Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Investigators: Gunman Obsessed with Family Dispute; Air Force Failed to Report Gunman's Violent Past; Trump to Address South Korea Assembly; Statewide Races Testing Trump's Political Strength. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 7, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She was not in the sanctuary but his wife's grandmother was. She died in that shooting. Investigators also looking at his social media footprint and we're told that they've seen an increase in -- they describe obsession over mass shootings and violence.

We talked to neighbors who said that in the recent weeks leading up to this shooting, they heard him out practicing shooting in his yard, more frequently than usual. They said this is Texas. People do that all the time, but this sort of made us stand up and take notice. It's something we should probably point out here, that he was quite well armed when he showed up. We're talking 15 empty magazines. That's 450 rounds at First Baptist Church.

So this is something that we really are starting to try to look into at this point. I mean he has this violent past. You talked about his domestic assault incidents when he was in the Air Force. He spent 12 months in confinement in a military jail there. But we also have an incident with animal cruelty in Colorado where we were told by someone in the RV Park and looking at the police report. That he was jumping on a husky puppy and punching it repeatedly.

Now that is something that Kelley denied doing but he was cited for that cruelty anyway. Others that we have talked to known him since high school say that you know he sometimes would seem down at times. People who worked with him said that he was a bit distant but they didn't know that something like this was going to happen.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Diane Gallagher for us in Sutherland Springs. He was heavily armed -- heavily armed with weapons that he should not have been allowed to buy, legally prevented from buying them, nevertheless, he was able to. Why? It has to do with the military, records it did not turn over.

Ryan Browne at the Pentagon with the latest. Ryan?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, the Air Force issuing a statement last night saying that initial indication showed that the people that were responsible for transferring that information into the database following his conviction in the military court-martial for domestic violence. That information was never put into the appropriate database. Had it been placed in the database, he would never have been able to purchase multiple firearms. So this is something that the Air Force has launched an investigation, a review, to determine exactly what went wrong here. Why Holloman Air Force Base where the court-martial took place did not take the appropriate action to put this into this federal database as they are supposed to do with all convictions of domestic violence.

The Air Force looking at this particular case but also launching a wider review, along with the Department of Defense, to determine if there are others cases where military individuals convicted of domestic assault did not have that information put into the necessary databases and may have been able to purchase firearms, so two reviews ongoing right now, but the military, at least the Air Force, saying that initial indications show that they missed putting this information into the necessary database, which would have prevented him from purchasing a firearm. John and Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Unbelievable. Ryan Browne, thank you very much for that.

Now we want you to hear something remarkable. Strangers united by tragedy. Two men credited with stopping this gunman, saving lives certainly, embracing one another. Stephen Willeford hugging the man whose truck he jumped in. You heard from that man, you recognize his cowboy hat, speaking with John there in Texas yesterday with his extraordinary story. Well, Stephen now describes the gun battle for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN WILLEFORD, SHOT AND CHASED TEXAS CHURCH SHOOTER: I kept hearing the shots, one after another, very rapid shots, just pop, pop, pop and I knew every one of those shots represented someone, that it was aimed at someone, that they weren't just random shots more than likely.

I grabbed a handful of ammunition and started loading my magazine. I ran outside. I didn't even take time to put my shoes on. And I ran across the street looking for it. And when I came into the neighbor's yard, his Dodge pick-up truck was sitting right there. And I noticed an SUV, a gray SUV sitting across from the church or in front of the church, across the street from my neighbor's house with the driver's side door open in the middle of the street. And I didn't know it at the time, but the engine was running.

And I'm trying to survey the situation, not knowing what's going on. And then I saw a man in a black tactical helmet with a dark shaded helmet on and obviously, looked to me like it was bulletproof vest. And he had a pistol in his hand. And we exchanged gunfire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[10:05:09] BERMAN: And he hit him. I mean, and he hit him with his fire. By the way, the tactical vest, the bulletproof vest, also, should not have been allowed to buy it legally had his crimes been reported correctly by the Air Force. Now hours ago while he was traveling in South Korea, the president was asked whether stricter gun control measures might have made a difference. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: I wonder if you would consider extreme vetting for people trying to buy a gun.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. If he didn't have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Joining us now is Art Roderick, our CNN law enforcement analyst. And there's a lot to get to here, Art. We will get to the president's assessment in a moment. But first to what we know happened and that is that something critical didn't happen. That this critical information about a man who beat his wife, who assaulted his infant child so severely that, you know that his skull was injured. How that didn't get passed on to civilian authorities? This is not a glitch. This is systemic you argue?

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This isn't like something that fell through the cracks. I think this is a gaping hole in the system. And I'm glad to hear that the Department of Defense OIG is looking at this because that means they're not only going to look at the Air Force but they're going to look at the army, the navy, the coast guard, who all have investigative agencies.

But I think when you look at here. Any one of those three incidents would have barred him from getting a weapon, a felony charge, mental health issue, and also the domestic violence issue. Any one of those three would have stopped him from getting this firearm. So we have an issue here that's got to be looked at because I know this is coming down to a clerical error but this is a horrible situation that caused this with some clerk or analyst that didn't put this information into NCIC.

BERMAN: This is a black and white issue here.

RODERICK: Right.

BERMAN: Had the law been enforced the way it was supposed to. He would not have been able to go into those stores and buy two of the guns that he purchased, period, full stop. You know, so it's not solely about extreme vetting as the president was asked there. It's just about actual enforcement of the law as written. The flip side of what the president said was that the man, the hero, who we heard from, maybe he wouldn't have been able to get his gun if there was vetting. That's not true either. I mean, there's not a law -- not a background check that would have kept him from legally being able to buy the gun. RODERICK: You're right. And the odd thing here that we really haven't talked a lot about is the fact that he applied for a concealed carry permit. Why was that denied? We don't know the answer as to why was that denied and would that have affected him purchasing and owning those other weapons that he had.

HARLOW: When you look at what can change now, I mean, you say this is a gaping hole.

RODERICK: Yes.

HARLOW: What do you think needs to change so that someone with such a violent past and so many alarm bells doesn't end up being able to buy four more guns?

RODERICK: I think there's got to be stricter guidelines within the Department of Defense about entering these types of crimes into the National Crime Information Center so that it's there. So that when somebody gets arrested for domestic violence or violent crime, that that is immediately put into the system and then the disposition of that particular crime also has a huge effect. So I think there's got to be more of a relationship between the Department of Defense, the UCMJ, code of military justice, and what we have for our state, local and federal laws.

BERMAN: There's got to be an appetite for it too.

RODERICK: Right.

BERMAN: I mean, the military, if you listen to what the military said they clearly want to find out what happened and they seem hell bent on making sure it doesn't happen again. When the president was asked about the purchasing of these guns today, though, it would have been easy for him to say this man should not have had a gun.

RODERICK: Right, exactly.

BERMAN: He didn't say that.

RODERICK: Right.

BERMAN: He talked about whether or not there should be different laws or stricter laws or preventing, you know, lawful citizens from owning guns. He did not say that this man who should not have had a gun legally shouldn't have had a gun.

RODERICK: I mean the current laws we have with would have prevented this if there wasn't this -- I hate to say it a simple clerical error on the part of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation.

BERMAN: The question is -- are the laws designed to work. You know could they be better designed to work better.

RODERICK: They probably could be better designed. You're right.

HARLOW: And need to be. And it's the least that we can all give to these families.

RODERICK: You're right, Poppy.

HARLOW: Of these 26 victims. Thank you, Art.

RODERICK: Thank you.

HARLOW: President Trump says tough talk on North Korea is beginning to work, and says Kim Jong-un's regime should come to the table. Also, it is Election Day in several states today.

[10:10:01] So how could this be a test for the Trump presidency?

BERMAN: Plus an army of spies, a stunning report suggests how far Harvey Weinstein was willing to go to silence his accusers, silence journalists, this is remarkable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: In just a few hours, President Trump will deliver a highly anticipated speech before the South Korean National Assembly. The whole world waiting to hear what he will say about the nuclear standoff with North Korea and on that front, the president seems suddenly relatively optimistic.

HARLOW: He does. A real reversal in language and tone, speaking today with South Korea's new president, barely 35 miles from the border with North Korea. President Trump claimed for the first time progress is being made and movement towards curbing the North Korean threat.

Our Jeff Zeleny is in Seoul. What did he say - you know, that marked such a reverse of course?

[10:15:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. It was more of the tone of what the president was saying, more of a measured response, rather than exactly any new policy change. The reality here is that the president was talking about progress. He's hopeful that that is happening here, but that's a very difficult to measure.

But he was also talking about strength. He was also talking about using the full force of the U.S. military and the allies here. This is what he said earlier today, if things don't go well, what will happen. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have a nuclear submarine also positioned. We have many things happening that we hope, we hope -- in fact, I'll go a step further, we hope to god, we never have to use.

With that being said, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So hope to God we never have to use the full weight of the military there. That was something we've not heard from the president before. Again, though, the facts on the ground on either side of this peninsula have not changed at all. So it's hard to imagine that a deal would be reached or negotiations would begin. But the president was definitely in optimistic mode, not necessarily a change of strategy, more likely a change of proximity.

As you said, you know, essentially in the shadow here of the regime, some 35 miles to the border, of course, farther across the country, but the reality here is when the president gives that speech this evening, he is going to be trying to urge other world leaders, particularly Russia and China, to come to the table and stop, you know, and increase the sanctions and other measures here. But that speech tonight around 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time, will be something to watch without question to see if he continues that measured conciliatory tone that he's had so far here in Seoul. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right. Jeff Zeleny for us in Seoul. Jeff thanks so much.

Joined by Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Dan thanks so much for being with us. The president has gone from rocket man to all of sudden this more measured tone. This hours before his big speech to the South Korean National Assembly. What do you think he can get out of this speech tonight?

DAN BLUMENTHAL, DIRECTOR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I think the most important thing is to lay out a vision for the future of the peninsula, free of nuclear weapons. And hopefully, also speak to South Koreans and North Koreans who get information through all sorts of sources about bettering the lives of North Koreans as well.

As well as reassuring the rest of the region. But it's not the United States that's going to start a crisis. We'll defend our friends and allies and ourselves, but the danger really has to be focused on Kim Jong-un and his unpredictable behavior now that he also has an ICBM and is closer to having a nuclear weapon he can put on it.

HARLOW: National security adviser H.R. McMaster said last week that the president is, indeed, Dan, thinking about adding North Korea back to this list of, you know, state sponsors of terrorism. If that were to happen, what does that actually mean?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, we and the rest of the world would be treating North Korea very differently. We would not be treating it as a normal state that has all the prerogatives and privileges of any other country. We would be treating it as a terrorist entity which has implications for how you treat their diplomats who oftentimes further the goals -- terrorist goals, criminal goals, of North Korea, and a whole new set of sanctions as well. I think it's the appropriate move, given North Korean actions and, you know, on other people's soil to assassinate and so forth.

BERMAN: The president says he sees certain movement in dealing with North Korea. Do you see movement? BLUMENTHAL: It's very, very hard to read movement. It's such a closed box. I don't think anyone has a good sense really on the outside of whether Kim Jong-un is even processing information he's getting, whether his leaders are giving him that information. The movement may be from China itself. Remember, some of the target of the harsh language and of the military exercises is to put China back on its feet, knowing that we are serious and helping them move forward to put pressure on North Korea.

HARLOW: And you do know that the president heads to Beijing a little later today. This is a trip that could be fraught with peril, but before he gets there, while he is still in South Korea, you think that we are headed towards a deterrence and containment and pressure sort of evolving relationship with North Korea. But you say a policy of unification would be better, why?

[10:20:15] BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think it would be better for us, it would be more stable, it would be better for the Koreans, the South Koreans, certainly would be better for the North Koreans who are enslaved by Kim Jong-un and frankly it would be better for China. After a while China will tire of having North Korea as its de facto ally, if it continues to face this kind of coercion.

BERMAN: All right, Dan Blumenthal, American Enterprise Institute, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you so much for having me.

BERMAN: It is Election Day across the country. Perhaps the most closely watched race in Virginia. What it tells us, not just about that state, but the state of politics in this country.

HARLOW: Yes, the president's policy being put to the test.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:25] HARLOW: It is Election Day in America. Where is that -- there it is.

BERMAN: You made it happen. You're magic.

HARLOW: I am magic. Whatever I say the control room does really. Not really.

Less than a year into Donald Trump's presidency it's a big day especially in Virginia. This is a big one. Also New Jersey. They could offer windows into how voters feel about the president overall.

BERMAN: CNN's Ryan Nobles in Richmond, Virginia. The race for governor, Ryan -- I mean every Democrat and Republican in the country watching it very closely.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about that, John and Poppy. There's a reason why. Virginia is kind of a window into the rest of the country. This is a purple state, it's a state that Donald Trump did not win last year, but it's a state that Republicans feel optimistic about in this off-year gubernatorial election.

And you have two candidates Ralph Northam, the lieutenant governor who's running as a Democrat and Ed Gillespie, the former George W. Bush adviser locked in a very tight contest and the president has attempted to get involved. He's tweeted several times in support of Gillespie. In fact, he tweeted about Gillespie this morning while he's on his trip in Asia, also attacking Northam the Democrat in this race.

In both of these candidates have had to walk a very tight line as it comes to Trump. During his Democratic primary, Ralph Northam described Donald Trump as a narcissistic maniac but then during the general election he put out an ad where he said he would be happy to work with the president when appropriate.

Meanwhile, Gillespie hasn't fully embraced Donald Trump. He did not bring him here to the commonwealth to campaign with him, but he's run on a lot of the policies and principles that Trump supports including talking about keeping confederate monuments up here in Virginia. And he's also talked about immigration, specifically the rise of the MS-13 gang and sanctuary cities.

Now I caught up with both of these candidates about two weeks ago and I asked them specifically about what they think about Donald Trump's impact on the race and this is what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: I mean would you work with someone if they called you a narcissistic maniac?

RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Well you know I stand by what I said but again if there are areas that we can work on like building up the military, I'm willing to do what's in the best interest of Virginia.

NOBLES: Are you concerned about some of the things he said and the way he's behaved as president?

ED GILLESPIE (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Well you know I'm focused on our policies. And so Virginians that I'm talking to in a governor's race in an off election year, very focused on Virginia and what do we need to do here in our commonwealth to create more opportunities for our young people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Now even the Washington plays a big role in Virginia politics. Virginians themselves often believe that they vote for reasons that have to do with their localities and the economy and jobs, issues that are more specific to places like Richmond, Hampton Roads and Roanoke, not necessarily what's happening in Washington. But there's no way to deny that Donald Trump is having a big impact on this race and right now, there certainly is a distinct advantage for Democrats in terms of the structural electorate here. But if Ed Gillespie is able to pull this off and in off-year elections with low turnout Republicans often have a much better chance of winning his victory could serve as a model for Republicans running across the country in the Trump era. John and Poppy?

HARLOW: Good on you Ryan for asking them the hard questions. If only they would have answered your actual questions. Thank you, Ryan. We appreciate it.

Let's bring in our panel. Errol Louis, he's a CNN political commentator, Rebecca Berg, a CNN political analyst and Salena Zito, a CNN contributor who has a fascinating piece one year after the election in the "New York Post" this morning. It's nice to have you all here.

Errol, I'm sorry we're not going to talk about the New York City mayoral election that you know everything about, being the voice of New York politics. If you're not from Virginia, you don't live in Virginia, you don't care about Virginia and you'd never met anyone from Virginia.

BERMAN: At all.

HARLOW: At all. Why do you care about today in Virginia?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well because it is an early look at what the Trump administration and the Trump revolution and the Republican Party actually means. This is the only one of the southern states that he did not win. And so we'll see if using some of his or staying away from some of his issues will actually make a difference.

And frankly, there's also a question on the Democratic side. We've got a Democrat who has not really embraced the fire-breathing liberal positions that some of the base of the party, the Bernie Sanders wing, if you want to call it that. The Elizabeth Warren wing had been pushing. If he should lose today that will be more of an argument for them that you have got to be a real Democrat. You to go out there and really pound them, really take them to task. Both sides have really tried to stay away from Donald Trump and not make it about him. But we - have very good reason to believe that both his policies and his personality are going to be deciding factors tonight.