Return to Transcripts main page


Election Day; President Trump in South Korea; Trump to Deliver Major Speech on North Korea Tonight; Interview with Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho; Church Gunman Escaped Mental Health Facility in 2012. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 7, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's that election music again.

Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It is Election Day 2017. Across the country, voters right now are weighing in on key races. And just a year after President Donald Trump himself was elected, today's results could prove to be an indicator of how voters feel about the Trump presidency so far.

Meanwhile, the 2016 election is on the minds of congressional investigators who are questioning one of President Trump's closest confidants right now, Keith Schiller, the president's longtime former bodyguard who was dispatched by Mr. Trump to hand-deliver that letter informing former FBI Director James Comey that he had been fired.

We are also getting a look into the six-hour testimony of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, during which Page revealed that he had floated the idea of candidate Trump going to Russia during the campaign.

All this while we await a major speech from President Trump this evening before the South Korean National Assembly.

The president has taken a less bellicose tone there so far today. He avoided Rocket Man insults against Kim Jong-un. He's even been talking about the importance of diplomacy.

We're going to begin our coverage today with CNN's Sara Murray, who is in Seoul, South Korea.

Sara, President Trump's relationship with South Korean President Moon, it hasn't always been warm. Mr. Trump has talked tough on trade, on the U.S. military presence there.

What are we expecting to hear from him tonight?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we certainly expect the president to tout the importance of the alliance between U.S. and -- the U.S. and South Korea, but also to call on China and Russia to step up their efforts to put more pressure on North Korea. But the big question, of course, is going to be the tone. Do we see

the bombastic President Trump that we're used to getting stateside or the more measured approach we have seen over the last 24 hours?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea is a worldwide threat that requires worldwide action.

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump aiming to send a muscular signal to North Korea.

TRUMP: The United States stands prepared to defend itself and its allies using the full range of our unmatched military capabilities, if need be.

MURRAY: Even as the commander in chief known for his fiery rhetoric dialled it back in a visit to the nation with the most at stake.

TRUMP: 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.

MURRAY: Appearing alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in after the two men shared tea with their wives and took part in a ceremonial friendship walk, Trump offered a rosier take on diplomatic efforts.

TRUMP: We sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world. And they're right now positioned. We have a nuclear submarine also positioned. We have many things happening that we hope, we hope -- in fact, I will go a step further -- we hope to God we never have to use.

MURRAY: For a president who once took to Twitter to suggest his secretary of state was wasting his time trying to negotiate with lil' Rocket Man, it was a sharp change in tone.

There was no taunting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with disparaging nicknames, no threats of fire and fury, though the president did leap at the opportunity to blame his predecessors for the diplomatic conundrum he now faces.

TRUMP: This is a problem, by the way, that should have been done over the last 25 years, not now. This is not the right time to be doing it, but that's what I got. That's what I got.

MURRAY: But even when his attention trained on international threats, Trump wasn't able to avoid questions about the latest horror at home.

TRUMP: Well, you know, you're bringing up a situation that probably shouldn't be discussed too much right now. We can let a little time go by, but it's OK if you feel that that's an appropriate question.

MURRAY: Trump didn't acknowledge the Air Force's admission that it failed to inform the FBI of the killer's domestic violence conviction and he insisted additional gun control measures wouldn't have prevented the mass shooting at a Texas church. TRUMP: 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 go out and shoot him and hit him and neutralize him.

And I can only say this. If he didn't have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.


MURRAY: Now, President Trump was clearly reluctant to weigh in on that issue of gun control. There is another question he refused to answer, whether he would be willing to sit down to direct talks with Kim Jong-un -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray in Seoul, South Korea, for us, thanks so much.

I want to talk about this more with my Election Day mega-octa-panel.


Josh Green, let me start with you.

We had been told as a preview of the president's trip that he necessarily wouldn't be holding back in his rhetoric, and yet we have heard a more restrained President Trump. What do you think the reasoning is?

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The reasoning is he's sitting face-to-face with foreign leaders and he is there trying to extract concessions.

And we saw it in Japan when he tried to do that with Shinzo Abe. He asked that automakers make more cars in the U.S. He didn't get it. He's going to give a speech in Seoul. He's going to ask other countries to help the U.S. put more pressure on North Korea.

He may not get it if he doesn't ask nicely. So, I think the imperatives have changed, the immediate imperatives for Trump, as he sits down across the table from these leaders.

TAPPER: Is that what you think it is? It's just that he's right there with these leaders, as opposed to he's on his best behavior and sometimes he's not?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and I think it's because he's there.

When you're in South Korea you're sort of facing the prospect of missiles from North Korea, basically just the possibility that they might destroy Seoul, that's a very real and a very sobering thing. And I think trump is dealing with that for the first time.

And not only that, but in Japan, he had a lot -- he has a much closer relationship with Japanese leaders than he does with the South Koreans, who are a lot more nervous about his rhetoric. They don't necessarily see too clearly what the game plan is.

And I think that if, in fact, Trump is holding back, which it's only been one day, we will see what happens, if in fact he is holding back, it might be because there is a different kind of relationship that he has to broker with the South Koreans, one in which that requires him to show that he is, you know, deserving of that kind of trust, that he has a game plan beyond just the rhetoric.

TAPPER: David Urban, do you think there is something strategic about the president wanting Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans to think that he's unpredictable, to think that sometimes he's being restrained, that that might actually help his pitch?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, it helped him get where he is, right?

He sliced like a hot knife through butter to get to the presidency through a very competent field of Republican primary opponents. Secretary of state, he dismissed with, right, in an election. So that's worked for him to date and I think he's sticking with what got him there.

You heard the president talk about, you know, his first stop on this trip was at Pearl Harbor and PACOM kind of showing the full force of the U.S. military. Talking about the three carriers floating around just off the coast. The nuclear submarine. You have had the flights.

He is I think now kind of talking a little quietly and having the big stick, kind of to mix metaphors there, and keeping folks off balance may be exactly what he's trying to do.

TAPPER: Ana, what do you think the president needs to accomplish this evening with his speech before the parliament of South Korea?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think he needs to look presidential. I think he needs to make sense. I think he needs to stick to script.

We have seen that when Donald Trump sticks to script, he can have presidential moments. I wonder if we're not overthinking this. How about if the guy is just tired and jet-lagged and not watching cable news and stewing about it hours and hours a day?

URBAN: I don't think that's the case.

CABRERA: And tweeting.

TAPPER: He is stewing. He is stewing.

URBAN: The president doesn't get jet-lagged or tired, I will tell you that from traveling with him.

CABRERA: Well, listen, if I remember correctly, when he did his Middle East trip, he was so tired that he had to cancel some events. And everybody gets tired when they're going halfway across the world. It's 14 hours. If you think a 71-year-old man doesn't get tired, then I don't know

what he's drinking.

TAPPER: I want to turn to the issue of gun control.

Senator Jeff Flake and Senator Heinrich, the Democratic senator, I believe, from New Mexico, they're introducing a bill that they say will address a loophole when it comes to the military reporting incidents of domestic violence to the FBI.

I think one of the big questions going on right here is, was this just the U.S. Air Force messing up? Is this more systemic than that? I saw one report suggesting that they have only reported one misdemeanor in terms of domestic violence in years, the entire military. Or is there something else going on here?

GREEN: I don't know.

But the reporting suggests that there is a more systemic issue here and that's why this bill looks like it's necessary. You know, I'm reminded, though, in the wake of Vegas, there seemed to be a bipartisan push for doing something about bump stocks. Right?

Even the NRA came out with a statement and said, though they didn't want a legislative fix, they were OK with a regulatory fix if the ATF wanted to reclassify bump stocks.

That's as far as the NRA has gone on any kind of curbs on guns in recent years. So you wonder if there will be momentum. This is a bipartisan bill. We have seen bipartisan bills in the past fall apart when this sort of tragedy recedes, but just another of, if this can't pass, just sort of reinstituting, recommitting oneself or the country to a law that already exists on the books, just making the reporting more aggressive, if that can't pass, it doesn't seem like much can pass on guns at all.


TAPPER: Although the Senate Judiciary Committee said they will hold a hearing on bump stocks.

Is it possible that we are in something of an area where Congress might do something?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I mean, I would love to think so.

TAPPER: I know. There's a lot of questions in that.

POWERS: How many -- I guess the question is it would have to start happening every week or what is the threshold for them, because we have had so many of these, that you sort of wonder, what will it take?

And it seemed like with Las Vegas that there did seem to be some consensus, and then nothing really happened, and I think people are highlighting that and maybe that's why they're now moving on it. But, look, the NRA has a lot of control over the Republican Party. And so the question is whether or not it's in their interests

politically to do anything about this.

URBAN: Just on that real quickly, why not a bipartisan examination of mental health?

I mean, that's what underlies all these shootings. It underlies 20- plus veterans a day killing themselves. Probably underlies the opioid epidemic in America. Somebody doesn't do this act, undertake this act, undertake Las Vegas, you know, jump off a bridge, take their own life in America if there is not an underlying mental health crisis. I'd like to see that examined in a bipartisan process.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that we need -- we have a mental health process that affects a wide swathe of people, from those who are incarcerated, to our veterans coming home. And I do think that's something that we need to examine.

The reason I chuckle, though, is because my friends on the right, if the shooter is a white shooter, then immediately we go to the fact that it's a mental health shooter.

If this shooter was brown, then the reaction is different.


SELLERS: But even more importantly, one of the things that I think we can have a discussion on in a bipartisan fashion to go a little bit deeper than that about a policy initiative is, we need to study gun violence in this country as a public health crisis.


We're going to take a quick break. Everyone, stick around.

We went to Seoul, South Korea, ahead of the president's speech. We also have a team positioned on the other side of the DMZ. Could tonight's address in any way calm tensions with North Korea? We're going to go live to Pyongyang next.

Stay with us.


[16:16:03] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with our world lead.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un will be closely monitoring President Trump's speech to South Korea's parliament in just a matter of hours, no doubt. Today, the Kim regime defiantly promised to continue to build up its nuclear weapons program.

CNN's Will Ripley is in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. It's his 17th trip to the country.

Will, what is North Korea listening for in the president's speech this evening do you think? WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want to

hear, first of all, if he's going to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, something a decision that the Trump administration has been hinting at for days. They were taken off that list about 1 0 years ago when they were negotiating back then about North Korea's nuclear program. We know how that has turned out.

They now have a growing arsenal and increasingly sophisticated weapons program, including missiles they say could be capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

TAPPER: And, Will, I know it would be considered provocative if the Kim regime conducted a launch while President Trump is in the region. Are there any plans that you know of?

RIPLEY: If it were going to happen, it would likely happen, history shows us, within the next couple of hours, because they tend to do these launches in the early morning hours. So, we'll have to watch very carefully as this evening here in the East Coast progresses, morning here in Pyongyang.

There have been indications according to South Korean intelligence of heightened active at missile launch research facilities and perhaps even more troubling, significant uptick in activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northern North Korea, near the border with China. That was observed by analysts with the North Korea watchdog group 38 North.

TAPPER: And, Will, we heard President Trump earlier today say the progress is being made with North Korea, with diplomacy. Have you seen any evidence of progress?

RIPLEY: On the ground here, absolutely not. In fact, we met with officials last night who reiterated that they feel this is a bad situation that has only gotten worse with the United States. Yes, President Trump took a more measured tone when he was speaking in South Korea. We'll have to see what he says in his speech in the coming hours.

But from the North Korean perspective, they look at all the rhetoric leading up to this, the insults, the bellicose statements and, then, of course, the actions of the United States. There were joint military exercises due to kick off in the coming few days involving three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups off the Pacific. This could be as many as 30 ships, just on the U.S. side.

It's another massive show of force, the exact kind of show of force that North Korea uses as justification to develop weapons of mass destruction and test them, perhaps at a highly sensitive time such as a presidential visit here in Asia. North Koreans have been saying for awhile now they want to send the Trump administration a clear message. They don't think they can talk, at least not right now, until they prove to the U.S. that they have in their view an effective nuclear deterrent.

But they're not ruling out diplomacy altogether. It seems they want to develop a nuclear program, round it off, in their words, and then when they feel they're in a position of strength, then they might be willing to have discussions. But all indications from North Koreans at least right now, more tests to come.

TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley live for us inside of North Korea, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Senate Intelligence Committees. Senator, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: So, Kim Jong-un's regime has test fired 22 missiles during 15 tests since February and conducted a nuclear test as well. It's further protected its technology with early launch -- with each launch, rather, and they've shown no willingness so far to negotiate. Has there been any progress that you can point to?

RISCH: Well, I don't know exactly what you mean. But if the question mean -- if you're asking whether there's bee progress, as far as negotiations are concerned --

TAPPER: Right.

RISCH: -- obviously, I can't speak to that. I can't confirm or deny that. I heard what the president said just as you said.

It's not my place to either confirm or deny what he's saying. He would -- you'd need somebody to ask him the question for him to refine that.

TAPPER: All right. Fair enough.

Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, your colleague from Illinois, said today she believes President Trump is leaning towards a preemptive strike against North Korea. If North Korea does test fire a missile while President Trump is in the region, how would you want the U.S. to respond?

[16:20:06] RISCH: Well, obviously, there's -- there's always contingent plans for what to do, given a certain situation.

I don't know where Senator Duckworth gets that information from, where she thinks he's leaning towards a preemptive strike. I would disagree with that and disagree with it vehemently. Certainly, there is always conditions under which a first strike could take place, but, look, there has been no discussion of that. I know of no information that indicates that he is leaning in that direction. So, that's really not helpful I think at this point.

TAPPER: The president does seem to be striking a different tone in Asia compared to some of the things he said in the United States, fire and fury. Calling Kim Jong-un rocket man. Is this strategic in your view? Is this being done on purpose? RISCH: Well, look, the Korean people themselves are divided on this

issue because they're a free country just like we are and they have varying opinions. In addition to that, President Moon obviously is much more measured in his tone than President Trump has been. And I think what President Trump has shown in the last 72 hours is accommodation towards what South Korea's position is.

Having said that, he has not walked back at all his determination that he's going to defend the country and defend the allies, and I'm sure that that is what he wants to convey to our allies over there. They remain under our nuclear umbrella and he intends to stay that way.

Having said that, yes, there is no doubt in the last 72 hours that he is more measured. You know, he gets a lot of criticism because his rhetoric, his diction is stronger than what a lot of people would like. But I'm one that believes that when you're dealing with Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-un needs to have an absolute clear understanding of what President Trump is thinking and what the red lines are that are out there and needs to understand he's not dealing with Barack Obama anymore.

He's dealing with somebody who is completely inalterably committed to defend the United States of America, our allies and our personnel around the world. And he's going to do what is necessary to do that. I don't think he's backed -- walked that back at all and I certainly don't want him to.

TAPPER: Senator, what do you make of criticism -- speaking of President Obama, what do you make of the criticism that President Trump's continued threats to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal might deter North Korea from thinking that the United States can be trusted to uphold a nuclear deal and maybe even keep them from coming to the table?

RISCH: Yes, well, that's real simple. The deal that was made with Iran was not a deal made by the people of the United States of America through their elected representatives. It was an executive agreement signed by the president of the United States.

We all said it at that time that it was merely an executive agreement. If indeed a treaty is negotiated, which is all an agreement is between nations, it needs to be submitted to Congress as treaties are. Once we sign, we're all-in, Republicans, Democrats, everyone will get behind it.

When you have something that was as politically steeped as the Iran deal was, it's going to be a problem. Simply saying there that's done and putting a signature to it doesn't get it done.

TAPPER: All right. Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho -- thank you so much, sir. Always good to see you.

RISCH: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Were learning new details now about the disturbing background of a man who killed 25 people and an unborn child in a Texas church. His escape from a mental health facility, accusations of rape -- many, many red flags coming to light.

Stay with us.


[16:27:49] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Turning to our national lead: a new key detail about the man who shot and killed 25 people plus an unborn child at a Texas church. New documents revealing that he escaped at one point from a behavioral health center in 2012 and had been deemed a threat to himself and others.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins me now live from Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Ed, let's start with the escape. What happened?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this occurred just after he had been accused as we've reported of assaulting his wife and child. And that was what -- those were the charges that would eventually put him and confine him for a year. But before that confinement, he was placed in a behavioral health center in El Paso, Texas.

And according to sources, he escaped from that facility and he had been placed there because he had been, quote, suffering from mental disorders, as well as making death threats to his military chain of command.

Jake, all of this crucial information because all of these were the red flags that were missed. The Air Force has admitted that it failed to pass along the documentation from this case into the databases that theoretically would have prevented him from buying the weapons that were used in the attack here at this church. So, another incredible sign of red flags that were missed along the way here.

TAPPER: What else do we know about the killer's history with violence?

LAVANDERA: Yes, several things popping up. In 2013, we've learned that the gunman was the subject of a rape and sexual assault investigation, dating back in 2013. No charges were filed in that case. That was in Comal County, New Braunfels, that's the town where the gunman lived.

There was also the animal cruelty charge back in 2013. And even just several weeks ago, the pastor of the church here, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs had been telling the sheriff that he wasn't really sure how to deal with this particular person. That he had come back and attended a fall festival here just a week before the shooting and the pastor was uncomfortable having the gunman around but wasn't really sure how to handle it.

TAPPER: And we're also hearing -- you're hearing a harrowing account from inside the church. Tell us about that.

LAVANDERA: Incredibly tense. We know that as we've reported, the gunman arrived here on the church grounds, started shooting from the outside, walked along the side of the sanctuary.