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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
WH: Trump Spoke To Families of 4 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Action; Trump: Dems To Blame For ObamaCare Hikes, Bad "Product"; Trump Defends False Tax Claim With Another False Statement. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired October 17, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jessica Schneider reporting for us, thank you very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, President Trump playing politics with fallen soldiers while playing fast and loose with the facts.
Plus, the president takes credit for taking down the capital of ISIS, a major victory. Does he deserve it?
And Putin's chef, now he is at the center of the Russia investigation.
Let's go OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news. President Trump today talking to the families of the four American soldiers killed in Niger. Four brave soldiers ambushed by what are thought to be ISIS-linked extremists. It's the deadliest combat loss since President Trump took office.
Those soldiers are Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright. The president's calls, though, came after playing politics with their great loss.
President Trump invoking his chief of staff's fallen son to defend his false claim that President Obama did not call families of fallen American soldiers. It's an ugly turn on an issue that should never have been politicized. Here's President Trump at a radio interview today talking about his Chief of Staff John Kelly's son who was killed while serving in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. I don't know what Obama's policy was.
(END AUDIO CLIP) BURNETT: Multiple White House sources tell CNN that President Obama did not call General Kelly after his son died. But a source tells us that General Kelly's wife attended a Gold Star family's breakfast with the Obamas the year after his son died. Just one of several ways the former president did honor the fallen including phone calls, letters, and standing by to salute the remains of troops returning home.
Now, this all began when President Trump was asked about the four soldiers killed in Niger. He was asked yesterday. He was defensive about not having spoken to their families and he chose to respond by bringing up President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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'm able to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Obama administration officials, of course, have said that's flatly not true. And when pressed on his charge, Trump backtracked almost immediately, and he blamed his generals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you make that claim?
TRUMP: I don't know if he did, no, no. I was told that he didn't often. And a lot of presidents don't. They write letters.
It's a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. 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)
BURNETT: So who are his generals? Well, he subsequently of course only mentioned one, General Kelly. But most important here is the context.
Both Obama and President Bush regularly reached out to the families of the fallen and both men did so with little fanfare. They did not do it to seek political gain.
Sara Murray is OutFront at the White House. And Sara, the president is making an ugly and false accusation tonight, even uglier.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Erin we reached out to General Kelly to see if he wanted to respond. CNN has also reached out to the White House to see if they wanted to make General Kelly available to talk about this because President Trump did bring his chief of staff into it, the fact that his chief of staff lost his son to war. And we know that Kelly has tried not to publicize his son's death. He's not gone out there and spoken about it publicly. He has in the past, but he certainly hasn't made it a big issue in the media. So it is a little perplexing.
And I think, Erin, the point here is not necessarily the story of General Kelly, and it's not the story of President Obama. This is a story of a deadly combat mission that occurred under President Trump and how he has behaved as commander-in-chief and consoler in chief in this incident. That's why I asked him in the Rose Garden the other day why we hadn't heard him discuss this incident, even if he hadn't reached out to the families directly, even if he wanted to give them time to breathe, time to grieve, why he hadn't spoken publicly about this.
So in many ways, this is a window into how he's managing his White House. And once again, it seems like he's trying to shift the blame rather than to explain his own approach.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Sara Murray.
And OutFront now, Bryan Lanza who served as deputy communications director for Trump's campaign, and also communications director for the transition team. Our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is with me, along with Rear Admiral John Kirby who served as Pentagon and State Department spokesman under President Obama.
Gloria, let me start with you. Why is the president making something so solemn and so important, of course, talking about fallen soldiers and the deadliest combat loss since he took office, about slamming his predecessor?
[19:05:05] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there are a couple things at play here. First of all, I think when he was asked about Niger and his communications with those families, I think since he hadn't posted the letters yet and perhaps since he hadn't reached out to them by phone, he felt a little defensive about his own action. And what he does when he feels defensive is he deflects, as Sara Murray was just talking about. And he deflected to his favorite foil, Barack Obama. And started talking about how Barack Obama responded to the families of the fallen.
And so, you know, I think we've seen this over and over again. And you know, Barack Obama seems to be kind of the default position here. Well, what did he do? I do it better and I do it differently.
BURNETT: So Admiral Kirby, President Trump doubled down today, you know, on President Obama. Look, in the first year of President Obama's presidency in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 466 military fatalities. So far this year, there have been 25.
You were at the Pentagon under President Obama. How did you feel when you heard what President Trump said?
I was really sad to hear that, Erin. Really, really disappointed. I mean, of all the things that a president does, the last thing that should be politicized is talking about the families of the fallen, and how and where and when they're being contacted.
RET. REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I mean, you said it at the outset that President Obama did this across a number of ways. He wrote letters, he made phone calls. He actually made it a point of every base visit that he went to across the United States to take some time out and carve it out to meet with the families of the fallen that lived at or near that base. Not to mention he went to visit the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan which President Trump hasn't done yet.
I'm really -- I was really sad to see that he chose to politicize this. And I was equally sad this morning to hear that on the radio he pulled General Kelly into it as well. I can tell you, I know General Kelly, worked with him every day while we were in the Pentagon. The last thing he would want is to have his family and their grief and the grief of all the other families of the fallen brought out in the open like this.
BURNETT: Bryan, why would the president make a question about the fallen soldiers into something frankly about accusing his predecessor of not caring about the troops? Why would he do that?
BRYAN LANZA, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM: You know, I would say context matters when we're having this conversation, and let's just sort of add the proper context to how the story started. The criticism started that President Trump was tweeting and not acknowledging these lives of these -- of our heroes that recently passed in Niger. And so it ultimately made it to the White House press corps and they asked him the question, and he's saying guys, here's what's going on.
He goes, I want to be judged under the same context you judged my sort of -- my other predecessor. And what I have done is I contacted all of these spouses, all these, you know, these family members who've been involved in the death of our great heroes. He's contacted them by phone, he says, you know, I've done this. I have also written letters.
And so my predecessors haven't made those phone calls. We're not sort of, you know, each person has their own process, but I think the media sort of jumps and tries to create fake outrage very similar to the fake news, and it's --
BURNETT: Just to be clear, Bryan, I mean, just because he's made all this matter. You know, today, they came out, just actually a couple of hours ago and said that he made the phone calls. Yesterday when he was asked, he didn't mention anything about making phone calls. He mentioned letters.
I mean, again, it all seems ridiculous, why are we talking about this, right? Honoring fallen troops should be something every president can do in their own way, right? But to say that your predecessors didn't do it, as if they didn't care, as commanders-in-chief under war, that seems to be the issue.
LANZA: I didn't look at it as criticism on our predecessors, I looked at it as criticism on the media. You know, where was the media sort of slamming and adding all these extra, you know, questions (INAUDIBLE) to president -- to him when he wasn't tweeting about the service members that passed.
We didn't see the same type of criticism. So when President Trump responds to this, he said, wait a second, he goes now we're creating a new sort of outlier of how I'm going to be judged in this process when my predecessor did far less than what I have done so far. And that's all he's doing, it's not a criticism of Obama. I didn't see it that way, I look it from a communications --
BURNETT: OK, again, I don't think there's any facts to support done far less than I have done so far, so I'm sorry to harp on the facts but they do matter. But Admiral what do you make about Bryan's fundamental point, which is he's saying he thinks that it's unfair -- that President Trump is not being treated the same way? And just to keep in mind, the context here is this is the single biggest combat loss since he took office.
KIRBY: Yes, you know, I think it was a bit surprising to folks that he didn't acknowledge in any way the sacrifice of those lives in Niger. This isn't about whether he decided to call or not. Most presidents, commanders-in-chief when they make phone calls or write letters, they don't advertise it, they don't talk about it.
I think what surprised people was that he didn't even -- the White House didn't acknowledge the death of these soldiers in the field, even to just issue, you know, a simple condolence statement, which is typical practice. And that's what got everybody's attention and that's why the comparison was made.
BURNETT: So Gloria, in this timeframe, let's just say, you know, 13 days since the single biggest combat loss, right? In this time, the president has had time to tweet about a whole lot of things, OK?
[19:10:04] He wished happy birthday to the Navy. He had time to tweet about little Bob Corker, right. "The failing New York Times sent little Bob Corker up by retorting his conversation was made to sound like a fool. That's what I'm dealing with."
All kinds of tweets like this. Was it too much to expect that there would have been some kind of acknowledgment of this loss?
BORGER: Well -- and I think when you -- you know, when Bryan talks about context, that is the context of Donald Trump which is that he comments via Twitter on just about everything. And that he is really thinking about, because I think the true Donald Trump is the Donald Trump we see on Twitter unedited. And you know what, he's thinking about.
So for people to raise the question, why didn't we hear from him about this, I think is a legitimate question.
BURNETT: All right, I mean, Bryan, he does say Twitter is me unfiltered, right? That's why he sticks with it. And you know, it is the truth that he did not choose to mention this on Twitter in that time.
LANZA: You know, Gloria talks about understanding and thinking she knows the real Donald Trump. You know, I do know the real Donald Trump and I have actually had interactions with him about, you know, the military discussions we had, the sacrifices that these families have made.
And so for that to be questioned, you know, just because it didn't appear on Twitter or didn't go through any sort of more public process, it may have been a personal process for him, I don't think the criticism is on him. I think the criticism is on the fact that that's what we choose to focus on instead of a bipartisan healthcare agreement that was resolved -- that popped up today.
I mean, that's the silliness of this for us. That's how we sort of view what's going on. And we're always going to add context because how you treat this president mattered when you compares to how you treated him before. That's always been the conservatives complained about the bias that exists, and it's just highlighted more with President Trump with how he's treated today.
BURNETT: All right, well, I believe facts matter, and they matter on everything.
LANZA: They absolutely matter.
BURNETT: They matter as we call President Obama out for his handling of ISIS and they will matter tonight when we call President Trump out for the same. That's coming up later this hour, and I appreciate all your time very much. Thank you.
And next, the breaking news. President Trump is about to speak live, and it is about taxes and healthcare. Will he repeat something that is not true that America is the highest taxed nation in the world?
Plus, Trump does take full credit for the fall of ISIS' self-declared capital of Raqqah. Tonight, the facts, does he deserve it.
And how rich is President Trump?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm really rich. I'll show you that in a second.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Well, according to one crucial measure, not quite as rich anymore. Jeanne Moos will give you her take.
[19:16:07] BURNETT: Breaking news, live pictures out of Washington. President Trump's about to speak, where you see on the screen before the Conservative Heritage Foundation at a dinner. He's going to talk about taxes and going to talk about healthcare. Trump tweeted moments ago, "Any increase in ObamaCare premium is the fault of the Democrats for giving us a product that never had a chance of working." This came just hours after Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray reached a bipartisan deal on ObamaCare.
Phil Mattingly is OutFront on Capitol Hill, and Phil, healthcare, anything but easy, but here's the bottom line. President Trump is now insisting ObamaCare is dead, he said so again today. Is it true?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a word, no, it's not. In fact the open enrollment starts in just about 15 days, making the case that it's very much alive. And the reason it's very much alive, at least in part, is because Republicans haven't been able to repeal and replace it, something they campaigned on for years.
Now, that doesn't mean the market is in a good or even at this point stable place. If you look at premium increases across the country, they are very real. If you look at the fact insurers have started pulling out of specific counties in some cases, there were bare counties were entirely bare for periods of time,. That is also real.
Single insurers in those counties kind of really kind of limiting choice also a problem as well. But I think the interesting element here is, this bipartisan deal that you mentioned between a Senate Republican and a Senate Democrat underscores the fact that ObamaCare is not only still in existence, but people are trying to figure out a way to keep it stable as the Trump administration and Republicans up here try to figure out their next step based on their failures.
In fact, the president's decision to cut back on those subsidies earlier in the week, to go to insurance companies to help them pay down the issues that some of their customers may have, that was actually priced in by a lot of insurers for 2018. So there's not even major effects seen on that front as well, Erin.
I think the bottom line here is ObamaCare is still the law of the land. Any Republican, even those who find the law to be an anathema is willing to acknowledge this. The big question now is what happens next.
You see a lot of the moves of the administration has made, a lot of moves the Republicans have been calling for certainly undercut the premise or purpose of what ObamaCare actually does. And as long as they don't have a replacement plan that is in the works any time in the near future legislatively, what is the end game here?
I think that's an open question. The bipartisan deal right now answers some of those questions at least in the short term, but the question becomes can the bipartisan deal actually become law. We're hearing from a lot of Republicans right that say they're not for anything that quote/unquote fixes or props up ObamaCare. So at this point, even the short-term deal very much in question, Erin.
BURNETT: The guys are gluttons for punishment, I guess. It's just try again and see if they can fail again. OK, thank you very much. And obviously, there needs to be a solution here. Just certainly they haven't been able to get there as of yet.
All right, we're moments away from President Trump speaking to that conservative group about his agenda, and one of the top items, the top item tonight is tax reform. Now, while he has been selling his tax plan, as you know, he's called it the middle class miracle. He's also repeatedly said the United States is the highest taxed nation in the world.
That is not the case. Today, he defended that, though, with another false statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Some people say it differently, and they'll say we're the highest developed nation taxed in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why don't you say it that way?
TRUMP: Because a lot of people know exactly what I'm talking about. And in many cases they think I'm right when I say the highest. As far as I'm concerned, I think we're really essentially the highest, but if you'd like to add the developed nation, you can say that too. But a lot of people agree that the way I'm saying it is exactly correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So developed nation. Look, when you look at tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, your economy. Corporate tax revenue is a percentage of GDP or tax revenue per capita, right. Any measure, the United States is not number one, not even among developed countries.
OutFront now, the former senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign Steve Moore who was in the room where Trump is about to speak, and former director of National Economic Council under President Obama and President Clinton, Gene Sperling. Thanks to both.
Steve, look, you've been on this show recently, and you came out and said, look, the president should not be saying we're the highest taxed country in the world. He should say the highest corporate tax so you felt that there should be a (INAUDIBLE) so that he could be accurate.
[19:20:06] Why does he keep saying something that overall is not the case, and keep doubling down on it?
STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISER, 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, look, I mean, the fact is the fact that we do have the highest corporate tax rate. And by the way, Erin, you were talking about the fact that we don't get a lot of revenue from that tax. Which is all the worse because we have a high tax rate and it's a tax that doesn't collect much revenue, which to me is the definition of a bad tax.
But I think Trump will continue with this line that our business taxes are way out of line with other countries in the world. Erin, we're at 40 percent, the rest of the world is at 20 percent. That just doesn't work anymore. BURNETT: What do you say to that, Gene? Does that make sense to you? I mean, because I guess the argument Steve is making is that, we have a higher corporate tax rate but they're paying a lower rate so we should cut their rate even more.
GENE SPERLING, FORMER NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR UNDER OBAMA AND CLINTON: So all I can do is set the facts straight. So as you said, Erin, when you look at the OECD, the top 35 industrialized countries, you look at their analysis, not ours, they find the United States to be actually the fifth lowest. When you look at our corporate tax rate, the effective rate, how much they pay, we end up being right in the middle of the G-7.
And the reason why President Trump is saying this thing that's not true is that they're trying to come up with a justification for why they are possibly cutting the net amount of taxes that major corporations, the largest multinational corporations pay by $2 trillion.
Remember, Erin, in the Obama White House, we were willing to have tax reform that brought down the rate, but we were going to do it by closing loopholes and expenditures. When you actually cut taxes by $2 trillion, you have to wonder, how is that ultimately going to be paid for.
And I think if you're a middle class person or working person out there, you got to be worried after you've seen on healthcare that it's going to be paid for by either very large deficits or cuts in Medicaid and Medicare, particularly medicaid to pay for that. And that's a big concern.
BURNETT: Steve, what do you make about that point, right. The effective rate that companies pay is lower than their overall rate, right, their marginal rate. We all know that, that's a fact. It varies by industry but that's the average.
What about the point that it is middle of the line, right? It's middle of the road. They're not -- it's impossible to argue that they're the highest taxed.
MOORE: So look, when you have a high rate that means some companies -- I mean, Gene is right. The effective rate is lower than the statutory rate. The problem we have, Gene, I think you would agree, is some companies are paying the 35 percent rate. They're paying a very high rate, other companies are paying close to zero.
I mean, the wind and solar industry pay a negative tax. So, you know, let's set a rate. What we want to do here, Erin, is set a rate of 20 percent, get rid of the loopholes, and make every company pay their fair share of 20 percent. And if you're right, you know, Gene, that the effective rate is lower than that, then guess what, it would be a tax increase.
BURNETT: I have to give you credit for picking wind and solar, but I could give you oil any given year when they have a paper loss that they decided to write off. OK, so we can all kind of chuckle at that. Here's the thing, Gene. The president has made this argument, this incorrect argument that Steve would put the word corporate in front of it, that's what we're debating. But we're the highest taxed nation in the world which is false, and he said it again and again. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Remember this, we're the highest taxed nation in the world.
The taxes are crazy. The highest taxed nation in the world.
The people of this country want tax cuts. They want lower taxes. We're the highest taxed nation in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Gene, is it possible that's just smart because it doesn't matter if it's not true. If he keeps saying it, it sinks in. People believe it, and you know what, they want a tax cut.
SPERLING: Well, that's up to all of us, Erin. You and I to set the record straight, but I do want to say, it is distracting from the real point, which is what we know for sure, Erin, is that they are going to actually cut taxes for major corporation by $2 trillion. We know they're going to take the top rate for the one percent down from 39.6 percent to 35percent.
We know that under the guise of helping small business, they're going to do a special 25 percent rate that costs $2.2 trillion over 20 years. And goes 80 percent to the top one percent, and the kicker of them all, we know there's going to be a $250 billion state tax that only goes to every single penny to people who have over $11 trillion in estates.
And the issue is, why are we doing that instead of a tax cut that goes directly to middle class families or to working poor families like I proposed today in the Atlantic to expand the earnings from tax credit. Why are we not doing those things?
BURNETT: All right, I will hit pause there. Thank you both, there's a lot there Steve would disagree with. I will put it out there that Steve should, but of course, President Trump is about to speak, so we want to allow that to happen.
[09:25:09] And next, a major victory against ISIS. President Trump, of course, giving himself the credit.
BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't that happen before?
TRUMP: Because you didn't have Trump as your president.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: Is that true? And breaking news, Putin's quote, chef, at the center now of the Russia investigation, and fake news. This is a CNN exclusive. You'll hear it later this hour.
BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump taking full credit for the fall of ISIS, as American officials announce that major military operations have ended in Raqqa, Syria. The city, of course, that ISIS claims its capital. Today, President Trump said it's all thanks to him.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I totally changed our military. I totally changed the attitudes of the military, and they have done a fantastic job.
Yes ISIS is now giving up. They're giving up, they're raising their hands, they're walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't that happen before?
TRUMP: Because you didn't have Trump as your president.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: President Trump, of course, is like his predecessors in taking credit for good news, but facts do matter. ISIS was well in retreat during Obama's presidency. In December 2015, American trained Iraqi troops retook Ramadi from ISIS. Six months later, Iraq claims another major victory, taking back another ISIS stronghold, in this case, the city of Fallujah. And the offense on Mosul which finished in victory this July under President Trump started last fall under President Obama.
Arwa Damon is out front in (INAUDIBLE) Iraq, and Arwa, you have been covering the fight in all of these places, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, Raqqa for years. Is Trump right to claim all the credit here?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, a lot of the policy that the Trump administration has been implementing specifically when it comes to the fight against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria has simply been an extension of the Obama administration's policies. Advise and assist teams on the ground, whether it's Iraqis within this country or the Kurdish Peshmerga that we're also fighting here, or whether it's the Syrian Democratic forces inside Syria, and try to support them with intelligence, surveillance, air assets.
And then, of course, the very, very critical air strikes that in both battlefields have been key to allow the forces to move on the ground towards ISIS. What is going to be very crucial moving forward is how, especially the U.S., is going to try to maneuver the various different dynamics that exist within the fighting groups on the ground, because defeating ISIS territorially is one thing, defeating its ideology, trying to prevent it from either issuing orders directly to its operatives abroad or inspiring attacks, that's an ideology that is still very much alive in cyberspace, Erin. BURNETT: It certainly is. And, of course, as we know, you can change
your name and have the same sort of ideology. And we have seen that again and again.
All right. Thank you, Arwa Damon, so very much, reporting live from Iraq tonight.
And OUTFRONT now, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, former Army commanding general for Europe and Seventh Army, and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, also with me.
General Hertling, let me start with you.
The president says this is thanks to him, right, very loud and clear. The U.S., of course, has about 1,000 troops in Syria where Raqqa is located.
First, just in terms of who did the fighting here, General, can you answer that question? Who did this fighting?
MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think President Trump's comments are probably going to surprise Prime Minister al-Abadi, and President Barzani of the Kurdish region. This was -- you know, ISIS was defeated, Erin, because of the collaboration of the Iraqi security forces and the Kurds. They were the ones on the ground, certainly with a lot of U.S. help, with their advise and assist, but also a whole lot of American air power.
When I was fighting in northern Iraq, this same area, we often used to say that, you know, they needed -- they, the Iraqis, needed to want this more than we did. And over the last two years because of changes of leadership within their division after Mr. Maliki left as the prime minister and Mr. al Abadi took over, they have wanted it and they'd seen their population ravished by ISIS, so they took the fight to them.
So, no, I don't think this is a result of anything Mr. Trump has done, and in fact, as Arwa Damon just said, who was there with us many times in Iraq, this is a result of the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga taking the fight to the enemy with a vengeance.
BURNETT: Now, Congressman, there's also, of course, the great irony on the same day the president says he has called the four families of troops killed in Niger by suspected ISIS-linked militants, the greatest single combat loss of his presidency, on that same day that he says he made that phone call, he's declaring victory against ISIS and saying they're throwing their hands in the air. There's a pretty big irony in that, isn't there?
MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, I mean, I just hate to politicize the death of American soldiers. They were there. Their mission was not, I don't think, is quite overt. I think that's probably why the White House didn't put it out there.
I just wish the president wouldn't engage in that way about the lives of American soldiers who put -- you know, gave their lives for their country and missions that sometimes can't be talked about.
And I'll say on the ISIS thing, the one thing he did get right today, he did change the rules of engagement that I think did help speed up the plan. General, you're just wrong about that. So, we --
HERTLING: I don't agree with that, Congressman. That's not true at all. There was not that many changes in the rules of engagement. You talk to the soldiers on the ground and they'll tell you that.
ROGERS: I have talked to soldiers on the ground, including leadership as well.
I will tell you, that the plan on the ground has been on the ground. So, this plan to go ahead and move toward Raqqa has been on the books when President Obama was in charge. The one thing that frustrated everybody, including military leadership, was the way that decisions got made for certain activities, including by the way, the way our special capability soldiers were able to engage with the forces on the ground.
That did change. I do think that that led to an escalation of taking Raqqa. So, in that regard, I think Trump got that piece right. But the whole strategy of this has been in place for a couple years.
BURNETT: Well, of course, Fallujah, Ramadi, the Mosul offensive, all of those things. Let me just play again what President Trump said, what you both seem to be disagreeing about. This one clip about how he changed the military. Here we are.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I totally changed our military.
[19:35:02] I totally changed the attitudes of the military. And they have done a fantastic job.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: General, when you hear that, is it true?
HERTLING: No. I think the president is ignoring complexity. He's oversimplifying this, and in fact, he's taking credit for things that haven't changed that much.
I totally disagree with Congressman Rogers on this, that yes, some approval authorities have certainly been more efficient in terms of what decisions can be made on the ground. That's a good thing instead of going through the National Security Council. That was always good.
Rules of engagement have not changed. The American soldier on the ground is doing the same exact things. The approval authority may have changed. I challenge Congressman Rogers or anybody else to tell me what has changed, and no one can, other than the approval authorities.
So, please, let me know what's changed.
BURNETT: Congressman, what has changed?
ROGERS: Well, the approval authorities is huge. They have put the soldiers on the battlefield in charge of those decisions. They pushed those decisions down.
And, by the way, what has changed, General, and you should know this, is that they have allowed the special capability forces to go down range in places they were not allowed before. It was, as I said, it wasn't this huge and significant difference other than we know that leverages up the fighting capability of those troops.
If you talk to the soldiers who have been there, both our special capabilities forces and some of our conventional forces, they argue that that has had a significant increase in their ability to perform on the battlefield. When I say they, I'm not talking about U.S. soldiers. I'm talking about the folks that we're helping support, including some of the Syrian fighters.
That part, I think the president got right.
The fact that ISIS is defeated is not accurate. Taking Raqqa was huge. It has a huge symbolic victory, I think, to put the spike in the heart of the ISIS movement. That was their headquarters. That was their headquarters of their caliphate. This was a big important moment.
We're going to have a long fight with ISIS. And I hope the president understands that this is going to be long.
BURNETT: And, General, when the president says ISIS is giving up, throwing their hands in the air, walking off the battlefield, you know, it was reminiscent to me of -- when we were in the Mali border in 2012, and President Obama then was at a fund-raiser talking about how ISIS -- sorry, al Qaeda was on the run. And, of course, it changes names, it metastasizes and it moves elsewhere.
Is president Trump making the exact same mistake when he says something so dramatic now?
HERTLING: I think we're going to see the challenge. As we have said for the last two years, Erin, and this is something I have repeated multiple times. It's not technically the fight against ISIS that's going to be the challenge that would occur. It's what's going to occur after we defeat ISIS.
And we currently see some challenges between the Kurds and Arabs in Iraq that could cause significant problems. We have said for two years that it's going to be the placement of good governance after ISIS is ridden. This is something that the Iraqi security forces I believe and have stated multiple times on CNN, that they would be defeated within two or three years. They have been, but it's what comes next that is going to be important. And that's the good governance in Iraq and specifically Syria.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much.
And next, breaking news. CNN exclusive: the Putin insider identified as the money man behind the Russia meddling.
And in one Puerto Rican town desperate for supplies, a dumpster filled with spoiled food and fresh water. A dumpster, when people need food desperately and water. How could that happen?
[19:41:43] BURNETT: Breaking news, a CNN exclusive. Vladimir Putin's, quote, chef identified as a major financier in Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.
So, multiple officials are telling CNN that that man is Yevgeny Prigozhin. You see him there, a Russia oligarch, and a close ally of Putin. In 2002, he served caviar and truffles to then-President George W. Bush during a summit in St. Petersburg.
But now, U.S. investigators believe that Prigozhin financed the troll factory that used social media to spread fake news to tens of millions of Americans.
Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT.
And, Jim, what else are we learning about this night, this man, I mean, who's -- you know, amazing that picture, right? Serving caviar to a president. What do you know about this guy?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the details are pretty alarming and interesting. Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of the Kremlin's inner circle, his company believed to be the main backer of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency. This is a secretive technology firm that created all that fake news, distributed all that fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign.
My colleagues Tim Lister, Mary Ilyushina, and I, we examined scores of documents leaked from inside Prigozhin's companies. And those documents show that the monthly budget for this troll farm in effect was $1 million a month in 2013. Split between departments that included Russian language operations, but this is crucial, the use of social media in English as well.
One part of the factory, it had a name seemingly stolen out of Orwell, the department of provocations, dedicated to sowing not just fake news but also social division in the West. Its mission, as stated in those documents, was quote, how do we create news items to achieve our goals?
I should say that several e-mails and calls from CNN to Concord Consulting, this is Prigozhin's firm, they went unanswered. And the IRA, this research agency, since the election, it no longer exists. BURNETT: That's amazing. It's amazing.
All right. So, we also have breaking news this hour in the Russia investigation, Jim. Source telling CNN that special counsel Robert Mueller's team just interviewed somebody pretty significant who kept a whole lot of notes.
SCIUTTO: Yes, someone who you and I and many of our viewers probably know of, Sean Spicer, he's the former White House spokesperson, who's interviewed on Monday by the staff of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Among the topics they want to talk to him about are the firing of James Comey, President Trump's former -- the FBI, former director of the FBI.
We should note that Spicer did not serve on the campaign. So, a lot of those campaign meetings are something he couldn't answer, but they're very interested in talking to him about things that happened since Trump was elected. I should also note, of course, he's not the first senior White House official now to be interviewed. Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff, he was interviewed last week.
We also know that the former interim national security adviser Keith Kellogg, the one who replaced General Flynn when he was fired, he's also been interviewed now.
Very senior figures there, Erin, as you can tell. It shows that the special counsel is digging deep in this Russia probe.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto.
I want to go straight to our CNN political director David Chalian.
David, you know, when you look at the screen that Jim just put up, right, Keith Kellogg, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, you don't do the interviews until you have all the information to get the information you need from the person, right?
[19:45:10] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right.
BURNETT: So, if they're at the point where they're doing this seemingly fast and furious, is this a sign they're getting to the end?
CHALIAN: Well, we don't know that they're getting to the end, but what we do know is they are circling the Oval Office. Literally, you can dot where these people sit and work at the time Mueller's team is interested. And it is the inner circle that is inside the West Wing and around the Oval Office.
So, we -- this investigation is clearly zeroing in on those that were dealing with President Trump in the early days of the administration, on the closest basis. And as Jim noted, that whole notion about asking Sean Spicer about the firing of Jim Comey, Erin, you know that goes to the heart of the potential obstruction of justice case that we have been talking about so much about what Robert Mueller's team is looking into in addition to the collusion stuff. So, looking into the firing of Jim Comey, looking into anything Sean Spicer knows about the meeting the day after with the Russians in the Oval Office --
CHALIAN: -- Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak, and when President Trump called Comey a nut job and said it relieved great pressure to get off of him. This is -- this is the time that Sean Spicer had deep knowledge about the inner workings of the White House, the president's movements and conversations, everything he knows is now available to Mueller and his team.
BURNETT: And, David, we know that Sean Spicer is a copious note taker.
BURNETT: What we don't know is whether when the topic of Russia came up or the day after that oval office meeting or whatever someone told him about what the president said to Lavrov, we don't know whether he decided not to take notes on those things because he thought that that could end up being part of an investigation. We just don't know, right, whether these notes are going to be central or not.
CHALIAN: We don't know, and also we don't know if he was physically present himself in every conversation the president had related to Russia, even if he was available to take notes, never mind choosing not to. You were right that we don't know that, but you would imagine if you're in Bob Mueller's position, somebody who had walk-in privileges to the Oval Office and was constantly meeting with the president at this time would be somebody you would want to talk to.
BURNETT: Absolutely. And thank you very much, David Chalian, as I said, our political director.
And next, Trump tonight blaming Puerto Rico for aid not getting from the base where it was dropped off to the people who need it. So, whose fault is it? We're on the ground again tonight.
And Jeanne Moos on "Forbes" magazine declaring Trump's new net worth.
BURNETT: Tonight, aid meant for desperate Puerto Ricans ending up in a dumpster. Puerto Rico's secretary of state sharing this video on Facebook, showing boxes of food and water for hurricane victims in the trash. He says he's looking into how this happened.
It comes a day after President Trump blamed local officials, saying aid isn't getting to the people who need it because of distribution problems on the ground.
Our Bill Weir is still in Puerto Rico to look at what's really happening.
BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Immediately after Maria, what remained of this hilltop community in Aguas Buenas took our breath away. A fallen transmission tower lay atop a shattered home.
In the house next door, we found Deanna (ph), desperately trying to preserve the last vial of insulin for her husband Miguel, a bed-ridden Vietnam veteran.
[19:50:10] A month later, we are back, bracing for the worst but hoping for the best.
(on camera): Wow, that's a good sign. Look at that. They got it back up.
(voice-over): It's a work of local lineman who make a point, showing via Facebook page to prove that they are just as good as those contractors from the main land.
(on camera): How long before power will run through these lines?
(voice-over): It depend on the weather, he says. They have two more of these giants to salvage.
(on camera): And what were you praying for just now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the safety and praising for God to give us good health.
WEIR: Yes, you need all the help you can get.
Let's see if Deanna (ph) and Miguel are home.
WEIR: You remember me. How are you?
WEIR: Good to see you.
(voice-over): She tells me Miguel is resting inside alive and well. After seeing our story, the Veterans Administration sent a nurse up the mountain with plenty of medicine.
(on camera): What about the future now? What do you think about next week, next month, next year?
(voice-over): I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to stay in Puerto Rico. I'm not going to leave, she says, and then points up. They put a flag at the top of the tower. There is just one example of Puerto Rico rising.
But they are just one family, in a township of around 30,000.
(on camera): What is do you need most today? What do you need more than anything else?
(voice-over): Blue tarps, the mayor tells me. It's been raining a lot and people don't have roofs.
(on camera): What do you think of President Trump saying that Puerto Ricans aren't distributing the food fast enough?
(voice-over): Because some of the towns did not distribute well. There's the perception that this is an island-wide problem, he says. But that is not the case here. There are 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico, which means 78 mayors with different skills and methods.
In the southern town of Patillas, the secretary of state says he was outraged to find a dumpster full of spoiled food and unused fresh water. A mistake this mayor is determined not to repeat.
But even though his team has visited over 8,000 homes, they still have around 2,000 to go.
And if this one is any indication, they can't get there fast enough.
Anita sits on a bed soaked with rain water.
(on camera): Do you have any idea how many people are in these conditions?
(voice-over): This is not rare, he says. We encounter these cases. This touched me deep in my heart. Today, we're going to start helping her now. We're going to move her to a more secure location.
WEIR: We are so grateful that god sent you here, Anita's sister-in- law tell the mayor. You see the conditions here. Please excuse me, Mayor, the convict quickest help possible please. She needs it.
WEIR: Mayor Garcia Perez tells me he's going to try to lobby FEMA and HUD to help convert an unused high school into a semi-permanent shelter for folks in that kind desperate. And if you can imagine what it's like to live for 30 days like that, Erin, I know you can see why mental health is among the main concerns along with physical well being.
BURNETT: Very serious one. Thank you so much, Bill Weir, again.
And next, Jeanne Moos on how President Trump's net worth is faring.
[19:57:45] BURNETT: Donald Trump cares a lot about his ranking on the Forbes rich list and the new rankings are out.
Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump has a rich vocabulary when it comes to counting his wealth.
TRUMP: I'm rich really. I'm very rich. I'm much richer than anybody ever dream. Nobody knows how rich I am.
MOOS: Actually, Forbes says it does, and though the rich maybe getting richer, President Trump isn't. Last year, his net worth was estimated at $3.7 billion. Now, it's down to $3.1 billion.
(on camera): President Trump's not going to like this.
(voice-over): He fell 92 spots. Last year, he was 156th on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Now, he's skidded to 248th.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.
MOOS: Michael Bloomberg, by the way, is 8th on the list. The top three are Bill Gates, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet.
Trump has estimated his own net worth --
TRUMP: Well over $10 billion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's laughable. It's comical. It's comical.
MOOS: Critics scoff at Trump's estimates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Forbes, we won't have a -- the Donald Trump rule, which is whatever Donald Trump says we usually then have to divide by three to what the real number is.
TRUMP: When I say about the 10 billion, I'm not doing that to brag. Who cares?
MOOS: The same day the list came out, Trump tweeted, so much fake news being put in dying magazines and newspaper. Fiction writers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, Trump is not a rich man. Donald Trump is like what a hobo imagines a rich man to be.
TRUMP: It turned out that I'm much richer than people think.
MOOS: And no one seems to think about it more --
TRUMP: I made a fortune --
MOOS: -- than Donald Trump.
TRUMP: A vast fortune.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: He definitely cares about that list. I had conversations with him over the years. He cares about those rankings. We see what he thinks about this latest ranking.
Thanks so much for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere, on CNN Go.
"AC360", though, begins right now.