you on tonight.


SCIUTTO: You oversaw this report as director of National Intelligence. Was it a high confidence assessment that the preference here was, one, to damage Hillary Clinton, and two, to advantage Donald Trump?

CLAPPER: It was with one exception. Admiral Mike Rogers, then director of NSA, ascribed moderate conference, which is kind of next in the tier and I certainly didn't insist on unanimity. That's his prerogative, his privilege. I think that was a personal determination rather than institutional.

It might be useful to understand how this report was done. We assembled about 30 people from the three agencies involved, CIA, NSA, and FBI, plus a few people from my office and we formalized a working group that had already started under John Brennan's office, who was then the director of CIA.

At no time, was there any windage or direction given for the outcome of that report? They were simply to comply with what President Obama asked us to do, which was to put -- assemble all the reporting that had accrued about Russian meddling in our political processes. I didn't even meet with this group until after the report was done.

Afterwards, of course, the two oversight committees, which is their responsibility, both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee scrutinized our report that we took a month to do. They spent months scrutinizing it.

In the case of the House Intelligence Committee, the Republicans took exception to that finding and the Democrats on the committee dissented reflecting the very partisan atmospherics in that committee.

In contrast, the Senate Intelligence Committee on a bipartisan basis endorsed the findings as well as the soundness of the trade craft employed. To have a prosecuting attorney go investigate the analytic judgments and findings of a bunch line analysts, and by the way these were professional experts on Russia that were hand picked up to be on this working group, sends a very chilling message to the intelligence community.

If you had a portfolio that might produce sensitive information that the President doesn't like, then you better lawyer up. And that is having, I think, a bad -- very bad vibes in the intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: And it's good that you know that. The Senate Intelligence Committee, of course, chaired by a Republican with a majority of Republicans which agreed with the assessment that this interference not only happened but happened to benefit Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

CLAPPER: I might comment, Jim, that I was around in the '70s, you know, 50 plus years in the intel, when those committees were stood up. And my observations are that the only time the committees are credible is when they are on a bipartisan basis --


CLAPPER: -- as the House Intelligence Committee was under the leadership of Chairman Mike Rogers, now an Analyst for CNN, and our Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. And when they're not -- when they're partisan, I don't think there's much credibility.

SCIUTTO: Retired Lieutenant General James Clapper, good to have you on the program tonight.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this evening, we will show you what happened just a short time ago when marchers confronted Mayor Pete Buttigieg in South Bend, Indiana, about an officer-involved shooting that killed a black resident.


[20:44:12] SCIUTTO: While most of the other Democratic presidential candidates will be at this weekend's "Big Fish Fry" in South Carolina, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg will be back in South Bend. It's his second trip home in the wake of a police-involved shooting there that claimed the life of a black man, Eric Logan, on Sunday. Tonight, marchers confronted the mayor in a sometimes tense standoff.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say it to us today in front of all these cameras that black lives matter?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did you just ask me if black lives matter?


BUTTIGIEG: Of course black lives matter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a racist?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about a black life? What matters about a black life to you, Mayor Pete? What matters about a black life to you?


[20:45:00] SCIUTTO: We should note that a short time after that, Mayor Buttigieg received applause for promising to send and sign a petition for the Justice Department to investigate the shooting. The mayor says that he will hold a town hall style meeting in South Bend to address the concerns of residents protesting this officer-involved shooting.

Now, as I mentioned, for the rest of the field this weekend in South Carolina is a big test and particularly for Joe Biden. The big question, how will the headlines for Biden about his relationship of segregationist senators affect his front runner status?

CNN's Jeff Zeleny asked Clyburn today if he thought South Carolina voters would blame Biden, Clyburn responded, "I don't think so, but we'll see." Well, that's exactly what "360's" Randi Kaye did today at a beauty parlor in Charleston, South Carolina and here's what voters told her.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At "Designs by Liz Salon" in Charleston, South Carolina, pampering and politics go hand in hand.

(on camera) What did you think about Biden's comments?

PATRICE GORDON, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I was a little bit disappointed in what he said, but I think he is one of those people who speak his mind and sometimes he can put his foot in his mouth.

KAYE (voice-over): Not all of these South Carolina voters are so happy with Joe Biden after his comments about working with segregationist senators.


KAYE: Bertha Middleton was especially offended calling Biden's comments racist.

(on camera) Biden has said there's not a racist bone in his body. Do you believe that?

MIDDLETON: Not at all. If there wasn't a racist bone in his body, he wouldn't have made some of the comments that he made.

KAYE (voice-over): J. Denise Cromwell isn't bothered at all.


KAYE (on camera): You don't think his comments were racially insensitive?

CROMWELL: I don't think so.

KAYE: Why not?

CROMWELL: Because we all have to look at that and stop being so sensitive about race. I mean, I'm black.

KAYE (voice-over): This voter wasn't offended either, but says Biden could have chosen his words more carefully.

(on camera) So Biden has said it was just to prove the point that he could work with others. Do you think he could have found maybe a better example than these two senators to prove the point?


KAYE (voice-over): Still, for Bertha Middleton, even eight years alongside Barack Obama isn't enough to ignore these comments.

MIDDLETON: I think he really feels that a lot of African-Americans are still going to be on his side because he was vice president for Obama, so we have to get away from that.

KAYE: For some in this group, Biden's use of the word boy in describing his conversation with a segregationist senator was especially hurtful.


LOCKE: It has been one of those words that was -- I consider derogatory. That was always something that was demeaning. It didn't promote African-American men.

KAYE: Within this group, the older voters surprisingly forgiving of Biden's remarks.

(on camera) Were you offended by that?

KIDD: Not really, because I know that having lived in the south for so many years, that's a common thing with a lot of people of the other race with my age. I just kind of overlook it, because the younger people today don't really seem to have a problem with that, because they didn't go through what we went through during the civil rights movement and what not.

KAYE: Does this change your opinion of Joe Biden? Would this make you not want to vote for him?

GORDON: No, it doesn't.

KAYE: Do you like him as a candidate?


KAYE (voice-over): Most in this group are still undecided, but if Joe Biden does become the nominee, they will support him.

KIDD: He would certainly be an asset. He would be better than what we have now. That's for sure.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Charleston, South Carolina.


SCIUTTO: "Cuomo Prime Time" is up next. Chris, my brother, got anything good in your hour tonight?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's good to see you. Yes. We have U.S. senator Doug Jones, friend of Joe Biden. But I want to talk to him about Iran, specifically an issue that you've been a real mentor to me in the past, the authorization for the use of military force.

There's going to be an argument now about -- well, it's a good thing this was averted unless, you know, you're Sean Hannity or some on the right who are saying that we have Obama, we look weak. Where was the authorization for the President to do this without going to Congress?

Pelosi said he needs to come to us. The Republicans are reliably quiet, but why aren't they up and down screaming, "Don't do this again. You have to come to us. The constitution says it. The law says it." So where is the U.S. Senator Doug Jones on it? We'll go through it with that.

We will talk about the Biden issue and whether or not it still matters after tonight in South Carolina at the "Big Fish Fry" that they're at down there for Clyburn, so we'll take it all on.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Then try to resurrect the al-Qaeda resolution from 2001 (INAUDIBLE) is Iran.

CUOMO: That's exactly right.

SCIUTTO: Chris, I'm glad you're talking about it. We're going to see you in a few minutes.

Coming up next this hour, a look at a pioneer, the only woman in launch control for that historic Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.


[20:53:52] SCIUTTO: The new CNN film "Apollo 11" debuts this weekend with never-before-seen footage of that remarkable mission. Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the monumental flight to the Moon and the first two people to set foot on its surface, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Like Armstrong and Aldrin, nearly everyone involved were male and white. Here's "360's" Randi Kaye again tonight with the stories of another space pioneer, the only woman in launch control at liftoff.


JOHN F. KENNEDY, 35TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

KAYE (voice-over): The space program in the early '60s was dominated by men. But during the historic launch of Apollo 11 on July 16th, 1969, one woman stood out in a sea of men in the control room, 28- year-old JoAnn Morgan.

JOANN MORGAN, FIRST WOMAN IN LAUNCH CONTROL DURING APOLLO 11: I was the instrumentation controller. The instrumentation controller needs to know is there a problem, if so, I need to tell the right people in the test team.

[20:55:05] KAYE (on camera): So how did you end up the only woman in the firing room during the launch for Apollo 11?

MORGAN: My director of information systems called me in and he said, "You're our best communicator. We're going to have you on the (INAUDIBLE)." Later I found out he had to go and convince the center director, Dr. Kurt Debus, that it was going to be OK.

KAYE: Do you think it had to go all the way up to the top for the men that were in the firing room?

MORGAN: Oh, heck, no.

KAYE: Exactly.

MORGAN: No, no. No, I don't think so.

KAYE (voice-over): Growing up, JoAnn had a love for science and learning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: JoAnn was an unsociable (ph) reader. In fact, she skipped the first grade. She would not want a doll for Christmas. She had much rather have a chemistry set or one of those erector sets.

KAYE: At 17, JoAnn interned at the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency and went on to become the first female engineer at Cape Canaveral.

(on camera) So what was it like when you first started at NASA?

MORGAN: It was pretty intense. It was all men and a lot of the buildings I worked in didn't have ladies restrooms.

KAYE (voice-over): Just like the women in the movie "Hidden Figures," JoAnn had to go to a different building or use the men's room.

MORGAN: Sometimes during tests, the guard was just right. He'd come over and say, "You need a little break, I'll police the men's room."

KAYE: When JoAnn first started working in the firing room, she also got some obscene phone calls.

MORGAN: One time when one of them came through, I slammed the phone down and one of the television operators from the station downstairs came up and he said, "Is something wrong? Is something wrong?" And I said, "Yes, an obscene phone call." But I never let myself feel like an object. I was not going to be an object, you know. I just had too much fearlessness in me to let that be any kind of deterrent.

KAYE: Roy Tharpe sat next to JoAnn in the firing room.

ROY THARPE, SPACE GATEWAY SUPPORT PRESIDENT: We're all men and JoAnn was there and, you know, she was a looker. You could never pull anything over on her because she would take and cut you to pieces because technically she was extremely competent.

KAYE (on camera): Were there some men who didn't want her in there?

THARPE: Right. But there was no doubt about it, she had the moxie of what it took to be in a position of being the only woman in the firing room for Apollo 11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have main engine starts, four, three, two, one, zero, liftoff.

MORGAN: I got to feel the launch, the vibration of the liftoff once the shockwave hit the building. The false floor shook, my console shook. The (INAUDIBLE) was so slow. It just lumbers and you think, "Oh, God, it's never going to get off the ground." It just creeps and creeps. And then once it's gone, it is like, "OK. Come on, engine, you just burn perfectly for me."

KAYE: Where did you watch the actual Moon landing?

MORGAN: My husband was a school teacher and he was wanting to go on a fishing trip and that evening we had a great dinner and a bottle of champagne and we went back to watched it on T.V. with everybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) here, the eagle has landed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.

MORGAN: We are sitting there watching and it was just so dramatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

MORGAN: And my husband looked at me and he said, "You are going to be in the history books."

KAYE (voice-over): After Apollo 11, JoAnn's career took off. Over 45 years from 1958 to 2003, she continued to break barriers and became the first female senior executive at the Kennedy Space Center. THARPE: When you looked at JoAnn and the way she worked the politics and the way she did things, she had greatness.

KAYE (on camera): Do you think that you would be where you are today without someone like JoAnn Morgan?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't. She was a champion for me. So she's an inspiration to all of us to say that you can do this.

KAYE: You've been described as fearless. Where does that come from?

MORGAN: I think it comes from that tiny little child, seeing my dad go off to war and my dad turning around and saying, "Little Jo, you're in charge." He saluted and off he went. And my grandmother said, "I saw you get your bossy on."

KAYE: Did you get your bossy on at NASA?

MORGAN: Yes, I did. I had to get my bossy on sometimes.

I've always play piano and for many years I thought I was going to be a piano teacher, but my track changed after my dad moved us to Florida and I saw rocket launches.

KAYE: You're retired now in Montana, but there was a point where you actually wanted to retire on Mars.

MORGAN: Well, I thought they should have a geriatric program so that in 15 years ago I would have been a volunteer.

KAYE: So when you come outside and you look at the mood at night here, what do you think?

MORGAN: I get to help put 12 people to walk on that Moon. I love telling everybody about it, too.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Bigfork, Montana.


SCIUTTO: If you want to have goosebumps, watch that film. The news continues this hour. I'll hand it over to Chris Cuomo for "Cuomo Prime Time.