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Hala Gorani Tonight

Key Witness Makes Explosive Allegations At Senate Hearing; Putin Slams Anti-Russian Hysteria In United States; Putin Warns U.S. Against Tightening Sanctions On Moscow; U.S. Military Chiefs Blindsided By Transgender Ban; Turmoil Inside West Wing Intensifies; First Responders to Baseball Practice Shooting Honored; Transgender Military Service Ban Provokes Backlash.. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2017 - 15:00   ET







KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- tonight news continues with Hala Gorani in THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. Hey, Hala.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Kate. We will be discussing those big policy announcements that were made over Twitter by

the president.

[15:15:04] Alongside the other big story out of Washington and some explosive

allegations made on Capitol Hill against the highest levels of power in Russia. A former ally turned enemy of Vladimir Putin testified before

senators investigating Russia's interference in the U.S. election today.

Now it didn't get the same kind of attention as other testimony on Capitol Hill, but it was crucial and it was explosive. An American businessman,

Bill Browder, once employed a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison after uncovering a tax fraud scheme.

Now Browder who spoke to senators today said that everyone should understand that President Putin is in the business of, quote, "trying to

create chaos everywhere." So, he's found himself in the middle of all this Russia

investigation and all the questions surrounding the Trump campaign. We'll get to that dramatic

testimony in a moment.

But first CNN's own Matthew Chance directly asked the Russian President Vladimir Putin today, do you regret the day Donald Trump was



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: With these U.S. congressional investigations thoroughly under way into allegations of

Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and with the possibility of U.S. sanctions

being tightened shortly, do you sometimes sit in your office in the kremlin thinking

about how bad U.S./Russian relations are going and regretting the day that Donald

Trump was elected?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The first point, the election of the U.S. president, that's not our business. And it is not

up to us to assess what he does in this very senior post. That's up to the U.S. public.

As far as the investigation which you referred to is concerned, I don't actually think it is an investigation because an investigation implies a

full study and analysis of the situation, the causes and what we see is a growth of anti-Russian hysteria and utilization for domestic policies.

And as to your question, do I regret the worsening of this relations, my first direct answer to that is, yes, I very much regret it. It's a pity

because we, acting together in agreement, we are much more able to solve the acute problems which exist throughout the world and in Russia and in

the states.

But we know that we have many friends in the U.S. We know that there are lots of people with common sense. I hope that today's situation will be

over and we will then be able to transit to a different stage based trust and confidence.


GORANI: That was optimism from Vladimir Putin, though, it was tempered by that thinly veiled threat if Washington moves ahead with new sanctions

against Moscow.

We're joined now by Matthew Chance live in Finland. Phil, it's a very interesting question you asked, obviously, the president of Russia,

Vladimir Putin. What will happen?

Because in Washington we're seeing obviously new bills and new legislation, imposing more sanctions on Russia. What will happen if this relationship

doesn't improve?

CHANCE: It's a difficult question to answer. I mean, look, as Putin said when I asked him this question, you know, together the United States and

Russia are important when it comes to cooperation on a whole range of issues like

international terrorism, like crime, like economic development.

These were the issues that Vladimir Putin picked out. And it's certainly true that if they can't sort of coordinate or work together on these

crucial issues, then that, you know, potentially spells trouble for the rest of the world.

I think for Russia itself, though, the implications are quite acute because the kremlin believe that Donald Trump was the man, as we've said

repeatedly, who was going to turn around the very difficult relationship between Russia and the

United States.

And he's completely failed to do that and the sanctions as we've been reporting are set to potentially get even tighter. And that's tightening

the economic news around Russia even more -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. So, we have that and then we have the relationship between the two men as well. But Donald Trump is one thing and the U.S.

government is another. I imagine that from Moscow's perspective, perhaps they didn't

expect the situation to develop as it did in the end.

CHANCE: No, and I think they are pretty much alarmed by it. They are calling it political schizophrenia is how the kremlin refers to it and

they're saying that all of these investigations, for instance, at the Congress, into the allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.

All of the allegations of hacking of the Democratic Party's e-mail accounts for instance and the release of that sensitive, embarrassing information to

discredit Hillary Clinton, that's not something that they did. That's just political infighting in the United States.

[15:20:12] It's anti-Russian hysteria. And despite all the testimony we're seeing in Washington now, and all the evidence emerge, at least

circumstantially, that the Russians may have been involved, the Russians are saying this is nothing to do with us, and this is purely anti-Russian

hysteria on the part of the United States -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance. By the way, at the beginning of the program, I was talking about

Bill Browder, that American businessman who once had a very close relationship and a positive one with the leadership in Russia.

He testified on Capitol Hill today and he was asked about that meeting that happened between among other people, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, the

ex-campaign chairman of the Trump campaign last year, and a Russian lawyer.

He was asked, do you believe that Russian intelligence would have been aware of such a meeting and that there would have been follow-up. This is

what he told senators on Capitol Hill.


BILL BROWDER, CEO AND RUSSIA PROBE WITNESS: This was a big ask to go and ask the possible future next president of the United States to repeal a

major piece of human rights legislation. They wouldn't have gone in to say, please, can you repeal this for us without having something to offer

in return.

What they were willing to offer in return, I don't know. Whether that offer made any sense to the other side, I don't know. But I would know, I

do know the KGB, FBS, the security services, they would have studied their targets

carefully, constructed an offer that they thought was appealing and sizable enough to be consistent with what they're asking for.


GORANI: And that is the view of one American businessman who has, in fact, taken a central role, really, in this whole investigation and the talk that

Russia may have wanted to influence the U.S. election.

Now there's that angle and then there's the other one. That is, of course, the Pentagon was blindsided, it has told CNN, by President Trump's ban on

transgender military personnel.

Mr. Trump tweeted an announcement yesterday that the military would no longer be -- that transgender servicemen and women would no longer be

allowed to enlist or serve. He cited disruption and increased medical costs as the reason for the policy reversal.

The move takes the U.S. off the list of 18 other countries that allow transgender individuals in active combat roles. These include much of

Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Bolivia.

Israel, in fact, has allowed transgender service members since 1998 and even pays for gender reassignment surgery. Canada is also on the list.

Its military tweeted in response to the U.S. president's announcement saying, we welcome Canadians of all sexual orientations and gender

identities. Join us.

Let's get some perspective on how this ban will change things in the U.S. military. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling used to command the U.S. Army

across the whole of Europe. He was responsible for more than 60,000 soldiers and 100,000 civilian workers and he joins me now live from


Thanks, sir, for being with us. First of all, your reaction to the tweet by the president.

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It was shocking, Hala. Yesterday when I woke up and saw the tweet, this is direction and orders by

tweeting, which is not something we're used to.

It was a subject matter that shouldn't have been in this kind of format. The president is certainly different the way he does things. But I think

it not only shocked me, it shocked everybody in the Pentagon.

When you talk about what it was all about and how he portrayed it, some of the factual data he used in the tweet just aren't true. It's not that

costly. There are very few estimates range between 1,500 and about 7,000 active duty service members who are transgenders in the force.

So that's a very small percentage of a force of 1.3 million. How it was done, without further discussion or collaboration with military leaders

that will have to execute the policy and why it was done, very few people are sure what caused this to happen.

GORANI: But in your experience as a military commander, the president is saying this causes tremendous disruption. That he's consulted with top

military brass and they have told him this. What do you make of that?

HERTLING: I don't buy it, truthfully. I know that I led forces that probably had transgender soldiers within the force. They are part of a

team. It didn't make a difference. You're more concerned about mission readiness and the morale of the soldiers.

And truthfully, I didn't see any effects in combat and peacetime with transgenders that I know were part of the force and that seems to be the

indicator that other serving and retired military leaders are saying.

It's not a disruption. As you just said, 18 other countries in the world have the same policies.

[15:25:07] GORANI: It's unprecedented, right? A U.S. president tweeting a huge policy shift without really giving the -- it appears -- the Pentagon a

heads up.

HERTLING: Well, it shocked the Pentagon. I know all of the service chiefs were just very surprised about it. In fact, there's been reaction all day

today about trying to tamp down the anxiety of those in the force that are transgender saying, we're not doing it --

In fact, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs says we're not doing anything yet until I give direct confirmation from the president and through the

secretary of defense. The service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were

all saying this surprised us, and we're trying to control the anxiety of the members in our force.

So, yes, this is just not the way to do business. Secretary Mattis, as a matter of fact, at the end of June wrote a letter saying that they were

still investigating and analyzing this policy which was issued last June, in June of 2016.

And he's basically told the force, we still need to collect some more data. We're going to reassess and have more information by December of '17. This

undercut him.

GORANI: Jumping in with a fun fact if you want to call it that. There have been studies conducted about how much it costs the military, the Rand

Corporation conducted one. The maximum estimate for the medical costs of transgender

military personnel is just over $8 million a year, 8 million U.S. dollars a year.

And roughly that's what the U.S., for instance, military spends on just one M1 tank or 2 percent of the annual cost of military bans every year. So,

in terms of the financial cost, and you mentioned it, it's not big at all. In fact, it's minuscule.

HERTLING: It's what we call budget dust. It really is inconsequential in terms of the overall health care rates. So that's not a rationale for it.

It also wasn't affecting the camaraderie or cohesion of the force.

So, both of those things which the president tweeted. I don't think he has a whole lot of data to back up those facts.

GORANI: All right. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thanks very much, joining us from Orlando. Appreciate it.

And later on in the program, I'll be speaking to a transgendered man who served in the U.S. military as an army specialist. That's coming up later

in the program.

But first, on the hunt for senior leakers in the White House. Donald Trump's communications director says he and the president are intent on

stopping nefarious leaks coming from the west wing. We'll be right back.


GORANI: Let's go straight to the White House. These are live images coming to us from Washington. President Trump meeting first responders to

the shooting at the Virginia baseball game in June.

[15:30:00] You'll remember that incident left Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in intensive care, though there is some positive medical news

surrounding his condition. He's now out of hospital, and his wife is among those being greeted by the President today at the White House.

With all of this going on, President Trump and his communications director are on a mission, they say, to hunt down senior leakers inside the White

House. Anthony Scaramucci spoke to CNN today, giving us a pretty extraordinary glimpse into some bitter infighting.

It all started when information about his own finances was leaked to the media. He then fired off a tweet that mentioned White House Chief of Staff

Reince Priebus.

It said, in light of the leak of my financial disclosure info, which is a felony, I will be contacting FBI and the Justice Department, @reince45.

Now, that tweet has now been deleted, replaced by one that denied he was targeting Priebus even though he tagged him. But when talking to CNN,

Scaramucci all but accused Priebus of being a leaker in chief.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR (via telephone): As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head

down. But I can tell you two fish that don't stink, OK, and that's me and the President.

I don't like the activity that's going on in the White House. I don't like what they're doing to my friend. I don't like what they're doing to the

President of the United States or their fellow colleagues in the West Wing.

Now, if you want to talk about the chief of staff, we have had odds. We have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's

because we're rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each and get along.

I don't know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the President. But he is the chief of staff. He is responsible for

understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night.

When a journalist who actually know who the leakers are, like Ryan Lizza, they know the leakers. Jonathan Swan at Axios. These guys know who the

leakers are. I respect them for not telling me because I understand and respect journalistic integrity.

However, when I put out a tweet and I put Reince's name in the tweet, they're all making the assumption that it's him because journalists know

who the leakers are. So if Reince wants to explain that he is not a leaker, let him do that.


GORANI: All right. He's saying, basically, I tagged him because we're on the same team and we're all going to try to, together, uncover who the

leakers are, though there are other versions, certainly another interpretation of that tweet.

So let's dig in to all of this White House infighting and more with my guests. Brian Klaas is a fellow in comparative politics at the London

School of Economics. He follows the Trump administration. Doug Haye is a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator. He joins us from


Thanks to both of you for being with us.


GORANI: Doug, first of all, what is going on in the White House? It really, really, from the outside looking in, seems completely chaotic. Do

you agree?

HAYE: Yes. I think, in one word, it's chaos. And it's not that there's one group fighting another group; it's that there are 10 groups fighting 10

other groups.

There are factions within factions, which is why trying to find leakers is going to be a very difficult thing to do. Because, in theory, it's

everybody, but actually getting anyone to admit or this leaker versus that leaker, a very different -- difficult thing.

But I can tell you, Hala, I've worked with Reince Priebus when I was at the Republican National Committee. He was the general counsel there. I know

he is somebody of utmost -- he is somebody of utmost integrity and somebody they're very lucky to have.

GORANI: Yes. Doug and Brian, stand by. We're going to listen in to what the President is saying at the White House at this event for just a few



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- for being tough, for doing the tough jobs, the dangerous jobs, and sometimes thankless jobs with

tremendous integrity, devotion, and courage. So I just want to thank law enforcement generally. Thank you.


TRUMP: Thank you, fellows. Thank you. Thank you.


TRUMP: I can only tell you from the campaign, the people love you, they respect you, and they admire me. So I know you go through a lot but they

have great admiration. So just remember that, please.

Today, I'm deeply honored to present our nation's highest award for a public safety officer, the Medal of Valor, to Special Agent Crystal Griner,

Special Agent David Bailey, and Alexandria Police Department Officers Nicole Battaglia, Kevin Jobe, and Alex Jensen.

[15:35:06] The Medal of Valor is reserved for those who go above and beyond the call of duty, as each of these men and women did that on that fateful

day. And they did it with great courage, and they did it with instinct.

When our human instincts tell us to run, there's danger, our police and first responders run straight at it, standing in the breach, protecting the

innocent and keeping our loved ones safe.

Now, I would like the military aide to read the citation as these great American heroes step forward to receive the Medal of Valor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Special Agent Crystal Griner.

Medal of Valor presented to Special Agent Crystal Griner, U.S. Capitol Police, District of Columbia, for bravery and composure while engaged in an

act of shooter incident.

Despite being shot, Special Agent Griner placed herself in mortal danger to save the lives of members of Congress, attending family members, and

congressional staff during a charity softball practice at Eugene Simpson Memorial Park in Alexandria, Virginia.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Special Agent David Bailey.

Medal of Valor presented to Special Agent David Bailey, U.S. Capitol Police, District of Columbia, for taking brave and decisive action to

subdue an active shooter.

Special Agent Bailey was shot during the exchange of gunfire but continued to advance the shooter without benefit of cover until the active shooter

was subdued, saving the lives of members of Congress, attending family members, and congressional staff.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Officer Nicole Battaglia.

Medal of Valor presented to Officer Nicole Battaglia, Alexandria Police Department, Virginia, for demonstrating extraordinary courage in saving the

lives of two U.S. Capitol Police Officers, members of Congress, their families, and congressional staff.

Officer Battaglia engaged the assailant, exchanging gunfire at close range, and ultimately neutralizing himself.



Medal of Valor presented to Officer Alex Jensen, Alexandria Police Department, Virginia, for swift and valiant action in responding to an

active shooter.

[15:40:07] Officer Jensen put himself in harm's way during the active shooter incident, moving without cover and drawing fire from the assailant

until the assailant was subdued and the safety of the members of Congress, their families, and congressional staff was ensured.



Medal of Valor presented to Officer Kevin Jobe, Alexandria Police Department, Virginia, for placing himself in grave danger to protect two

U.S. Capitol Police officers, members of Congress, their families, and congressional staff.

Officer Jobe engaged an active shooter, neutralizing a volatile gunman, and preventing further injuries to innocent bystanders in the park.


TRUMP: Very brave people, great people. Congratulations to all of you. We are forever in your debt. Thank you.

God bless you, God bless our truly amazing law enforcement, and God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you.



GORANI: You're watching a ceremony at the White House honoring the first responders that, in fact, responded to that shooting at a congressional

baseball game practice in Alexandria, Virginia on June 14th. It left one congressperson, Steve Scalise, very badly injured. He spent many weeks in

intensive care.

His condition has improved since, but some of the police officers that responded in the very first minutes there following the incident were given

-- were honored by the President at the White House.

Let's get back to our political experts, Brian Klaas and Doug Haye.

So, Brian, let's get back to the big news. So we have several strands. We obviously have the testimony on Capitol Hill with an American businessman,

Bill Browder, saying that any kind of meeting that would have taken place during the campaign with someone such as the lawyer that we saw there would

have to have been somehow organized or at the very least within the orbit of knowledge of Russian intelligence.

And then we have these tweets on transgender service men and women. What's going on, do you think, at this stage of the administration?


had, for six months, crisis after crisis that has been created by the West Wing, you know.

And I think that this is something where people are getting sick for this. There's no reason why this has to be self-inflicted wounds. The

transgender tweet was to distract from another crisis, which was the Trump administration and Trump himself attacking Jeff Sessions and the Acting FBI

Director on Twitter as well.

Then we go to the transgender tweet, and we find out that he hasn't briefed the Pentagon. And that for nine minutes, people in the Pentagon were

worried that he was about to announce a nuclear strike -- not a nuclear strike but an air strike on North Korea, preemptive strike.

So, you know, all of these different things that are happening in the White House are turmoil. The real question we need to be asking is, what happens

when a nonself-inflicted arises? What happens when something in the world, a very volatile place right now, occurs and instead of all the palace


[15:45:03] These people are responsible for the safety and security of not just the United States but the world. And I think that's why we need to

think about how these tweets are distracting us from some very real challenges that need to be solved by the United States government.

GORANI: And, Doug Haye, do you think mainstream Republicans, the RNC wing not the -- those closest to Donald Trump, the President, do you think their

support is starting to wane at all? Because we're not hearing it publicly in any kind of way.

HAYE: Yes. Right now, I'd say a lot of people are sick of this, but your base Trump supporters are not sick of this. They like to see Trump pick

these fights. They like to see Trump say these things. So we Trump's approval ratings haven't really fallen in the past few weeks despite all of

this controversy.

Where he may have some real problem is --

GORANI: Yes, and that's good point. I was going to bring that up with Brian. That's a good point. Donald Trump's approval rating, though it's

low, has not fallen much.

KLAAS: No, it hasn't. I've spent a lot of time in my home state of North Carolina, and I can tell you the conservative Republicans I've talked to

there haven't wavered in -- with Donald Trump at all. And I don't think they will, unless this Jeff Sessions business continues because Sessions is

somebody who's very popular within the Republican base. I think it's a mistake for Trump to really go after him the way that he has.

GORANI: And, Brian, this is something as well, I mean, obviously, inside the beltway and what Trump supporters would call the media elite and the

coastal elite are appalled every single day -- we see it on Twitter, we see it on social media -- at some of the things the President does and tweets.

But fundamentally, his support base is still there.

KLAAS: Well, I think we need to challenge that assumption a little bit for two reasons. One --


KLAAS: One is that we haven't seen the full fallout of him attacking Sessions. And I think that Doug is absolutely right that this is somebody

who is absolutely viewed as on a pedestal for the base. He's the guy who's supposed to deliver all the immigration processes, and he's getting

attacked and savaged and publicly humiliated by Trump on a daily basis on Twitter.

The second reason I think we should challenge this assumption is that when we say the Republicans have still high levels of support for Trump, that's

self-identified Republicans. Some people are choosing now to not self- identify to pollsters as Republicans as they end up not supporting Trump. And we see that as a result -- reflected and the independent numbers are

falling considerably.

Beyond that, the number of strong approve for Trump is falling, even within the Republican Party, just the simply approve. While on the independents

and Democrats, the number of disapproves have moved towards strong disapproves. So even after these six months, we're seeing a solidification

of all these attitudes that are going to be very difficult to break through.

GORANI: Yes, but, Brian, you had special elections where the Democrats put millions of -- and millions of dollars. They lost them all.

KLAAS: And that --

GORANI: It's not like the Democratic Party is putting up much of a fight.

KLAAS: But this is where you have to actually look at the numbers, right?


KLAAS: They lost them narrowly in seats that they got destroyed in last November. They're closing the gap considerably.

And beyond this, the really important thing for campaigns is not just the enthusiasm levels but candidate recruitment. You see this where candidates

really make a difference in places like Missouri where Senator -- or Senate candidate Jason Kander nearly won the election even though Trump trounced

Clinton in Missouri.

And now, the number of people who are filing to register for candidacies in the 2018 midterms, the Democrats have a huge search. So enthusiasm gap is

going to benefit the Democrats and so is the fact that more people, qualified people, are running for office for the Democrats.

GORANI: All right. Doug, what do you make of what Brian just said, that the Democrats have a strategy, that they're going to fight back, though we

didn't see it in those special elections in Georgia and elsewhere?

HAYE: Yes. They're certainly trying to recruit better candidates, no doubt about that. There doesn't seem to be much strategy behind that, and

they may not need it.

In 2010 when I worked at the Republican National Committee, we won the House not because Republicans were great but because ObamaCare was

unpopular. That may be why the Republicans lose the House this time. If Republicans are unable to pass any kind of ObamaCare replacement, that

Trump base likely stays at home and cause us real problems for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

GORANI: And I've got to ask you, Doug, about Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. I mean, a half hour interview with my

colleague, Chris Cuomo, yesterday, a half hour phone call today. I mean, the phone call, by the way, interview is something that Donald Trump was a

big fan of during the campaign. Is he emulating him?

HAYE: I think to some extent, he is. A lot of people were calling him Trump's mini me. But what we also see is the fact that Scaramucci is able

to call in for 30 minutes and talk about Quincy on air and things like that shows the absolute appetite for all Trump news. People love Trump, people

hate Trump, but they always tune in.

GORANI: Yes. And what you -- that's true, though, I mean. And it's sucking the oxygen out of almost every other story, and I know we put this

show together every day. And it is because there is a fascination with it and because the implications are so grave.

KLAAS: Well, absolutely, there's a fascination with it. There's also a fascination with the T.V. from Trump himself and Scaramucci. The fact that

they're able to spend their time watching T.V., Trump sometimes live tweeting "Fox and Friends," Scaramucci calling in, there's a real job to


The President of the United States is the hardest job in the world. And Donald Trump is spending a lot of it focused on crowd size and ratings.

[15:50:03] If you look at his tweets, he's tweeted about crowds more than 250 times, about ratings more than that. And yet inequality, something

like one time in history, he's written about that. Afghanistan, 39 times, right?

So the focus of this President is on what the appearance of his presidency is, not the substance. And that's why I think Doug's right that, unless

there's a deliverance for the base, there's going to be real problems for Trump and the Republicans in 2018 or the midterms.

GORANI: The Boy Scout jamboree, you'll remember obviously, as many of our viewers do as well, that Donald Trump brought up politics that really went

against sort of tradition. The Boy Scouts of America, the chief executive, released a long statement today about that appearance by the President, and

he basically apologized to the parents.

He said: sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.

For years, people have called on us to take a position on political issues, and we've steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on

political matters. While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today

as every day.

Doug Haye, we've got to leave it there. We'll talk about that, I'm sure, down the line and other Donald Trump appearances as well.

To both of you, thanks very much. Doug Haye and Brian Klaas.

HAYE: Thank you.

GORANI: We're going to take a quick break on CNN. We'll be right back.


GORANI: Wednesday's snap decision to ban transgender men and women from serving in the military in America caught many, including his chief of

staff, by surprise, and it unleashed a strong backlash in some quarters.

Let's speak to Bryce Jordan Celotto, a former U.S. Army specialist and a transgender man. He joins me from Washington.

Thanks for being with us. First of all, your reaction when you saw that tweet because it must have really felt like it was directed obviously at


BRYCE JORDAN CELOTTO, FORMER UNITED STATES ARMY SPECIALIST: Yes. So the initial reaction I had when I saw that tweet was anger, to be totally



CELOTTO: Yes, I was really just upset and couldn't really believe what I was reading at first. I was actually woke up yesterday and I live in the

West Coast so I woke up at 10:45 Pacific Time to 70 messages from friends and family.

So I was really angry and shocked at first. But then, kind of after that initial anger and shock passed over, ironically enough, my military

training kind of kicked in. So you know, in the military, you're really taught to look out for one another and that's like the number one priority,

is making sure you're looking out for the guy or the person to your right or your left.

So I started calling my friends who are also transgender veterans or also still serving on active duty.


CELOTTO: And checked in with them, you know, and really just started digging out what can we do now, what can we do next, kind of what are the

next steps.

GORANI: And what do you want to do now? What do you -- what is your strategy going forward, Bryce?

CELOTTO: I think my strategy going forward is just in keeping the message that, you know, transgender people are not a burden in general but

especially in the U.S. military.

[15:55:02] You know, that was a part of Donald Trump's tweet that really caught me the most, was that these words that somehow we are a burden. So

I think, moving forward, I just want to make really clear that we're not a burden. Transgenders --

GORANI: And a disruption. Also calling you -- calling transgender men and -- service men and women a disruption.

CELOTTO: Yes. And I think the message going forward really is that that's not the case. Transgender people have served in the U.S. military

honorably for decades and, you know, we fill really critical roles in the military.

When I served in the Army National Guard, I was a military police officer and took part in several key security operations. And you know, we being

transgender troops are drill sergeants training the next generation of soldiers. We are submariners. We are aviators.

So the strategy going forward is letting people know that we are doing our jobs and we are still here and we are serving this country.

GORANI: And what does it mean for those already serving in the military because there are many thousands, several thousands of trans men and women

in the military today?

CELOTTO: Yes. So I am no longer currently on active duty, but as you noted, there are thousands of transgender people who are still on active

duty, many of whom are close friends of mine. And what it means going forward is we're still going to do our job, you know. As you alluded or as

you mentioned earlier --

GORANI: But have they pulled, anything? I mean, have they -- those of your friends who are still serving, have they been given any guidance

because this is a huge policy shift by the President on Twitter?

CELOTTO: It is a huge policy shift and he did announce it on Twitter but I think the key thing is, as you mentioned earlier, the Joint Chiefs of Staff

has said that, as of now, we are going stay the course with allowing transgender folks to serve. Secretary Mattis has not had the final say on

this issue. And ultimately, he is the final decision on this topic, not President Trump in this case.

So I think, as of now, for those transgender troops who are still serving, you know, the mission remains the same, to go to work. You know, all my

friends who are on active duty showed up this morning. They showed up. Their uniform was on, clean and crisp, and they did their jobs. And we are

going to keep doing our jobs until final policy directive comes down from the Pentagon, which has not happened yet.

GORANI: Right. Bryce Jordan Celotto, thanks so much for joining us on CNN. We appreciate your time. We'll have a lot --

CELOTTO: Thank you for having me.

GORANI: We'll have a lot more on what's coming out of Washington and other top world news stories after a quick break.

I'm Hala Gorani. I'll see you same time, same place tomorrow. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next.