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Navy SEALs Paint Disturbing Picture of Eddie Gallagher; Trump Searching for His Next Secretary of State; Group Fights to Build Latino Support for Trump in 2020. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This all gets back to the charges, trial and intervention by President Trump of the former SEAL team commander. Gallagher was recently acquitted on all but a single war crime's charge.

Chief Gallagher responded to the new reporting from "The Times" this way:

"My first reaction to seeing the video was surprise and disgust they could make up blatant lies about me, but I quickly realized that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment. I felt sorry for them that they thought it necessary to smear my name but never realized what the consequences of their lies would be."

"As upset as I was, the videos also gave me confidence because I knew that their lies would never hold up under real questioning and the jury would see through it. Their lies and NCIS's refusal to ask hard questions or corroborate their stories strengthened my resolve to go to trial and clear my name."

Gallagher was acquitted of killing a 17-year-old ISIS fighter but convicted of taking a picture with his body.

President Trump stepped in before the process was completed to restore Gallagher's rank. That intervention led the Navy secretary to resign.

Joining me now for more on is retired rear admiral, John Kirby, and former press secretary at the Pentagon.

Thank you for being here, John.


BOLDUAN: We know members of his own platoon turned him in. We know he was acquitted after another SEAL said he wasn't the one that caused the terrorist's death.

But seeing this, reading about what they said when they turned him in, what does that do to everything that people know about the case, do you think? KIRBY: Well, it certainly shows how complicated this case was.

Remember, Kate, that one of those SEALs interviewed by criminal investigators and revealed in the "New York Times" story is the same SEAL that came forward in the case and said, under immunity, no, I'm the one that killed this detainee.

It showed how complicated this is and how difficult it will be for the SEAL community to pick up the pieces and move forward.

It also underscores how dangerous it is for a commander-in-chief to involve himself in a case while it's ongoing. Trump was involved almost from the get-go. He got involved in the pre-trial confinement of Chief Gallagher at the time.


KIRBY: So again, I think it underscores how complicated this is and unhealthy President Trump's behavior was.

BOLDUAN: Talk to me about what it meant that the men from the platoon came forward to report Gallagher. This unwritten code of silence among them.

KIRBY: I think we can make too much of that. They're an insular bunch. They are pretty quiet. In general, they don't like to talk about what they do. But they are men of character and honor, 99 percent of them.

You can see in the text messages how stringently they were trying not to get their stories straight but to say, hey, tell the truth. They were trying to move the process forward and, I think, be honest.

Gallagher questioned what they said. It is a little bit of "he said, she said." I can't speak to the validly of everything they accounted for.


KIRBY: But I think it is noteworthy they felt compelled to come forward and to say what they had seen in the hopes of pushing this case forward.

BOLDUAN: It's a window into the past. But it's about, as you're been talking about, what it means for the future and going forward.

KIRBY: Right.

BOLDUAN: What do you think -- how do you think -- do you think it impacts how SEALs operate going forward? What does a SEAL do now if they see a platoon chief doing something they think is wrong, really wrong?


BOLDUAN: What are the lessons learned for the community? KIRBY: Two things. One, I think the American people can take away

from this, the SEALs understand the controversy this case has caused and the controversy they are enduring. They understand that very well.

Collin Green, the SEAL community commander out there in California, is really trying to come to grips with issues of standards and conduct and ethics going forward and leadership, sound leadership within the SEALs. They understand the controversy here.

I think we also need to have a larger conversation about the way the SEALs and Special Operators in general have been relied upon fairly well by this country in the last 19 years of work.

I'm not excusing what Gallagher did.


KIRBY: But he was on his eighth deployment. These are not standard deployments like what I went on. They are in combat every single day, every single night. It takes a toll on you and your family.

And I think the SEAL community has, even before this case became notorious, was trying to get a grip on their resilience and their family's resilience going forward standards of conduct and ethics and good leadership.

We need to let them do that. We need to support them in that effort and try to take away a larger lesson from all of this.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John. It's good to see you.

KIRBY: You too, Kate. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed for the exit? Why Trump is reportedly looking for his replacement. Who could be in the running?


We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: The latest episode of "will he or won't he" in the Trump administration is, will Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leave the cabinet to run for Senate in Kansas in 2020. If so, who is President Trump going to find to become his then third secretary of state?

The last word from Pompeo earlier this month was he's going nowhere.



MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As long as President Trump will have me as the secretary of state, I'm going to continue to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FOX NEWS HOST: He told us he's sure you'd win if you run. Are you sure you would win if you run?

POMPEO: It's a tough race everywhere you go.


BOLDUAN: But the "Washington Post's" Josh Rogin reports that not only is he making moves towards a run, but President Trump is already looking for his replacement. Is this a sure thing and does the cloud of impeachment have anything to do with it?

Josh Rogin is joining me now.

Good to see you, Josh.


BOLDUAN: This is -- seemed to be rumored and tamped down more times than any of us can count, right? What are you hearing or what are you being told now that Pompeo is likely, more likely than ever moving in this direction?

ROGIN: Well, there's a lot going on. What you need to understand about Mike Pompeo is his goal is to run for president in 2024. The most important thing he can do between now and then is stay on the good side and stay close to President Trump.

So when he tells FOX that he will follow whatever the president wants to do, I think that's the case. Right now, the calculation is that Trump wants him to stay.

And Mitch McConnell is pushing Trump and Pompeo to change their minds out of fear that former Kansas secretary of state, Chris Kobach, might win the primary and then lose the general and hand over that Senate seat in Kansas to the Democrats.

If looks like that is the way it's going to go, you could be sure McConnell and Trump will push Pompeo to jump in.

That's why you see all the mixed signals. He says he's not in. Then he opens up a Twitter feed with a big picture of the Kansas farmland in the background. He meets with donors. He's keeping his options open. But as of right now, the guidance is he's leaning toward staying.

BOLDUAN: What are the deadlines? When does rumor need to change into expectation?

ROGIN: He's got until June 1st. He can keep his options open and not decide for several more months. He can see how the whole impeachment thing plays out, whether or not the sting of it lasts after the trial ends.

Also, while all of this uncertainty is happening, Trump is sounding off about who might be good to replace him.


ROGIN: He is talking to lawmakers and officials. That's created a heated competition where everyone is trying to get in line.

BOLDUAN: And that, of course, is the next chapter of fascination here.

Let me play first what -- the president, of course, has been asked about it. Let me play his reaction to a question about Mike Pompeo.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): If he thought there was a chance of losing that seat, I think he would do that and he would win in a landslide because they love him in Kansas.


BOLDUAN: They love him in Kansas. So who then are you learning is really under consideration to replace Pompeo?

ROGIN: So President Trump is talking to people about this all the time. The name that he comes up with most is National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, who just became national security adviser in September. It will be a meteoric rise. Everyone seems to like him. Trump likes him. He is a polished, confident diplomat with experience.

The other guy who wants the job is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He's very close to Trump. He is committed to staying in the administration. It would be a good move for him. But a lot of national security officials and Democrats in the Senate don't think he has the chops and the experience. They are worried about his dovish approach to China and his Wall Street focus.

Then you have Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. The Germans don't like him so Trump likes him. Trump likes that about him. But he might have a tough confirmation fight.

Then you have the deputy secretary of state, Steve Biegun, who just got confirmed like two weeks ago. He would be the acting if Pompeo steps down. He would be there. You have to put them on the list.

BOLDUAN: Are you hearing the president is leaning one direction or another? Are folks actively, I don't know, positioning themselves for the job?

ROGIN: Yes. He's sounding off people, getting opinions. They are trying not to look like they are lobbying but are slightly lobbying --


KIRBY: -- and denying that they are lobbying and then really lobbying. Basically, what you have is Trump's position is stay, until he changes

his mind, which could happen at any time.

Mitch McConnell is working him hard. Mitch McConnell has this knack for getting what he wants. If the Senate looks really close, the pressure will be on Pompeo.

The question is, is this good for Pompeo. Does he want to be a junior Senator after being secretary of state? Does that keep him in the mix and make him a better candidate for president, or would he rather stay another year, get some wins, and have a diplomatic record that is not just like impeachment and North Korea diplomacy?

BOLDUAN: There's also that. We'll see how the next two weeks go.

Good to see you Josh. Thanks, man.

ROGIN: Anytime.


BOLDUAN: Coming up, Latino voters are posed to make an major impact on the Democratic primary. But one group is trying to persuade them to support President Trump instead. How much of an uphill battle is that?


BOLDUAN: They will be the largest non-white voting bloc for the first time in 2020, Latino voters. While quite often you hear Latino voices objecting to the president's policies on things like family separations, the wall, asylum. but one group is now targeting those exact same group of voters with a pitch to support Trump in 2020. Will it work?

Nick Valencia has more.



RAY BACA, CHAIRMAN, BORDER HISPANICS FOR TRUMP: Are you a member of Border Hispanics yet?


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ray Baca has his work cut out for him. As the chair of the Border Hispanics for Trump, living in the Democratic stronghold of El Paso, his goal is to get Latinos to help reelect the president. But the odds are against him.

BACA: I'm with Border Hispanics for Trump. Are you? Have you heard of us?

VALENCIA: As the 65-year-old sees it, there are countless Latinos who support the president, but are afraid to admit it. He hopes to convince them that their values are more in line with the GOP and with Trump.

BACA: I look at President Trump as the one who most closely represents my values.

VALENCIA (on camera): People will hear that and say, values? You know, what values does the president have?

So, when you say that, what do you mean?

BACA: I mean supporting things that I support, like being against abortion, being for limited government involvement, being for border security.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Indeed, support for Trump in Texas among Latinos has remained steady at 30 percent, according to a recent CNN poll.

The unwavering support comes in the face of criticism over the president's rhetoric on the Latino community, which his critics, at best, see as offensive and, at worst, racist.

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.

VALENCIA (on camera): How can you still support somebody who they see as saying racist things against the Latino community?

BACA: I disagree. I really don't think he's said things that are racist.

VALENCIA (voice-over): In August, 22 people were killed in a racist attack targeting Latinos at an El Paso Walmart. Baca says anyone who blames Trump because of his rhetoric and border policies is trying to make political hay of the shooting.

BACA: I just don't think you can hold a president -- or President Trump in particular -- responsible for the actions of a single madman.

VALENCIA: Baca agrees with the president on most things, but not everything. Mainly, though he supports the idea of a wall, he questions the practicality of building one across the entire U.S./Mexico border, a signature issue for Trump and his base.

BACA: I see him with his faults. I see him warts and all. I don't want to spend $200 billion a wall, if you can do it for $50 million and solve the problem.

I'm Ray Baca.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I remember you, Ray.

BACA: Well, good to see you, food to see you.

VALENCIA: Tonight, Baca's pitch for Trump comes in an impromptu gathering of conservatives. But, even in a friendly crowd, it can be a hard sell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will think about it. I will think about it. Thank you. Nice to meet you.

BACA: OK, thank you. Bye-bye.

Can't win them all.

VALENCIA: But there are already some unlikely voters he doesn't have to win over.

(on camera): President Trump was the first president that you voted for?


VALENCIA (voice-over): Originally from Mexico, 29-year-old Blanca Binkley became a U.S. citizen just five years ago. She plans on voting for Trump again in 2020.

BINKLEY: Oftentimes, when I'm asked, but why? Or, like, I feel like someone's going to throw eggs at me or I'm going to be shunned from the Hispanic community, you know?

VALENCIA: Shunned by some, perhaps, but that's what Ray Baca and Trump are counting on.

BACA: We need to get our Hispanic brethren to quit voting Democrat simply because that's what they have always voted.


VALENCIA: Nick Valencia, CNN, El Paso, Texas.


BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much.

Let's take a deeper look into this. With me is CNN politics senior writer and analyst, Harry Enten.

Good to see you, Harry.


BOLDUAN: Thank you, my dear.

Bouncing off Nick's whole piece, are you seeing movement? Are you seeing that Trump is picking up, gaining with Latino voters?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER & ANALYST: I got to be honest with you. When I look at the numbers, I actually see a very static picture here.

Let's take a look. The 2016 general election, the Pugh Research voter survey, we saw Clinton winning among Latinos, 66 to 28 percent. Then I took a look at our last two polls and averaged them out among Latino voters. We saw Joe Biden leading Donald Trump in a hypothetical 2020 matchup,

64 to 29. Not much of a difference. I also did it with Sanders versus Trump, 66 to 27.

Those numbers are well within the margin of error compared to 2016.

BOLDUAN: For comparison, seeing it being static, compare that to how Trump compares to other Republican candidates with Latino voters? Where is the support of lack thereof?

ENTEN: I think this is interesting. You saw all of Trump's performances 2016. And now regarding a border wall, a lot of people thought it was anti-immigration rhetoric.

But the fact is, Donald Trump, if you look at 2016 election, Clinton 66, Trump 28, that's basically the same margin that Obama had against Romney back in 2012 when Obama won 68 to 30.

BOLDUAN: It's fascinating.

ENTEN: Yes. It's very fascinating. Things are so, so static. No matter what Trump says, Latino voters seem to be very steady both versus 2012 and 20202 versus 2016.

BOLDUAN: And important, the impact of Latino voters on the race at large. Because it could be a very big impact this cycle.

ENTEN: It could be an absolutely huge impact. Take a look at this. This is the percentage of the electorate in the Sun Belt battleground states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Texas. And in 2018, 17 percent of voters in those states were Hispanic. That's a very large bloc.


But it's not just there's a large bloc here. There's a large bloc of potential voters, registered, but didn't vote in 2018. And 26 percent of those were Hispanic. I think turnout will be a major question going in to 2020.

BOLDUAN: Firing them up and not just for Donald Trump but for Democrats as well.


BOLDUAN: A lot written about how they feel ignored and overlooked in the Democratic primary.

ENTEN: That could be a big thing in a state like Arizona.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Harry. Thank you.

ENTEN: Nice to be here.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, all back on the campaign trail today following the holidays. So what is their focus and pitch in the final sprint to Iowa?