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Two Years Since Trump Announced White House Bid; Russia Claims ISIS Leader Killed in Airstrike; Farm Aid Helps Farmers Save Their Land & Heritage. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- because we weren't sure how long that campaign would last. Now here we are two years in and there's clearly no end in sight. I do think reflecting back on that announcement speech, that was not the speech of somebody who was preparing for a long-haul campaign for the presidency, let alone to actually serve as president. And the style that you're seeing reflecting in his tweets today and public remarks today, I think you can draw a straight line from there to here.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, and how much things haven't changed then, right, from there to here.

Alex Conant, I don't know if I've ever actually asked you where you were, where you and Marco Rubio were during -- on this day two years ago. What are your reflections?

ALEX CONANT, PARTNER, FIREHOUSE STRATEGIES & FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR MARCO RUBIO'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I mean, I can tell you where I was. I was sitting in Marco Rubio's campaign office just a couple blocks from CNN's bureau here in Washington, D.C. And I watched Mr. Trump's press conference. You know, notably, it was the day after Jeb Bush had gotten in the race. And Jeb Bush at the time, everyone thought he was the front-runner.

BOLDUAN: Right.

CONANT: He was the one we were very much more focused on, and we thought Trump was honestly sort of funny. We didn't take it very seriously. The press didn't take it very seriously. He got wall-to- wall coverage, and of course, would continue to get that for, basically, the next two years. But at the time, we thought it was more of a distraction than anything. We were wrong. Obviously, we should have taken him much more seriously at the time.

BOLDUAN: Enough of a walk down memory lane, Kirsten. Let's talk about the here and now, and, as Alex was saying, when you look at tweets, how much things maybe have not remained exactly the same from the Donald Trump when he announced his candidacy.

You were part of CNN's coverage last night. I was watching last night at the ballpark, at Nationals Stadium, and it was a big moment, including when the president sent over that video message.

Here's a part of it for our viewers. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Washington, we have our disagreements, but we all agree that we are here to serve this nation we love, and the people who call it home. That's the source of unity. And more than ever, we must embrace it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: All right, but contrast that with the tweets this morning. It's a witch hunt, it's phony, and he seems to be attacking -- he's attacking somebody, and it appears that it is his deputy attorney general. How can he say one and tweet the other?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, because that was Teleprompter Trump, right? I mean, he was clearly reading something that was written for him, and I don't know how heartfelt it was, honestly, because I don't think that this is something that he really seems to believe in because of the way that he interacts with people. The way he's interacted really when you go back to that very first announcement speech, you know, was vitriolic, had a lot of -- you know, he famously talked about Mexicans in a very offensive way and really didn't have any -- wasn't trying to engage in any kind of unity. And I just don't think this is a priority for Donald Trump. I mean, he brags about, he and his people, brag about the fact that he's supposed to be a big disrupter and what they like about him is that he isn't civil. So I think the rest of Washington can final civility, but I don't think President Trump is going to. And as you've pointed out, already he's sent a bunch of tweets that I don't think anybody would describe as civil.

BOLDUAN: And, Alex, if you were sitting in the White House communications office right now, the tweets that he put out this morning, he's clearly made a decision, as Jeff Zeleny is reporting, that this is a strategic decision, to fight this political battle and leave the legal battle for later and tomorrow. If you're White House communications director right now, would you agree?

CONANT: I actually would 100 percent agree with that. I think this is the right strategy. Ultimately, Mr. Trump, President Trump's fate will be fought out, it will be decided in the political arena. It will be decided in Congress. It's going to be a political fight. It's not going to be fought out in a courtroom. It's not going to be a legal fight. So, when the lawyers go to the White House and say, you need to stop talking about Russia and the ongoing investigation, I think that's probably good legal advice, but it's bad political advice. And it's part of why they've been unable to get out in front of this story at any time. Leaks continue to drive the news and this story. We continue to learn about stuff from leakers, rather than the White House.

I think if the White House was fully transparent, if President Trump had a big press conference, a series of interviews, answered every question, left no rock unturned, just told us everything that was out there, we could move on. I think that would be the right strategy. His lawyers would freak out if he tried to do that because of legal concerns. But I think that the communicators, I think the other people in the White House would say to him, look -- and I think Trump intuitively understands this, that it is a political problem. He needs to fight it in the political arena.

I disagree with the tactics of the tweets this morning --

BOLDUAN: Right.

CONANT: -- but I do think it's the right strategy.

BOLDUAN: Today, a look at President Trump, past, present and future.

Guys, great to see you. Thank you so much.

CONANT: Thank you.

POWERS: Thank you.

[11:34:46] BOLDUAN: If true, it is a stunning announcement coming from the Russian government. Military officials there claim that they have killed the leader of ISIS, but we have heard this before. What does the U.S. have to say about this? What are they looking into? Details ahead.

Plus, all eyes are on a courthouse in Pennsylvania right now where a jury is deliberating once again on the fate of Bill Cosby for another day. Will they reach a verdict this time? Will they remain deadlocked? Our eyes are on the courtroom. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Major new developments this morning. Russia claiming it may have killed one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world, the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The Russian defense ministry says that its investigators report Baghdadi was among those killed in an airstrike at an ISIS command post in Syria. The U.S. says it cannot confirm the reports and there is quite a bit of skepticism among experts about these claims. But this hour, U.S. officials have confirmed that Russia conducted strikes on the day they say Baghdadi may have been killed. This morning, the Russian defense ministry released images claiming the aftermath of the strike in Raqqa.

An important bit of context from Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, though, Russia tends to use unguided weapons and these images appear to show, according to folks at the Pentagon, a very precise airstrike.

All of that in context, let me bring in people to talk more about this. General Stanley McChrystal is former commander of all U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and a senior fellow with Yale University. Chris Fussell is here, former Navy SEAL officer who served alongside General McChrystal as a managing partner at the McChrystal Group. And also, Chris is the author of "One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams." And General McChrystal was kind enough to write the forward.

I was not invited to write the forward.

Great to see you both. Thank you so much for coming in.

I want to get to the book in just one second.

On the news of the day, on the claims from Russia that they say they may have taken out al Baghdadi, there's clearly a lot of skepticism, General. Do you believe the Russians on this?

[11:41:03] GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, SENIOR FELLOW, YALE UNIVERSITY & FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, I don't know if it's true. It almost doesn't matter. It's important to take out a leader like al Baghdadi, but it's not sufficient. It won't change ISIS demonstrably. ISIS is an idea that's franchised itself, and so it's a little bit self-deception for any of us to suddenly celebrate and say, ok, now the problem will go away.

BOLDUAN: But still a significant symbolic victory, Chris?

CHRIS FUSSELL, FORMER NAVY SEAL OFFICER & FORMER MANAGING PARTNER, MCCHRYSTAL GROUP & AUTHOR: I believe so. Continuing to pursue the leadership inside these networks is always going to be critical, but I think, to Stan's point, if you hang your hat just on taking out the leadership, in a network, that doesn't really work because there is no top-down leadership. They're all integrated, so you have to continue to keep pressure on the entire network.

BOLDUAN: That's kind of the point that ISIS wanted all along, the decentralized structure.

Another bit of news is that in Afghanistan, we know now that the president has given over authority on troop numbers over to the Pentagon, over to General Mattis. And the Associated Press today is reporting that they are likely to be adding an additional 4,000 troops there. That enough to turn the tide, Chris?

FUSSELL: Well, it's hard to say from this optic. I think what's most important is allowing those on the ground to allow the clearance date they are to achieve. Numbers are arbitrary if you don't have that end state in mind.

BOLDUAN: Do we have it now? Do we have -- is it clear the mission in Afghanistan now, so many years in?

FUSSELL: I don't know that it's clear the Afghanistan -- the people of Afghanistan right now, and that's the most critical part of an insurgency. So, we have to make sure that we're having that direct dialogue with the local populations.

BOLDUAN: What's your view, in general, of the president giving over the responsibility on troop movements to General Mattis, additional troop numbers? Is that his responsibility?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's important he give troop number responsibility to Secretary Mattis --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You do?

MCCHRYSTAL: But not the decision, because to put more troops in after a long period of decreasing is a policy change for America. It is deciding we are going to push the clock further, we're going to stay involved longer, we are going to engage the American people and the Afghan people. That's a presidential-level decision that he has to own.

BOLDUAN: On the book, "One Mission," Chris, how can you apply what's learned on the battlefield to another industry, another field? Every organization is different. How what you learn on the battlefield can that apply to CNN or running the country even?

FUSSELL: Well, every organization is different. Every space is different. But we're all wrestling with one similar issue now, which is the information age. We're all connected in a way, and we can move information and ideas at a speed that would have been incomprehensible 20 years ago. We experienced this in the early days of the fighting, post 2001. As the insurgency in Iraq started to grow, we realized this is a connected network of individual actors that can move at light speed. So, under General McChrystal's leadership, they changed the way the organization was run as a globally distributed network to match that speed. Some version of that is playing out in every industry right now. So the big structures could and should remain in place, but you have to be comfortable as a leader integrating the ideas that allow networks to grow so quickly.

BOLDUAN: And, General, you've written about the importance of empowering everyone in an organization, right. But this is about leadership. Can you give me your honest assessment of the leadership of President Trump right now?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I'm not up close to it. But I think it's important that we build a team. And right now, what we see is a fair amount of dysfunction in Washington, wider than just in the administration. But that's really important. If we don't get the pieces connecting, it's going to be hard to have competent leadership.

BOLDUAN: You clearly both work very well on the battlefield together, but I was sitting here thinking about this book and thinking about talking to you today. How is the relationship different, Chris, getting across the battlefield and then sitting across the kitchen table with the general and trying to write a book together? How did that feel?

FUSSELL: Well, it's neat. We've known each other for 10 years. When we first met, I was probably six layers down in the military structure, but General McChrystal at that time was a soldier's leader and he was part of the task force. So everyone developed close relationships. Ours has deepened over the years, obviously. I still have a hard time not saying "sir," but you get over that. We teach together and spend time together in the McChrystal Group, so eventually have become more friends than partners.

[11:45:24] BOLDUAN: You can still call him sir. I think that's probably valid. I'll call you both sir.

Great to see you both.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much for coming in.

Coming up for us, soon, we'll hear from President Obama (sic) live from Miami. He's expected to roll back much of Obama's Cuba policy laid out, and we will see where do U.S./Cuba relations stand after that.

But could we also hear him talk about the Russia investigation? Look no further than his Twitter feed today, and we know that has been top of mind. We'll be right back and we'll bring that to you live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:04] BOLDUAN: This week, CNN kicked off a special series, "Champions for Change." CNN anchors, like me, headed out to spend time working alongside the people fighting for causes close to their hearts.

When you hear Farm Aid, a concert comes to mind. Since the first one in '85, their shows have brought in more than $50 million to help farmers all over the country. But they do so much more. Helping farmers like Robin Robins in Virginia. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: This is rural, small-town Virginia. I feel like I'm my best self when I'm back in a place like this.

I grew up in rural small-town Indiana. The house that I grew up in is the house that my parents still live in, backs up to an apple orchard. It's a family owned and operated farm. It was perfect. It was simple.

We all have a personal connection to farming. Farmers are part of the backbone of America. I've also watched the rise and decline of the American farming tradition. Very soon, there's likely to be less than two million farms in the United States. When I saw that, it raised a really big question in my mind: Is the American farming tradition a thing of the past? I hope not. But that's what Farm Aid is here for.

WILLIE NELSON, SINGER: Welcome to Farm Aid, the concert for America.

(CHEERING)

BOLDUAN: Farm Aid was born out of concerts in reaction to the farm crisis in the '80s where tens of thousands of farmers were pushed into debt. And Willie Nelson wanted to do something about it and he called up his friends and they threw together a concert.

ROBIN ROBINS, FARMER: Farm Aid has been a resolution for farmers. They can sustain on the farm. BOLDUAN: Meet Robin Robins.

ROBINS: I was the runt of six grandchildren.

BOLDUAN: Raised on a tobacco farm, today, she's the matriarch of a farm family. She's putting me to work.

We started in the greenhouse.

ROBINS: You can water higher, like rainwater.

Farming has always been to me something that is in my heritage. My love and my passion for my granny and my Papa. And it's honoring the land, honoring your heritage.

BOLDUAN: That's no easy feat here in Appalachia, a region gutted by the demise of the tobacco and coal industries. To save their land, the Robins family transformed their farm into an organic produce farm.

ROBINS: We refinanced our house to build the green houses. That was a little scary. We have to take that leap of faith.

BOLDUAN: Farm Aid helps farmers like Robin make that leap, supporting food hubs, which certify farmers and destroy produce to bigger supermarkets.

Robin has grown her organic produce farm to 24 acres now.

She runs its with her husband. No offense to Dave, but I think Robin runs the show.

DAVE ROBINS, HUSBAND OF ROBIN: You're doing it.

BOLDUAN: I got on the tractor for the first time. Learned from Dave how to do it because we were plowing the field.

What's it like knowing this is your family's land?

DAVE ROBINS: It's that connection that really keeps you here. I've been a lot of different places. But I always come back here.

BOLDUAN: I warned your mom that every plant I've ever touched I've killed.

It brought Robin's daughter, Logan, back, too. She just left her office job.

Farming drew you back?

LOGAN ROBINS, DAUGHTER OF ROBIN & DAVE: Yes. I miss it. Plus, I just like the whole purpose of it. I mean, we're feeding people. That's something to be proud of.

BOLDUAN: From Logan, I learned how to get the plants shipped off to market.

Next, probably my most challenging job on the farm, taking zucchini transplants and planting them in the field.

I am so nervous.

We're moving and the tractor is punching holes along the way.

You think farming is easy, I dare you to try this.

The perfect image in my head is the scene from "I Love Lucy" when she's at the chocolate factory.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: We were going two to three miles an hour and it felt like we were going 50 miles an hour. And get it right or else you're not going to have zucchini plants in 45 days.

I think I probably should stick with TV.

How much of it science and how much of it is luck and prayer?

ROBINS: Your agriculture is controlled by Mother Nature. She's the trump card.

BOLDUAN: I think one of the things that surprised me most since meeting the Robins family is all of the intricacies that go into getting anything from farm to table. They're constantly juggling.

ROBINS: Because you're going to have a lot of humidity.

[11:55:04] BOLDUAN: My biggest question coming here was, is the American farming tradition a thing of the past?

Are farmers facing crisis again?

ROBINS: They are, yeah. You have a very small number of very large companies or farmers producing the majority. But we really are focused on new farmers, young farmers to make sure that they continue to diversify agriculture.

BOLDUAN: Like Robin Robins, who, no matter what, is on a mission to keep her farm in the family.

Together with the big guns of Farm Aid, I have no doubt the tradition will live on.

ROBINS: This generation is kind of shaming my generation. I could turn all three of my girls loose on our farm right now and actually take a vacation.

BOLDUAN: This continues with them.

ROBINS: This continues with them and they pay it forward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Thank you to Robin Robins and the whole family and thank you to Farm Aid.

You can catch the special tomorrow night at 9:00 eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)