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10 U.S. Sailors Missing after Destroyers, Oil Tank Collision; Trump to Announce Strategy for U.S. in Afghanistan; Poll: Majority In Three Key States "Embarrassed" By Trump; More Charities Cancel Events At Trump's Mar-A-Lago. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

The breaking news this morning, the frantic search for 10 U.S. sailors missing after a shocking collision at sea. Most shocking because these events, which are not supposed to happen, keep on happening.

You can see the damage to the USS John McCain, a guided missile destroyer, after colliding with an oil tanker off Singapore. This is the fourth accident involving U.S. Navy ships in the Pacific so far this year.

Still no word on the fate of 10 sailors missing as U.S. forces lead the search in chaotic seas. President Trump had a three-word reaction to the accident when asked by reporters last night at Joint Base Andrews.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- U.S. John McCain?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's too bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Later, he wrote thoughts and prayers are with our U.S. sailors aboard the USS John McCain where search and rescue efforts are under way.

CNN's Ryan Browne joins me now with the latest from the Pentagon. I'm also joined by CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst and former Pentagon Press Secretary, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

I want to start with you, Ryan. What's the latest?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, we know that the John McCain has made it back to Singapore after suffering that heavy damage as a result of that collision, where flooding in several compartments aboard the McCain did occur.

Now, the sailors aboard were able to keep the ship afloat and keep -- under its own power, getting it back to Singapore. We now know the USS America, an amphibious ship, has also arrived in Singapore to aid in search and rescue, as well as to support kind of the recovery efforts there for the McCain.

There's also several ships and aircraft from the Republic of Singapore, as well as U.S. aircrafts, conducting a search and rescue effort for those 10 missing sailors. Now, again, there were also five sailors injured in that collision. We're told none of those injuries were life threatening. They're all being treated now.

And again, this collision with a U.S. warship against a civilian craft, just coming two months after another collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a cargo ship, which cost the life of seven sailors and prompted an investigation and -- including making the Navy take action, including relieving the officers in charge of that ship of their command.

So, again, definitely an investigation will take place into the McCain as more information comes to light about what exactly caused this particular collision.

BERMAN: All right. Ryan, thanks so much. I want to bring in Admiral Kirby to this.

Admiral, of course, you served on surface vessels. This is rare. This is not supposed to happen.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes.

BERMAN: How many layers here, how many things needed to go wrong for this to happen?

KIRBY: Probably a hundred or more, John. It's hard to tell. The investigation will obviously dig through all of that. But, I think, at its core, what they'll probably find is that there were some failures in decision-making and some situational awareness.

There may even be mechanical or systemic issues. I mean -- by that, I mean, electronic systems on the ship that could have failed, too. So it's really hard to tell.

But for two ships to collide at sea, that is very rare. That's unusual. And when you're on watch down there on a U.S. Navy ship, you spend a lot of time learning how to avoid exactly that kind of circumstance. So I think it's probably going to come down to, obviously, many, many factors that led to this.

BERMAN: OK. It's not supposed to happen once, Admiral. The fact is, depending on how you count, there are four incidents and at least two deadly ones. Well, we don't know if the one overnight was deadly. They're still searching. But two catastrophic ones --

KIRBY: Yes.

BERMAN: -- over the last two months, does it concern you? Or what should be most concerning here about this pattern?

KIRBY: Yes. Well, aside from the immediate search and recovery and trying to figure out what happened and save whatever lives can be saved, aside from that, I think the Navy is genuinely concerned about whether they have a truly systemic issue. And in this case, I mean, system-wide, Navy-wide, issue with respect to training and readiness, watch standing procedures, perhaps even resourcing.

I mean, the Navy, just like all the services, have gone through severe budget cuts over the last several years. Maybe that played a role in here. We don't know. But I do think that they're going to take a hard look at how they are manning, training, and preparing themselves for watch standing at sea, for safe navigation of their surface ships.

You would expect that they'd be looking at this broadly. I mean, a point to make here, John, is all those four incidents that you showed in your graphic, all of those happened in the Asia-Pacific Theater. All of them happened in Seventh Fleet alone. That's pretty unusual as well.

BERMAN: Does it compromise U.S. capabilities, obviously, in that region which deals, among other things, with North Korea?

KIRBY: It certainly doesn't help. I mean, this is a very tense time right now as you well know and you said in North Korea. So you want all of your resources battle ready at a moment's notice.

Now, that said, the reason why the Navy has so many Aegis-equipped ships in the region is because we want redundancy. You expect that, now and then, one or two are going to be more offline for maintenance, or that kind of thing.

You don't expect this kind of thing. Right now, we have three of the Aegis-equipped ships that are out of commission in the Forward Deploy Naval Force. That's unusual. Certainly, that's a detriment, but I'm sure that the Navy is already making plans to supplement that with additional resources and capabilities.

[09:05:11] BERMAN: All right. Admiral Kirby, thank you so much for your insight in this.

KIRBY: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Obviously expert analysis to be sure.

All right. A crucial moment in America's longest war. Tonight, the President will address the nation, announce U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, including the possible deployment of thousands of new troops.

CNN's Sara Murray, at the White House to give us a preview of what we're expecting to hear. Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. Look, this is a big moment for President Trump.

He is basically going to go in front of the American public and explain, for the first time, what he views as success in Afghanistan, what he thinks is the right path forward. And he is going to ask the American public to trust him at a time when his credibility, his character, his ability to lead have all been under question and under fire in the wake of the way he responded to those -- the violence in Charlottesville last week.

Now, we know President Trump has been presented with a variety of options that runs the gamut from withdrawing all U.S. troops to adding roughly another 4,000 American troops. There are about 8,000 on the ground in Afghanistan, as is.

And if he goes that direction, if he goes the route of adding more U.S. troops, he's going to have to explain why he thinks that's the right strategy, why he spent so many years saying that the U.S. should just pull out of Afghanistan before he was a candidate for President, and now he's going another way.

This might not be the kind of thing his base, who elected him based on his America first message, wants to hear. But it's a test for him as Commander-in-Chief to lay out, not just the strategy, but the reasoning behind it, John.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray for us at the White House. Joining us now, retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He was also the assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs under President George W. Bush.

And David Rohde, a CNN global affairs analyst who has reported on the war on Afghanistan. He also wrote the book, "A Rope and A Prayer," after being kidnapped by the Taliban and later released.

David, I want to start with you. One of the things that Secretary Mattis has apparently insisted on was a strategy, a stated strategy in Afghanistan. And he reportedly told the President, Mr. President, we haven't fought 16 -- a 16-year war so much as we fought a one-year war 16 times. What does that all mean?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: So Secretary Mattis is right. There has been this sort of haphazard approach to Afghanistan where the Bush administration sort of focused on Iraq. They didn't make a big effort the first years. Obama surged U.S. troops but he put a strict timeline on it, so Taliban just waited out the American surge.

So it is a big challenge for the President tonight, and I agree with Sara. There is another narrative here, which was, throughout the campaign, the President said we can't trust Muslims. We don't have Muslim allies. He is now going to ask the American people to agree to send more American troops to go and fight and die in Afghanistan.

The fact is, last year, 6,000 Afghan police and soldiers died fighting the Taliban. Six thousand as compared to 14 Americans. But back to Trump, he's got to reverse his narrative that we have Muslim allies, and we should be fighting against them.

BERMAN: So, General Kimmitt, we don't know for sure what exactly the President will announce. One possibility, it may be leaning that way, is that he will agree to deploy thousands more troops to Afghanistan. Maybe 4,000 more.

But how much of a difference will that make? That would make 12,000 U.S. troops in a country where, at one point not so long ago, we had 100,000.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AND MILITARY AFFAIRS: No, that's right. And rather than the Obama strategy, which was to add 30,000 troops into Afghanistan for his surge, this is only about 4,000.

I think what makes this far more important is, as Secretary Mattis said, this is not simply an Afghanistan strategy, but this is a regional, Southeast Asia strategy, which frankly means this is going to put more emphasis on what's being done at the State Department than at the Pentagon.

BERMAN: Which means what with whom exactly, General? Trying to influence Pakistan to do something and how?

KIMMITT: Yes. Well, three things, I -- three countries. I think you're talking about Iran, you're talking about Russia, and you're talking about Pakistan. All of those countries have, in some way, been interfering with what is happening inside of Afghanistan. In some cases, they're supporting the Taliban, but all of them are adding to the instability.

So the diplomatic task is to try to get the outsiders to quit interfering inside of Afghanistan, so they can focus on the task at hand: good governance, defeat of the Taliban, and defeat of ISIS.

BERMAN: David Rohde, to you. What will this decision tell us about the President of the United States who certainly campaigned on in his rhetoric for years even before he was a candidate, was not about military adventurism, as he might call it, not about U.S. involvement overseas, but really about withdrawing?

ROHDE: That the promises he made his base -- I won't say they're false, but the world is far more complicated. The easy solutions he promised, we're just going to pull out of Afghanistan -- guess what? This is really complicated. This is really difficult to deal with.

So he's reversing course on what he promised, I agree with General Kimmitt. And diplomacy is important here. The reason we've struggled in Afghanistan is because we've been inconsistent, and we have not gotten Pakistan, Russia, and Iran to work with us to stabilize the country.

[09:10:03] Diplomacy matters. If we can come up with sort of compromise, some kind of joint government with those three countries, it's possible, possibly, to stabilize Afghanistan. Possible.

BERMAN: And, General Kimmitt, it sounds like a simple question, but I think it is one of the most complicated questions out there. What is winning, actually, in Afghanistan? What would that be?

KIMMITT: I think it is a self-sustaining Afghanistan that is governed internally, that has a military that is able to provide for its own protection, and some measure of economic growth. But I want to make one point that David did, which is that the President reversed himself and will reverse himself on Afghanistan.

President Obama had to do the exact same thing in Iraq. He had a campaign promise to get out of Iraq. By the time he left office, he had, in fact, increased, significantly, the number of people inside of Iraq beyond what he had pulled out.

So presidents, when they get into the office, they find the situation different. Presidents in office see the situation has changed and have to make tough decisions as a result.

BERMAN: And, in fact, President Obama delayed the withdrawal from Afghanistan as well, so he changed even that policy several times on the fly right there.

General Kimmet, David, suggested that a win in Afghanistan would be a self-governing, sustaining government, which has almost never happened in history when you're dealing with Afghanistan.

ROHDE: True, and in part because all these neighbors have meddled. We meddled when the Russians went back into Kabul --

BERMAN: Sure.

ROHDE: -- the government. We sat in the same area where the Taliban has safe haven. In fact is we destabilized the Afghan government.

This is a very difficult situation. You know, the Islamic State is active in Afghanistan. 9/11 did happen there, you know, so I -- again, it's going to be very difficult to achieve that.

There's got to be a limit in what the Americans can do. I think there will be some pressure from the Trump administration to limit corruption. But it's -- the Afghans have to do it themselves.

Iraq -- the Iraqi forces led the defeat of ISIS. They pushed ISIS out of Mosul, not Americans forces. There was support but it was led by Iraqis. That's a step forward.

BERMAN: A model.

ROHDE: That's a possible model for us.

BERMAN: All right. David Rohde, General Kimmitt, thanks so much for being with us.

The President going on prime time, but this is really about more than just being a foreign policy test. Can the president win back some of his credibility?

And as the President battles his controversy, he plans a rally in Phoenix, a political rally, but State and even White House officials are reportedly on edge. And it is the day the sun disappears. Millions clogging roadways,

filling parks, camping out to catch the eclipse of the century. CNN is spread out from coast to coast. And you can't stare into the sun, but can you stare into a total eclipse of the heart?

We will ask Bonnie Tyler. Seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BONNIE TYLER, SINGER: There's nothing I can do but total eclipse of the heart. Once upon a time, there was lie in my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:17:01]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Trump is set to unveil his decision on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan tonight amid the ongoing controversy of his response to the attacks in Charlottesville.

And dismal new polls numbers in key states that came up big for President Trump in the 2016 election. His job approval now is in the mid-30s in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

States that he will remind you whenever he can, he won. And when it comes to whether those same voters are proud or embarrassed by the president's conduct, the overall majority say they are embarrassed.

Joining me now is Salena Zito, a CNN contributor, a "Washington Examiner" reporter and "New York Post" columnist, and Ron Brownstein, a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic."

And Ron Brownstein, these numbers bad on their face, but when you dig in, they might be even worse because these are key states with key constituencies, as you know, including noncollege educated white voters.

In those three states, his job approval ratings with that group in the 40s. That is very low.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, these were the critical states. These were the states that delivered him the election. They were the three states in the late lamented blue wall that broke off and you know, basically tipped the result in 2016.

And in all of them, you know, he had very little margin for error. He won them with 47 or 48 percent of the vote. Now he is in the mid-30s overall. What's important, as you note, John, is that it's not only have we seen a significant decline in all three states.

If you look at his vote in 2016 compared to the current approval ratings, we've seen a significant decline among college educated whites, voters who were skeptical of him from the beginning. But in all three states in these new polls, his approval rating among those blue-collar whites who are the absolute core of his base is at least 20 points below his vote and also roughly 20 percent of Trump voters, self-identified Trump voters in each state say they are embarrassed by his conduct as president.

Now I know people have done a lot of good anecdotal reporting going out and finding Trump supporters in small and mid-size town across the country and people concluded there's not really erosion in his base.

You cannot be where he is in these states as critical as this and see approval rating 20 points below your vote among non-college whites without somebody getting off the train.

BERMAN: And Salena, to that question, are you proud or embarrassed among noncollege whites again majorities or near majorities in those three states say they are more embarrassed than proud. What do you make of that number?

And again, you know, you personally live in Pennsylvania. Second of all, you've talked to voters in all three of these states. What do you make of that?

SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that's probably a natural reaction to what unfolded last -- feels like 100 years ago. What happened last week, right?

I don't think anybody felt particularly comfortable or proud of that moment, and you know, people are being -- you know, you like to expect the people are being honest in their assessment, I don't know if this completely detaches them.

[09:20:08] I think this takes them from in his column to just over here, waiting to see what happens, right? One of the things -- among many things that people voted for him for was that they were sort of tired of the politics conflict.

And they were looking for the politics results and when these things happen, like what happened last week, the politics results get stalled or just brakes put on it. And so, they're disappointed with what he said, but they're also disappointed that the results aren't happening.

BERMAN: Hang one second, Ron. I want to ask Salena on that line of what is expected to happen. What are you looking for in this post Steve Bannon world, Salena?

ZITO: I'm looking for him to have the ability to get tax reform done and infrastructure bill to get done. I think that's incredibly important for everyone who voted for him but also for the entire country.

Especially if you go into rust belt states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, where the terrain with the hills, valleys, water, water systems. There are bridges and roads that are in terrible condition. And those kinds of projects also create jobs. I think infrastructure program would be incredible and something that he could possibly to get Democrats to buy into as well.

Tax reform also important. Not just for small business and midsize businesses but also for the bigger, larger corporations, which make them less competitive and more likely to move overseas to put their headquarters and that impacts our economy as well.

BERMAN: So, Ron Brownstein, I also want to ask you "USA Today" has an interview with the head of the Secret Service saying they're running out of money, protecting the president and his family. This goes outside politics.

All Americans want the president and his family protected the way they should be, no matter what the cost, frankly. But in this age of what aboutism you can imagine how perhaps Republicans, conservative talk radio might have responded had the Secret Service run out of money protecting the Obamas if they were on vacation in Martha's Vineyard?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, you know, also as the case with -- we were talking about Afghanistan. There's a tweet, an earlier tweet from President Trump, applicable in reverse to every situation where he was complaining about how much time President Obama was spending on vacation.

I just think in the end most Americans understand that you have to protect the president and there are certain, unusual expenses that go along with someone who has, you know, so many residences that he is spending time with. I want to button up one point on these polls.

BERMAN: Sure.

BROWNSTEIN: I really think they point to the arc of what has been the first eight months of this presidency. When you look at the decline among those noncollege whites in all of these states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as Ohio and Iowa.

A majority of people who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act were noncollege whites. I think that the clear evidence is spending the first six months of his presidency, the principle legislative effort trying to revoke health care from millions of his supporters in these blue-collar states particularly in the interior of the country took a real toll on his approval with those voters.

They were net negative on the Republican bills by the end and I think in response to that kind of economic distancing from the president, economic discontent over his direction, they've turned, I think, sharply right on culture, starting with the Bannon transgender soldiers, embracing a cut in legal immigration in half, and then culminating in Charlottesville and the call for protecting confederate monuments.

I think there is a clear arc here where they moved in a direction that alienated some of their core supporters on economics. They're trying to get them back on culture, but they are doing that in a way that's imposing a cost at the other end of the coalition among more white collar, suburban and business leaders that have stampeded away from him are a symbol of that.

BERMAN: All right. Salena Zito, Ron Brownstein, great discussion this morning. Thanks so much, guys. I appreciate it.

More charities canceling fundraisers at the president's Mar-a-Lago property. CNN's chief business correspondent, Christine Romans is here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Another couple over the weekend, these are nonprofit charities, other organizations that have had their events there at Mar-a-Lago for years, fundraising lunches or black-tie galas.

The Palm Beach Preservation Foundation is the latest, the Palm Beach Zoo Conservation Society also pulling out. Last week, we heard from the Cleveland Clinic. Past seven years the gala has been there, American Cancer Society, American Red Cross.

Both of those citing their donors and volunteers here in particular let me read you something the American Red Cross wrote. "The Red Cross has decided we cannot host our annual fundraising event at Mar- a-Lago as it has increasingly become a source of controversy and pain for many of our volunteers, employees, and supporters.

We believe this will allow us to continue to put the focus on our lifesaving mission and the people we serve." The "Palm Beach Daily News," the local newspaper has this number, more like 20, who have pulled out for this year.

[09:25:09] We know last year I think there were 21, 22, 23 big major galas there at the location at Mar-a-Lago. So, this is clearly something that is a trend. These folks pulling out here.

It's no small thing when you have decided to do this and you have planned to do this for the past couple of years and now you're changing course.

BERMAN: Especially when your primary goal is to do things like cure diseases.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: It's not a political statement or you don't want to be involved in it in the first place. How are things looking before the bell?

ROMANS: Maybe a little lower. Last week was the second down week for stocks in a row. The Dow was up 20 percent really since the election. There's a pause here and a little bit of nervousness.

"Wall Street Journal," warning signs mount as stocks stumble. Big concern here is that an isolated president will have a tough time with infrastructure and tax cuts and companies want tax cuts. That will make them richer. BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you very, very much. Phoenix mayor asked him not to come. He is feuding with the state's Republican senators, but that is not stopping the president from attending a political rally in Arizona tomorrow. We'll go live to the ground. Stay with us.

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