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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. Team Split Up During Counterattack, Some on Foot; Interview with Congressman Ro Khanna of California; Mattis Says U.S. Dedicated To Finding Diplomatic Solution; Dems Pitch Bill To Block Trump From Preemptive Strike; Amazon Key Let's Delivery Drivers Open Your Door. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And if you look at the history of this, this individual had been talking to the power authority in Puerto Rico before the storm, after the storm, asking if they needed some folks up -- lots of other companies deployed in Texas and Florida.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, but, David, what about this like you can't audit, you can't review the cost.

[16:30:02] URBAN: Jake, I don't know specifically, but I believe that's standard FEMA contracts in this type of thing. I'm just going by what the governor of Puerto Rico had said in a letter to FEMA.

TAPPER: I do want to read this statement from Secretary Zinke. He said, quote: I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico. I welcome all investigations into the allegations.

Jen?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He also has defended his use of private airlines. So -- or private jets. So, I'm not sure he has the best judgment. But, look, we don't know anything yet. There's certainly quite a coincidence. Whitefish is a town of 70 to 100 people. There's a lot of companies in the United States.

URBAN: Democratic power authority in Puerto Rico has nothing to do it. It's a state government who on the other side of the aisle. How are they going to curry favor with the administration?

TAPPER: We are going to take another quick break. Everyone, stick around.

We have some breaking news on the deadly ambush in Niger. How American soldiers got separated and ended up without a vehicle. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:17] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In our world lead today, we have new information about the deadly

attack in Niger that left four American service members dead and also information about how the men tried to fight for their lives, military officials say while the soldiers were under attack, the teams split in two, some on foot, attempting to mount a counterattack.

Joining me now is CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto and also CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon.

Jim, first, to your new reporting, what can you tell us about what happened once the men split up?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We're learning just how confusing a combat situation this was. We reported yesterday that this time split up into two. We now know what the circumstances were. One of their vehicles was disabled in the initial ambush so one group continues on foot. And in an attempt it appears at a counterattack to outflank the attackers, they were unfortunately later overwhelmed in the midst of that, adding to the confusion, one of those teams, one of those groups lost communications with the other group, the group with those that would end having those four Americans killed in action.

And yet in the midst of that, these American fighters managed to kill some 20 ISIS affiliated fighters in this attack. It helps explain -- may help explain another thing, Jake. In the initial after reports of this attack, the White House was first told that there were four missing American soldiers, later the military updated that to one missing as they found those three KIA, those three killed in action, but a confusing firefight, teams split up. One continuing on foot, attempting a counterattack but unfortunately overwhelmed in that ambush -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Arwa, you spoke with a soldier who was one of the first on the scene after the ambush. What did he see?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when he arrived there, he was describing to us how the Americans and Nigeriens who have survived and basically fended off this pretty impressive assault were standing back to back in defensive positions. He was describing to us where the bodies were found. He was also saying that he noticed that some of the growth the vegetation had -- was still smoldering.

And when they spoke to villagers afterwards, they informed them that this was something that had been carried by the attackers who lit portions of the landscape on fire to create a smokescreen that then allowed them to escape. He was also saying in his conversation with people that were on ground in Nigeriens who were wounded, that this attack was carried out by assailants in eight vehicles and then dozens of them riding motorcycles, truly chilling circumstances, because when you look at the landscape out there too, it's not as if there are a lot of places that the unit that came under fire could take cover in or even try to fortify themselves behind.

TAPPER: All right. Arwa Damon and Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California.

He's on the House Armed Services Committee. He was briefed on the Niger ambush.

Thanks so much for joining me, Congressman. Your colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee expressed concerns about ISIS gaining ground in Niger. What role if any do you think should the U.S. play there?

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think the public has a lot of questions. I mean, in my town hall, most folks didn't even know that we have troops in Niger. And the question is, what is our strategic interest? Why is AQIM a threat to the United States?

The president biannually submits a report to Congress and currently, we have combat troops in 17 countries, 13 countries where they are in harm's way. This needs to be debated in Congress what the role should be and should we be there and whether they have adequate support.

TAPPER: Why are U.S. troops in Niger? What did you tell the people at your town halls?

KHANNA: Well, the argument is that we're assisting Nigerien government in helping go after AQIM. But the question we need to ask, why is it always the United States, couldn't the French do that? Do we have an objective of when we get out? Why is this not being debated in Congress?

Again, the president submitted the report that almost 800 troops were there back in June, but we've had no discussion in Congress and don't know if these troops are adequately -- have adequate safeguards. If there is such a situation like an ambush, do we have air cover? Do we have proper communication?

So, I think the big question and big wake-up call for us is, we have got combat troops in 17 countries around the world. We have our troops in harm's way in 13 countries around the world. And this interventionism may not be in our national interest and certainly ought to be debated in the United States Congress.

[16:40:04] TAPPER: Do you think that the House should conduct an investigation into what happened during this ambush?

KHANNA: Absolutely. I was pleased I think the military leaders were very transparent. I think they are going to conduct a full investigation, but I think the House also needs to conduct an investigation and I think we have to understand that the problem isn't with our military.

The problem is with the decisions of the American people and our elected officials. They are just following our orders or president's orders but they are stretched then. I mean, they are in 17 different countries. They often don't have sufficient equipment or sufficient cover and what we really need to be asking is, should we be there? Should we be in 13 countries with harm's way? So, yes, there needs to be an investigation into this incident, but I

hope next time, the president submits his annual report -- biannual report in December and we look at all of the countries in the world where we have troops that the Congress will have a debate and that the media will have a debate to inform Americans of where our troops are overseas.

TAPPER: And we should point out for fairness sake, that a lot of these troops were sent to these countries in the previous administration under President Obama or one before that, President Bush.

I want to play a clip of one of your colleagues in the House Armed Services Committee from last night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: We're kept in the dark. And your report on the ground from Niger is in many ways much more detailed than we received this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We're kept in the dark he said. Are you getting -- is House Armed Services Committee getting the information you need from the Pentagon on this issue?

KHANNA: I think the military leaders are making a good faith effort that they are -- my sense was they were very forthcoming. They want to conduct a thorough investigation and rely on facts and not just speculate.

Of course, CNN is extraordinary in reporting and I'm sure that that's adding to the information we have. But my concern is not with the transparency of the military leaders or with their commitment to an investigation.

My concern is why are there members of Congress and senators who don't know that we have troops in Niger? I mean, this is because the report that details where we have troops, what their missions are, which are submitted to Congress and biannual basis gets no attention. It gets little media attention. It gets little congressional debate. And really, that's our first job as members of Congress to be debating these issues of war and peace.

And I hope Niger will be a wake-up call for all of us to do our duty and see really what the mission is overseas and what our military needs and where we should be involved.

TAPPER: Congressman Scott Taylor, Republican of Virginia, said a few days on this program that these men and women put themselves in harm's way all over the world but members of Congress -- these are his words, not mine -- don't even have the stones to debate it.

Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you so much for having the stones and being here today. We appreciate it. KHANNA: Thank you, Jake. Thank you for your coverage on this.

TAPPER: Are the new sanctions the United States enact against North Korea, are they working? CNN visits a textile factory inside the communist nation to find out. We're going to go live inside North Korea next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. Sticking with our "WORLD LEAD" now. Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered words of comfort to the people of South Korea as he stood along the demilitarized zone earlier today. Mattis assured that the United States was committed to a diplomatic solution to the ongoing threat of a nuclear attack or a nuclear exchange with North Korea decree. It's a contradiction of course to the fear that many Democrats have of President Trump potentially launching a preemptive strike against North Korea. CNN's Will Ripley is the only American Journalist currently in North Korea. Will, how are people perceiving Mattis' comments?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I was in a meeting Jake, with North Korean officials when the news line started to come in and I actually showed them on my phone what he was saying. And he didn't say anything that enraged the North Koreans any more than they already are against the United States. Yes, he said that North Korea is obsessed with weapons and have threats to the region, they heard that before. He talked about a diplomatic path which they are aware that the United States thinks as a diplomatic path but the U.S. path is a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. And from the North Korean perspective considering they think they're just so close to having this nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile perhaps just a couple of tests away from perfecting that technology. They say denuclearization is an absolute nonstarter for any sort of talks.

And so really, you end up in the same place where we've been, where they still believe that President Trump is beating the war drum and as he prepares to visit Asia just over a week, there are questions what he's going to do, what he's going to say. Is he going to go to the demilitarized zone like Secretary Mattis? Is he going to say something inflammatory there that could really escalate the situation even further than it already is? North Koreans are going to be watching and listening to his every word when he's here in the region meeting with allies in Japan and South Korea and then traveling to China and heading down to the Philippines. And then, of course, there are also watching developments in Washington with that new bill introduced mostly by Democrats, a couple of Republicans that would try to stop the President from launching an unauthorized preemptive strike without the approval of Congress, still a long way to go for that. But the North Koreans do feel that they have to be prepared for the U.S.to attack.

TAPPER: And Will, you had exclusive access to a textile factory there in North Korea. How is the North Korean economy being impacted by the U.S. and U.N. sanctions?

RIPLEY: Well, there's no doubt that losing textile exports cuts about $700 million in revenue every year, that's a huge blow to the North Korean economy and it's just added to a long list of other band exports like iron and coal, seafood and the North Koreans are trying to put on the best face and say that this is only a minor inconvenience. But the fact is, these factories, you know, they rely on income from exports and now that has completely slashed and certainly the case at the factory we visited where they say they are going to continue to keep up production as much as they can but they just don't have hard currency right now. Fascinating to see all of the anti-U.S. propaganda that surrounds workers.

There were pictures of President Trump being essentially murdered by North Korean slogans that look like lightning bolts going into his face. And workers told me repeatedly that they have a burning hatred for Trump and United States. They also said something that really troubled me. You know, I'm sitting across a living room from a worker who's holding her young son and they have a 14-month-old daughter and they clearly love their children very much but they told me they'd rather see their entire family die in a nuclear war than to have their children grow up in a world without North Korea. Jake?

[16:51:00] TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much. My panel is back with me. David Urban, the President is going to head to Asia next week for this big trip. At this point, it's unclear if he's going to visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. I've been there, it's one of the spookiest places on the planet. Do you think he should go?

URBAN: Look, Jake, it depends on security, right? If it's going to inflame the situation, perhaps not. I know that the President's trips overseas thus far have been wildly successful, even according to every media outlet, even Jen would say that the Presidents trips so far have been -- have successful. So I think it would be a game -- it would be a game-time decision and it will be made then. I think what's important is to show our allies in the region that we stand behind them, that we're firmly behind our allies there and that we remain the superpower and largest power in the Asia Pacific.

TAPPER: Bill, what do you think President Trump needs to accomplish on those trip?

BILL KRISTON, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: He needs not to be seduced by President Xi of China which he seems to have been already somewhat at Mar-a-Lago. The Chinese have been (INAUDIBLE) very well. You know, he came in as a big anti-China trade guy and talks tough on North Korea. In fact the Chinese-made of idea of token of concessions on North Korea and he's touting those as great victories now in terms of the economy. We'll see. He never says a word obviously about Chinese human rights in China or democracy or anything.

TAPPER: Or there being a currency manipulator.

KRISTOL: Right. That seems to have gone away. What happened to that? And he has tweets congratulating President Xi on his -- what was it, extraordinary elevation by the communist party congress? Really? It's one thing to be polite and diplomatic, we're now congratulating dictators on their stooges, you know, elevating them? And Xi is a tough guy customer. So for me, that's the key. The key is, I agree with David, stick with allies and don't get seduced by the President of China.

TAPPER: Let me just give Jen a chance. So President Trump is going to be with President Xi. What more do you think can be done to encourage President Xi to do more to stop North Korea's nuclear proliferation if anything?

PSAKI: Well, the Chinese don't do big earth-shattering surprising trips hardly ever. It's all planned, they know exactly what they're going to say, they're going to read from their talking points. I'm sure Trump wants more than that. What it has not changed and will make it harder for him is that the Chinese have different objectives as relates to North Korea. They don't want the same thing the United States wants. Trump keeps pretending they do. And he needs to get over that. The third thing I'll say is while Mattis said we want a diplomatic approach here, Trump has not indicated that. It needs to come from President Trump if there's going to be a real diplomatic process here. We saw that with Iran with Obama. So that would need to happen. And there's a short window. So it's a -- the importance of this trip is Trump indicating to Chinese that he wants a diplomatic path forward here and he wants their help in making that happen.

KRISTOL: (INAUDIBLE) with Abe in Japan going in the direction that we've urged the Japanese to go, taking more responsibility, becoming a full partner overcoming their World War II defense limitations. I think there Trump could do good to help Abe which is one of the big victory I think of the --

PSAKI: They have a good relationship.

URBAN: So couple of quick points to Bill earlier. You know, there is -- there is an internal election in China. I'm not privy to behind the scenes secrets of what's happening in the Chinese parliamentary system to put President Xi there and whether or not the President should push harder or not harder. We need the Chinese to crack down and obviously be stronger with their sanctions against the-- against the North Koreans. And to Jen's point, we've had diplomacy for years and years, and years. We've had talks that resulted in nothing. I mean, you get back to the table, these folks in North Korea are going to do exactly what they've done for the past 20 years, nothing.

TAPPER: All right. We're going to leave it there. Thank you so much, Jen and David and Bill. Coming up next, well that's convenient and a (INAUDIBLE) creepy. Not home for a package, don't worry, Amazon will now open your door for the delivery guy. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, we're back with the "TECH LEAD" now. Amazon will soon be able to make deliveries inside your home. And that is making some people very nervous. The program is called Amazon key. It requires you to buy a smart lock and a web cam. When a package arrives, Amazon will remotely unlock your door and record the whole thing on the camera. It could make life potentially a lot easier but some folks have different concerns. One tweet in response, Amazon key is a new service that allows strangers to enter your home and hide in your closet and kill you in your sleep free with prime. Someone else writes, I'm excited to watch the 2030 Netflix docudrama about the Amazon key murders. The company says all of its drivers go through background checks before they hit the road. The surface launches in 37 cities next month. I will not be signing up.

Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning for CNN "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be Senator Angus King and Governor Chris Christie. It all starts 9:00 a.m. Eastern Sundays only on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm going to turn it over a little early to Wolf Blitzer. Have a great weekend. I'm Jake Tapper.