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Clinton to Speak to Media Soon; Obama Says Trump Not Qualified to be President; Trump Praises Putin Leadership; Clinton, Trump Tackle National Security at Forum; Johnson: What is Aleppo?; Trump Defends Tweet on Military Sexual Assault. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 8, 2016 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:48] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Any minute now, Hillary Clinton is set to speak to reporters before returning to the campaign trail in the critical swing state of North Carolina. These are live pictures from the Westchester County Airport in New York where we're awaiting Clinton to make some remarks. We see the podium is set up.

This comes as President Obama slams Donald Trump as uninformed and unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief just hours after Trump and Hillary Clinton took part in a forum on national security, the audience filled with current and former military officials. Some of whom, Trump says, have been unable to do their jobs due to the current administration.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it is embarrassing for our country. You have a force of 30,000 or so people, nobody really knows, but probably 30,000 people. And I can just see the great, as an example, General George Patton spinning in his grave.


COSTELLO: OK. So President Obama offered this response from Laos where he was attending the summit of Southeast Asia Nations. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last night, sir, Donald Trump said Vladimir Putin has been more of a leader than you, and then he said you have reduced American generals to rubble. Do you care to defend your legacy?



OBAMA: OK. OK, OK. Respond, got it. As far as Mr. Trump, I think I've already offered my opinion. I don't think the guy is qualified to be president of the United States. And every time he speaks, that opinion is confirmed.

And I think the most important thing for the public and the press is to just listen to what he says and follow-up and ask questions about what appear to be either contradictory or uninformed or outright whacky ideas. There is this process that seems to take place over the course of the election season where somehow behavior that, in normal times, we would consider completely unacceptable and outrageous becomes normalized, and people start thinking that we should be grading on a curve.

But I can tell you from the interactions that I've had over the last eight or nine days with foreign leaders that this is serious business, and you actually have to know what you're talking about and you actually have to have done your homework. And when you speak, it should actually reflect a thought-out policy that you can implement.

And I have confidence that if, in fact, people just listen to what he has to say and look at his track record or lack thereof, that they'll make a good decision.


COSTELLO: CNN's Sunlen Serfaty joins me now with more on how Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's policies when it comes to national security. It was kind of a raucous town hall last night.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly was, Carol. And it was so fascinating because we saw both these candidates appear back to back at this forum, and it really turned into something of a small preview of how they potentially will handle themselves at their first real faceoff at the debate later this month, both trying to gain the upper hand on the big question, who is ready to be Commander-in-Chief.


SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump drumming up more controversy.

TRUMP: The man has very strong control over the country.

SERFATY (voice-over): Praising Vladimir Putin while trashing President Barack Obama.

TRUMP: He has been a leader far more than our President has been a leader.

SERFATY (voice-over): And attacking the performance of U.S. military generals, standing by his statement, claiming he knows more about ISIS than the generals do.

TRUMP: Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it is embarrassing for our country.

SERFATY (voice-over): But giving no details on his plan to defeat ISIS.

[09:05:09] TRUMP: I have a substantial chance of winning. If I win, I don't want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.

SERFATY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton making clear her plan to fight ISIS will not include ground troops.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to do it with air power. We've got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS. We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again, and we're not putting ground troops into Syria.

SERFATY (voice-over): Clinton getting grilled over her use of a private e-mail server while serving as Secretary of State and her vote to go to war with Iraq.

CLINTON: Classified material has a header, which says top secret, secret, confidential. Nothing, and I will repeat this and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice, none of the e- mails sent or received by me had such a header. I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake.

SERFATY (voice-over): Later, Trump repeating his false claim that owe opposed the Iraq war from the start.

TRUMP: I've always said, you shouldn't be there.


TRUMP: Yes, I guess so. You know, I wish it was -- I wish the first time it was done correctly.

SERFATY (voice-over): And declaring that the U.S. should have stolen oil from Iraq.

TRUMP: But if we're going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn't have ISIS. It used to be to the victor belong the spoils.

SERFATY (voice-over): And sparking outrage for defending his controversial 2013 tweet that suggests sexual assault in the military is a result of women serving alongside men.

TRUMP: It is a correct tweet. There are many people that think that that's absolutely correct. You have reported -- and the gentlemen can tell you, you have the report of rape and nobody gets prosecuted. There are no consequence.

SERFATY (voice-over): Also drawing criticism, NBC News Anchor Matt Lauer being accused of aggressively questioning Clinton.

CLINTON: I have time. I will --

MATT LAUER, HOST, NBC NEWS: I want to get to a lot of questions. CLINTON: I will talk quickly.

SERFATY (voice-over): And not fact checking Trump's claims throughout the events.

TRUMP: I was totally against the war in Iraq, perhaps almost as bad was the way Barack Obama got out. That was a disaster.

LAUER: People talk about you and Commander-in-Chief, and not just Secretary Clinton but some of your Republican opponents in the primary season, and they wonder about your temperament.


SERFATY: And afterwards, both sides slammed the other over their performance. The RNC Chair specifically called out Clinton for, in his words, being angry and defensive, tweeting that Clinton had no smile and was uncomfortable. The Clinton campaign shooting right back saying that's just what taking the office of the presidency seriously looks like.

So once again, we see here, Carol, both sides really speaking to this temperament issue and trying to play that up as they try and potentially be a fit for the presidency.

COSTELLO: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

We have to alert you to something unbelievable Gary Johnson just said. Keep in mind, Gary Johnson is running for President of the United States. Just yesterday, Mitt Romney tweeted that Johnson should be on the debate stage with Clinton and Trump. Listen.


MIKE BARNICLE, HOST, MSNBC: What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?



JOHNSON: And what is Aleppo?

BARNICLE: You're kidding?


BARNICLE: Aleppo is in Syria. It's the epicenter of the refugee crisis.

JOHNSON: OK, got it, got it.


(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Aleppo, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, we have American troops in an advisory role within the country of Syria. So let's talk about this and more.

With me now, CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and CNN Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. I'm also joined by Paul Rieckhoff. He's an Iraq war veteran and the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which helped host that forum. Welcome to all of you.

Paul, I want to start with you because you were very near Gary Johnson when he said, Aleppo, what's that? When you heard that, what went through your mind?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: What went through my mind is this is exactly why we need to ask hard questions of people who want to be the Commander- in-Chief. Last night, we had a fantastic conversation and the real highlight of the conversation were the hard questions from veterans, people who have been at war for 15 years while most of America has been back at home. So I think these are the questions we needed asked a long time ago.

Last night, it was Trump and Clinton, and we hope that conversation continues.

COSTELLO: Let me ask you this, Paul.

RIECKHOFF: We want to expand it for Gary Johnson. It should include Jill Stein. Anyone else who wants to be President, you need to answer this tough questions.

COSTELLO: So let me ask you this. Gary Johnson had no idea what Aleppo was.


[09:10:02] COSTELLO: He appears surprised by the question. Some might say that should disqualify him for running for President.

RIECKHOFF: I mean, the voters will decide. I mean, it is about time people started getting asked tough questions about Syria but also about suicide, military sexual trauma, V.A. reform, all the issues that our veterans have been asking to talk about for years.

So, finally, it was center stage last night. But last night was just the beginning. It was historic, but now we want that conversation to continue. The hard questions must continue.

If you want to send men and women to war, you've got to ask these tough questions. It's a whole lot easier than getting shot at, and that's what our folks have been going through for over a decade.

COSTELLO: All right. So let's dig down about the forum last night. Donald Trump said our generals have been reduced to rubble. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it is embarrassing for our country. You have a force of 30,000 or so people, nobody really knows, but probably 30,000 people. And I can just see the great, as an example, General George Patton, spinning in his grave.

COSTELLO: So, Barbara, you cover the Pentagon. You talk to generals every day. You've talked to veterans every day and soldiers actively serving. Have our generals been reduced to rubble?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, one of the questions that we don't have the answer to is what did Donald Trump really mean when he said that? We don't really know what he meant because he and his surrogates have gone on again and said that Mr. Trump respects the generals, but Donald Trump after that said he might start dealing with different generals. He has said several times or hinted or implied that he might replace some of the generals currently serving.

Look, who are the generals that are serving right now? Most of them, many of them themselves are combat veterans, multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have buried their young troops in cemeteries across this country over the last 15 years. If you believe they are rubble, I think it will be incumbent to explain what you mean by that.

It will be very interesting if he wins the election as the next Commander-in-Chief, to come into office to be Commander-in-Chief, and try and deal with the problem he believes he has, that they are rubble. Who will he replace? Can he really do all of that? Will the Joint Chiefs stay intact?

It is all quite unclear at the moment because his language is both contradictory and unclear, rubble and yet he respects them.

COSTELLO: So, Paul, you served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. I think the Commanding General at that time was General Petraeus, right? Is that who he means? Who does he mean?

RIECKHOFF: I don't know. He is going to have answer that question today. I think, you know, Clinton and Trump both got dragged into deep waters last night. They haven't been asked for specifics in a lot of these issues, and they're probably going to be issuing clarifications for the next few days.

That's what veterans want to rehear. They want to hear what exactly do you mean? So I'm not going to answer for him or any other candidate, but we're going to keep asking the hard questions.

COSTELLO: Clarissa, Hillary Clinton said last night, quote, we are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. She did qualify that a bit later, and there are ground troops in Iraq right now in an advisory role so they're already there. So did you understand what she meant by that? CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a

little confusing because there are rightly 6,000 ground troops in Iraq, an estimated 500 special forces in Syria. Obviously, she is trying to reiterate atone from the sins of her past for voting for the Iraq War in the first place, trying to come down strongly as someone who will not ratchet up U.S. military engagements, particularly sending troops overseas.

But I actually think what Donald Trump was trying to capitalize on perhaps -- and I may be misinterpreting here -- was a sense of disenchantment within the military that I have heard voiced many times with the current U.S. strategy in the Mid-east in terms of dealing with ISIS.

I know there are a lot of generals out there who feel that two years and three months after the sacking of Mosul, it is embarrassing almost that at this stage that Iraq's second city is still under the control of ISIS.

Now, what both candidates did not offer at all though, while both claim to come down so heavily on ISIS and really isolating that as a real priority in terms of foreign policy, neither of them gave any specifics about how exactly they intend to do that, what that will look like, particularly Clinton.

She is not offering any information about how her policy for dealing with ISIS will differ at you will from President Obama's, if indeed it will, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. So I want to bring Vladimir Putin right now and I want to address this question to you, Paul. Mr. Trump intimated that President Putin of Russia was a better leader than President Obama. And, Paul, as you know, there isn't freedom of the press within Russia. Mr. Putin jails his political opponents. According to the Human Rights Watch, Russia has essentially legalized discrimination against gay and lesbian people.

So this is the stuff that you fight for America against, Paul.

[09:15:01] So, does this make sense to you?

RIECKHOFF: No. I mean, a lot of this election doesn't make any sense to me. A lot of this election doesn't make sense to a lot of Americans. I think that's why both candidates are so popular.

I mean, the recent "Military Times" poll of active duty and military folks said that both of them are not acceptable for the most part to our military. So, I think everybody in America is scratching their head and a lot of people want it to be over. We want some common sense to come back in here and the only common sense we seem to hear from last night consistently was from the veterans.

COSTELLO: OK, so on another topic, Barbara, Mr. Trump talked about his intelligence briefings. Trump said he could tell by their body language that they were unhappy with President Obama, and his policies. Listen to Trump, and then listen to Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, on "GMA" this morning.


TRUMP: I was very, very surprised. Almost every instance, I could tell, I have pretty good with the body language, I could tell, they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.

ROBBY MOOK, CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Concerning that Donald Trump was, you know, was potentially sharing information that he learned in his briefing. I mean, but what was really scary, George, was he keeps talking about the secret plan that he has to defeat ISIS, what was clear last night was there is really no plan at all.


COSTELLO: Barbara, your thoughts?

STARR: Well, let's unpack some of this. These intelligence briefings, they offer, we absolutely know this. They offer analysis of intelligence problems.

They do not discuss recommendations. Because that's not what the U.S. intelligence community even does. They analyze a problem and present those conclusions to policy makers, who then work on the recommendations for dealing with a problem.

Mr. Trump seems to be saying he has an extraordinary ability to read body language and come to his own conclusions about that. Perhaps more than anybody else might have, I suppose.

We have talked to officials who have done these types of briefings before. We have talked to people who know the general lay of the land in these briefings. These are civilian senior intelligence analysis officials in the U.S. government.

And the way these things go, whether it was Trump or Clinton, they say to the briefer, okay what, do you recommend about this problem with ISIS, or Vladimir Putin. The briefer then, you know, pretty much says you must go to White House and ask them. Because they are the policymakers, they do the recommendations. It is not about body language.

It is about what the real goal and facts were behind these briefings, and that's analysis, not intelligence recommendations.

COSTELLO: All right, I have to leave it there. Barbara Starr, Clarissa Ward, Paul Rieckhoff, thanks to all of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: We are waiting for Hillary Clinton to come out and address reporters at the Westchester Airport. We're hearing she'll take questions from reporters. Jeff Zeleny is there -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Hillary Clinton is set to take questions from reporters at this podium right behind me, the third time this week alone she has answered questions. We'll have more coming up.


[09:22:42] COSTELLO: All right, we are still awaiting Hillary Clinton to be behind the podium at any moment at the Westchester Airport. Hillary Clinton is going to be speaking before she boards her campaign plane, and, of course, she is on her way to North Carolina. After that of course, when she comes out, we'll go back live to Westchester.

The U.S. military is trying hard to integrate women into our armed services. Just a few months ago, it opened combat roles to women. It is a topic I've explored, because there are many women eager to serve their country equally. So, it piqued my interest when Donald Trump addressed a controversial tweet about sexual assault in the military.


TRUMP: It is a correct tweet. Many people think it is absolutely correct. We need to have a strength and we need to --

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: So, should it have been expected? Does that mean the only way to fix it is to take women out of the military?

TRUMP: And, by the way, since then, it has gotten worst. No, not to kick them out, but something has to happen. Part of the problem is nobody gets prosecuted. You have reported and the gentlemen can tell you, you have the report of rape and nobody gets prosecuted.


COSTELLO: All right, so let's talk about that. I'm joined again by Barbara Starr, as well as editor and publisher for Rothenberg and Gonzalez Political Report, Nathan Gonzalez, and senior politics writer for "U.S. and World Report, David Catanese.

And I was looking for the tweet that Trump initially sent out, so that I could -- so I'm going to look for that as I address the first question to you, Barbara. So, do you understand -- do you understand what Mr. Trump was talking about in his tweet and his correspondent answer?

STARR: Carol, I think it is fair to say what he said in his original tweet, he was talking about the very significant number of sexual assault cases in the U.S. military, and had suggested or implied in related to the fact that women are increasingly serving in the military.

I am going to paraphrase language here. It was something along the lines of, what do you expect?

So let's unpack that all a little bit. First of all, women of courts have been serving in the U.S. military since the beginning, serving and dying for this country. Women in the military is not although in recent years, it certainly has increased. Sexual assault, it is absolutely worth noting that sexual assault cases are both against women and men who serve in the U.S. military. [09:25:09] The question is what is happening with those sexual assault

cases. Mr. Trump defended his tweet so that many people that was his words I think are saying what he says, when you put women in the military, this is what you get. That's a paraphrase of what he is saying.

He did go on and say that he felt they were not being prosecuted. The case has to be made whether they're being prosecuted enough? Are military prosecutors able to gather evidence and these cases against people who are accused of sexual assault in the military.

Certainly, a number of cases are being prosecuted. People are in jail. An increasing number of cases are being reported, because the reporting procedures are trying to erase the stigma.


STARR: -- of reporting those cases.

COSTELLO: Let me interrupt you for just a second, Barbara. Because I do want people to know exactly what Mr. Trump's tweet said because I don't think we were clear enough on that.

This is what Mr. Trump initial tweet said, "26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military, only 237 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?"

It was that last part that is controversial. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together? I guess that piqued my interest, Nathan, because rape isn't about boys being boys. Rape is about power and violence. So that part of his tweet, I'm trying to totally understand what he meant? Do you know?

STARR: Well, I think you have to take it at face value. I mean, he said what he said and he wants to be commander in chief.

Rape is a criminal act that must be prosecuted in the civilian or military world. Whether the military is doing a good enough job on that is something for people to decide when they look at the evidence and they look at the facts.

Can more be done? Absolutely. More can be done in the civilian world as well. But his words, you know, again, going back to what you just read, the sort of what a geniuses expect, it is a suggestion that perhaps something to do with women being in the military, and I think I am on very safe ground saying I don't know of a single serving member of the U.S. military man or woman that would agree with him on that point.

COSTELLO: OK, well, let's switch topics. Thank you very much, Barbara.

Nathan, I want to talk about Hillary Clinton. She defended her vote for the Iraq war, and I would like you to listen to what she said. Here it is.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I have said that my voting to give president bush that authority was from my perspective my mistake. I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes, I think I'm in the best possible position to be able to understand that and prevent it.


COSTELLO: Nathan, is that an effective answer?

NATHAN GONZALES, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, THE ROTHENBERG & GONZALES POLITICAL REPORT: Well, you know, I think this was a heartfelt answer by Secretary Clinton. You know, this is a vote that's been discussed for years now. Arguably, this was a vote that kept her from winning the presidential nomination in 2008.

But I think -- you know, the question was asked again, she brought it up. I think this answer is about keeping the Democratic base, making sure they come out to vote in November. I know being at the conventions in Philadelphia, she -- there is concern about her military or her foreign policy record and how willing is she to be intervene in overseas and commit troops, and that's a big issue to the Democratic base. That's just reiterating that base. It is a moment where we got an honest answer from a politician.

COSTELLO: So, David, Clinton went on to say that she would not be in favor of putting ground troops in Iraq or Syria ever, ever again. But she would intensify the air war and use the allies more effectively. But is that really a distinctive strategy than the Obama administration is carrying out in the Middle East?

DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: It is not distinctly different, although we have a contingent of troops in the region right now. So the question would be, what would she do about the current status that we have?

But, look, I don't think Hillary Clinton's answers are assuring on foreign policy for many on the left. I think progressives are very worried and weary of her. They are not sure how hawkish she is or now dovish she is because she kind of had conflicting answers on a lot of the topics last night in her opening answer, she said strength is the most important part of being a commander in chief. But then she later went on and said you know, force as a last resort.