ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news –> A U.S. bomb too big for a bomber to carry . . . the Arsenal American commanders have never found the occasion to drop it, now they have. CNN’s Barbara Starr has details.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time ever, the “mother of all bombs’ was used by the U.S. military in combat. The largest non-nuclear bomb used in combat targeting ISIS fighters in Eastern Afghanistan’s remote Nangarhar Province. A U.S. air force special operations, MC-130, dropped the bomb via parachute.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely making it easier for them to target U.S. military advisors and Afghan forces in the area.
STARR (voice-over): The MOAB, the Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb is at 21,600 bomb that explodes in the air. Its blast is supposed to destroy a target area that can spread over thousands of feet. On Saturday, a U.S. Army Special Operations soldier was killed in combat in the same area.
SPICER: The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space, which we did.
STARR (voice-over): One reason it was used, the area is so remote. The U.S. believes there were no nearby civilians.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES “SPIDER” MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They probably had a very large concentration and it made perfect sense based on the time of day that they were going to attack that they could have a massive kill in this area, not putting any special operators or any conventional forces at risk.
STARR (voice-over): Now the challenge, did the bomb work as planned in its first combat mission?
MARKS: It explodes above the ground at a distance depending upon what type of a shape and a blast you want to have, and as described it’s a concussive blast. So everybody underneath that thing is either obliterated, ears are bleeding, or they’re completely destroyed.
STARR: While the U.S. doesn’t think there were any civilians in the area struck, U.S. aircraft and satellites will be overhead looking for an assessment of the damage and trying to make sure that no civilians were struck. Anderson?
COOPER: Barbara, thanks very much.
CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen joins us, so does Fareed Zakari. He’s done his “Fareed Zakari GPS,” of course. Also with us, CNN Military Analyst and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.
Colonel Francona, I mean, this was the most powerful non-nuclear bomb, the first type — this type of weapon we use in battle. What does it tell you about the target about the state of the situation in that part of Afghanistan?
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse. This is the one area of Afghanistan we find a large concentration of ISIS. This is the Khorasan group, particularly a nasty bunch of the ISIS people. And we — there’s a resurgence there and they’re having quite — they’re being quite successful. These tunnels and caves make them very hard to find. They’re able to move very quickly, come up behind you, things like that. We lost a Special Forces soldier as was reported there last week. So, it’s time to go out and clean them out.
General Nicholson has the authority and has had the authority to use this particular weapon. This was a target that lent itself to that. I think General Marks described it quite — this is the — there’s a perfect target yet on a caves. You got tunnels and you’ve got a lot of people that are bad guys, but not a lot of — there’s no civilian population.
FRANCONA: This was the perfect weapon for this target.
COOPER: And it’s not clear if the president ordered this or this was done by commanders in the field. What is the protocol for something like this?
FRANCONA: Well, the protocol for this is that the authority to use — this is classified as a tactical weapon, a big one, but it’s a tactical weapon. The authority to use it rests with the theater commander and that General Nicholson has that authority. He could have checked with the White House, but it would have been a courtesy. I’m told by people at the Pentagon that he didn’t need to ask, nor did he.
COOPER: Fareed, I mean, first of all, you know, Afghanistan was so little talked about on the campaign trail. It hasn’t been focused much by — certainly by this administration. So this is — I think it surprises a lot of people to and kind of be refocused on it, but also that it comes in the wake of the Syria strike and the concern over North Korea.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, “FAREED ZAKARIA GPS”: You know, what it reminds me on that is that the United States is deeply engaged militarily all over the world. I mean, Afghanistan — just think about this. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 12 years.
ZAKARIA: I mean, it’s just — sorry, 17 or 16 years, right?
ZAKARIA: Sixteen years since 9/11. The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars. And the fact that we had to use a bomb like this, I think that Colonel is exactly right, it suggests that the enemy is able to find ways to evade the usual bombs. It’s not exactly a sign of — a ringing sign of success. The United States has still got almost 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, 16 years after 9/11 and you have to use this kind of ordinance for it.
In Syria, it reminds you that you’re still in the middle of a very messy civil war. I think it’s possible to say that Donald Trump is, you know, perhaps recognizing, if not flexing the muscles of the U.S. military, perhaps the most — just doing what it does and Trump is recognizing it. He praised it. But I think it reflects a larger issue, which is there isn’t going to be some kind of easy, quick, clean military solution. They’ve been trying it for 16 years in Afghanistan.
ZAKARIA: So, what he — if he wants to think about, you know, what lesson to drives that, you also need to work the politics of this. If you don’t get a representative government in Afghanistan that can control its territory, we’ll be dropping these bombs for another 16 years.
COOPER: Yeah. And, David Gergen, I have — Burgon was in our last hour and reminding me that in — one of the areas in Helmand Province that I’ve been in with him and others down with the marines years ago has already been retaken by the Taliban despite, you know, efforts by the British marines and then the U.S. marines to hold on to it.
The fact that, you know, it’s not clear exactly what role the president played and whether he directly authorized this bombing or not, but do you think these operations signal a change in the U.S.’s overall military posture?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Now, local commander — commanders on the ground are all saying this was a rather isolated strike. It was done — you know, they sought authorization. They got authorization up the chain. The president obviously blessed it. I’m sure the president knew the bomb was going to be dropped. So they’re treating as — it’s unrelated to North Korea and everything else.
But I think in reality, in a political world, this bomb alone, what else we’ve been doing, sending out warships toward North Korea, sending out missile into Syria, and then now this bomb, the biggest ever, 22,000 pounds, typically, you know, the military drops bomb maybe at 2,000 pounds —
GERGEN: — and we’ve gone after tunnel complexes before in Afghanistan and never done this. So politically, it’s going to send a signal internationally. A new sheriff is in town. For better or for worst, there’s new sheriff. He’s tougher. He’s going to be very muscular.
I think the United States is going to meet mostly with a popular reception, but there are going to be those, Anderson, that wonder what is all this military stuff about. The one that White House isn’t explaining it. It’s coming out of context, out of the blue. We dropped the biggest bomb we’ve ever dropped non-nuclear bomb we’ve ever dropped in our history out a place we’ve never heard of. When we thought the fight against ISIS was in Iraq and Syria, what’s going on here?
GERGEN: And I think people are going to start to ask, is this what happens when you have a lot of generals in the government or what? What is the bigger story here? I think the White House needs to have the president and the command — and the Secretary of Defense talk to the nation about where all of this is going.
COOPER: You know, Fareed, we heard generals talking about, you know, sort of training the Afghan military, getting the police up to speed. That’s the same conversation — I mean, I remember going out in 2002 with Special Forces who were training the Afghan national army back then and here we are, you know, 15, 16 years later still talking about getting them so that they can stand on their own two feet.
ZAKARIA: Yeah. You can imagine Donald Trump saying in the next few weeks, who knew Afghanistan is so complicated. The problem in these — all these places you have are kind of political breakdown, which has allowed groups like ISIS to come in and we have a largely military approach at this point partly because as you say, Anderson, we tried a lot of nation building. We tried a lot of nation building in Afghanistan. We tried to do it in Iraq and the Obama administration has send in frustration ended up with counter-terrorism rather than counterinsurgency.
The debate hasn’t been resolved. Donald Trump will probably, you know, go through this debate all over again. McMaster, the National Security Advisor, was a great proponent of counterinsurgency. Those are the two — the tension is, do you go in and actually try to stabilize the area politically or do you just play whack a mole?
There’s an argument for whack a mole, by the way. It’s no fun for the mole. I mean, you are constantly backing that, you know, smacking this people down, but it does leave you thinking, are we going to just keep doing this? Is this, you know, is this going to be five years from now? Are we going to have the same conversation when another bomb drops in another place nobody has heard of in Afghanistan and reminds the American people, “Oh, right, we still have thousands of troops in Afghanistan and every day or day or so we drop bombs on them.”
COOPER: And Colonel Francona, I mean, the counterinsurgency operation, although — compared to counter-terrorism, I mean that requires more forces, requires forces to hold territory, you know, and there is an element of nation building in that as well. And, again, its nation building done by the U.S. military, which is not the ideal way one is supposed to do that.
FRANCONA: Well — and we’re not very good at it. We just don’t seem to ever get it, because we’re not — we don’t want to make that long term commitment that it requires. And we’re tired of this and you can see this in the Bush administration and you saw it in the Obama administration.
We spent — how long getting into Afghanistan and the rest of the time just trying to get out and we’ve not been able to do that yet because every time we change our way, we think we’re on our way out, we see a resurgence in the Taliban, now we see ISIS going there. What we’re doing isn’t working.
We’ve tried to train the Afghan army, spend how much money going that. They can’t even defend their territory, yet we insist that we’re not going to go back in a combat role. You can’t have a both ways. You’re going to have to decide what you want to do and then make it happen.
ZAKARIA: Just one thought direct to that. The military aid, Afghanistan’s defense budget has many years been larger than its GDP.
ZAKARIA: You know, because we are providing so much military aid to Afghanistan. It is larger than the actual economy.
COOPER: And, David, then you go to Kabul and — I mean, I got to say, there’s all this McMansions popping up and a lot of them belong to, you know, Afghan military generals and, you know, you wonder where that money comes from.
GERGEN: Well, I actually — I don’t know why the victory over ISIS is going to come in Afghanistan. I mean, ISIS is — you know, its largest threat is in de-stablizing the Middle East and in Syria and Iraq. That’s where the action is. Why this — I think if we sort of detour into Afghanistan and make that the center of gravity on the fight against ISIS, that’s going to be a little nuts. I mean, I don’t know what strategy that represents.
So, I don’t understand why would we drop the great big bombs and suddenly think that Afghanistan is our problem and why not press the fight and finish the fight, you know, and take back this territory and try to diminish ISIS where really it has a lot of power.
COOPER: A new piece of the Russia-Trump picture tonight. More information showing communication between Trump associates and Russians, specifically Russian officials and others known to U.S. intelligence.
Now, this builds on the story that CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto and others here at the network first broke and it suggests that more eyes and ears picked up early on signs of contact with Moscow. The latest now from Jim Sciutto.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned that British and European intelligence intercepted communications between Trump associates and Russian officials and other Russians known to western intelligence during the U.S. presidential campaign and shared those communications with their U.S. counterparts. Multiple U.S. and western officials tell CNN.
These sources stress that at no point did western intelligence, including Britain’s GCHQ just responsible for communication surveillance target these Trump associates. Instead, their communications were picked up as incidental collection during routine surveillance of known Russian targets.
The U.S. and Britain are part of the so-called Five Eyes Agreement, along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which calls for open sharing among member nations of a broad range of intelligence. This new information comes as former Trump foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, provides a confusing, even conflicting story about his contacts with Russian intelligence. He has denied that he was a foreign agent.
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR: This is — it’s just such a joke that it’s beyond words. SCIUTTO (voice-over): Page told CNN’s Jake Tapper that when he visited Russia last July he never discussed easing sanctions on Russia related to the ceasing of Crimea.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ever talk with anyone there about maybe President Trump, if he were elected, then candidate Trump, would be willing to get rid of the sanctions?
PAGE: Never any direct conversations such as that. I mean, look, it’s —
TAPPER: What do you mean direct — I don’t know what that means, direct conversations.
PAGE: Well, I’m just saying, no — that was never said, no.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): But interviewed on ABC news this morning, Page could not provide a clear answer.
PAGE: Something may have come up in a conversation — I have no recollection and there is nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression, George.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: But you can’t say without equivocation that you didn’t discuss easing of sanctions.
PAGE: Someone may have brought it up. I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or someone was — that someone was asking for.
COOPER: Well, Jim Sciutto joins us now along with CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen.
Jim, I mean, do you know whether the Senate and House Intelligence Committee — Communities are going to be looking at the evidence gathered by the Europeans or have they already?
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. I spoke with a source close to the congressional Senate investigation today and said that if it’s relevant to the investigation they will certainly look at this. And keep in mind, it fits in the bigger picture. You have U.S., British and multiple European intelligence agencies picking up the same kinds of communications between Russians known to western intelligence and Trump associates. That could be innocent communication.
But we know that not only the Hill committees are looking at this, but also the FBI. They are exploring whether there’s any evidence of collusion between those Russians and Trump officials. So, they don’t know yet, but they’re certainly looking at that question.
COOPER: David, I mean would you be at all surprised if the Trump administration or its defenders use this British incidental surveillance story to try to and cloud the water around the Russian investigation or to say it backs up, you know, the stuff that the Judge Napolitano had said about British intelligence working for President Obama off the books?
GERGEN: Well, I think it will be strained. I think what they benefit both most from is that the appearance of Trump possibly being a puppet of Mr. Putin. That’s largely been demolished here by events over the last few weeks and I think that’s their biggest defense right now, Anderson. But even so it is perfectly possible that there was collusion and then that’s it, their love relationship soured.
So it is extremely important that the investigation continue and to underscore what Jim was just been saying, the fact that Britain and then a score of nations and Western Europe all came to the United States and warned, you know, starting in late 2015 and through the months that followed into ’16, warned that there were these unusual conversations between Americans associated with Trump and the Russians. You know, it’s so obvious that the investigative committees are going to dive right into the middle of this.
GERGEN: What I don’t know, Jim, is whether when the warnings came or the signaling came from the British and others, whether they actually gave them information. Did they give them copies of transcripts or things like that, that would obviously be a major part of the investigators to come.
COOPER: Do we know, Jim?
SCIUTTO: We know that they would share both the fact that these conversations took place and the transcripts, but when U.S. intelligence committee —
GERGEN: They would share the transcripts.
SCIUTTO: Well, they would but as with — as under U.S. regulation, they would have then unmask the names of the Americans involved unless — and we went through this report earlier with the questions about what Susan Rice did and others unless there was a justification given to the intelligence committee to then unmask the identities of those people.
COOPER: Right. You know, Jim, it was interesting the head of the CIO Mike Pompeo who, you know, man on the office and President Trump take to run that organization came out to WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.” That’s surely not been the view of Donald Trump during the campaign. I just want to play some from the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Now, this just came out. This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks. And I said write a couple of them down.
By the way, did you see another one? Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.
And by the way WikiLeaks just came out with lots of really unbelievable things. Just minutes ago. In fact, I almost delayed this speech by about two hours it’s so interesting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I also, Jim, just saw a report that Pompeo himself on his Congressional Twitter account last year or at least a year ago was quoting from WikiLeaks documents.
SCIUTTO: Listen, now he’s the CIA Director. He’s the president’s choice of CIA Director and his comments today were a not too subtle repudiation of a position repeated by candidate Trump many times on the campaign trail.
And remember, Anderson, there was a time when we used to ask candidates in these positions to condemn or criticize comments like this coming from a group, you know, that might be criticizing their candidate. In this case it wasn’t that. He was actively praising them. I love WikiLeaks and now he has his CIA Director saying we are now designating the CIA, WikiLeaks, not just as a passive actor or an annoying presence, but as a hostile non-state actor working with the Russians. That’s remarkable.
COOPER: We may all be feeling a little bit whiplash tonight. It’s been a week of 180s for President Trump who has changed his positions on Syria, Russia, China, NATO and even Healthcare battle. Remember when it all seems so easy during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We’re going to make America great again. It’s going to be easy. It’s going to be easy.
It’s very easy to be presidential.
I have great people. We have top, top smart people, but it’s so easy to do.
We have drugs. We have debt. We have empty factories. That’s going to end. That’s going to end. So easy.
So easy to solve. Believe me, the jobs are coming back, folks. It’s going to be so easy.
This is so easy. I want to jump start America and it can be done and it won’t even be that hard.
Folks, I’m going to do so much about it. It’s going to be so easy. It’s going to be so easy.
You know, being presidential is easy. Much easier than what I have to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that was then. Now, President Trump is sitting in the Oval Office calling the shots and things presumably do not look so easy anymore. The rubber has hit the road. Lots to discuss with the panel. Bakari Sellers, Jack Kingston, Jen Psaki, David Fahrenthold, a recipient of this year’s Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. Congratulations. Also Kayleigh McEnany and Matt Lewis.
So David, again, congratulation. It’s just awesome.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.
COOPER: Incredible reporting.
It is amazing when you consider so many of the statements that Donald Trump made on the campaign trail and every president, you know, President Obama talked about closing GITMO, didn’t do that as president. But just a sheer volume of things, the president has change on. And the White House is saying, well the situation have changed with NATO but in fact it hasn’t changed that much.
FAHRENTHOLD: No. The opposite is true. This is President Trump learning on the job that all these things that he said are so simpler are not simple and there’s a reason why past presidents, Obama and Bush had sort of done a lot of these things the same way because the options are not great. So it’s good that he’s learning on the job. It’s good that he’s sort of learning these complexities, but it does sort of belie that whole idea behind his candidacy which is that everyone else who had ever done this was stupid and since he wasn’t, he’d be able to change all these things very easily.
COOPER: And, Kelly, I keep thinking about all the other Republicans who were standing on the debate stages with him, Marco Rubio and everybody else, who, you know, were saying at the time, you know, they were trying to act presidential.
They were sort of had nuance policy. They have policy papers. I don’t think they would be just willing to say you say, oh yeah, well, you know, you say one thing when you’re running and now it’s OK. You’re president and you say something else.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (and Trump advocate): Well, I don’t think he’s flipped on a lot of these things, because I think when you look facts on the ground have changed and Syria for instance that we use to —
COOPER: But wait a minute. Wait a minute.
MCENANY: — weapons.
COOPER: But there are chemical weapons were used before and he tweeted endlessly about that President Obama should not strike militarily.
MCENANY: And Obama reportedly got rid of all the chemical weapons in Syria which reemerged and the facts changed. Then that was address as it out —
COOPER: But why chemical weapons attack in 2013. Donald Trump said don’t attack. Don’t attack. You’re an idiot if you attack. Don’t get sucked into it. Chemical weapon attack, now. I mean —
MCENANY: It become real to him. When you take 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue —
COOPER: Right. Right but the facts didn’t change.
MCENANY: That the facts did change because there was another chemical attack. You’re right, it was the same scenario as in 2013, but when you take the office, you take the Oval Office, you see those pictures of dead babies —
MCENANY: — it becomes real. So I —
COOPER: But again it becomes real it’s not the facts change.
MCENANY: I — you that was the one definitive change we’ve in the president. But what we haven’t seen are changes with NATO. He had a meeting with the NATO Secretary General. NATO has in fact many allies have said they’re going to now donate surveillance weapons. They’re going to donate drones. This happened in December, Sandy Si (ph) reported. So they are stepping up to their obligations in NATO.
COOPER: Right. But he’s saying NATO was obsolete was not about the money thing. His saying NATO was obsolete was that they weren’t focused on terrorism which wasn’t true. NATO has been focusing on terrorism ever since 9/11. I mean, with there been a fighting in Afghanistan and dying there.
MCENANY: But the relationship has change. He had a meeting with the NATO secretary general. He believes the relationship has moved closer to what he sees just like what Janet Yellen who he now has confidence in because he met with her. Just like with Russia that the facts have changed. The relationship has change.
COOPER: Right. But, OK.
MCENANY: These circumstances have changed. I don’t think his policies —
COOPER: I mean, but Janet Yellen hasn’t changed. I mean and now all of a sudden Donald Trump likes her. You know, China was a country that was raping America in Donald Trump’s words then he meets the premiere of China and he says, oh, he’s kind of a nice guy and now I understand. He lectured me for 10 minutes and gave me a history lesson and now I understand it’s not so easy.
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (semi Trump advocate): Yeah, just like healthcare. It turns up it’s much more complicated than any of us knew. He has changed. I think he’s grown. I think he has matured.
COOPER: And that’s not — I’m not criticizing.
COOPER: President should, you know, people should change but —
LEWIS: And especially to —
COOPER: — to not acknowledge you’re changing to pretend that everything else around you has changed it just seems hypocritical.
LEWIS: No. He clearly is changing. And I think he had the potential to change even though he is 70 years old. He had never been elected to anything. And so it makes sense that in the first 100 days you would discover and learn things and grow wiser, hopefully. And I am — frankly, I’m actually pretty happy with the direction things are going if people like Steve Bannon that I thought was a negative influence who is being marginalized. We have other people like H.R. McMaster who replaced, you know. Flynn. I think that was a big trade up.
And so, look. He’s flip-flopped, but I think he’s flipping in the right direction.
COOPER: Jen, I — again, I keep coming back to the other Republicans who were on that stage who, you know, with Kayleigh have said, yeah, it is actually complicated and these are nuance things and you actually do have to think about it and maybe you should do that while you’re running as opposed to say one thing when you’re running and then when you’re in office say well, it’s different now.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. I mean a lot of these positions are pretty standard fare for Republicans and Democrats. I mean, we haven’t we haven’t designated China, a currency manipulator in more than 20 years.
You know, as you early mentioned, NATO and troops in NATO have been fighting terrorism for more than 10 years. So a lot of this has been pretty consistent. What’s pretty stunning to me is the fact that he is learning a lot about global affairs on the job. I mean he’s not a freshman in model U.N. He’s the President of the United States.
And so I think what we’re seeing over the last week is a really concerning lack of knowledge of a lot of these events and how complicated they are and how complicated these issues are.
COOPER: And also, I heard someone raise this already, but Congressman Kingston, I mean who is briefing the president on the relationship between China and North Korea if it takes a ten-minute lecture from the Chinese premiere to open the president’s eyes that, oh, yeah, you know what, it’s actually maybe not as easy for China to influence events in North Korea. Does that concern you at all?
JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN (Trump advocate): I think this is part of the evolution of the job, part of learning. Wiseman in the Washington once told me, you know, old ideas are old because they’re good. They’ve been tested. New ideas don’t last long because they have not been tested.
And I think when you get into the nuances of the Federal Reserve or Chinese currency manipulation, which most people do acknowledge went on from 2003 to 2014 and then it was discontinued. But those things sometimes have a life of their own rhetorically or in the campaign.
A case and point, you’ll remember the notch baby issue, this group of people who thought they were short changed when Jimmy Carter changed the social security formula.
It was very complicated. And everybody run and we’re going to reform the notch. We’re going to get rid of the notch. Well, Congress never touched it because it was a bad idea, but for candidates, great for red meat, but for legislators not a good idea. And I think a lot of that happens once you get in office and you realize, hey, there is a function of the XM bank and it actually does make money.
And going back to that point, it would be scary to all of us, Democrats and Republicans, if politicians did not emerge and grow once they’re in elected office and have a lot more information.
COOPER: I guess to me it just, well, Bakari, I just wonder. So now, our future elections is it — is the game say whatever you want to say that pleases the crowd in front of you and then do something different when you’re in office?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there were a lot of people on November 8th who believed that that is who Donald Trump was. That it was a con that he was pulling the wool over the voters’ eyes.
What we see now is Donald Trump is not who we thought he was or who his voters thought he was. He actually ran as a populist in the same vain as Andrew Jackson. Donald Trump is not that. And we start to going to see that. It’s not just Syria. It’s not just Janet Yellen. It’s not — I almost thought of John Legend. Janet Yellen. It’s not Syria. It’s not China. It’s not America first.
Everything that we see, even planned parenthood, there were some people who thought that Ivanka was having meetings with planned parenthood, that somehow he would soften on women’s rights issues. None of these things are coming true. Donald Trump is not the man that many rural, poor voters voted for in November 8th.
COOPER: U.S. Ambassador of the U.N. Nikki Haley has been on the spotlight a lot lately. Last week, she criticized Russia at a Security Council meeting. She held the photos of victims of the Syrian gas attack. She took a similar stance yesterday after Russia vetoed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the killings. CNN’s Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel sat down with Haley for an extended interview.
JAMIE GANGEL, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From condemning the chemical attacks in Syria.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR OF THE UN: Look at those pictures.
GANGEL (voice-over): To her aggressive stance on regime change.
HALEY: Strengthening Assad will only lead to more murders.
GANGEL (voice-over): U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has taken center stage as leading voice of foreign policy in the Trump administration not afraid to speak her mind.
HALEY: For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names.
GANGEL (voice-over): Or contradict her boss.
HALEY: Russia is trying to show their muscle. I don’t think that we can trust them.
GANGEL: Has he ever said to you, you shouldn’t have said something?
HALEY: No, he has not.
GANGEL: Are you surprised that he’s never?
HALEY: I’m not surprised because he knew that when he hired me that I made it clear I didn’t want to be a wall flower or talking head. I’m very passionate by nature and he’s fine with it.
GANGEL: How much of it is coordinated with the White House and the State Department?
HALEY: Well, it’s always coordinated with the White House. I mean I’m very —
GANGEL: You’re not going rogue?
HALEY: No. I would never go rogue because I’m very aware of who I work for. And — but what I’ll tell you is it’s a sign of how this president work. It’s not uncommon for him to pick up the phone and tell me what he feels on an issue. It’s not uncommon for him to say make sure you say this. Don’t be afraid to say this. He has given me a lot of leeway to just say what I think and interpret what he thinks. I’m a strong voice by nature. I’m sometimes a bull in a China shop and you know, he allows me to do that.
GANGEL (voice-over): Friends say that same strength and independence served Haley well growing up in Bamberg, South Carolina. The daughter of seek immigrants from India, her father was a professor, her mother. a lawyer, but the family suffered constant discrimination.
HALEY: They had never seen anybody in a turban. They had never seen anybody in a saree so they didn’t know who we were, what we were or what we were about. And so growing up was you always knew you were different. You felt it.
GANGEL (voice-over): One such moment when she and her sister were disqualified from The Little Miss Bamberg Beauty Pageant which crowned white winner and one black winner. The judges said they were neither.
HALEY: My mom said, well, Nikki has been practicing this song. We at least just let her do her song. And it was this land, it’s your land, this land is my land.
GANGEL: There is the irony —
HALEY: It is.
GANGEL: — of the story.
HALEY: But my mom would never let us complain. And she’d always say your job is not to show them how you’re different, your job is to show them how you’re similar.
GANGEL (voice-over): Haley went on to get her accounting degree at Clemson, marry her husband Michael who is a Captain in the South Carolina Army National Guard and raised two children. Her daughter Rena now a freshman in college ad her son Nalin who is 15. Along the way she credits two women with her interest in politics.
Your role model, you frequently say is Margaret Thatcher?
HALEY: Yes. If you want something said ask a man. If you want something done ask a woman. Love that.
GANGEL: But the woman who inspired you to go into politics to run was a Democrat.
HALEY: Hillary Clinton.
GANGEL (voice-over): One day, she went to hear her speak.
HALEY: And she said, for every reason people tell you not to do it. That’s for every reason that you should. And that was it. I was done. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to run against a, you know, a 30 year incumbent in a primary but ignorant is a bliss. GANGEL (voice-over): She won that race. Served in the state house then went on to break two barriers becoming the first Indian-American and first woman Governor of South Carolina.
HALEY: So help me God.
GANGEL (voice-over): Overnight, she was a rising star in the Republican Party. Thrust on the national stage after the horrific mass shooting at Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel AME church.
SELLERS: Everyone just wanted to hug her.
[21:45:02] There’s this image of Nikki crying.
GANGEL (voice-over): And then she won praise for her successful campaign to remove the confederate flag from the state house.
SELLERS: Nikki Haley did something that many people thought was impossible. A female who ran for governor and she beat all the boys. She’s always persevered.
GANGEL (voice-over): Her star power and cloud were never more apparent and during the presidential campaign when she endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio and many thought this could be the GOP ticket.
Donald Trump did not take it well and he went on twitter. “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” And not 20 minutes later you responded, “@real Donald Trump Bless your heart.” What is bless your heart mean when you’re from South Carolina?
HALEY: It’s a southern polite way of saying read between the lines.
GANGEL (voice-over): Trump didn’t hold it against her. Naming Haley his UN Ambassador and it appears he’s pleased with her high public profile.
Is there any tension with Secretary of State Tillerson? He has been so quiet. He has kept such a low profile and you’ve been out there. Any awkwardness?
HALEY: I think it’s just the personalities. You know, he is very much an executive. He’s thoughtful in his approach, in how he moves forward. I’m one that’s not afraid to say anything. You now, I’m not easily intimidated and so I can go out and say things. So I think we actually complement each other very well.
GANGEL (voice-over): It has however led to speculation that some day Haley might like his job or higher office.
To everybody I talk to said, does she want to be secretary of state.
GANGEL: Do you want to be senator?
GANGEL: Are you going to run for the White House?
GANGEL (voice-over): you’re not going to run for the White House. Everyone thinks you are.
HALEY: You know what’s amazing? And this has happened my entire work career is everyone thinks that I’m ambitious and everybody thinks I’m trying to run for something and everybody thinks I want more. And the truth of it is I’m just passionate.
GANGEL: But you wouldn’t rule out that someday you might run for the White House.
HALEY: I can’t imagine running for the White House.
GANGEL (voice-over): You really can’t?
HALEY: I really can’t.
COOPER: Jamie Gangel joins us now. It’s interesting at the beginning of your piece, you talked about the moment that Nikki Haley held up those photographs which is obviously a very, if it was probably the moment that everybody replayed on newscasts and stuff. You kind of learned the back story on that.
GANGEL: So I think what’s important is in the interview she — you noticed she said that she coordinates things with the White House, but Donald Trump gives her a lot of leeway. And that’s an example of leeway. She didn’t run that by the White House. And I’ve spoken to people who work with her and she trusts her own instincts. That was her instinct and it ended up having, not only a powerful effect on the UN but I think it had a powerful effect on Donald Trump because one day she’s saying it and the next day he’s saying it.