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Trump's Unannounced, Unscheduled Hospital Visit Raising Questions; Trump Reverses Course On Flavored E-cigarettes Ban; Trump Issues Controversial Pardons Hours After Stone Verdict; Congress Struggles To Fill Loophole That Taxes Gold Star Families. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired November 18, 2019 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: But a source tells CNN the unannounced visit did not follow protocol for a routine visit like that one. The president's last yearly checkup for only nine months ago.

Here with me to discuss is CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, the White House press secretary is accusing the media of cooking up conspiracy theories accusing the media of cooking up conspiracy theories here, but this is a White House that lacks credibility because it has verifiably lied on multiple occasions. And the president has a history of misleading the media about his health.

Even when Melania Trump, for instance, went into the hospital last year for a kidney condition that seemed very benign by mention from the White House, much that didn't match up with a multi-day hospital stay there.

So what questions does all of this raise to you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are some real questions and inconsistencies.

First of all, a presidential visit to the hospital is a big thing, and it sounds like the staff didn't necessarily know. Some staff probably knew, but not everybody. They typically all know because it's a pretty big event.

They also say a quick exam and labs. That's what he had done at the hospital, a quick exam and labs. Those things are often done at the White House medical unit. There's a medical unit within the White House. They can do quite a bit there, including things like this.

So what was it, I guess, is the question that he needed to go to the hospital for specifically? Was it a specific test, was it something else? We don't know.

As you know, Brianna, Stephanie Grisham has been clear in her statement saying that there were no symptoms that prompted this visit. But I think any medical professional who hears about a patient going to a hospital in sort of a surprise way like this, that would be the question.

I will say that I'm glad he got it checked out, whatever it was, and he was only in the hospital for a couple of hours, from what I understand. So, you know, if it were something more intensive, you would think that the doctors would have kept him longer.

But again, we don't know. We don't know what it is, we don't know what he had done there, and we don't know why it was done so early.

KEILAR: The president said that this visit was only phase one of his yearly physical. It's worth noting he had his last physical about nine months ago. It did not have multiple phases. What do you make of this explanation?

GUPTA: I never heard of a multiple-phased physical examination.

In some ways it's not helpful, even, because if you get the labs done early -- there's a reason you wait a year to check the blood again. You want to see if the certain modifications you're making by meds or lifestyle are making a difference.

So getting him checked three or four months early really doesn't serve any purpose. He would probably have to have those repeated, anyway, in February.

So physical exams, they take a few hours, typically. I think his last one took four hours. He was there for two hours on Saturday.

I talked to a few other colleagues. Phased physical exams routine are just not done.

KEILAR: We do know -- and I remember we spoke about this several months ago from his last physical -- that he actually has a common form of heart disease, that he's been taking medication for high cholesterol.

You mentioned the doctors would want a year to see how things kick in there. What complications could arrive from that condition?

GUPTA: That's probably one of the big ones here. Again, he has this issue with high cholesterol for which he's taking the medications. He is clinically obese by virtue of his height and his weight there.

And he has a common form of heart disease. That's certainly got to be one of the things at the top of the list to be concerned about. And everybody, really, in their 70s who make a surprise visit to the hospital, that's one of the areas you look.

I will say again say, Brianna, just in the bucket list of things that don't make much sense, two hours in the hospital. If it were a more serious heart condition or something intensive, you would think he would be there longer.

But it's very hard to piece this all together. That past medical history, though, I do think is relevant here.

KEILAR: Great talking to you, Sanjay. Thank you so much for --

GUPTA: You've got it.

KEILAR: -- walking us through this. Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Trump is said to be retreating on his ban of flavored vaping, despite Melania Trump initially pushing him on this ban and his promises. Hear why.


Plus, were the Russians listening to the infamous phone call of the president allegedly talking about Biden investigations. The potential security breach that will play a key role at this week's hearings.


KEILAR: Despite a big push from the first lady to ban flavored E- cigarettes that appeal to children, the "New York Times" is reporting that President Trump may be changing his mind on the issue.

Back in September, Melania Trump appeared with the president when he made this announcement on new strong recommendations, as he called them, on vaping. Rarely commenting on political issues, the first lady was very interested. She tweeted about her interest in the topic.

We have CNN White House Reporter, Kate Bennett, to talk about this.

You're trying to figure out what's going on here, right, because if he is pushing back on it and Melania Trump is pretty much for it -- you've been speaking with the first ladies secretary. What did she say?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yu have to remember, the first lady's press secretary is now the president's press secretary, too. So there is that.

Stephanie Grisham told me that Melania Trump does not believe E- cigarettes of any nicotine products should be marketed or available to children, which is kind of towing the line here.


But that September Oval Office meeting came together quickly, about a day after the first lady first tweeted about this. And that's when we kept hearing about the deaths that could be associated with vaping happening across the country. Clearly, this was something she really cared about and wanted to get done.

Then the political fallout happened. And the president started hearing from people who were pro vaping, people who could be in his base. Jim Acosta reported that the campaign is saying, hey, this ban on the vaping thing could be bad for you in 2020. So he's possibly pulling back.

But The first lady still thinks of this as a forefront issue. She's added it to her Be Best initiative. She doesn't appear to be backing down on what she feels is really a negative impact on children.

Again, not to forget that the president and the first lady have a 13- year-old son. We remember that from that press conference where she said, we have a son together, we ever a son, an awkward moment.


BENNETT: And of course, it's affecting kids everywhere. And I think this is important.

It will be interesting to see how the political impact affects this issue for Melania Trump.

KEILAR: It doesn't say ban in that statement, Kate. I know you'll be getting to the bottom of.



KEILAR: What does she mean exactly?

BENNETT: It's a very safe statement right now. We'll figure out what happens with these flavored E-cigarettes.

KEILAR: Kate Bennett, thank you so much.

Just hours after Roger Stone was found guilty, the president issues controversial pardons, and now one of those pardoned military officers is speaking out.

Also, Carl Bernstein on why these pardons send a clear message in the impeachment scandal.



KEILAR: In a very controversial move and against the advice of Pentagon officials, President Trump interfered in three military war crimes cases.

He pardoned Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance. In 2013, Lorance was found guilty of second-degree murder for ordering his men to fire on three men on a motorcycle in Afghanistan.

Just three days after his release from the military barracks in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, Lorance is speaking out about the military leadership that advised President Trump against the pardon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FIRST LT. CLINT LORANCE, U.S. ARMY: I think folks that start putting stars on their collar, anybody that's got to be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion, they're no longer a soldier. They're a politician. And so I think they lose some of their values.

And they certainly lose a lot of the respect from their subordinates when they do what they did to me, which was, you know, throw me under the bus.

Mr. President, I wish you had a better team around you. You need more people watching your back. And I think you don't have a lot of that.


KEILAR: Now, President Trump also pardoned Army Major Matthew Golsteyn, who was awaiting trial on a murder charge of an unarmed Afghan man. That happened in his 2020 employment.

The president also restored the rank of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. He had been convicted of posing for a photo with a 12-year-old dead ISIS prisoner. He was demoted. He was acquitted of charges related to the murder of that same ISIS prisoner.

Let's talk about this now. I want to bring in Rachel VanLandingham. She is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former judge advocate, who now teaches law at Southwester Law School.

Lieutenant Colonel, thank you so much for being with us.

The Pentagon is staunchly opposed to this move. You say this is a terrible move. There are many folks who are experts on civil military relations who are former military who say this is a bad idea. Tell us why.

RACHEL VANLANDINGHAM, FACULTY MEMBER, SOUTHWEST LAW SCHOOL & FORMER AIR FORCE LIEUTENANT COLONEL & FORMER JUDGE ADVOCATE: It demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how the U.S. military fights, and it demonstrates a complete disregard and disrespect for the entire military chain of command. President Trump is challenging the credibility of his commanders.

So unlike what Lieutenant Lorance just said about generals lose respect when they pin on their stars, we depend on senior-level commanders within the military to lead our troops, to make life-and- death decisions to protect our servicemembers and to protect our country. And we trust them to make solid, good decisions based on the evidence and on the facts, how to dispose of credible allegations of misconduct.

I'd like to add, in response to Lieutenant Lorance's comment, that while some general put him in jail, there's an entire system here at stake, and that system is the military justice system, a robust system, a criminal law system is set up by Congress with tremendous oversight by Congress to allow commanders to provide fair and just accountability for soldier misconduct. KEILAR: Something else struck me. He said anyone who has to be

confirmed by the Senate in the military is a politician. That's tens of thousands of people. That's not just generals, right? That's -- I mean, someone at your level would be confirmed. Obviously, there would be people even a couple ranks below you who would be confirmed. There are a lot of people who are confirmed that are definitely not -- they're not politicians.


VANLANDINGHAM: That's ludicrous. He's taking attention away from the fact, in the military, it's not civilians that sit in judgement of servicemembers. It's fellow servicemembers. It was his fellow servicemembers that had great moral courage to came forward to testify against him.

It was servicemembers sitting on that panel that had to decide beyond a reasonable doubt, because every doubt should go to the accused, to the lieutenant in all criminal law. Especially here. We're dealing with complexities of the battlefield, the so-called fog or far.

Those who sat in judgment of him are familiar and said there's no reasonable doubt. He crossed the line here, he dishonored the uniform, he dishonored the United States, he committed murder, he did not commit lawful killing in war.

KEILAR: Real quick, Colonel, what does this do for commanders who have to keep order?

VANLANDINGHAM: It makes it tougher. They already have a tough job. President Trump made it tougher.

It also undermines U.S. strategic legitimacy regarding our commitment to the law of war. And it betrays those in uniform who actually do fight with moral courage and fight with restraint and that rule of law. And that law is that allows them to win. That's a dangerous road we've gone down.

KEILAR: Colonel VanLandingham, thank you so much for joining us.

VANLANDINGHAM: Thank you. Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: More on our breaking news.

We have more on our breaking news. Why the House is investigating whether the president lied to Robert Mueller under oath.

Plus, the Supreme Court temporarily blocking the House from getting the president's tax returns.



KEILAR: In my CNN column, "Home Front," where we try to bridge the civilian/military divide and bring you stories of military families, we've been tracking an unintended consequence of the tax reform bill passed by Congress in 2017 and signed into law by President Trump.

Children who have lost a parent in war or other service relates injury or illnesses were hit with a huge new tax on their monthly survivor benefits. This was a tax that was meant for recipients of trust funds and inheritances, not Gold Star families.

Recently, I spoke with one Gold Star widow, Malia Fry, who is struggling to pay this new expense, known as the kiddie tax for her children.

Her husband was a bomb disposal technician in the Marines and he was killed by an IED in Iraq in 2006 when Malia was 28 years old and her children were 2, 7 and 9 years old. They have seen their taxes on this go from about $150 per child to $1,000 per child.

All of this stems from the widow tax. Something where Gold Star spouses transfer their survivor benefits to their kids so they don't lose these benefits. But that means these benefits expire when the kids come of age.


KEILAR: If Congress has not fixed the widow's tax, what does that mean for you financially?

MALIA FRY, MOTHER IN GOLD STAR FAMILY: I will have to sell my house, the House I bought after he died that I moved to and raised our children from the ages of 2, 7 and 9. I will have to sell it and move because I will not be able to afford to stay here. That's what that's going to mean?

KEILAR: Are you hopeful Congress will finally deal with it? Or are you worried they're not going to?

FRY: If you had asked me the first of the year, I was hopeful. But the closer we get and the closer we get to time being up the more afraid I am that it's just going to be another year that we're cut from their agenda, that we're not important enough for them to help.

And so I can't say that I'm hopeful because they cut us so many times. There's a small hope inside me that they'll do the right thing, that they'll fix this.


KEILAR: Congress is trying to fix the kiddie tax, which is new, and the widow tax, which is not, in which Congress has tried and failed again and again to fix.

The kiddie tax is attached to a bigger bill on retirement savings that is stalled. And the widow tax fix, which, by the way, has unanimous support in the Senate, is attached to the bill that funds the entire Defense Department. That funding is due to expire on Thursday. And Congress still has not moved this forward.

So when Gold Star families start filing their taxes, as some people do as early as January, February, March, these kids are going to get hit with this tax increase, this huge tax increase for a second year unless Congress does what it says it wants to do. And we'll be tracking that.

And you can find that column and others at "Home Front." That is at -- on And also, please share your comments or story ideas. You can send me an e-mail at

That is it for me.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. You're watching CNN.

They're the top aides, ambassadors and security officials, and several are currently on the job in the Trump administration.