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AT THIS HOUR
Mattis Demands Answers About Niger Ambush; Trump Has Not Publicly Said ISIS Group Behind Ambush; Trump Nixes Bipartisan Bill He Supported One Day Earlier; Senators Still Pitching Bipartisan Deal Behind The Scenes; Trump Quashes Deal Aimed At Stabilizing Obamacare Markets. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired October 19, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Grief and confusion. While the families of four service members killed in that Niger attack are just beginning to grasp the grief they must now face, some very tough questions are now being asked about the confusion still over what actually happened in that village two weeks ago.
This morning, Defense Secretary James Mattis, he is demanding more information and so are lawmakers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If there's something that happened in Niger, somebody who is left behind, then I agree that we should find out what that is. I'm sure the Pentagon will do so. If not, certainly Congress will prod them to do so and that is appropriate. We should have those answers.
SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I'm asking for a classified briefing about exactly what happened in Niger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And right now, answers are hard to come by. The scene on the ground only described by multiple U.S. officials as confusion. At the same time, there are more and more questions over why the White House hesitated in even talking about these soldiers' deaths.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House and Barbara Starr has the very latest from the Pentagon. Barbara, let's start with you, if we could. What are you hearing over there today?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's be clear, Secretary Mattis is not trying to rush the investigation, but he does want some answers and is going to begin to get them in the coming days about what exactly happened as they look into this in greater detail.
They're trying to establish a timeline, hour by hour, about how this all unfolded. What we do know, according to initial reports, is the team led by Green Berets, the 12-man team, had gone to an area where they had been before and ran into no trouble but this time ran into an ISIS ambush.
There are ISIS affiliated groups in the area. They hadn't encountered them before. So, clearly, the intelligence was not what it should have been. They had been told that it would be unlikely they would run into opposition. They did.
The ISIS fighters armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenade, the U.S. troops only having the rifles that they were carrying. When the gun fight broke out, they called for help and French fighter aircraft were able to come in and fly low over the battlefield trying to push the ISIS fighters out.
But the government of Niger does not allow offensive air strikes over its territory, so there were no bombs struck and it was, you know, close to an hour before it all calmed down enough that medical evacuation could come in -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: So that is what -- that is what we know. The little that we know right now. Obviously, as Barbara says, the Pentagon defense secretary review investigation under way as we speak. Now, Kaitlan, over to the White House aspect of this, the president, he has been talking about gains against ISIS. He was talking about that just this week. Why hasn't the White House then talked about ISIS being behind this attack?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's really the question on everyone's mind here, Kate, is exactly what happened and people are trying to piece together a timeline, especially given the questions about the White House's response to this.
What we do know is that in hours after this ambush, an NSC official drafted a condolence statement from him and the first lady that would have been published, but that statement was never published and instead the next day, on October 5th, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, came out here during the briefing and told reporters about the attack, said that thoughts and prayers of the administration were with these fallen service members.
And she did not release the names of those soldiers, but said -- because the next of kin was still being notified. The next day at the briefing, that was after the body of Sergeant La David Johnson had been found, Sara was asked why the president had not publicly commented himself on this.
She said that she issued a statement the day before on his behalf and that they were continuing to review what exactly had happened in this attack, but then effectively the White House went dark, Kate.
We did not hear from the president about that attack in Niger for 10 days until my colleague, Sara Murray, asked him about it in the Rose Garden here at the White House on Monday. She asked why he had been uncharacteristically silent on this.
Because we know this is a president who goes to Twitter or often speaks to reporters about what's on his mind, and this wasn't something he had brought up. And he got defensive, he said that -- defended his silence and said he had written letters to these families.
And that's when all these questions about which families he had called, but then again, back to the raid actually at the briefing yesterday, Sarah Sanders was asked if the president was satisfied with the knowledge that he had been provided about what exactly had happened.
And while she said she couldn't go into specifics, she said the president is never satisfied when there is loss of life. But Kate, what's clear here that there are larger questions that remain about the White House's response to this ambush.
[11:05:07] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And those questions now being asked louder and louder, confusion on the ground in Niger, confusion now in Washington in the aftermath. Barbara, Kaitlan, thank you so much.
Joining me now to discuss this further, CNN military analyst, Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, also served as spokesman at the Pentagon and the State Department under President Obama, and CNN military analyst and former Army commanding general for Europe, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here. Barbara and Kaitlan, laying out kind of both ends of this, but let's stick on what Barbara was talking about, General, that there are so many questions around this attack and what exactly happened. From what you see, from your perspective, what's your biggest question right now?
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There are going to be a bunch of things that come out in the investigation, Kate. Whenever you have an incident like this, the military goes through an extensive investigation, they're looking at a couple things, focused areas of intelligence, command and control, rehearsals, coordination, cooperation.
What you're talking about in the area of Africa and I know this from, you know, working in Europe, we had 49 different countries I had soldiers in at any given time, they had 54 in Africa, a huge land mass, these 12-person special forces A-teams are everywhere in Africa.
When I left the Army four years ago, we had soldiers in 109 different countries throughout the world. They're all mostly operating in these very small teams. So, you have sergeants leading these teams who literally have to go through the planning, the execution, the coordination, the analysis, and it's extremely challenging.
Now I would guess that this was one of two operations that were going on in Africa at the time. There's something called the Chad River Basin initiative, something with five other countries, Niger is one of them.
And there's another one that's a bilateral with Niger and Mali with the United States, and some European partners. The coordination required in a difficult and complex operation with 12 U.S. soldiers on the ground, and probably anywhere from a company to a battalion of 800 Africans on the ground with them, is quite confusing.
So, the investigation will point out what happened, why it happened, and how we have to prevent it in the future.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And Colonel, as the general is saying, the 12- man Green Beret team leaving a meeting with locals in an unarmed pick- up truck. They come under attack by 50 ISIS fighters about, 30 minutes of a firefight play out, four dead, two wounded.
That's the bearest of facts that we know right now at this moment. At its core, is this an intelligence failure, if the intel as reporting coming from Barbara, the intel was rated as, quote/unquote, "unlikely" that U.S. team would face opposition.
COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Kate. This is a really huge intel failure. With my experience as special operations command back in the '90s, that was one of the things that was impressed upon me, special operations forces need to have exact detail, excruciating detail, when it comes to the intelligence that they get.
We need to know things like which way the door knob turns in a particular building. You know, that kind of detail and, obviously, that detail was missing in this particular case. We should have had in essence persistent surveillance as the Pentagon term for it over that particular area when that team was there.
Hard to do in practice, but that's certainly something that the lessons learned that General Hertling referred to will certainly point to and that lack of persistent surveillance I'm sure contributed to this disaster.
BOLDUAN: And Admiral Kirby, General Mattis, he wants answers, and that is what, of course, Barbara is hearing over at the Pentagon and that's no surprise at all. He lost four -- he lost four of his own, two others wounded in this attack.
What does the investigation that we're hearing about, what does this look like? What does this investigation and review look like right now from the Pentagon? I mean, on the most simplest level, are they sending folks back in there to interview the locals?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, that's what we're hearing. That they put some people back near the site to do exactly that, to conduct interviews and look at -- look at the area itself. I'm sure they're doing that safely.
They're being careful, Kate, not to call this an investigation. Right now, the Pentagon referring to it as an inquiry. I think that's probably appropriate given the fact that there's not a lot of detail right now.
It may turn into a full-blown investigation and there maybe accountability measures that have to be taken as a result. But right now, it appears to me that they are doing prudent fact finding, going back, sort of retracing the steps, retracing the command and control decisions that General Hertling talked about and see where the gaps in the seams were and what actually transpired or what happened.
I think it's really important -- you know, General Hertling talked how many troops we have in Africa and we are spread out. They are dispersed. There's resource -- there's resource allocation issues there. General could speak to this far better than I can.
[11:10:05] So, I mean, it's -- while we talked about air support and they didn't have it and the French jets couldn't drop bombs or certainly some legal restrictions on them, but there's also resource restrictions on Africa writ large because they're so spread out and these counterterrorism type training missions are so widespread.
So, I think again, we need to let these guys go through this, answer all the questions, and then move forward. I suspect that they'll find that mistakes were probably made at some level or maybe multiple levels and what's great about the Pentagon is they will be accountable to that, transparent about that and they'll make remedies.
BOLDUAN: And General, about --
HERTLING: If I can add something.
HERTLING: This is critically important what both Cedric and John said. Is extremely important. When you're talking about the continent of Africa, you're talking 54 nations.
HERTLING: If you put the United States over the top of Africa, it would fit three times. When you're talking about a 12 man -- 12- person detachment from special forces, you can't have persistent intelligence overhead all the time. You just can't do it.
And as John just said, you know, you've got the potential for resource challenges with casualty evacuation medevac air power, it's not like you're going into a conventional battle. They were in a foreign internal defense mission, which means they're training others to do things that we can't do for them.
So, all of those things, this isn't a battlefield where you have to have all the things that you're talking about and these guys are all over the continent. So, I challenge anybody to have persistent intelligence every -- over every single a team and have jets flying in support for potential combat missions.
It isn't going to happen. The investigation will show exactly what shortcomings were there and why these kids went into this area.
BOLDUAN: Right. And in the end the reason why there's so much urgency here and -- but of course, patience to let it play out, four of our heroes died in this and that's, of course, why it's of paramount, on top of everyone's mind.
Colonel, to the point of the men that were lost, the fact that Sergeant La David Johnson's body was not picked up for 48 hours. They don't know why he was left behind and they don't actually know how or when he was killed.
I mean, the sacred rule, of course, is leave no man behind. What is the conversation going on in the Pentagon right now over this, do you think?
LEIGHTON: Well, I would say that the question that people are asking would be how did this happen. Why would La David Johnson be left behind like this and why could he not be brought back? Obviously, in a fire fight, it's a really intense environment, it is something that, you know, you can't really -- you can play for it and train for it.
But when it really happens, there's always something different that occurs in real life and this was real life. So, I think the question is, you know, how did he potentially get separated from the rest of the team.
You know, why were there no other protective measures around? Were they deceived by the people on the ground? You know, all these types of things could be part of it and I think that that's going to be I think a large part of the inquiry and that is a key question going forward for our forces in Niger.
BOLDUAN: Gentlemen, thank you so much. I really appreciate your perspective.
Coming up for us, deal or no deal. President Trump, he supports a bipartisan health care plan and then he does not. So, is the deal dead or not? What does stalled mean on Capitol Hill these days? Break out the dictionary. We'll go through it.
Plus, all eyes on the University of Florida right now where a state of emergency is in place ahead of a speech from White Supremacist Richard Spencer, the same Richard Spencer who helped organize the rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia. We're going to take you to Florida, how they're preparing and what they're saying there right now.
BOLDUAN: Are you asking yourself today, what is the status of health care in America right now? No. OK. Just keep going with me. According to one top Republican it is stalled. Why is it stalled? Because President Trump pulled his support for a bipartisan deal unveiled just this week.
That's, of course, the same bipartisan deal that the president first supported also this week. Are you confused? Imagine how some Senate Republicans are feeling right now and does stalled mean dead?
Let's get over to the Capitol, CNN's congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is there right now. Sunlen, status report, please?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, I wouldn't declare this deal officially dead, but I wouldn't exactly describe it as alive and vibrant either because the reality of the moment up here is as you said without the president's backing, with a lot of vocal opposition from House conservatives and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan himself saying he's opposed to this, the reality is that it's going nowhere fast.
And that's why you've heard in recent days and hours, after the bill was introduced, some rhetoric from Republicans admitting clearly that writing is on the wall here. You heard from Senator Thune yesterday saying it stalled out and here's Senator Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Don't want to pass something that has no chance in the House. Here's the question for Paul Ryan, are you interested in continuing the payments, and more flexibility, if you're not tell us, then the payments stop, and then we'll all accept the consequences of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: So, a lot of lawmakers up here talking about this deal in rather grim terms, but for the co-sponsors of this deal, they're pushing forward. They are not ready to walk away from it yet and what their focus is at the moment right now up here on Capitol Hill is really educating members.
What's in the deal, what would happen without these cautionary reduction payments as you heard Senator Graham allude to right there. Some lawmakers say that they could -- they are signing on to the deal. Alexander's office says that they could potentially reveal a list of co-sponsors both Democrat and Republican.
[11:20:09] That the theory being could breathe a little bit more life into this deal, but it would mean a lot more to gain any more traction up here, Kate. The feeling is without the president's backing, it really doesn't have a lot of backing up here on the Hill -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Yes. After whatever monstrous effort would go -- would be required to get it through the Hill, then you might hit a brick wall at the White House. Who knows? Sunlen, great to see you. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: All right. So, now what? I guess is a good question. Joining me now former Obama White House policy adviser, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, he is here, and former public policy director for Mitt Romney, Lanhee Chen. Great to see you both.
Let us get to it. Doctor, we talked one day last week and then everything seems to have changed again in the course of health care and where we're going. The president now has repeatedly called these subsidies a payoff, a bailout, a gift to the insurance companies. Are they?
DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I think the president's confusing reinsurance with these subsidies. These cost-sharing subsidies go to insurance companies to compensate them because they are providing money for the deductibles and the co-pays to families earning $61,500 or less, to help them out with their co-pays and deductibles.
That's not a bailout to the insurance companies. That is a transfer to the people making less than 250 percent of the poverty line. Let me tell you, ending those cautionary subsidies mean the insurance companies have to get that money somewhere, and they will raise premiums 23 percent on average to pay for those cost-sharing subsidies.
So, by not having the cost-sharing subsidies paid for by Congress, we're raising rates on average Americans. The people hit hardest are people who make over $98,000 because they pay the full rate. They get no federal subsidy.
They will see that 23 percent increase and have to pay it all themselves or go without insurance and have to pay the mandate penalty. Those are the people who are being hurt by this unwillingness to pass the cost-sharing subsidies. It's not the insurance companies at the end.
BOLDUAN: But Lanhee, it's one thing for Democrats and Republicans to differ on health care policy, of course, but Lamar Alexander, Republican, doesn't think this is a bailout, Susan Collins, Republican, called the characterization that it is a payoff or bailout disturbing. How can Republicans be so far apart on this?
LANHEE CHEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR: Well, you know, Kate, it comes back to the fact and we've known this all along if you look back at the failed efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, what you saw were significant divisions between Republicans on health care policy.
The reality of this is, the Affordable Care Act requires these insurers to offer these essentially breaks on cost-sharing to lower income Americans so what President Trump did is he said look, Congress needs to actually appropriate this money.
Congress never appropriated money for the cost-sharing subsidies so it is Congress' job which is why I think Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray deserve a lot of credit for engaging in these discussions.
BOLDUAN: Right. Didn't the president take it even further, Lanhee, and say I also don't support it even if Congress moves that way that's why it's going nowhere now.
CHEN: Well, right. I think that the president initially said, look, I like the idea of a bipartisan deal and then apparently he didn't. The reality is, the president is going to have to weigh in on this positively if it's going to get across the finish line with Republicans. His influence and measure of support for a bipartisan deal will be tremendously important to doing this. I think Republicans should not squander this opportunity. If they're going to get the cost sharing reductions appropriated as they should, they should also look at fundamental reforms and push in that direction.
BOLDUAN: You know, the interesting --
EMANUEL: Listen --
BOLDUAN: -- the interesting thing about this, Doctor -- go ahead.
EMANUEL: Just saying if President Trump doesn't pass these cost sharing subsidies in this legislation, he will be responsible. Trumpcare will mean 20 percent increase in health insurance payments in the exchanges and nobody in the country --
BOLDUAN: The president said, though, no matter what, he's not at fault for it. He is not personally responsible. This is all on Congress. The president said that after you and I had that conversation last week.
EMANUEL: The president is wrong because he could support this legislation and bring premiums down and he keeps saying he's interested in affordability and yet when he has the opportunity to support affordability he seems to be walking away or at least speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
I think he needs to get behind these bipartisan agreements. Lanhee and I agree these are essential reforms and, you know, I think that there are other things we can do to make sure the exchange operate at their peak capacity.
I would actually also encourage us to have reinsurance for the insurance companies because here's something your viewers don't know, 31 percent of the people who buy insurance in the exchange are new every year.
[11:25:04] That makes it very hard to make actuarial assessments of how much to charge year by year and that's where reinsurance can come in and protect insurance companies from unknown numbers of people with unknown illnesses coming into the exchanges.
BOLDUAN: Lanhee, go ahead.
CHEN: I was going to say fundamentally what this all comes back to, is the flawed design of Obamacare and that really is the problem here. The reason why we're having this discussion, the fact that you've got this Rube Goldberg of subsidies and payoffs and all these different things here.
The reason we are talking about all of this is because of the design of the law. My point is this, Republicans have an opportunity now if they're going to fund these subsidies they have an opportunity to say look what are some of the changes we can make. I think Alexander Murray takes a step in the right direction by saying let's get more state flexibility. I think Republicans can push even more on fundamental reform if they're going to pay these subsidies through 2019, which is what Alexander Murray proposes.
They should also be pushing for fundamental reform as part of that. I think this is just the start of the discussion, Kate. I know that's probably not what people around Washington want to hear. This is just the start of the discussion. We haven't even begun to really talk about this yet.
BOLDUAN: We're in health care 7.0 at this point. When you call it an opportunity, and I know you're a glass half full kind of guy, but I don't know if the folks dealing with this right now on Capitol Hill are going to see this so much as an opportunity and no matter what, my friends, we don't know if the president would sign it if they're going to ask for subsidies and that's the thing. Final thought, Doctor.
EMANUEL: Let's be clear, I don't think there's a big appetite as much as Lanhee and I think we need more systemic reforms of the system, I don't think there's appetite on Capitol Hill for engaging in health care for much longer. It hasn't been good for the Republicans.
And so I think they have to pass this bill and get the premiums down and I think the president needs to come out and speak quite clearly in support of bipartisanship and affordability, two things he keep saying he is for, and yet when given the opportunity, he seems to be blinking rather than seizing that opportunity and getting a quick victory in legislation.
CHEN: Glass half full, Kate.
BOLDUAN: You know --
CHEN: Glass half full.
BOLDUAN: At this hour always glass half full. They called the president's bluff and send him a bill he says he can't get on board with.
CHEN: I agree.
BOLDUAN: Let's see. Great to see you, Doctor. Great to see you, Lanhee. It's always good to see you. Thanks, guys.
All right. Coming up for us, one of the country's largest universities under a state of emergency. Why? A speech. We're going to take you there live next.
Plus, President George W. Bush speaking live on -- speaking live in New York City on the divisive nature of American politics right now. We will take you there, that's next.