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Senate Kills Rule; Niger Ambush Details; Funding Behind Trump Dossier; Montana Company Lands Puerto Rico Contract. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Thought it was an overreach. And so yesterday this was struck down -- very narrowly struck down. So this protection is now gone. A lot of folks had said, look, in the case of say Wells Fargo, you know, it was hard to sue Wells Fargo for all of that terrible bad behavior that it had done. This would have made it easier. So that was a real world case people were giving.

I want you to see the stock market right now. Down just a few points. You know, I wouldn't make too much of that because we are very close to record highs here. We have hit 21,000 -- 20,000, 21,000, 22,000, 23,000 just all this year. You look at a chart. Look at that. All of these milestones. So it doesn't take very much to hit a record high.

I also want to give you some perspective. Take a look at the current bull market, now the second longest on record. Look at that run in the stock market. The big question now is, is it's too frothy and will tax cuts alone keep carrying this current bull market along.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, but for how long.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Is it too frothy. It is pumpkin spice season.

All right, Christine Romans, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Three weeks after the deadly ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers, we're getting new details on their movements just before they were attacked. Stay with us.

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[09:35:29] HARLOW: We are learning new details this morning about the four U.S. troops killed by ISIS militants in Niger. Officials say this was one of the team's first missions.

BERMAN: We've also learned that they were gathering intelligence about a suspected terror leader when they were ambushed.

CNN's Ryan Young at the Pentagon with the details.

Ryan.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, we're learning new, additional information about what exactly happened in this ambush that left four U.S. soldiers dead, two wounded and about five Nigerian troops killed.

Now, they were conducting a routine patrol. A patrol that had been done many times. But this particular team had only been in Niger for a matter of weeks. And they were conducting a routine patrol when they were asked to investigate a location that had believed to be a one- time location of a terror leader in Niger.

Now, they never expected to run into any enemy forces. This was not a kind of kinetic, aggressive capture or kill operation. They were just collecting intelligence. They didn't find any enemy forces. They were on their way back. They stopped in a local village to resupply their Nigerian allies. When they met with leaders and they believe it was during that village visit that locals may have tipped off their presence to some ISIS affiliated fighters who then staged an ambush with about 50 militants using motors, rocket-propelled grenades, vehicles, heavy machine guns and this -- and during this incident where the U.S. forces suffered their casualties.

What is still unknown at this time is exactly how Sergeant La David Johnson became separated from the rest of his unit when he was killed about a mile from the rest of his team. And his body was missing for 48 hours. That's something that the investigation, being led by a two- star general, is looking at, amongst other things.

But, again, still some unanswered question, but a bit of a better picture in terms of what exactly this team was doing out there in this remote part of this West African country.

John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. And as Senator Risch just told us, he's getting classified information and we should learn more as they release these details.

Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, thank you.

New information this morning about the Trump Russia dossier. We now know it was paid for, in part, by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. So does that change things, ahead?

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[09:42:02] HARLOW: New details this morning on the link between the Clinton campaign and that dossier on President Trump's alleged connections with Russia. Sources tell CNN, Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped pay for the dossier.

BERMAN: Joining us now, one of the "Washington Post" reporters who first broke the story, Adam Entous, also a CNN contributor. Adam, remind us exactly what this dossier is and what exactly it means that the Clinton campaign and the DNC helped provide some of the money for it.

ADAM ENTOUS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. So the dossier itself is sort of a misnomer. It really is a collection of reports that were written by a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele, who is working for a Washington firm called Fusion GPS, which was hired by a lawyer who was representing the Clinton campaign. And what he did was is he's a -- he used to be based in Moscow. He went back to some of his long-time sources and got information about the connections between Trump and Russia, or some of those connections. He wrote them in this report and this information then was passed to the -- to the campaign through this lawyer. Although we're not exactly clear what -- who in the campaign saw Chris Steele's actual reports, if anybody.

HARLOW: Right.

ENTOUS: And what this really -- what this really means is that this -- you know, clearly this report was paid for by the Clinton campaign. It was not paid for by just any Democrat. This was actually the Clinton campaign that was funding it through this cutout. And, obviously, that raises questions that some are pointed to, certainly the Republicans have pointed to, to raise questions about the contents of the dossier.

HARLOW: But one of the big questions is, was everyone on team Clinton forthcoming, Adam Entous, about this, especially the lawyer who helped facilitate this, as is typical with opo (ph) research, but you have the White House, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, saying the real Russia scandal, Clinton campaign paid for the fake Russia dossier, then lied about it and covered it up.

Now, a Republican opposing the president early on in the campaign started paying for this, and then when it didn't matter to them anymore, you know, the DNC and Clinton team took over. But did -- di the lawyer for the Clinton team try to cover this up, lie about it?

ENTOUS: Well, he never -- he never lied to me, you know, so I'm not sure where the White House spokesperson is basing that accusation. So --

HARLOW: They're talking about Ken Vogel's reporting in "The New York Times," saying when he approached Marc Elias about it, he said, no, you're totally wrong, your sources are wrong.

ENTOUS: Yes. You'll have to ask Ken that question. I have not experienced that myself. But that said, I mean it could be that other reporters were steered away from this story before we broke it yesterday.

One thing I do want to clarify, and just make clear, that what Steele reported, some of it has been validated, that the -- kind of that top line assessment that Russia helped -- wanted to help Trump and that there were connections is at the heart of the intelligence community, U.S. intelligence community's assessment, which was made public in January. [09:45:08] So while some of it has been validated, some of the more

salacious details in the dossier have not. But now we have a -- we understand better now who was behind this effort.

BERMAN: Right. You bring up a very crucial point here, and CNN is corroborating, that much of that same information, that the intelligence community has corroborated, whoever paid for it, has corroborated a lot of the information that was in there to begin with.

ENTOUS: Correct. And, you know, this is a standard practice of all campaigns, including, you know, Republican campaigns. And as you mentioned, the original funding for Fusion GPS to investigate Trump writ large as a candidate, came from a still unknown Republican client. You know, that said, you know, Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer, is not hired as a subcontractor by Fusion GPS until after the Democrats take over that account.

HARLOW: Very important point. Great reporting. Congratulations to you and your team breaking this story. Adam Entous, thank you.

ENTOUS: Thank you.

HARLOW: So ahead for us, it had just two employees when it was awarded a huge $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico's electrical grid. How did this tiny Montana company win that, next?

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[09:50:48] HARLOW: This morning, the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria has gone up once again. Fifty-one people are now confirmed dead as a result.

BERMAN: The latest two victims died from bacteria found in animal waste. It can spread after flooding, especially if people come in contact with contaminated water.

Also this morning, 75 percent of Puerto Rico still without power. Now lawmakers from both parties want to know how one tiny power company got one big $300 million contract to help restore it.

HARLOW: The company is Whitefish Energy. It's just two years old. And until just recently had only two full-time employees based in Whitefish, Montana. That is the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Now, members of Congress say that's fishy. They're calling for a review. Our Rene Marsh is all over it for us.

This is not just Democrats. This is not split down partisan lines. This is Republicans and Democrats who want answers.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're very curious about the process of how this all went down. Whether this was a coincidence as far as these connections or something more coordinated remains unclear, but this morning there are calls for a full-fledged investigation coming from Capitol Hill. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): How many employees does it take to win the biggest power restoration contract in Puerto Rico? Well, just two, at a company in northwest Montana. That unlikely answer is now puzzling many in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our mobile command center that we brought down for the storm.

MARSH: Whitefish Energy Holdings is just two years old and had just two staffers when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico last month. Yet, on September 26th, it was awarded a contract worth up to $300 million to rebuild part of the island's decimated power grid. The company now has hundreds of contractors working on the island and a goal to ramp up to a thousand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We plan to be here until everyone has power.

MARSH: But its home base is a world away in Whitefish, Montana. One of the most well-known residents in the small town of about 7,000 is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

RYAN ZINKE, INTERIOR SECRETARY (January 17): Well, as the son of a plumber and a kid who grew up in a small timber town and a railroad town in Whitefish, near Glacier Park.

MARSH: Whitefish CEO Andrew Techmanski knows Zinke and says he's been in touch with the secretary directly to free up more resources. A spokeswoman at the Interior Department tells CNN, Zinke did not respond to the request and played no role in awarding the contract, but acknowledges Techmanski sent the secretary an e-mail. The spokeswoman added, Zinke and Techmanski know each other because they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone.

Adding to the mix, the financier behind Whitefish Energy is an investment firm founded by Republican donor Joe Colonnetta. According to the Federal Election Commission, he and his wife contributed more than $20,000 to Donald Trump's presidential campaign and more than $30,000 to the RNC last year alone. But Whitefish told CNN's Bill Weir, there's nothing fishy about its contract with Puerto Rico.

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're a brand-new company, right?

ANDREW TECHMANSKI, WHITEFISH ENERGY CHIEF EXECUTIVE: We've been around for a few years. And, you know, we specialize in difficult and mountainous terrain projects. So, all's I can say is, we took the call and we're here.

WEIR: They called you?

TECHMANSKI: We -- we called each other.

MARSH: On the other end of that phone call, PREPA, Puerto Rico's publicly owned utility company. Its director told CNN the cash- strapped island chose Whitefish because it didn't require a deposit. RICHARDO RAMOS, DIRECTOR, PREPA (through translator): In that moment,

we were not in a position to offer that collateral. The other company did not ask for a guarantee of payment.

MARSH: While no wrongdoing is being alleged, Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez is demanding answers.

REP. NYDIA VELAZQUEZ (D), NEW YORK: We need to protect taxpayers, but we also need to protect the people of Puerto Rico. And the way to do that is by making sure that we hire the company that has the experience and the capability.

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MARSH: Well, Whitefish Energy and the Interior Department say there was no coordination on awarding the contract. However, they both made that point by using nearly identical statements.

I want you to take a look at part of the statement we got from the Interior Department. It says, the Zinkes and Techmanskis know each other because they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone. And then you look at the same statement from the company. They say, our CEO and the secretary know each other because they both live in a small town where everybody knows everyone.

[09:55:22] You know, again, they are pretty, pretty steadfast saying that they did not coordinate this and a spokesperson for the energy company spoke with CNN yesterday and they said that they only communicated with the Interior Department via e-mail after they secured the contract in Puerto Rico.

Poppy. John.

BERMAN: Look, let's hope they can do the job, because millions of people are depending on them.

Rene Marsh, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Jeff Flake says that more senators will come out and speak out against the president of the United States. Where are they? Stay with us.

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