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Sources: Trump "Embarrassed, Pissed" over Alabama Senate Race; Taliban Claims its Rockets Targeted U.S. Defense Secretary; DHS Urged to Wave Shipping Restrictions for Puerto Rico Aid; Aid Arrives, Evacuees Languish at San Juan Airport. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:15]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Breaking news about just how upset the president is at one of his biggest political feats to date. In a word, very. The candidate he backed in a Republican Senate primary just lost badly. And now, sources tell CNN, the president went to bed embarrassed and pissed, their words. He's also furious at Mitch McConnell.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Birmingham with this report. And Kaitlan, tell all.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, John, that's right. We're now being told by multiple sources that the president is embarrassed that the candidate that he threw his support behind was easily defeated by Roy Moore here in Alabama last night. The president watched the returns roll in as he rode back on Air Force One to Washington from a dinner in New York. And we're told that the president feels like he was misled by people like Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and others, who convinced him to not only endorse Luther Strange, but to rally for him and really throw his political capital behind this candidate.

Now, this is something, a concern that the president had long before Strange lost last night. He was worried that he was too low-energy of a candidate, and was worried about backing the establishment guy in this race. Those concerns were only heightened when his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, backed and campaigned for Roy Moore, the guy that Strange lost to here in Alabama last night.

And now, we're told that the president is angry about this and it seems like he's blaming everyone but himself for this loss for Strange. He didn't make this decision to endorse him only because Senator Mitch McConnell, but because he felt that Luther had been loyal to him during his short time here in the Senate beforehand, since he was appointed and took over Jeff Sessions' seat earlier this year. But now the president seems to be completely distancing himself from this loss. You know, he deleted several tweets that he had posted yesterday, encouraging people to get out and vote for Luther. And now it seems he wants people to forget that he had endorsed him at all, John.

BERMAN: You said it quickly, just to make clear, though, the president accepting any of the blame for this defeat, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: No, it doesn't seem like he is. He's blaming those who convinced him to not only come here and endorse him, but he campaigned for him, he rallied for him, he recorded a robocall for Luther Strange. But it doesn't seem like he's taking any of the credit for endorsing this person and telling those who supported him here in Alabama, a state that he won overwhelmingly in the election, to really get out there and vote for Luther Strange.

People felt like the president wasn't really behind that endorsement all the time, because at the rally, where he endorsed Strange, he said that he might have made a mistake in endorsing him. And said that if Strange was defeated by Roy Moore, which he was last night, that he would be here, campaigning for Moore ahead of the general election in December.

BERMAN: And of course, the three-day story after that rally was football, football, football. Not Luther Strange. Not sure whether that helped, either. Kaitlan Collins thanks so much.

Got a lot to discuss this morning. Joining me, Ron Brownstein, CNN's senior political analyst and Jason Miller, also a CNN political analyst, who served as a senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign.

Jason, the president was there. He was there Friday night. He held a rally for Luther Strange. The president backed him bigly, as he would say. Yet, his candidate lost by more in this round than he did before the president went down to campaign in the first round. What happened?

JASOM MILLER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, John, I think the big winners here are the Trump voters. I mean, very clearly, Judge Roy Moore was more of an outsider, anti-establishment-type candidate and that's really what mobilizes and energizes a lot of the Trump voters. And so, the Trump agenda, I think, will have another strong supporter in Judge Roy Moore.

Look, the president did go and make one appearance. I wouldn't say that he was in bigly. Mr. Strange wasn't the president's hand-picked candidate. But look, the Trump agenda really is what won here. And I think one of the bigger takeaways here is that not just Senate incumbents on the Republican side need to be watching out, if they're not toeing the line for the rest of this year.

But I think also on the Democratic side, as well. And that's one of the stories. If you're a Democratic incumbent like Claire McCaskill or Heidi Heitkamp or even Joe Donnelly, who we'll see with the president today at this tax announcement. I think they really need to be thinking twice if they're going to be voting against the president or going against some of these common sense agenda reforms.

BERMAN: Mary Katharine Ham just swooped in to save us from ourselves, here. Mary Katharine, if you are an incumbent Republican senator right now and you hear Steve Bannon tell the establishment, your reckoning is coming. What do you think about that? MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think they have to be a healthy amount worried. This is Alabama, so it is a very red state.

[10:05:00] It's very likely to send an unlikely candidate to Washington. But this is a victory for outsiderism, even as Trump takes a hit. The impulse for a Trumpy candidate was greater than Trump himself. And I think many of the people at that rally and many people who voted for Roy Moore were perfectly happy with that. They thought, oh, great, he'll come visit us, we'll go to the rally, and then we'll vote for Roy Moore, who is sort of like this giant ball of signaling of outsiderism.

And so, that's what they did. Do I think that Roy Moore will likely side with Trump when he's in Washington? Sure. I'm actually a little surprised that we're hearing Trump is mad about it because we're not in a normal political environment. And normally, this would look like a giant loss for him, but in this environment, he could kind of ride this out and be like, yes, I love that Roy Moore guy. And everyone would kind of be OK with that. So I think him sort of telegraphing that he's upset about it makes it more of a loss than it would have been otherwise in this very odd political environment.

BERMAN: The reporting is nuanced. He's mad that he was forced into endorsing -

HAM: Of course, yes.

BERMAN: -- the candidate who ultimately lost.

You know, Ron Brownstein, does this tell us anything about the limits of presidential power here, perhaps going forward, if you are a senator or a politician who might be seeking the endorsement of the president?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first, historically - I mean, presidents have had a very mixed record and usually have come to grief when they have tried to intervene in party primaries. You know, the most famous example, of course, is Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, when he sought to purge some of the southern Democrats who had been voting against him and failed on every front.

I think this is going to be a long-term headache for President Trump, even though I agree, basically, with everything Jason and Mary Katharine said that, you know, you had this odd situation, where it's largely his voters ignoring his advice, that propelled Judge Moore. The problem is, is he's going to, I think, encourage more anti- establishment Republican primaries, which is going to make it harder for them to govern. And it's also going to deepen the suspicion between the president and the Senate Majority Leader, which is going to make it harder for them to govern.

I think it's very revealing that on the same day that Judge Moore, who is a favorite, but not a guarantee to win in December, certainly a favorite, that same day that he's coming, probably coming, Bob Corker is leaving. And that says something about the governing part of the Republican Senate Caucus, and what they feel is possible for them. This is all going to, I think, get more fractious and chaotic. This is going to energize the Bannon side of the party to launch primary challenges against - energize a primary challenge against in Arizona and Nevada. And those are places where they can lose if they pick a candidate who is too far outside of the mainstream.

BERMAN: You know, Jason Miller, what does this mean for Mitch McConnell? I mean, Mitch McConnell couldn't get health care through, not once, not twice, you know, not even the third time, this past week with Graham/Cassidy to lose health care and his hand-picked candidate in Alabama on the same day. You know, what does this mean for his maneuverability going forward and his relationship with the president?

MILLER: Well, I think it raises the stakes for the importance of passing tax reform, which we're going to see an announcement from both McConnell and Ryan and then a speech from the president a few hours from now. Look, Republicans have not had a big legislative win so far this year. Heading into 2018, voters aren't going to care, you know, whether or not Congress is obstructing or working with President Trump. What they're going to look at and say, what have you actually done to help me and improve my daily life?

And if Congress -- both the Congress and the Senate don't have a specific win and a victory to point to, I think it could be real trouble. So I think what it's going to do, it's really going to, again, up the ante for both leader McConnell and for Speaker Ryan to get tax reform done. This is a fantastic tax plan, very excited about it. We could see 4 percent, even 5 percent GDP growth.

I think this is really going to unleash a lot of our economic potential here. But they have to get it done. And if members of the Senate think about wandering off the reservation and not supporting this, they're going to have to be looking over their right flank.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I just jump in real quick, John?

BERMAN: I'm not sure there is a reservation in the Senate anymore based on what wave seen. But go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: John, just - you know the question of whether tax reform and growth really is not supported by history. I mean, if you look, you know census came out just two weeks ago with the final numbers that finished the Obama presidency. Obama raised taxes. George W. Bush cut taxes twice. -- The median income increased more and poverty decreased more under Obama than it did under Bush. Clinton raised taxes. Reagan of course famously cut taxes.

The median increased more under Clinton and poverty declined more under Clinton than it did under Reagan. Job growth, most of the last two-term presidents were under Clinton, who raised taxes, followed by Reagan, followed by Obama, followed by Bush. I mean, there just is no pattern to say that tax cuts are a guaranteed elixir to generate greater growth.

And I think, you know, the question will be whether there are any fiscal arguments at all on the Monday night town hall that CNN did. Lindsey Graham basically said we can't afford Medicaid to grow at the rate that it's growing. That's why we need Graham/Cassidy.

[10:10:01] Is he then going to turn around and vote for a tax cut that will increase the deficit by over $1 trillion? Is that going to be a sustainable position?

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: But, Ron, the markets are already -

BERMAN: Hang on, guys. I'm sorry. I want to talk about Puerto Rico right now, because there are 3.5 million Americans there.

Mary Katharine, I know you've got people who you have been trying to get in touch with there, we all have, and it's hard. In some cases, it's next to impossible. And the question is, is the administration doing everything it can do, leaving no stone unturned in getting help to the people there? And there's been this question about the Jones Act, which it lifted for Texas and Florida. So, all these cargo ships could get there, any cargo ship could get there, not just American cargo ships right now. Do you think this administration needs to do more to prove that it's treating Puerto Rico like it did Texas and Florida?

HAM: I think, actually, this is one of these situations where the president's silly tweeting, insensitive tweeting, which seemed to sort of take a dig at the debt of Puerto Rico overshadowed what they actually had done. I think that the FEMA director is very competent, has shown competency in Florida and Texas, which are not back on their feet, another thing that Trump should not have said.

But there are 10,000 folks on the ground from the federal government in the American Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It's a much tougher situation. And it's the third disaster within a very short period of time. So I do think we have to have some understanding for that. The Jones Act, part of this should be looked at.

We have gotten reports from folks in Puerto Rico who are on the ground there that the president has been engaged on this and the tweeting made it look different than what's going on, on the ground. But this is going to be a long-term disaster. People are in a very bad position, even without potable water at this point in some places. And so, it needs focus, and that is not always his strong suit.

BERMAN: And Jason Miller, it does seem like the White House and the president got the message yesterday that it needs to at least publicly be more focused on Puerto Rico. We saw a whole lot of photo ops all of a sudden and a whole lot of public statements after three days of NFL and kneeling.

MILLER: Well, I think there are a couple of important things to point out here. One is that FEMA had folks on the ground, even before the hurricane hit. We have Homeland Security Director Tom Bossert, FEMA Director Brock Long, who were there on the ground in Puerto Rico. And as we've seen from interviews from the governor of Puerto Rico over the past 24 hours, he's gotten everything that he's needed from the administration. And he's even praised the administration's response on this.

The current challenge that they have in front of them is they have a lot of these supplies, the water, the food, there, but they don't have the delivery mechanism on the island to get those out or they need additional truck drivers. So that's what FEMA and the rest of the crew down there are trying to do.

But as far as the administration, I don't think we can conflate what the president might be tweeting about in the preparedness and the good job that FEMA and the folks in the government are doing. Keep in mind, the same folks who were praised for the excellent job that they did with both Harvey and Irma are the same people who are leading the charge here for recovery from Hurricane Maria. And so, I think we need to put aside some of the political speculation, look at the good job that FEMA is doing.

BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, Jason Miller, Mary Katharine Ham, great to have you with us. Thanks, guys.

We have breaking news from Afghanistan, an attempt to kill the U.S. Defense Secretary, James Mattis. The Taliban claims he was the target of a Taliban rocket attack. Now, no one in his traveling party was hurt.

CNN is now told that three of the suspected attackers were killed by Afghan Special Forces. CNN Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with the very latest. Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Indeed, Defense Secretary Mattis was long gone from Kabul International Airport when this attack that the Taliban is claiming credit for happened, launching some 40 munitions, mainly rockets, at the airfield. Mattis long gone, proceeding with his day of meetings around Kabul and around Afghanistan.

But what were the Taliban up to in launching this attack? You see the Afghan Forces moving very quickly to search the area, looking for the perpetrators. The general thinking is that the Taliban are really trying to launch some kind of high-profile attack, show the world in their view that they still have plenty of power.

So what does this all really mean? What it means is that the Taliban are capable, still, of launching major rocket attacks inside Kabul, the most secure city in the country, where security can be scarce at times, the airport always a very tough piece of real estate for both commercial and military planes landing. It is surrounded by housing, by low hills, you know, perfect launch points for the Taliban and their rocket launchers.

Thankfully, no one in the U.S. party was injured in this, because they were gone. Some civilians nearby, we are told, were injured. The Taliban still struggling to make that statement and this comes as the U.S. is sending more than 3,000 additional U.S. Forces to Afghanistan, to try to improve that security situation, to try to help the Afghans fight against the Taliban in what is still America's longest war. John? BERMAN: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. Barbara thanks so much.

[10:15:00] Happening now, FBI Director Christopher Wray on Capitol Hill. He is testifying before a Senate panel on threats to the homeland. That's Oklahoma Senator James Lankford right there. Director of National Counterterrorism is also expected to address the committee. We'll continue to monitor this hearing and bring you all of the developments.

Supplies are arriving in Puerto Rico right now, but bureaucracy and an old shipping law. Are they slowing things down?

Plus, a CNN exclusive, the IRS sharing information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe. And the president writing today that players will stand for country, but could fans soon be joining the protest?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Millions of Americans in need of food, water, gas in Puerto Rico.

[10:20:00] Lawmakers are urging the Department of Homeland Security to wave shipping restrictions to help get aid to the island. Those restrictions weren't lifted for Texas and Florida after their hurricanes, not yet for Puerto Rico. The question is, why?

CNN's senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, at the White House with that. Joe? So, why? What is the White House saying?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Senior DHS officials on the conference call right now with journalists and seeking to clear up some of the misinformation that has arisen this morning about nearly a 100-year-old law called the Jones Act, which provides, among other things, that supplies being moved between two U.S. ports must be carried on U.S. ships, ships built in the United States, operated by Americans.

The first point that they're trying to clear up on this conference call is what we have already been reporting here on CNN this morning, is that no formal request, up until now, had been made to DHS, to wave the rules of this 100-year-old law, in order to get more supplies to Puerto Rico. But also admitting that they have received a request from eight members of Congress in the form of a letter written a couple of days ago and as of this morning, they are considering that request. Nonetheless, despite the fact that for humanitarian reasons, it seems like it would make sense to open up ports for any ships to bring supplies to Puerto Rico at this stage.

They say, according to the law, the only option they have is to issue a suspension or a waiver of the rules for defense reasons. In other words, after a request from the Secretary of Defense or other individuals, but at the end of the day, it's all about national Defense. They're considering a request from Congress to open up the ports. I think the big problem with this law and the big point of contention this morning is the fact that this very same law was suspended, was waived for both Florida as well as Texas after the hurricanes there. And in fact, there is a continuing waiver for the Virgin Islands including St. Thomas. So ships can move in and out of there as they please. But for Puerto Rico, a United States territory, the rules are different. DHS says it is considering a request to waive the rules. John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns for us at the White House. Joe thanks a lot.

The president calls the federal response to the disaster in Puerto Rico both great and amazing. There are small stories of success. We just learned that U.S. soldiers have delivered three days' worth of fuel to a children's hospital that has 12 young patients on ventilators running on generators. The airport, though, still a crisis point, the struggle to get food, water, medicine, fuel in and desperate passengers out. Some of those passengers waited for days.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the airport right now. He joins us by phone. Boris, what are you seeing?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hey, there, John. Yes, we are watching as several thousand people are waiting to find out if they're going to be the lucky ones to be able to fly out of Puerto Rico today. One passenger described it as airport lottery. The airlines have rosters of names of people that they've confirmed for flights, but unfortunately, there are many, many people here who are not confirmed. And they have purchased tickets, but they're not able to get on planes and they have nowhere else to go.

So we've seen entire families camped out here, sleeping on the floor at the airport, many of them with very young children. Even those who have tried to go to shelters have had harrowing experiences. I spoke with one young man who was vacationing here from Great Britain. And he told me that he had gone to a shelter where people were forced to sleep outside because it's so hot. Obviously, there's no AC, there's very little electricity available in much of Puerto Rico.

And at one point, he said that he feared for his life, because even as resources were being handed out, specifically food, at night, some folks were going around stealing food. And he saw people get robbed right before his eyes. He got very emotional in talking to me about being able to communicate with his family. Here's more of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRANDON JONES, WAITING TO LEAVE PUERTO RICO: Traumatic. Just away from the family, you know didn't speak to my mom and dad until this Saturday. Yes. To tell them I was alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Despite the ordeal that he's had to face, he said he considers himself lucky, because there are so many people here who don't have homes to go back to.

[10:25:01] Again, thousands of people coming to the airport here in Puerto Rico, trying to catch flights out of the territory, but they simply are out of luck.

And on top of that, I heard from the CEO of the airport this morning who says that they are using more than 5,000 gallons of fuel a day to keep emergency generators running. He says at some point they will run low. He's making a plea to the federal government to dedicate as many resources as possible to Puerto Rico right now, John.

BERMAN: All right, Boris Sanchez for us, the stories inside that airport. Thank you so very much.

Exclusive new details now on the Russian investigation, the IRS getting involved, sharing key information with the special counsel, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:09] BERMAN: Breaking news. Details of the president's new tax plan just released. So what is inside?