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Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister in Rose Garden; Widow Says Trump's Call Hurt Her; Singapore's Prime Minister Talks North Korea; Johnson's Widow Speaks Out; Carter Offers Peace Mission. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] LEE HSIEN LOONG, PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE: -- too on security cooperation, including transnational security, terrorism and cybersecurity.

Singapore has lent early and consistent support to the defeat ISIS coalition. We were one of the first countries to participate and are still the only Asian country to have contributed both military assets and personnel.

And as I told President Trump when we met, Singapore will extend our existing deployment to the operation into 2018 for an additional year.

President Trump and I naturally discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula. We strongly oppose the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula as it affects the peace and stability of the region.

And like the U.S., we condemn the DPRK's dangerous provocations. These pose a serious threat to regional and international peace and stability. I shared with President Trump what Singapore has done to pressure and to isolate the DPRK, going beyond U.N. Security Council resolutions.

But there's no quick and easy solution. Pressure is necessary, but so is dialogue. The U.S. will need to work with others, including China, South Korea, and Japan and Russia to resolve the issue.

President Trump will be visiting China in a few weeks' time as part of his first visit to Asia. Singapore, like many other countries, watch your relations with China very closely. It's the most important bilateral relationship in the world. China is the U.S.' third largest export market for both goods and services. For agricultural exports, it's the second largest, thereby soybeans, grains and cotton, as well as farming machinery. And I'm quite sure that as their incomes go up, they'll buy more and more good American beef.

I express my hope that the U.S. will be able to maintain a stable and constructive relationship with China, engaging each other at the highest levels, building trust, establishing institutional mechanisms. Good U.S.-China relations will benefit the region and the world. It will enable countries in the Asia-Pacific, including America and China themselves to enjoy regional stability, peace and prosperity.

Finally, I look forward to seeing President Trump again in Vietnam and the Philippines next month to attend the APEC and ASEAN and East Asia Summit meetings. His presence in Asia will mean a lot to America -- to America's many friends and allies in the region and it will open doors and develop markets for U.S. exporters and investors.

Although the president is not visiting Singapore this time around, I have invited him to visit Singapore at the earliest opportunity. And I'm very glad that he has accepted. Singapore will be the ASEAN chair next year and we hope it strengthen ties -- ASEAN's ties -- with the United States and further ASEAN-U.S. cooperation.

Thank you very much.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you very much, everybody.

LEE: Thank you. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you

QUESTION: What happened in Niger?

Can you tell the public what happened in Niger?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Mr. President, any questions on the ambush?

QUESTION: Do you have a response to Myeshia Johnson, Mr. President?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you hear the reporters shouting questions about Niger. The president and the visiting prime minister of Singapore walking back upstairs over towards the Oval Office. They're in the Oval Office right now, third time today.

The president was shouted a question by some journalists. Didn't want to speak about the situation in Niger where four U.S. troops were killed a little bit more than two weeks ago.

There was some strong words from the prime minister, Prime Minister Lee of Singapore, towards the president, urging him to make sure that the U.S.-China relationship remains strong. Also urging the president to continue dialogue to deal with the situation in North Korea. The prime minister saying there's no quick and easy solution. There has to be a constructive relationship with China, which could play a very significant role.

Gloria, let's start with you.

The president clearly has had opportunities to clarify his position on Niger, to explain to the American public what those U.S. troops were doing there, why four U.S. troops were killed, and that condolence call he made to the gold star widow of Sergeant La David Johnson. He has refused to do so, so far.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, he has, other than his tweet this morning. And I think that while the prime minister didn't want to take questions, I think that probably worked out pretty well for the president.

I think Congress, led by John McCain, is going to get some answers on what happened in Niger. There's going to be a briefing, a closed-door briefing, later this week so that -- so that members of the Armed Services Committee can hear from the Defense Department exactly what went down and perhaps then maybe Myeshia Johnson will be able to get some answers as well after that.

[14:05:08] But this is something, quite honestly, the president has not engaged on and the secretary of defense has sort of said, wait, wait, although he did meet with John McCain late last week in a closed-door meeting. So we don't know what really came of that.

BLITZER: Yes. I want to go to Jim Acosta. He's over there at the White House.

Jim, what was your reaction, the president silent so far, three opportunities today, to speak out, explain the U.S. policy towards Niger, explain the condolence call, refusing at least so far today to do so?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SEIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONNDENT: That's right, Wolf. I think a pretty stark contrast between today and what we saw last week where the White House and the president could not stop talking about what happened in Niger and this back and forth with Congresswoman Fredricka Wilson and the family of Sergeant La David Johnson. As you saw earlier this morning, as Gloria was mentioning, Myeshia Johnson, the widow, had some pretty strong words for the president. The president only responded via tweet after that. And, of course, was there a cascade of criticism that perhaps president should just let this go.

Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of that. But as you know, Wolf, just as soon as this White House steers its message back on track, it veers off course again. It's only a matter of time.

BLITZER: Yes, I want to bring Dana into this as well. The president reacting to that interview that the gold star widow had on ABC this morning. He tweeted shortly thereafter, I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson and spoke his name from beginning without hesitation. So, in effect, he's getting into a public dispute with a 24-year-old widow with two little kids.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: She's pregnant now with a third child. And all of a sudden he's getting into this back and forth with her.

BASH: Yes, look, it's one thing for him to get into a political dispute with a politician, which is what Congresswoman Fredericka Wilson is. I mean she's in the arena.

You know, the subject that they were talking about is something that is of the utmost sensitivity and emotion and everything -- the worst thing you can possibly imagine, particularly for a pregnant woman with two small children. But -- so it's one thing for him -- for the president to do this with Fredericka Wilson, another thing with her.

But if I may, I think, rightly so, mentioned that the president didn't take questions about this subject. But I think what we heard and saw in the Rose Garden is a great example of how, when the president responds to a gold star widow, it overshadows something that was really, I think, a good message for Trump in the Rose Garden. I mean there he was, standing with the prime minister of Singapore, who was tripping over himself to push the -- sort of best Trump buttons that he could, I thought in a very deft way, on trade.

Look, the U.S. exports all of these wonderful things to Singapore. And, by the way, also to China. And a very, I thought, sort of clever way reminding the president that China isn't just some -- a country that kind of takes, but also consumes American goods. And so that is a kind of message that given what the president ran on, giving the kind of -- the, you know, working-class voters that he was appealing to, you could take that and say, you see, here I am standing with the -- with the leader from Asia and they're talking about how much they love our goods. This is Trump's America. Instead Trump's -- the discussion is unfortunately about this -- this widow.

BLITZER: Unfortunately indeed.

The prime minister, I don't think the word lecturing would be appropriate, but telling the president in no uncertain terms on North Korea, there's no quick and easy solution. You've got to have dialogue.

NIA-MALIKA HEDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: And that's basically telling the president, you know what, I'm the prime minister of Singapore. I live in that part of the world, you know? Calm things down. Do some diplomacy.

HENDERSON: Yes, and we need America. We need the leader of the free world at the table as you figure out what's going on with North Korea, as you figure out the rise of China, and you can see him trying to thread that needle between China and the U.S. Obviously praising the U.S., talking about the iPhones, talking about New Balance sneakers, talking about golf clubs and all of the things that Singaporeans are interested in.

And, you know, to Dana's point, this idea of the president constantly overshadowing any message, right? I mean at this point you would think that the Republican Party would want to be focused on not only what happened today, but the budget, it's passed, as well as -- as well as tax reform, right? But this president is very undisciplined. He goes off on any number of tangents. He seems to get some sort of energy from this fight, from fights, whether it's John McCain, whether it's the NFL, whether it's Jemele Hill, whether it's Fredricka Wilson, and now all this poor, grieving widow, who I think is 24 years old and just lost her husband, buried him this weekend and Frederica Wilson was obviously at that service. I mean it was such a horrible look, I think, for this president. A president who's saying he was, in fact, empathetic in that call, but proving day by day that he has a problem being empathetic.

[14:10:11] BLITZER: Mark.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think you can tie all these threads together. But by just showing, could you imagine the Trump presidency if every day was like this in the White House.

HENDERSON: Yes, exactly.

PRESTON: Dana's exactly right. Listen, you know, we have a strong trading partner in Singapore.

BORGER: Sure.

PRESTON: And we're talking about the stabilization of relations in that part of the country. You talk about President Trump not being able to step back and say, look, I'm sorry. Imagine if he could just do that. Could you imagine if Twitter wasn't invented. Imagine if Twitter was never here. Would we be in this situation with President Trump day in and day out? I would suggest yes, but not nearly to the propensity that we've seen it so far.

My hope is now, and my hope is as an American, that he would take a step back and not engage anymore. Do not engage anymore. Perhaps try to have a phone call privately, quietly with this widow, as well as with the families of the three other soldiers who were killed over there, who seem to be forgotten in all this. I don't think he'll do that.

BLITZER: Yes.

OK, everybody stand by. There's a lot more going on.

We'll switch gears.

Bill O'Reilly's eye-popping multimillion dollar settlement to a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. There are new details coming in. Executives apparently knew about it, re-signed him over at Fox anyway. How could this impact the federal government, the Justice Department's investigation into Fox News? The answers and more when our coverage continues.

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[14:15:55] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.

A stunning rebuke of the commander in chief from the widow of a fallen soldier. Myeshia Johnson says the military did not allow her to see her husband, Sergeant La David Johnson's body, before she buried him and she says she doesn't even know if he was inside the casket. And she says that President Trump's words to her only made her cry more. She spoke for the first time publicly to "Good Morning America."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MYESHIA JOHNSON, WIDOW OF SERGEANT LA DAVID JOHNSON: Dare tell me that he's in a severe -- a serve wrap, like I -- I won't be able to see him. And I need to see him so I will know that that is my husband. I don't know nothing. They won't show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband's body from head to toe and they won't let me see anything. I don't know what's in that box. It could be empty for all I know. But I need -- I need to see my husband. I haven't seen him since he came home.

I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband's name. And that what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can't you remember his name? And that what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Instead of any answers to what happened in the Niger ambush earlier this month and why Sergeant Johnson's body was separated from the other troops and left behind for 48 hour, the president is continuing his feud with this gold-star family, tweeting shortly after Mrs. Johnson's interview aired, quote, I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson and spoke his name from beginning without hesitation.

The White House tells CNN it has no plans to reach out to Sergeant Johnson's family again.

And we have a lot to discuss here.

Joining me now is Richard Simieon. He's a former Army casualty notification officer.

Richard, this is a heartbreaking claim by Mrs. Johnson, especially, you can lend us your insight to this as someone whose job it was to notify family. She says she didn't get to see her husband's body. Can you give us an idea of the protocol here, why she would be told that she couldn't?

RICHARD SIMIEON, FORMER ARMY CASUALTY NOTIFICATION OFFICER: Yes, ma'am. When it comes to that, it depends on what area of the nation you're in because when they get the notifications, if somebody was close to Dover, where the (INAUDIBLE) takes place, it's called a dignified transfer, they have the opportunity to go out there and the military pays for it and for somebody else to come out with them to see a dignified transfer.

From there I can't speak about what happens, because it's situation pending. I mean it depends on -- the situation dictates what they end up doing, because it might be a closed casket situation or it might end up being something where people could see the body. But it really depends on what kind of casualty you're talking about.

KEILAR: So it depends on the casualty. It also depends on the point of the process. So, for instance, if she was at Dover versus welcoming the body home in Miami, then there's a -- there would be a different protocol perhaps for where she would be able to see, which is arguably a very important thing to see her husband's remains.

SIMIEON: Right. I understand. And I do know, in some cases, too, especially when it's a head situation, there's head wraps on them --

KEILAR: Yes.

SIMIEON: And people do want to see their loved ones. And as far as I know, when people have had that request, they've been fulfilled. And it's heartbreaking to see that's not being fulfilled in this case. But as far as I know, when people want to see it, they get to see it, even though they probably don't want to see it.

KEILAR: Yes. We don't know the reason, but clearly this is something that weighs so much on her -- on her mind.

OK, the calls from the president and from senior military officials. I imagine that these are always very difficult. But when you look at this back and forth that is going on and at one point it was between President Trump and the congresswoman, who was a longtime family friend of the Johnson family who witnessed the call, but now it's -- now it's the widow. Now it's Myeshia Johnson that he's going toe to toe with taking her on, on Twitter. What do you think about this?

[14:20:20] SIMIEON: Well, I'm not familiar with all the Twitter -- everything going on Twitter right now. What I've -- as a matter of fact, when it comes to presidents responding to the death of a soldier, I have to go back to the Bixby letters with Lincoln, or the Sullivan brothers with FDR. I don't know how any of the president responded before. So this is kind of knew to me. And I haven't read anything on Twitter, so I don't really know about that either.

KEILAR: Can you speak, though, I think it's so important, I was looking at just an old manual that is given to casualty officers, and just some of the things that it stresses, which I think would apply if you're a casualty officer and it would apply if you were talking to a gold star family in any regard. It stresses care, compassion, commitment and concern. When you were talking to these families, what was on your mind about how best to treat them?

SIMIEON: Well, it comes down to empathy. I thought about how I'd want someone to treat my family if it was me or how would someone treat me if it was my brother or future son or future daughter. It comes down to that. And it was really important to stick to the script that they gave you. And there's a chaplain that was there with me every time. And they're the ones that are supposed to be there for comfort. I also wanted to send a message and it was really hard not to show emotion and a lot of times I didn't -- you know, a lot of times I did show emotion in that -- in that case. So -- but the chaplain was there for the comfort aspect of it and you've got to treat people with empathy, respect and dignity.

KEILAR: Because you were trying, in that situation, right, Richard, to give them as much information as you could, but also within limitations, which is something that we see Myeshia struggling with.

SIMIEON: Right. Every family -- there's a -- every time a soldier passes away, whether it's overseas in garrison or on the weekend, because it happens not just overseas, there's an investigation. And you've got to be very careful about what you say before the investigation's complete because you want to have all the facts straight. And sometimes you need some time to sort those facts out. So you have to be very careful what you say.

KEILAR: Well, Richard Simieon, thank you so much. Really unique insight. And we do appreciate it as we have this discussion. Thank you.

SIMIEON: No problem. Happy to help.

KEILAR: So another big headline that we are following is former President Jimmy Carter offering to go on a peace mission to North Korea. Carter raised this idea in a recent interview. He was asked by "The New York Times" whether he would consider a diplomatic mission to the regime on behalf of the Trump administration. And you know what President Carter responded? He said, I would go, yes.

He then went on to somewhat defend President Trump's feud with the North Korean dictator, saying, well, he might be escalating it, but I think that precedes Trump. The United States has been the dominant character in the whole world and now we're not anymore and we're not going to be. Russia's coming back and India and China are coming forward.

Joining me now we have CNN political commentators Errol Louis and Doug Heye.

So, Doug, to you first. Can you imagine a situation, now that we have heard perhaps there's an opening here on the part of the White House to this, that President Carter could help in some sort of role?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, my whole life I've heard the phrase that only Nixon can go to China. Maybe only Jimmy Carter is the ex-president who can work with Donald Trump. But it's not just because he said that he was interested and open to doing this, and, obviously, he's been there in the past.

But what Jimmy Carter also said that I think really speaks to why he might work with Donald Trump is he thinks he thinks the media is too tough on Donald Trump. If we know one thing about Donald Trump, it's that flattering him or criticizing the media, or Lord knows criticizing how the media treats Donald Trump is music to Trump's ears, and that's why he may be willing to work with Jimmy Carter.

I think the question will be, how do Republicans react to this How do talk radio hosts react to this. Because I can imagine if it were a president Marco Rubio or a president Jeb Bush saying, I'm going to work with Jimmy Carter, heads would not just be turning, they'd be exploding.

KEILAR: And, Errol, even President Trump has been very critical of Jimmy Carter.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. I mean, look, Jimmy Carter actually comes under a lot of criticism even from some of his fellow Democrats. The politics of making use of a former statesman like him, I think, though, should not be underestimated. You know, everything else aside, and I know that averting war is front and center right now with North Korea, but you've got to keep in mind, there's a ton of human rights abuses. There are 80,000 to 100,000 people who are languishing in political prison camps in that country, according to the United Nations. And if Jimmy Carter can get even a few of them out, can change the conversation, can change the dialogue, it is well worth considering.

[14:25:04] He has done it before. If they structure it right, there's an element of deniability where the White House can say, well, he was just an envoy. He wasn't really speaking for our policy. There's a lot of good that could come of it. I'm actually somewhat hopeful here.

KEILAR: I wonder what you guys think about the possibility of President Trump going to the DMZ, because you look at the president and all but one U.S. president here recently, George H.W. Bush that would be, since Ronald Reagan has visited the DMZ. So that it's sort of the standard, in a way. We saw President Obama do this. We saw President George W. Bush do this.

The president has seemed open to it and yet, at the same time, the White House is saying this. They say, quote, it's not set in stone. It is not at all concerned about the message that Trump would be sending if he chose not to visit.

What do you think, Doug? Should the White House be concerned about him visiting or are things just so tricky right now with North Korea maybe he shouldn't go?

HEYE: Well, I think going to the DMZ is the right message. The problem is, what is the message that Donald Trump either sends while he's at the DMZ or what does he tweet after going to the DMZ?

As we saw just earlier, the Singapore event with the -- the event with the prime minister of Singapore was fantastic for the president. Unfortunately, we're not talking about that because what happened today? Donald Trump tweeted something. If he goes to the DMZ and presents himself seriously and remains that for the day, that's a good and important thing for them to do.

KEILAR: All right, gentlemen, stick around. We're going to have you right back.

Coming up, President Trump to honor a Vietnam War medic with the Medal of Honor. We are going to bring that to you live. The timing of this event is notable because it comes as Senator John McCain appears to mock President Trump over his military draft deferments during the Vietnam War. We'll be discussing that next.

Also, a bombshell report by "The New York Times" revealing that former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly paid $32 million to a colleague who threatened to sue him for sexual misconduct. So why did Fox News resign O'Reilly to a blockbuster contract just a month later?

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