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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Questions Emerge About New Acting Attorney General; California Mass Shooting; Sources: New Acting AG Has No Plans to Recuse Himself; Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Aired 4-4:30p ET>;
Aired November 8, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Twelve dead in yet another mass shooting.
THE LEAD starts right now.
It happened again. Families stunned and paralyzed after a college night at a bar turned to a night of terror, and some of the survivors also escaped the Vegas massacre. We will have a live update from the sheriff in just minutes.
And breaking today, a man who publicly blasted the Russia probe has no intention of stepping aside now that he's President Trump's acting attorney general. Will the president's new man let Mueller reach the finish line?
And the new acting attorney general of the United States shilling for shady people. His ties to scammers that allegedly cost Americans millions.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with our national lead. What was supposed to be a fun night at a bar ending in tragedy and disaster. At least 12 people have been killed after a gunman opened fire at a California bar last night. It was college night, with people dancing, playing pool, hanging out with friends.
Police say the shooter was a 28-year-old white man, and they add they had been called to his home before. That's his home where he lived with his mother. They were called there because of a domestic disturbance. A neighbor telling CNN that the shooter's mother lived in fear of her son.
Authorities still do not know the motive behind the attack. It's a scene that has become all too common in the country. It's the worst mass shooting in 11 days. Disturbingly, CNN was told by at least one survivor of the shooting last night he was also a survivor of the shooting at Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest festival just over a year ago.
CNN's Kyung Lah is outside the shooter's house in Newbury Park, California, right now. And, Kyung, the shooter was known to police, including this incident where apparently some mental health specialists were called to that home?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They came here. This is the second time this year that police had descended on this home. The first time was in April.
Police had known about this man, a troubled young man. The neighborhood knew. And the mother spoke about her fears about her unstable son, but the police, the neighborhood, the mother still could not have predicted what would happen next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have got multiple people down. We need a lot of ambulances.
LAH (voice-over): Initial 911 dispatches from the scene only hint at the horror unfolding inside.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have one victim. He was shot and is bleeding at the entrance.
LAH: College country night at Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, California, outside of Los Angeles, had drawn a crowd of more than 100 young patrons. Parents now just beginning to learn which of their children will never return.
JASON COFFMAN, FATHER OF VICTIM: Oh, son, I love you so much. Oh, heavenly father, just please be with him.
The gunman, Ian David Long, was a 28-year-old war veteran who entered the bar just before 11:30 p.m. carrying a .45-caliber Glock and an extended magazine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw him point to the back of the cash register, and he just started -- kept -- he just kept firing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shot the front door man, bouncer, just a young man, and he shot the cashier.
LAH: First-responders rushed to the scene as survivors scrambled to escape.
GEOFF DEAN, VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, SHERIFF: So they, unfortunately, our young people, our people at nightclubs have learned that this may happen, and they think about that.
LAH: And then he broke through bar windows while others ran to hide in bathrooms and attics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Friends got the barstools, and they started slamming them against the windows, so we could get out.
LAH: Victims were carried out one by one and desperate lifesaving efforts took place in the parking lot. Still, many remained inside.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still missing two people. We can't find them.
LAH: The gunman was found dead inside the bar's front office, an apparent suicide, according to police. We're now learning he was a former Marine, an infantry machine gunner who served in Afghanistan. He was also known to police.
Last April, law enforcement responded to a domestic disturbance at this Newbury Park home, where he lived with his mother.
DEAN: The mental health experts out there cleared him that day. The deputies went out to the call with the crisis team that felt he might be suffering from PTSD.
LAH: Richard Berge, who lives a block-and-a-half away, tells us Long's mother feared for his future.
RICHARD BERGE, NEIGHBOR: She might have been afraid of him herself. I don't know. She never said that, but she was living in hell.
LAH: Now, the Department of Defense records show that he was active Marine for five years, from 2008 to 2013.
It was after that, that he enrolled at Cal State Northridge, but he did not graduate. And that man that I spoke with, Jake, Richard Berge, the neighbor who lives around the block, he says that his mother was often desperate. She would talk to neighbors lime him about how she wanted her son to get help at the VA, but her son simply refused -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Kyung Lah, thanks so much.
I want to bring in a law enforcement panel now.
I will start with you, Phil Mudd, former FBI.
The shooter was known to police for some minor incidents, but one in particular where mental health specialists were called. Take a listen to the sheriff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: In April of this year, deputies were called to his house for a subject disturbing. They went to the house. They talked to him. He was somewhat irate and acting a little irrationally. They called out our crisis intervention team, our mental health specialists, who met with him, talked to him and cleared him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So law enforcement knew about him. Mental health specialists went there. They ultimately cleared him.
There are going to be people who say and ask, did law enforcement drop the ball here? What do you think?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Are you kid kidding me?
Wolf -- pardon me. Jake, I live...
I live in an urban area. I'm going to pass people with mental health disabilities when I go out to my home tonight. Instead of asking about this individual case, the question you have to ask is, among the thousands of people encountered by law enforcement and psychological experts, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, how many of them pop out as exceptional? Is this person exceptional?
When you get to that standard, there's a couple of other questions I would ask. One in particular would be, what are your protections against legal action in the event you bring this person in and attempt to take their weapons? Who is going to sue you for violating this person's civil liberties?
Don't look at the case in isolation. Put it together with cases like Broward County, that school, where you remember we also saw some mental health questions, and ask yourself the question, if you see 10,000 of these, how certain can you be that you can pick out the one that might go ugly on it?
TAPPER: Exactly. That's good context.
Josh Campbell, formerly of the FBI and now with CNN, you're on the scene there in Thousand Oaks.
Police say, Josh, they don't have any motive so far. But what will they now be doing to try to figure out, not that there's any reason that would make any sense, but to try to figure out why this happened?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, we heard earlier from authorities, Jake, that they were waiting for a search warrant to actually go in to where the subject lived. That would potentially provide a treasure trove of information if they were able to go through a computer, if he left anything behind, such as a letter or manifesto or something that would allow them to really get into the mind-set of this person.
Obviously, we know he has been a -- he has a social media presence. That's something that they will be looking into, no doubt, trying to get search warrants there, too. All that's going on.
Right behind me is actually the scene where they are doing the forensic examination, and a very sad undertaking behind me, because they are going through and processing the scene and trying to identify some of the victims and some of the bodies, so a multifaceted investigation here, Jake.
But I will tell you, we got here in the early morning hours covering this, and throughout the day ,it finally dawned on me, you know, that the American people are becoming experts in investigating mass murders. At some point, they are not going to need us, because they have been so many of these, they know by now what cops look for.
They look for the motive. They look at the associates. They look at the social media. It's really -- it's really damning. It's an indictment, I think, of where we are as a country that we continue to see these all over again.
It's just sad on a number of fronts, Jake.
TAPPER: James Gagliano is here in studio with me, also former FBI.
And I have to ask you, so the gunman purchased this gun legally. He apparently had one handgun. Is that unusual? Does that tell you anything?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's unusual from this sense, I mean, a handgun to do this type of damage, I mean, 12 killed here.
But we also got to recognize who this shooter was, four-and-a-half years in the Corps, in the Marine Corps, not only that, but served in Afghanistan during some of our bloodiest fighting 2009, 2010, 2011. He was there during the surge.
He was also rated as a machine gunner, meaning he carried either an M240 or an M249. These are crew served weapons, so knew his way around weapons. If he had the extended mag the police talked about or was proficient in changing magazines, yes, Jake, you could do that kind of damage if you're that skilled.
And a Marine Corps service member like this that served in the Helmand Province, where the bloodiest fighting the Afghan conflict was for the Corps, yes, he could accomplish that.
TAPPER: We should just point out, you're also a veteran and you're not -- you're not besmirching veterans. You're just saying he had a certain kind of skill that he learned.
GAGLIANO: An aptitude, absolutely.
Some witnesses, Phil, say that the gunman used smoke bombs, though the sheriff said they were unable to confirm that. If it's true, does that say anything about the planning or motivation?
MUDD: It doesn't say much to me. One of the simple questions I would have in that circumstance, Jake, is to determine when the person acquired these. For example, if he'd had them for years, that would suggest to me that those smoke bombs weren't something that showed that he was intending to conduct an action. If he acquired them in the past few days, your answer changes there.
I think the issues here aren't going to be about planning. They're going to be about the mental state of this person and what mental health professionals do when people in the neighborhood call in, again, as they did in that case in Broward County with the kid who shot up a high school.
What did law enforcement and mental health professionals do?
TAPPER: Today -- thank you, one and all, for your expertise.
Today, a ceremony honoring the Ventura county sheriff sergeant who lost his life protecting everyone at the bar last night. Sergeant Ron Helus was a 29-year-old law enforcement veteran -- I'm sorry -- 29- year law enforcement veteran who was looking towards retirement in the next year or so.
Moments ago, we learned the name of another victim, Elena Housley. She was the niece of TV actress Tamera Mowry-Housley described her as an incredible young woman.
Also killed, Cody Coffman, just 22 years old, with three little brothers.
CNN's Miguel Marquez joins me now.
And, Miguel, Coffman's father had just a heart-wrenching press conference talking about his lost son earlier today.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A father burying his son, it is almost impossible to watch.
We are starting to learn more names of the dead now. These are young people whose lives had barely begun.
COFFMAN: We did just get the news that he was one of the 11 that were killed last night.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Jason Coffman, father of 22-year-old Cody, receives the worst news imaginable.
COFFMAN: His name was Cody Coffman, my firstborn son. Only him and I know how much I love, how much I miss. Oh, God. This is so hard. Oh, son, I love you so much. Oh, heavenly father.
MARQUEZ: For much of the day, Coffman hoped, prayed his son was simply missing. He used the tracking function on his son's phone to find him. COFFMAN: It's not moving. It's not moving. That's the problem.
MARQUEZ: The last thing Coffman said to his son, "Don't drink and drive," and...
COFFMAN: "Son, I love you." That was the last thing I said.
MARQUEZ: Shockingly, others in the bar had survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas just last year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, it's the second time in about a year and a month that this has happened. I was at the Las Vegas Route 91 mass shooting. It's a big thing for us. We're all a big family and, unfortunately, this family got hit twice.
MARQUEZ: In all, 13 are dead, including the gunman, at least 21 injured.
When the call came, Sergeant Ron Helus was on the phone with his wife.
DEAN: Sergeant Helus was having a conversation with his wife, as he does several times during the shift, and said to her, "Hey, I have got to go handle a call. I love you. I will talk to you later."
MARQUEZ: As others rushed out, Helus, a 29-year veteran of the Ventura County's Sheriff's office, rushed in.
DEAN: When Sergeant Helus and the Highway Patrol officer went in, they immediately exchanged gunfire with the suspect, and that's when Sergeant Helus was shot several times.
MARQUEZ: Helus, who was planning for retirement, was remembered today in a spur-of-the-moment memorial. People lined the route as his body was moved from the hospital to the funeral home.
MARQUEZ: Now, also dead is 23-year-old Justin Meek. His university, Cal Lutheran, says he helped save lives before he was killed.
And Elena Housley, the 22-year-old you mentioned at the top, she's also the niece of Adam Housley, who we know from the news business. He was a FOX News reporter. We would see him out there. Our best. All of our love goes to him and his family tonight -- Jake.
TAPPER: So awful. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.
Any moment now, we're going to hear from the sheriff's office about the shooting at the bar. We are going to bring that to you live when they begin.
Then: The acting attorney general has been anything but shy about publicly criticizing the Mueller investigation before he got the job he has now, but now he's overseeing the Mueller investigation.
How is that going to work? Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[16:18:28] TAPPER: Welcome back.
No plans to recuse himself. That's what a source close to the new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker tells CNN, despite the fact that Whitaker has been something of a frequent critic of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, previously questioning the scope and reach of the investigation, calling Mueller's appointment ridiculous and fishy. Whitaker has even defended Donald Trump Jr.'s decision to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russians once it was offered, an act that even Steve Bannon he regard as treasonous. Whitaker spent some of his first day on the job at the side of the president and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who's previously in charge of Mueller's probe.
CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now.
Jessica, do we know if lawmakers could actually force Whitaker to recuse himself?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They could try, Jake, but ultimately, this is a question for ethics advisers at the Justice Department, and really even if the advisers suggested that Whitaker step aside, he's not obligated to follow their advice, especially since his questionable comments are more of a conflict of interest than a legal conflict, and tonight, there are ample indications that Whitaker has no plans to step aside.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In his first full day as acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker went to the White House amid demands from Democrats that he recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe, but Whitaker has given no indication he believes he needs to recuse himself, according to a source. That philosophy is echoed by White House officials who sources say also don't believe Whitaker needs to step aside.
[16:20:01] And "The Washington Post" report that had people close to Whitaker don't believe he would approve Mueller seeking a subpoena for President Trump.
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: My understanding of the scope is that it is limited.
SCHNEIDER: The news is no real surprise, since Whitaker spent several months in 2017 making the rounds in the media, picking apart the special counsel's case.
WHITAKER: There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here. The evidence is weak.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker was working as a legal commentator for CNN when he defended that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 where Donald Trump Jr. and others met with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
WHITAKER: To suggest that there's a conspiracy here -- I mean, you would always take that meeting.
SCHNEIDER: And on CNN.com in August 2017, Whitaker warned that Mueller's investigation into the president's business and personal finances has come up to a red line that he's dangerously close to crossing and if Mueller didn't limit his probe, it would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt.
Whitaker also seemed to foreshadow what he might do now that he's acting attorney general.
WHITAKER: I can see a scenario where Jeff Session is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget so low that his investigation grinds to an -- almost a halt.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker spent years on the political circuit.
WHITAKER: I'm not sure what we're passing on to the next generation.
SCHNEIDER: He lost his bid for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2014 and state treasurer in 2002. President George W. Bush named him U.S. attorney in Iowa in 2004 where he served for five years. Whitaker later joined the advisory board and was first paid in October 2014 for a company that has since been shut down and slapped with a $26 million fine by federal authorities. The World Patent Marketing built itself as helping investors secure patents, and Whitaker was hands on.
WHITAKER: It's a unique design that's going to help.
SCHNEIDER: Showcasing a hot tub invention in this post from the company. But when a customer complained to the company, court documents showed Whitaker lashed out, accusing them at an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion and warning there could be serious civil or criminal consequences if the customer smeared the company online or filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
SCHNEIDER: And Whitaker's work with this now shut down company, it could add more fuel to Democrats' anger about his appointment. Of course, right now, Democrats are calling for emergency hearings about this, and they are telling the Justice Department to preserve all documents related to Whitaker's appointment -- Jake.
TAPPER: Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.
And joining me now is Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California. He's poised to be the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Soon to be Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure. Thank you.
So, I want to start with the new CNN reporting that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.
Listen to what he said about Mueller's appointment on a radio show last year.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WHITAKER: Whatever reason Rod Rosenstein has determined that the Department of Justice couldn't handle there in their ordinary course of work, which I think is ridiculous --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
WHITAKER: -- an effort by Jim Comey to get this, you now, put in place and have somebody that he's very familiar with in Bob Mueller conducting the investigation. So, you know, I -- I think it smells a little fishy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: I think it smells a little fishy. Your response, sir?
SCHIFF: Well, look, this is why if he doesn't recuse himself that any decision he makes in the Mueller investigation is going to have a taint about it. It's going to cause a profound question among the public about whether these decisions are being made by the new attorney general, acting attorney general in the interest of justice or purely in Donald Trump's legal liability interests.
This is exactly why he ought to recuse himself, and one question that we have here in Congress right now is, did he, was he forced somehow to make a commitment to the president to ignore the advice of ethics lawyers at the Justice Department or not seek out their advice? Was that part of his getting the job because this president is guided by one thing alone and that's what's good for Donald Trump? The country doesn't matter that much.
TAPPER: If President Trump ultimately takes any action that results in Mueller being fired, whether it's by Whitaker or some other way, what action will the Democratic controlled House of Representatives take?
SCHIFF: Well, one of our first actions even in the minority has been to send out preservation letters now to the administration to make sure they preserve all evidence. But if the president effectively undermines the rule of law and causes the special counsel to be fired or an abrupt or partisan end to this investigation, then it will fall on Congress to find out the facts itself, to get those facts from the Justice Department, to continue our own investigation so that we can tell the country exactly what happened, and we can hold people accountable if they take any unlawful act of obstruction of justice.
[16:25:08] So, there are remedies that we will have and exposure is probably among the most powerful.
TAPPER: You're likely going to be chairing the House Intelligence Committee come January. You've hint that had you might reopen the committee's Russia investigation and interview individuals that the Republicans on the commit were not willing to do so. Who are some of the names on the list?
SCHIFF: Well, look, you know, what happened actually six months ago when the Republicans walked away from the investigation is they decided to focus all of their efforts on investigating the investigators, on harassing the Justice Department and the FBI, and basically do the bidding of the president.
We've continued, Jake, to do the investigation. We've continued to bring witnesses in. That won't change when we take the majority. It will just be that much easier because we can compel people that have been unwilling to voluntarily cooperate.
I don't want to go through the list of witnesses. We're going to look at what work we were able to do, what work we were prevented from doing and it may be that when we do get the gavel in January that we already have the advantage of a report from Bob Mueller or subsequent indictments that will help guide us in terms of what work remains to be done.
TAPPER: President Trump said on twitter and then he reiterated at his press conference yesterday that if the House Democrats with new subpoena power investigate him, he could have you all investigated as well. What's your response?
SCHIFF: Well, look, that sounds like if he's talking about using the Justice Department in order to do his bidding, another violation of the rule of law. If he's talking about having the Senate do it, I don't know what exactly he's referring to, but he's been on a war footing with Democrats from the very beginning. This is the first president who has made no effort to reach out to the other party, no effort to find common ground, who seems to get up every morning to find new and inventive ways to divide us certainly along lines of party but also race and ethnic origin and everything else, so he's been on a war foot.
We're going to try to work with him where he can on issues like infrastructure, if he has any genuine interest in it. We would welcome that, but we will not be intimidated into holding back in any way from our constitutional obligation to do oversight, and the fact that this hasn't happened until now, the president has been able to get used to a Congress that would simply do his will and look away at any allegation of malfeasance or corruption. Those days are gone and the sooner he realizes that, the better. We're going to do our jobs and he needs to do his.
TAPPER: You were very critical of the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes for not running the committee in the traditional way it's been run for decades, a bipartisan way. Do you plan to return to the previous model of bipartisanship and making sure all actions taken by the committee are done hand in hand by Republicans? Or are you going to do what you want to do regardless of what Devin Nunes and the Republicans on the committee want?
SCHIFF: We're certainly not going to be running the committee the way the Republicans did. And in fact, where we had a rapture was with the chairman's midnight run and that whole saga. You can't run an independent investigation if you're essentially working cahoots with the subject of the investigation.
So, we're going to try to return to regular order. We'll continue the non-partisan tradition of the committee. Of course, we're going to need a willing partner on the other side and it remains to be seen whether they will adapt a different tactic in the minority than they did in the majority, but we have no interest or intention to be punitive or try to exact retribution.
I would love to see us restore comity on the committee, and more than that restore the confidence of the intelligence community in the committee which was squandered when the Nunes memorandum was published and the majority selectively declassified information. That was a terrible breach of our contract with the intelligence community.
TAPPER: All right. Soon to be chairman Adam Schiff, thank you so much. Appreciate it, sir.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: We're expecting an update from the sheriff's office any moment about that deadly bar shooting in California. We'll bring that to you live.
Coming up also, she's counselor to the president, but that hasn't stopped Kellyanne Conway's husband from speaking his mind and this time he's totally blasting President Trump's decision to appoint this acting attorney and how he did it. Stay with us.