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Vice President Pulls Political Stunt?; Crisis in Puerto Rico; Trump: So Little Appreciation For Puerto Rico Aid; Trump Expected To Decertify Iran Nuclear Deal; Fast-Moving Flames Devour 1,500 Buildings In CA; Flames Force Hospitals, Neighborhoods To Evacuate; FBI Questioning Gunman's Brother; Court Docs: Gunman Describes His Anxiety, Gambling Habit. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 9, 2017 - 16:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Instead, Pence tweeted he didn't want to dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag or our national anthem.

Sorry, Peyton.

I want to bring in CNN's Rene Marsh.

So, Rene, Pence by far not the only Trump administration to have raised questions now about his travel, particularly use of private planes to get back and forth and then whether that was a wise expenditure if you earn our tax money.


You know what, Jim? We do want to make clear no one is arguing with the fact that the vice president needs to play on Air Force Two. The bone that critics have to pick is whether this was the best use of tax dollars, because it appears the vice president made that cross-country trip on Air Force Two knowing that he'd walk out just before the main event even began.

And it comes as several other Trump Cabinet secretaries are being investigated by government watchdogs for their use of private jets and military planes.


MARSH (voice-over): Vice President Pence's NFL walkout Sunday has stirred up plenty of controversy.

ERIC REID, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: This looks like a P.R. stunt to me. He knew our team has had the most players protest. He knew that we were probably going to do it again.

MARSH: Stunt or not, Pence left the Indianapolis Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers game in his home state when players from the 49ers took a knee during the national anthem. Sunday started with a tweet: "Looking forward to cheering for our Colts."

11:56 a.m., his aides tell reporters he may depart early. 12:55 p.m., some players from the 49ers kneel during the national anthem. 1:08 p.m., Pence tweets that he left the game after some players kneeled.

After just 30 minutes, Pence's motorcade departs. Later, President Trump says he and Pence discussed walking out beforehand, tweeting: "I asked V.P. Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and second lady Karen."

This led to sharp criticism from some, calling it an expensive political stunt on taxpayers' dime. Air Force Two costs $30,000 per hour to fly. Pence's flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis Saturday cost about $100,000.

Pence then flew from Indianapolis to Los Angeles. That costs about $142,500. The grand total, nearly a quarter million dollars. The flight cost estimates do not include costs of advanced personnel, Secret Service or support on the ground.

The V.P.'s office contends, if not for the game, he would have flown to Washington, D.C., at a greater cost. It all comes as several Trump Cabinet secretaries are under investigation for their use of government planes and private jets at taxpayers' expense.


MARSH: Expensive flying habits cost Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price his job. And a total of six investigations, most of them being led by agency inspector generals, are now under way.

WALTER M. SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Something is very wrong. There seems to be a lack of a culture of public service. They don't seem to realize that they're spending our tax dollars.

MARSH: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gave a speech to a campaign donor's hockey team, then took a $12,000 private jet. Both his trip and whether he crossed the line between government service and politics are under review.

The inspector general investigating the Environmental Protection Agency's head, Scott Pruitt, has now expanded its probe to look at all of Pruitt's travel. Documents show he spent around $60,000 on private planes and military jets.


MARSH: Well, the Interior Department has pushed back, saying past secretaries have used private planes and government jets. In fact, they handed over details on that to a congressional committee currently looking into Cabinet travel across government.

The documents show that nearly $1 million was spent on noncommercial travel for interior secretaries under the Obama administration during a seven-year period. That would include travel on both chartered planes, as well as the Interior Department's planes. But, you know, some would say that it's not apples to apples, that that number is for a seven-year period.

And here within the Trump administration, we're looking at a matter of months here. So, you know, people are just, again, asking the question, is it justified to be flying on these aircraft?

SCIUTTO: The numbers adding up quickly. Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

I'm joined by my panel, Jen Psaki, Kevin Madden.

Let's talk about this kind of travel budget thing, writ large, right, because it's not just the Pence trip. It's a bunch of trips in succession, where the administration has gotten criticism.

I'm curious your view, Kevin. And I want yours as well, Jen.


Is this an issue outside of the Beltway as well? Is this hitting folks at home, the middle part of the country? Are they looking at this and saying, hey, where is all my tax money?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think you have to put the Pence one aside. I think they have a very different standard of security and expectations, quite frankly, for a president and a vice president.

But, yes, these do become problems. I think if you're inside -- I think they become a huge perception problem for the Cabinet members, because I think if you're inside one of these Cabinet agencies and you are dealing with this problem, you have to remember that you're on your own here.

I don't think the White House really wants to have to deal with this as a political distraction. One of the key things you have to do inside one of these Cabinet agencies is take direct control over the response of this.

Either apologize, put new tough standards in place, and really begin to minimize the political damage that this puts on the president and the White House.

SCIUTTO: After the Tom Price resignation, led to his resignation, the chief of staff, John Kelly, was supposed to be taking charge of this, was he not?


And I will tell you how it worked in our White House, was the deputy chief of staff -- so it was Jim Messina first. Then it was Alyssa Mastromonaco, Anita Breckenridge.

They had control over this and they watched like hawks over Cabinet members, and if they were trying to take private or chartered flights. It was the exception. It was never the rule, and far from the rule. And the reason is because these are taxpayer funds. When you serve

government, when you serve the American people, that's not the expectation. If you want that, then you should go work for a private sector company and fly on a private plane.

SCIUTTO: Even -- I work for a private sector company, and, you know, folks look at your travel here. I know lots of folks watching now, their bosses look when they travel.

PSAKI: Sure. You should go back to being the CEO of a business.

MADDEN: You should always remember, ask for permission before you have to beg for forgiveness.

SCIUTTO: Right. Works in marriage as well.


SCIUTTO: On the NFL issue, though, let's talk about that, because that's a separate issue.

I wonder if you think, Kevin Madden, again -- and I will ask both of you -- the president, big picture, is getting this one right.

MADDEN: Oh, yes.

I believe the White House has calculated correctly that the political benefits here outweigh any of the criticisms that they're getting from the media and inside the Beltway. This is one of the culture wars that the many folks on the right believe has swung back towards them, and that this shows that the left and even the media are very much out of step with some of the concerns of average Americans when it comes to something like standing for the anthem.

I know there are a lot of different views on whether or not this really is about the national anthem, but it in the minds of most Americans right now has become that. It has become a proxy debate over that.

SCIUTTO: How do you answer that?

PSAKI: I think politically in the moment if you look at polling, Kevin's right.

However, this is actually about people feeling injustice, people feeling like they are being discriminated against as a race, and that is something that may have a longer lead. So, is it right politically? Yes. Trump is really focused on 40 percent of the population. So in that sense, what he did was along the lines of many decisions he's made, which is about his political future.

But it is also alienating a swathe of the country, a part of the country that could also be motivated to come out in the midterm elections and in 2020, if you're looking at it through purely the political lens.

SCIUTTO: Right. Each party has different motivators, right?

MADDEN: It is. This has become a bit of a political Rorschach test for people's partisan tribalism.

SCIUTTO: We have another issue, which arguably is bigger than any.

You have people publicly, Republicans in this case, Senator Bob Corker, openly questioning the president's fitness for office. I mean, this is -- you can -- the word crisis I feel like has almost been overused, because there is a crisis three times a week.

But is that not a crisis for this administration to have senior Republicans questioning that so publicly?

MADDEN: Well, I think one of the problems here is that it does sort of open up a larger debate that is inside the Republican Party.

I think the president is actually winning that debate. I think because of his focus on some of the key issues that so many senators inside his own party that may be critical of him in private, so many of them care about...


SCIUTTO: Did he win that debate on health care? He might have won the debate, but he didn't get the results.

MADDEN: No, that's true.

And I think they're going to continue to focus on that. The same goes for tax reform. The same goes for national security and many of the foreign policy debates we're seeing right now. So while we do have that -- a little bit of a crisis there and there is some tension, there always is tension between the White Houses and Congress. It has become a bit of a distraction.

SCIUTTO: Distraction.

If President Obama had a senior Democrat, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioning his fitness for office in his own party, what would be the reaction in the White House? What would be your level of nervousness?

PSAKI: Pretty high.

Look, I think it's a little too early to know whether this will take hold for months and months and months, but what could be shifting here is the perception from, oh, he's a little out of the ordinary and he's pretty offensive, to he's unstable and dangerous.

And that's something people, as you know, Jim, have been saying in the national security community from both sides of the aisle, and now it's tricking into Republicans in Congress.


That could be a shift. Now, whether people in the country pay attention, I don't think we're going to know for some time.

SCIUTTO: Right. Jen, Kevin, please stay there. We have a lot more to talk about, including President Trump still touting his response to Hurricane Maria on Twitter.

That's next.


SCIUTTO: We're back now with our politics lead and an update on the still dire situation in Puerto Rico, this nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck there.

Eighty-five percent of the island still does not have power; 40 percent does not have running drinking water.

The island's governor is lobbying Congress for an influx of cash, warning -- quote -- "Absent extraordinary measures to address the halt in economic activity in Puerto Rico, the humanitarian crisis will deepen."

My panel is back with me. You have that very dire, I mean, and it's in the numbers, too. 85 percent without water three weeks later and yet you had the President tweet yesterday," nobody could have done what I've done for Puerto Rico with so little appreciation, so much work. Exclamation point." Kevin?

MADDEN: Well, look, it doesn't come as a surprise that the President is very sensitive to negative media coverage and there is not a whole lot of positive media coverage right now.

SCIUTTO: Wait, this is not media coverage, this is in the numbers. This is three weeks later.

MADDEN: No doubt but I think this is why the President -- I'm trying to explain why the President is reacting as he has. And also, I think also not getting enough credit for what they have done down there. There is -- there is no doubt there is an incredible level of devastation, but there are still ongoing efforts. And I think that's where you see the President push back, which is that he believes he should get more credit for the fact they're -- they have the rescue missions going on, they're working overtime in order to get power to places there is no power, food, water, all of that. But we -- that's the -- I'm trying to explain the reason behind the tweet, is that the President's sensitive to negative news coverage.

SCIUTTO: Sure. Well, that and we've had a lot of experience with that. Jen, how do you -- when you look at this, I mean, do you see the makings of a Katrina here?

PSAKI: Well, look, I don't think we know yet, but I do think that there's an element of it that we don't talk about enough, which is that if this were Kansas City, if this were Columbus, even Houston, they would have gotten a lot more attention and probably assistance and maybe even sympathy from the President. And that last part I think is pretty key. Now, I don't think Puerto Rico does feel like it's not a part of the United States. It is a part of the United States. But it feels like a different place to many people. And -- but there is a racial aspect of this that I think could make this a bigger problem and crisis for this administration.

SCIUTTO: They're U.S. citizens just as much as we are. I want to talk about the Iran nuclear deal. Jen, you were heavily involved in this as it was being negotiated. The President has all but telegraphed that later this week he's going to announce that he's going to decertify the deal, which we should make clear, it doesn't mean he pulls out of the deal but effectively punts it to Congress here. Jen looking at that, how much of a mistake do you think that would be in your view?

PSAKI: Well, a huge one. Here's why. It is working. Every external, every independent analyst says it's working. Most people don't argue that. Even Democrat who's opposed the deal initially are for it. Even Republicans have said they don't want to unwind it. Even people from the Trump administration have said on background they don't want it to unwind. So what that leaves you at is that this is a political decision. He wants to deliver on something he promised to his base. Now the problem is he thinks Congress is going to bail him out. And I don't know what leads him to that conclusion because they need some sort of off-ramp to make him and make them feel like it's a win. But it's really playing with fire here.

And meanwhile, as you know, Jim, European countries, partners who are part of these negotiations, they're going to start to look at this and think, well, why should we have all these sanctions in place? And this could unwind before our eyes. So it's very dangerous. It seems clear he's going to do it this weekend, and it's a big problem.

SCIUTTO: Your (INAUDIBLE) certainly nervous. I've spoken to some and they've said in no uncertain terms. Kevin, what's the best case scenario for this working out --is it Congress -- not re-imposing the sanctions but imposing new sanctions for instance on missile technology?

MADDEN: Well, I think it's some -- I don't know about some of the details of what they were trying to you know, put back in some sort of new recertified deal, but I think the goal here ought to be to get all the coalitions that were working on this issue on one page up on Capitol Hill again and then also working hand in glove with the administration. One of the things I would worry about, I would disagree with Jen on the fact this was a political decision because this was a policy stance that the President was very clear about during the course of the election. So you can disagree with him on that, but it was clear this was something that he ran on. But I think one of the things I would worry about is some of the differences that are in the administration to come out again in public.

SCIUTTO: Kevin, Jen, thanks so much as always.

Evacuations underway as fast-moving wildfires consume buildings and homes right in California's wine country. Now that fire has turned deadly and dozens of other people are in the hospital. Stick around, we're going to have more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Turning to our "NATIONAL LEAD." Wildfires in California have now turned deadly. The fires have put California under a state of emergency with over 14 major fires burning across eight counties, from Orange County in the south to Mendocino, well-known wine country just part of the 57,000 acres ablaze as we speak. Health officials say more than 100 patients are at Napa and Sonoma County Hospitals from fire-related injuries and two hospitals were forced to evacuate. The flames moving so quickly that people are pouring out of their houses, sometimes not even having time to grab a change of clothes. CNN's Dan Simon is in Santa Rosa, California. Dan, this all seemed to escalate very quickly there.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this fire was just incredibly explosive. It spread so quickly because of the wind. We're talking about 40 to 50-mile-per-hour gusts last night. You can see what it did to one subdivision. Take a look at this. This is the sky view subdivision in Santa Rosa, California, and it just incinerated everything. There are many dozens of homes in this one neighborhood. A few homes across the street survived, but that's about it. You can see just the utter devastation involved. You can see this fire is smoldering, but there are still active flames in many parts of Santa Rosa. We saw a storage unit that was going up, a whole business filled with storage containers that was on fire. I saw a McDonald's that burned to the ground, a furniture store, a hotel, a Hilton Hotel, it's just been unbelievable.

There have been a number of evacuations. Thousands of people have been evacuated. They had to evacuate two hospitals and take those critically ill patients south towards Marin County and San Francisco. I saw streams of ambulances going south as I was coming up here this morning. So quite the situation, Jim. And, of course, the smoke is really thick. I'll just share a quick personal story. I woke up at about 2:00 in the morning. My wife said that she smelled some smoke. We checked on the kids, we've looked throughout the house. The house was not on fire, fortunately. We subsequently learned all of that smoke was pushing its way towards San Francisco, some 50 miles away. The entire city smelled like a wildfire. Of course, we're lucky in San Francisco. Here, not so fortunate. And they're going to be dealing with this for some time, Jim.

[16:56:27] SCIUTTO: Goodness, you see those pictures behind you, the houses, the homes, just so fragile. Dan Simon, right in the middle of it there. Thanks very much.

Also in national news, the FBI is now questioning the brother of the Las Vegas killer. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wants to help investigators understand what they're seeing, what happened here and that they'll take all the help they can get. With still so many unanswered questions, what clue might the gunman have left behind? What made him snap? Did anyone else know of his elaborate plans inside that Mandalay Bay Suite shooting down on that concert, killing some 58 people? The gunman's own words might also now give us some insights. CNN's Sara Sidner joins me live in Las Vegas. Sara, the shooter tried to actually sue another Vegas hotel in 2013. It's from that deposition that we're learning a fair amount about him now, isn't it?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's true. It gives you a little bit of insight into at least his gambling habits and just how heavy of a gambler he was. He himself in this deposition in front of an attorney for the Cosmopolitan Hotel that he sued after a slip and fall in 2013. He sort of asked about his gambling habits and he calls himself the biggest video poker player in the world. And when asked how he knows that, he said, well, he's gambled about $1 million a night. So we're talking about a lot of money going into those video poker machines. He would say he played all night and slept during the day, that he played somewhere between 14 hours a day, 365 days a year. That's what he said in the deposition.

Now, mind you, that was about four years ago because that does not give you much time to have a personal life. And certainly, since then, we know he has a girlfriend who says that he loved her and she loved him and they did spend time together. So maybe those habits changed a bit. But he certainly was a high-roller in this town. We have talked to folks who knew him through other people, saying that yes, indeed. He didn't really socialize with people because video poker is kind of a solitary person's game. You just put -- keep putting the money in but it is a thinking man's game. And when he was also asked about sort of how much coins or how much money he's putting through those machines, he said 200 million coins a day. We're talking about huge amounts of money.

Also, we're hearing from him in this deposition that he had an attorney -- not an attorney, a doctor who was on retainer who prescribed him valium. And we know that the side effects from valium can be making someone a little bit violent at times if that's what's in their personality. But at this point in time, investigators still trying to figure it out, trying to figure out why this man did what he did. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Just sickening to hear. Most importantly the victims, we know the family members are now retrieving remains and belongings. Just a horrible process for them to go through.

SIDNER: It is a terrible process. And we know personally from a mother named Neysa Tonks. She had three boys. They are there celebrating her life today. We know that they have been able to now see the body and get the body. And this just has been a horrible time for so many people, those who lost loved ones forever and those who are injured. Families worried about their loved ones. Still, we're talking about more than 500 families having to worry because of what this man, Stephen Paddock, did. Jim?

SCIUTTO: I just feel like those montages of victims' photos, they just keep getting bigger and bigger. Sara Sidner, thanks very much. She's in Las Vegas for us. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JIMSCIUTTO. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."