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Travis Mills is Interviewed about Leaving Afghanistan; Kim Wyman is Interviewed about Arizona's Recount; COVID Conspiracy by Conservative Media; FaceBook's Deciding on Reinstating Trump. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 05, 2021 - 08:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Of deployment there. President Biden has promised to complete the withdrawal by September 11th, which is a plan that has drawn concern from a wide-range of leaders, including Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, and even the Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley.

So many, though, are happy with the decision, including my next guest, retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, who served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us to give us your perspective.

We saw this op-ed that you wrote in "USA Today" and it's titled "I became a quadruple amputee in Afghanistan. It's time for America to leave."

A very good morning to you.

And can you just tell us why it is time to leave, in your view?


And, good morning. Thanks for having me.

I just truly think that there's no eye for eye. No one has to avenge my injuries anymore. And it's not a conventional war, like their -- you know, World War II. So you're not fighting somebody that you're going to ultimately win.

And I sat in the Oval Office with President Trump and told him the same thing that I would tell President Biden, that, you know, it's just probably time to, you know, keep Bagram, keep Kandahar for strategic placement and come home. I mean we're not able to do the things we need to do over there with rules of engagement and things like that and it's just that time.

So as much as I know my brothers in arms are like, I've got to go over there and we've got to take care of them, at the end of the day, just come back home. Come back home and let them see if they can, you know, if they can rise above and do good as the Afghan population and the people. And if they can't, you know, we'll have to see what we can do about that.

But I think we keep Kandahar, we keep Bagram, we make sure we stay strategic in the area and we just -- we just kind of say, hey, we did our best.

You know, I went over there. I built schools. We dug wells. We took care of the population. We got little girls into school and educated. So there are some high points of my career. And just because I had a bad day at work where I have these cool tricks now and I lost my limbs doesn't mean that I'm bitter about anything. I mean I know I was there to do a good thing, and we did, but it just seems like time.

KEILAR: Your attitude is amazing. It is so inspirational for people to hear about that. And I want to talk about that in a moment.

But first, I just want to get your perspective because you have heard some people who have concerns about the troop withdrawal, like former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. Clinton has warned of huge consequences of this withdrawal. Rice says, you know, to your point, it could cause a surge in terrorism and then the U.S. might just be back in.

What do you say to folks like them?

MILLS: Well, I understand the concern, absolutely. But are they going to come through TSA again and hijack a plane and smash into your buildings? I don't think so. I mean we've probably learned our lesson there.

And, at the end of the day, I mean, when we're over there, we're not able to go engage the enemy. We are trained to train or assistance. If I've done my research right, I believe your husband would know a lot about that.


MILLS: So, we're not the ones leading in, kicking in doors. And thanks for his service. I should have said that at the beginning.

So I think now is the time to say we've trained them, we've been there, and we kept a small force, like we have everywhere else -- you know, we have bases in Germany and Italy and South Korea and all over, strategically placed and I think that's what's important. The segment earlier on Russia and the Ukraine that's going on, I mean that's a great -- you know, Bagram's a great landing spot for us to be able to operate out of the world and NATO need us. But going through the rural areas, I don't think there's anything left for us that we can -- we can still accomplish.

KEILAR: So in your piece, you write something that really caught my eye. You said, quote, the ninth anniversary of my injury, my alive day, has just passed, April 10th. It comes just four days before my birthday, the same day I regained consciousness after being blown up. Some guys drink on their live day, angry about the injuries they suffered. It's a bittersweet thing. You are alive but you think, man, that sucks. Drinking is understandable, but that's not my style, you say.

What is your style? I mean how do you -- you say you had a bad day at work. You explain what happened. You set your rucksack unknowingly down on an IED and you said your guys wouldn't let you die.

So what is your style? How do you look back at what happened and make sense of it for your future?

MILLS: Well, I'll tell you what, it's -- it's crazy because I'm fortunate to be a motivational speaker and travel all over the U.S., as well as the world. I get to go to Singapore this year, which is exciting.

But my alive day, if you will, April 10th, I just call my buddy Scott Malory (ph) and I'd let him know happy birthday, because it's his birthday. And I used to look at it as like, I don't want to talk about it. It is what it is. My birthday's April 14th. When I woke up, I was 25 years old. And that's fine. That's my real alive day. So it was so close to my birthday I didn't have to think about it.

But then year eight hit last year and I did an Instagram post and I just kind of broke down. I was like, guys, the thing I can say is thank you. Thank you so much. The medics that I told to leave me. I said, guys, you're not going to save me, go save my guys. And they ignored that. And they worked on me. My platoon sergeant. I mean I like my medic so much, I love them so much, actually, my son, who's three now, we named him after them. His name is Dax, after Daniel and Alexander.


And I'm so proud of that fact.

So, for me, my wife and I started a foundation. We give back to combat injured veterans. We hosted a Memorial Day 5K. It's the tenth annual this year. I had to go all virtual.

So I just encourage people to realize two life lessons that I've learned. Number one, don't dwell on the past. Just reminisce it. I used to sit there and hope and pray this never happened and wish, you know, that I could wake up from this nightmare. Well, this never happened. Every time I woke up in the hospital, I had no arms and legs. So I had to fight back and my therapists at Walter Reed and my doctors and my nursing staff and all the wonderful people got me back on my prosthetic feet. I drive. I own a few businesses and I operate a very successful nonprofit because people out there, you know, like you, like CNN, like all the other people in the world that has donated and believe and follow my story have helped me.

And the next thing I tell them, you know what, you can't always control your attitude -- or your situation, sorry, but you can always control your attitude. So, for me, every day is attitude. Every day I wake up, it's a positive thing. I'm thankful to be alive. A lot of my friends didn't make it back home and I'm going to keep pushing forward. So, I mean, my alive day, it's bittersweet. I wish it wouldn't have

happened. But since I can't take it back, I don't dwell on it. You've just got to press forward. And I have about 50 years left, I would imagine, or more. So I'm grateful for every day.

KEILAR: Your mental game is something, Travis. And it is wonderful to see all of the gifts in your life that you have with your family that you are living day in, day out. And I just want to thank you for being with us. Retired Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, thank you for your service.

MILLS: Thanks so much. Have a great day and take care.

BERMAN: That is an antidote to cynicism. That was the least cynical human being I have ever laid eyes on in my entire life. You know, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, man, hats off. I want to hang with you. Let's party, man, because you've got the best attitude I've ever seen.

KEILAR: I know. It's -- and I think, you know, one of the things -- I have a column, not to plug my column, "Home Front," but one of the things I love to do is to elevate these stories of folks in the military and military families. And, look, the attitudes run the gambit, I have to be clear, and they're all valid, but it is amazing to see people who, I mean, what a challenge. He has lost all his limbs and yet you see how he is approaching life and how he sees the meaning of life and how he is thankful for what he is doing now and he's bringing that to other people. It's unbelievable.

BERMAN: It's pure inspiration.

KEILAR: It sure is.

BERMAN: Thank you for inviting him.

KEILAR: Up next, how the GOP's audit of last year's election in Arizona could one day prove costly to the GOP.

BERMAN: And could Donald Trump be back on FaceBook in a matter of minutes? The decision on his ban is about to come down.



BERMAN: Nearly six months after Arizona voted for Joe Biden, Republicans are conducting this partisan audit of the count in Maricopa County. A little known techna (ph) company called Cyberninjas (ph) is directing the tally. The audit, which began last month, has continued despite questions over procedure and transparency.

Joining me now is Kim Wyman. She's a Republican who was the secretary of state in Washington. Let me repeat that, a Republican who is secretary of state in Washington, and she just participated in an election task force briefing over what's happening in Arizona.

And, Madam Secretary, you see like flashing, you know, red warning signs and sirens here based on what's happening in Arizona. Why?

KIM WYMAN (R), WASHINGTON SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, because we're witnessing an event that has absolutely unprecedented movement in elections. We've never seen a private company be able to come in and take command and control of live ballots that were used in an election and the precedence of this is just unnerving for election officials across the country. And it should alarm every American in the country because we don't want people to be able to just, you know, walk into a crime scene and contaminate evidence for a future trial. And that's what this is.

BERMAN: You're particularly concerned also about the partisan recounts in elections. What do you mean and why?

WYMAN: Well, a recount, to be credible, needs to be transparent. The public needs to be able to see every facet of it. They need to be assured that there are Democrats and Republicans and independents in the room actually conducting the recount with policies and procedures in place so that -- so that everyone knows what's happening. And if they find a discrepancy, they can all agree that there's a problem. But what's happening in Arizona, no one knows because no one can actually watch it.

BERMAN: How worried are you that -- you say this is unprecedented, but I've got a feeling the way things are going, this may not be the last time.

WYMAN: Well, I'm worried because now they've given a new playbook to campaigns and political parties. And make no mistake, this won't stop with the Republican Party. What we could see, you know, down the road is whatever political party is in charge of a state legislature, if they don't like the outcome of an election, then let's just go ahead and make up an audit, make up a process, make up some sort of review, and the public will not be well served and the public will have trouble being -- having any confidence in those results.

BERMAN: Finally, you've made clear, you think that the former president, Donald Trump, suppressed Republican votes. How so?

WYMAN: Well, you know, here in Washington we don't register by party, so it's hard to really tell. But we saw a real uptick in ballot drop box usage here in Washington. And that was probably partly because of the rhetoric that the president had about mail-in ballots being corrupt and things that happen with the USPS. So, you know, voters lost confidence and that's all voters, not just voters in the Democratic Party.

BERMAN: Kim Wyman, secretary of state in Washington, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

WYMAN: You're welcome.

BERMAN: So, coming up, how conservative media lies have led to the belief in false COVID conspiracies.

KEILAR: And FaceBook's decision on Donald Trump is due in just minutes. So will he remain banned or will he be reinstated?



BERMAN: A new study is linking conservative media to a potentially dangerous side effect.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We know that disinformation is dangerous. It's politicized public health during a pandemic and inspired a lie about the election that led to an attack on our Capitol. There's a new study out analyzing the roots and impact of this disinformation. And one of the biggest culprits is right wing media.

That's right, a new study by researchers Kathleen Hall Jameson (ph) and Daniel Romer (ph) looked at the rise of COVID-19 conspiracies between March and July last year and found that, quote, conservative media use predicted an increase in conspiracy beliefs. And that, in turn, leads to resistance to protective measures like mask wearing and vaccinations.

Now it was almost exactly one year ago that a COVID conspiracy film called "Plandemic" snaked its way through your news feed. It was viewed millions of times in a week before being taken down off FaceBook and YouTube. Now, the disinformation drum beat was on even before the truth had a chance to get its boots on.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: This scaring the living hell out of people, and I see it again as like, oh, let's bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: All the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn't reflect reality.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS COST: They cite the rising COVID infection rates in certain states to sell their latest panic porn.



AVLON: Meanwhile, listeners to the late Rush Limbaugh heard these nuggets of nonsense.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) AVLON: Wrong on both counts.

Now, this study tracked three COVID conspiracy theories. One, that it was created by pharmaceutical companies to boost sales. That a bioengineer weapon was intentionally released by China and that CDC was exaggerating the danger to then hurt President Trump politically.

Now, the study found that, quote, use of conservative media, such as Fox News and the talk radio program hosted by the late Rush Limbaugh was associated with an increased acceptance of the three conspiracy beliefs. While use of mainstream print, such as "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" was associated with an increased rejection of them.

And here's the kicker, an increased belief in these conspiracies led to an increased rejection of basic public health precautions like wearing a mask and getting the vaccine. And now, of course, we see that 44 percent of Republicans say they won't get vaccinated. This is what happens downstream when people have been fed a steady diet of bile. The hyper partisan echo chamber and how it's amplified online through algorithms can have a devastating effect on our ability to reason together as fellow citizens.

Now, the good news is that this spell can be broken when people are exposed to accurate information and quality journalism that focuses on facts, which brings us to the decision expected in minutes from FaceBook, whether they will replatform ex-President Trump.

Now, look, this is a complex issue, but whatever decision they make, consider this, when Trump and his QAnon lackies were deplatformed after the attack on our Capitol, there was a 73 percent decrease in online election fraud misinformation within one week. Now, that cause and effect really couldn't be clearer.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you very much.

KEILAR: And now, as John mentioned, FaceBook's advisory board is set to announce whether it will let former President Donald Trump back on to its platform. So what can we expect now?

Joining me now is Steven Levy, who is the editor at large at "WIRED." He is also the author of "FaceBook: The Inside Story."

So, Steven, you are the guy to talk to about this. I know you're tracking this so closely and we thank you for joining us.

You think FaceBook -- what do you think they do? Do you think they let Trump back on?

STEVEN LEVY, EDITOR AT LARGE, "WIRED": OK. Well, first of all, the important thing is, it's not FaceBook. It's this independent board.

KEILAR: Sure. LEVY: Now, you can put air quotes around it if you like, that FaceBook set up to outsource basically big decisions like this. And I think there's a good chance that they're going to, to some degree, let Donald Trump post again on FaceBook.

There's really a couple of things to watch for. There's that immediate decision, but then there's recommendations that FaceBook has asked the board to make about how to handle not only Trump in the future, but other potentially dangerous public figures, autocrats in other countries. So there's a couple of things going on in this decision that we're going to get in just a few minutes.

KEILAR: So you said maybe air quotes around this advisory board. Is this just a way for FaceBook and Mark Zuckerberg to kind of outsource their problems?

LEVY: Well, this decision that's coming up is actually the first big test of it. And maybe it's a -- you could argue it's a little premature test because the board is just finding its footing. You know, there's a prominent -- these are prominent people on the board. A former prime minister of Denmark. There's, you know, you know, very, you know, respected like legal people, human rights people, and I think they want to show their independence to FaceBook. They want to show that they're not lackeys to FaceBook, even though FaceBook set up the board and helped choose.

KEILAR: Would reinstating Trump onto FaceBook be good for truth? We know that, obviously, it would not be. But would it be good for FaceBook's bottom line?

LEVY: Well, that's hard to say. I mean the good thing about the board is that the decision is not in the hands of people who have one eye on FaceBook's bottom line and one eye on politics, which is the way the previous big decisions were made.

I think, you know, there is a danger in having him on there. You look at the thing that he set up "From the Desk of Donald Trump" and already he's posting about, you know, calling the election a big lie. I think that if he does come back, FaceBook is going to have to have a lot of labels handy to slap on his posts saying, you know, well, maybe the election wasn't stolen. You -- you know, here's some information about that.

But it's not going to have the power it had when he was president. He's not going to fire any cabinet members with a FaceBook post.

KEILAR: That's right. But a lot of people listen to him.

So we will be watching this decision from the air quotes advisory board, as you are as well.

Steven Levy, the editor at large of "Wired," thanks for being with us.


LEVY: Thank you. KEILAR: Just in, the war between Liz Cheney and Republicans over the congresswoman telling just the truth. It took a very public turn. What her party's leader is now saying about her.


BERMAN: All right, today's "Good Stuff," some totally cool stuff.

Take a look. The British Royal Marines testing out a futuristic jetpack that allows them to fly offer the water. The jet suit can fly up to 80 miles per hour and climb 12,000 feet in the air? For real? I mean like what could possibly go wrong there?


KEILAR: How fun is that? That guy makes it look easy. I bet it's not that easy. I'd be like, right into the water.

BERMAN: Yes, it's fun until you slam into a plane at 10,000 feet in the air.