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EARLY START

Niger Ambush: New Details, Many Questions; Soldier's Widow Says She Felt Worse After President's Call; Trump Set To Woo GOP Senators. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We owe the families as much information as we can find out about what happened, and we owe the American people an explanation of what the men and women were doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A new time line. Why did American troops wait an hour to call for help when they came under attack in Niger? How did U.S. forces become separated? Just some of the questions faced by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And, billions of dollars in much-needed hurricane relief appears to be on the way. Now, officials in Puerto Rico are making a pitch for Amazon to call the island home.

Welcome back to EARLY START.

We'll also have the latest on tax reform or cuts ahead.

ROMANS: Yes, tax reform or cuts.

BRIGGS: Which is it?

ROMANS: That is the big question.

We begin this morning, though, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford vowing to keep searching for answers on the deadly ambush in Niger. At a news conference, Dunford provided new details and a new time line of the attack on American and allied troops.

Among the major revelations, the U.S. Special Forces and support troops were on their own once that firefight began. They were on their own longer than previously thought.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUNFORD: About an hour after the initial contact was made they requested support. When they requested support, it took the French aircraft -- the French were ready to go in 30 minutes, and then it took them 30 minutes -- approximately 30 minutes to get on the scene. So, from that, I think it's a fair conclusion to say that about two hours after the initial contact was made the initial French mirages arrived overhead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Why it took so long to call for help is part of the investigation. A White House official described Dunford's briefing as a deliberate effort to move past the heated rhetoric coming from all sides, but even with Gen. Dunford's new details many questions do remain.

CNN's Jim Sciutto was at the briefing. He has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, unlike some administration officials since this deadly raid, Gen. Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to the Pentagon briefing room and said every question about this from the public or from the families is justified and he will do his best to answer every question he can. But the fact is they still can't answer many questions.

He did clarify a few things. He said that this unit was returning to base when they were ambushed. They weren't going off on another mission. They weren't -- he said, or he had no information that they went outside of their orders.

He also said that they did not call in for air support until one hour into this firefight. And he said, or at least his assessment was that that likely meant the commanders on the ground thought it was a firefight that they could handle. Of course, it didn't turn out that way.

But there are still many questions that are unanswered. One, why was Sgt. La David Johnson's body found 48 hours later and why was it found a mile away from where the ambush took place? They don't know the answer to that question.

They also don't know why the intelligence that was given to these soldiers was that it was unlikely that they would have enemy contact.

I also asked him do they know if the forces that evacuated both the wounded and the dead ever did a head count to make sure that everyone was accounted for. Again, a question they don't yet have an answer to.

But I also asked him whether he would supply this information when they -- when they get answers to these questions. And Gen. Dunford said, without hesitation, that yes, he believes the military owes not only the family but the American public complete, in his words, transparency -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Yes, thanks, Jim. That was certainly a remarkable press briefing yesterday.

BRIGGS: It was.

ROMANS: It really was.

Joining us to discuss this, CNN military analyst and retired Air Force colonel Cedric Leighton. Good morning.

We've laid out -- Jim laid out there those -- these questions that are really troubling here about the intelligence. Was it adequate, was their gear adequate, what was the mission here? How did they become separated, and why did it take two days to located Sgt. Johnson?

What is your takeaway -- the most important new information you heard yesterday from Gen. Dunford?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, AIR FORCE COLONEL (RET.): Christine, good morning.

I think it was the time line more than anything else. The fact that we have just a little bit more details surrounding what happened. Of course, it's far from complete and what Gen. Dunford indicated in his statement yesterday was that really this is just the beginning.

And I think what we'll see is further reporting from him, even, that will indicate even more of what happened. Of course, we'll have to await the results of the investigation. AFRICOM -- Africa Command is putting that investigation together and hopefully, we'll have something in the not too distant future.

But it may some real long -- you know, a real long time to actually figure out exactly what happened here, and there will be some things that we will just never know.

BRIGGS: Yes. Among the many questions, did we have the right intelligence, did we have the right equipment, were we armored enough?

[05:35:00] And all of this because of that points to comparisons some are making to Benghazi. There are four dead American troops at the heart of this and Gen. Dunford was asked about that comparison yesterday. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUNFORD: I personally see no utility in comparing this incident to any other incident. What's most important to me, aside from getting the facts, is identifying those things that we can do better in the future, and that's my focus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Do those types of comparisons hurt the investigation and the discussion surrounding this?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think they have a potential of hurting the investigation. Usually, the military is professional enough not to be impacted by political rhetoric. You know, the kinds of pull and push types of issues that we deal with on the political side here in Washington.

But I would say this. I think that Gen. Dunford is spot on because what we're looking at here is really a need to find answers and that need has to be as far from being politicized as possible.

ROMANS: But it has been, and you know what? The president has been part of that -- how do you say it?

BRIGGS: Politicization.

ROMANS: I can't say the word, but the president has been part of that.

I mean, he even tweeted again yesterday -- could not let it rest. The widow of La David Johnson who went on George Stephanopoulos on television on ABC and said look, she didn't -- she cried when the president called her because she didn't feel as if he really remembered her husband's name.

And then the president hits back. "I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson and spoke his name from the beginning, without hesitation." He couldn't just say I'm sorry for your loss.

Does it end here, that part of it? Does it end here?

LEIGHTON: Well, I'm afraid not. I hope it does but I'm afraid that the political piece will be played out here even further and, you know, the military will have a challenge in terms of the investigation, Christine, in keeping that as separate as possible from these kinds of political maneuvers, if you want to put a nice term on it.

But that's the -- that's the challenge, you know, in addition to the obvious challenges that they have in actually reconstructing what happened, figuring out what the shortfalls were. There will be probably a lot of influence.

There will be questions, of course from Congress as to what happened and those are certainly going to be impacts on the investigation. And hopefully, people will be responsible all the way from the president on down.

BRIGGS: Questions do remain. But certainly, the style, the way the general was open and honest and forthright and respectful of the media, hopefully can set a tone for others in the White House.

Colonel, we appreciate you being here. Thank you.

ROMANS: He said political maneuvers.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Dave. Thanks.

ROMANS: I tried to say politicization. I can't say that word. BRIGGS: It has been politicized by all sides. You know, the president's favorite argument. Everyone's politicized this thing and hopefully, that stops today.

ROMANS: OK.

BRIGGS: Hopefully.

ROMANS: The president wants tax reform but are his demands making it impossible? A big meeting today with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:42:18] ROMANS: All right. A big day for the president. He heads to Capitol Hill today to pitch tax reform.

He'll be talking with Republican senators at a big policy lunch and he has promised that his tax plan will not touch your 401(k). That contradicts several reports over the weekend about Republican plans that were like hey, you know, we might have to lower what you can put in your 401(k) tax-free. The president vowed no change to the retirement savings plan via tweets, adding that the tax break works and it stays.

Let's talk to CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University. Good morning.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, AUTHOR, "THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW": Good morning.

ROMANS: You know, Dave and I were looking at that tweet and we were both saying if tax reform is this big puzzle where you have to take things away from people to, you know, cut rates across the board and to cut rates for companies, the president -- is he making it harder by saying oh, no, not that one -- oh no, not that one? He doesn't want disappoint anybody but somebody's got to be disappointed in tax reform.

ZELIZER: Absolutely. Tax reform is about taking provisions away from people, not just corporations -- middle-class Americans who depend on these kinds of benefits. And so you don't start the process by saying well, we won't do this and we won't do that.

And you put Republicans in a very difficult position because they are going to have to ask their constituents to let them take away --

ROMANS: Sure.

ZELIZER: -- benefits that they like. Otherwise, you can't pay for the tax cuts or the tax cuts won't be fair on an equity basis.

ROMANS: And let's be clear. The tax code incentivizes behavior.

ZELIZER: Yes. ROMANS: It's not just about getting revenue to run the government. It incentivizes home buying.

ZELIZER: Sure.

ROMANS: It incentivizes borrowing a lot of money to buy a home. It incentivizes going to college, having kids, having a job, putting money into a retirement account. Some -- there's a constituency for all of those things.

Is the president -- does he have the leadership to be able to work with Paul Ryan and others to make sure that, you know, someone's going to give something up?

ZELIZER: I think it's dubious that he can do this. We saw what happened with health care reform from his tendency to attack his own allies, to his making statements on an ad hoc basis about the legislation as it unfolds. You can't really do that with tax reform.

ROMANS: Yes.

ZELIZER: We've only had one really successful moment of tax reform in the last few decades. That was in 1986 under Ronald Reagan. A lot of that was undone within 10 years.

But this president can't go about his normal way of business and expect members of Congress to do what is extremely painful. They might just cut taxes. That's an outcome you can imagine. But the tax reform plan, you can't do it this way.

BRIGGS: Yes, it's interesting. The president -- so, Melania, yesterday, encouraged kids to go have lunch with a new friend and stop bullying.

The president will go have lunch with a new friend and that's GOP senators --

ZELIZER: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- who he has bullied.

And, Bob Corker said this is nothing more than a photo op for the president.

How do these two work together? Can they trust the president and the president trust them?

[05:45:05] ZELIZER: I don't think they are going to trust him. I don't think they will have confidence in him. The only thing that the White House can do is offer them something that is impossible to say no to.

And I think what a lot of people in the White House, not necessarily the president, are counting on is that tax cuts, particularly corporate --

BRIGGS: Corporate.

ZELIZER: -- tax cuts are so enticing to Republicans and to Republican donors --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- that they say we're going to try to make this thing work.

I think that's the only way to solve this. There's no way Sen. Corker is going to walk away having a great moment with the president at this point.

ROMANS: It's so interesting when you talk about corporate tax cuts. I mean, the president -- I do believe he wants this to benefit the middle-class and I think the tax writers --

BRIGGS: Yes, he wants it to.

ROMANS: -- want to give companies a tax cut.

ZELIZER: Yes.

ROMANS: Those are two different goals.

ZELIZER: Look, we saw with health care facts matter and the president can say this will benefit the middle-class but the numbers are coming out and the numbers will show that's not the case. And politically, that's the kind of fallout that Republicans on the Hill are going to have to deal with.

ROMANS: He wants this by the end of the year. He wants this by the end of the year.

BRIGGS: Right, and there's what, less than 30 legislative days left in the calendar.

I want to ask you quickly about Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The general, yesterday, coming out to the media at the Pentagon speaking about what happened in Niger -- the four American troops that were killed.

Listen to what he said about the questions that remain to the media and listen to the tone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUNFORD: The questions include did the mission of U.S. forces change during the operation? Did our forces have adequate intelligence, equipment, and training? Was their pre-mission assessment of the threat in the area accurate?

Did U.S. forces -- how did U.S. forces become separated during the engagement, specifically Sgt. Johnson? And, why did it take time to find and recover Sgt. Johnson?

Again, these are all fair questions that the investigation is designed to identify.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Now, clearly, there's a lot of substance missing here but from a style, is there something the White House -- the press secretary can learn from the way he handled that briefing yesterday with the media?

ZELIZER: Absolutely. Look, he is giving a somber account of what happened and asking that we keep our focus on the questions about what happened to the troops rather than this back-and-forth that the president is now engaged in over a condolence card -- a condolence call.

And I think the president needs to hear this. I don't think he will. It's not as if the president changes but I think that's where the military certainly would like to take this conversation.

BRIGGS: And it was interesting just to hear someone encourage these questions --

ZELIZER: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- and encourage and support the media's jobs and our democracy.

Julian Zelizer, great to have you. Thank you.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Toys R Us -- is bankruptcy already hitting toymaker's holiday sales? Online shopping is to blame. Details on "CNN Money Stream," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:52:13] BRIGGS: Welcome back.

Tampa's interim police chief and the mayor meeting with concerned citizens in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. Three people murdered there over the course of 11 days. The event started with a moment of silence with family members of all three victims in the audience.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn calling on residents to do their part to help catch this killer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB BUCKHORN, MAYOR, TAMPA, FLORIDA: Nobody comes into our house and does this -- not now, not ever. This is our streets, these are our neighborhoods, this is your community, and we are not going to let evil win this race. Not happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. The police say they are looking to question this person caught on surveillance.

Tampa's interim police chief Brian Dugan refraining from using the term 'serial killer.' He says he does not want to use labels or stereotypes and risk boxing the vision of someone who might know the murderer.

BRIGGS: Five Michigan teenagers due in court today charged with second-degree murder for killing a man by throwing rocks from an overpass.

Thirty-two-year-old Kenneth White was a passenger in a van on I-75 near Flint, Michigan last week when a six-pound rock smashed through the windshield and fatally injured him.

The local sheriff using the tragedy to send a sobering warning to young people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT PICKELL, SHERIFF, GENESEE COUNTY, MICHIGAN: It's not a prank, it's second-degree murder. I don't think anybody's laughing. You make a bad decision you could be spending the rest of your life in prison. This is not a prank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Police say the teens, aged 15 to 17, threw a tire and about 20 rocks off two overpasses that night. One of those rocks weighed 20 pounds. Several vehicles were damaged.

The teens are all being prosecuted as adults and they also face conspiracy to commit murder charges.

BRIGGS: Just brutal.

All right. The fall classic might feel more like a mid-summer classic.

Dodgers, Astros, game one of the World Series tonight in L.A. It's the first time since 1970 the two 100-win teams meet in the World Series. The pitching match-up for game one, Houston's Dallas Keuchel and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.

But the temperatures might be the story. Game one, first pitch set to be around 99 degrees, which would make it the hottest World Series ever. They'll will stay in the nineties throughout the game. The hottest ever first pitch as 94 degrees.

But, L.A. fans, they'll be all right. It's been since 1988. They'll suffer through this heat.

ROMANS: They're torturing me with those Cubbies -- with the Cubbies there -- yes. BRIGGS: Yes, you're tortured.

The torch-lighting ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea underway right now in Olympia, Greece.

Former soccer great Ji-Sung will become the first South Korean to carry the flame. He tells CNN he hopes next year's games in PyeongChang can unify North and South Korea. Tall task.

[05:55:04] The Winter Olympics begin on February 9th.

ROMANS: All right.

A big step in the return to normalcy for parts of Puerto Rico. Public school classes set to resume this morning for the first time in more than a month. Students return in two cities, San Juan and Mayaguez.

One hundred and nine school campuses reopen today out of more than 1,100 on the island so you're still running at 10 percent here. Many school buildings do remain damaged or occupied as shelters, and roads in some areas are still impassable.

BRIGGS: The Senate has advanced a large disaster relief bill to respond to a rash to recent hurricanes. Most of the money goes to FEMA's disaster relief program and the National Flood Insurance program. Additional funds designated for nutrition assistance for low-income residents in Puerto Rico.

Final passage of the $36.5 billion aid package expected by Wednesday, with Congress expected to take up more funding for disaster relief next month.

ROMANS: All right.

Amazon's competition for it second headquarters is heating up. The company's received -- get this -- 238 bids for its second headquarters in some 54 states, provinces, and territories across North American, including a last-minute bid from Puerto Rico, the hurricane-battered territory.

It bid on a longshot but officials there wanted to show it could bounce back from Hurricane Maria. And the island could use the economic boost, you know. Amazon's new headquarters will create 50,000 high-paying jobs. It will invest $5 billion in a new facility.

Amazon says the campus will be the full equal of its Seattle headquarters. It's added $38 billion to Seattle's economy since 2010. That's why everybody is wooing Amazon.

Amazon announced plans for a second headquarters in September and cities, frankly, went into a frenzy resulting in offers for big tax incentives or really elaborate gestures. The Kansas City mayor wrote 1,000 five-star reviews for random products on Amazon's Website to try to get the company's attention.

Proposals were due last week. Amazon said it will make a decision next year.

All right. Global stock markets most higher right now. The Dow snapped a six-day winning streak but all these major averages very, very close here to record highs.

Last week, the Dow and the S&P 500 hit record highs all five days. The stock market weighed down though yesterday by tech and industrial stocks.

Today is the second day of the busiest week of earnings season. So far, so good.

Of the 97 S&P 500 companies that reported, 73 percent have beat expectations. Today, expect AT&T, GM, Caterpillar, and McDonald's.

I want to talk to you about G.E. General Electric stock had its biggest plunge in six years. It fell 6.3 percent after six analysts cut their price target.

Shares are now down 28 percent this year -- 29 percent this year, raising concerns G.E. may cut dividends for the first time since the Great Recession.

G.E. was once the most valuable company in America but it suffered years of management missteps, shrinking dramatically over the past decade. The company lost $70 billion in value this year alone and it plans to slash $20 billion in costs over the next two years.

Toys R Us, its collapse is hurting toymaker sales right before the holiday season.

Shares of Hasbro down 10 percent yesterday. Hasbro says its holiday sales will be lower than expected blaming the reason on the bankruptcy of Toys R us.

Hasbro's bad news also hit Mattel. It shares fell four percent.

The failure of Toys R Us, yet another sign of the rise of Amazon. More people are doing their holiday shopping online instead of in stores. So, Toys R Us trying to restructure and give a new kind of retail experience for people who try to come on the other side.

BRIGGS: All right, you're on the spot. There are betting odds about who gets the Amazon second headquarters. Do you know who the favorite is?

ROMANS: I do not know who the favorite is. I'll give you who I think it is.

BRIGGS: OK, go.

ROMANS: I think Austin and Denver are right at the top of the list.

BRIGGS: OK, you guessed one. Atlanta is the favorite --

ROMANS: Is it? BRIGGS: -- two to one odds, followed by Austin, Texas and Boston.

ROMANS: Boston, all right.

BRIGGS: One Canadian city in the top 10, Toronto, seven to one odds.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: So you can bet some money on this.

ROMANS: And look, in the Canadian cities they were really -- they say that they can get high-skilled visas in like two weeks, so the visa issue was a real draw for some of those Canadian cities.

BRIGGS: I like Denver.

ROMANS: OK. Yes, you would.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: All right. I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the mission? Why was there a lack of support?

DUNFORD: We do owe the American people transparency and we intend to deliver just that.

SCIUTTO: The ambush came despite intelligence that enemy contact was not likely.

MCCAIN: The Armed Services Committee is not getting enough information.

DUNFORD: Once Sgt. Johnson was missing we brought the full weight of the U.S. government to try to recover his body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want answers, most importantly, for the families.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The president and Congress are laser focused on making sure that middle-income wage earners actually benefit.

ROMANS: President Trump sitting down with Senate Republicans today to chart the path forward on tax reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're doomed to fail if they do not make a bipartisan effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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