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Kelly Defends Trump's Call To Family Of Slain Soldier, Lashes Out At Congresswoman; Kelly Confirms Trump Told Widow "He Knew What He Was Getting Into". Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 19, 2017 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Bill Weir, great reporting for us. We'll see you back here tomorrow as well. That's it for me. Thanks for watching. "Erin Burnett OutFront" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next breaking news, John Kelly stunning defense of President Trump's controversial call to a Gold Star family. And, is the White House hiding something when it comes to the Niger ambush? Lots of questions, not many answers. And John McCain, tonight, threatening subpoenas.

Plus, Presidents Obama and George W. Bush taking swipes at President Trump tonight. We're going to go live to a campaign rally where president or former President Obama is about to speak. Let's go "OutFront."

Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" tonight the breaking news, General John Kelly breaks his silence, an extraordinary press conference from the four-star general and President Trump's chief of staff, speaking out about the biggest combat loss in Trump's administration, the ambush in Niger that killed four American soldiers.

Kelly, whose own son was killed in Afghanistan, used every ounce of breath he has to defend the President for his handling of the phone calls to families of those four soldiers. Here he is.


LT. GEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He said to me, what do I say? I said to him, "Sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families." But, let me tell you what I tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me, because he was my casualty officer.

He said, "Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed." He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were, because we're at war." And when he died, and the four cases we're talking about Niger, in my son's case in Afghanistan, "When he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends." That's what the President tried to say to four families the other day.


BURNETT: Kelly then said he couldn't believe it when he learned that Congresswoman Frederica Wilson had listened in on the President's call to the family.


KELLY: I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and broken hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife and in his way tried to express that opinion that he's a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted.


BURNETT: Kelly charging Wilson with politicizing this tragic event and slamming her for listening in on a call that Kelly, of course, himself, was listening in on with the President.

Wilson, though, isn't a random member of Congress. In fact, she said she knew Sergeant Johnson all his life. She was a mentor to him throughout his years in school. She was even school principal to Johnson's father. So she said this is very personal to her that's why she was with the family in their time of great grief and loss.

Kelly didn't seem to acknowledge that. Today, he took it further and said suggesting Wilson is an empty barrel who makes the most noise, telling a story about a dedication ceremony for an FBI field office in Miami.


KELLY: The congresswoman stood up and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.


BURNETT: Empty barrel. Well, whatever you think of Congresswoman Wilson and what she did, calling someone an empty barrel is making this political and personal. And amidst all of this, something pretty important shouldn't be lost.

General Kelly admitted that what Congresswoman Wilson said the President said on this call to Sergeant's family, Sergeant Johnson's family actually happened, almost word for word the words Trump used according to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: He said to the wife, well, I guess he knew what he was getting into.


BURNETT: Congresswoman Wilson was scheduled to be my guest tonight. She canceled her appearance after Kelly spoke. We hope to be scheduled with Congresswoman Wilson when she is ready to speak out.

Sara Murray is "OutFront" tonight at the White House to begin our coverage. And, Sara, this was an incredible press conference. The White House clearly trying to move on from this controversy.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was an incredible press conference. Obviously, this is not the narrative the White House wants to be dealing with and obviously there are raw emotions on all sides of this. You know, we saw this when General Kelly came in to the briefing room and spoke about something he doesn't normally speak about, which is the loss of his own son in Afghanistan.

[19:05:03] And he talked about how you actually transport a soldier's body when they are killed, home, and how a mass casualty or casualty officer will accompany them. And just the gravity of the moment, the gravity of the duty, the gravity of informing a family of what has happened in the worst moment of their life.

And how he advised the President at first that the President shouldn't even make these phone calls, that there was nothing that he could do to improve up on the situation, but then offered his words of advice from his experience about how the President should navigate this. Now, obviously, the phone call did not go the way that they had hoped.

We saw Congresswoman Wilson come out afterwards and assail the President's word choice, the President's tone. The mother of Sergeant La David Johnson basically confirmed the congresswoman's account, confirmed the words the President used and that the Sergeant's widow was upset by this. So obviously, it didn't go the way they hoped.

But then even as we saw General Kelly talk about how unfortunate it was that the situation was politicized, as you pointed out, he went on to call the congresswoman an empty barrel and to leave out the context that she was with the family because by her account, she was close to the family. She was with the family when the President called. They put that call on speakerphone when she was there.

And so really on all sides of this whether it's Kelly's side, or congresswoman's side, or President Trump's side, everyone has made this a political football, I think in ways they may not have necessarily intended and certainly in ways that you would not hope for the death of a serviceman.

BURNETT: That is absolutely true. Thank you so much, Sara.

And "OutFront" now, Marc Caputo, a reporter for Politico who also spent the day with Congresswoman Wilson, Nia-Malika Henderson, our Senior Political Reporter, and Chris Cillizza, Editor-at-Large for CNN Politics.

Marc, you were there. You are with her throughout the day and you are with Congresswoman Wilson when she learned what General Kelly said about her. You know, in part, the empty barrel comments, of course, and also calling her selfish. What was her reaction?

MARC CAPUTO, REPORTER WHO SPOKE WITH REP. FREDERICA WILSON TODAY: Well, I handed her the phone, my iPhone with our story on it as she is getting to a car to leave an event and she looked at it really quickly and she said, "Well, he'll just say that to save his job, he'll say anything." And then Wilson reiterated that she had other witnesses on the call and it wasn't just her.

But as you pointed out, her account of what Trump said is very similar to what John Kelly said Trump said. The real difference here seems to be kind of in context. The outlier appears to be President Trump who had called Wilson's version of what he said fabricated, yet, again, Kelly kind of echoed what Wilson said Trump told the widow.

BURNETT: That's absolutely true. And, Nia, look, I mean, these attacks on the congresswoman were deeply personal, right? I mean, let's just play again, you know, Kelly telling that story of the opening of the FBI office back in 2015, the dedication of that new FBI field office in Miami. Here's what he said.


KELLY: The congresswoman stood up and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building.

Now, she took care of her constituents because she got the money and she just called up President Obama and on that phone call he gave the money, the $20 million to build the building, and she sat down and we were stunned. Stunned that she did that, even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.


BURNETT: Even for someone who is that empty a barrel. I mean, Nia, that is nasty. Was this General Kelly going out on his own or did the President send him out to do this?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, well, General Kelly today used the word stunning, stunned, also it's a variation of that word today. I kind of stunning the way he went after the congressman -- the congresswoman.

You asked if that was Trump who put him up to it or was that him. He seemed sort of really be speaking personally about her and had this story from 2015 and spoke with her with a level of disdain that was quite surprising, calling her an empty barrel twice, referring to her as this woman, never saying her name, never really acknowledging that she --

BURNETT: Yes, this woman.

HENDERSON: Yes, acknowledging that she actually had a role in Sergeant Johnson's life, right? I mean, he talked about, for instance, how Sergeant Johnson was selfless and sort of one of the best of us. Well, guess what? Representative Wilson had a role in that. She was a principal. She was a teacher. She's been in that community for decades and decades.

And it's also, I'm not sure why General Kelly couldn't understand that maybe the family wanted her there because she was a friend, of course, but also because she's a government official and she gone through this before with other people, other young men who had fallen and who were part of her mentoring program.

[19:10:03] Maybe they wanted her there because she had been familiar with the situation before. So I thought it was a really kind of low point for him. He in that one hand sort of -- kind of lamenting the erosion of stability at time when he said that women were treated like they were sacred and there he is really dismissing Representative Wilson like she was nothing.

BURNETT: I mean, that's the thing first that I find so surprising about this, right? I mean, he's criticizing her for listening in. He was listening in because the President of the United States wanted him in the room. Well, she was listening in because the family had her there and put it on speakerphone. Doesn't that give her the equal right to be listening in that he had?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Right. And she's a member of Congress who represents constituents, right? I mean, that's part and parcel of the job. Look, I think what you have to do, Erin, Nia touched on this. I think what you have to do is you have to separate out the sort of first half of what John Kelly said and the second half of what he said.

The first half, extremely moving stuff, details that most of us don't know about how bodies of fallen soldiers are moved, how they are brought home, how those calls work, talking personally about the loss of his own son and Joe Dunford reaching out for him, former Marine Corps commandant and he said his closest friend, and giving him the advice that he then passes on to Trump that Trump tries to communicate down the line. So, that's part one.

Part two is a lot of this Nia touched on and you guys have touched on as it relates to Congresswoman Wilson. And also, I just thought the whole thing about things that used to be sacred. You have to remember who your boss is.

Donald Trump went after the Kahn family after the Democratic National Convention. Now, that's the (INAUDIBLE) critical thing, but responded to a Gold Star family that lost their son in Iraq in 2004. Donald Trump said that he like to hear is not captured about John McCain, the man who had been the nominee of the party. And Donald Trump has made a lot of comments about the sacred women that --


BURNETT: Yes, OK. So can I just -- I want to play that sound byte.

CILLIZZA: Yes. BURNETT: Because there is something about that, OK, whether you support President Trump or you don't support him. Many of the things that he has done and said, done to women and said about women are disgusting, at the least. Here is what General Kelly said about things that are sacred.


KELLY: When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred. We looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore as we see from 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.


BURNETT: Obviously exonerating his own boss on the Gold Star family's issue. But, Marc, women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That's obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.


CAPUTO: Well, the point that he's talking about that -- I guess he's -- or maybe he's talking about Harvey Weinstein.

BURNETT: I'm sure that too. He's obviously, that's what he's talking about. But I mean, is he truly oblivious to his boss?

CAPUTO: Yes. I mean, if you're asking me to get inside the mind of a Trump White House official, I'm vastly under qualified. You might need a clairvoyant or a mind reader to do that. I mean, what I can say, bring it back to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

She's an icon in the African-American community in Miami-Dade County. And in that role, she is widely known and well known and really beloved. And she has earned that reputation by having his 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Program, which Sergeant Johnson had graduated from in 2010.

Whenever she goes to events, she has a number of young black men who grow up poor, who are disadvantaged, who are at risk, who love her. And they go on to be professionals. They go on to be firemen. They go on to be firefighters, police officers, soldiers and they always remember her and they revere her.

And so, I think it would probably help General Kelly to know a little more about Frederica Wilson and understand that when they talk about revering women, well, she is revered in the African-American community here and incidentally, they hate Trump. Her constituents despise Trump.

BURNETT: Nia, you were --

CAPUTO: And so I have a lot of people saying that, you know, she's going to get voted out of office. If anything, this will certainly increase her popularity in her district.

BURNETT: Nia, you were nodding the as Marc was talking, of course, on this issue, women being sacred.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, that's the thing. I mean, he trashed Representative Wilson in that speech from the White House. And here is a person who is a public servant in her own way and a patriot in her own way and has been a selfless in her own way in terms of serving her constituents there. So I just thought it was such an odd thing that he did that.

And unfortunately -- and I think Marc, you know, brings them the racial component of it as well. I think you can't dismiss that. Here is a White House who has been plagued by this idea that they are racially divisive.

[19:15:05] And here you have them trashing this African-American woman who has done great things for her community, great things for African- American men in particular, something that conservatives, you would think. I mean, she's got this 5,000 Role Models Program.

You would think the conservatives would embrace that, the kind of things that she is trying to do in that community. And here she is just, you know, trashed from the White House. I thought it was a real unfortunate note for General Kelly, and unnecessary. Really, it was unnecessary.

BURNETT: Right. The speech had a lot of emotional and meaningful moments I think everyone could acknowledge for a man who is a hero by all accounts to slam her and seemingly not even know the facts of the relationship with the family. Certainly hit a bad tone. Thank you.

CILLIZZA: And by the way --

BURNETT: Yes, go ahead, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Just very, very quickly. So remember who brought John Kelly's son's death into the political conversation, it wasn't Frederica Wilson.


CILLIZZA: It was Donald Trump who said ask General Kelly about his son because he wanted to make the point that he did more for fallen soldiers than past presidents. And let's not forget, I mean, I know three days ago feels like a millennium ago, but that's how we got to this point of John Kelly coming out and talking about the loss of his son.

BURNETT: Right, very well said. Thank you all.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

BURNETT: Next, General Kelly talking about his son's death today. His feelings always kept private. Now, thanks to the President, forcefully into the open. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: He's the finest man I ever knew.


KELLY: Just is.


BURNETT: Plus, John McCain threatened subpoenas on the Niger ambush. Why are there still so many questions tonight? And President Bush speaking out today attacking Trump by spelling out what America means to him.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.



[19:20:48] BURNETT: Breaking news, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly confirming that President Trump said exactly what he denied saying, one day ago, about one of the American soldiers killed in that ambush in Niger.

The communing question, Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said Trump called the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson and said, "He knew what he signed up for." That's word per word what she said the President said. Here is the President yesterday and his chief of staff today talking about that exact same phone call.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't say what that congresswoman said. I didn't say it at all.

KELLY: A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States through a young wife and in his way tried to express that opinion that he is a brave man, a fallen hero. He knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted.


BURNETT: "OutFront" now, former Clinton White House Aide, Keith Boykin, and former Communications Director for President Trump's Transition Team, Bryan Lanza, who also was the former Deputy Communications Director for the Trump campaign.

Bryan, let me start with you. You heard the President. He said he never said what the congresswoman said. He even said in a tweet it was fabricated. But, of course, when you listen to General Kelly, he says the exact same words that the congresswoman said. Was the President not telling the truth?

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: You know, I just hear it differently than you hear. And I hear context and context matters. What she was trying portray (ph), what the congresswoman was trying to portray was really this harsh context when he said these things. But when you hear what General Kelly said in the context where he's explained it all, there is a huge distinction.

And so when I think the President say that's not what he said, it's not in the context that he said these things and I think that's what the criticism is unfair, but this is where we are today.


KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: In other words, what I think Bryan is saying is that the President of the United States lied to the American public, but --

LANZA: No, that's not what I'm saying.

BOYKIN: That's exactly what you just said.


BOYKIN: In other words, he lied to the American public when he denied. He said that congresswoman completely fabricated the words. They were the exact same words. And General Kelly confirmed the words.

The only thing that Bryan just pointing out is the context might have been different. I knew this from the very beginning. When I first heard the story I thought, well, maybe he said it, but he said it in a way that --


BURNETT: That he meant something different. He wanted her to hear it a different way.

BOYKIN: Exactly. But what he did is he came right out and flatly denied it. He went into his normal mode, which is to attack, attack, attack to make the story about him and it became this sort of narcissistic personality again. But he has to learn -- if he's going to be the commander in chief, he have to learn to be bigger than that.

BURNETT: Bryan, because you have two members of the family confirmed to us that the President said what the congresswoman said he said. So, when you get at the tone of the words that matter, context, let's completely give you that. But if that's what they heard, isn't it incumbent on him to say, "Gosh, that's not what I meant," to be the kind and empathetic one.

LANZA: And we don't know what follow up conversations they're going to have through the course of, you know, you have the President being President of the United States. We don't know how long he's going to be engaged with this. And I think we should allow this private moment between the President, commander in chief, with the families of soldier who have fallen. And I think what you have now is the media that's going to dissect everything.

What I saw earlier in General Kelly's, you know, press conference earlier, it was a complete rebuke of the coverage of the last 72 hours on this specific phone call. This is the problem that is occurring. We're not giving the President the benefit of the doubt. We are jumping to the most negative conclusion, sort of like a political hit piece and we get lost in these things and I think that's the problem here.

BURNETT: Well, I, of course, feel it that incumbent upon me to say, if he's frustrated with the past 72 hours, there's one person he should be frustrated at, at that's the person who started the entire thing by politicizing it, which is President Trump. So, he can be frustrated at everybody else, but know what he was talking about.


LANZA: Hold on. The media is the one who politicized this by saying, hey, who was the last -- when did you actually call them? You've been tweeting on these things, but you haven't called the family.

BOYKIN: No, no, no.

LANZA: That's actually what took place. Let's follow the sequence of events.

BOYKIN: First of all --

LANZA: And so the media (INAUDIBLE) started this sort of story line.

BOYKIN: Bryan, the media has its job.

LANZA: Sure.

BOYKIN: Let's not make this --


BOYKIN: Let me speak for a chance, OK? Brian, what's going on here is that four American soldiers were killed in Niger two weeks ago, two weeks and one day ago now and the President of the United States took 12 days to even acknowledge it.

[19:25:07] The Defense Department, the national security staff, rather, drafted a statement for the President to issue. He did not issue that statement. He'd never talk about it. He didn't tweet about it. He was busy attacking Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the NFL during that time.

He only talked about it on Monday because a reporter asked him a question it because he had been -- he's been not saying anything about it. And this young man, La David Johnson, his body was lying out there in the desert in Niger for two whole days, practically, and the United States government had done nothing to rescue him.

Yes, the American people want to know what happened. We want answers. His family deserves answers.

LANZA: Absolutely.

BOYKIN: And that's the reason why the widow and the mother confirmed with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

BURNETT: All right. So let me just hear, you know, John Kelly said that there were many things that were sacred in this country, Gold Star families included. But he's saying it's no longer the case, Bryan. And he said the last thing that may be sacred this country is the men and women who gave their life fighting for the United States. He pleaded for that (INAUDIBLE). Here he is.


KELLY: I still hope, as you write your stories, and I appeal to America that let's not let this maybe last thing that tell sacred in our society, a young man, a young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country. Let's try to somehow keep that sacred. But, it eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.


BURNETT: Bryan, are you all right with that, bringing in a member of Congress into this?

LANZA: I mean, I would say this. She shouldn't have spoke out without the complete context of the statement. I think this should be a very personal phone call between the family and the President. Some president's make these calls, some president don't. It really doesn't matter what each individual person had to promise, but this should be a private moment.

And for her to politicize it that way she did, she brought in a political twist to something that should have been very personal moment between the President and this family and I find that to be repulsive.

We need to let these families mourn. We need to support them. We need to prop them up. We need to love them. We need to encourage them. We need to do all these things. But the last thing we need to do is politicize them. And you saw that to congresswoman.


BOYKIN: I agree. I agree, we should not politicize it. But if this is such a sacred call, why was the chief of staff on the call? Why are the people in the White House staff on the call? It's not just a communication between one person and another. Frederica Wilson was a family friend -- (CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: -- is a family friend of La David Johnson. She knew this young man from the time he was growing up. She had the right to be there. She was in the car with the widow at the time this happened.

And the idea that Donald Trump and the White House is trying to make this an attack on Frederica Wilson instead of taking responsibility for what they did not do, how they failed in Niger, is an abdication of their responsibility.

BURNETT: All right, thank you both. And next, what happened in Niger? John McCain is threatening subpoenas on the Niger ambush. Why are there still so few answers?

And Obama back on the campaign trail with a not so subtle swipe at the current command every in chief.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Down in the politics we see, now we thought we put that to bed.



[19:31:05] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Breaking news: Senator John McCain warning he may seek a subpoena to get on the ambush in Niger that left four American soldiers dead, two others wounded. He says it doesn't matter that the Defense Department hasn't finished its own investigation.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: That's not how the system works. We are co-equal branches of government. We should be informed at all times.


BURNETT: So, why are there still no answers more than two weeks after the greatest combat loss in President Trump's administration?

Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Green Berets were leading the 12-man team on a visit to village elders. They had done 29 routine patrols in the area over the last six months. This time, it was all-out combat.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's a reason we have U.S. Army soldiers there and not the Peace Corps because we carry guns. And so, it's the reality. It's part of the danger that our troops face in these counterterrorist campaigns.

STARR: According to initial reports, the soldiers had just left the meeting and were near their trucks to meet up with those who stayed behind. They walked right into an ambush.

COL. STEVE WARREN (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A fire fight is unlike any other human endeavor. It's confusing, it's loud, it's terrifying. There's blood, screams, danger all around.

STARR: A military investigation is under way.

COL. MARK CHEADLE, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND SPOKESMAN: Had we anticipated this sort of attack, we would have absolutely devoted more resources to it, to reduce the risk and that's something we are looking at right now.

STARR: But what is known is disturbing. The troops had been told it was unlikely there would be opposition in the area. Now, the U.S. believes it was 50 ISIS fighters who attacked them. ISIS was armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The Americans had their rifles.

The U.S. troops fought back, running for cover, calling for help. Thirty minutes later, French jets flew over the battlefield, trying to scare off the ISIS fighters. They had no authority to fire on them. It was close to an hour before French military helicopters and a U.S. contractor aircraft came in to evacuate the dead and wounded, U.S. officials say.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Did they know what was going on in the area? Were they sharing with the right people? Did the African countries know something the U.S. advisers did not know and they didn't share? That's another area. The third area might be, how do you evacuate if you have potential casualties?

STARR: Tough questions face the Pentagon and the president. What happened during the fire fight? How did Sergeant La David Johnson get left behind? Was he killed instantly? What does the White House know?

All important questions to understand what went wrong, especially how did Sergeant Johnson get separated from his fellow soldiers when the evacuation aircraft took off, they were one man short. No one can say why Johnson wasn't picked up.

MATTIS: The U.S. military does not leave troops behind. And I would just ask you not question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once.

STARR: Because nobody knew if he might be alive still, plans for a secret Navy SEAL rescue mission were made. Sergeant Johnson's body was found nearly 48 hours later. Nobody can say why and how he was left behind.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: The Pentagon is making the case that the troops on the ground did everything they could to find Sergeant Johnson, but we have not been given the full narrative, yet. That said, today, we saw the chief of staff of the White House, John Kelly, Secretary Mattis out for the first time in public discussing all of this in detail. We are told very much part of the administration effort, Erin, to recapture the narrative on the story.

[19:35:06] BURNETT: All right. Barbara, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, the former director of communications for U.S. National Intelligence, Shawn Turner. He served 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer, joins us, along with former member of the joint chiefs of staff, and former Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton.

You know a lot about what we need to know about what happened here.

Colonel Leighton, let me start with you. You just heard Barbara's report. So many questions we don't know the answers to, John McCain saying he's considering subpoenas because he is not getting any answers at all, right now.

What is the issue here? Why are there no answers going to the Senate Armed Service Committee or information going to them at all?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Erin, right now, there is little information going to the Armed Services Committees both in the House and in the Senate. And part of it may be because the Pentagon is actually looking into what exactly happened. So, they believe they have to make sure everything is set up exactly correct so they can present it to Congress.

Of course, Congress is going to look at this and they're going to say, we need to know now what happened.


LEIGHTON: Part of it is a resourcing question and, of course, Congress holds the purse strings.

BURNETT: Right, and, of course, John McCain said that's not how it works, they get all the information right away as co-equal branches of government.

Bob, last night, you said this is worse than Benghazi because Benghazi was the ambassador's decision, right? So, that was on -- he's the one who made that decision. But in this case, it was the Pentagon's decision, ultimately, the commander in chief's responsibility.

Do you think they know more than they are telling us? This John McCain feeling saying they are not being up front?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Erin, I think a mistake was made. Those guys clearly were surprised in an ambush. The intelligence was bad. They shouldn't have been there. There was no back up. The fact contractors had to rescue them, the fact that the French flew over the sight, but couldn't fire, it was a fiasco. They were set up.

And I think through command, through the Pentagon, people understand this. A huge mistake was made. And I don't -- whose fault was it? The fact that these guys fought heroically and got out of there, the fact somebody was left behind, that happens in the confusion of combat.

But the question is, who sent them up there and, you know, the president is saying, look, we have defeated ISIS in Raqqa, I have done it, finally, you know, the past administration failed. But in fact, ISIS is very much active and this is something that people aren't prepared to admit in the administration.

BURNETT: I want to talk more about that in a moment because that's a crucial point.

But, Shawn, what about the point Bob raises, right? They go into this village and they obviously don't have the intelligence, right? There's 50 ISIS-linked militants who are there. A lot of people would have known that. It's a village they have been to a lot of times before.

It would seem it was intelligence that someone should have had and, yet, they get in there, 30 minutes later, the French fly over and they are not allowed to drop any ordinance if they had it. They are not allowed to do that. Contractors had to get these guys out.

Does all of this trouble you?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It does, Erin. And, you know, I think intelligence is the most important point here. The military investigators are going to look at this intelligence from a bunch of different perspectives. They are going to look at the source of the intelligence. They're going to look at the age of the intelligence. Was this recent intelligence or operating based on old intelligence?

And I think one of the other really important questions is they are going to look at how this intelligence that they were operating under when they decided to take this particular action, how that intelligence compared to intelligence they had previously in the area. You know, if you had intelligence saying it was permissive for quite sometime and as a result, you begin to get into a rhythm and operate in a certain way in a hostile area, then that environment changes.

Often times, that's what you see when events like this happen.

BURNETT: Shawn, it seems if that's the case, there was a huge misjudgment or a miscalculation that was made, because there was an expectation they were going to be up front about this information. Obviously they weren't. You don't have 50 ISIS-linked fighters in a village like this with a lot of people around there not knowing about it. TURNER: Absolutely right. It's also the case that if this was good

intelligence, understand this is an environment where we tend to have fairly good intelligence, you know, one of two things will happen here. Either we are going to discover that there was something about the intelligence that changed fairly rapidly, and so, we no longer had good visibility of what was happening on the ground or, those attackers, those fighters had some information that we were not able to glean in intelligence because they got it fairly recently.

[19:40:02] So, there are a lot of questions to be answered here. But the one thing I will say, Erin, is that no matter what this investigation finds, absolutely nothing should take away from the sacrifice these brave men made and I think from the top down, we need to make sure we honor their service and wrap our arms around these families because they really going to need our support.

BURNETT: And quickly before we go, Bob, I just want to play, to your point, the president just in the past few weeks talking about how well his administration is doing against ISIS. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have done better in eight months of my presidency than the previous eight years against ISIS.

We have made great strides against ISIS.

ISIS is now giving up. They are giving up.


BURNETT: And yet here they are active in a country most Americans don't often hear of, 50 of them in one village, Bob.

BAER: Erin, yes, it's a mistake. Losing Raqqa is important to them, but not crucial. ISIS is coming back and it will strike back whether it's in Chad or Mali, or Niger. They will come back, or the Middle East. We are not done with this war.

And to claim victory is a big mistake on the administration's part, I guarantee that.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all. I appreciate it.

And next, Trump in a very unusual move, interviews candidates for open U.S. attorney positions. I'm going to speak to a top Democrat who says if he has his way, they'll never get those jobs.

And Trump today giving himself a ten out of ten on his handling of Puerto Rico. Do people there agree? We're live in San Juan.


[19:45:12] BURNETT: Tonight, national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, defending the administration's delayed response to the Niger attack.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The investigation really has a couple aims, right? One is to inform the American people, inform the Congress, inform across our government as to what really happened, to have a high degree and common understanding. You know, it might seem like this has been a long time. It's really not that long ago.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, this raid in Niger up front and center for you right now, Senator.

Look, we don't know a lot about the raid. It's been two weeks. Part of the reason all of this became such a massive public story was the president's silence on it for 12 days until asked about it.

Senator John McCain has said the Trump administration is not being up front. He's asked directly, are they being up front? He answered in a word no.

And here's what he told our Suzanne Malveaux today.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What does the committee need to know in terms of details --


MALVEAUX: Can you be more specific?

MCCAIN: Everything.

REPORTER: What steps will you take, Senator, to get to the bottom of this? What steps will you take to --

MCCAIN: It may require a subpoena.

REPORTER: Do you feel the administration has been forthcoming up to this point about what happened there?

MCCAIN: Of course not.


BURNETT: He's pretty infinitive, of course not, and it may require a subpoena. Do you think the administration might be hiding something, somewhere?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMETHAL (D-CT), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I agree with Senator McCain. The administration needs to be more forthcoming. There may be a reason for subpoenas. Certainly, there is a need for a classified briefing as soon as possible, not weeks away but next week.

And I believe, also, the American public has a right to know. There ought to be open hearings. The administration officials should be under oath and public. And there needs to be a full, fair investigation, not only by the administration, but possibly by our committee as well.

So, I agree completely with Senator McCain and Senator Reed who are in unison on this issue.

BURNETT: And why do you think it took them so long? You know, they reportedly, right, had a statement ready go. They didn't put it out. Twelve days went by. That's why the president was asked about this. And, then, of course, he made it political with a separate issue of calling the families of the fallen.

We're now two weeks out. Why haven't they said anything?

BLUMENTHAL: The delay in disclosure ought to be question number one. I think it is one of the reasons why Senator McCain rightly was so definitive in his statement that the administration failed to be forthcoming and, in fact, they have been. They need to engage in full disclosure here.

BURNETT: And you also suggested today that you may try to block U.S. attorney nominees who have been interviewed by the president. He is doing that.

To be clear, there were a lot of vacancies, right? He fired a lot of people. The resignation of 46 attorneys is what he asked for. And a White House official told CNN today, though, speaking of you: We realize Senate Democrats would like to reduce this president's constitutional powers but he and other presidents before and after may talk to individuals nominated to positions within the executive branch.

Don't they have a point?

BLUMENTHAL: We're talking -- we are talking here about nominees in two or three judicial districts where President Trump fired the incumbents and where politically sensitive investigations were under way potentially involving his associates, the presidents. And now, he is interviewing the nominees to replace those incumbents.

Now, interviews by the president of the United States with United States attorney nominees is unprecedented so far as I know and I asked Attorney General Sessions yesterday whether he knew of any and he did not.

BURNETT: So, you are saying, perhaps not unconstitutional or illegal in any way, but unprecedented and that's enough?

BLUMENTHAL: It's unprecedented. It also creates a grave appearance of a conflict of interest for the president to be interviewing nominees for chief prosecutorial positions where he may be, in fact, a target of an investigation or legal action. And, that is problematic from my standpoint.

I am going to ask those nominees about those conversations with the president of the United States, to determine whether, in any way, he raised issues that may be relevant to their subsequent service and I am going to block those nominations until we have those hearings and we are given an opportunity to ask those questions under oath.

[19:50:01] BURNETT: All right. And, of course, to state the obvious, let's just take the jurisdiction of New York would directly apply to the Trump Organization, of course, his companies -- the president's bread and butter financially, and others as well.

All right. Thank you so much, Senator Blumenthal, as always. Appreciate your time.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

And OUTFRONT next, Trump gives himself a 10 on the Puerto Rican hurricane response. So, what do people on the ground say? Do they think it's a ten?


BURNETT: Breaking news, live pictures right now.

That's President Obama. He is in Virginia campaigning for Democratic candidate for governor, not shying away from the current political environment under President Trump.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we've got politics infecting our communities. Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in practical way, we've got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry. To demonize people who have different ideas to get the base all riled up.


BURNETT: This just hours after George W. Bush blasted bigotry and white supremacy and said this in New York.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism.


[19:55:01] BURNETT: Pretty strong words, well written.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT in Richmond, Virginia, where President Obama is.

And, Alex, President Bush and President Obama both clearly aiming at President Trump but not naming him by name. How was President Obama received today?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very well. You can hear this raucous crowd out here today. He was given a rock star's welcome. This is the first time that President Obama is back in campaign mode since the brutal election last year.

The former president making two stops today. The first one in New Jersey this afternoon to support the gubernatorial candidate there, Phil Murphy, and coming down here to Richmond, Virginia, to support Ralph Northam.

Now, he made it clear in comments, became evident he wasn't going to mention Trump by name. He didn't talk about the efforts of President Trump to erase President Obama's legacy when it comes to health care, when it comes to Iran, when it comes to the Paris Peace Accord.

But what he did make clear is that he does not want to see any more of President Trump's brand of political divisiveness. Take a listen.


OBAMA: At a time when our politics just seem so divided and so angry and so nasty, is whether we can recapture that spirit, whether we support and embrace somebody who wants to bring people together.


MARQUARDT: So, a clear attack there against President Trump and his brand of politics, calling it short-term gains when he goes out and appeals to those crowds, to his base in those campaign-style rallies.

Now, the big question, how much is President Obama going to be campaigning going forward? This is the first time we mentioned he came out. We do know from Obama camp that he's interested in getting involved in the state races, because that is where so much of the former president's agenda and legacy can be protected. But we don't have much of an indication of how much go out for congressional candidates in 2018.

Now, this race here in Virginia is very close. Remains to be seen how much President Obama's star power can affect this race, this election due to be held on November 7th -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Alex.

And also new tonight, President Trump giving himself a pat on the back over his response to the deadly hurricane that tore through Puerto Rico.


REPORTER: Mr. President, between one and 10, how would you grade the White House response so far?

TRUMP: I'd say it was a 10.


BURNETT: Out of what? A 10.

Now, despite 80 percent of the island still not having power, areas though without access to clean water and nearly a month after Hurricane Irma hit. But what do people there think?

That's what matters and Polo Sandoval is OUTFRONT live in San Juan.

Polo, you went to talk to people who have been hit hard by this hurricane. What are they telling you?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I'll tell you that that optimistic assessment coming from the Oval Office certainly is not sitting well for many people here on island where only about 22 percent of folks have electricity. The rest are still in the dark, already a month after this storm swept through, this hurricane swept through.

And you've seen the pictures. You've heard the stories already for weeks now and the real need, especially in the more rural pockets. Today, though, we didn't to go far very far. We only drove about five minutes outside the capital to the Santosa (ph) neighborhood, took that news to residents there about this grade that President Trump gave his efforts by U.S. government.

Here's what they had to say about that.


CYNTHIA HERNANDEZ, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT, DISAGREES WITH TRUMP'S ASSESSMENT: I grade them F. Because they -- they're going too slow. It's been a month, already, more than a month. U.S. troops, they should have been here two days later. Why take a week, two weeks? Why not two or three days later?

This is emergency. There's people dying. There's people killing themselves. There's babies getting sick. My daughter, five months old, been in hospital twice already in less than a month.

SANDOVAL: President Trump says that government deserves a ten grade for the performance.



SANDOVAL: Zero and an F. Those are again, just two U.S. citizens that you heard from a few months ago. We should mention, though, there were signs of progress that we saw, FEMA contractors that were putting blue tarps on homes. We saw utility crews replacing some of those poles that were snapped like twigs. But reality is probably could be months before electricity is flowing through those lines.

But, Erin, the consensus among the folks that we talk to today, if President Trump, if local officials want that 10, well, they've got to work for it.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much, Polo.

Thanks for joining us. Don't forget you can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere on CNN Go.

"AC360" with Anderson begins right now.