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Signs Point to Pence as Trump's VP Pick; Dozens Dead After Truck Hit Crowd in Nice, France; Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 14, 2016 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER: Happening now, the finalists. Donald Trump seems likely to have his running mate, but with Trump's showbiz flare for the dramatic, two other candidates shouldn't necessarily be completely ruled out, and they -- they're all playing cat-and-mouse with reporters as the clock ticks down to the big announcement.
[17:00:14] Dress rehearsal. All eyes are on Donald Trump, but Hillary Clinton is also narrowing her list. Did she just appear on stage with her No. 1 choice for the No. 2 post?
Dead heat. New polling shows Trump and Clinton are running neck and neck. Could their vice-presidential picks be the difference in this close race?
And frantic manhunt. As fear grows in Phoenix, the look for a serial killer expands to other states, with police are vowing to catch the serial killer behind seven murders.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Donald Trump will announce his vice-presidential pick tomorrow morning just 18 hours from now. The short list has been whittled down in recent days. Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie haven't been publicly ruled out, but multiple sources say the indications are that Trump has apparently decided on Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence's team has been told to prepare to get the official nod.
The timing is crucial, because Pence faces a deadline tomorrow to withdraw his candidacy for reelection as governor of Indiana.
Hillary Clinton appeared today with a possible running mate of her own, campaigning with Senator Tim Kaine in his home state of Virginia. A former governor, a former party chairman, Kaine has contacts and credibility with mainstream Democrats and has been reaching out to progressives.
That comes as a new Clinton campaign ad turns Donald Trump's words into weapons against him, attacking him on character issues.
I'll speak with the Republican congressman, Sean Duffy. And our correspondents, analysts, and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's in Indianapolis right now. Sunlen, so, does Donald Trump have a new job in mind for the Indiana governor?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today has been chock full of intriguing moves by the Pence team here, really signaling that, at the very least, they are potentially preparing for just that.
But what we do know is that there has been no phone call by Donald Trump. He has not made any formal offer to any of the candidates yet, even though the wheels do appear to be in motion.
SERFATY (voice-over): It may be Trump's most important apprentice choice. And tonight, the billionaire businessman best known for saying "You're fired" appears ready to hire Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: High-quality person, a wonderful guy.
SERFATY: Sources tell CNN Trump called the 57-year-old former congressman overnight and, quote, "leaned into" the notion that Pence is going to be the pick. CNN has learned that call set off a flurry of activity by Pence's team, dispatching the deputy campaign manager for his gubernatorial reelection to fly from Indiana to New York today.
MARC LOTTER, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER, MIKE PENCE FOR INDIANA: I'm here to have a meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the Pence campaign, not the Trump campaign?
LOTTER: I'm still with the Pence campaign.
SERFATY: And readying the paperwork necessary for him to get off the ballot in Indiana before Friday's deadline to withdraw from his reelection race.
At the governor's mansion, visitors coming in and out, including the state's lieutenant governor, who potentially could run to succeed Pence, but the current red-state governor played coy, delivering a speech on economic innovation.
GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: I'm very excited to announce the next step in building a state that works and a dynamic economy.
SERFATY: Republicans in favor of Pence say he would bring executive experience, social conservative credentials, and message discipline to the potential ticket.
His emergence in the last 24 hours comes as Trump has noticeably backed off his insistence that his V.P. pick must be an attack dog. TRUMP: I'm not looking for an attack dog. Frankly, I'm looking for
somebody that really understands what we're talking about, because I'd rather have the whole thing be on policy.
SERFATY: As the V.P. drama plays out, Pence and the other contenders waiting for Trump's call are going about their daily business, Pence taking a morning bike ride with his wife while former House speaker Newt Gingrich refused to field questions about his prospects while taking out the trash at his home.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't answer questions at my home.
SERFATY: Gingrich even talking up Pence, telling CNN, quote, "I'm two years older than Trump; and Pence is 20 years younger than me. I think having somebody who represents a somewhat younger voice would have some advantages." And suggesting that he and Trump might be too similar in style.
GINGRICH: I told him quite directly that I thought that he had a choice between having two pirates on the ticket, or having a pirate and a relatively stable, more normal person.
SERFATY: And another finalist, Chris Christie, noting that that he is ready for whatever decision Donald Trump ends up making but also adding that no one likes to come in second.
[17:05:05] And here at Indiana Governor Mike Pence's residence, where he really was huddled for most of the day amid a flurry of activity here, he spent about four hours this afternoon and then has just departed in the last hour, Wolf, to destination unknown. Of course, Donald Trump's announcement taking place tomorrow morning, late morning in New York City. So whoever the potential pick is has to make their way up there.
BLITZER: Sunlen, thanks very much. Sunlen in Indianapolis for us.
CNN's Jim Acosta has been tracking every move in this running-mate race. He's joining us now, live from New York. That's where Donald Trump will make his announcement tomorrow morning.
Jim, many indications Pence will get the call, but could this all be, potentially, misdirection from Trump?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is one of the questions out there. I have been told by multiple advisors that we are down to these three candidates; and Mike Pence is where Donald Trump is looking at this moment.
I do want to tell you, Wolf, that I just had a chance to exchange some messages with one of Donald Trump's sons. Donald Trump Jr. has been involved in this vice-presidential selection process. He's trying to tamp down some of that narrative out there that there are divisions inside Trump world. And he's sending his message just a few moments ago, indicating that
we are going to get a decision soon. Or at least the Trump family is going to get one soon. He says, quote, "He will give us his decision this afternoon. I keep reading about the drama and that the family is torn, but it's nonsense. We like all three guys. We told our father our opinions on all, and he will make the final call. There's no rift or lobbying whatsoever." So that statement there from Donald Trump Jr. to us just a few moments ago.
And he is trying to have a little fun on Twitter. Just a few moments ago, Wolf, he posted these sweets. If we can put this up on screen. "Breaking news: The V.P. pick is actually Ivanka Trump." And then he sent another tweet saying, "Couldn't resist" with some crying laughter emojis. I don't know what you call those emojis, but he's trying to have some fun with this, Wolf.
I did talk to another senior campaign advisor just a few moments ago, Wolf. He said part of the reason for this delay, and hearing from Donald Trump, hearing this selection, hearing that it's all been finalized, is the fact that Trump has been on the West Coast fundraising today, and that has been part of the reason why some of this has slowed down a bit. But according to Donald Trump Jr., there is no division inside Trump world, inside the family, that they are fully behind what their father is going to do at this point, Wolf.
BLITZER: And we will find out soon enough. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Trump supporter. Thank you for joining us.
REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: You think it is Governor Pence?
DUFFY: Wolf, if we trust all the reports, yes, but I wouldn't put it by Donald Trump to play a game with us here and go in a different direction, and it's a great media story.
But if it is Mike Pence, you -- I've been calling for this for some time. We have a House guy who understands how Congress works. He can get things done. He's a social and fiscal conservative, which I think can tamp down some of the concerns on the Republican right-wing side of the base and bring them home in this election.
So all in all, I think if it is Mike Pence, he would be a very good choice.
BLITZER: Yes. He spent ten years on the House of Representatives on affairs committee. Worked his way up to the No. 4 position among the Republican leadership, and now he's been -- spent almost four years as the governor of an important state, Indiana.
But there are some significant public differences between Trump and Pence. Governor Pence hasn't backed all of Trump's policies. For example, he tweeted this in December of last year. That's not so long ago. "Calls to pan Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional." You know what Trump has proposed.
DUFFY: Yes, absolutely. So listen, I think you're never going to find two candidates that agree on everything.
BLITZER: This is an important issue for Donald Trump.
DUFFY: But Donald has kind of moved on this issue and said we should have a short-term ban from people who come from, you know, hotter areas of the world. So he's moved on that, probably, closer to where Mike Pence is.
BLITZER: He says it's offensive and unconstitutional.
DUFFY: Yes, well, listen, you can point to everybody who's had rhetoric on both sides of the aisle about their candidates, and they don't always agree on things. So listen, that's not going to preclude these two from working together.
I think you made a really good point. I think there's some concern on folks with regard to what Donald will do with foreign policy. And a guy like Mike Pence, who has spent so much time on the Foreign Affairs Committee, understands foreign policy, and I think will be a good steady hand as the two, if they win, to decide how to navigate some of the big challenges in the world.
BLITZER: But on another key issue for Donald Trump, trade, there seems to be a huge gap between Donald Trump and Governor Pence.
This is what he tweeted in September of 2014. This is Governor Pence. "Trade means jobs, but trade also means security. The time has come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Transpacific Partnership." You know who hates the Transpacific Partnership?
DUFFY: One Donald J. Trump. Yes.
BLITZER: That is correct. So how important is trade for Donald Trump, and this TPP? He says it's a disaster.
DUFFY: So you know that Donald came to the House of Representatives last week and sat and talked to many of us in the House conference. Many of us are pro-trade, but we agree with Donald that these trade deals have to be good deals.
[06:10:09] So again, I think Donald is not saying, "I'm opposed to free trade. I don't think that -- it doesn't grow American jobs in the economy and breed more security. It's just that I want to make sure it's good."
So again, they might have, at first blush, some differences in their positions, but if you -- if you drill down a little bit, I think you'll see that they have a lot more in common. Trade is good, but good trade is good for the American economy and the American worker (ph).
BLITZER: Well, these are important issues for Donald Trump: a ban, at least a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the United States until the U.S. can figure out what's going on, as he says, with the potential for ISIS or for other terrorists to infiltrate the United States.
And on this TPP, which Donald Trump says is a disaster, there's a significant difference.
DUFFY: But again, I think if you had two people who said one is for trade, one is opposed to trade, that would be a difference that you can't mend. Both men say trade is good. It's just that we're going to make good trade deals, and I think...
BLITZER: He says TPP, the Transpacific Partnership...
BLITZER: ... that Trump says is horrible.
DUFFY: Right. So that doesn't mean we can't sit down and renegotiate and make it a better trade deal.
Again, I think that you're going to see, with whoever these candidates pick, if it was going to be Newt Gingrich, there's going to be issues that each side will have that are different.
BLITZER: I'm curious. What about you? Where do you stand on the temporary ban of Muslims coming into the United States and TPP?
DUFFY: Yes, so first of all, on the Muslim ban, I think that it's OK if we have -- if we have people coming from hot regions of the world, and we can't verify who they are.
My first commitment as a congressman -- and I want my president's first commitment -- to keep us safe. If we can verify who they are; these are good people who want to come and live the American dream and work, they should have access...
BLITZER: I understand that. But what about just a simple -- say Muslim's can't come?
DUFFY: I don't believe with a Muslim ban. I don't believe in a religious test. I think that's wrong. But I also think Donald has moderated that point. He's come more to the center to say, "OK, we have to look at regions, and can you verify that they're going to come and live the dream?"
BLITZER: He says certain countries...
BLITZER: ... people should be allowed to come. He's evolved to a certain degree, but it's a fundamental issue.
Where do you stand on the Transpacific Partnership?
DUFFY: But Wolf, if you if you look at Syria, you can't verify who people are. I mean, I think if you look at the shootings, and innocent Americans who are dying because people have a radical opinion or a belief that's based on religion. Americans want to know that we're going to keep them safe.
BLITZER: What about Christian refugees from Syria? Should they be banned?
DUFFY: If you can verify who they are and they're not going to buy into an ideology of death and killing people? We should keep them out of...
BLITZER: Should Christian refugees, because a lot -- the Christians are in danger in Syria right now. They're in danger in Iraq, as well.
DUFFY: Christians aren't killing people.
BLITZER: They're the ones who are being killed, the Christians.
DUFFY: Look at San Bernardino. Look at Orlando. Look at Boston. Random Muslims who are coming in that are killing folks. I don't want complete ban, but you do want to look and make the -- you're protecting the American people. And I think that's why Donald has done so well. He said, "Listen, I'm going to make sure I keep you safe. And my first priority is to you, not to some migrant policy."
Blitzer: Are you with him on TPP, the Transpacific Partnership?
DUFFY: I have some concerns with TPP. I understand -- I understand his concerns with it. Do I think it's absolutely horrible? Not at all. Is there improvements that can be made to make sure we're shoring up American jobs and protecting them? Absolutely.
If he wins, I take heart in the fact that he understands that trade grows opportunity and jobs, but you have to make sure you look to protect some of the American industries and, your American workers.
So again, we can find common ground with him in the House of Representatives.
BLITZER: We have more to discuss. Stick. We'll continue this conversation. Sean Duffy, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin, and me, after this.
[17:17:51] BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, sources saying the indications are the Indiana governor, Mike Pence likely to be Donald Trump's pick for a running mate, although no decision has been formally announced.
We're back with the Republican congressman, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.
Some conservatives, social conservatives, especially Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, they don't love Governor Pence by any means. Perkins told CNN, "I think there would be a number of conservatives who would have problems. I'm not saying there is not going to be any support for Pence, but I am saying it would not be optimal for him."
Are you surprised by that?
DUFFY: I am surprised, because from a social conservative standpoint, he's a pro-life guy. He's a pro-gun guy. And he is a pro-traditional marriage guy. And I think with Donald Trump, though he has said those things, you know, in this campaign, that he is a social conservative, a lot of conservatives on the social side have had some questions about it.
I think it makes Mike Pence makes them feel a lot more comfortable that he'll fight for those issues that they care about.
BLITZER: Some have criticized him as being a Washington insider, because when he served in Congress, he rose to become the No. 4 Republican in that Republican leadership. Is that fair criticism?
DUFFY: Some might call it effective. He was well-respected with the conference and was able to -- so if you look at the Republican conference, some will say we're a little hard to manage. He was in charge of the conference and was very effective in talking about policy and ideas, getting people behind those ideas and actually getting them, at least with Republicansand bipartisan support, you know, across -- across the floor.
And so I think when you look at what Donald Trump has to do to be a successful president, you can't just have big ideas. You can't just talk to the American people. You have to bring the Congress with you. And I think that's been a problem with -- with Barack Obama. He hasn't been able to get bipartisan buy into a lot of his ideas.
I think the Mike Pences of the world know how the Congress works, knows people there; has friendships and relationships with Republicans and Democrats. And that's key if you're going to be successful in your presidency.
It's a Joe Biden-eseque pic. People like Joe Biden. Joe Biden has relationships and friendships. He can cut deals across the aisle. I think Mike Pence is kind of looking for that.
BLITZER: And Trump has said he wants somebody with that Washington political experience, which -- he's a business guy. He doesn't necessarily have that experience? Newt Gingrich. He's going to be pretty disappointed if he doesn't get the nod (ph).
DUFFY: And I love Newt. And I think Newt would be a great choice.
But on the conservative side, so many of us are concerned about this $19 trillion debt and how we get our hands around it, and as interest rates rise, what that's going to do. We're going to going to pay over a trillion dollars in interest on the debt in ten years.
Mike Pence was a balanced budget amendment advocate.
And so I think that also, on the fiscal side, makes people feel comfortable that Donald Trump has a sound advisor who's there talking about the big things that can happen in Congress that can make his presidency successful. A lot of our viewers know this, but before you were a congressman, you
were a reality TV star yourself. Not necessarily like Donald Trump, but you had a reality TV show you used to work on. So here is the question. Are you impressed the way Trump has played this vice- presidential selection, because it's almost like, you know, "The Apprentice" series, a lot of people have pointed out, including Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, they've said that?
DUFFY: Yes, so thank you for pointing that out, Wolf. That's very kind. No, I started reality TV, MTV as "The Real World" back in the day. My wife was on a show. We're the first reality TV couple in America. That's our claim to fame.
Donald Trump knows how to played the media. He knows how to build interest in what he's doing. And I think his V.P. stakes show just that. And that's why I wouldn't be that surprised if he might be sending us down the Pence lane, but he could surprise us tomorrow and go in a different direction and have a huge, even bigger news story than just a traditional V.P. pick.
BLITZER: Like the season finale of "The Apprentice," "Celebrity Apprentice," if you will.
DUFFY: Well, three final contestants.
DUFFY: Two are going to get fired.
BLITZER: You think it's going to be one, and it turns out to be someone else.
DUFFY: So Wolf, maybe he could be there with a rose and hand it to that one pick. "The Bachelor."
BLITZER: That's "The Bachelor." Different reality TV.
You're going to be addressing the Republican convention in Cleveland when? Next Monday night?
DUFFY: On Monday night, 9:30 Eastern, 8:30 Central.
BLITZER: What are you going to say? Have you been thinking about that?
DUFFY: I'm looking forward to you covering it live and you can find out. But I'm going to be there with my wife. So we have eight kids. We're going to address the...
BLITZER: She's speaking with you?
DUFFY: We're going to do it together, and...
BLITZER: The kids will be on the stage with you?
DUFFY: No kids. We'll have the little baby with us. We have a newborn. But this is...
DUFFY: Thank you. This is a great opportunity to talk about opportunities, and she's a Latina, to talk about immigrants and the immigrant dream, and how we have to get this right.
And people leave their countries of origin because of corruption. Like Hillary Clinton, they leave because of socialist policies. And they come here for this great idea of American opportunity and prosperity. We want to keep that alive and well. I think we're going to go down that avenue. And I think it's a message that resonates with so many Americans.
I mean, talk about jobs and opportunity. You know, Hillary Clinton, she's got a job for Bill Clinton and Chelsea, but nobody else. Donald Trump has hired thousands of people with good paying jobs, and when you want to grow your economy, it's guys like Donald Trump who know how to do it. And I think that's what -- that's the message that we're going to have that night.
BLITZER: It sounds like you've got a speech almost ready to go. Sean Duffy, thanks very much for coming in.
DUFFY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up, his top choices for vice president have been playing cat- and-mouse with reporters all day today. But there are some new clues we're getting that Donald Trump apparently has decided on a running mate. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:27:50] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Multiple sources telling CNN they're seeing significant signs Donald Trump is leaning heavily toward picking Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate.
With us now, our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar; "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick; CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash; and CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston. He's already in Cleveland, joining us from there.
Dana, the latest information, working your sources, what are you hearing about Pence about to be selected the vice-presidential running mate?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are all on pins and needles, waiting for one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump to pick up the phone and call Mike Pence and say, "Will you be my running mate?" and Mike Pence to say yes.
I was just talking to sources, really, minutes before we came on, and at this point, our understanding is that call has not happened, but you know, it could be happening as we speak.
So that's what we're waiting for, and really, at this point it's the systems are moving, Pence confidants and people who work with Pence are moving towards New York City to be prepared for an announcement tomorrow morning. But the official call has not been made, as far as we know.
BLITZER: The official announcement is supposed to be at 11 a.m., Yes, Brianna, tomorrow morning in New York City.
Pence has, what, a decade of experience on Capitol Hill, and Trump has repeatedly said he wants to bring someone in who's got that kind of experience.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And he would bring in some experience. He was in Republican leadership in the House, so that's something that Pence certainly brings.
But he has a bit of a liability in how he handled this religious liberty issue in Indiana last year. He managed to get on the wrong side of both sides of the debate. So that may actually be a liability for him.
And, you know, he also, I think, speaks to some of the weaknesses that Donald Trump may have. It's -- he's not someone who's going to pull in a lot of millennial support or get millennials excited. He's not going to chip away at Hillary Clinton's margins or help, you would think, when it comes to Hispanic support that she is enjoying by a wide margin at this point.
He would, of course, help Donald Trump not just in Washington but talk to Republicans in Washington, which you would expect that the candidate, the presumptive nominee would be able to do. But this is sort of an acknowledgment that he maybe can't.
[17:30:07] But a lot of the Trump aides see him as a safer pick than Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie for that matter.
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I do think he's a safer pick if he turns out to be the pick. You avoid re- litigating some of the old issues surrounding Gingrich, you avoid re- litigating anything having to do with Bridge-gate if it's Chris Christie.
With Pence, though, he -- I don't think he's a game changer. Right? He's a solid pick that conservatives like and it would signal to me that they really think they can make gains in the rustbelt states, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, that region.
BLITZER: Mark Preston, you're about as well plugged in as anyone. What are you hearing?
PRESTON: Well, look, you know, there certainly is some concern as Brianna had mentioned amongst conservatives specifically social conservatives. Wolf, you and I spoke about this yesterday. The Council for National
Policy which is this umbrella organization of conservatives, is meeting as we speak right now in a hotel nearby. Talking politics from policy. But the big issue right now has to do with Mike Pence and has to do with the fact that he backed off his support of this Religious Liberty Bill last year.
Now what I've been told in the last half hour or so is that there was some heated confrontations between those conservatives who say we need to embrace Mike Pence, he is one of us. He talks the way we talk, he walked with us. And those were still upset over the whole issue of religious liberty. Having said that, I do think that we will see the conservative base coalesce behind Mike Pence. It may take a couple of days but I do think we will see that happen.
BLITZER: But as I pointed out, Dana, in my interview with -- with the congressman just a few moments ago, on two key issues for Donald Trump, a ban of Muslims coming in the United States, the Transpacific Partnership, Pence, he tweeted on December 8th of last year, "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional." On the TPP, "Trade means jobs but trade also means security. The time must come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Transpacific Partnership."
Those are important issues for Donald Trump and they seem to be totally at odds on those two issues.
BASH: They sure are. And, you know, I was in Indiana earlier this week with Mike Pence where he was getting peppered about those differences and he, understandably, tried to downplay them saying that he's been in the House of Representatives before where lots of people disagree and that this is no different.
But, you know, I think to that David's point earlier, that those who are thinking about kind of broadening the Trump coalition, that that might be -- even though they disagree, that actually might not be a bad thing. It might be a good thing. You know, and that -- and it's the guy at the top of the ticket that really sets the agenda.
Having said that, knowing Trump and the way he is, and the way he really, really thinks loyalty, being by his side and standing up for him is so important. That is something that Chris Christie, for example, has been, you know, lockstep with him on. Particularly on the Muslim ban which has -- which he almost got across-the-board criticism for in the Republican Party.
BLITZER: Yes. And (INAUDIBLE) Duffy, the congressman, said, you know, this is Donald Trump. Don't be surprised if there is a big surprise out there.
BLITZER: When all of the dust settles 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, we'll see. Stand by, guys. We're also watching important developments in Hillary Clinton's search for a vice presidential running mate. Just a little while ago she was out there campaigning with someone a lot of Democrats think is at the top or near the very top of her short list of potential vice presidents.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[17:38:15] BLITZER: There's very disturbing breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Dozens are reported dead in Nice, France, after a truck smashed into a crowd celebrating the national holiday of Bastille Day.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been working the story for us.
Jim, what are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's early but the early reports from Nice are alarming. The mayor of Nice -- this is a French town on the coast. It was in the middle of Bastille Day celebrations, like July 4th, frankly. French independence day. Reports tens of people dead after a truck crashed into the crowd there during those celebrations.
I'm just seeing the French ambassador now tweeting that there is, in his words, maybe shotguns as well. He also says maybe terrorism. Again, I should caution, we don't know that this is terrorism yet. But you do have the mayor of the town saying that the death toll quite high, in his words, dozens dead -- rather tens dead and he is encouraging people to stay in their homes as a precaution.
I've been in touched, Wolf, as well with a witness there who's telling me that this took place just under her window. She said that the streets have been blocked off of these celebrations so she doesn't understand how a truck got through. She said that she heard the metal crash as it happened. And of course as we're seeing on our screens there now, you saw the crowds running.
We've also sadly seen pictures now, Wolf, of bodies on the ground appearing to be injured. At a minimum possibly dead as well.
These are the early report. Again I'll just repeat. Tens dead says the mayor of Nice, France. The French ambassador to the U.S. saying, in his words, maybe shotguns as well, maybe terrorism. A cause is not established yet. We do know that people are being encouraged to shelter in place. Sadly this was a time in Nice of celebration.
[17:40:03] Many people in the streets. For fireworks celebrations. Bastille Day, again the equivalent of July 4th. And it was during those celebrations, at the peak of the celebrations, a witness telling me when this truck crashed through the crowd.
The focus now, of course, on handling and treating the wounded. Sadly it appears there are dead. We'll keep you updated as we get more information.
BLITZER: Jim, we're getting one report from the French news media that the occupants of the truck, and this was not a little truck, this was a huge truck, actually after they rammed into these people, killing these people, exchanged gunfire with police on the scene, which would seem to indicate that this was a planned -- potentially a terror operation if you will.
I know you're working your sources. We're trying to get more information. But this notion of using vehicles to run after civilians, this has been something that has been promoted by some terror organizations out there over the past few years.
SCIUTTO: No question. In fact this happened in France before. You've had people used, inspired by ISIS, and again we have no established ISIS connection to this, we don't know at this point if this is terrorism but just as a matter of context, there have been people who attacked themselves to ISIS, who have used vehicles before to that attack police officers. And not just in France, we've seen it in Canada, we've seen it in Israel, we've seen it elsewhere.
So that is a question being asked right now. And again you're seeing on the screen there now the emergency response. These were crowded streets. A single vehicle ramming into the crowd could cause, and it sounds like has caused, a number of deaths. Those reports of there also being gunfire, it's early, not confirmed yet, but you do have French officials mentioning it and I will say that a witness that I have been in touch with on the ground there says that she heard what sounded like gunshots.
Of course the question is, could you distinguish that from fireworks because it did happen during a fireworks show. We don't know yet but these are the early reports.
BLITZER: What is obviously alarming also, Jim, and you and I are familiar with this. This happens on Bastille Day, a national celebration in France. And it would seem to be if in fact it is terrorism, I want to caution our viewers. We don't have that officially from the French government, although the French mayor of Nice is suggesting that it possibly could be terrorism. The fact that it happens on a national holiday, like Bastille Day, which is equivalent to the Fourth of July here in the United States. That would not necessarily be extraordinary on this -- if it is in fact a terror operation.
SCIUTTO: No question. We know that these groups like to attack spectacular events. And this would qualify. Again the equivalent of July 4th celebrations here. We don't know who's behind it. We do know that there are casualties, there are some dead based on what French officials are saying and the early images out of there are concerning, no question. And when you get to intentional, right, speaking to a witness she told me the streets were blocked off. In effect these were pedestrian street. People walking through the crowds, to have a truck breakthrough, this was not just a truck, it appears, that was driving through as part of traffic. It was a truck that seems to have been driven through intentionally through whatever barriers there were to get to the crowd.
And we're just seeing now the emergency response as it happens. Certainly very concerning. French officials have not established a terror connection but they are raising that as a possibility now.
BLITZER: And these are live pictures we're showing our viewers from -- courtesy of BFM-TV in France.
We just received, and I want to warn our viewers, this is very, very disturbing picture. We're going to show you this image. It's a still picture. Very disturbing. Look at these. These are bodies on the street after this truck rammed into a huge crowd. We don't know if these people are dead or wounded, but this is obviously very, very disturbing right now.
The reports, the mayor of Nice, I just want to point out, Christian Estrosi, has just tweeted out that there are, in his words, "tens of dead in Nice after this huge truck rammed into a crowd." He writes this, this is the mayor of Nice.
"Dear Nice residents, the driver of a truck appears to have caused tens of deaths, stay for the moment in your homes, more information to come."
That image we just showed our viewers, very, very disturbing in Nice. And there have been a series, we don't know if this is terrorism. It sounds like it is. Certainly the mayor is suggesting it is because there seems to have been an exchange of gunfire with the occupant of the truck after that truck stopped, after it rammed into the crowd. Exchange gunfire with police. So clearly they had weapons as well, but there's -- this comes on the heels of several very disturbing terror incidents in France over the past year or two.
SCIUTTO: No question. Keep in mind, January last year, "Charlie Hebdo." November last year, the broader attacks in Paris, both tied to ISIS.
One I will notice, if there -- if there were attackers with guns, what we're not seeing now is an exchange of gunfire with police.
[17:45:07] Where are those attackers now? So that's the detail there that we don't have confirmed yet. You have witnesses who say they heard gunshots, but again this was during a firework show. I would just be looking for at this point evidence that there are still gunmen on the streets and we haven't seen that at least in the images -- the few images that we have there from the scene.
What I can tell you, a witness told me, that she heard -- she said she didn't hear necessarily gunfire, but she did hear that metal crash. And listen, a truck that side, based on the pictures we're seeing of this truck, we're talking about a paneled truck, not quite a semi but cargo paneled truck. The damage that that could do to a crowd that was in the streets at the time, at the peak of those celebrations is significant. So that's a truck is a deadly weapon whether or not there -- there were firearms as well.
BLITZER: Because our affiliate, our TV affiliate, our CNN affiliate, BFM-TV, is saying and I just want to be precise in what they're saying. They're saying occupants, plural, occupants of the truck which ran into a crowd in Nice exchanged gunfire with police. That's a very disturbing element in this as well. If there were more than one -- you know, several people in that truck, they had weapons and they exchanged gunfire with police after that truck rammed into that big crowd on Bastille Day in France. So that would suggest some sort of plot, potentially a terror plot, right?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, we've certainly seen precedent for even just vehicles by themselves being used as a weapon of terrorism in France before and other countries, Canada, Israel. The addition of gunfire, if it's confirmed, would be an even more complex planned attack, and then you think about the target as well. Bastille Day, again, French July 4th, heavy crowds, a major city. Also a city I should mention where you have a lot of foreign tourists. And that goes to, and again there's no confirmation here, but if you look at precedent groups such as ISIS like to target places like Istanbul airport where you have a number of nationalities that would be affected and this would be the kind of events, the kind of city, the kind of timing to accomplish that.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers some live pictures. You saw the clock in the left hand corner. It's approaching midnight now in Nice. 23:47, 11:47 p.m. in Nice, France. These are live pictures we're showing our viewers. You can see the emergency vehicles. The crowds, the people there, they're being told to go back to their homes, stay in place. This from the mayor of Nice.
This is an important day in France, Bastille Day, a national holiday. And if in fact this was some sort of terror operation, that would be extremely disturbing in France. They've been gearing up. They've been bracing for these kinds of operations in France, in Belgium, elsewhere in Europe, certainly in Turkey as a result of -- and if in fact it is ISIS, and I want to be careful and let our viewers know, we don't know if it is ISIS related or any terror organization at this point, but if it is, Jim, this would be one more manifestation of an effort to try to show they're still -- they're still very much relevant.
SCIUTTO: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf, today France actually suspended its emergency laws which the instituted in November last year just during and after the Paris attacks. Emergency laws that give them tremendous leeway to hold, to interrogate possible terror suspects. And in a number of months later they took the decision to -- they made the decision to lift that and if this does indeed turn out be terror, what unfortunate timing that would be.
I'm seeing that this is the mayor there, I believe -- yes, the mayor of Nice. That was his tweet there in French, the effect being that it was the driver of the truck that has -- and again, the tweets disappeared, but saying that it was the driver of the truck who drove into the crowd here. He's the same person that this mayor tweeted earlier, the number of -- that there were a number of dead, one, and also encouraging people to shelter in place which would, frankly, Wolf, let's be honest. You encourage people to shelter of place when you think there is the possibility of continuing risk.
There are reports, I should add, and again these are unconfirmed, of a hostage situation. Perhaps at a restaurant along the waterfront there. That might explain, if you did have attackers with guns, that might explain where they are now. But I should caution that is unconfirmed. A lot of this is coming over social media, from people who were there and who witnessed this.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Jim. Philip Crowther, the correspondent for France 24, is joining us on the phone right now.
Philip, what are you learning?
PHILIP CROWTHER, FRANCE 24 REPORTER: Yes. We're learning that this is clearly not over yet with that warning as Jim just said. The people I spoke to staying indoors meaning that this situation is all but over.
[17:50:07] The number of dead is pretty unclear when you look at French media reports at this point. Tens, possibly dozens or so, reports of many, many dead. And that main street, the promenade of Nice. And the time that this all happened is particularly tragic for France and for that city because it happened at the very end of a fireworks display. This being the 14th of July, French national day, Bastille Day.
And as Jim also mentioned, this was -- this is in fact the day on which the emergency measures were supposed to end as announced by the French president. And also this is a country after all, France, that wants to get over the terrorist attacks of the past. Remember football tournament, the European Football Championships just ended in France without a terrorist attack. There had been many fears that there might be one. There was supposed to be a page being turned in France and it might not be the case of course at this point. We don't know whether this is terrorism related or not.
But as you've mentioning it obviously has all the hallmarks and France is one of those countries that is most prepared for a terrorist attack and most conscious that it could happen on its soil. Belgium being of course another of those countries. Jihadists, for example, were based in France and in Belgium. Again no indications right now as to what exactly the origin of this attack or accident was.
BLITZER: But if in fact this report from BFM-TV is true, Philip, that occupants of the truck which ran into the crowd exchanged gunfire with police, that would seem to suggest it wasn't just a driver losing control of the truck running into a crowd if there was an exchange of gunfire after the truck ran into this crowd.
CROWTHER: And it's an awfully similar situation to things that has been seen in cities around the world and indeed in Paris over the last year, the attack on the "Charlie Hebdo" headquarters in Paris. That included a car arriving at first place and then gunmen jumping out and from there shooting at members of that newsroom. That might be the case here again. So these are tactics that France has known and across the world that are known. This is something that you see more often in the likes of well, Afghanistan, for example, where truck bombs or trucks are used to get through some kind of security.
Of course in this case there wasn't one. This was supposed to be a very joyous occasion. The fireworks display in Nice, one of the prettiest sounds and cities, by the way, in France, and a place that tourists like to flock to. And definitely an occasion where one was not expecting a terrorist attack. And Nice, of course, when you think about it, you might even consider it's almost a soft target. Paris is the main target for terrorists in France. Nice, not as much.
So again maybe it's an indication that these people who did this might have wanted to do it somewhere else, but could not. But again, we're not entirely sure of who exactly did this and what is happening right now. The only thing we do know is that this is an ongoing situation that that warning remains from the mayor of Nice for people to remain indoors and these people are being encouraged to open their doors right now so that people inside of their apartments, so that they can shelter from whatever is happening right now in the streets or indeed in that one street of Nice, the promenade of Nice, being the main thoroughfare there and on the sea side of Nice.
BLITZER: The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, saying that tens of people are dead. Tens of people.
Jim Sciutto is with us still. Jim, you're getting more information. What else are you picking up?
SCIUTTO: Wolf, I've just spoken to a witness, an American pilot who was there as this happened. He told me he was 15 minutes away as this -- he described it as a tractor-trailer rammed into the crowd. He said he watched as the driver of this tractor-trailer was mowing bodies over and he said that as he was doing it, as he would hit people, he would accelerate as he hit them. This witness as he watched this, saying to me there's no question this was intentional. He told me he saw only one driver, only one person in the cab of this truck.
He said that as he understandably ran away from this, he was very close, just 15 minutes away -- 15 feet away, rather, he did hear gunfire. He said, though, from where he was, it was unclear as to whether the gunfire was coming from the truck or was being fired at the truck. So -- but again, he did see the driver mow people down, accelerate as he mowed people down. It just further buttresses that this was certainly an intentional attack.
BLITZER: Jim, stand by for a moment. Everyone, stand by. We're going to stay on top of the breaking news. Horrific story coming out of Nice, France. Tens of people reportedly dead as a truck rams into a crowd.
[17:55:05] We'll have extensive coverage coming up right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Horror in Nice. A large truck plows into a crowd celebrating a national holiday, killing many and setting off panic right in the heart of the resort city. Is this another terror attack targeting France?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.