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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Pentagon Updates Niger Investigation. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired October 23, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: But, again, if there were, the investigation will certainly tease that out.
I have seen open-source reporting to that effect. I don't have any -- I don't have any information in the operating chain that would indicate that were limitations.
Now, when I say limitations, you know, part of the requirement is obviously to build and integrate. And I don't know whether there was any challenges integrating. I don't know why the Mirages didn't drop bombs during those initial passes.
And I don't know if the unit on the ground asked them to do that. Those are things we will find out in the investigation.
QUESTION: Just a couple (OFF-MIKE) points. One, you mentioned RPA was on the scene, I think you said, within minutes. Was that French, American?
DUNFORD: That was American and it retasked. It was operating in the area anyway, and so we were able to retask it. And that's why it was available in minutes. It was literally in the air in the area and we were able to retask it directly in support of that unit that was in contact.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) system did it strike?
DUNFORD: It was -- it was -- it did not strike. It did not strike.
QUESTION: Did it have the possibility?
DUNFORD: Yes, I'm not going to talk about what our capabilities are in the region, but that particular capability that was there within minutes did not strike.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) On the president's trip to South Korea next month (OFF-MIKE) visit to the DMZ, but President Trump has not yet made any decisions to be at the DMZ next month.
Who made this decision? And it's the Korean government or the U.S. government?
DUNFORD: Yes, I don't know the details of the president's itinerary later this month or what decisions he's made about the DMZ.
QUESTION: But the president visiting the DMZ as commander in chief of the United States is good for the -- sending any kind of a message...
DUNFORD: I'm going to leave it to President Trump and President Moon to decide whether or not the president ought to be in the DMZ.
QUESTION: Sir, can you clarify what you were saying about the drone?
QUESTION: Does that mean you had complete visibility of the situation, there was a drone up above within minutes?
DUNFORD: We had a remotely piloted vehicle that was in the area. It was a U.S. remotely piloted vehicle. As soon as they asked for help, within minutes, it was retasked to provide intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, full-motion video, one of the capabilities, right over the scene of the troops in contact.
QUESTION: And how long was it able to stay above?
DUNFORD: Jennifer, I don't know how long it stayed, but I certainly can get that for you.
I don't know how long it was on station at that particular time.
QUESTION: So, did they request specifically ISR, or did they request help, and then you sent ISR?
DUNFORD: They would have in the normal course of events. I haven't seen the logs. We will have all that teased out in the investigation. But in the normal course of events, they would have discreetly for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance and then also supporting fires and specific effects that they wanted to achieve. So, I think they would have had a more detailed request.
QUESTION: Do you have the video?
DUNFORD: What's that?
QUESTION: Have you viewed..
DUNFORD: I have not viewed the video.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So, on the evacuation, you had the wounded evacuated, of course, first, and then the killed in action. Do you know yet whether anyone did a head count on either of those aircraft or after those evacuations were done to be sure that everyone was accounted for?
DUNFORD: I don't have that level of detail in terms of who counted.
I mean, I know what the procedures would normally be. I can't tell you if those procedures were followed at that particular time. Again, that will be something that will come out in the investigation. Yes?
QUESTION: General (OFF-MIKE) increasing the tempo of missions in Africa? Can we expect to see more deployment of troops into Africa, changes in the ROE?
DUNFORD: Yes, I think it's premature to talk about what additional changes in troops or ROE we would make.
Look, we're watching very carefully, with the fall of Raqqa and Mosul, what the enemy will do. You see that. In fact, that's one of the reasons I have 75 chiefs of defense or their representatives that are here tonight, is to talk about the next phase of the campaign.
I described it as an inflection point. One of the places that we know ISIS has aspirations to establish a larger presence is in Africa. We know how important Libya and the Sinai have been to the Islamic State. We know how much they have tried to get into East Africa, and, of course, the scenario we're talking about here today in West Africa.
So we're watching that very carefully. And we are going to make recommendations to the secretary and to the president for the allocation of forces that meet what we see as the threat, what we anticipate the threat to be.
But I certainly -- I certainly wouldn't talk about what we will do tomorrow at this moment.
QUESTION: For now, have the -- have the combatant commanders or the chiefs made any recommendations to the White House to change any of -- to change troop numbers, tempo, ROE?
QUESTION: And has the White House spoken with you about it?
DUNFORD: To the White House, no.
But one thing I would tell you, just to make sure that we're clear, we get requests for capabilities on a routine basis. They come to me. And then we frame those for decision by the secretary of defense. So there is constantly request for capabilities that go back and forth between the combatant commanders and the secretary.
I mean, I don't think a week goes by when we don't work a request from the combatant commanders to do that. And, sometimes, it's a question of reallocating capability. If you were talking Africa, we would reallocate it either from European Command or Central Command, and then reallocate it back when a particular mission is complete.
But that kind of activity happens all the time. I think what you're really talking about is a much more sustained presence, with a larger footprint. And there's been no discussion, nor has there been a request for that. QUESTION: The troops that are on the ground right now, has there been
a discussion of increased tempo?
DUNFORD: There has not. There has not.
Tom, yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Sorry for cutting you off earlier.
You said that they overnighted, the patrol overnighted from October 3 to October 4. Was that part of their mission plan they put up and that headquarters understood was going to happen?
DUNFORD: Yes, I don't have the details of that.
You know, I don't know whether it was intended that they would -- how long it was going and if they had planned to stay overnight.
And just to be clear, I think the probably more accurate description than stayed overnight was, they caught a couple of hours of sleep after the 3rd and before they completed their mission on the 4th.
QUESTION: Sir, is there an investigation beyond the 15-6 into the troop deaths? And then what's the significance of the FBI being...
DUNFORD: Sure. Sure.
On the first case, no. There is an investigation that is being conducted by the general officer at the United States Africa Command into the incident itself. So, that's the only investigation, the U.S. military.
With regard to the FBI, it's very normal in counterterrorism cases for them to conduct investigations, to get information, intelligence that may be related to threats to the United States. And I believe that's the capacity in which the FBI is conducting an investigation right now.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on whether or not the troops were wearing body armor, the U.S. forces.
DUNFORD: Yes, I don't personally know how these soldiers that day were equipped, if they were wearing body armor.
QUESTION: More broadly, you talked about the difficulty of next of kin notification. Obviously, there is a big political discussion right now about the right way to do that.
Can you talk generally on just the difficulty, the challenge of conveying to American families when their loved one is lost what they died for? DUNFORD: Yes, I think -- one, I think what you just zeroed in on is
one of the things that we try to do when we do this. And I have certainly had to do it myself, is, you want the family to understand the why.
And so I think one of the most important things that we would try to do in this particular case is be able to explain how what their loved ones were doing was related to the protection of the homeland and dealing with the threats that we confront.
And, frankly, I think, in this particular case, we will be able to do that.
QUESTION: Following up...
DUNFORD: Yes, go ahead, and then I will come back.
QUESTION: Following up, Sergeant Johnson's widow said this morning in an interview that she had asked to see her husband's body, but had been told no. Is that the case? Is there a reason why?
DUNFORD: Yes, it's not -- you know, first of all, I did hear that this morning.
And what typically happens -- and, again, I have been involved in these cases myself -- is there are times when we make a suggestion to the family that they may not want to review the remains.
At the end of the day, the policy is, it's the family's decision as to whether or not they do that. So I can tell you what the policy is. I don't know what happened in the case of Mrs. Johnson, but we will certainly find that out.
But I did hear her say that today. And, certainly, again, from a policy perspective, we would typically defer to the family's desires, and we do that. But I don't know exactly what happened in the exchange with Mrs. Johnson in what would have normally been the casualty assistance officer that would have been supporting her.
QUESTION: There is a follow-up. If it does turn out that she was not given the option to view her husband's body, is this something you will be looking further into?
DUNFORD: Yes, I mean, I don't want to speculate whether -- that causes me to speculate whether -- what exactly happened.
But I can assure you if Mrs. Johnson or any of the families of the fallen are unsatisfied with the support that they have had to date or have additional questions, we're going to go to every last length to try to satisfy their concerns or answer their questions.
I mean, that's what we do in each and every one of these cases. With Mrs. Johnson certainly, with all four of the fallen in this particular case, and, frankly, anyone in the department that gives their lives on behalf of our country, we're going to try to do everything we can to answer those families' questions.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Who found Sergeant Johnson's body? Which force?
DUNFORD: There's initial reports. And, again, my understanding is that the body was reported by Nigerian forces to U.S. forces.
I'm going out a little bit on that one because I feel pretty comfortable that's what the reporting was. But, again, you know, from the investigation, we will get the final details, but that's the initial report.
Right there in the back.
DUNFORD: I'm sorry. I'm going to come back.
QUESTION: So, as ISIS decentralizes and the U.S. military looks to partner with a number of partner nations to attack across the global network you have described, should the American people expect to start hearing about incidents like this in countries outside of Iraq and Syria and places they're maybe not familiar with?
DUNFORD: Well, you know, again, in this particular case, we have been operating there for many years.
And this is a tragic incident, but it hasn't been a matter of routine. So, if you're asking me, is it going to be a matter of routine that we suffer casualties in places other than Niger or outside of active area of hostilities, I will tell you, no, it won't be a matter of routine that we will suffer casualties.
We will, unfortunately, in a war that has been described as a generational war have additional casualties in the future, and we will do all we can to mitigate it. But when we're conducting these kinds of operations, which we call train, advise and assist, we don't, under the normal course of events, accompany those local partner forces when contact with the enemy is expected.
So we either -- we do one of two things. We either stay back at what we call the last cover and conceal position, right? So, that's before enemy contact is made. Or we don't even go on an operation if enemy contact is made.
Outside of active hostilities, our focus is to enable local forces to be able to conduct operations against the enemy. OK?
QUESTION: Fair to say that the war on ISIS is shifting right now to Africa?
DUNFORD: I think it's shifting. I'm not sure I'm ready to say it's shifting just to Africa. We're
dealing with a challenge that exists from West Africa to Southeast Asia. We have seen manifestations of it in Europe. We have seen inspired attacks here in the United States.
So, we're dealing with a global challenge. I believe that ISIS will attempt to establish a physical presence outside of Iraq and Syria, now that they have lost their caliphate in Raqqa and Mosul. They will attempt to establish.
And that's exactly why we're conducting the kinds of operations we're conducting in Niger, is to ensure that local forces have the capability to prevent that from happening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for about two more questions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Does part of the FBI investigation include interviewing the wounded and the soldiers who were there at the attack back here in the U.S.?
DUNFORD: You know, I don't -- we will have to get back to you.
I don't actually know the details of the FBI investigation. I'm very familiar with the U.S. military investigation, and the general officer that's been assigned to do that investigation will interview everyone that was there, anyone that has any information about the incident that took place on the 3rd and 4th of October.
But I can't talk about the FBI investigation.
QUESTION: Can you just give us a full -- a time from the time the initial troops in contact until they were -- the Americans were taken out of the area? What was the total time of this entire engagement? Do you have that?
DUNFORD: Well, what I can tell you, Courtney, is that it was mid- morning local time in Niger on the 3rd of October when this all began.
And it was the evening local time on the 6th of October when Sergeant Johnson's body was recovered. So, there was ongoing operations throughout that period of time.
In the back there.
QUESTION: Sir, thank you very much for doing this.
If I could have one, and then a follow-up. Will the investigation be able to look into what French intelligence or French military activity there was or may have been in the area of the attack leading up to the attack?
DUNFORD: Absolutely. Absolutely. Our investigating officer will absolutely engage our French partners
and interview the French soldiers that were involved. I'm sure he will interview the crews that were called in to provide support, including the rotary wing, attack helicopters, as well as the fixed- wing.
So, I don't have any doubt that all of the information that the French have available will be shared with our investigation.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) classified intelligence (OFF-MIKE) on their side?
DUNFORD: That's happening every day. There is no doubt about it.
I mean, we are -- we are integrated in conducting operations with the French. We are partnered with them there. So we have complete transparency in sharing information in West Africa with the French.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up really quickly, you mentioned national assets that deployed from the United States.
Without specifying what those national assets were, can you say if any of them actually reached Niger before the situation was resolved?
DUNFORD: Yes, honestly, I'm not going to address that.
I do want you to know that we have things. And I think many of you are familiar with those things, but we have national assets. And as soon as we had a missing soldier, we brought those assets to bear. But I'm not going to talk the details or the type of capability.
DUNFORD: In the back there.
QUESTION: Sir, should the American public be prepared for the loss of more U.S. troops in Africa?
DUNFORD: Yes, what I would tell you is that the majority of our operations in Africa are designed to support the training, advising and assisting of the local African partners.
And we mitigate the risk to U.S. forces with specific guidance that we will only accompany those forces when the prospects of enemy contact is unlikely.
There are other areas in Africa where we have a different construct. So, what I just described to you is the construct that exists in West Africa. Clearly, and you've seen it in recent days, we have a different type of operation against al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda organizations inside of East Africa, so, you know, we tailor the conduct of U.S. forces based on the threat.
The bias in Africa is to support local forces in dealing with the threat. Where there is a local threat to the U.S. homeland, American people, or our allies, we're going to do whatever is necessary to address that particular threat. So if we had -- let me be clear and use an example. If we have a specific threat to the Homeland and local forces are unable to deal with that threat, the United States forces are going to deal with that threat, but the bias is towards enabling local African partners to conduct operations in Africa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clarity on the timeline of the Medevac, sir? How long did it take before the casualties were Medevac'd and then how long did it take before the dead Americans were returned on the contractor flight?
DUNFORD: OK, what I -- what I outlined for you earlier was the evening of -- during the firefights, this is probably sometime late in the afternoon into the evening is when the two soldiers who were wounded were evacuated. What I don't have is the specific time when they were wounded. So, if you're asking for a time between when they were wounded and when they were evacuated, I don't have that. And in terms of the soldiers that were killed in action, they were evacuated in the evening -- that's local time in Niger, in the evening on the 4th of October.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have an idea of just how long the firefight lasted and did the Mirages play any role in disrupting the firefight?
DUNFORD: Anything I would tell you about the Mirages and I've seen some of it would be speculation so we'll get -- you know, what I need to hear from the guys that were on the ground who were actually employing those mirages before I'd make a conclusion about what effect those mirages had.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the time -- the time of the firefight, do you have a general sense of how long it took place?
DUNFORD: Only that it took several hours. I mean, well into the evening on the 3rd of October.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir one last --
DUNFORD: It's on the 4th of October -- 4th of October. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you let us know how many U.S. forces are serving in AFRICOM total, west and east Africa right now, maybe a potential breakdown?
DUNFORD: Yes, sure I can. I can give you -- I'll give you a range. We have on the order of 6,000 -- a little over 6,000 forces in Africa and they're in about 53 different countries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir? General Dunford, on the search for Sergeant Johnson's body, can you tell us how many U.S. troops took part in that search and how many partnered in allied forces as well and describe not just the drone that went in to look for him but maybe other assets as well?
DUNFORD: I can't. The -- that's again, that's down to the level of detail that is really going to require the investigation to lay all of that out. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many U.S. troops took part in the search?
DUNFORD: I can't tell you what -- and again, I know how many U.S. troops were part of that original advise, assist mission. I don't know what each of those troops were doing at any given time once contact was made. So, anything I would tell you at this point, I'd be speculating.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to clarify, you said that U.S. forces don't go out if they expect enemy contact. They won't go out with a -- with a partner force --
DUNFORD: Yes, the exact language -- and again, I don't want to be -- I'm not correcting you but it -- when we say chances of enemy contact unlikely, we would go out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You also said that they won't go out. They will remain in -- remain in at the last cover and conceal position if there -- if there is --
DUNFORD: There are different locations with different rules in those -- in those locations. What I described to you were the rules that were in place at the time this operation was conducted in Niger.
OK. I'll take one more and -- yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were explosive charges today says that this is Trump's Benghazi. I know you don't like getting into political muck, but --
DUNFORD: How did you figure that out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a track record -- you have a track record in not wanting to. But it's out there. Can you -- what's your reaction to --
DUNFORD: Look, I personally see no utility in comparing this incident to any other incident. What I would tell you is we lost four Americans in this incident. We had two others wounded. That makes it a big deal to me. That gives me a sense of urgency to identify exactly what happened, to communicate exactly what happened to the families and the American people. So, I personally am not comparing this to any other incident. What's most important to me, aside from getting the facts, is identifying those things that we can do better in the future. And that's my focus. OK. All right, thanks, thanks.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joe Dunford answering reporters' questions for almost 50 minutes, five-zero minutes about the ambush on October 4th in Niger, where four U.S. service members and five Nigerian allied troops were killed. Many questions about what happened that day, why the U.S. troops were there, why intelligence suggested that there was no enemy presence in the area, questions about the body of Sergeant La David Johnson, which was not recovered until two days after the initial contact. Let's bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto who was at the briefing who asked the
first question. We also have with us retired Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby who served as Pentagon Spokesman under President Obama, also with us retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling who served 37 years in the U.S. Army and commanded U.S. forces in Europe. Admiral Kirby, let me just start with you. Any surprising news? He didn't have a ton of information, but there was some greater information, but not a lot.
[16:50:58] JOHN KIRBY, FORMER SPOKESMAN, PENTAGON: No, but I think what he did he fleshed out the timeline. We got a bunch of much more accurate tick-tock here, how the mission started and how it all ended up. And I thought that was very helpful. I think one of the things that -- I'm sure Pentagon reporters will pick up on this. This two hours, right, 60 minutes before they made a call for air support and another 60 minutes for it to show up. And General Dunford was clear that that shouldn't be looked at negatively, necessarily. I mean, we have to figure out what exactly was going on in those 60 minutes, but that we got much more clarity on that.
TAPPER: He suggested -- if I can just interrupt once-- he suggested that possibly the reason that there was an hour between initial contact and U.S. forces calling is because the U.S. troops there thought they could handle it.
KIRBY: Exactly. And we don't know. In fact, you heard him get asked how many enemy were killed. They don't have that. So it could be that perhaps they did feel like they had some things well in hand to some degree. He was very clear that it was an all hands on deck effort from the moment they knew that they were missing a soldier until they recovered that body and that the U.S. troops were involved in that search. I think he was very clear and adamant that that was an ongoing operation from the 3rd all the way to the 6th when they got his body. And then finally, for me, I think he put a fork in the whole issue of authorities. Both the authority for them to be conducting that mission, but also the authorities for them to defend themselves, including the aircraft that were near. We've had conflicting reports about whether they could or couldn't drop bombs. He made very clear that while there wasn't any ordinances dropped by those jets, they certainly had the authority to engage the enemy should that have been you know, feasible.
TAPPER: General Hertling, what stood out to you?
MARK HERTLING, RETIRED LIEUTENANT GENERAL, UNITED STATES ARMY: It's was an interim brief, Jake, and it was smart move for General Dunford to come out. That's what military guys do. They come out, they tell what they know but they also understand that there's a tension between journalists and the military. As the Commander or General Waldhauser is the Commander of AFRICOM, he wants to get the information and primarily because he doesn't want to give the families of the fallen soldiers any wrong information. So they want to get it right before they issue it out. Reporters are, you know, it's great to give news and have them provide the information, but that's not General Dunford's top priority, truthfully. He wants to get the information. He's going to take as long as he needs to take to get it and then he's going to give it to the family first and his bosses first before he gives it to the press.
Here's the other thing that was interesting to me. He was asked the question about what did members of Congress know about the mission in Africa. I'm going to tell you something, Jake, we have 180,000 soldiers in 140 countries throughout the world. There are a lot of things the American citizens don't know about where the U.S. military is operating. This is one of them. We have been in Africa for multiple years, in fact, multiple decades, I would suggest. I provided support to the forces in Africa as the U.S. Army Europe Commander. And this mission has been going on for several years. So what he's saying is, hey, we provide the information. He also said I guess I've got to redouble my effort because people aren't listening. But that was an interesting standpoint of what I heard, is the Congress knows what's going on in Africa, they just may have to be reminded that there are some dangerous things going on with the Islamic state in the Sahel, al-Qaeda in the land of the Arab Maghreb and Boko Haram in the area between Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Mali.
TAPPER: He said about 900 U.S. troops in Niger and more than 6,000 scattered throughout the continent in 53 different countries in Africa. Jim Sciutto, there are a lot of questions about whether this was an intelligence failure. He -- General Dunford in briefing said that troops on their initial mission on October 3rd when they went to that town near Tongo-Tongo in Niger did not assess that there was any enemy presence and the next in October 4th, they did come in contact with the enemy.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me first say this, Jake. After some three weeks within comment from the President for 12 days on this ambush and some bristling from administration officials at really any questions on this ambush and whether there were failures, et cetera, a very different position here from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He came out, he said every one of these questions from the media and others is legitimate and I'm going to stand here, I'm going to take them and I'm going to answer the ones I can. I suppose maybe not the surprising thing at this point, but perhaps the frustrating thing is that many of those questions for him even remain unanswered.
We did learn that this was not an ambush that took place to his understanding outside of where they were meant to go. This was on a return from their mission, returning to base, something that you'd expect them to do. As John Kirby noted that they first called in for air support one hour in, again indicates that their -- probably their initial judgment was they could handle it on their own. Of course, that didn't turn out that way. But the question you brought up, Jake, on intelligence failure. He confirmed what we'd reported last week the intelligence they were given was at least that it was unlikely to have enemy contact. Of course, they did. It's a questioner they're looking into as to why that is the case.
Many other questions -- I asked them whether those evacuating forces who took out both the wounded and the dead had done headcount. He didn't know the answer yet, so that was legitimate, he doesn't know the answer yet. Was -- why was Sergeant Johnson's body found some mile away as CNN reported? They don't know the answer to that question either yet. Legitimate questions and clearly crucial ones to this. They did provide information, though, on a couple of other things. We've been asking for some time when was the White House first notified? He said very quickly by 9:00, the night that soldier was found to be missing, the White House was notified that this was underway.
Of course, you had reasons not to go public with that. In fact, I was involved reporting that night, they thought that they might have a live soldier still missing and did not want to jeopardize any of those operations. So a lot of very legitimate questions, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs there very willing to answer those questions, but, frankly, on a lot of these issues, they don't have the answers yet, Jake.
[16:56:53] TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, I want to bring in Jason Kander, he's a former Missouri Secretary of State. He also served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Jason, thanks for joining us. The -- General Dunford was asked about a statement made by Myesha Johnson, the Gold-Star wife of Sergeant La David Johnson who was killed in Niger. Myesha Johnson saying this morning on Good Morning America that she was told she could not look at the body of her late husband. She doesn't even know if that's an empty box. And General Dunford said he didn't know the particulars about what Mrs. Johnson had been told, but sometimes the Army advises Gold Star families that they might not want to look at the remains of their deceased loved one, but the body is in complete control of the Gold-Star family. He obviously didn't know the details about this. What do you make of what Myesha Johnson had to say earlier today about her conversation with President Trump?
JASON KANDER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE, MISSOURI: I mean, it was heartbreaking, and, you know, what stands out to them about it, I think -- there are two things, really. The first thing is that it's clear now no doubt that President Trump did, in fact, say, you know, this is what he signed up for. And that bothers me on a human level because that was a conversation with a person in the worst moments of her life. But also because that is what --I've heard people say that. It's what people say when they're trying to create emotional distance from themselves -- for themselves from the situation. And I just feel that any President needs to be able to be President in that moment, needs to be able to not seek emotional distance in that moment because when they make decisions about sending people into danger, they need to be able to call up that emotion.
It needs to be visceral. It needs to be something they've not separated themselves from. And then the second thing that stands out to me is whether it's a President or not, you know, President Trump responded to that today by basically -- well, not basically, just by calling Ms. Johnson a liar. And what I don't understand about that is, I don't -- I don't personally know anyone who would react that way. I mean, I don't believe the President's account, but even if the President feels that he was misunderstood, I can't imagine feeling as though -- feeling anything other than just devastated that you made someone feel that way and wanting to reach out and fix it. That's what stood out to me. TAPPER: And John Kirby, you were shaking your head. I mean, I think
one of the things that John Kelly was trying to do the other day was to explain that the reason the President said he knew what he signed up for is because that is what General Dempsey, I believe said to --
KIRBY: General Dunford.
TAPPER: Was it General Dunford?
KIRBY: He notified --
TAPPER: General Dunford told General Kelly that his son had died and he said -- he said something along those lines. Although the conversation between two Marine Generals might be quite different.
KIRBY: Exactly. I think in the context of that moment for the Kelly family, it probably was comforting and a reminder to General Kelly not that he really needed it of what service to the country in uniform can sometimes demand of you. But I think we need to allow for the fact that a young 24-year-old widow would take those words in quite a different way.
TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. I really appreciate you being here. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.