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President Trump to Address Path Forward in Afghanistan Tonight; Does Trump Lack Moral Authority to Lead Country in War?; Police in Spain Arrest Suspect; Search for 10 Sailors Continues after Navy Ship Collision with Oil Tanker. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto in for Kate Bolduan.

[11:00:00] President Trump just hours away from shouldering one of the most somber burdens of his office, asking the nation to trust his leadership in war. The president in his first prime time address will unveil his long-delayed strategy for Afghanistan and the country's longest war there, 16 years. And he will call upon Americans to follow the so-called path forward, just days after his Charlottesville comments fueled weekend protests and inflamed racial divisions across the country.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House where the president just returned last night. Kaitlan, do we know what's going to be in this path forward the president is going to tell the nation about tonight?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's what we're waiting to hear right now. We know the president is going to address the nation from Ft. Myer, which is right outside of us here in Washington. And he announced on Twitter Saturday that he had made a final decision in that -- regarding Afghanistan after he met with his national security team at Camp David last Friday.

We know the president has been presented with a number of options here, ranging from pulling out of Afghanistan entirely to sending an additional roughly 4,000 troops there.

Now, Defense Secretary James Mattis was also at that Camp David meeting. And here's what he had to say about the president's decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I would not be willing to make significant troop lifts until we made certain we knew what was the strategy, what was the commitment going in. In that regard, the president has made a decision, as he said. He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people. So I'll stand silent until then, until that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: So this is a big moment for the president here, Jim. He's essentially asking the American -- America to trust his decision regarding Afghanistan.

And all of this comes after one of the worst weeks of his presidency last week, following the comments he made about the violence in Charlottesville. But what we're going to be looking for the president to do tonight, if he does decide to send additional troops to Afghanistan, is to really explain why he thinks that's the best path forward at this point. Because this is something he railed against before he became a candidate for president. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Calling for withdrawal at times. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our panel now to discuss. Wesley Lowery, he's a CNN contributor, national reporter for "The Washington Post". Eric Beach is a Republican strategist and co-chair of the pro-Donald Trump Great America PAC. CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart, also here along with Robby Mook. He was Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager.

Alice, if I could begin with you. This is a difficult time for the Trump administration following Charlottesville, but other questions, not just from Democrats but from Republicans, about his leadership, about his moral authority. Now the president is going to be asking to send, it appears, more troops to Afghanistan into harm's way. How do the American people receive that message from the president at this time in his administration?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Jim, as you say, after the week that we've had, it's important to do some type of reset for certain. And the best way I see the president can do that is to reassure the American people that there is a long-term strategy in the works. And that they can and should have the full faith and confidence of the generals that the president has at his -- at the table.

And that's basically what we're hearing is the case. General Mattis has made it clear that he supports the plan as long as there's a full and comprehensive plan. There was a tweet yesterday by General Nicholson, who is fully involved in this, and he made it clear that Afghanistan, we are with you and we will stay with you. Which sort of telegraphs the direction that this may go.

But it's imperative for the president to reassure the American people that they can put their full faith and trust not only in him but the generals that making their decisions.

SCIUTTO: Eric, let me ask you. For years Donald Trump very publicly called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Here are some tweets from the president, calling the war a waste of money, of lives.

How will the populist national wing of the party react if he does send more troops there? And I just want to ask you, how do the American people rectify those comments if the president sends more young men and women into harm's way, where American service members continue to die in service of their country?

ERIC BEACH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right. Well, I mean the number one job of the president is to also be our commander in chief. And during the campaign, there really wasn't -- Afghanistan really wasn't talked about too much. And, you know, but at the end of the day one thing he has to make clear to the American people tonight is what his path is going to be to bring that forward. And he has to demonstrate that type of leadership.

Secondly, I think it's also refreshing that we have --

SCIUTTO: But on that --

BEACH: We don't know, Jim, what he's going to say tonight because there hasn't been leaks. Right? I mean, I think right now we're speculating on him increasing the troop volume. But, you know, he also might have some other measures that appeal to really his populist base.

[11:05:04] But his number one job, he has to examine all of the options. And that's what he did this past weekend, and he's been doing for the past several months. And I trust that he's going to, you know, join and look toward, you know, General Mattis and others, toward their advice.

SCIUTTO: You make a fair point, Eric. We don't know the president's final decision. The talk of several thousand troops, and the 3,000 to 4,000 range, is based on what General Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, asked for a number of months ago through the Defense Secretary.

But let me ask you this, if the president has said in the past that the Afghanistan war is a waste of lives, and he sends more young American men and women there at risk of their lives, how do Americans rectify those two contradictory statements?

BEACH: I think you have to trust that the president has examined all the options that were on the table. He also said during the campaign that he would leave no options unturned, he would leave no stone unturned, when he's examining this.

So I think we have to wait to see what he says tonight in his speech. And, really, if he is going to send more troops, what is the justification for doing so? So I think we have to give him that opportunity.

SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, let me ask you, I imagine you have a different view of the situation.

But let's be honest, President Obama faced a similar challenge, as did President Bush during his time in office, this challenge of a long war, not going well, deciding to send more troops there. The surge for President Bush, the surge in Afghanistan for President Obama. But, of course, Obama getting a great deal of criticism from Republicans and Democrats for pulling troops out of Iraq at the time that he did, and that partially blamed for the surge or the advances of al Qaeda -- of ISIS, rather, there.

What's your view of this decision that President Trump faces now?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously, this has got to be an incredibly difficult choice for any president to make. And I actually think we need to give the president, any president, the benefit of the doubt and give them the space to make the decision that makes the most sense at that time.

I would argue, though, I don't think this was Donald Trump's decision. You know, he has an all-star team around him, in fairness, people who have a lot of expertise, not just in national defense, but in Afghanistan specifically. I think this was their recommendation and their decision. I don't think the president spent a whole lot of time on this.

And, look, you've rightly brought up the question on whether the president has the moral authority on this. I think he'll have a well- written speech. He's got a lot of experts. I'm sure they did a great job crafting it. He'll probably stick to the teleprompter.

But I think what was more telling was, you know, the president is the commander-in-chief. He has ten shipmates that are lost right now. And I think his reaction was totally inappropriate. I even question whether he really understood what happened. And so that's was worries me in the long-term. You're going to have troops over there, more troops now, putting their life on the line. I think the president needs to step up and rethink himself as a leader of these young women and men moving forward.

SCIUTTO: I think you're probably referring to the president's comments last night when he was shouted a question about the events of the USS John S. McCain, when his answer was that's too bad, in effect. Although CNN's done some reporting on this; it's not clear that the president had been fully briefed on that at the time. But fair point.

Wes Lowery, if I could ask you. Moral authority, it was a Republican senator, Tim Scott, in fact the only African-American Republican senator now serving, who raised the question of the president's moral authority just yesterday. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As we look to the future, it's going to be very difficult for this president to lead if, in fact, that moral authority remains compromised.

His comments on Tuesday that erased his positive comments on Monday started to compromise that moral authority that we need the president to have for this nation to be the beacon of light to all mankind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Wes, I'm curious if you, similar to me and my colleagues, we've heard questions like that from some Republicans in private recently. But in public it seems that Republicans are more willing to go out on a limb and challenge the president. Those were quite strong words from Senator Scott.

Where is that right now in Washington? How often do you hear that from -- not just from Democrats but Republicans? And how much of the challenges of that -- is that for the president when he does exercise what is his most solemn duty here, in terms of sending U.S. troops into harm's way?

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Of course. I mean, I think that those comments from Senator Scott, as well as similar comments although a little different, comments from Senator Bob Corker a few days prior I think were also important.

I mean, remember, Senator Corker raised questions of the president's competence. And again this is one of the most respected senators on the Hill on the right, who I believe is on the Foreign Relations Committee. And here he was questioning the competence of the GOP commander-in-chief.

[11:10:00] And now days later, that commander-in-chief is potentially going to send more troops into harm's way.

And so it is difficult, right? You have a space where Republicans increasingly being able to -- or being willing to challenge their own president in public, to raise questions about his competence, about his moral authority. Now, these are questions and things that have been murmured and talked about privately since the day Donald Trump entered the campaign. But now is being discussed publicly by Republicans.

And at the same time, now you have a president coming out and going to announce a strategy in Afghanistan, our longest running war, something that he has been all over the map on, in terms of what we should do and what we should not to do.

But I also think Robby raises an interesting and important point, right? The comments just last night, whether briefed or not, that came across as glib in the most judicious or, you know, giving a good- faith read of that, it did seem dismissive to have missing sailors referred to that way.

And we also have -- while I would expect the president to give a strong speech tonight, probably lay out an action plan, he also has a rally planned for Phoenix I want to say the following day, Tuesday. And we know how President Trump gets in these rally environments. He starts to ad lib a little bit, he starts to talk. And so there's also a risk, knowing this president, that he may lay out a strategy tonight only to undermine or contradict it tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: That's been a pattern we've seen before. When he's on prompter, like with Charlottesville, the message more middle of the road. And when he's off the cuff, we see what happened last Tuesday.

Eric, if I could ask you this. Folks like myself, who cover the intelligence agencies, have wondered this since the president has laid into the intelligence community, questioning its credibility, questioning its ability, there were times he even accused the U.S. intelligence community of behaving like Nazi Germany.

The question being when the president needs the intelligence community, or is relying on their assessments, as I imagine he is with this decision, he would look at the intelligence and rely on that in part when he's going to send troops abroad. How much does that undermine the president's credibility tonight when he says I believe this is the threat in Afghanistan, and therefore this is the response necessary, after he spent months laying into the credibility of his own intelligence community?

BEACH: Yes, well, I think they're almost two different matters. I think he was laying into credibility and under -- you know, he was believing he was undermined by leaks that were coming out from the intelligence agencies, and that's something that a lot of Republicans --

SCIUTTO: Not just leaks, though, because he questioned the intelligence community, really its ability, bringing up Iraq, WMD, and questioning whether Russia was really behind the election meddling.

BEACH: Many people did. Well, many people did. Many people questioned WMDs for the Iraq war.

So, look, Robby mentioned earlier, he has the best and brightest around him. His job as commander-in-chief is to examine every single option that's on the table. And he needs to take that into account. Candidate Trump may be different than President Trump when he's examining all the data, so he has to incorporate all of the data that comes from every -- whether it's from the intelligence agency or his advisers. And I think that's what he's going to lay out for us tonight.

And one other thing. I think his leadership is going to be tested both on the domestic and foreign policy front. But, you know, he made the right decision when he went into Syria. He made the right decision when he examined all options and put that on the table. And I think you're going to see a plan from him tonight.

SCIUTTO: Eric Beach, Wesley Lowery, Alice Stewart, Robby Mook, thanks very much for joining me.

STEWART: Thanks, Jim.

BEACH: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Quick programming note. Tune in tonight at 9:00 Eastern Time for special coverage of President Trump's address to the nation. Then at 9:30, a town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan moderated by my colleague Jake Tapper. All of this only on CNN.

And coming up for us, now the search for ten sailors after a Navy destroyer collides with a merchant ship. We'll have the latest details including hope for their fate. Plus, a new report says the Secret Service cannot pay some agents

protecting the First Family. Why it's been so expensive to keep President Trump and his family safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:23:08] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. And we do have some breaking news on the manhunt for the suspected driver in that deadly Barcelona attack. Police have now shot a man who they say appeared to have been wearing an explosives belt. It is not clear if that man is the 22- year-old Moroccan national who was identified earlier today. Police suspected he might be the driver of the van that plowed into those crowds of people. Thirteen people were killed. More than 120 others were injured.

CNN international correspondent Melissa Bell joins me now live from Barcelona. Melissa, I know it's early here. The police have been looking for the suspected driver in the days since that attack. Are they saying yet whether they believe that the man they shot just now was connected to that attack?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. No, there is no confirmation at all from police about the identity of the man that's been shot. Simply this confirmation, Jim, that a police operation was underway in this town, Subirats, which is slightly outside of Barcelona. And then that a man who had been acting suspiciously and was wearing an explosive vest, no word yet on whether it was real or fake, and that he had been shot.

But clearly we really are moving into the last phases of this investigation. They've been making tremendous progress over the course of the last few days. To such an extent that we now know there was only one man still on the run. All of the others were accounted for.

And we have a much clearer picture already, Jim, of really what went on. The idea that perhaps Barcelona was more threatened still than we might have imagined. This explosives factory that was found in this house that exploded accidentally on Wednesday night, and perhaps prevented Spain from living through much more.

As you can see, Las Ramblas tonight is once again heaving. It is very much, Jim, as it would have been last Thursday night at about 5:00 p.m. when the man who is still on the run careered down here in his van, killing so many people. As you can see, memorials have sprung up amongst virtually every tree and every sign post along this pedestrian street.

[11:20:04] And with the sort of emotion, there is also a sense, really, that things are almost getting back to normal here again.

SCIUTTO: That's those makeshift memorials, so familiar. We've seen them now in Paris twice, Brussels, now in Barcelona. Melissa Bell, thanks very much for keeping us up to date.

On another story we've been following, an ongoing search this morning for ten U.S. sailors missing after their destroyer hit an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore. This incident involving the USS John S. McCain is the latest in what's become a pattern of Navy mishaps. It's the fourth time this year that an American warship has run into trouble, collision in the Pacific. Now the Navy has paused all operations for one day. A truly remarkable step, and a broad investigation into all operations is getting under way.

CNN's Ryan Browne is live at the Pentagon with more details. Ryan, first on those ten missing sailors. After the incident with the USS Fitzgerald a couple of months ago, it was later found that those missing sailors were killed sadly in that collision, were actually inside their compartments. At this point, though, it looks like they're deploying divers. They think they might be missing in the sea?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a mix of search operations going on right now, Jim. There's an aerial and naval search operation being conducted by U.S. aircraft and aircraft from Singapore and ships from Singapore, kind of on the path that the McCain traveled, from where the collision took place back to the port in Singapore.

They're also bringing in the USS America, an amphibious ship that has a diving team aboard, that they're going to perform search operations at the port, kind of getting down and diving and looking into the John S. McCain so they can search in that kind of capacity there. So it's kind of very broad search operation at present.

And given the extent of the damage, there was flooding in several compartments, like there was in the Fitzgerald, including a sleeping area and a comms area. So they will look at that, these diving teams, as the ship now is in port.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this, you've been chasing this story down since yesterday in the halls of the Pentagon. These are extremely capable warships. The Fitzgerald, the McCain, with a whole array of sensors designed to protect itself. Is there any early understanding of how this could happen? And twice in the span of a couple of months.

BROWNE: Well, it's interesting. Because last week, we attended a briefing by the vice chief of naval operations, and he was talking about the Fitzgerald incident. And they had kind of pegged that on human error. You know, relieving the senior leadership of that vessel from their commands.

And this case coming just two months later definitely sparking new questions about what -- is it a training issue? Is it a how they certify watch crews? Those are the people responsible for kind of maintaining that situational awareness as these ships transit these heavily trafficked areas, like the Straits of Malacca around Singapore are.

So they're definitely looking at some of these human factors, as they do this overview that is now being led by an admiral that Admiral Richardson, the head of naval operations, just announced. These are some of the things they'll be looking at.

SCIUTTO: And a remarkable now suspension of all operations for a day across the U.S. Navy. That's a major step. Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

BROWNE: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now is CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. He's a former member of the joint chiefs of staff.

This might be remarkable for you to watch here, Cedric. To see this happen multiple times, not just twice in the last two months, but four times in the last year. What could possibly explain that for the world's most capable naval forces?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Jim, I think it's one of those areas where there are going to be a lot of issues that immediately come to the forefront. So when I look at it, one aspect is what Ryan mentioned in his reporting. And that was the training factor. There's clearly something going on here, where it -- whether it's just within seventh fleet or if it's a Navy-wide issue -- seventh fleet having the responsibility for Asia in the U.S. Navy. That becomes the most important thing to look at.

But then you also have to look at the operational aspects. How is command exercised on board the ships? I served briefly with the Navy on the USS Blue Ridge, which is the flagship of the seventh fleet. And the procedures at the time were quite tight. But you do wonder if the procedures that are used to navigate, to steer the ship through various places such as the Straits of Malacca, or the area around Tokyo, if those procedures need to be reworked because of other factors.

SCIUTTO: You have the U.S. Navy, military forces, on alert already for a different kind of threat, force, possible show of force, possible use of force against North Korea. The USS John S. McCain just returned from what's called a freedom of navigation operation.

[11:25:04] That is sailing close to these contested islands in the South China Sea, manmade islands there.

What does this do to America's show of force in the region? How does it undermine that? Does it undermine the credibility of the U.S. show of force in the region?

LEIGHTON: It has the potential to undermine it. It certainly impinges on our ability to get the Navy out to areas where they can put on that show that force. And you're very familiar with the South China Sea. There are a lot of different things that we do when we go out and perform a freedom of navigation exercise. When those things occur, we're demonstrating U.S. resolve, U.S. power, and also sending diplomatic and political messages. And the fact that we may not be able do that is certainly being reviewed in Beijing and in other places around the world who may not want our best interests to actually succeed. And that's a huge, huge issue. SCIUTTO: Yep, yep. Adversaries are always looking for

vulnerabilities.

Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks very much for joining us.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, should President Trump send more troops to Afghanistan? We'll ask the former U.S. ambassador who knows that country better than almost anybody. We'll be right back.

And Trump's big family is busting the budget of the Secret Service. A new report says the agency is running out of money. Stunning details after this.

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