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White House Comes Clean on What Really Happened with Condolence Letters; Interview with Gold Star Father Khizr Khan. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:03] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with the president yet again saying something that turns out not to be true and the White House scrambling to cover for him. A White House official has confirmed to CNN that the West Wing tried to expedite condolence letters out to families of fallen service members after the president said this at the Rose Garden last week when asked why he hadn't yet said anything about the four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've written them personal letters. They've been sent or they're going out tonight, but they were during the weekend.


COOPER: Well, that was Monday. On Tuesday, the president said this in a radio interview.


TRUMP: But I have called, I believe everybody, but certainly I'll use the word virtually everybody, where during the last nine months something's happened to a soldier, I've called virtually everybody.


COOPER: Well, keeping him honest, he hadn't called virtually everybody. And in an e-mail exchange obtained by "Roll Call" after the president said that, the White House rushed to get contact information from the Pentagon. An email Senior White House aides knew that the president had said something that was false, so they tried to reverse-engineer to be true.

The report says the White House asked the Pentagon for contact information for the surviving family members of all service members killed during the Trump presidency, so the president could contact them all. That was Tuesday night. The next day, this exchange happened at the White House press briefing.


REPORTER: The president also said he has called every family of someone who has died. Is that true?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has made contact and -- with all of the families that have been presented to him through the White House military office.

REPORTER: There have been families that have since come forward to the "Associated Press", their names are in this report, who say they've not actually heard from this White House in any capacity.

SANDERS: All of the individuals that the president has been presented with through the proper protocol had been contacted through that process.

REPORTER: Just to follow-up on that, so are you saying that if the president hasn't contacted the family members of every service member who has been a casualty since he came to office, because of the protocols of that office?

SANDERS: That's my understanding.


COOPER: Well, that was Wednesday, October 18th. That was also the day the UPS package, with a letter from the White House was sent to the father of U.S. servicemen, according to "The Atlantic". Until then, he hadn't heard anything from the president. His son died in August.

"The Atlantic" found three other families who got rush-delivered letters. Again, the White House admitting it tried to rush out letters to families of fallen service members after the president made those statements last week. But now, it's blaming bureaucracy.

Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House with more of his reporting on this.

So, you got some more information on the letters and their timing.


As you said, a White House official told us earlier this evening that, yes, they were trying to rush out those condolence letters last week and then it was during that process that they discovered there was a bureaucratic reason, according to this White House official, as to why there was a delay. They said in many cases there was a hold up because the soldier who was killed in action who had not had a letter go out to a family member, that that soldier had been involved in what they call a multiple casualties incident. And how it was explained to me by this White House official, the DOD, the Department of Defense, has to do an investigation to determine why that took place. So, in those cases, this White House official was saying the letter did not go out soon enough to some of these family members.

And as soon as they discovered that bureaucratic delay, they decided to go ahead and expedite those letters and get them out as soon as possible.

But, of course, Anderson, that does not that explanation does not answer all the questions that the widow of La David Johnson has, which is essentially, why is it that she hasn't been able to see her husband's body yet? Why is it that it took 48 hours, as you said, on ABC earlier today, for the military to find her husband after that ambush in Niger?

To this family member and perhaps others, this is starting to sound like a cover-up and the White House better get some answers quickly.

COOPER: Well, as you said, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson was on ABC this morning, talking about her conversation with the president. I want to play part of what she said.


MYESHIA JOHNSON, GOLD STAR WIDOW: The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways. And I was -- it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it -- he couldn't remember my husband name. The only way he remember my husband name was because he told me he had my husband report in front of him and that's when he actually said La David.

I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband name, and that's what hurt me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can't you remember his name? And that's what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.


COOPER: I know the president tweeted in response. Explain what you said.

ACOSTA: That's right, Anderson. And first of all, we should point out we tried to ask the president this question all day long to respond to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson.

[20:05:04] He had no comment at multiple different times throughout the day. But he did put out this tweet earlier this morning almost as soon as the interview was over on ABC.

He tweeted, I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson and spoke his name from the beginning without hesitation.

Anderson, it goes without saying, it's highly unusual -- I mean, it would have to be almost unprecedented, I would think. I can't recall a time in which a president has disagreed with a Gold Star family member in this fashion. It is just something that is unheard of when it comes to the way the president deals with the family members of fallen soldiers.

But, of course, as we saw last year with the way candidate Trump dealt with the Khan family, there is no critic that he will not respond to, and this was another example today -- Anderson.

COOPER: Mr. Khan is going to be joining us in a moment. Jim, thanks very much.

Joining me now is CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, also, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and John Donnelly, a "Roll Call" reporter.

John, you broke the story about how the president sent White House aides scrambling when he said during that Rose Garden event that he had reached out to families. Aides, basically, had to make true what he had said.

What exactly was the reaction of the White House? What did staffers do?

JOHN DONNELLY, SENIOR WRITER, ROLL CALL: Well, they said -- the president in particular on Tuesday morning, he did a radio interview where he said the quote that you ran about virtually all the families had been contacted. Well, that very day, the White House -- the president's aides and the National Security Council aides contacted the defense secretary's office and asked for the names of those who have died in the line of duty and their contact information. So, implicitly, he had not contacted them all and then subsequently, as you pointed out, the other news organizations have found about almost half of the families that the reporters have reached out to have said we have gotten neither a call nor a letter from the president.

The president's under no obligation to do this, by the way, but he's the one who made the claim that he had done it.

COOPER: General Hertling, you know, you and I talked about this last week. One of the things that's so, I don't know -- I mean, the reason this story continues, frankly, I mean, this story would not have been a story had the president himself not created it as a story when to avoid answering a question about Niger, he went down this road of praising himself or his response to the family's of the fallen, criticizing former presidents. It's entirely a story of his making.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I agree with you, Anderson. And what's concerning to me is it gets to some leadership principles of developing trust with people by doing what you're saying you're going to do, and the ability to show empathy and humility. We haven't seen that yet.

So I think -- you know, in these kind of minor things that continue to build and we've seen them over and over again, where the president says something and then makes excuses for why what he said wasn't true and then, you know, he's found out later on -- I mean, in this case, it's gold star families. In previous cases it's been donations to the veterans.

It's just a recurring theme. And I'm sure that people are starting to lose trust in smaller areas. And if they start losing trust in small areas, they're going to lose trust in big areas. COOPER: Gloria, I mean, this administration did not recruit former

White House officials to work in the administration. Are these the kind of things that happen when you have a lack of experienced people in the White House?

BORGER: Sure. Yes. And, you know, one of the families of the fallen told "The Atlantic" that, in fact, they had heard from the secretary of defense. They had heard from John McCain, but they hadn't heard from the president.

So, there's clearly a problem here, and it may be bureaucratic. It may be that the White House doesn't have the back up that it needs to figure out how to do these things appropriately.

And on top of that, of course, you have a president who can't help but brag on himself and say, oh, I did it better than Obama and other presidents because I made calls and they didn't make calls, and, of course they did.

And, so, you know, you have the White House scrambling to make the president a truth teller when in fact he isn't in this case, and it makes a bureaucratic problem become a real political problem. Not to mention the personal problem it is for Myeshia Johnson who felt heard by the president of the United States, and he continues to get into an argument with her.

COOPER: So, John, just explain how the White House staff tried to fix this. I mean, in your piece, you write about how they, you know, scrambled to try to make what the president said true.

DONNELLY: Well, they just wanted the information about the 65 Americans. The subject to the e-mail was condolence letter since 20 January 1917, excuse me, 2017. They want the information, the notices of death for each of the 65 who had died, not just killed in action but also in on duty accidents.

[20:10:05] So, they were -- and they said, we want to get this so that the president can contact people. So, you know, the people who should be most concerned about this are President Trump's fellow Republicans, because if you want his agenda to advance, he's just shooting himself in the foot and really hurting his ability to do so.

COOPER: General, one of the -- you know, White House officials said that one of the reasons there was this delay was because a number of these deaths were part of multiple casualty incidents. Does that complicate things?

HERTLING: It doesn't make sense to me, Anderson. I mean, there may be something I can't figure out in terms of how you process letters with multiple casualties, and I'm sure what they're talking about is some of the ones that died aboard the ships, that had accidents at sea. But I've got to tell you, in combat, I had mass casualty exercises. I had one incident where eight soldiers were killed in a suicide attack.

Yes, it's tougher when there's that many together. I just don't understand why it's being blamed on a bureaucratic snafu. It doesn't make sense to me but maybe I don't know all the details.

COOPER: General Hertling, I mean, there probably would not be any outcry, even from family members, if the president, you know, was waiting several weeks in order to call or was waiting several weeks in order to write. It's the -- again, it's the fact that the president sort of brought this up -- to Gloria's point, sort of bragging about how he handled this and the speed with which he handled it that made this a story that then, you know, reporters are going to started to look into.

HERTLING: Yes, true. And here is the thing, Anderson -- the president is the commander-in-chief. He is a commander. A commander can choose whatever way they want to reach out to people who suffered these kinds of losses.

But I've got to tell you, I saw Mrs. Johnson this morning on the news and it brought back a lot of memories for me. This is a young woman who is going through the toughest time she'll ever go through in her life and to have this kind of crap thrown on top of it where she's at the center of the storm because of someone saying different things that just aren't true isn't fair to her. She's going through the stages of grief and she's a young woman.

And, you know, it just -- it really brought me back to a time where I've been to so many memorial services and seen young spouses who are mourning their soldier, and it's just not fair to do these kind of things.

BORGER: And, you know, whatever she feels, the only important thing is that she feels this way. It's not whether the president feels that what he -- that he was inaccurately portrayed or whatever. All -- any of us should care about is she felt slighted in some way, shape or form and was made to cry.

And for the life of me, I just can't understand why the president can't say, I'm sorry, you feel this way, I'm sorry we had a miscommunication. Your husband is a hero and I'm so sorry for your loss. I just don't get it.


DONNELLY: Has he every said I'm sorry? I never heard the words --

HERTLING: That's the thing. I was just going to say. We go back to the campaign and there was a time when he asked, have you ever apologized for anything and he said no. Unfortunately, now, it's having some real deleterious effect on the morale of not only those in our military but perhaps the country as well.

COOPER: Yes. General Hertling, John Donnelly, Gloria Borger, thank you all. Appreciate it.

Up next, the focus of the president's first controversy involving Gold Star families dating back to the campaign, Khizr Khan. He joins me. We'll get his reaction in all of this.

And later, Senator John McCain takes a thinly veiled swipe at President Trump's lack of service during the Vietnam War.


[20:17:23] COOPER: Continuing our breaking news: the White House now admitting the West Wing did attempt to expedite condolence letters to Gold Star families after the president claimed he had already contacted virtually all of them. In the days following those remarks, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly addressed reporters, making comments that referenced another Gold Star family.

Here's a part of what he said.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore as we see in recent cases.

Life -- the dignity of life is sacred. That's gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

But I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.


COOPER: Well, the Gold Star father spotlighted at the Democratic National Convention was Khizr Khan. President Trump went after him and his family after he spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Khan is the author of a new book, "An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice". He joins me now.

Thanks so much for being with us.


COOPER: First of all, when you heard General Kelly make those comments, I wonder what you thought. Do you think he was referencing you?

KHAN: I don't know what he was referencing to, but he was doing exactly the same thing what he was complaining about.

COOPER: How so?

KHAN: Bringing Gold Star families, their tragedy, their sacrifice to this political expediency. His appearance in defense of Donald Trump at that moment, moment of tragedy in America, where my four brave sons so bravely lost their lives under very difficult circumstances, instead of honoring them and restraining from political expediency, John Kelly, citizen John Kelly now, we honor his service, we honor his family's service, but now, he is a citizen of this nation. He was using those examples for political expediency in defense of Donald Trump. COOPER: He was there in a political role and making a political


KHAN: Exactly.

COOPER: It's interesting. You said your four sons, you're referring to the four service members who were killed in Niger. And you called them your sons.

KHAN: They're all my sons. I don't wear this Gold Star just on behalf of Captain Humayun Khan. I wear this on behalf of thousands of my sons and daughters that have sacrificed their lives in defense of this country.

[20:20:01] To keep us safe, to protect us, to protect our values, that is what I wear this pin.

COOPER: You feel that in your heart that they are your sons?

KHAN: They are my sons. These families I have used two words and you used those two words again, dignity, privacy.

COOPER: That's what they deserve?

KHAN: That is what they deserve. We were accorded that. We received the most dignity, respect and privacy. We spoke at our option, but we were granted the privacy and same thing should be granted to them. That was not.

COOPER: You know, we've debated how to even cover this entire situation over the last couple of days because of that very reason. And I keep coming back to, this would not even be a topic of discussion, because it is such a private matter, had the president himself not used this as a way to avoid answering question about Niger or praise himself about how he handles the families of the fallen and go after a former president.

KHAN: That is what I'm indicating towards the chief of staff. Everyone knows, this nation knows how political expedient this president is. He uses every moment that he gets to self-aggrandize.

They know his weakness, they know this flaw, they should have put a script in front of him to read from or should have advised him, this is not the moment for political expediency. That should have been the advise, that was not given.

When they realized that he has misstated, he has misquoted, he has misspoken to this family, they should have immediately said most dignity, most respect for the family and privacy. And we will talk about that some other day but not now. That was not done.

COOPER: Instead, the president just today tweeted out this morning.

KHAN: This is not ending. It is sad. It is -- it indicates something really serious and that is that there is no compass in the White House. It is compass-less ship on sail. Wherever, whoever thinks we were told other day in the White House that we cannot, our media, our press, the fourth pillar of democracy cannot question a retired military officer, why not?

That is not the tradition of the United States democracy. The military officers when they serve honorably, they retire, they go home, and they collect their pension.

But not in these cases, especially John Kelly. He has come to defend -- first he goes to DHS to implement the unconstitutional executive orders of Donald Trump that are challenged in the court system now. Then he comes from there, White House and rest of the nation was hoping that there'd be some sanity, some direction, some compass to this White House. But then he gets colored -- in the color of Donald Trump, misstating things, political expediency. This is very unfortunate.

COOPER: You've written this new book, "An America Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice", you've spoken I think some 160 times since the conventions, to groups all over the country, are you -- are you optimistic about the future of this country and where this country's at?

KHAN: We just celebrated 230 years of celebration of our Constitution, of the values that are enshrined in these documents. I have stood in front of the hopeful nation, I have gone community to community, interfaith communities, other communities, political communities. I have stood in front of them, they're hopeful.

This is the anomaly that has taken place in 2016. This is not our character. This is not our DNA. This is -- country, this nation is made of goodness, beacon of hope for the rest of the world. As Ronald Reagan has said, this is the city -- shining city on the hill, with wall around it, but that wall has doors. And doors are opened to those who come, who have -- who are courageous to come, who bring something to contribute to this nation. It is that nation that welcomes immigrants.

I read the Declaration -- and I explain all this in the book. I read the Declaration of Independence in 1972 and I was in awe of the spirit of Declaration of Independence.

There 1,337 words in the Declaration of Independence, 18 grievances against the colonists.

[20:25:06] Number seven is my most favorite as an immigrant.

We complained to our colonist that he is not allowing us. He is hampering our immigration then. And this administration practices that. That grievance -- and they practice. They make executive orders out of that, laws, policies.

Yes to manage our immigration. But to demonize the vulnerable community, that is not America's DNA. That is a message throughout this country.

COOPER: Khizr Khan, appreciate talking to you. Thank you. KHAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Wish you the best.

When we come back, more breaking news. New details in the attack in Niger that left four Americans dead and why so much is still not known.


SCIUTTO: More breaking news tonight: we're learning more details on the timeline of that raid in Niger that claimed the lives of four American soldiers. Today, the Pentagon shed some light on why the soldiers were in Niger to begin with and gave some more details in the battle.

Jim Sciutto has the latest.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The chairman of the joint chiefs says that the ambush came despite intelligence that enemy contact was not likely.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD JR., JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: U.S. forces accompanied that Nigerien unit on a reconnaissance mission to gather information. The assessment by our leaders on the ground at the time was that contact with the enemy was unlikely.

Mid-morning on October 4th, the patrol began to take fire as they were returning to their operating base.

SCIUTTO: Troops first requested air support of full hour after initial contact with approximately 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters.

DUNFORD: My judgment would be that unit thought they could handle the situation without additional support. And so, well, we'll find out in the investigation exactly why it took an hour for them to call.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A U.S. drone already in the air nearby reached their position within minutes. French Mirage jets responded next, arriving about two hours after initial contact, though none conducted air strikes.

In response to criticism that the military has not been forthcoming, Dunford promised honest answers to the families and the public.

DUNFORD: I think we do owe the families and the American people transparency in incidence like this and we intended to deliver just that.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): As she said her final good-bye to her husband this weekend, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson told ABC's "Good Morning America" that she is still waiting for answers as well.

MYESHA JOHNSON, WIDOW OF SERGEANT LA DAVID JOHNSON: I don't know how he got killed, where he got killed or anything.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Still to be explained, why was Johnson's body recovered 48 hours after the attack and how did it end up nearly a mile away from the scene of the ambush?

DUNFORD: Like I tell you, once we found out that Sergeant Johnson was missing we brought the full weight of the U.S. government there and try to identify -- to try to recover his body.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Now nearly three weeks after the attack, lawmakers are still demanding details.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Americans should know what's going on in Niger.


MCCAIN: Should know what cause the death of four brave young Americans.

DUNFORD: What the American people need to know is with relatively small footprint, we are enabling local forces to deal with this challenge before they become a threat to the American people and to help them to deal with the challenge so they'll over to destabilize their local area or region.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, Sergeant Johnson's widow has also said she wasn't allowed to see his body. What do we know about the military protocol is when it comes to something like this?

SCIUTTO: Well, let me tell you this. In that press conference this afternoon with General Dunford, one of the most sobering moment was when he asked him this question. And his answer was subtle want to care for one.

He said that there are times when the military suggest, and he used that word to family member that they not view the body. And it's a subtle way of him conveying that sometimes they convey to the families the body whether due to the nature of the injuries or the time since the body was recovered, any host of conditions would be difficult for family members and loved ones to see and that appears to be his message here.

Now to be clear -- and we've asked the Pentagon about this, that by policy and practice they never tell a family, you cannot view the body. They would not order them to do so. And the fact is legally that the family maintains custody of the body throughout the whole process.

So the family, including La David Johnson's family, always have the right to see the body says the General Dunford, though at times they might be counseled that that's not something that they don't want to do. And that's one of the sad and tragic facts of the nature of warfare, right, is often -- it would be a difficult thing to see. COOPER: Yes. I appreciate the clarification. Jim Sciutto, thank you.

Earlier today, I spoke to Congressman Adam Kinzinger who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and he's a veteran of the Air Force who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.


COOPER: Congressman, what are the most important questions that you think need to be answered about what happened in Niger?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well there was a lot of important questions. First and foremost, what was the mission? Why was there a lack of support? There's a case that the military needs to come forward with it and it seems like they're in the process of doing that.

I do think it's important in all of this to know, however, especially with Green Beret. These are people whose job is basically to go to a foreign land unsupported and work with indigenous forces to teach them to, in essence, secure their own country and be a force multiplier.

So the idea that we may have Green Beret's out on a mission without air support close by is not actually new. That's in fact what they're trained for.

COOPER: Senator McCain has complaint that the military has not been forthcoming with information. Are you happy with how has this been handled?

KINZINGER: No. I think, you know, the fact that we heard about four deaths and we didn't hear much after that for about a week or two was concerning. And now with the pressure building up, we are hearing.

I don't doubt that the military was going through their own internal investigation, I think that's essential. And I think we're going to find out when this is all said and done what actually happen.

But, again, it's kind of a mix because number one, we have a right to know, we deserve to know, especially because these are our men and women that were equipping to go do these important mission.

At the other hand, though, we have to always remember, I think this is essential, being in the military, and especially in Special Operations, Special Forces is an inherently dangerous game. And these men and women do the kinds of things that most Americans shouldn't have to or wouldn't have.

COOPER: I'm wondering what you're thinking of the President continuing to tweet about his conversation with the family of Sergeant La David Johnson. As you know, the widow, you know, back up the congresswoman's account of how she felt about the phone call today. And the President then essentially said that what the widow felt happened did not happen. KINZINGER: I wish the whole thing would go away. I mean, what bothers me is, everything's become political now. I mean, the only thing not political is where you go out to eat on Friday, that's probably going to change and some restaurants will be political.

[20:35:05] But up until now, the one thing that we had kept sacred was this idea of if somebody gave their life for their country that wouldn't be political. I think there's plenty of blame, not on the widow's account, but from -- whether it's the congresswoman or the President on this.

I wish the President would never have addressed this in Twitter, be bigger than this issue, make the call. If the call was interpreted unlike you intended it to be interpreted, maybe issue a statement saying that wasn't my intention and move on.

In terms of the congresswoman, I mean, for her to jump to issues of saying that General Kelly calling her an empty barrel is racist, that's a bridge too far. In terms of -- I think right away coming with this on national news and making this an issue was wrong on her.

And so there's plenty of blame to go around. I wish when this finally settles down, who knows when that's going to be, when this settles down, I hope we can get back to respecting on all levels on both sides those that have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

COOPER: You know, finally, Senator McCain seems to take a shot at the President saying about the Vietnam War, "We drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bones spur." Obviously, President Trump had five draft deferments, one of which was due to bone spurs. You're a veteran. Do you think McCain's statement was fair?

KINZINGER: I don't know if it was fair or not. I mean, I know a lot of people that deferring the draft in Vietnam and I know a lot of people that responded to the call and went and served. I mean, there are a lot of people that frankly fled to Canada and then came back to the United States after that.

So, I think a lot of these folks whether it was President Trump or frankly President Clinton could look back sometime and say maybe they wish they have made a different decision. And, plus, maybe the bone spurs actually bad enough to defer draft, I don't know.

But at the end of the day, look, I think we need to treasure those who do step forward, the 1 percent who defend our country, whether they're first responders or military and everything in the past, I mean, was time to move forward.

COOPER: Congressman, appreciate your time. Thank you.

KINZINGER: You bet, anytime.


COOPER: We heard that Congressman Adam (INAUDIBLE) Senator McCain. When we come back, more on his thinly veil swipe against the President's draft deferments. And later, another sexual harassment claim against Bill O'Reilly is revealed. According to "New York Times," he paid $32 million to make it go away and then got a new contract from Fox News.


[20:40:34] COOPER: Tonight, the President's military service were lack thereof is in the spotlight after Senator John McCain made a thinly veil reference to President Trump without ever mentioning his name. McCain was on "C-SPAN" talking about the Vietnam War and said this about the draft.


MCCAIN: One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we're going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.


COOPER: Again, he didn't mention the President by name, but it is a fact that Mr. Trump did not join the military during the Vietnam War receiving five deferments, including for bone spurs. Senator McCain talked about this again on "The View" this morning. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People thought you were talking about Mr. Trump because he had a doctor's note that said he had bone spurs.

MCCAIN: I think more than once, yes.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you consider him a draft dodger?

MCCAIN: I don't consider him so much a draft dodger as I feel that the system was so wrong that certain Americans could have evade their responsibilities to serve the country.


COOPER: Well, the largest point about the inequity of the draft system is certainly a fair one as is the more subtle specific point. One particular case with one particular person getting a deferment because of alleged bone spurs.

I say alleged only because the person himself doesn't seem to remember much about it. Here he is in July of 2015. This was actually the same day that he said John McCain wasn't a war here.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I was going to college, I had student deferments, you know, just a long ago, I had student deferments and ultimately had a medical deferment because of my feet. I had a bone spur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which foot did you have the bone spur?

TRUMP: You'll look it up in the records. I don't seen the records.


COOPER: When the bones spur or spurs were legitimate or not, Mr. Trump did not serve his country, although he seems to think he did. He told biographer, Michael D'Antonio, that he always, "Felt like I was in the military," because he went to a boarding school where he got," More training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military." By the way, Donald Trump's father sent him to that military theme boarding school when he was 13 allegedly because of bad behavior.

CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is back. And joining us is a CNN Contributor, Michael D'Antonio, author of the "The Truth About Trump."

So Michael, I want to play a clip from an interview you did with Donald Trump at the end of 2014 when you asked him about the medical deferments.


MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: You did have a medical deferment.

TRUMP: Feet.

D'ANTONIO: What was it for?

TRUMP: OK, the medical deferment is feet.

D'ANTONIO: So what was going on with your feet?

TRUMP: I have spurs on the back of my feet, which at the time prevented from walking long distances.

D'ANTONIO: So you couldn't march.

TRUMP: So I would be, it would be very difficult to march long distances. Very healthy, but in the back, in fact it's here. You know, you can see it, on both feet. I have spurs.

D'ANTONIO: OK, so that's a real thing. That's legit and a lot of people got medical deferments.

TRUMP: Right, and I got a deferment. Not an out, but I got a deferment. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So he actually took his shoes off to show you?

D'ANTONIO: Yes. I inspected both of his feet. I didn't see any spurs, you know.

COOPER: Do you know what a spur look like?

D'ANTONIO: Well, he thought he was pointing to them, you know, (INAUDIBLE), sort of looking for a clause on sort, but there was nothing there. And, you know, part of what I was getting at when I said to then businessman Trump about well, that's a legit thing, a lot of people get deferments is I was trying to get him to explain this other claim that he had about his draft number.

I mean, this is something he repeated many times. I got a very high draft lottery number and thus I didn't have to serve. But the lottery was 18 months after he graduated from college and the story is I was watching the draft lottery in my apartment at college. So --

COOPER: So that could not have been the case.

D'ANTONIO: It could not have been the case. And a lot of this doesn't make any sense. And then after I spoke with him on the campaign trail, he then went back to the lottery number story.

So, it's almost as if he wants to stick very closely to the original distortion because that's what he can keep straight in his mind. And he chose that distortion for a reason and he doesn't want to give it up.

COOPER: Gloria, I mean, Senator McCain not going so far as to call the President a draft dodger. Taken in conjunction, though, with his speech last week, it does seem to be part of a shift from Senator McCain when it comes to taken on the President without even naming the President.

[20:45:12] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think in watching him smile a little bit on the view in the clip you showed, it kind of like he's enjoying trolling the President a little bit these days and certainly this is, you know, this is one of the those areas. So I think what we're seeing with John McCain is McCain unbound to a great degree.

And the President had said, you're not a war hero and you never -- you know, McCain never said anything about that because he didn't want to dignify it, obviously. But this is a President who has warned, you know, "I'm going to punch back. I'm going to punch back." And we haven't seen that yet. I think McCain is kind of saying, "Well, OK, here. I'm giving you a little bit of opportunity here." And I think he's just trolling him.

COOPER: Well, he also threatened to, you know, said, look, I held back but, you know, it's not going to be ugly. It's going to be ugly if I do respond words to that effect. I want to play something else, Michael, that then citizen Trump said to you about his time and the New York Military Academy, which is -- isn't -- I mean, it's not a college, it is a boarding school that he was send to when he was 13.

D'ANTONIO: Well, 1st grade through 12th grade. It's not a university. It's not like the Citadel.

COOPER: All right, let's listen.


TRUMP: One of the things that I've always said, I was never in the military as such, and I always felt that I was in the military because I, in a way, had more training militarily than a lot of guys that go into the military.


TRUMP: Because that was a very hard education at that time. You know, that was when military schools were at their all-time peak.


COOPER: I mean, it is fascinating that he just sort of believes he was in the military in some way.

D'ANTONIO: Well, it's like somebody who was a crossing guard in elementary school and then said I was a police officer. It's ridiculous.

And I think one of the things that's kind of appalling about all of this is that during the Vietnam War, there were lowering of standards for who was admitted to the military that began at the time that President sought his deferments and more than 7,000 people were brought into the military, sent to Vietnam and died under those lower standards, which included disabilities far more profound that bone spurs.

So this is not a frivolous matter, his claim to military experience from being in a high school and then this idea that, you know, I really did --

COOPER: It does go back to -- during the campaign when he was very critical of generals saying, I think at one point he said something to the effect that he knows more than the generals for raising the idea (INAUDIBLE).

D'ANTONIO: It's incredibly disrespectful to the man and women who served.

COOPER: Michael D'Antonio, appreciate it, Gloria Borger, as well.

Up next, "The New York Times" reports that former Fox News anchor, Bill O'Reilly paid $32 million to a colleague who accused him of misconduct and just weeks later Fox News gave him a new blockbuster contract. O'Reilly speaking out against the story. He calls it, "all crap." And that's not all how he is firing back when we continue.


[20:52:20] COOPER: Another stunning sexual harassment allegation against former Fox News anchor, Bill O'Reilly, has come to light. "The New York Times" reports that in January, O'Reilly secretly settled with an accuser, long time network legal analyst, for $32 million. That was just before renewing his T.V. contact for $25 million a year.

Then weeks later, you'll remember with all the allegations against him from several women, advertisers fled and O'Reilly was fired from Fox News. But with this latest allegation, O'Reilly is firing back, even against his former co-worker, Megyn Kelly, who spoke out against him and Fox News. Brian Stelter has all the latest.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: What on earth would justify that amount? What awfulness went on?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's what so many people are asking now that "The New York Times" has revealed that Bill O'reilly --


STELTER (voice-over): -- paid $32 million to stop former Fox News Legal Analyst Lis Wiehl from suing him of all the settlement payments involving Fox News, this is the largest by far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, the stunning new report and what he is saying about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new Bill O'Reilly bombshell reportedly paying $32 million.

STELTER (voice-over): On Monday, O'Reilly told Glenn Beck that his enemies are behind this, plotting to keep him off T.V.

O'REILLY: The end game is, "Let's link O'Reilly with Harvey Weinstein. Let's make him that." So we take him out of the marketplace forever.

STELTER (voice-over): His theory aside, there is new scrutiny on Fox News which just can't seem to shake these sexual misconduct scandals. And there are new questions about O'Reilly's behavior.

O'REILLY: My conscience is clear.

STELTER (voice-over): He said he has not mistreated anyone, despite at least five other settlements with other women in the past. O'Reilly defended himself on NBC last month.

MATT LAUER, NBC ANCHOR: You were accused of sexual harassment. You said at the time you did absolutely nothing wrong. O'REILLY: Correct.

LAUER: Do you stand by that?


STELTER (voice-over): What we didn't know then is that O'Reilly struck a $32 million deal back in January. Wheal, a regular guest on his show was threatening to sue.

EMILY STEEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: She made allegations of a nonconsensual sexual relationship and that her allegations included that he sent her pornographic material that included gay pornography.

STELTER (voice-over): The money made it go away. In this affidavit dated January 17th, Wheal said she had no claims against O'Reilly. With the secret safely buried or so they fought, Fox renewed O'Reilly's deal worth an estimated $25 million a year. You already know the rest. Fox booted O'Reilly in April after the initial "New York Times" investigation revealed other settlements. But he was welcomed to back on the air last month.

[20:55:04] SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: All right, Bill, welcome back. Will you come back?

O'REILLY: Maybe.


O'REILLY: You know, I'll be fishing first.

HANNITY: Are you coming back?

O'REILLY: Definitely I will come back. I mean, I got hook with this book, man.


STELTER (voice-over): Gretchen Carlson sued Fox News founder, Roger Ailes, last year and settled for $25 million.

CARLSON: Nobody pays $32 million to anybody for false accusations, nobody. I don't care how much money you have.

STELTER (voice-over): Now, O'Reilly has tens of millions less. He's vowing to fight on, saying "The Times" story is part of a plot to take him down. He told "The Times" reporters --

O'REILLY: We have physical proof that this is bull (INAUDIBLE). Bull (INAUDIBLE), OK? So it's on you if you want to destroy my children further.


COOPER: Brian joins us now. He always brings his children into this --

STELTER: He does.

COOPER: -- into this discussion. He's not -- I mean, so far he has not denied the payment of $32 million, correct?

STELTER: No. He's essentially confirmed that he did pay that amount. He says he cannot share why, but he keeps blaming the media instead of taking accountability for his own conduct.

COOPER: And Fox, did they know about the $32 million settlement when they rehired him?

STELTER: They say they knew about the settlement, but they didn't know the price tag. They were aware he had just settled, but they didn't know for how much. Apparently, O'Reilly didn't want the network to know. Perhaps he was concerned it would leak out or something.

He thought this would be secret and it didn't remain secret. At the core of this, it's a rotten network, something rotten there. Not now, but in the beginning. A network founded by a man who is (INAUDIBLE) women in his officer, Roger Ailes, a network that built Bill O'Reilly into a big star and then just looked the other way.

COOPER: Brian Stelter, appreciate it. Up next, the President's feuds, his ongoing battle against Senator John McCain who's now firing back.

And a soldier's widow, the wife of fallen soldier, La David Johnson. Also tonight, the White House comes clean on the condolence letter sent to all four families of the U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Niger ambush. The details in that in a moment.