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Forty-Plus Troops Killed in Non-Combat Accidents Since May; Interview with Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 16:30   ET


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In just five of the major accidents since May, more than 40 service men and women have died.

[16:30:05] REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think it's probably approaching a readiness crisis.

GALLAGHER: Getting (ph) from a variety of issues, including the 16- year war on terror, increasing conflicts and tensions around the globe, and budget caps tied to sequestration, military leadership has been sounding the alarm for years.

GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think our competitive advantage has eroded right now. We would be challenged and projecting power today.

ADMIRAL BILL MORAN, VICE CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: The unrelenting pace inadequate resources, and small size are taking their toll.

GALLAGHER: And while still under investigation, a series of incidents involving Navy warships based in Japan including the two deadly collisions this summer could be evidence of strain.

KINZINGER: We have the smallest Navy we've had in a very long time, but we still have the same size ocean. And now, you have actually more issues popping up all over the globe. So, you're going to have to deploy Navy assets.

GALLAGHER: The Navy ordered a rare pause in operation, and in unprecedented move, dismissed the Seventh Fleet Commander Joseph Aucoin.

REP RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: We can keep disciplining some of these bad officers, but at the end of the day, we need to have a military that is fed, trained, and ready to go. And we're not doing that right now.

GALLAGHER: The military says more than half of Navy aircrafts can't fly right now, that's twice the historic norm. In the Army, just three of 58 brigade combat teams are considered fully ready and able to fight tonight. The Air Force is short more than 1,500 pilots and nearly 3,500 aircraft maintainers. The average age of their aircrafts, 27 years old. And marine fighter pilots are often not able to meet minimal monthly flight hour requirements, something the corps blames on budget constraints.

The Marines issued a one-day ground stop of all aircrafts this month following two deadly crashes.

GALLEGO: If you want the modern military, you have to spend the money to do it. The days are trying to do this on the cheap are gone. Even if we get rid of sequestration and we put the investments that we need to modernize our military, it's going to take probably a total of ten years for us to catch up.


GALLAGHER: And so, House Republicans did pass a proposal that includes an even bigger increase of the 2018 defense budget than the president's did. But, of course, those were just proposals, they're bound to change. And with looming talk of shutdown, military leaders are, well, trying to focus on what can be done right now in regards to training and leadership adjustments, while they wait.

Jake, I can tell you that the House Armed Services Committee did schedule a hearing for it's first week back here in Washington. The topic is Navy readiness and those two deadly collisions with those ships, but military leaders have said that the path we are on currently is unsustainable.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Congressman, we heard you say in that report that the military is approaching a readiness crisis. Defense spending currently has the cap on it from sequestration. What are the chances that the Senate might lift the cap when it returns after Labor Day?

KINZINGER: Well, I hope really good. We, as you know, the budget we just passed and a bipartisan way lifted some of those caps found a way to increase the military spending.

What you have though is we have among the best paid military, which is good, we want that, and we want to continue to give people pay raises as a volunteer military, you need to attract the best talent. But when you cap the amount of money you can spend, that was done by a flawed law called the Budget Control Act, sequestration, every cost of increase in personnel, which happens every year, takes away from operations and maintenance expenditures. So, what you're doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

And so, it's like, it's the old bathtub theory. You have a full tub. You can pull the plug from it. It's not going to be empty immediately. But you walk back in and realize it's empty and it takes a while to fill that bath tub back up. So, this is approaching a readiness crisis and something we have to take very seriously in Congress.

TAPPER: Now, you served in Iraq and Afghanistan and you're a pilot in the Air National Guard, how much do you think the fatal accidents non- combat accidents that we're seeing killing our service members are a result of this much larger issue of readiness and old equipment and problems with training as you know to -- go ahead.

KINZINGER: Well, I think it's some of it. I think training, especially, but on equipment, yes, we have ageing equipment. We have F-16s that are flying six hours over Iraq waiting for a target of opportunity when you could have a lighter attack fighter do the same at about a tenth of the cost. Those F-16s were basically built to say this is going to be our primary fighter besides the F-22 and F-35 for a long time, and we're burning the lifespan down.

But the other thing that needs to get I think a little more attention is the culture in the military. And I'm not talking about the cultural issues of the day, I'm talking about to get promoted is not how many times you've deployed, not what are your men and women that follow you think of your leadership skills, it's how quickly did you get done your professional military education, how much ancillary training do you have to do?

And for me as a reservist, I show up to do reserve duty and a lot of my time is not flying my airplane, it's doing a lot of checklist items that have been added, whether it's by Congress or leadership in the military.

[16:35:09] TAPPER: Well, what do you mean by checklist items? And what are the training opportunities that you're not getting because you're focused on the checklist item?

KINZINGER: Well, my plane's unique, so I get enough opportunity to fly whenever I get to chance to. But there are a lot of people, talk to a C130 pilot, talk to C130 maintainers. In many cases, they're going in, they're not going to have the opportunity to fly as much as they'd like to because now they have these different what are called computer-based training things they have to go through. Which is checking boxes, that you have to do every quarter, and then when you finally get a chance to fly, you're overwhelmed with the amount of items you have to do, whether it's a night drop, NVG calls, landings, et cetera.

So, while that's in the weeds, I think if you talk to anybody in the military today, and say, do you have to do too much an ancillary area training that's taking away from your ability to train on your primary job? Ninety-nine percent of those people would say yes.

TAPPER: And there have been four major incidents, two of them with multiple fatalities with the U.S. Navy just this year. What do you think is ultimately -- if there is a larger issue behind that?

KINZINGER: Without knowing obviously what happened with the Arizona and the details there, it seems like this comes into the position of leadership to an extent. And maybe we need to promote the right people and not just the people that fill the bubbles and get their professional military education done, but whose men and women want to follow them into combat. If you have a situation where, for instance, and I don't know if this

is what happened, but people weren't monitoring and seeing the ship incoming or maybe there were warning signs that were missed, leadership needs to be on top of that, needs to be running drills and everything else. So, it's -- look, we're asking way more of the Navy, much smaller Navy than we've ever had, so that's part of it too. But I think there's a number of issues we have to get to the bottom of because while there's always been training accidents, this is frightening.

TAPPER: Lastly, while I have you, I want to ask you about President Trump's threat to shut down the government if the spending bill in September does not include the funding he wants for the border wall.

KINZINGER: Well, he has a right to demand funding. He has a right to make a choice what he wants to do.

Any time you threaten a government shutdown is dumb. And it's for a couple reasons. Number one, not only is it harmful for Americans here to talk about that. Secondly, as we're trying to talk about Afghanistan and try to tell the Afghans how to run their country and how to do democracy, we're on the verge of shutting down our own government.

Does it have a major impact? Probably not. The debt ceiling would, that's unthinkable, but this is a terrible way to do government, and we should never threaten anything like that.

TAPPER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, thank you so much for your time as always.

KINZINGER: Any time. You bet.

TAPPER: American and Canadian diplomats attacked with some kind of horrific sonic weapon. Now we know that many suffered brain injuries from it. So what could have caused that?

Stick around.


[16:42:18] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We have a lot to talk about with our political panel.

Ladies, I'd like you to take a listen to Senator Jeff Flake on Georgia Public Radio. He was asked if President Trump might face a primary challenge in 2020.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think that certainly depends on him. I think he could govern in a way that he wouldn't, but I think that the way, the direction he's headed right now just kind of drilling down on the base rather than trying to expand the base, you know, I think he's inviting one. (END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is pretty strong. I have to say, I'm kind of surprised. And we heard Susan Collins a few days ago say something along the lines of that we shouldn't necessarily expect that President Trump will even be the nominee in 2020.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: I think this is unwise. When someone asks you about a hypothetical primary opponent for your current party's president, you say, I don't really deal in hypotheticals, in fact, I have a real primary to deal with in Arizona. And I'm going to focus on that.

I think that would be the wise thing to do because I think with Trump, McConnell's done this in the past too, very gentle barbs, right? But this is not a guy that takes well to gentle barbs. He takes them as outright threats. Look, I don't know why poke the bear, especially when there is a real primary.

TAPPER: But I suppose it's an honest answer. I mean, that's a reason.

HAM: This is tactical.

NEERA TANDEN, HILLARY CLINTON'S FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR: I mean, from Jeff Flake's perspective, like that bear has just like mauled his leg the last week, and he's probably just like, pushing back a little bit here because at the very least, he met with his primary opponents, he's tweeting about Kelly Ward -- I mean, at this point, he's going to endorse his primary opponent. What's the downside for Jeff Flake?

HAM: This is "The Revenant", like I'm not sure --

TANDEN: I agree.

TAPPER: Which one's the bear? President Trump is the bear?

HAM: I have always said Trump was the bear.

TAPPER: Trump is the bear in "The Revenant".

HAM: Trump is a grizzly bear. If you go camping with a grizzly bear, this is where you end up.

TANDEN: I agree, it's "The Revenant". We agree on that.

TAPPER: So, I want to ask you about this, President Trump tweeted this, retweeted this and eclipse meme if we could put that up. He is, I suppose the moon and he is eclipsing the sun of Barack Obama, the best eclipse ever. That's the president that retweeted that.

But here's what I think is actually a bigger question, the guy who he retweeted, as inevitably happens, someone looks as everything else that this person has retweeted and he's a horrible person. He's like he's anti-Semitic, anti-woman, misogynistic tweets, whatever.

Does that matter? I mean, should public officials try to exercise some discretion as to whom they retweet?

HAM: Well, I do think this is a fine line because I don't want every person to be responsible for everything that every other than person they retweet has tweeted, I would be in bad shape

TAPPER: Yes, of course.

HAM: -- even when I -- you know, I don't vet everybody I retweet. But he is the president and throughout the primary and the general, I complained that he was giving oxygen to a white supremacist types who thought it was OK to say these things because he's retweeting them. .

So it's a bad move. I think it sends a bad message and it does not make our social media culture absent the bullying that millennials are intent on.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And in fact, a few weeks ago, he retweeted one of these fringe alt-right freaks who was like a major trafficker in conspiracy theories like Seth Rich was murdered by the DNC and Pizzagate and all this stuff. It has a big effect on that fringe community.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS, PRESIDENT: Absolutely, but we are talking about a President who just last week said out of his mouth, not just for tweeting that they were both sides to what happened in Charlottesville. So I think the cat is out of the bag, like his support for white supremacy. I mean, I hope this tweet actually is true and that he is a temporary darkness on the light. I mean, that was -- that would be like amazingly positive way to look at this.

TAPPER: That's how you're embracing it, eclipse metaphor?

TANDEN: That he is -- he is actually a temporary darkness on the globe that will bring back the sun.

HAM: I mean, it was notable that he wasn't the sun.

TANDEN: He was -- like Obama was the sun and he was the moon.

TAPPER: I don't think that's how they meant it, but I understand what you're saying.

TANDEN: Let's hope.

TAPPER: Let's go to a more consequential tweet, the President today. The only problem I have with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That should never have happened, exclamation points abound. But we're also told that that wasn't the only reason that he was yelling at McConnell in that profanity-laced tirade on the phone a few weeks ago. He's was really mad that McConnell is not doing enough to protect him when it comes to the Russia probe and that's really the source of his anger, even more so perhaps than health care.

TANDEN: So, I just -- I think that we are seeing not just an instance here and there, but an entire pattern of what have looks like obstruction of justice. He complains about McConnell, he yells at McConnell about the Russia investigation. He fires the FBI Director, he calls Tillis, Senator Tillis and complains about his protection of Mueller. You know, I do think that we're underappreciating how possible like a debt limit failure could be given the dysfunction. But just on the Russia side of this, it really looks -- I mean, I don't know what more evidence we need that the President is doing everything he can to kill the Russia investigation.

TAPPER: He's certainly as a Republican official, I know told him, acting in a way that looks guilty even if he isn't guilty of anything.

HAM: Yes, I think that has -- it has looked that way for a long time. And then like I pointed out in the past, you say -- you say there's no collusion many, many times. And even though the -- Donald Trump Jr. meeting in black and white e-mail is not the global collusion theory that some people have, that is a willingness to include. So you're contradicting yourself so that all of this is bad. It could also be laying at the feet of incompetency versus the nefariousness still at this point, but it is, it's not a good look.

TAPPER: But also Neera --

TANDEN: Excuses that he's incompetent. Like what -- I mean, I'm just like, I just have to stand back and say --

TAPPER: Well, I don't think she offered us excuse, it was an alternate theory.

TANDEN: No, no, no. I'm saying, like the positive spin, right? The way out of this is it's not illegal it's incompetence.

HAM: I've been here since 2015, paying attention to this.

TANDEN: I'm not disagreeing.

TAPPER: Let me ask you this, because you pointed this out during the commercial break which is you find some irony in the sense that Mitch McConnell's being blamed by President for not protecting him on the Russia thing since that in 2016, Mitch McConnell -- and you have to explain why -- actually did protect President Trump quite a bit on the Russia thing.

TANDEN: President Obama went to Mitch McConnell and said, let's stand shoulder to shoulder -- and this is in September of 2016, said let's stand shoulder to shoulder and tell the American people that Russians are actually trying to interfere with our election and Mitch McConnell said this would be too political, I can't do that, and act that helped make Donald Trump able to just dismiss the entire Russia investigation.

HAM: We should also point out that the Obama White House we know from Washington Post reporting also declined to make that announcement or do anything about it because it would be viewed as too political.

TANDEN: Let's say -- HAM: So like doing that --

TANDEN: But at the very least Mitch McConnell carried a lot of Donald Trump water in that discussion, and with the President and today he's getting berated for not protecting him enough when at the time, even before the election, he did a lot to protect Donald Trump.

HAM: And I just don't buy this thing where only Republicans in Congress are to blame. Like, he is the President, he has the bully pulpit, he doesn't have a great vision for these policies and what he wants to get done and that is actually part of the issue. And I don't think he gets let off the hook just as Obama shouldn't have gotten off the hook for not -- he's the great deal maker. That's what he was here to do.

TAPPER: And lastly, I just want to know, shed whatever light you can on how you think President Trump should be behaving towards Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan because they are trying to pass his agenda.

[16:50:03] HAM: Yes, but the question is how much of it is his agenda and how much does he care about it being passed? I think -- look, I do think he has said to them, get me whatever you can get on my desk. Paul Ryan did his part, McConnell did not. That's why I think he's not as mean to Ryan right now as he is to McConnell. But, like he, in the end, doesn't fight for these ideas. When he goes to Arizona and gives a speech, he mentions tax reform, but he doesn't like -- he's not drilling down like this is how we're going to get it done and these are the people I need to press. He's just -- he's mostly relitigating some old GOP fights and taking whacks at Senator Flake.

TANDEN: I'm like the last person to defend Mitch McConnell, let's be honest, but Donald Trump campaigned on repeal and replace -- repeal and replace ObamaCare and ACA, for a year and a half, then he just acts like he never mentioned it, only the Republicans did. I mean, I take your point, but it's like, he -- it should be his agenda too, and so he has a responsibility. Mitch McConnell basically said this -- I mean, there's reports that he said that Donald Trump doesn't know any of the details of the bill. So that's one of the reasons why it's a challenge.

TAPPER: Neera and Mary Katharine, thank you so much. Great job.

Coming up, some U.S. Diplomats in Cuba have suffered brain injuries from so-called sonic attacks. U.S. officials say they still don't know who's responsible. That story next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. In the "WORLD LEAD" today, the mysterious sonic weapon used in Cuba is now believed to have been used to attack more American diplomats more seriously than initially known. The U.S. State Department says at least 16 Americans have suffered symptoms and some have suffered brain injuries. Some of the attacks were inaudible, while others made a deafening sound described as similar the buzzing of an insect swarm or perhaps metal scraping across a floor. CNN's Michelle Kosinski is at the U.S. State Department for us. And Michelle, does the U.S. know precisely who is behind this?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Jake, not at this point. Multiple U.S. agencies are still investigating. We're told that the Cubans have been responsive, but they vehemently deny having anything to do with this. The U.S. though isn't ruling anything out. And the details, some of which you mentioned are strange. I mean this may have happened while diplomats slept, they're Canadians diplomats who think they were also affected. Some reported noises, others didn't and if this was an attack as U.S. officials have now more than once described it, what this weapon would even have been is all part of this extremely disturbing mystery.


KOSINSKI: The symptoms started being reported in November by at least 16 American diplomats and family members in Cuba according to the State Department at a time when relations have been thawing and long standing harassment of U.S. Diplomats there had stopped. There was nausea, dizziness, headaches, but also permanent hearing loss and perhaps most alarming, mild traumatic brain injuries, concussions. U.S. officials tell CNN, they believe a sophisticated device operating outside the range of human hearing could have been placed inside or outside the diplomat's homes.

A sonic weapon? Sound waves to incapacitate people are used today. LRAD Is a technology that directs high decibel sounds at people making them feel dizzy and sick. It's used as crowd control in Israel and the U.S. It's used on ships to deter pirates, but that's audible sound. In Cuba incidents, some diplomats did report hearing loud noises like a screech or buzz at times, that could be very similar to an LRAD which can also be small and easy to move. But in other cases, no unusual sounds reported. Which (INAUDIBLE) Fellow Sharon Wineberger wrote The Imagineers of War on U.S. weapons research that has included sound beyond the range of hearing.

SHARON WEINBERGER, FOREIGN POLICY EXECUTIVE EDITOR: He problem that the, you know, that you find in the literature, the published literature on this is when they tested weapons, you know, acoustic -- an acoustic bazooka is one that they tested, it doesn't have the same effects on -- well, in this case on animals, so it's not an effective weapon in that sense.

KOSINSKI: People can be badly harmed though by both powerful low and high-frequency sound waves that you can't hear with effects similar to what the diplomats experienced.

H. JEFFREY KIM, MEDSTAR GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL NEUROLOGIST: So you don't know whether you're probably even hearing it or how loud these noises are, and that if you get caught an exposure to these noises, you're going to have permanent damage in your ear as well as in your brain.


KOSINSKI: But Jake, there are reasons why is there is no known weaponized use of these frequencies that the ear can't hear. If it's very low frequency, likely need to have something really big to produce it, that's not very stealth, if it's very high frequency, you could get ultrasound devices but you'd likely have to be able direct them, likely at very close range with a clear shot at the person. That's causing a lot of skepticism among multiple experts we talked to today. They think that this likely has more to do with listening devices that are of course very likely to have been put inside these diplomat's homes. Jake.

TAPPER: All right Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us, thank you.

Those of us of a certain age may never forget this photograph from 17- year-old. It's a then six-year-old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez just as armed federal agents took him from a relative's home in Florida to return him to his father back in Cuba. Gonzalez was at the center of a bitter custody battle that became a major international crisis. Now he's all grown up, telling CNN he wants to reunite with his relatives in Miami. Does he think his life would have been better if he stayed? The answer might surprise you. CNN has the story of the boy caught between two nations, Elian airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning over to Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching.