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CNN NEWSROOM

Sgt. La David Johnson Laid to Rest; New Details on Ambush in Niger; Trump Continues Feud with Congresswoman; Sen. Lindsey Graham Warns: War on Terror Moving to Africa; Bill O'Reilly Settles Harassment Claims, Re-signs with FOX News; Bannon Delivers Fierce Attack on George W. Bush; Sen. Burr: Russians in Trump Tower Interview with Trump Jr & Kushner Questioned; Controversy over Trump Interviewing U.S. Attorney Candidates; Concern Over Puerto Rico Schools. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired October 21, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:00:14] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Ana Cabrera on this Saturday.

We turn to Florida. The family of a U.S. soldier killed in combat oversea this month today laid to rest. Sergeant La David Johnson was one of four American troops killed in the West African nation of Niger, ambushed by what military analysts call a new affiliate of the terror group ISIS.

(CAMERAS CLICKING)

BROWN: A powerful emotional image of the six-month pregnant wife kissing the casket there. His funeral happening at the same time new information is emerging about what happened to him and his unit that day. We're going to have more about that in just a minute.

But first, CNN's Rosa Flores in Hollywood Florida.

That is where this American family surrounded by supporter, full military Honor Guard, bury their 25-year-old son, their loved one, just a short time ago. Rosa, clearly, a very somber day there.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, hearts are broken, hearts are reeling right now for U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson. As you might imagine, a very emotional and somber moment here for this family. He was surrounded by family members, by friends. We've learned he's also a mentor to many, so hearts are very, very heavy. We know, of course, he is survived by his wife and childhood sweetheart, Myeshia Johnson. They have two young children and another one on the way.

And, Pam, one of the very emotional moments was when soldiers gave each one of them an American flag, his widow, two children. And, of course, the widow approached the casket and in an emotional way kissed the casket good-bye.

We're also learning more from the obituary about his playful nature. He was playful. We learned he had a nickname, Wheelie King, because he used to go to his former job at Wal-Mart on one wheel. He was raised here in south Florida, he loved football. And, of course, he loved this country, the country that he served, the country that he died for. And today, he was honored here with full military color, with full military honors, as family and his wife, of course, children, surrounded him and said good-bye -- Pamela?

BROWN: Heart breaking, Rosa Flores.

I want to turn now to CNN's diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, at this stage in the investigation, it seems like basic facts are hard to come by, but what have investigators said, so far, about that day when those four U.S. troops were killed?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: There were a few things that have been emerging that gives at least somewhat of a picture of how this started. U.S. officials are telling CNN that the U.S. team of 12 was working with Nigerien troops. They had stopped in a village, so the Nigeriens could get supplies. And then there was a meeting with local elders. After that, it appears that the U.S. troops went back to their unarmored vehicles and they were ambushed by around 50 ISIS fighters. But even some of that is still -- they're still trying to clear it up as to whether they were in the vehicles or outside of the vehicles. They're still unsure if Sergeant La David Johnson, who was found 48 hours later, if he had a tracking device on him that emits a signal or if that signal might have been coming from vehicles.

So, because there are these gaps, even in the very basics at this point, whether they were in the vehicles or not, and even though now, according to investigators, every member of the team who survived has been interviewed, that's why there's been frustration among some people like Senator John McCain, who's chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, why aren't more of these details available?

So the Pentagon has done its share of pushing back, explaining that just because people want to know more information doesn't mean that the Pentagon doesn't have some more information that they might not be releasing right now. But they're saying that immediately after this fight, there was a search for Sergeant Johnson, and that more U.S. troops, in fact, were moved to the capital in Niger, and some then went out into the field.

But obviously, Pamela, there are big questions that could stick around for some time over the intelligence, over whether there was enough support for these troops, even to begin with, in Niger.

[15:05:35] BROWN: Very valid questions there.

I want to bring in Boris Sanchez.

Because, Boris, President Trump has not tweeted today about that soldier laid to rest, La David Johnson. But instead, he chose to tweet about the congresswoman, Congresswoman Wilson, who was close to the family and been sort of the part of this back and forth controversy with the White House this week. Also, a conversation with Sergeant Johnson's mother is an issue that continues to grow. What does he say in this tweet about it?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Pam. The president is continuing that back and forth with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, of south Florida, writing in a tweet this morning that he hopes, in his words, "The fake news media will continue following Whacky Wilson because," again, in his words, "that means that she will make the Democrat Party lose."

As you said, there's been a back and forth this week between the congresswoman and the president, and it has continued. Last night, he was on FOX Business News, speaking about the situation. Let's hear more of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was so offended because he was in the room when I made the call, and so were other people. And the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call. He was -- he actually couldn't believe it. Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable, this is really not -- and he knew. I was so nice. I was - look, I called many people. And I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this to be honest with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The president, of course, speaking about his chief of staff, John Kelly, himself a Gold Star parent, who said that he a advised the president before he called the family of Sergeant La David Johnson. Despite the fact that Representative Wilson is at the funeral for Sergeant Johnson and that family members have confirmed to CNN that her description, her account of the conversation between Sergeant Johnson's widow and the president, were accurate, the president is still pushing on with his attacks on the congresswoman -- Pam?

BROWN: He certainly is.

Michelle Kosinski, Boris Sanchez, Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

I'm going to talk more about what U.S. troops are doing in Western Africa and the very real threats they face there. Our military analyst, former commander of all U.S. troops in Europe, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling joins us. Also with us, Michael Weiss, CNN national security analyst and co-author of the book, "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."

Gentlemen, thank you for coming on.

I want to start with you, General Hertling.

Is it unusual that we don't have a clearer picture by now of some of the most basic details of what happened that day? LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, not at all, Pamela.

This investigation continues. It's going to take a while. Truthfully, I'm really surprised about the hue and cry about getting more details the level many people are talking about. AfriCom was been conducting these kinds of missions for about 15 years. There are over 1200 to 1400 missions a year within the continent of Africa by these kinds of Special Operations or Special Forces A-teams. They go around in 10 to 12-person groups and they conduct what's called train- and-equip missions, in layman's terms, with a variety of countries. There are 54 countries in Africa. We have servicemembers conducting these kinds of missions in most of them. They're always conducted in small groups.

I think the investigation is going to show quite a few things, that AfriCom, since its inception, has repeatedly claimed they don't have enough resources to do the kinds of missions they're asked to do on a continent three times the size of the United States. But it's also going to probably show other things, not just potentially intelligence challenges, but also command-and-control issues, coordination with local government, coordination with allies. In this particular mission, it probably was a combination of Niger, Mali, maybe Chad, depending on whether it was falling under the Chad Basin Initiative or the Niger/Mali fight. I think we're going to see a lot more in terms of the details in how challenging these kinds of missions are throughout, especially, the western part of Africa.

[15:10:06] BROWN: We'll wait and see.

Michael, I want to you to listen to a Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and what he said about the wars, particularly what's going on in Africa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The war is headed to Africa. It's beginning to morph. As we suppress the enemy in the Middle East, they're going to move. They're not going to quit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Is he right there? Is the U.S. war being fought more on African soil?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's being fought simultaneously on African soil and the Middle East. Remember, a few years ago, Boko Haram, the notorious jihadi group in Nigeria, pledged allegiance to ISIS. Once that allegiance was accepted by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, ISIS gained an affiliate with control of something like 20,000 square miles of terrain in West Africa. The general is talking about these operations on going. You have several thousand operations per year. The fact that it's been reported, according to defense officials from Nigeria, this might have been not just an ambush but a raid across border into Mali. It just goes to show how fluid and porous the borders of these nation states in Africa are. Very relevant to what we've seen in the Middle East where Jihadis were literally dismantling the berms that separated Iraq and Syria in 2014. BROWN: So, wouldn't be surprised if it the U.S. sends more troops

there if we bulk up our presence there?

WEISS: Yes, but in a different kind of way. Special Operations, train and equip. This is sort of what we're doing in Iraq and Syria.

BROWN: That's what springs to mind.

WEISS: Indeed. In Iraq and Syria, American forces have been killed. The Pentagon doesn't call it combat missions, but certainly these are combat-like roles. Advising Peshmerga forces in Iraq with the Iraqi Security Forces elsewhere in the country.

Yes, Lindsay Graham is quite right. ISIS is metastasizing as they lose their so-called caliphate. The capital of Raqqa just fell this week. They've spreading to provinces all around the world, not just in the region. We see it in Asia-Pacific. We see it in Africa. We see it in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and we see it in Yemen where they're being bombed, and also in Afghanistan, with training camps that are somewhat impervious to U.S. ground and warplane attacks.

BROWN: It's just good perspective because we focus so much on Iraq and Afghanistan. It's important to keep in mind the global problem.

General Hertling, the details emerged that there wasn't overhead protection for these troops and the soldiers were in an unarmored vehicle. Is that unusual? And why didn't they have more protection?

HERTLING: Not, at all, in terms of the armored vehicle. I keep hearing that, why weren't they in an MRAP or an armored Humvee. These are different kinds of forces. This is not active combat where it's continuous combat, that is. I think what you're going to see is most of these Special Forces detachment, not Special Operating forces, but the Special Forces, the ones that do the train and equip, will want to be among the people. They don't want the armor between them and the soldiers they're advising. Plus, you're talking about 12 soldiers coordinating with battalions of Africans. So they literally have battalions of Niger soldiers or Chadian soldiers around them, anywhere from 800 to 1200 allies that they're working with. That up-armored approach we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn't work in these environments.

To continue with what you just asked Michael, when you're talking about comparing this environment and Iraq and Afghanistan, you've got to remember there are 54 different countries in Africa and each one has a different terrorism or jihadi challenge, security challenge. And there are also a variety of other challenges throughout Africa in terms of human trafficking, other types of trafficking, aids conflict. These soldiers are doing much more than coordinating with forces to fight. They are working the entire spectrum of power in many of these African nations, who are countering these terrorists and other types of security influences within their boundaries. As Michael said, there are no boundaries in Africa. It is just like the Syrian/Iraqi border where there's no check points to stunt their ability to get across.

[15:14:16] BROWN: Very important perspective.

General Hertling, Michael Weiss, thank you so much.

Coming up, on this saturday, an explosive report about former "FOX News" host, Bill O'Reilly, and a $32 million sexual harassment settlement. Details up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Breaking news now. In the same week that the hashtag "Me too" is empowering women across the country to tell the stories of sexual harassment, "The New York Times" is reporting today that former FOX News host, Bill O'Reilly, settled a harassment claim to the tune of $32 million back in January with a long-time legal analyst. FOX News went on to resign O'Reilly just a month later for a $25 million-a-year contract, before eventually firing him in April.

Here's what O'Reilly told NBC News about the sexual allegations against him this last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: My conscience is clear. What I have done is organized a legal team to get the truth to the American people. But I can go to sleep at night very well knowing that I never mistreated anyone on my watch in 42 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: I want to bring in CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Brian, how is 21st Century FOX responding to this? And did they know he made this settlement to the tune of $32 million for sexual harassment before they resigned him?

[15:20:01] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: The company said they knew about it but not the price tag. That's the difference according to the company.

Here's part of the statement which we received from FOX, Rupert Murdoch's company. It says, in part, "When the company renewed Bill O'Reilly's contract in February, it knew a sexual harassment lawsuit had been threatened against him by Liz Weihl, but was informed by Mr. O'Reilly that he had settled the matter personally on financial terms that he and Ms. Weihl had agreed were confidential terms and not disclosed to the company." It goes on to say, "His new contract, which was made at a time typical for renewals and multi-year talent contracts, added protection to the company specifically aimed at harassment, including that Mr. O'Reilly could be dismissed if the company was made aware of other allegations or additional relevant information was obtained in a company investigation. The company subsequently acted based on the terms of this contract."

So what FOX is saying, when we let him go in April, three months after signing that $25 million deal, it's because we added this clause in the contract that allowed us an out in case of something like this.

But what's --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: In case there were more sexual harassment claims?

STELTER: Right. Because in April is when "The New York Times" reported on these other settlements in O'Reilly's past. Those were much smaller than $32 million. We're talking about hundreds of thousands or small millions, not a $32 million sum of money. That is a staggering amount. It makes you wonder what was Liz Weihl charging, what was she alleging happened between she and O'Reilly that O'Reilly was willing to pay off $32 million.

BROWN: How unprecedented, a $32 million settlement for sexual harassment, for -- in this sort of situation?

STELTER: We're in the middle of this Harvey Weinstein scandal.

BROWN: Right.

STELTER: We've learned horrific details about him. He was typically paying $50,000 or $100,000 to accusers. We know Gretchen Carlson, because she sued Roger Ailes, at FOX, she received $20 million, which was, at the time, an eye-popping amount of money.

BROWN: I remember.

STELTER: This is an even bigger sum of money. The mystery here is why didn't FOX know more, if it didn't know? Why was it willing to renew the contract at all, given there was this brand-new allegation of harassment? By the way, the other big picture story here is FOX is under a federal investigation now in the settlement payments in the Roger Ailes case. You wonder if this is going to have an effect on the Department of Justice investigation.

BROWN: I was going to say, do you know where that stands, the DOJ investigation?

STELTER: It's something of a mystery. It's been going on for the better part of a year. Looking into whether FOX tried to cover up its payments to Ailes's accusers. You have a company here that seemed to be rotten from the top. Roger Ailes was the boss and he was engaging in this behavior. Then you had Bill O'Reilly having to pay women accusing him of harassment as well. Neither with the company anymore. But you wonder if it's going to hurt O'Reilly's chances of getting a new job at a new network.

BROWN: It's amazing they were aware of the settlement, perhaps not the amounts --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: -- given what they say. But that's basically put that aside. If there are anymore that come to surface, we have an out for the contract.

STELTER: Right. Keep doing the job.

BROWN: Right.

STELTER: But you know what, Pamela?

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: He was the number one star. There's a parallel to Weinstein here. I don't want to be unfair to O'Reilly here, because the allegations against Weinstein are much more severe by more women. But there's a parallel about power, powerful men at the top of their game, whether you're Bill O'Reilly with the number-one show on cable news, or Harvey Weinstein making Oscar after Oscar --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: -- or Roger Ailes running the most powerful channel, in terms of rating son cable news. In all of those cases, it's about men who have this power and, as a result, because the money is flowing in and the success continues to go on and on, it seems some people look the other way. That's the issue for the Murdochs here. Did they look the other way because they were making too much money from Bill O'Reilly?

BROWN: Seems there's sort of his movement. It seems like, given what we saw with Weinstein, it seems like now it's just a different landscape, I guess.

BROWN: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And we're seeing a lot of sunlight, all of a sudden, on these dark corners.

BROWN: All right. Brian Stelter, a very important report. Thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

[15:24:06] BROWN: Coming up, on this saturday, Steve Bannon delivers a blistering attack on former President George W. Bush. What he said and why, when we come back.

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BROWN: Well, despite the fact that he's declared war against the Republican establishment, the California GOP invited Steve Bannon to speak at its convention last night. And Bannon walked into a standing ovation. He then went on to deliver a brutal scathing attack on former President George W. Bush.

Here's part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, EDITOR, BREITBART NEWS & FORMER SENIOR TRUMP ADVISOR: President Bush, to me, embarrassed himself. His speech writer wrote a high-falluting speech. It's clear he didn't understand anything he was talking about. He has no earthly idea whether he's coming or going. Just like it was when he was president of the United States. There's not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Well, Bannon was prompted by a speech that Bush gave earlier this week in which Bush attacked the national agenda that both President Trump and Bannon supported.

I'm going to bring in CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, Josh Rogin, as well as White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner, Sarah Westwood.

Thank you for coming on.

Josh, to you first.

I don't know if you could hear on the tape, but our reporter says that the crowd began booing Bush. What's that say about the state of the Republican Party when Steve Bannon gets a standing ovation and former President George W. Bush gets booed?

[15:30:00] JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, clearly, the Republican Party is going through an existential struggle to find its identity, both domestically and in terms of foreign policy. Bannon and George W. Bush stands on opposite sides of that struggle. That was a crowd that favored the Steve Bannon view of the world.

But there are plenty of Republicans who believe that Bannon's message of nationalism and isolationism and protectionism are not as good as the Bush, sort of McCain -- call it Reagan, call it Paul Ryan, call it Mitch McConnell idea of a traditional Republican policy built on an America that promoting a liberal world order, democracy, freedom and the things Republican Party has stood for since World War II. It's easy to say that given the election of President Trump that the Bannon side is winning. They certainly won the most recent battle.

But this fight not just inside the Republican Party, but around the country and around the world, let's remember, is very much ongoing. What we saw the speeches of John McCain and George Bush last week, and whatever you think of their records, and for sure, both of their records are mixed on these issues, but their message was clear, that this battle of ideas for not just the identity of the Republican Party but the identity of America, that that battle needs to be fought and that battle is just beginning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And it raises the question, Sarah, why a state's Republican Party would give a platform to someone who has declared war on their very party.

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, Bannon's mission has been to eject all of the Bush-era establishment Republicans from the party and bring in this new wave of populist conservatives. So it's not surprising to hear him use that kind of language against Bush. President Trump's attacks on Bush, remind you, go all the way back to the campaign. He said things like 9/11, the towers came down on Bush's watch. He launched attacks against the Bush family that many people thought would sink his campaign, and yet people responded favorably to that. That was surprising to a lot of Republicans.

Right now, Bannon and his ilk represent this wing of the Republican Party that blames obstruction from establishment types like John McCain for the stagnation of Trump's agenda. There's an establishment wing that blames the populism, the nativism of the Trump wing of the party for clogging the wheels by always getting caught up in these cultural fights. It will be really interesting in 2018 to see which side Republican voters blame for the stagnation of Trump's agenda.

BROWN: Right, given all the divisions within the party.

Josh, the California GOP's former political director is quoted in a local paper as saying, quote, "I think the Republican Party is going through a moral crisis when we hold up Joe Arpaio," -- the controversial sheriff in Arizona -- "and Steve Bannon as leaders."

What do you think? Is the GOP going through a moral crisis?

ROGIN: Well, yes. I also think that the country, in fact, the world, because I travel around and listen to what foreign countries are seeing as they view our current state of politics, I think the moral crisis is pervasive throughout the world. It's interesting and catchy to hear Steve Bannon criticize George W. Bush, but he's not addressing the core of the issue. Within the party, within the country and the world, there are two mutually exclusive visions for how we're going to chart our future, one that's more globalist, for sure, and one more nationalist, for sure. While the nationalists are on the ascendency, globalism, as a matter of fact, is going to happen. How you reconcile that will determine the fate not just of the Republican Party but of the country's politics, international relations, the suffering or alleviation of suffering of millions if not billions of people around the world.

What I would look for is for lots of a focus on the odious nature of Joe Arpaio or the mental competency of George W. Bush, but let's have a debate about the actual path we're going down. And whether or not what we're seeing in the beginning of this administration, in terms of a more nationalist policy that's more rooted in American interest and not American values, is that working? Is that delivering results? I think when voters come up with the next round of voting in 2018, they're going to look at those results and make a decision whether or not the Bannon view is really producing for them.

BROWN: Clearly, as you point out, there are two schools are thought, nationalism versus globalism.

Does someone, Sarah, like Steve Bannon shrink or grow the Republican Party in your view?

WESTWOOD: Well, that really depends on a couple of things. One is, if President Trump is able to notch any actual accomplishments, because for all the bluster about President Trump's policies being too radical, too extreme, too right wing, President Trump hasn't actually accomplished anything that's really out of the realm of possibility that you might have expected any other Republican president to achieve with the possibility exception of the travel ban. A lot of his big policies, his big plans have been tied up in the courts, tied up in Congress. He hasn't been able to get them through. If President Trump is able to push those policies through, then voters might have a clear view of whether they're successful or not, seeing results from America. If President Trump is not able to accomplish anything, then the Trump wing of the party is set up to be able to play the blame game about establishment Republicans preventing that from happening. That might give the Trump movement a little more life than it would otherwise have.

[15:35:42] BROWN: All right. That's exactly how I can see this playing out.

Sarah Westwood, Josh Rogin, thanks so much.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BROWN: And coming up, right here on this saturday, the Russians who met with Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner have spoken to Senator investigators. What they said, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:40:06] BROWN: Well, new details are emerging from that now infamous meeting at the Trump Tower in June of 2016. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intel Committee, tells CNN that investigators have interviewed Russian figures present at the meeting with top Trump campaign officials and Donald Trump Jr. Exactly who has been questioned has not been revealed. But that has not kept the president in calling this probe into collusion, quote, "Bad for the country," in a recent FOX Business interview.

I want to discuss this now with Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general under President George W. Bush.

I just mentioned there, the president has said this investigation is bad for the country. How do you see it?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, sometimes there is a history of some of these investigations by special counsel sometimes getting out of control. I can understand some of that concern. But if, in fact, the investigation relates in any way to Russian interference with our presidential election, that, to me, is vitally important. We need to know exactly how that happened. Because they're going to come back, and I think most government officials in positions of authority acknowledge and recognize that as a serious threat going forward. So to the extent this is an investigation to learn to what extent and how the Russians interfered, I would respectfully say that is important and we need to continue to make sure we know the answers.

BROWN: I guess you could see sort of both sides, where on one hand, it's important to get those answers to know how involved Russians were in meddling, whether there was collusion. And on the other hand, the White House has a point of view this sort of is a shadow hanging over foreign affairs, dealing with foreign leaders. You can see both sides. But this is ongoing on Capitol Hill. Senate Judiciary investigators met privately about Donald Trump Jr last month. He could face a public hearing before the end of October. What facts are you most interested in coming to light?

GONZALES: Obviously, we need to know exactly the motivation, because there's -- there's a lot of information that's out there, but I'm sure they'll want to question very carefully the motivation behind the meeting, exactly what was said in the meeting, and what action items occurred afterwards. Because these are the kinds of things that they simply want to confirm. They may have the information. But you always want to hear it directly from a potential witness. And so that's one of the things I think they'll be interested in learning.

BROWN: You want to always cross-reference.

This summer -- switching gears here -- President Trump met with a candidate for U.S. attorney before she was selected. And now it's been revealed that Trump personally interviewed candidates for U.S. attorney positions in New York. Is it appropriate for a president to be so involved in the selection of a U.S. attorney?

GONZALES: It would have been unusual. In fact, it never happened in the Bush administration. I was White House counsel for four years. To my knowledge, President Bush never met with a potential nominee as a U.S. attorney.

As a matter of whether it's appropriate, it's not inappropriate, per se, because, in fact, these are appointees in the executive branch and the president's making the appointment within the executive branch. However, meeting with select future U.S. attorneys does raise these kinds of questions, why are you meeting with these individuals and not U.S. attorneys from other states, other jurisdictions. That's sort of the danger of these kinds of meetings.

I was reassured to know the White House counsel was present at the meetings because it's important that the president of the United States not put any undue pressure upon these U.S. attorneys with respect to future prosecutions and investigations.

BROWN: I want to ask you, while we have you here, as you know, a couple days ago, President Bush made a speech, in which he sort of made veiled criticisms of President Trump. He didn't name him by name, but it was clear he was talking about his administration. He was really breaking his silence on the matter. What do you make of that?

GONZALES: I think President Bush was simply repeating what he views as important for America's place in the world, the importance of American values, the importance of American leadership. And, like all of us, we have recognized these are challenging times, and in these challenging times we need our leaders to step up. And in these challenges times, we need America to step up. I think President Bush was trying to remind the American people about our place in the world and the importance of continued American leadership in the world.

BROWN: It was clear, he was talking about president, right, to you?

GONZALES: Well, again, to me, I think what he was expressing was concern about the direction of the country, and perhaps some concern about the leadership, because, in the end, we look to our leaders in terms of guidance and direction. And I think President Bush was probably reminding all of us about the importance of exercising leadership, particularly those people who are in positions of power.

BROWN: All right, Mr. Attorney General, thank you so much.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me.

[15:45:12] BROWN: Absolutely.

And right now, around three million Americans are living in the dark without power in Puerto Rico. One million Americans are without running water. Imagine that. Up next, a live report from Puerto Rico where another problem is emerging. Details when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:50:00] BROWN: Well, it has been a month since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, yet many of the struggling residents say the island still feels like it was hit yesterday. According to the Puerto Rican government, right now, more than 80 percent of the island is still without power. Medical teams tell CNN there's a dire need for safe drinking water. They're concerned about the spread of deadly water-borne diseases. These are just basic needs. One doctor told us the reality, Puerto Rico is, quote, "post-apocalyptic."

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in San Juan.

Polo, we understand there's a growing concern about schools there in Puerto Rico.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, concerns about schools and students. Keep in mind, they have not been back to class since mid- September before Maria. As many people here in San Juan have described for me, these students are essentially the soul of this island. The sooner they can get back in a classroom, the sooner they begin healing from the emotional wounds this storm has caused.

As we say firsthand, it may be a while before some of these schools are open again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: This school yard should be bustling with activity at the height of fall semester. Not today, not since Hurricane Maria threatened and later devastated Puerto Rico. The island's other 1100 public schools and the doors to this high school have been closed since September 18th. Today, the only signs of life are on the other end of the campus.

Room 204 serves as Margarita Fuentes' temporary home.

MARGARITA FUENTES, STORM VICTIM: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SANDOVAL: This 52-year-old grandmother of 11 tells me, one moment to another, she lost her house and everything in it.

Her grandson led us up the mountainside to show us what's left of the family's homes. There isn't much else. A return to class may provide a welcome escape from reality.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SANDOVAL: He says the first thing he'll do when he gets back to class is hug his friends. He doesn't know when that would be.

As long as displaced families like his are using schools as shelters, classes can't resume.

The Department of Education announced Friday that some schools on the island would reopen on Tuesday.

Teachers at this school say that won't happen here.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SANDOVAL: "We have a lot of work to do," says Roxanna, a drama teacher, anxious to welcome her high schoolers back to class.

While there's optimist, there's no real timeline for when the students will walk down the halls again. After displaced families are resettled, there are still plenty of obstacles.

UNIDENTIIED TEACHER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SANDOVAL: Classrooms in disrepair, roads are nearly impassable because of the mudslides, and there's no running water in town, leaving families to struggle to survive.

FUENTES: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SANDOVAL: Margarita says she is staying strong and wants to see her grandchildren back in a classroom, just not this with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL: There's a total of 74 public schools throughout Puerto Rico that are serving as some of the shelters. We offer you a look at just one of those. You can imagine the tremendous undertaking for officials to try to figure out where to put some of these families, like Margarita, so they can finally open some of these schools, Pamela. But there is some hope. Come Tuesday, as we just mentioned, there are many schools in San Juan, also Maya West, a city on the western coast of the island, that will hopefully open their doors up to some of these students, especially for some of those students in some of those neighboring communities. Pamela, but it just gives you a look at the long road to recovery, not

just for parents, but also for some of their -- for some of the students on this island as well.

BROWN: Just to think, it's been a month. So much more work to do.

President Trump is giving his administration a 10 out of 10 for its storm response. How would Puerto Ricans that you have been speaking to grade this response?

SANDOVAL: I have seen a wide variety of answers when it comes to that question. For example, right after the comments on Thursday, there were many people here in San Juan, gave them an "F," a zero. Clearly, they felt if he wanted that perfect 10, he certainly had to earn it. However, margarita, the woman you just heard from right now, felt he deserved either a nine or an eight, which was quite a bit of credit. She said the reason for that is because she has actually seen the National Guard. She has already met with FEMA and she has already asked for help.

So mixed responses from some of the people here in Puerto Rico. But everybody seems to agree, they certainly want to see at least more done both at the federal and local level.

BROWN: Important reporting there on the ground.

Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

Heartbreaking video from Hollywood, Florida, where Sergeant La David Johnson was laid to rest moments ago. A live report, when we come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[15:55:14] UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: For a child, the library can be a magical place.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I'm officially the most awesome girl in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: It can transform you academically, but it can also nurture you emotionally.

(LAUGHTER)

What people don't realize is that school libraries are sometimes not funded at all. We provide libraries for underserved communities and schools.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: Our whole goal is to spread literacy, and the benefits of literacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 16:00:11] BROWN: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Ana Cabrera.