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Carter Offers to Help Trump; War Widow Reveals Trump Call Made Her Upset; President Trump Awards Medal of Honor; Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 3:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is going to be awarding the nation's highest military honor to a retired Army medic who risked his life several times in Vietnam and Laos to provide medical care to his wounded comrades while he was wounded himself.

Retired Army Gary Mike Rose is being recognized for his courage while serving as a Green Beret medic with the 5th Special Forces Group during combat operations in September of 1970.

Rose is credited with saving the lives of 60 wounded soldiers during four days of a brutal combat during a secret mission in Laos. That is why it has taken so long to get to this point.

I want to bring in CNN's Jim Acosta to talk about this. He is there at the White House.

This is the second Medal of Honor that the president will have awarded, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna.

And this is one of those rare moments at the White House that is really absent of politics. It is really just aimed at honoring the heroic actions of our brave service members.

And, as you said, as you laid it out beautifully just a few moments ago, retired Army Captain Gary Michael Rose performed an act of bravery that stands the test of time. This happened during a secret mission to Laos during the Vietnam War in September of 1970.

It was such a secret mission, Brianna, from what we understand, he didn't talk about this until the '90s. So this mission was really kept under wraps for nearly two decades. And from what we understand, during the ceremony, you are not going to only see the president.

As you are looking at these live pictures now, there is the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- but some of Captain Rose's colleagues, his fellow service members who were with him at the time. These are Special Forces soldiers.

They will also be there in the room with him as he receives this honor. And, Brianna, I was just looking at a story in "Stars and Stripes" about this a few moment ago. Captain Rose did not want to receive this honor. He did not want to receive this kind of praise and was telling reporters late last week that he kind of wished this never happened.

And so this just sort of underlines the bravery and the sacrifice that the men and women of the U.S. armed forces dedicate to this country on a daily basis. And it is remarkable when something like this over at the White House can take place without politics. And we will see that unfold shortly.

KEILAR: Why did he say that, Jim? I think we understand when you have special operators doing their work, it is quiet work that they do and a lot of times you will never learn about it, because it is classified, as is this case. Why didn't he want to be acknowledged for his contribution?

ACOSTA: I think part of it is because of the secrecy of the mission.

But, Brianna, you know from being a White House correspondent and covering these Medal of Honor ceremonies, in many cases, these service members, they come back and they're the ones who survived. And, yes, he saved, you know, many other soldiers on the battlefield that day, but some -- many don't come back.

And what you hear time and again from so many of these veterans who sacrifice so much, but make it back home alive, is that they don't want to receive these types of honors, because they feel as if it takes away somewhat from the sacrifices made by those soldiers who didn't make it home, and so you often hear that.

But looking at some of the stories about Captain Rose that have come out in recent days, some of the other people you are going to see in this room here today, people he saved out on the battlefield in Laos so many years ago, they're glad that he's receiving this honor, and hopefully we will see some of that as well.

KEILAR: Hopefully, we will.

All right, Jim Acosta is going to stay at the White House for us keeping an eye on things. And as soon as this begins -- you can see there this is already under way, people milling about ahead of this ceremony.

But when this Medal of Honor ceremony begins, we are going to bring that to you live. You can see top White House officials, including White House Chief of Staff former Four-Star Marine General John Kelly, there in the room as well.

The widow of a fallen soldier says she has nothing to say to his commander in chief, President Trump. In an emotional interview with ABC, Myeshia Johnson says the military did not allow her to see her husband, Sergeant La David Johnson's body, before she buried him, and President Trump's condolence call only broke her heart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MYESHIA JOHNSON, WIDOW OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: Tell me that he's in a severe wrap, like, I won't be able to see him. I need to see him, so I would 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 will 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?

[15:05:01]

And that what is made me upset and cry even more, because my husband was an awesome soldier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: President Trump responded immediately following Myeshia Johnson's interview with this treat.

He said: "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 told CNN it has no plans to reach out to Sergeant Johnson's family again.

And all of this comes as members of the Senate Armed Services Committee could be briefed on new details in the investigation into this Niger ambush that killed these four service members this Thursday.

We do have a lot to discuss.

Joining me now, Colonel Steve Warren. He's a CNN military analyst and former spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq.

Colonel, what do you make of Ms. Johnson's account of not only the president's call, but the fact that she didn't get to see her husband's body before the burial? And, clearly, that's something weighing on her.

STEVE WARREN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is clearly, Brianna, is something weighing on Mrs. Johnson.

And it's tragic and it's heartbreaking, sadly. In combat, sometimes, the damage that's done to our physical form is such that it simply can't be viewed in the public. I understand her desire. I understand her need to see her husband.

And I certainly understand that there are going to be, you know, maybe some conspiracy theories out there. But I also have faith in the Army and the military's way they conduct business in Dover, and I know that it is Sergeant Johnson who will be interred in the coming days. And just the entire thing is heartbreaking and tragic.

KEILAR: You know, Colonel, part of me thought as we have been going through this back and forth for the last few days that maybe Myeshia Johnson would speak and that maybe that would be the final word. That, I think was something that seemed appropriate to many people who have been following this story.

And yet that's not what happened. She speaks out on "Good Morning America," and then the president tweets and disagrees with her. What did you make of that?

WARREN: Well, I will be honest, Brianna. I don't understand why the president chose to tweet about this yet one more time today.

I simply don't see the upside in taking a position against a grieving widow like this. I simply -- I don't see the upside. This is a woman who has had the most unimaginable loss strike her. And she's very vulnerable. She's clearly very young and her heart is broken.

And, in my view, she can say whatever she wants to say right now, and what we should do is thank her for her service and for her sacrifice and for the service and sacrifice of her husband. So I simply don't see the upside of taking up any position against Mrs. Johnson.

There's just -- there's no gain in it at all.

KEILAR: Colonel, the White House is saying that they're not going reach out to the Johnson family again, which I can see that that may not be productive, right, that they have certainly had a major disagreement over how effective it was the last time.

But, with that in mind, if it's not the White House, how should the government, the military be reaching out to Myeshia Johnson? And, presumably, I would imagine they are reaching out to try to provide some comfort.

WARREN: The Army does a fantastic job of providing support to grieving families.

In fact, there is a casualty officer who is assigned to Mrs. Johnson and to that family, and he will be there with that family until she no longer needs that casualty officer there. And then he will remain even after that. There is a lot of everything, from the grieving process to the simple and maybe mundane red tape process of benefits and the like.

This casualty officer will be with her every step of the way. Our casualty officers are well-trained. They understand the rules, the regulations, and they also understand the human dimension and the human component to this.

So I can assure you that the Army is providing terrific, first-class support to Mrs. Johnson, and, in fact, we know she mentioned that the casualty officer was even in the car during that phone call. We have seen some photos of him maybe from the back as he handed her a flag. So we know that the Army is going to provide that much-needed support.

From the higher levels and from the highest levels of government, my view, really, if there is a miscommunication, if you miscommunicate to someone and you say words that you intended to make them feel better, but you accidentally made them feel worse, then, in my view, it never hurts to simply pick up the phone and say, hey, I'm sorry.

But these are political decisions, I suppose, and these are made at the White House.

[15:10:00]

KEILAR: And we are -- I do want to let our viewers know we are waiting. The president is going to award a Medal of Honor, which is going to be a phenomenal sight.

We're going to go -- take you there to the White House as soon as this begins. He is going to be honoring an Army medic who served during the Vietnam War, retired Army Captain Gary Rose of Huntsville, Alabama. That's what we're keeping our eye on there on the screen to the right there, Colonel.

We also heard from Myeshia Johnson. She says she doesn't know what happened in the last 48 hours of her husband's life. We know that senators are going to be briefed on Thursday. What could they learn in that briefing, as so few details are coming out?

WARREN: The details are still emerging. They may be able to learn -- it's difficult to know exactly where we are in this investigation.

The first thing the investigators, both the military and now the FBI is part of the investigation -- the first thing these investigators will try to do is piece together a reliable timeline and what happened when, where were people positioned on the battlefield, so they will likely learn more details of the specific tactical situation before, during and after the ambush.

They will likely learn who last saw Sergeant Johnson, where, when, what his condition was. And at least we hope they will learn that much. And then they will likely learn what some of the evacuation procedures were. It's difficult to know at this point if they were able to get a full intelligence picture yet. That can take a little bit longer.

We will have to go through and review intercepts, review satellite photos, review all the different lines of intelligence to come in before any operation and figure out what the intelligence picture of the battlefield was before the operation started.

KEILAR: Senator Lindsey Graham has talked about how he didn't realize there were that many U.S. troops in Niger. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I can say this to the families. They were there to defend America.

They were there to help allies. I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger. John McCain is right to tell the military, because this is an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time and geography, you have got to tell us more.

QUESTION: You heard Senator Graham there. He didn't know we had 1,000 troops in Niger. Did you?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: No, I did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I mean, my goodness, Colonel, you have top congressional leaders unaware that there were -- there was this footprint in a country, keeping in mind that Special Forces are in many, many countries around the world. What do you think about that?

WARREN: Well, the Special Forces are in many countries around the world.

And Senator Graham is exactly right when he says they were defending America. I wonder. You know, the commander of the United States Africa Command, General Waldhauser, was on Capitol Hill only a few months testifying about his presence in Africa and about his operations in Africa.

I know the previous president, Obama, President Obama notified Congress when these forces were initially sent into Niger. So it's a little bit of a chicken and egg here. I feel like the Congress has an oversight responsibility. Whether or not they asked the right questions during testimony really is something that is up to them.

I feel like both the Pentagon and the last two administrations have to get their war powers notifications and over to Congress when it needs to be done.

All that said, however, Africa has not been high on anyone's radar. We have been focused, kind of as a society, we have been thinking and talking and worried about the Middle East, about North Korea, so it's easy to understand how maybe they overlooked some of the specifics in Africa.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is.

All right, Colonel, thank you so much.

And you will see on the side of your screen there, on the right side, any moment, the president is going to award the Medal of Honor to a Green Beret medic who served during the Vietnam War. We are going to take you live to the White House.

We will get in a quick break, and we will be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:21]

KEILAR: We are waiting right now there at the White House for a Medal of Honor ceremony.

President Trump is going to bestow this highest military honor on an Army captain, Gary Michael Rose, who was a Green Beret medic with 5th Group who served in the Vietnam War, including some operations in Laos that were classified, which is why we are now seeing this having taken so much time before he does receive this honor, but that is what we are awaiting at the White House.

We expect this to happen any moment and we are going to bring that to you as soon as it begins.

Another story we're following is former President Jimmy Carter, because he's making an offer to go on a peace mission to North Korea. He raised this idea in a recent interview.

When asked by "The New York Times" whether he would consider a diplomatic mission to the regime on behalf of the Trump administration, President Carter responded: "I would go, yes."

And he went on then to somewhat defend President Trump's feud with the North Korean dictator, saying -- quote -- "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 is coming back and India and China are coming forward."

I want to bring in CNN's Jamie Gangel.

What do you think, Jamie? Is it likely that the Trump administration could tap 93-year-old Jimmy Carter to help negotiate here?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, with the Trump administration, I'm never going to say never, but I think it's unlikely.

So, what President Carter said in the interview was that he had spoken to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who is a friend of his, and he had offered his help. And he even says in the interview that he got -- quote -- "a negative response."

[15:20:03]

So, I don't think that he thought they were interested.

But, today, a senior White House official was asked about the report, and he sort of danced around it. He said that they would be willing to have help from anyone who might be able to help.

But when asked specifically about President Carter, he said there were no further discussions. So, is it possible? Yes. Would these be two unlikely allies? I think yes, too.

KEILAR: Oh, yes, definitely. I wonder what you have been thinking, Jamie, as you look and listen to

Senator John McCain making headlines today for his comments where he really seemed to be taking a swipe at President Trump for his draft deferments during Vietnam. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We drafted the lowest income level of America. And the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong.

If we're going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.

QUESTION: People thought you were talking about...

MCCAIN: Trump.

QUESTION: ... Mr. Trump because he had a doctor's note that said he had bone spurs.

MCCAIN: I think more than once, yes.

QUESTION: More than once.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Chronic -- chronic bone spurs.

QUESTION: Do you consider him a draft-dodger?

MCCAIN: I don't consider him so much a draft-dodger is as I feel that the system was so wrong that certain Americans could evade their responsibilities to serve the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And, Jamie, important to note, President Trump did have multiple draft deferments, five in all, four while he was going to school, and then one was for bone spurs. He later struggled to recollect which foot it was in. The campaign clarified it was in both feet, just to fact-check that.

But as you see him, as you see John McCain saying that, what do you think?

GANGEL: Well, there were many reasons to get draft deferments.

The fact that he used bone spur seems to me a pretty clear indication that he was referring to Donald Trump. And let's face it, there is no love lost between these two men. This has been going on back and forth for quite a long time, starting from when Donald Trump said that he didn't like people who were captured, to, you know, quite recently, John McCain's very dramatic thumbs down on health care.

John McCain has always been blunt. He -- and he's sick now. He is battling cancer, and I think that there's no question that he feels he's going to say exactly what he thinks during this time.

KEILAR: Yes, he certainly is.

And so we're awaiting this ceremony there at the White House, Jamie, where the president is going to award a Medal of Honor to former Sergeant -- sorry -- former Army Captain Gary Michael Rose, who served during the Vietnam War.

What do you think, as we're watching this, and what is going to be just a solemn ceremony of the utmost importance? It's the highest military honor that can be bestowed, and all of this is happening in the midst of this controversy over how the president is relating to a Gold Star family.

GANGEL: Right.

So, it's the -- it's the never-ending contradictions in this White House. First of all, one of the things we have seen is, when President Trump is on message, when he's been in formal ceremonies, when he's sticking to the teleprompter, he can carry off these moments.

Remember, with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, it was considered one of his best days. So I imagine he will carry this off in just that same style.

That said, we can't forget the context, the fact that just this morning the president chose to tweet again about the widow of this soldier to a Gold Star family. It's just pretty incredible to have both of these things going on, on the same day.

KEILAR: No, it certainly is incredible.

And you are looking there. We expect this to begin very soon. We have seen the vice president, Mike Pence, has been -- has taken a seat there in the front row, as we await what is going to be a very special ceremony there at the White House, the second one that President Trump has overseen, as he awards the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor to Army Captain Gary Michael Rose.

[15:25:03]

He was a Green Beret medic who served in Vietnam, and especially during some very intense combat situations in Laos, where over the course of multiple days -- and you know what?

We're going to pause. We're just going to listen now to the ceremony.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, accompanied by Medal of Honor Recipient Captain Gary M. Rose United, States Army, retired.

CHAPLAIN PAUL HURLEY, U.S. ARMY: We recall the words of sacred Scripture. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, source of our faith, our hope and our love, be present with us here now on this important occasion for our nation, as we recognize the extraordinary, selfless service of Captain Mike Rose.

His heroic acts of sacrifice reveal to us the true dignity of each and every one of us, of all our brothers and sisters. May these few moments here today and this example of Captain Rose's noble service trace for us, for the world the way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

May his heroic acts stir within us all the sacred desire to serve our nation, to serve with honor, and to serve with these selfless acts that lead to peace.

Amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please. Thank you.

Thank you very much, Chaplain Hurley, Vice President Pence, Secretary Shulkin, members of Congress.

Members of the armed forces and distinguished guests, please join me in welcoming Captain Gary Michael Rose to the White House.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: For many years, the story of Mike's heroism has gone untold, but, today, we gather to tell the world of his valor and proudly present him with our nation's highest military honor.

Joining Mike today is his wife, Margaret, their three children, Sarah (ph), Clara and Michael (ph), and their two grandchildren, Caitlin (ph) and Christian (ph).

Caitlin and Christian, I want you to know that the medal that we will present today will forever enshrine your grandfather -- and he is a good man. We just spoke to him for a long time. And you are a great, great young people.

But this will enshrine him into the history of our nation.

We are also grateful to be joined by nine previous Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Their courage, character and conviction is beyond measure. Please stand.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: We are honored to be in their presence.