Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Florida Mass Shooting Investigation; President Obama Visits Orlando; Killer's Violent Past: Missed Warning Signs?; CIA Director: ISIS Has "Large Cadre of Western Fighters". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 16, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: As the president embraces victims of the Orlando terror massacre, Senator John McCain accuses the commander in chief of being -- quote -- "directly responsible."

Also, now taste the Islamic State's vengeance, the shooter's chilling Facebook post from inside the Pulse nightclub revealed, as investigators looked deeper into what his wife knew before the attack.

Plus, the nation's top spy warning of a new wave of attacks on the West, ones like we saw here on Orlando or Paris, after saying the military campaign has not slowed ISIS down.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And some breaking news, startling remarks coming in just a few minutes ago. Senator John McCain blaming President Obama directly, saying the current commander in chief is -- quote -- "directly responsible" for the terrorist massacre that happened here in Orlando on Sunday just down the street from me here.

CNN senior political reporter Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. He was with Senator McCain as he made those comments.

So, Manu, Senator McCain apparently made these remarks in a hallway to just a few reporters. He's now tweeting, seeming to clarify, perhaps qualify what he said. What exactly did McCain say?


Clearly, John McCain has realized that he may have gone a little too far in his comments to reporters just a little while ago. Now, I will read to you exactly what he said.

He was being approached, asked about this gun control debate, asked about the Orlando shooting, and he made some very, very strong comments. He was asked if Obama was directly responsible for the shooting in Orlando. And what he said was that: "Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama's failures, utter failures," he said, by pulling everybody out of Iraq, thinking that conflicts end because just when you leave.

So, the responsibility for it, he said, lies with President Obama and his -- quote -- "failed policies."

Now, when he was asked a follow-up question by other reporters, he didn't back down. He said: "Because Obama pulled everybody out of Iraq and I predicted at the time that ISIS would go unchecked and there would be attacks on the United States of America. It's a manner of record," he said. He said, "So he is directly responsible."

Now, John McCain later put out a tweet, as you mentioned, said, well, he didn't mean the president. I meant his national security decisions and he later put out a much more expansive statement. I will read you just part of his statement here.

He said that: "I misspoke." The first thing he said, he said: "I did not mean to imply that the president was personally responsible," said, "I was referring to the president's national security decisions, not the president himself," again, reiterating his opposition to the president's Iraq policies and how he's withdrawn troops from Iraq, something he said that led to a disaster in the region.

So, clearly, John McCain trying to clean it up. And one other thing to note. McCain is in the middle of a very difficult reelection race back home. He has got a primary in August. He should be OK there, but a very difficult general election, and Democrats already are trying to use this against him, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

Joining me now is the ranking member Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Schiff, thanks so much for joining us today.


SCIUTTO: You heard Senator McCain's initial statement blaming the president, in effect, and you have since heard something of a qualification from him, clarification. Let me ask you directly. What's your response?

SCHIFF: Well, I was very disappointed to hear the statement. I have a lot of respect for John McCain. He's an American war hero.

But, frankly, that statement sounded a lot more like Donald Trump than John McCain. And I wish he would just retract it in its entirety. I don't think it adds anything to the national debate and I think it was a grievous mistake.

SCIUTTO: I have to ask you, Congressman Schiff, because that initial statement, as you saw, it sparked an immediate storm. I saw it exploding on Twitter.

Very quickly, he issued this clarification both on Twitter, but also in a more formal statement. It seemed that he was attempting to distinguish himself from Donald Trump's position directly blaming the president. Did you hear the same thing, did you interpret the same thing?

SCHIFF: Well, when I heard the initial statement, it certainly sounded an awful lot like what Donald Trump has been saying and it may be an illustration of just how much Donald Trump is coloring the national debate in a very unhealthy and counterproductive way.

And this is part of the danger of Donald Trump, that it lowers the bar in the country. It lowers the level of civil discourse. And in fact espouses a lot of views that are antithetical to our national security interests.


So, I do think it's part of the Trump effect in kind of just making this a much more coarse and vicious political debate and it really has to stop.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, though, Congressman Schiff. Let's separate about direct responsibility, as he initially claimed for the Orlando shooting. There is a more substantive criticism here from Senator McCain. You have heard it from others, that the Obama administration allowed an opening for the Islamic State by pulling those troops out of Iraq, by not securing a deal with the Iraqi government to keep at least some troops which some on both sides of the aisle frankly have said contributed to ISIS' ability to take over large parts of Iraq.

Is there not a substantive criticism there that the administration at least shares responsibility for allowing that opening to ISIS in Iraq?

SCHIFF: Well, you can certainly make the argument that the administration didn't succeed in negotiating a status of forces agreement.

But the fact is, the Iraqis didn't want us there, and President Bush had similar trouble in reaching and reaching any agreement with the Iraqis. But to somehow then say that the president is personally responsible, and right in the wake of a national tragedy like this, I just don't think there's a link to be made.

And I think it really is a -- really a gross disservice to the president and to the cause of what do we need to do to prevent gun tragedies like this from happening and terrorist attacks like this from happening in the United States.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about the effort. You saw your colleague Senator Murphy on the Senate side giving this filibuster to try to at least get a vote on some measures to respond to this attack, some gun control measures. Do you believe, do you see a change in the political environment on

the Hill today following this attack? Because we have seen this many times before, horrific attack, talk of some measures to respond, a week or two or days later, that feeling disappears. Is there something different about this one that will drive actual action on the Hill?

SCHIFF: Jim, you're absolutely right. If you were a betting man, you would always bet against Congress and particularly when it comes to the gun issue.

But it does feel like something has changed now. Maybe this is the tipping point. I would have thought that the country needed nothing more, that Congress needed nothing more than that Sandy Hook tragedy. But even that did not result in any action. That was really part of the powerful motivation for Chris Murphy to take to the Senate floor in a filibuster.

But this really does feel like something has changed, that something here in the Congress, something in the national consciousness has just snapped with this latest tragedy. People are demanding a response. And I think congressmember needs to beware if they stand in the way of commonsense gun reform, that may be entering a new chapter, where voters really do hold them accountable.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Schiff, we know you're right in the middle of this, getting regular briefings on the investigation to Orlando. Thanks very much for taking the time today.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, there are still lots of questions in the days since the massacre here at Pulse nightclub about missed warnings regarding this Orlando terrorist.

Now is there even more evidence of this terrorist's jihadist leanings on Facebook? That's right after this.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're coming to you live from Orlando, Florida. We're just yards from the scene of a mass murder, where minutes ago, President Obama and Vice President Biden laid 49 roses, one for each of the 49 victims gunned down by the Orlando terrorist, and where investigators continue to dig for clues in this nightclub massacre.

Today, we're getting a closer look than ever before at the horrors that unfolded early Sunday morning, new video capturing the terrifying moments inside the club's bathroom, this video chilling, dozens of people hiding in that bathroom, wondering if they would ever make it out alive. All the while, the gunman, Omar Mateen, had isolated himself in the

other bathroom just next door during the tense three-hour standoff with police.

We are now learning that both before and during the massacre, the mass murderer vented on Facebook. Also, for the first time, we're hearing the voice of the terrorist himself.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She's been covering this from the beginning.

Pamela, we're going to hear from President Obama in just a few moments. But I understand you have new reporting about who else he was communicating with from inside the attack.


In fact, we have learned that he was communicating with his wife, Jim. He left the house that day, told his wife, according to our sources, he was going to see a friend. But she was suspicious that he was actually going to launch an attack. She apparently tried to talk him out of it.

And she began calling him frantically after the news broke that there was a shooting at Pulse nightclub. She was calling him frantically. Apparently, according to our sources, he didn't answer, but he texted her at around 4:00 a.m., when he was holed up in that bathroom, saying, "Did you see the news?"

And at some point, she responded, "I love you." The wife is still saying that she didn't know about his specific plan. She still claims that she tried to talk him out of this, but she did not call police. And tonight she remains under scrutiny.


BROWN (voice-over): In the middle of the chaos inside Pulse nightclub, CNN has learned the gunman and his wife communicated by text message, according to law enforcement sources.

She has told investigators she had a suspicion when he left the house on Saturday he was going to launch an attack, even though he told her he was going to visit a friend.

OMAR MATEEN, GUNMAN: Everybody is just out to get paid.

[16:15:00] BROWN (voice-over): We're hearing from Omar Mateen for the first time. This documentary from 2011 about the BP oil spill shows Mateen working as a security guard.

OMAR MATEEN: Once people get laid off here, it's going to suck for them. They want more disaster to happen because that's where their money-making is.

BROWN: Sources tell CNN, in the weeks leading up to the attack, Mateen ended up spending a significant amount of money, including to buy weapons use for the attack. The couple shopped for ammunition together on at least one occasion and they went to Pulse nightclub for what investigators believe was a reconnaissance mission, but she claims she didn't know of his specific plans and tried to talk him out of doing anything violent.

JEFF ASHTON, ORANGE COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY: I can assure you that if anybody knew that this was going to happen and was a participant and helped it, that that person will be prosecuted.

BROWN: A letter from Senator Ron Johnson at Facebook says Mateen searched the site during a rampage for news on the shooting, and even allegedly posted, "In the next few days, you will see attacks from the Islamic State in the USA." The FBI is trying to verify those Facebook accounts.

We're also learning more about how police handled the chaotic situation. Police say an officer who was working off-duty at the club immediately exchanged gunfire with the shooter but was outgunned and had to wait for backup.

CHIEF JOHN MINA, ORLANDO POLICE DEPARTMENT: They went in right away and exchanged gunfire with the suspect within the first few minutes and that's important because this caused the suspect to stop shooting and retreat to the bathroom where he was now isolated and contained. From that point on, until 5:00 in the morning, there were no shots fired.

BROWN: While the gunman was holed up in the bathroom, the police chief says officers were pulling victims out as fast as they could. Hostage negotiators were able to make contact with him.

MINA: We had information that he was going to put explosive vests on four people and blow the place up in 15 minutes. By that time, we were already set with our explosive breach.

BROWN: A first responder telling CNN about the harrowing experience.

OFFICER OMAR DELGADO, EATONVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT: It was kind of dark, you know? Disco lights were still going. And I just began yelling, hey, guys, come on out, we've got you. And, unfortunately, it took a minute to realize that they were faking it. They couldn't get up.

BROWN: Investigators are still trying to determine the motive for the nightclub attack and if anyone, including his wife, could have done anything to stop it.


BROWN: And we know that a few weeks before the shooting, the gunman went to the store to buy body armor and the store owner said they didn't sell body armor. And now we're learning, according to the owner of this store, they claimed that they called the police, called law enforcement because they felt like the gunman was acting suspicious. Now, we reached to law enforcement, and so far, there's no record of

any calls made by the store, alerting authorities to any suspicious behavior. And our sources then say when the interview was initially done between the FBI, the ATF and the store owner, there was no mention of this phone call but it is of interest if it was made and if indeed, you know, something fell through the cracks here.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: There were warning signs but the question is, were they missed?

Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

There were more alarming signs about the terrorist. CNN is learning that Omar Mateen had showed violent tendencies dating back years, long before the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Former classmates say the mass murderer had threatened to shoot up his school, kill his classmates, this when he was just a child.

Let's go now to CNN correspondent Brian Todd. He is in Fort Pierce, St. Lucie, Florida.

Brian, I know you've spoken to a number of people who knew him growing up and they described all along as an angry person.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, they do, Jim. Angry sometimes violent and certainly threatening at every stage of the way. We have just gotten new information this afternoon, as you outlined with just details dating back to his childhood, of disturbing and threatening behavior, back to his days here at Mariposa elementary school in St. Lucie.

A former classmate of his here at Mariposa says that in fourth or fifth grade, one day, Omar Mateen threatened to bring a gun to school and kill everyone. This classmate does not remember exactly what kind of discipline he received at the time but remembers it was, quote, "a very big deal at the time." Again, this was in fourth or fifth grade. He would have been maybe 9 or 10 years old at the time.

We have just obtained documents from St. Lucie County school system indicating that Omar Mateen, Jim, was disciplined 31 times between 1992, when he would have been 6 years old, and 1999 when he would have been 13 years old, a long history of discipline here, and not just in St. Lucie County. He also attended Martin High School and three former classmates have told us around the time of September 11th, he was acting very strangely, acting out essentially.

[16:20:06] He was imitating planes hitting buildings. He claimed that Osama bin Laden was his uncle. He got into confrontations. That was at the high school level. That information coming to us from three former classmates.

We have outlined his disciplinary problems while he was a security guard and then, of course, the warning signs leading up to the attacks. So, Jim, this new information to us just and behavioral problems dating back to when at least fifth grade and possibly longer to his days at Mariposa Elementary School in St. Lucie. SCIUTTO: It's so often in a profile of attackers like this, that a

long history of mental problems, issues like this, I understand you spoke as well to a personal trainer who worked out at Gold's Gym when he was -- when Mateen was an employee there?

TODD: That's right, Jim. This gentleman's name is Stefan Comvalius. He was a personal trainer and held sessions there at Gold's Gym, and this is while Omar Mateen was a teenage employee at Gold's Gym. And Comvalius told us that Mateen was constantly angry, constantly confrontational with the patrons of Gold's Gym.

He relayed one incident where he was holding a session, a workout session for a female client, Comvalius, and Mateen made a very crude comment about the woman's anatomy. He was very close to her at the time physically and wanted her to hear it and the woman just kind of glared at him and said really, and he just didn't end his stare. He was that intimidating to people, Jim. Gold's Gym says they don't really have any recollection of that.

SCIUTTO: So many warning signs.

Brian Todd in Fort Pierce, Florida, thanks very much.

A reminder, we're just minutes away from President Obama's remarks about this horrible massacre here in Orlando. His words coming on the heels of a stark and frightening warning from the head of the CIA. He says that ISIS is ready to attack the West again. That's after this.


[16:26:24] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD, live from Orlando.

On the day that President Obama consoled victims and families here, his CIA director warning that ISIS is hell-bent on carrying more attacks like the one we saw here in Orlando, with, quote, "a cadre of Western fighters at the ready".

Barbara Starr has the latest today from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Orlando attack was not directly connected to ISIS but the head of the CIA said today, ISIS wants to encourage more.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: As we have seen in Orlando, San Bernardino and elsewhere, ISIL is attempting to inspire attacks by sympathizers who have no direct links to the group.

STARR: In blunt language, CIA Director John Brennan warned ISIS is working to attack the West any way it can.

BRENNAN: ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West, and the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the west, including in refugee flows, smuggling routes and legitimate methods of travel.

STARR: An astonishing assessment.

BRENNAN: Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach.

STARR: Brennan called the terror group resilient, adapting to the efforts to stop it.

BRENNAN: ISIL will probably rely more on guerrilla tactics, including high profile attacks outside the territory in Syria and Iraq that it currently holds.

STARR: The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee calling for more action.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: ISIL's global battlefield now includes the United States and we cannot stand idly by. We must take the fight to them.

STARR: But after thousands of air strikes and loss of territory, ISIS maintains key advantages.

BRENNAN: The group would have to suffer even heavier losses on territory, manpower and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.

STARR: The group still collects tens and millions of dollars each month through intimidation taxes and oil sales, and a spread of ISIS across the world is now ensuring its capacity for conducting more terror attacks, its numbers far exceeding al Qaeda in its height. In Iraq and Syria, there are between 18,000 and 22,000, down from as many as 33,000 last year. In Libya, its most dangerous affiliate, 5,000 to 8,000 operatives. In Egypt, perhaps up to a thousand.

BRENNAN: There are hard core fighters. There are adherence, there are logistic specialists, facilitators and others but the numbers are significant.


STARR: In responding to all of this at the Pentagon today, the Defense Department said it has warned for months that military action can help eliminate ISIS. But on it's own, it will not be sufficient to defeat the organization -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sometimes it may make them focus on attacks like this as well. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Just minutes ago, President Obama laying9 roses, one for each of the people slaughtered by the Orlando terrorist. What did he tell the families of those victims? The president speaks in just a few minutes. Please stay with us.