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Trump's False Claim about Predecessors; Trump's Storm Response; NFL Owners and Players Meeting. Aired 9:30-10:00a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:33:54] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yesterday afternoon, President Trump made false claims about his predecessors, accusing them of not reaching out to the families of fallen soldiers at times. Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted this in reaction. Quote, stop the damn lying. You're the president. I went to Dover Air Force Base with 44 and saw him comfort the families.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump made the comments yesterday while speaking publically for the very first time. And only then because he was asked about the four U.S. soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger. Listen to what he said.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed. For me that's by far the toughest. So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama, and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I am able to do it.

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BERMAN: But according to former Obama administration officials, President Obama did do it, and met with people regularly. You hear the same from Bush administration officials. Later on in the news conference, the president did backtrack just a little bit. Listen to this.

[09:35:04] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told. All I can do -- all I can do is ask my generals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, we want to discuss this with former member of Congress, Jack Kingston, a CNN political commentator, former senior adviser to the Trump campaign. Also with us, Symone Sanders, CNN political commentator, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

Congressman, I want to start with you here.

The White House insists that he wasn't criticizing his predecessors, but it sure sounded like it. And it sure sounded like he was saying stuff that wasn't true.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it did and I think that the critics are right in taking it that way. But I want to point out, he did correct himself very quickly. He did not double down. He addressed it. He had to be prodded, of course, but he did address it almost immediately.

I know I've been with President Bush when he met with members of the family. I know that Barack Obama did it, according to his staff. I wasn't there when he did. But I was with President Bush when he did.

But these things are very, very sensitive. One of my former constituents was one of the men who died and a big funeral was for him yesterday in Toombs County, Georgia. So I know these things are highly emotional. And I think probably where there's just sacred ground is generally we just don't talk about these things.

HARLOW: Simone, to you. One of the things, as the congressman points out, when the president was correcting himself, it was sort of a half -- a half correction because he ends on saying, all I can do is ask my generals. That's really not all you can do, right? If you don't know, don't say it. No one asked him to talk about his predecessors. How do you see it?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I see it as, this is another one -- another way that Donald Trump is taking a jab at President Obama. It seems as though he's -- he's very concerned about talking about President Obama, trying to undo everything President Obama has done, casting doubt on President Obama. And we saw it yesterday in that press conference.

But also I think we have to continuously remind the current president of the United States that words matter. And it is not enough for him to say, I don't really know, I just have to ask the generals. You're the president. The onus is on you to know. If you don't know, who the hell knows?

BERMAN: And the other thing, congressman, is that the last thing in the world that's important here is President Trump's own comparison to his predecessors, who's doing a better job of what in this case. What matters most -- and you said it right there -- is the families of the four service men who were killed --

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: For which there still isn't a whole heck of a lot of an explanation right now. And the fact it took the president 12 days to mention it out loud and even then when asked. Is that quick enough?

KINGSTON: You know, I think as Senator Reid said that an investigation into this is appropriate, what were we are doing there? Was it about Boko Haram or what may have gone on in Somalia, was it connected? I don't know.

I know this. In talking to Will Wright, the brother of the deceased soldier, Dustin Wright, what happened to them is the families were held -- the bodies were kept and the families wanted to get the bodies back as quick as possible. So, you know, there was a delay in getting the bodies back home. I don't know what that was about either.

But I think those are questions that the families want to get on their mind. And when the families talk to their elected officials, it does help bring closure. This funeral yesterday for Dustin Wright was over 1,000 people. It was held in a high school football stadium. And these are very, very sad occasions. I had the honor of representing four military installations. I was on the Armed Services -- or on the Defense Committee. I went to many, many memorial services. These things are always tender and politics should not enter into it.

SANDERS: So, you know, I mean, John and Poppy, the other thing I would like to note is, Congressman Kingston has been really good about talking about the perspective of the families and of the folks who are truly, truly affected by the loss of life of these soldiers that put their lives on the line. What I heard from Donald Trump -- President Trump yesterday was how he was affected when he has to make these phone calls.

Donald Trump didn't send not near one of his sons or daughters out to serve, knowing that they could lose their lives. It wasn't Donald Trump's child who, you know, now won't be home for Christmas or Thanksgiving. And I did not hear empathy or sympathy from him. I merely heard him talking about himself yesterday. And that is another problem with this president.

HARLOW: Let's just take a moment if we have --

KINGSTON: Well --

HARLOW: Congressman, just one second -- if we have the photos of these four young men. Let's put them on the screen. OK, there they are. Army Sergeant David Johnson, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson.

And go ahead, congressman.

KINGSTON: I want to say this. Mike Pence's son is in active duty. Mike Pence has been to Dover I believe three different times. And when the president's expressed sympathy, it really is private. I know with President Bush, I was not allowed in the room with him when he was speaking to the families. He would go inside and he would be inside. You'd ask, well, how long is this going to take, and the staff would say, it might be 10 minutes, it might be an hour.

[09:40:08] But -- so -- so I do think that when the president gives sympathy, and I've met Donald Trump many times, his personal persona, I guess, is a lot different than what we see in public. He is a very empathetic guy. BERMAN: When he chooses to be.

SANDERS: I have no words.

BERMAN: When he chooses to be, which up until this point with these families he hasn't -- he will. I mean, he will. And the families have said that they're being patient and they couldn't even handle it had he called this past weekend because they were grieving so much. But, again, his first response there I think, congressman, yesterday, and even you said it, was very telling and you can see why people took offense.

Congressman Jack Kingston, Symone Sanders, thanks so much for being with us.

KINGSTON: Yes.

HARLOW: We appreciate you being here.

SANDERS: Thank you.

HARLOW: The president says plenty of supplies, water, aid has been delivered to Puerto Rico, but do Americans think he is doing a good job now in the aftermath of the disaster? A brand new CNN poll shows a major drop, a 20 point drop, in American's perception of how he's handling this.

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[09:45:27] BERMAN: All right, we have a fascinating number in the new CNN poll. The president's approval rating on how he has handled the hurricanes this year, it plummeted a full 20 points since the beginning of September.

So what happened in the middle there? Maria. Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico.

Now, the president is still defending the recovery effort there.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Puerto Rico is very tough because of the fact it's an island. But it's also tough because, as you know, it was in very poor shape before the hurricanes ever hit. Their electrical grid was destroyed before the hurricanes got there. It was in very bad shape. It was not working. It was in bankruptcy. Owed $9 million. And then on top of that, the hurricane came.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: President Trump's words, massive amounts, his words, of supplies have been delivered to Puerto Rico, but he says the problem is local authorities on the island are not getting them distributed.

Let's go to Puerto Rico. Our Ed Lavandera is there.

Is he right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's one of those hotly debated issues here on this island. You know, whenever you get outside of this -- of the capital here of San Juan, you hear repeatedly from residents that, like, for example, we focused on for several days is water issues. And you go to a lot of these small towns and the areas up in the mountains or outside of San Juan and you hear from people that they've only received maybe a package of two -- of water, and that's why you see so much improvising of people trying to tap into rivers, streams, lakes, water wells, you know, that may be contaminated. Those are the kinds of issues. You also here from mayors who basically say they need more help.

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MAYOR ANGEL PEREZ, GUAYNABO, PUERTO RICO: We want more help. And I know -- for my experience is FEMA has given us a lot of help. We want more. We need more help. And as I have meetings with other mayors, I see the desperation.

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LAVANDERA: You can see -- hear that desperation. You know, a lot of this is roadways, especially some up in the mountains, some have been wiped away and it can take a while to get -- to reach certain towns. Also, you know, one other thing that just remains, just a massive hurdle here. And it's amazing that we're now almost a month out of this storm and there's still more than 85 percent of this island that is without electrical power. Just to grasp just how crippling that is for everyone down the line is really staggering.

You know, you talk to a number of people who say, you know, they're temporarily unemployed. Their businesses haven't re-opened. You know, the lack of power is really just crippling and has everyone kind of frozen at times. And that doesn't even take into account the massive communications problems that still reach out for -- throughout much of this -- throughout much of the island as well. Telecommunication lines, cell towers down. You know, you drive into certain part of this island and you -- it's just a black hole of communication. So that hampers things as well.

BERMAN: All right, Ed Lavandera for us in Puerto Rico. Again, thank you for giving us the situation on the ground.

HARLOW: Thanks, Ed.

BERMAN: A big day for the NFL. Amid all the controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem, key meetings, the owner's meeting this week, today. Player representatives will be here as well. What will come of this?

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[09:53:10] BERMAN: All right, it's a crucial day for the NFL. Team owners, players, union leaders, they huddle today to talk about strategy over the protests that have been taking place on the field. The owners just arrived here in New York for the meeting.

Coy Wire, CNN sports anchor, former NFL star and team rep joins us now.

Coy, what can we expect today?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, John, I first must mention that this is an unprecedented move that we're seeing, the NFL players and the Players Association join together with the league owners in their league meeting. As a former player rep with the union during my playing days, I can tell you, it's a normally contentious relationship between these two parties. I was there during the times of the lockout. There was screaming, shouting.

But that's not the case here. I've spoken to several NFL players and league executives who feel that the protests have been inaccurately pegged as protests of our flag, of our nation, our military, and that has damaged the image of the players and the league as a whole. So now there's a concerted effort, guys, to get the messaging and the protests back on track.

Can the league and the players work together? Absolutely. They already have been, working behind the scenes for over a year now, and have already joined forces to create positive change regarding social and racial inequality in our country. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been meeting with players to find out how the league can help the players create positive change in their communities. Just last month, in Philadelphia, meeting with Eagles' safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has been one of the champions for change, alongside leaders in the community. Goodell met with Eagles players, law enforcement, government officials, even team owner Jeffrey Lurie, that you see there, all to get a better understanding of how the league can help create positive, social change alongside the players.

The league has also been putting their money where their mouth is, matching Colin Kaepernick's million dollar pledge. You may remember, the 49ers donated $1 million as well to organizations that address social inequities. The Packers and head coach Mike McCarthy each pledged $100,000 to the Green Bay Police Foundation. Other teams as well, like the Dolphins, the Colts, and the Seahawks committing funds.

[09:55:06] Now the league wants to see what else can they do to help the players in their communities. One NFL executive told me that the aim of this owners meeting today will be to work towards a solution that will result in a clear-cut plan to bring stability and resolution to the concerns of the players regarding the injustices they see in their communities.

And I have just been told that I'm able to report that there will be in February, of the first of its kind, the NFL players and players from other sports professional leagues coming together at Morehouse College and thy will discuss how they can better be advocates and activists for social change in their communities.

I've been part of those meetings at Morehouse College. They've been going on for about a year now. Big meeting today with the owners and players. We'll be able to report on that for you guys tomorrow from what we see.

HARLOW: It's fascinating. And thank you for the update on that, what's going to be ahead in February. We appreciate it, Coy. Thank you.

WIRE: You're welcome.

HARLOW: We do have breaking news overseas. ISIS' de facto capital, Raqqa, has been liberated. This is a big deal. We'll have the details, next.

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