Return to Transcripts main page


Investigators: Gunman Obsessed With Family Dispute; Air Force Failed To Report Gunman's Court-Martial; Trump Urges North Korea To "Make A Deal" On Nuclear Arms; Governor Races Test Trump's Political Strength. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 7, 2017 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. A history of violence and obsession with the family dispute and the breakdown in the system that allowed a killer to get a gun. Investigators are starting to piece together the dark past of the man who carried out the horrific church massacre in Texas.

His court-martial back in 2012 came after charges he beat his wife and child, abuse so bad, we now learned his stepson suffered a skull fracture. That from a former Air Force prosecutor. And in 2014, he was charged with animal cruelty after neighbors saw him punching a dog several times.

And now the Air Force is admitting that his abuse conviction was not reported to a federal database as it should have been, and they are now conducting an investigation.


COLONEL DON CHRISTENSEN (RETIRED), FORMER AIR FORCE CHIEF PROSECUTOR: So, somebody, whether it was the air force, the civil authorities, somebody really dropped a ball on this case and there is, you know, 26 dead people now.


BOLDUAN: Also new today, we hear from the Texas hero who confronted the gunman as he left the church. Stephen Willeford speaking now for the first time.


STEPHEN WILLEFORD, SHOT AND CHASED CHURCH SHOOTER: The people in that church, they're friends of mine, they're family, and every time I heard a shot I knew that that probably represented a life. I'm no hero. I am not. I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done, and I just wish I could have gotten there faster, but I didn't know. I didn't know what was happening.


BOLDUAN: What an amazing man. But with all of this, the families, friends and community of Sutherland Springs are now facing the sheer magnitude of their loss. Regina Rodriguez lost her father and her stepmother.


REGINA RODRIGUEZ, DAUGHTER OF VICTIM RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: (Inaudible ] he is in heaven. I don't know what else to do. Everybody tells me I need to be strong because I have children and I'm trying, but I don't feel strong. I don't feel strong.


BOLDUAN: Poor thing. Let's get to all of it right now. Let's get to CNN's Diane Gallagher on the scene in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon. Diane, first to you.

We are now getting a fuller picture, not only of all of the families' grief that they are going through, but also of the shooter's violent past. What does it mean for what happened there yesterday, Sunday?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So Kate, it really is helping authorities try to piece together what the true motive was, what led to this deadly church shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in Texas state history and a large part of that is investigating his online footprint.

Examining exactly what he was like on the internet. Take a look at this Facebook picture that CNN has obtained from Devin Kelley's page. It's a gun. Obviously, you can see the caption, she's a bad you fill in the blank. You can see it at that point there.

But we talked to a CNN gun expert, who says that this could be a Ruger AR-556, which, of course, is the type of gun that was used in the church shooting, but it appears that there have been some modifications made to this weapon, to the stock, to the trigger, to the scope.

So, CNN can't say if this, in fact, is the weapon that was used in the shooting. But when we spoke to friends and neighbors of Devin Kelley, they say that they noticed this increasing angry persona online and law enforcement investigators tell us that they had seen a social media footprint that indicated he was obsessed with mass shootings and violence.

Of course, we know about his violent past, Kate. You laid out the assault convictions of his ex-wife and infant stepson, the animal cruelty charge in which somebody said that he was stomping on and punching a husky puppy at a Colorado RV park back in 2014.

And so, this is something they're looking into, to see if that, coupled with a family grudge, something that he couldn't let go, an obsession with that familial dispute with his wife's family may have led to this shooting. BOLDUAN: An obsession with that familial dispute. Diane, thank you so much for laying it out for us, getting somewhat of a clearer picture of just what a violent man this was.

Let me get over to Ryan now at the Pentagon. So, Ryan, on the other element of this, of how he could have been stopped, if he could have been stopped, what is the Air Force now saying about why his assault conviction was not reported as it should have been?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Air Force admitting last night that initial information shows that the Air Force base in New Mexico, Holloman Air Force Base, where the court-martial was conducted, the Office of Special Investigations there did not appropriately enter the conviction for domestic violence assault into the national database that would have prevented him from purchasing a firearm.

And again, the military requires that all services enter such information into this database. So not -- the Air Force investigating exactly what went wrong here, why this was not done, already looking at records speaking to people involved.

The Air Force is looking at other cases where domestic violence occurred to determine whether or not those convictions were appropriately entered into this database, so potentially looking whether others who are out there, Department of Defense launching their own investigation so many unanswered questions that the investigations hope to find out here -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So many questions right now. Ryan, thank you so much. Diane, thank you so much. Joining me now to discuss some of this, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, CNN military analyst and former spokesman at the Pentagon, and James Galliano, CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI special agent. Thank you both for being here.

John, if I can start with you, since we've just hearing from Ryan Browne laying that out, you also heard there, a bit earlier from the former Air Force chief prosecutor, he says that someone dropped the ball here. Why wouldn't the shooter's conviction get reported to the national database? Is there a reason?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I mean that's what they're investigating right now. I think it's probably likely that there were many balls dropped here. Clearly, the Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force OSI had a responsibility to enter that originally into the database.

But there were probably other opportunities for somebody to have checked that, like, for instance, not only when he was convicted but when he entered the brig, the jail, when he left the jail, and then when he was processed again for final separation under this bad conduct discharge.

All of those were opportunities for somebody to take a look and see if that had been done. So, while the original sin was OSI's failure, it's very likely that there were other opportunities that were missed as well.

BOLDUAN: I mean, as you heard from Ryan, the secretary of the Air Force has ordered a full review now to find out if other cases have also gone unreported, other balls have been dropped. I mean, do they potentially have a huge problem on their hands?

KIRBY: Yes, I think they do. Look, it's not just checking to see whether there were other cases not properly entered. I think one of the things that the inspector general will do is look at inconsistencies and implementation of this regulation across the services.

Is this a Defense Department regulation that requires this? And each service has their own -- administers their own unique judicial system so one of the things they'll be looking at to see if all the services are actually following the blanket umbrella instruction the way they're supposed to.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And of course, the question that remains who ultimately could be held responsible for dropping the ball here. As you said, it could be multiple people that -- multiple places and areas and I guess then people who could dropped the ball here.

KIRBY: Right.

BOLDUAN: John, hold on for me one second. James, I want to ask you, yesterday -- yesterday they said that in this press conference we were watching, you know, the search is for the why. And I fear that it's going to be completely unsatisfactory for everyone.

Because yesterday at the press conference they said, that at least preliminary they do not believe that it was religious motivation or racial motivation, they are looking at more and more looking at this domestic dispute, some obsession with a domestic dispute.

Do you think that with how they're talking about it, how investigators are talking about it, they pretty much nailed on what they think the motive is?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think so at this juncture, everything that has come out from the investigation, come out in the press conferences, it pretty much states that. I think in the wake of these things which happen all too often, Kate, we search for causality and motive.

And sometimes people in the outside, the lay person, looks at this and goes why are you getting messed up in that. That's not important. It's important for a number of reasons. One is, it helps us whether it's the military in this instance as the admiral's point or whether or not it is something law enforcement missed, it helps us to get out in front of the next one to figure out why and try to prevent it.

BOLDUAN: With that in mind, there's -- there have been a lot of answers. There's a trail. They found a lot about this guy really quickly. What questions do you still have then? GAGLIANO: Well, I got a question on a number of things. One, the linkup between the Department of Defense and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

BOLDUAN: That federal database.

GAGLIANO: The NICS making sure that's linked up is critical and in the wake of this, we could say that could be a direct causality, maybe we could have prevented it. But going forward, people in the wake of these things always say, yes, but it wouldn't have prevented this one, this one, this one.

The other bigger pieces here that law enforcement is looking at, there are no provisions in some states for the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, registered firearms. And the secondary sales market which is not regulated.

Those two things, people think, well, law enforcement, they're proponents of the Second Amendment will not take issue with that, we do because those guns fall into bad guys hands, innocent people in a church get slaughtered or cops get killed on the job.

[11:10:12] BOLDUAN: And the president was asked about what can be done in light of all this, specifically he was asked if he now will support extreme vetting of gun purchases as he supports extreme vetting of folks coming into the country in light of terror attacks and here's what he said. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So, you're bringing up a situation that probably shouldn't be discussed too much right now. We could let time go by, but it's OK if you feel that's an appropriate question even though we're in the heart of South Korea, I will certainly answer your question.

If you did what you're suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago and you might not have had that very brave person, who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck.


BOLDUAN: Just from your perspective, what -- not necessarily responding to the president, but the argument we hear quite often of keeping the guns out of the bad guys' hands is one thing, but you're also keeping the guns out of the good guys' hands.

GAGLIANO: To respond reflectively is wrong. We don't want to just do something knee-jerk, but to sit back and do nothing is folly and is irresponsible. Why are bump fire stocks not illegal. Why can't you get --

BOLDUAN: ATF says they are reviewing the regulation and that's where everyone is letting it sit.

GAGLIANO: So, circumvention of the law and a work around which takes a weapon and makes it fully automatic that's legal. Why if you have a weapon lost or stolen, are you not compelled to report it? Why can you buy a weapon legally, register it and sell it to a friend or a bad guy and not have to note that?

That is wrong. These are simple things. And people like me, the posterchild for, you know, Second Amendment Rights, a proponent of the Second Amendment, can sit here and go this is sensible and not to do it is absolutely irrational and irresponsible.

BOLDUAN: My question is always if it's not OK to speculate that gun restrictions or more background checks could help keep a gun out of a bad guy's hands then you shouldn't speculate that any of this would also keep the gun out of the good guys hands as well.

I mean, if you're not going to go into speculation, don't go into speculation. Great to see you, James. Thank you as always. John, great to see you as well. Thank you.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, President Trump on the ground in South Korea with a striking new tone toward North Korea. No rocket man, no fire and fury, so what's the president's message now. We're going to take you to Seoul.

Plus, new revelations from a former Trump campaign adviser testifying behind closed doors. Did Carter Page just blow up once and for all the denial that there was no Trump campaign contact with Russian officials during the election? Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: Do you remember fire and fury or, of course, "Little Rocket Man?" Who can forget. President Trump is in South Korea this morning and he is sending something of a surprising new message to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un right now, essentially, let's talk.

The president sounding shockingly diplomatic as he continues his five- nation tour of the region, calling not only for North Korea to come to the table, but also for a united front against the rogue regime.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: We will together confront North Korea's actions and prevent the North Korean dictator from threatening millions of innocent lives. He is, indeed, threatening millions and millions of lives so needlessly.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Sara Murray is traveling with the president and joins us now from Seoul, South Korea. So, Sara, gone are the days of "Little Rocket Man" or at least gone for today maybe. Now hope for a diplomatic solution seems quite a shift for President Trump? SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It does seem like a shift. It's not that he went any easier on North Korea. He's still calling for them to be denuclearized, but we didn't hear the kind of barbed- pitched rhetoric that we've heard from President Trump in the past.

And remember, in the past, he's taken to Twitter to essentially suggest that diplomatic efforts are a waste of time, but he took a very different tone earlier today and said, in fact, he thinks some of the moves they've made already are yielding success. Listen to what he said.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think we're making a lot of progress. I think we're showing great strength. I think they understand we have unparalleled strength. There has never been strength like it. I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that's good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world. I do see certain movement, yes, but let's see what happens.


MURRAY: Now, you hear him saying North Korea should come to the table, they should make a deal. One of the other things that was telling was President Trump would not answer a question about whether he would meet with Kim Jong-un to try to hash this conflict out with both of them together.

The other thing we're watching for, of course, today is President Trump is going to address the General Assembly and we will see if his tone sounds more like what we heard at that press conference or we'll see if he goes back to this sort of fire and fury "Little Rocket Man" rhetoric that we're so used to hearing from this president stateside -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It seems anyone's guess is as good as mine. Great to see you, Sara. Thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss this CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd. She served on President Obama's National Security Council, and Bruce Klingner, he is a former chief of CIA's Korea branch. Great to see both of you.

So, Samantha, what do you make for now, what do you make of this shift in tone from the president?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think this may have been be a smart, strategic move by President Trump ahead of his meeting with Vladimir Putin. Giving diplomacy more of a chance is music to Vladimir Putin's ears. He is vehemently against a military strike on North Korea particularly if it means mores U.S. troops on the peninsula near the Russian border.

Now the truth is there's more that Russia can do to squeeze North Korea. Bilateral trade between Russia and North Korea, more than doubled in the first quarter of 2017. So, Trump may be preparing to ask Putin to do things like cut off oil exports to North Korea.

[11:20:05] But Putin's going to be less likely to do any of that if he thinks that Trump is only focused on a military strike. Trump needs to convince Putin that all options really are on the table so that Putin does more to squeeze Kim.

BOLDUAN: And that's a really interesting point. On the whole progress, though, point, Bruce, the president saying that he thinks that they're making a lot of progress, what would that progress be? Do you see progress?

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF FOR KOREA: I -- we have to distinguish between whether he means progress on enhancing the international pressure on North Korea or whether he is defining progress as some indication that Kim Jong-un is more willing to come to the table in a meaningful way.

I think we have seen a lot really during the last two years, a greater international consensus on the need to pressure North Korea for its repeated violations and defiance of the international community.

So, you know, we have seen progress on greater enforcement of U.S. laws, though, there's still a lot that can be done, the U.N. resolutions, as well as trying to ween away even legitimate businesses from dealing with Pyongyang.

BOLDUAN: Also, coming up, Samantha, is the president is giving this big address to the South Korean parliament. I mean, the White House is saying that we can expect the president to put the conflict with North Korea in a historical context is kind of how they've described it, and also push as you've talked about, as you were mentioning, Russia and China, to do more to isolate the country. What will you be listening for in this speech?

VINOGRAD: I would be listening to whether -- as to whether President Trump really does walk through all the levers that we have to pull on North Korea, to date, again, he's talked about fire and fury, he's spoken about "Rocket Man." North Korea is not going to respond well to bullying.

And there is more that China and Russia can do to pressure Kim, so I would be looking for him to walk through what all those options are so that people like Putin and Xi realize that there is more that they can do.

BOLDUAN: But also, Bruce, on that very point, the president says at the very same time that he likes to keep his cards close to the vest, right? So, how can you do both of these things?

KLINGNER: Well, what I would hope he would do is have a greater articulation of what the policy is towards North Korea. If you talk to U.S. officials, you will get a better sense of a coherent strategy, whereas the messaging, I think the administration has had a lot of problems on, a lot of conflicting messages not only from the president but from senior officials. So, we understand that he may emphasize North Korea's human rights violations and that would be a great lead in to putting North Korea back on the state sponsors of terrorism which is long overdue.

We would also hope that he articulates the need for deterrence, but also pressure as a way of trying to get North Korea back to the table in a meaningful way.

BOLDUAN: All right. We will see. That's the best we can say right now. Bruce, Samantha, great to see you both. Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, it is election day across the country and all eyes are on Virginia right now. President Trump, he did not spend a single day campaigning with the Republican candidate there, but today's result could be the first true test of the president's political pull. Why? That's coming up.



BOLDUAN: It's election day in America or at least in parts. Voters heading to the polls from Utah to New York right now. The tightest nastiest and perhaps most watched race this year is in Virginia for the governor's seat there.

Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam taking on longtime Republican operative, former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, who is about as establishment Republican as it gets. While he did not campaign for him, President Trump is jumping in the race today, tweeting his support for Gillespie and also taking more than a few hits at Northam.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Richmond following this big day. So, Ryan, the polls close at 7:00. What's going on before then?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate it's a mad dash by both campaigns to get their voters to the polls and turnout, meaning specifically which voters show up at the polls could indicate who ends up being the winner in the race.

Traditionally, these off-year elections for governor, Virginia elects its governor a year after a presidential contest, have notoriously low turnout, somewhere in the 30 percent range after a presidential election where Virginians generally show up to the polls in big numbers.

And that's usually helpful to Republicans. They tend to do better in low turnout elections. So, if not as many voters come out as they did last year that's where Republicans see an opening.

Of course, Donald Trump did not win Virginia in the presidential election last year, despite winning the election overall, and that's why Democrats are optimistic. They feel as though they have a candidate in Ralph Northam, someone that was born here in Virginia that understands Virginia politics, but at the same time can be a check on the Trump administration. Meanwhile, Ed Gillespie, who as you mentioned might be the definition of establishment, has run a campaign where he hasn't necessarily run alongside President Trump, but he's championed many of the culture war type issues that the president seems to champion, things like keeping up confederate monuments in Virginia.

He's also talked about immigration, specifically the rise of the MS 13 gang, and he's gone after Ralph Northam, the lieutenant governor, who cast a tie-breaking vote that would have prevented sanctuary cities from being set up here in Virginia.

Of course, there are no sanctuary cities right now. It was essentially a preemptive law that Northam voted against. So, it has been a very divisive race. Both candidates have hit each other pretty hard.

A lot of Virginians are happy that election day is coming because they are sick of seeing these ads, which have been very nasty at times on both sides, and the polls show us, Kate, this is going to be a very tight finish and we may not have the outcome until very late into the night.

BOLDUAN: So, stay close to CNN, that's my only advice. Great to see you. Thank you so much, Ryan.

All right. Joining me now, CNN political director, David Chalian, and CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza. So, David, the president weighing in on this race today, he hasn't campaigned there one day, why is this race so important for him?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. He's not campaigning there one day. It was probably not his choice. That was probably the choice of Ed --