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Soon: Trump Visits Hill As Feud With Corker Explodes; Corker: "Debasing Our Nation" Will Be Trump Legacy; More Questions Than Answers After Four Troops Killed; Pentagon: Troops Attacked By 50 ISIS Fighters. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:13]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. You know, all that talk of interparty fighting among Republicans, the bickering, in fighting, well, that's nothing compared to what we just saw this morning. As the president prepares to head to Capitol Hill for a unifying lunch with Senate Republicans, unity seems to be the last thing on the menu right now.

Republican Senator Bob Corker speaking out on the morning shows, on a couple morning shows, criticized the president and called today's visit to the Hill more of a photo op than anything of substance.

Did not sit well with the president. He fired back, of course, on Twitter saying the retiring Corker couldn't get elected, dog catcher in Tennessee. It's tough. Also calling him a lightweight. But then this happened, Corker unloads.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Four times he encouraged me to run, told me he would endorse me. I don't know. It's amazing. Unfortunately, I think world leaders are very aware, much of what he says is untrue, and people here are because these things are provably untrue. They're factually incorrect and people know the difference.

So, I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does but he does. You know, look, I don't like responding. I -- you can let him go unanswered but -- and it's just not me, we don't do tweets like that, we've responded twice to again untruths, but it's unfortunate that our nation finds itself in this place.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Is the president of the United States a liar?

CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.

RAJU: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Let's put it this way I would not do that again.

RAJU: So, you wouldn't support him again?

CORKER: No. I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion. I think many of us, me included, have, you know, tried to, you know, have intervened, had private dinner, you know, been with him on multiple occasions, to try to create some kind of aspirational approach to the way he conducts himself. I don't think that that is possible, and he's, obviously, not going to rise to the occasion as president.

RAJU: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?

CORKER: No.

RAJU: You don't?

CORKER: No. Absolutely not. I think that, you know, the things that are happening right now that are -- that are harmful to our nation, whether it's the breaking down of we're going to be doing some hearings on some of the things that he purposely is breaking down relationships around the world that have been useful to our nation.

But I think at the end of the day when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, the -- just the name calling, the things, I think the basement of our nation, will be what he will be remembered most for and that's regretful.

And it affects young people. I mean, we have young people who for the first time are, you know, watching a president stating, you know, absolute non-truths nonstop, personalizing things in the way he does and be it's very sad for our nation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Really extraordinary interview with Manu Raju. Trump wanting again to have the last word tweeting again, calling Corker then incompetent as the chair of the very powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and yes, all of this happened just this morning.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House right now for us. Kaitlan, so what exactly does this mean for the president's Senate lunch plans?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I don't think it's very good things, Kate. I'm not sure if I was a lawmaker if I would take a rain check for that lunch today. We've seen the president firing back at Corker after he said those very strong comments to my colleague, Manu Raju.

The president has actually been pretty quiet with -- of his criticism of Corker on Twitter in recent days, but after Corker made those rounds on television this morning being highly critical of the president, the president has actually tweeted about him five times in the period of two hours. With his most recent one the on the screen, where he said that "Senator Corker is the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee and look how poorly the U.S. has done. He doesn't have a clue as the entire world was laughing and taking advantage of us. People like Little Bob Corker have sent the U.S. way back. Now we move forward."

[11:05:04] Now, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, actually did an interview on the north lawn of the White House earlier this morning and she was asked if she thinks this feud between the president and a very prominent member of his own party would affect that lunch today. Here's what she had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think if bob Corker is suggesting leaving it to the professionals, and he's referring to himself, we've left it to him long enough, and he's been ineffective and now I think we need to, you know, let the president take the lead on this front, working with Leader McConnell and others, that really want to see some productive change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now Kate, it's hard not to see how this feud won't overshadow this lunch today, a lunch that many Republicans were hoping would be focused on getting some progress on tax reform because this is a party that's desperate for a legislative achievement, but it looks like right now the focus will be on the tension between the president and Bob Corker.

BOLDUAN: Don't know how it couldn't be. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.

Let's head over to Capitol Hill. Manu Raju is joining me now. Manu, it was pretty amazing moment there that you had with Bob Corker. I mean, there had been a lot of shocking moments in this relationship between Bob Corker and Donald Trump since this started, but this seems to reach a new level now with your interview?

RAJU: Yes. No question about it. And what's also remarkable, Kate, is that Corker and Trump actually had a pretty close relationship for some time. Corker's probably one of Trump's closest allies on Capitol Hill. They played golf together. They were on the phone a lot.

Corker was considered as secretary of state, at one point, was also considered as his vice-presidential running mate. He had an interview with him during the campaign season. This has deteriorated sharply over the last several weeks.

Starting with Corker's criticism in August of the president's handling of the deadly violence following that white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the president firing back against Bob Corker.

They seemed to smooth things over for some time, but escalating after Corker said that the country could lead to chaos if it weren't for Tillerson and weren't for Mattis, weren't for John Kelly in the administration. That really set the president off.

What really set Corker off was Trump's continuing insistence that Corker would not have run for re-election if he -- he would have run for re-election if the president would have endorsed him.

The fact of the matter according to Corker and other people that I've spoken to is the president did offer Senator Corker an endorsement on multiple occasions and even said he would stumped with him if he decided to run for the election.

And at one point, Kate, even urged him to run again for re-election. So, now that the president today again tweeting that Bob Corker wasn't going to win his re-election and wouldn't have gotten his endorsement that really set off Corker this morning when I talked to him and asked him, was that accurate. No.

Is the president a liar? Said he speaks untruths. Essentially was calling the president a liar. Let alone all the other criticisms about whether or not the president is a role model to children, as well as whether or not the president could be trusted with the nuclear codes.

A remarkable moment but one that he has more freedom, Kate, because he's retiring and not hearing a lot of other Republican senators echo this publicly even if some may have similar views privately -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Here's the thing, making sure it's not lost in this, Manu, is that even though Donald Trump says that Bob Corker is now working against their tax reform efforts, there's no suggestion that that is actually the case. That Paul Ryan said today that Bob Corker is going to vote for tax reform.

So, let's make sure that's not lost in what has clearly become, I don't know what this is anymore. Manu, great to see you. Amazing reporting as always, thank you.

Joining me now to discuss, let's figure this out, CNN political director, David Chalian, Chris Cilizza, CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, who I have major beef with, which I will unload, I'm going to unload Corker-style on you, Maya MacGuineas, president of the non-partisan federal spending watchdog group, Committee for Responsible Federal Budget.

Everything that you stand for right now, Maya, I don't even know, responsibility, federal budget, I mean, let's get to all of it. David, first to you, let's sum up the morning, the president said for a kumbaya rally with Republican senators on Capitol Hill, Bob Corker criticizes him and then Trump counter punches.

And now we are watching like a political nuclear war all almost before folks have finished breakfast, right?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Kate, it's -- this is truly stunning. I know we've spent the last nine months talking about the unprecedented nature of everything that has been going on in the Trump presidency and that is certainly a deserved nickname for the presidency.

But this is a senior statesman in the president's own party, who has just declared the Trump presidency a failure. That's basically what he's doing. He has said now the president is unable to rise to the position.

[11:10:00] And unlike in August when he was calling for radical change in the White House and the hope and wish for the president to turn it around to be successful, there's none of that here now.

Bob Corker in that interview with Manu has drawn a conclusion that President Trump is incapable of rising to the occasion and that begs the question, you have a senior statesman in the Republican Party who believes that, and who is overseeing from the legislative branch America's foreign policy believes that president is unable to do his job and they got to work together for the next 14 months or whatever is left in Bob Corker's term.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, everyone, Chris, everyone says Bob Corker is retiring, that frees him up. He has a long time left to go. He's got a lot of work to do still in the senate. I mean, now the gloves -- as of this morning, the gloves are off. They've been lit on fire and thrown out the window between these two. I mean, what does this mean for these guys getting anything done together?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, honestly, at this point with the retirement announcement, Trump feeds Corker more than Corker needs Trump, although, I don't think Trump acknowledges he ever needs anyone, but he does.

You're right, Corker's still got more than a year left on his term but nothing -- nothing Trump can do to him when he's not running for re- election. If Corker was running again Trump could absolutely as we've seen him do with Jeff Flake in Arizona, agitate for a primary challenge, attack him and try to weaken his standing.

Now, it's sort of -- you know, Bob Corker is looking out for his legacy. What David hit on is remarkable. You are essentially hearing a Republican senator say, Donald Trump's legacy is cemented, and that legacy is one of debasement of our country.

I mean, I'm not sure you would hear Chuck Schumer, the leader of Democrats, go that far. I think the thing that we always had to be mindful of, though, Kate, is this is a retiring senator.

As we talked about, he doesn't have all that much to lose other than Jeff Flake, who is now in trouble, electorally for his comments, we've not seen a lot of other folks come out. Roger Wicker was -- from Mississippi, was on our air earlier today.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

CILIZZA: And criticized Corker not Trump over this back and forth.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, I'm not even going to open the possibility of is this a floodgate moment. Not even that. I'm just talking about getting stuff done today, their priorities today, what that means for the relationship today.

I mean, Maya, Bob Corker is actually one of the few Republicans who has been speaking up, calling on Republicans to stick with what has long been Republican principles of holding back on spending, revenue neutral tax reform, is he now the odd man out in this new push?

MAYA MACGUINEAS, PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: Well, that's absolutely right. He is one of the few voices that's kind of reminding the principles of fiscal responsibility and so this backdrop of the loss of civility is all occurring at the same time there's a real deterioration in the policy that's going on.

And so, we think about what's happening, House Republicans who have called for years and years for a balanced budget that controls spending and gets the debt under control are on the verge of passing a budget that doesn't balance, that out of $47 trillion in spending, aspires to save $1 billion, and that adds to the national debt.

It's a joke. It is a laugh line and they're about to accept that which means they will be walking away from the mantle of fiscal responsibility. Senator Corker has been one of the only people who have said we can move forward and look at tax reform and figure out how to make it pro-growth and make sure that we don't exaggerate that growth and pass something that doesn't add to the debt.

But what we really need is other members of Congress, who remembers that those are the kinds of principles they aspire to run for offices because of, and actually call for fiscal responsibility and pro-growth tax reform instead of massively adding to the debt.

I don't think Senator Corker will let something like this get in the way of his supporting a tax reform bill that's good or opposing one that's not, but it's distracting from policy making, which really has important things that we have to be grappling with.

How to pay for this tax bill and how to make sure it grows the economy, all sorts of big real challenges that we should be able to work together on and hopefully succeed at.

BOLDUAN: Or even what this tax bill is or even how they define the middle class in this tax bill. I mean, David, literally, what happens at this lunch today now?

CHALIAN: Would you not love to be a fly on the wall inside the conference?

BOLDUAN: Even on a boring day I wish I could find my way in. Today, I might -- I might pay people off.

CHALIAN: It's hard to imagine that the spat with Corker is not going to be front of mind for everyone, and I shouldn't call it a spat because I think Chris's point earlier about the other Republicans on this and citing Wicker, look at what Speaker Ryan.

He said, oh, they should put this Twitter spat behind them. They want to lessen the impact. This isn't just some Twitter spat. As we're talking about this is a hugely significant --

BOLDUAN: David, I almost think it was more like Paul Ryan begging us to stop focusing on Twitter like if you all -- if you all could please stop looking at Twitter.

CHALIAN: He joked the other night at the dinner in New York he has to choose which tweets in the morning to ignore, I am sure these are some of those tweets.

[11:15:06] BOLDUAN: Exactly right. But does this set a new, I don't know, Chris, a new bar for Republicans?

CILIZZA: No.

BOLDUAN: To answer questions to, though? Not necessarily -- I'm just saying to answer questions to?

CILIZZA: Will every senator coming out of that luncheon be asked by reporters did Donald Trump and Bob Corker talk, were their comments brought up, do you agree with Senator Corker, yes, they absolutely will.

I'm still very skeptical what a retiring senator, albeit a very influential one with an important job to do on taxes, foreign policy over the next year, whether his comments will trigger some sort of landslide or even a smaller group of senators to speak out, I'm just -- if you haven't by now, it's not as though this is new.

Yes, this is escalating it to another level in terms of Trump and Corker, but Donald Trump's willingness to take the low road in virtually every situation, I mean, 24 hours ago, Kate, we were talking about his calling into question the recounting of a phone call by a widow of an American soldier killed in action and saying well the way she remembered it isn't the way it was.

I mean, this is -- this is new for today, this is not new for Trump. It is hard for me to believe that Republican senators will say oh, that's it. This is the one thing that I can't take, this latest feud with Bob Corker. If they haven't jumped off the wagon by now, I kind of think they're in it at least through 2018.

BOLDUAN: Well, again, they want to get something done, what this means, though, to getting something done, when these are the relationships that are playing out on the hill, that's where the conversation goes because Maya MacGuineas will tell you and we'll have you back on, Maya, tax reform, it's so easy, that's why they haven't done it in three decades. Great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

All right. Coming up from us, we could hear from President Trump any moment now at an awards ceremony in the oval office ahead of the lunch on Capitol Hill. We're going to bring you that as soon as it happens.

Plus, this, a new timeline is emerging on the ambush that killed four Americans in Niger. Many questions remain, including why it took -- why was there an hour lapse before the U.S. soldiers called in for air support? What could that mean? Details ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:49]

BOLDUAN: More questions than answers, something even the Joint Chiefs chairman acknowledges right now about what happened in Niger that left four American soldiers dead in an ISIS ambush three weeks ago.

Key questions like why Sergeant La David Johnson was separated from his unit and took 48 hours to recover his body. But despite all of the questions, there are some new and important details that are emerging coming from the Joint Chiefs chairman himself, General Joseph Dunford.

CNN's Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon for us with much more on this. So, Ryan, what is this new timeline? Lay it out for us that the general discussed yesterday?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Kate, in a very rare appearance by General Dunford in only his third this year, he laid out some of the new details regarding the timeline of the attack.

And one of the things that we learned was that once the U.S. military troops came under attack by 50 ISIS fighters, it took them an hour before they called in air support and it took another hour for French mirage jets to arrive.

During that time, as U.S. drone was able to fly overhead and provide some visual intelligence of what was going on, something that's being studied as part of the investigation to exactly what happened.

But it took almost two hours from when the attack happened for any air support to arrive and support these troops. But General Dunford did not provide much additional information as to what actually happened during the battle.

Saying that it's likely that the forces on the ground felt that they could handle the situation before calling in air support, but how Sergeant Johnson was separated from the rest of his group, how his body went missing for nearly 48 hours, and how 50 ISIS fighters were able to assemble and attack this group, is some -- something that the investigation will have to find out -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And there will be a briefing -- Pentagon will be briefing key committees on the Hill on this later this week. So, a lot more to come. Ryan, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss this, Retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, former assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs under President George W. Bush, and Elliott Ackerman, former Marine, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is now a CNN national security analyst. Great to see both of you. Thank you so much.

General, that was an important update that came from the Joint Chiefs chairman yesterday and clearly, he acknowledged himself. There are a lot of questions that remain, but what stands out to you about what they've released so far about this -- about this incident.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMIT (RETIRED), FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, I think what stands out more than anything else is, an understanding that when we put soldiers into these rogue, remote operations, very sensitive operations, they probably will not and should not have a significant amount of air support, drone support, that layering of support that is typically associated with some of our large conventional forces.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, and Elliott, I mean, you survived tours with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that an hour went by before they called in air support, an hour, I mean, must feel like a lifetime in a fire fight. What does that suggest to you?

ELLIOT ACKERMAN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'm sure that it did feel like a lifetime but, you know, even in places like Afghanistan, I wouldn't say an hour would go by, but you could certainly see half an hour go by before you would see air support on station, in a country more heavily resourced than I imagine the operation in Niger was.

[11:25:07] So, resources aren't infinite and prior to this, you know, I could definitely imagine you could see where there just wasn't the coverage in the region.

BOLDUAN: And General, what questions do you think need to be answered next? There are so many. What do you expect should be cleared up next?

KIMMITT: Well, look, the types of investigations that are done in cases such as this are broad and comprehensive. You heard yesterday in the news conference, there were dozens of questions asked, many of the questions that were asked were asked by General Dunford himself saying these will be what we're going to investigate.

So, the actual mission, the rules of engagement, the types of support that they felt they need, those are important, but even more important, does this indicate that ISIS is now starting to find those weak spots in our military operations overseas and starting to get away from the caliphate and more towards the small-scale, very lethal types of operations. That's probably the most important thing I would want to know.

BOLDUAN: That is a bigger, broader question and the impact on our military. Elliott, one of the questions that still doesn't have an answer of the many is the force -- is if the forces conducting the evacuation did a head count as they were pulling out, does that surprise you that they don't know that yet?

ACKERMAN: I would imagine they certainly did do a head count but, you know, in the chaos of that situation, and depending on the way these forces were exfiltrated, they might have been exfiltrated in waves and sometimes it can be very, very difficult in the heat of something like that, a fire fight of that intensity, to get ground troops on if you absolutely have everybody. BOLDUAN: Because that's -- what Dunford said is, he knows what procedure is. They don't know exactly yet the detail in terms of who counted. If they didn't do a head count that's coming up because one, Sergeant La David Johnson was missing for 48 hours, was missing for quite some time, if they didn't do a head count, what would that suggest, Elliot?

ACKERMAN: Well, I can't imagine any situation under which they wouldn't do a head count. But you know, imagine, they've been on the ground for hours now. You know, several soldiers are dead, I would imagine they're isolated in different groups of people, different groups of soldiers that have been fighting these al Qaeda ambushers.

And so, you might get a head count and there might have been 100 people on the patrol and you're with an isolated group of 25, and so it's difficult to know exactly where all 100 are. These are the types of things and the types of really granular details I imagine will start to come out in this investigation.

BOLDUAN: Yes. General, Republicans on Capitol Hill, they've said they're frustrated that they aren't getting the information that they think they deserved in their oversight capacity in a timely planner. Can you talk about the push and pull needed to conduct a thorough investigation like you talked about on a complex situation, and also the need to keep the Congress and the public informed at the same time?

KIMMIT: Well, you're right. There is going to be a lot of push/pull and unfortunately this particular incident has been so heavily politicized, I think when we take a step back and understand that there's a tension that's happening between the needs of the family which is first and foremost.

The needs of the military to make sure that any investigation is done and as important, tactics, techniques and procedures, are carefully maintained and not revealed, and also the Americans right to know.

Unfortunately, between those three requirements when you throw in the additional issue of a significant politicization of this situation it doesn't help the overall situation. So, yes, the Senate has a responsibility and a right to know what's going on, however, I think it's as important to understand we must keep not only this situation properly investigated, but ensure that security is maintained.

So that we don't reveal issues that might cause this to happen again and, of course, the needs of the family which are first and paramount, particularly the right for privacy.

BOLDUAN: Keeping that in mind is paramount especially in light of how things have played out. General, always great to see you. Elliott, thank you so much for coming in. Welcome to CNN.

ACKERMANN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, guys. Coming up for us, Bill O'Reilly lashing out as new details pour in on his multimillion-dollar sexual harassment settlements. The fired Fox News host now taking aim at the "New York Times," his accuser, and God.

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