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Trump Surrounds Himself with Loyalists as other Insiders Speak Out; Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and Surrogate for Bloomberg, Discusses Trump Considering Blocking Aides from Calls with Foreign Leaders & Bloomberg Apologizing Again for Stop-and-Frisk Policy; Barr Wants Case of Michael Flynn Re-Examined; Trump Insists Traumatic Brain Injuries Aren't Serious But They Are. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: There has been a flurry of criticism of the president this week from current and former members of his circle, not the least of which has been from Attorney General Bill Barr. And whether his words are disingenuous or not, he's not alone in criticizing.

We've heard from John Kelly, defending Alexander Vindman. John Bolton, defending John Kelly.

Chris Cillizza is here with me.

Chris, I guess the upshot is that the president, more and more, is surrounding himself with loyalists. The upshot for him.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: More and more and more, in some ways, Brianna.

Look, this is just what you've talked about. These are people, two formers and one current, criticizing the president and saying, in Barr's case, makes it hard for me to do my job.

Let's go to your point. Next slide. Who he's bringing back? Hope Hicks. Hope was communications director. Left to go private sector and is coming back. She more than any other staffer -- and I don't include Ivanka Trump Jared Kushner -- any other staffer has the ear of the president of the United States. OK. So that's number one.

Next one. Johnny McEntee. Remember when they had the security clearance question. He was fired by John Kelly. John Kelly is gone. McEntee is coming back as head of personnel at the White House, which is big job.

Yes, Donald Trump, the closer he gets to re-election, hunkering more and more with these small group of people he trusts, including two retreads. Hope Hicks and Johnny McEntee are back.

KEILAR: What's old is new again, Chris Cillizza. CILLIZZA: Always. Keeping my '80s clothes.

KEILAR: I want to see that.

Chris Cillizza, thank you so much.

President Trump may be trying to limit some of his exposure by cutting the number of people who get to listen in on his calls with foreign leaders.

Here's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, who is defending cuts to the National Security Council.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It's bloated. We're going to bring it back to a size that's manageable and efficient. Look, the folks there really need to want to serve the president.


KEILAR: So I want to bring in Congressman Gregory Meeks. He's a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He's also a surrogate for former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Thank you for joining us, Congressman.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Good to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: So looking at these deep cuts at the NSC, it's just a slashing of what is supposed to be a resource for the president. Deep foreign policy knowledge on all of the countries that the U.S. has to deal with. How worrisome is this to you?.

MEEKS: Very worrisome because, here again, you have the president saying that he doesn't need that expertise. It seems as though what he's trying to do is just bring in folks that are going to be his yes people or cover up people. It's a very dangerous scenario that I'm seeing, one I'm very concerned with.

I just finished, not too long ago, reading Madeline Albright's book called "Fascism." She says we're living that now. If you look at those Fascists, they got everybody that would stand up for the country.

In that last clip, when you said the president only wants someone that will serve the president, I should hope he wants somebody that serves the country. That's what this is all about.

I think when you see people like Mr. Alexander Vindman being fired, who has received all kind of medals for the country, and because of his coming out and stating what he believes is and was patriotic, him being ceremoniously taken out like a perp walk, shows this president is very dangerous. And I'm very concerned. KEILAR: I want to talk about Michael Bloomberg and the 2020 campaign.

So he, for the first time on trail, is apologizing for the New York Police Department Stop-and-Frisk policy after it came to light, some audio from the time of him speaking -- people described it was a racist language.

And this is how he apologized.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is one approach I deeply regret, the abuse of a police practice called Stop-and-Frisk. I defended it, looking back for too long, because I didn't understand then the unintended pain it was causing to young black and brown families and their kids. I should have acted sooner and faster to stop it. I didn't. And for that, I apologize.


KEILAR: I want to ask you, as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and someone who is advising the mayor and believes in the mayor and wants him to win, you know, there's this 2015 audio out there where he's saying -- he's talking about minority neighborhoods and said, quote, "That's where all the crime is." He's really got a long way to go.

I know you think it's possible but it will take a lot being right? What does he need to do to get past this, if he can?

MEEKS: He has to apologize, which he's doing. I think that he has to apologize. It was a bad policy. Those are bad words. There's no getting around that. He has to apologize for it.

Then talk about what he's going to do as president. For example, you know, one of the things that are really for the African-American community is closing that wage gap. And he has a plan on closing the wage gap.

One of the best ways to close the wage gap is to create homeownership and getting people who are unbanked or underbanked into the formal banking system so they can get credit ratings and then get into the opportunities to own homes, which is a great investment.

I know, for me, I may not be sitting here as a member in Congress, if my parents -- I was born in public housing -- did not buy a house and thereby got equity in that house so they could then utilize to help me get an education.

If you look what Michael Bloomberg has done in his philanthropic capacity and will do as president of the United States, is help produce wealth and create wealth in the African-American community. That's very important.

As well as education. What he's done, for example, with the Eagle Academy here in New York. It goes all over the country. Helping young, mentoring to young African-American and brown men so that they have opportunities to progress and to move forward.

So there are some substantial things that Michael Bloomberg has done that he can speak about and in a positive way in regard to the African-American community. And he definitely has some great plans that he can do and will do as president of the United States.

KEILAR: Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much for joining us.

MEEKS: My pleasure.

KEILAR: We'll see you soon.


Breaking news this hour. CNN has learned Attorney General Bill Barr is ordering re-examinations of several high-profile cases, including that of former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. We'll have more on that, next.


KEILAR: More breaking news now. After weighing in on sentencing of Trump ally, Roger Stone, Attorney General William Barr wants the Michael Flynn re-examined.

CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is back with me now to discuss this interesting development.

What can you tell us?


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The president and Michael Flynn and people in the right-wing will be very happy with this idea that the Justice Department is take a new look at Michael Flynn. You'll remember Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. He admitted, he pleaded guilty to it.

But in the last few months, he's waged a campaign saying he was essentially a victim of malicious prosecutors.

This has been a feature certainly in the right-wing. And we know that Bill Barr the attorney general consumes a lot of this stuff. He believes a lot of it.

And so the question is: Is this what is the result of this? Is this the result of the fact the attorney general is buying into these conspiracies? Or is there something else at work.

One of the things we do know from court filings is that the prosecutors do have to get ready to defend this case. This could be also a review in order to prepare for that.

But, look, the atmospherics that are at work in Washington right now and at the Justice Department, you know, play a role in all of this. We know that the president, you know, wants certain things done. Bill Barr has done certain things, including the Roger Stone reversal

of prosecutors, and now you are seeing some other things that are happening that the president will be a lot happier with.

Again, we just have to watch to see what becomes of this review.

KEILAR: We'll be watching with you, Evan. Thank you so much.

President Trump has downplayed the injuries suffered by U.S. troops on that Iraqi base where U.S. troops are housed and target by Iranian missile attacks. More than 100 troops have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. I'll talk to one vet who knows firsthand just how bad they can be.



KEILAR: Today on "Home Front," our digital and television column where we try to bridge the civilian military divide and bring you stories of military families, we're talking about traumatic brain injuries, which have become very topical lately.

Not long after declaring there were no injuries in Iran's retaliatory strikes on an Iraqi base housing U.S. troops, President Trump was asked about new information that actually some troops had suffered traumatic brain injuries in the attack.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say -- and I can report, it is not very serious, not very serous.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you don't think --


TRUMP: I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen. I've seen people with no legs and with no arms. I consider them to be really bad injuries. No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries, no.


KEILAR: Now this week, the president said he has not changed his mind about that assessment about TBIs not being serious, even as the Pentagon revised upward the number of servicemembers suffering from them in this attack to at least 100. The president, though, was wrong.

And this week, we, at CNN, interviewed three veterans with traumatic brain injuries to bring you the real story behind them.

One of them is Elana Duffy. She is an Army veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury from an IED attack in Iraq. She also injured her right leg and eventually lost the limb before the knee. Elana, thank you so much for coming to talk to us.

Because, you know, we need perspective of people like you to tell us what's real here.

And I think your case talks very specifically to what the president was saying. He said -- and I think, look, at least a while ago, a lot of Americans shared this perspective, that someone losing a limb, that's the worst kind of injury and they didn't really put TBIs on the same level.

You have them both so you tell us what's what.

SGT. ELANA DUFFY, ARMY VETERAN WHO SURVIVED TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY: It's so weird when people regard a brain injury or some sort of other hidden injury, and I think the most-stark difference is even just how you're treated as a veteran.

So I received a Purple Heart for the brain injury, and yet, at the same time, people now see my missing limb and that's when they actually acknowledge, oh, you are a veteran and, you know, thank you, and the sacrifice that you made.

And I now have to explain to people, like, you know, that's actually not even the worst injury that I have. Like, I was losing my vision. I was walking into walls. I couldn't walk in a straight line. And I wouldn't have even have lost the leg if I hadn't had the brain injury compounding it. So --


KEILAR: To that point, you had -- your balance was awful because of the brain injury, and so you kept falling and reinjuring your leg, which is what you mean when you would still have the leg injury.

You were -- we talked about this. You were nauseous. You didn't -- your memory was awful. Tell us about that.

DUFFY: Yes, I actually -- prior to the roadside bomb, I had a near- photographic memory. I could remember something that someone had said to me word for word that I only wrote down little bits and pieces.

I was an intelligence collector when I was in the Army, so my job was talking to people and reporting back accurately what they said.


And all of a sudden, from the moment of the blast, I couldn't even remember the soldier's names that I was with, and I was reading name tapes off of their uniforms to remember who they were.

And I actually got a tattoo of this whole thing on my wrist because I used to have to write down everything that my soldiers were telling me, like, oh, I need to go to finance and I would have to write it down.

And so one joked that I should get a tattoo. So when I get out of the military, that's what I did. But --

KEILAR: And, Elana, there's so much more to your story. I want to encourage people to look at it online.

Thank you so much for coming on to talk about it. We really appreciate it.

DUFFY: Thank you. Brain injuries are serious. So thank you for looking at this.

KEILAR: And awareness is important because they can be deadly and some people dismiss them.

Thank you for shedding light on this. We discuss that as well online.

You can send me an e-mail story idea at Check out the story at