Return to Transcripts main page


The U.S. Military Historically Discourages Use of Force; Evacuations Under Way as California Wildfires Continue to Burn; Interview with Colgate University President Brian Casey. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired September 8, 2020 - 10:30   ET



WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If you go back and look at all of the examples, going back even into the Vietnam War, it was the military who always put the go-slow on it, everything since the Tet Offensive, at least.

And so if you look in the '90s, the aughts, the military's always said, can't you use diplomacy first? Please don't put us in there. Do you understand what may happen if it doesn't work the way you think it does? So it's the military that puts the brakes on.

But more importantly, top leaders in the military have to submit financial disclosure statements each year. This shows all their holdings of stocks, and anybody associated with anything to do with procurement or any activities like this -- you can't own any defense stocks. So it's actually impossible.

Now, two comments, Jim. Number one, we'd like to see the financial disclosure of the president of the United States: what his taxes are, where he has holdings. But this is the kind of thing that is characteristic of Mr. Trump's statements. He puts ideas out there that maybe crossed his own mind. Maybe that's what he would be thinking about if he thought he was a senior general. Maybe he'd think how to make money out of it.

But it's the last thing int he world our senior leaders think about. They think about the risks --



CLARK: -- the risks of not accomplishing the mission in accordance with what their political leaders want. They know the difficulties, the disruption of the other programs. And finally, ask any of them who have been in conflict -- like I have? It's a really unpleasant experience --

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

CLARK: -- personally. Because rather than things going (INAUDIBLE), we're hammered from every direction through --


SCIUTTO: Well, they know -- they know the real costs of war.

CLARK: -- might get fired (ph) --

SCIUTTO: So tell me --

CLARK: Yes, exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- the impact of this. This is the commander in chief, standing there and saying, top leaders of the Pentagon, they want to send you in effect -- right? Serving members of the military -- into war purely to make money. What is the impact of that on their leadership, on morale?

CLARK: Well, I think first, you know, the idea that most of the troops love Trump? That's wrong. They're seeing through him for what he is. But that statement is damaging to the integrity of the military chain of command, because maybe some people lower along down, don't understand the way the senior leaders operate. So it's not helpful.

For the senior leaders themselves, most of them understand that they've seen Mr. Trump at close range, they followed it more closely than the people out on deployment. And so they understand this is characteristic. They're not going to put in their resignations, they're not happy, but this is one more thing that he says that drives a wedge between him and the military and veterans' groups, on which he's relying for his re-election.

SCIUTTO: It appears he's trying to drive a wedge as well between, though, rank-and-file service members and their commanders. And I know you stay in touch -- though you're retired now -- with members of the military at every rank. Do you believe such a wedge exists, such a difference exists?

CLARK: Well, I don't think he's going to be successful in driving the wedge. I think he might like trying to do this, like with the military justice moves he's made. But what you find from the rank-and-file is, they believe in the integrity of the military system.

Most of them trust their commanders, most of them believe that they'll never be sent into conflict unless it's absolutely the last resort. Most of them believe that their commanders will advocate and argue for the resources they need to succeed and to stay alive if they are committed.

So this is not really going to have the kind of beneficial impact that the president thinks it might in terms of driving the wedge, but it will have an adverse impact on him. And by the way, it also hurts the country as a whole because it reduces the credibility of our military leadership and our chain of command in dealing with foreign policy around the world.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, before we go. You're aware of the story in "The Atlantic" that broke last week about the president's comments, dismissing those who died in war as losers. And then other accounts of comments by this president in multiple other outlets, dismissing service by these members or even their loss of life. Plus the president's public comments, dismissing someone like John McCain or Gold Star families in 2016.

What's your reaction to that personally and professionally, hearing comments like that coming from the commander in chief?

CLARK: Well first of all, the comments carry a lot of credibility because, as you suggest, it's consistent with his pattern of statements and behavior over the last four years.

It's a sense of betrayal, honestly, because when we raise our hand and take the oath to support and uphold the Constitution of the United States, we have implicit trust in the chain of command. When I was in Vietnam, a lot of people didn't like Richard Nixon. I was a company commander on the ground. I believed that Richard Nixon was going to do the right thing.


If someone had told me, hey, Richard Nixon is just a cynic, he just wants to see you guys over there so nothing happens to him politically, he doesn't care anything about you. You're a loser for having served? That would have really hurt. And these comments really hurt people who are in uniform today. Plus they feel like a betrayal to those of us who have worn the uniform and have put our lives on the line for the country.

A man who --


SCIUTTO: Well --

CLARK: -- has the authority of the commander in chief and the responsibilities for leading the nation, shouldn't speak like that, he shouldn't be thinking like that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, General Clark, we appreciate you and others you've commanded on this broadcast, for the service you've done to this country. Thanks very much.

CLARK: Thank you, Jim.


All right, ahead, California, where nearly two dozen wildfires are ravaging the state, prompting hundreds of evacuations and rescues. We'll take you live on the ground there.


[10:40:29] HARLOW: Happening right now, evacuations are under way in California due to these out-of-control wildfires. There are hikers trapped in the Sierra National Forest with all escape routes cut off by the growing Creek Fire. They're waiting to be rescued by a helicopter.

SCIUTTO: We've had some harrowing helicopter rescues already. There's also the El Dorado fire burning in Southern California -- a view of it there -- it's now grown to nearly 10,000 acres. CNN's Ryan Young is on the ground in San Bernardino County.

Ryan, it was a party there where people were using fireworks that set off the El Dorado fire. Tell us what we know.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, basically a gender reveal party. We've all seen these on Instagram and TikTok and (INAUDIBLE) family decided to come out here and do their own gender reveal using pyrotechnics, but look what happened. I mean, this is scorched earth. Looks like a movie scene here.

Of course, it's a very beautiful area, people come to take pictures in it. But when they did the pyrotechnics, it started the fire. They tried to use water bottles to knock the fire down. Of course, that did not help. That family could face charges. There are plenty of residents around here who are very upset about this.

then you talk about that Camp Fire, the one that is over 135,000 acres that has been burning so far with the zero percent containment. On top of all that, the rescue efforts that these brave firefighters have to go through in terms of using four different locations and helicopters to pull people out, they're still a part of this operation that's still ongoing. There are still people who are in danger. In fact, take a listen.


DAVID HALL, CALIFORNIA ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: I will tell you, it's been quite a challenge. We've been on fires for quite a while, up on the Lightning Complex up in Napa, and also the Butte Complex up on the upper east side of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley.

This one hit us by surprise, and we immediately alerted crews as soon as we knew that folks were stranded up in the mountains, and ended up luckily getting them and evacuating them out of the Mammoth Pools Complex.


YOUNG: Jim and Poppy, this is just a beautiful area, the rolling mountains and the hills and everything that you see here, this kind of stood out to the entire crew as we look back this direction. And you see where this fire sort of touched. There was -- the road actually almost was the fire line, helped break it up.

But you see all the dry grass back this direction. And you think about the facts here, that already this year we've had more than two million acres burn so far. You add in the triple-digit heat, you add in the winds that are moving through this area. Firefighters have been dealing with so much already, that 2 million acres that has burned so far, people are definitely concerned.

Fire season hasn't even started, so people have to be careful. You can't come out and do things like this to start fires because you just don't know where they're going to end up. But beauty's still here, but obviously you can see the pain just everywhere in terms of folks being worried about --


YOUNG: - their structure, their horses and everything else.

SCIUTTO: Yes, don't do the fireworks, simple as that. Ryan Young, thanks very much.

To Oregon now, where two people were arrested following violent clashes between supporters of President Trump and counter-protestors. Police say the confrontation took place at a pro-Trump demonstration in Salem, about 45 miles south of Portland. That is where the two sides started yelling, firing paint balls and other projectiles at each other.

Things escalated when members of the pro-Trump group began chasing and pushing counter-protestors. The two men who were arrested have been charged with assault. Both have been released from police custody.



All right, up next, a university president who, just this morning, completed his own mandatory two-week quarantine in a dorm room. It is all part of the plan to keep his campus safe. The president of Colgate University joins us next.


HARLOW: Welcome back. So one U.S. college will soon find out if its unique approach to mitigating and containing the spread of COVID on campus is actually going to pay off.

Two weeks ago, Colgate University welcomed students back to their dorms. The school tested the students again and again, and then put them in a mandatory quarantine for two weeks. And to put his plan where his mouth is, the university's president himself quarantined in a dorm the entire time. He joins me exclusively this morning for his first interview out of quarantine.

Brian Casey, president of Colgate University, is with me. Sir, thanks for being here. I know you're excited to be out and to be reunited with your dog later today, and to be able to drink your beloved bourbon again, because no one could drink int he dorms --

BRIAN CASEY, PRESIDENT, COLGATE UNIVERSITY: Right. HARLOW: -- we know you haven't done that yet. But in all seriousness,

like, what was this like for you to run a university from a dorm room for 17 days?

CASEY: Better than I thought. I -- you know, who knows what it's like in your 50s to return to college and move into a tiny dorm room, an old, un-air conditioned dormitory, whatever. And it was -- it was actually kind of joyful.


I was with the students, and we were going through something together and they knew where I was, and they would talk into my window and they'd say hello and it was more joyful than I thought it was going to be.

HARLOW: Wow. Well, I'm glad, I'm glad.

A big part of this experiment for you guys is testing. And as I understand it, you will have conducted three tests for every -- every member of the faculty, the staff, the students in this three-week period. Is that right?

CASEY: Yes. We sent tests home to every student before they showed up. We tested every student upon arrival, and then eight days into the quarantine, we tested them for a third time with the most sensitive test that's out there, this Aegis test. So we just wanted to get them through a very rigorous testing regime while they were in quarantine.

HARLOW: No joke, you guys are looking at -- and have spent a lot of money -- to sample the wastewater, basically the toilet water from your university? Is that right?

CASEY: That is right. The RNA, the proteins from COVID can reveal themselves in wastewater before it can be revealed in swab testing. So what we did during the first week of the quarantines, we established baselines for every residence hall, every house at the university, put students up in.

And so now we begin wastewater testing. And we'll see if there's any hotspots emerging anywhere on the campus. So yes, we are testing wastewater all the time.

HARLOW: So the big question is money and funding. And you guys are a private university, you're not state-funded and it's expensive, right? You spent north of $4 million on all of this.

CASEY: Yes, yes.

HARLOW: I guess what -- you know, what's your message to other schools and other university presidents that don't have near that kind of, you know, extra capital?

CASEY: No, I think -- well, I think what this reveals is every institution has become its own little state, and we've all become governors. Each one of us in our institutions is just making decisions about testing and safety and quarantining and allocating resources in different ways.

There's no universal testing, there's no universal support. So, you know, we're fortunate that we're an institution with resources that could do this. I would have preferred if we all were abiding by guidelines, but we just did what we thought we had to do. We reallocated resources. It was hard, and it's still hard. But we did what we thought we needed to do to get our students and our faculty together.

HARLOW: Will you suspend or expel students if they break protocol? We saw Northeastern do that this week.

CASEY: We already have suspended students. There were -- on the second night, a small party occurred, literally on the floor of my dorm.


CASEY: So I didn't -- I thought that was interesting. And so they were asked to leave. And we've asked people to leave if they break their pledge to public health. They all had to sign a commitment to public health --


CASEY: -- and we've sent some people home.

HARLOW: And they don't -- I assume they don't get their money back, right? Tuition?

CASEY: They don't get their tuition because they shift back to online courses --


CASEY: -- but we will reimburse them their room and board.

HARLOW: OK. Final question, big picture, talk about universal sacrifice, right? Because that's what drove you to live in the dorm, especially in a politically divisive moment like this.

CASEY: That is so important. And I think in some ways, this might be the most important lesson that Colgate is conveying to its students and maybe to the world, which is we do not teach our students about common purpose, and we do not talk -- we don't teach them how to subsume their personal needs for something larger. We don't talk about that any more, it's not in our political realm, it's not in our everyday discourse.

So now we're saying we can only do this if we all do this together, and the benefits will be remarkable. And in some ways, that's the great lesson of a liberal arts college, that's the great lesson of an academic community. And if we can convey that, I think we'll have done something remarkable.

HARLOW: Yes, I think you're right. Colgate University President Brian Casey, glad you're out. Enjoy being

reunited --


HARLOW: -- with your dog, and thank you for your leadership.

CASEY: Yes, thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, put your money where your mouth is there.


Well, the March of Moms continues at the U.S. Open. That's coming up.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. The U.S. Open is now calling this year's event the mother of Grand Slams, and it has good reason. For the first time in major tennis history, three women who are all moms have now reached the quarterfinals of the same Grand Slam tournament.

HARLOW: Favorite story of the day for sure. Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova each won their round of 16 matches at the U.S. Open yesterday. Pironkova, with an emotional response following her win.


TSVETANA PIRONKOVA, U.S. OPEN QUARTERFINALIST: Well, yes, I haven't think -- I mean, two weeks and it's very tough, it gets tougher every day. But I know he's watching me, I know he's proud of me. And it's worth it.


HARLOW: Oh, talking about her little son there.

Only three mothers have ever won a Grand Slam in the last half century, amazing work by all of them. Congrats, ladies.


Thanks so much for joining us today, we'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: Tweet us who you think those three moms are, because we think we have the answer and we'll tweet back.