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Trump Falsely Claims Obama Didn't Contact Families of Fallen Troops; Puerto Rican Town Desperate For Supplies, FEMA Aid. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 06:30   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again. Go ahead.

REPORTER: So, she's at odds with you over whether or not this is disrespecting the flag. Is she right or is she wrong?

TRUMP: I think she's wrong. When they'll take a knee, there's plenty of times to do knees and there's plenty of time to do lots of other things. But when you take the knee -- that's why she lost the election.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Time to do knees.

CAMEROTA: I don't even know what that means.

David Chalian, Hillary Clinton just gave an interview to the BBC. She's not running again. News flash.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, she's not running again. But I actually thought that was a moment of real candor to President Trump. He seemed to fully acknowledge that part of his victory was the weaknesses of the person he was running against.

That's why he was so honestly begging for her to run again. He may have had a different outcome against another opponent. Normally, he touts it all for his success and the great campaign and connection he had with the American people out there. But it seemed to be a moment where he really understood that part of the reason he's standing there was due to Hillary Clinton's weaknesses as a candidate.

CUOMO: He knows it. D. Gregory, final word.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's interesting. Democrats in response to President Trump I think are still kind of whirling around and don't know exactly which direction to go. And we're going to see in 2020 probably, what, 16, 17 Democrats who are running against a singular Donald Trump as president of the United States. That may give him a real big advantage and I think that's one of the reasons he's stoking all of this.

Democrats have not figured out -- and it is early for them to figure out exactly how they go about denying him a second term.

CUOMO: You saw with the GOP last time. When you have a lot of people, you often have no one.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

So, tomorrow night, we're going to have a big debate between Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz on the Republican tax plan, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: All right. Firefighters are slowly gaining the upper hand in California. But the wildfires are still burning and the death toll keeps rising. We have the latest, next.


[06:35:15] CAMEROTA: Some headlines for you now.

Iraqi government forces seizing control of the Kurdish-occupied oil rich city of Kirkuk. The State Department urging both sides to avoid further violence. The U.S. is in a precarious position, having supplied the Iraqi government with weapons to fight ISIS while also arming the Kurds. Senator John McCain warns the Iraqi government of, quote, severe consequences if it uses U.S. supplied weapons against the Kurdish fighters.

CUOMO: North Korea warning a U.N. committee that a nuclear war, quote, may break out any moment. Pyongyang also rejecting diplomacy with the U.S. until it finishes developing its long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be capable, they say, of reaching the east coast of the U.S. The U.S. and South Korea are countering the threat with joint navy drills, were expected to last another nine days.

CAMEROTA: A firefighter battling the flames in northern California was killed when the water truck he was driving overturned on the highway. Still, firefighters are making progress with the major fires in that state. Now, 60 percent contained.

Residents finally being allowed to turn to their homes. Health officials warn that the debris from the fires could be toxic. Forty- one people have died, and more than 5,700 structures have burned since last week.

CUOMO: President Trump under fire for falsely claiming that President Obama failed to reach out to families for fallen U.S. soldiers. It's just a false claim. But how is this playing out at the Pentagon and in the military? Remember, this isn't about presidents. This is about four service members who were killed in Niger. We still don't know why. The latest, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:40:39] CUOMO: President Trump facing backlash this morning, and rightly so, because he falsely claimed that his predecessors never called grieving military families, that they didn't reach out. He made the remark while responding to a question about why he has remained silent for 12 days after an ambush in Niger of four U.S. soldiers.

Here is some of the sound.


TRUMP: I will, at some point, during the period of time call the parents and the families, because I have done that traditionally. The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.

REPORTER: Earlier you said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How can you make that claim?

TRUMP: I don't know if he did. No, no. I was -- I was told that he didn't often and a lot of presidents don't. President Obama, I think, probably did some sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told. All I can do -- all I can do is ask my generals.


CUOMO: You will see this story dominated by the discussion you just heard there. Obama versus Trump and who's better? Not today. Not here. Because we don't know anything about what happened in Niger yet and there are four U.S. service members who are gone and that's what members -- what matters. We'll deal with both of them.

Let's bring in CNN military analyst, General Mark Hertling, and CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Now, General, to those in the audience who aren't 100 percent familiar with you, as a commander, you take the loss of men and women under your command very seriously. You literally keep close to yourself a box of their tags and remembrances of who they are, because they lived with you every day because of that command. We understand that respect.

What bothered you about what the president said yesterday?

LT. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A couple of things, Chris, and you pointed it out on several occasions already this morning. First of all, the president lied, and then he attempted to blame the generals for telling him what he lied about. And then, the most important thing is he was making excuses for not having made contact after 12 days.

All three of those things are not a good look for a commander-in- chief. You asked me to be your military analyst. This is the simplest thing I've analyzed yet. It was not a good thing for a commander, which the president is, to do the kinds of things he did yesterday.

I would put it in a shameful category, to be honest with you. And I know a lot of my colleagues and peers, both retired and active, felt the same way.

CUOMO: And, look, let's -- I'm telling you -- I'm right about this. It will work. Everybody will talk today about what he said about Obama and who was more sensitive. And it is a distraction.

Barbara, what is the Pentagon saying about what happened to these men in Niger?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's be very clear. Twelve days later, 13 days later, they don't know, and that is a big problem. There is an investigation under way to find out how this firefight erupted. Was there bad intelligence? Was this a failed mission?

But it comes right back, Chris, to what you were saying about the families of the fallen. I want you to take a look at the picture on your far right there.

Sergeant La David Johnson, 25 years old. His body was left out for 48 hours before anybody could go back and get it.

How does a man get left behind? This is the big question that the military has to answer now. The president talked about it being tough on him -- well, you know, it is tough on the families.

Sergeant La David Johnson, 25 years old, leaves behind a young widow, two children, a third on the way. This young man, we now know, he worked at Walmart at the produce counter, before he found the U.S. Army and found his career and his way ahead in the U.S. Army. He rode his bicycle to work every day at the produce counter at Walmart.

What is tough, tough on the president, it is now very tough on this young widow, trying to raise three children and all the families of the fallen.

CUOMO: There's -- I take your point, Barbara. There's a misplaced personalizing of it on behalf of the president. The focus should be on the fallen. And you're right to tell their stories.

From a military perspective, what do we need to know about the situation and what does the silence mean to you, General?

HERTLING: Well, Chris, I don't want to compare. When I wrote letters to family members, what I would just say is console them on their loss, tell them how their soldier contributed to the defense of the nation.

[06:45:04] You don't have to get into the details.

But what Barbara said is really emotional, because that's the kind of stories each one of these kids have, these young men and women who are less than 1 percent of their country. They dedicate their life in the cloth of the country. It is important to be consoler in chief as well as commander in chief. Every commander up the chain of command writes these letters and it's important for the president to be one of them.

And, again, like I said, 12 days later, that's too long. It's just unfortunate.

CUOMO: Right. And just to get to what you were both talking about, let's play what the president said and how he put the pain in this situation.


TRUMP: It's the toughest -- the toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed. It's a very difficult thing. Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day, it's a very, very tough day. For me, that's, by far, the toughest.


CUOMO: Barbara, your response?

STARR: Well, it's supposed to be tough. You send troops into combat as the commander-in-chief, it is supposed to be tough. But, again, we talked about it not being about the president. It's about the families.

It is for the U.S. military now something very significant. They have to investigate this incident. They need to find out, were 12 men sent into combat with poor intelligence? How did the 12 walk into an ambush by 50 ISIS fighters, be in a firefight for some 30 minutes only with their rifles while the ISIS fighters had rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. How did one man get left behind?

These are the questions, the answers that the military needs to find out and the families need to know.

CUOMO: That's the best way to respect the loss. Tell the stories of their service and find out and account for how their lives were lost. As we learn more information, General, we'll have you back and get your take on what we understand, what needs to change. Thank you to both of you very much.


CAMEROTA: OK. Chris, to Puerto Rico now. The president praised the federal response in Puerto Rico. So, we have a reality check on how the people on the island are doing nearly one month after Hurricane Maria. We are there, next.


[06:51:19] CUOMO: After Harvey, after Irma, you saw good reports on what the president did, there was urgency, there was respect. After Hurricane Maria, the numbers have changed. His approval rating on how he's doing with storms plummeting 20 points because of the ongoing crisis and being somewhat ignored, at least in terms of the talk, by the White House.

Desperation is growing on the island. We're going to go back to the area that the president visited where he unforgettably was shooting jump shots with paper towels at storm victims.

CNN's Bill Weir is live in San Juan with more.

Thanks for going back, my friend.


We've got to keep tabs on the folks down here, and the need hasn't changed much since we were both down here. We went up to look for a veteran, Miguel, who was running out of insulin, when our first report hit air about a month ago. Couldn't get there because torrential rains had made a bad situation already worse.

Here is a little sample of the day in the life of Puerto Rico.


WEIR (voice-over): Aside from one cluster of power line contractors working gamely in the rain, it's hard to see any signs of improvement in the highlands, just outside of San Juan. The roads still littered with Maria's debris are all the more treacherous at steady tropical downpour, as weeks worth of cleanup work can be undone in minutes.

(on camera): This literally just happened, within the last hour, a wall of fallen trees and pipes and cars came rushing down the hillside. And that mudslide made life all the more difficult for the people here because it took out this bridge. This bridge had been certified as safe recently. They had cleared this road.

But now, the families that live on that side are completely cut off. They either have to hike over the mountain in this kind of weather for food and supplies, or ford this raging river.

What was it like watching it happen, were you afraid?

(voice-over): Everything I've been struggling for all my life, all of a sudden is gone, Efrain tells me.

He restores Corvettes for a living, but now, his parched trailer is tossed. A few of his cars totaled by that wall of muddy water.

He and his wife Luz have been surviving in a house without power, burning their savings on generator fuel, to keep her insulin from spoiling. Life was stressful enough, but then their trickle of a creek brought the highest water they've ever seen.

My son was picking up the most important things as the water was coming up, just in case we needed to leave, he says.

(on camera): Really, really. Oh, that must have been terrifying.

(voice-over): This is the blue collar section of upscale Guaynabo, the same municipality where President Trump tossed those paper towels, as Mayor Angel Perez stood by.

(on camera): How would you describe the response of FEMA?

MAYOR ANGEL PEREZ, GUAYNABO, PUERTO RICO : It's been slowly, but it's there. You know, they have given us water, food, tarps. So, now, they have changed a little. They're going to assign a couple persons directly to each municipality. I think that's the right direction.

WEIR: Yes.

PEREZ: So, help is coming.

WEIR (voice-over): With over 1,000 homes in his town damaged, he says the biggest needs are tarps for shelter and drinking water. Those plumes of fuel pouring into the creek, a reminder of the health hazards of drinking off the land.

And he expresses hopes the Army Corps of Engineers can somehow replace his bridges.

[06:55:02] (on camera): Now, you are brand new in this job.

PEREZ: Forty days.

WEIR: Forty days? What a baptism by fire. I know you were appointed by the governor after a scandal with the previous mayor. Tell me about the politics, do you wish you could scream and beg for more help from the federal government, or do you have to be careful about how you ask?

PEREZ: No, we want more help. And I know from my experience is FEMA has given us a lot of help. We need more help and as I have meetings with other mayors, I see the desperation.

WEIR (voice-over): Off camera, Luz tells the mayor, I voted for your party and you forgot about us. We need water.

(on camera): Have you seen FEMA? Have you seen any aid from the federal government? They haven't brought food or water here?

No, no.


WEIR: If the commander-in-chief wanted to send thousands of more troops down here to help, he certainly could. But for some reason, Chris, he wants to blame the locals for not distributing their own aid.

CUOMO: Look, Bill, as you know, there are serious infrastructure problems there, physical and human capital as well. But the crisis is real. The need is great. As you just told us, it's not getting better fast enough. Thank you for the reporting to Bill Weir and his team. We're going to take a break. When we come back, John McCain gets a

big award and he uses it as an opportunity to take aim at Trump's world view. What did he call half-baked and spurious? We have more on that.

And the president lying about past presidents and their respect for our troops. What he said and why would he ever say anything like that? Next.