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Mass Shooting at California Bar Filled with College Students; Sheriff's Deputy Among 12 Dead in Bar Shooting; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Fell, Fractured Ribs; Trump and Acting Attorney General Whitaker to Attend Kavanaugh Ceremony; Top Democrats Call for Whitaker to Recuse Himself from Mueller Probe; New Acting Attorney General Suggests Starving Mueller Probe of Funds; Twelve Dead in Mass Shooting at a California Bar Filled with College Students; Stocks to Fall Ahead of Interest Rate Announcement. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 8, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:25] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto. And here we are again, another mass shooting in America.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us this morning. This morning, all of us waking up to another mass shooting this time at a bar, in a dance hall, in Southern California. Twelve people were killed when a man described by witnesses as dressed in black, carrying a handgun, opened fire at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

This all took place in the middle of the night in Thousand Oaks. That is just northwest of Los Angeles. Ten to 15 other people wounded at this hour, being treated in the hospital, badly hurt from the melee as investigators are scrambling to try to identify the gunman and try to figure out a motive.

It was college night at Borderline. The place was packed. Students were line dancing, enjoying their favorite country songs.

SCIUTTO: Authorities say the police response was immediate and the first officer through the door, there he is. Ventura County Sheriff Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran of the force. He was shot himself. He died of his wounds at a hospital shortly after. He's being called a hero this morning.


SHERIFF GEOFF DEAN, VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff's sergeant. He was totally committed. He gave his all. And tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went -- he went in to save lives, to save other people.


SCIUTTO: He took an enormous risk and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Sheriff Dean says that the scene inside that club is horrific, and the still unidentified gunman also dead.

CNN's Nick Watt is there. Nick, I know you've been talking to witnesses this morning. They tell a harrowing tale.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do. And listen, Jim, we know we just heard the sheriff there breaking up talking about Sergeant Ron Helus who within minutes of the first 911 calls was with a California highway patrolman. They were first on the scene and they tried to get into the club because they could still hear gunfire and they knew people needed help. They were met with a hail of bullets, and Sergeant Helus was hit. The highway patrolman tried to drag him to safety, he was taken to the hospital, but it was too late and as you say he died later of his injuries.

Now, there is more pain to come. Medical examiners are still trying to identify the 11 other victims who died in the Border Grill behind me.

Now as you mentioned, we've been talking to eyewitnesses all morning. Many of them describe this gunman coming in, wearing black, short barrel handgun. He didn't say anything, he opened fire. Many people saying that they hid under tables. There was a short pause in the firing and they managed to smash windows and escape.

And I want to talk now to one of those people who managed to get out.

Matt, you were in the club. You were standing near the bar. What did you see first?

MATT WENNERSTROM, SHOOTING WITNESS: I didn't -- at first I didn't see anything. All I heard was the gunshots. And that's not a sound that you ever want to hear in a crowded place where it's not supposed to be happening. And I just followed the sound and I saw, just like you said, a tall, dark figure with a handgun opening fire on one of my close friends, actually.

WATT: Hang on. You saw him fire and hit one of your friends?

WENNERSTROM: Yes, I did. One of my close friends was working the front desk at this bar. And I saw that. And I knew that we had to act immediately if people's lives were going to be saved.

WATT: And do you know if she's OK?

WENNERSTROM: I do not. I have not heard word on her.

WATT: And you managed to smash a window with a stool and get out?

WENNERSTROM: So we saw him and we dropped down immediately. And the group of like five or six guys that I was with, then we just -- we covered. We covered all the girls and then when there was a pause in the bullets and the shot sounds, we actually got up, and I watched one of my friends throw a stool through the window. And then a couple more of us threw stools through the windows, and we got everyone together and pushed as many people out of that window as we could until there was just three or four of us left.

While we were jumping out, we heard the next round of shots coming. We jumped down to the lower level and we just basically pushed and moved as many people as we could down as far away as we could.

WATT: Matt, thank you very much for sharing your story.

[09:05:02] Guys, back to you in New York.

SCIUTTO: Nick Watt -- people desperately trying to save their lives. I mean, less than two weeks ago we talked about a horrific scene inside a synagogue. And here we are, a bunch of college kids celebrating, now they're dead.

Let's bring in Sergeant Eric Buschow. He's with the Ventura County Sheriff's Office.

Sergeant, thank you for taking the time. I know this has been a difficult morning for you. You lost a colleague this morning, Sergeant Ron Helus.

Do you believe, Sergeant, that his quick action and the risk that he took helped save lives?

SGT. ERIC BUSCHOW, VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I think so. I don't think there is anything more heroic than what he did. He went in there to save lives. He took decisive action, and it's just a tragic loss for us. And it's also tragic, you know, the gentleman who was just speaking about the things that went on inside the club. People inside took heroic action as well. And this was just a horrific situation for them to face.

HARLOW: Sergeant, I think we all wish that we would respond the way that your brave, heroic colleague Sergeant Ron Helus did. But you never know. What would you really do? Would you run in? Would you risk your life? Can you just take a moment and tell us about him, the man, the people he leaves behind?

BUSCHOW: I've known Ron for -- we've both been on for 29 years ago so we came on right around the same time, and he's just -- always a really enthusiastic, very energetic man, and a true cop's cop. I mean, he worked narcotics, investigative assignments. He was on the SWAT team for many years. I mean, it's just -- this was in his blood. He had just a natural instinct for going after crooks. And he did it with enthusiasm, with a great deal of intelligence, and he loved spending time with his son. They would go fishing up in the Sierras together. I just -- my heart goes out to his family.


BUSCHOW: I just can't imagine what they're going through right now.

SCIUTTO: So, Sergeant, I know it's early, but do we know anything about the shooter who carried out this attack? We just heard from a witness there describing him dressed in black. Do we know who he is or why he targeted this location?

BUSCHOW: You know, we don't have those details yet. Our investigators are still working to determine what led this person to come here last night and commit this act. We just don't know. And this investigation is going to take a long time. We all have to be patient. We've got a lot of folks in there working. It's a horrific scene. There's a lot of evidence. And it's going to take time to identify the bodies, identify the suspect and then take the actions that we need to look at his history and find out what was going on in his life and what led him to this place at this time to do the horrible things he did.

HARLOW: Thank you so much for helping us answer some of those questions and help remember a true hero and the family, his son, that he loved to fish with, that he left behind. Thank you very much, Sergeant.

Joining us on the phone now is Tristan Applebee (PH), who was at the bar when this all happened.

Tristan, thank you for joining us. Talk to us about what you remember most, what strikes you from those minutes.

TRISTAN APPLEBEE, SHOOTING VICTIM: Well, (INAUDIBLE) it was really peaceful. And everyone was enjoying themselves. And the fact that it all happened so fast and the sudden turn of events, you know, unfortunately what it was at the time people were looking around, you know. (INAUDIBLE). Everyone saw this gunman come in all dressed in black and (INAUDIBLE) --

SCIUTTO: Tristan -- Tristan, sorry. We have a little bit of a bad connection there, but you were saying you saw the gunman come in all dressed in black?


SCIUTTO: Did you see him fire shots?

APPLEBEE: So, yes, I saw at least 12 to 15 shots go off. (INAUDIBLE). It was happening so fast. And I mean, he shot the security guard and (INAUDIBLE) first and then he moved on to people who were actually laying flat down on the ground, who were innocent and just not moving at all and he just shot them point blank.

SCIUTTO: Jesus. And you say there was a security guard at the club and he shot him. Was the guard -- could you tell, was the guard armed? Did the guard -- was the guard attempting to respond?


SCIUTTO: Attempting to respond?

APPLEBEE: No, (INAUDIBLE). He was unaware the gun went off.

SCIUTTO: Tristan, thank you.

[09:10:02] And again some of that was breaking up there, but you did hear Tristan Applebee.


SCIUTTO: He was inside the club. He saw the shooter fire 12 to 15 shots, including targeting people on the ground after they fell.

Thanks very much, Tristan Applebee.

HARLOW: We do have some other breaking news just in to CNN. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has fallen and fractured three ribs. She is 85 years old. A sitting Supreme Court justice.

Let's go to our Supreme Court reporter, Ariane de Vogue. She joins me now.

Arianne, what can you tell us about RBG, what happened and her condition right now?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Right, Poppy. This just -- we just got the press release. And let me red to you what it says. "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell in her office at the court last evening. She went home, but after experiencing discomfort overnight she went to George Washington University Hospital early this morning. Test showed that she fractured three ribs on her left side and she was admitted for observation and treatment. Updates will be provided."

Poppy, as you know, she's 85 years old. She has had two bouts of cancer, never missed a day on the bench. She was on the bench yesterday and this week. And we're all gathered here today because it's the formal investiture of Brett Kavanaugh, but of course all eyes will be thinking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is the most senior liberal on this court.

SCIUTTO: And she's very active. I mean, if you haven't seen RBG, the CNN --

HARLOW: The trainer. Yes.

SCIUTTO: CNN documentary this year. She exercises. But just very clearly here, so she's being treated. No evidence this is life threatening?


SCIUTTO: Is the prognosis she will recover? Just give us what we know about how serious this injury is.

DE VOGUE: So all we know is the statement that she fractured three ribs. She has had -- she broken a rib before. And she went home, right. She stayed at home but then she felt discomfort. And so out of abundance of caution, she did go to George Washington Hospital here, so she won't be today at the court. And we're just waiting for updates.

SCIUTTO: Well, always good to have Ariane de Vogue at the court. We know you're going to stay on top of the news. We at CNN are going to stay on top of that news and all the breaking news on the shooting going forward.

Plus the fate of the Mueller investigation unclear this morning now that a strong critic of the probe is overseeing it. What the acting attorney general Matthew Whittaker has said in the past that is currently sparking concerns.

HARLOW: Also, it is not over yet. Major races in the midterms still undecided. Where things stand straight ahead.


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: In just minutes, President Trump will head to the Supreme Court for a formal welcoming ceremony for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Also there, the new acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, his first day on the job, Whitaker will speak at the event in place of the ousted, the fired Jeff Sessions.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Meanwhile, calls continue for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. He has made very critical remarks about the probe, the scope of it in the past.

Joining us now, our Justice reporter Laura Jarrett who broke all the news yesterday as it was happening, remarkable reporting by you and the entire team --


HARLOW: As this was going down yesterday, Laura. What should everyone this morning waking up know about the man that will now oversee the entire Russia probe.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Poppy, Whitaker has fiercely defended the president in the past, writing both for, appearing regularly on TV, always talking -- almost as a surrogate for him.

And I want to read a piece that he wrote for Cnn back in August of 2017 before he was Sessions Chief of Staff where he talked about how he agreed with the president, that there would be a limit, perhaps a bridge too far that Mueller shouldn't cross if he tried to go after the president's personal financial information.

And he says this, quote, "the president is absolutely correct. Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election meddling investigation, that he is dangerously close to crossing." And then he goes on to say, quote, "if he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then he would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch-hunt"

Echoing there, of course, the president's derision catchphrase that we hear all the time about a witch-hunt. Again, something that we would hear from a surrogate. But now of course, he's the top Justice Department official as the acting Attorney General supervising the Mueller probe. And I also want to play for you just a little bit of sound to give you a color of what he said with our Cnn Don Lemon. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that Attorney General doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to -- almost to a halt.


JARRETT: In the meantime, Democrats on the House Judiciary, Intelligence and Oversight Committees, the Democrats who plan to take the lead in these investigations in January have already sent preservation letters over to the Justice Department and the FBI asking that officials maintain and preserve all documents related to both Sessions firing and the Mueller investigation -- guys.

HARLOW: And Laura, before you go, let's just make people aware of the checks here, though, right? I mean, yes, he has the power to fire Mueller if he wanted to, but he would have to have good cause to do so, conflict of interest, he'd have to defend the decision before Congress, right?

JARRETT: That's exactly right. So under the Justice Department regulations, Whitaker can't just fire Mueller because he wants to. Now, of course these are not normal times, but the regulations do contemplate oversight. And I should mention it's not just the firing of Mueller, it's also if he curtails the probe in any significant way.

If he says Mueller, you've gone too far, he actually has to report that to Congress, Poppy.

[09:20:00] HARLOW: OK --

SCIUTTO: Laura Jarrett, thanks very much. Joining us now, Cnn chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin as well as former Ohio Secretary of State and former Mayor of Cincinnati, Ken Blackwell. He also happens to be a long-time friend of Jeff Sessions. Thanks to both of you. Jeff, if I could begin with you, just on the power that Whitaker now has over the Russia investigation, and there are limits we should clear and Laura laid some of those out.

Is the issue less him outright firing Mueller ending the investigation and more limits barriers that he could put around it. For instance if I have this right, Mueller would have to OK indictments with the Attorney General before he goes forward?



TOOBIN: That's right. And I wouldn't say it's one or the other, I would say it's both. I mean, yes, of course the new Attorney General has the power to fire him, but he also has the power to restrict the investigation, limit his budget, reject indictments, reject requests for travel and investigative options for Mueller's office.

That's -- you know, that's what he's advocated in the past.

SCIUTTO: Right --

TOOBIN: That, it appears, is the reason the president named him in the first place. And, you know, the checks that you and Laura were talking about, they're not really big checks. All they are --

HARLOW: Maybe because of the makeup of the Senate --

TOOBIN: Yes, well, because of it -- just because they are simply requirements to testify and explain to Congress.

HARLOW: OK, no teeth.

TOOBIN: Yes, I mean, Congress can't really do anything about it except impeach him --


TOOBIN: Or impeach the president which they're not going to do.

HARLOW: Look, you said when this news broke yesterday, this is a president now in charge of the Mueller investigation. The Senate is going to do exactly nothing about it. But then I kept asking myself, Jeffrey, OK, but what about Senators Lindsey Graham, you head members of Congress Thom Tillis, et cetera, who had proposed and backed legislation to protect Mueller.

TOOBIN: Never happened. Never happened in a million years. Mitch McConnell, given the Republicans gratitude to the president for what he did for them, which was a lot during this campaign, they are never going to pass legislation that restricts or protects Mueller in any way.

Yes, it is true Thom Tillis has this piece of legislation with Chris Coons; the Democrat from Delaware, that is going exactly nowhere.

SCIUTTO: And then to have a bigger majority, may make that even less likely --

TOOBIN: Right --

SCIUTTO: Ken Blackwell, you knew Jeff Sessions, friends with him, I'm curious, does he believe that he was wronged here?

KEN BLACKWELL, FORMER OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Look, there are those of us who thought that he had earned a more graceful exit. He had been in the forefront of advancing the president's agenda, but in the final analysis, it was the president's call.

You know, one of the things that I think is important to underscore here is that he and now Attorney General Whitaker got along. They, in fact, are friends. I happen to know Mr. Whitaker, and I actually think that he will color within the lines. He will understand what he can do and what the president can do. But I think he will advise the president as to what he should do that

stays within the framework of constitutional governance and common sense.

HARLOW: So, gentlemen, to you both, to you mayor and to you Jeffrey Toobin. Whitaker also wrote this last Summer on Cnn opinion piece. If he, meaning Mueller, were to continue to investigate the financial relationship without a broadened scope in his appointment, meaning of the president, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation were a mere witch-hunt.

The fact that he used the word witch-hunt, which the president has used --


HARLOW: Over and over about the probe, compare that with this. This is an exchange he had that really struck me reading it again this morning with our Jake Tapper.


WHITAKER: I don't see any current reason or good reason that Bob Mueller shouldn't stay in that special counsel role. There is no honest person that sits in the world of politics and the world of law that can find anything wrong with Bob Mueller.


HARLOW: So Jeffrey Toobin, which do we -- to you first, which do we believe?

TOOBIN: The first, not the second.


TOOBIN: I mean, why was he appointed? There was only one reason. I mean, you know, with all respect to Mr. Whitaker, he is a person not with the stature, nor the experience to be Attorney General of the United States. He was briefly U.S. Attorney in Des Moines, which is an honorable position, but it is not the kind of position that leads to this usually.

He was appointed to limit the Mueller investigation. Whether he will, how he will, I don't know. But, I mean, who is kidding who here?

HARLOW: You don't have any question about that --

TOOBIN: Yes --

HARLOW: What do you think, mayor?

[09:25:00] BLACKWELL: Well, look, I think -- here's the fact that it gets passed by Mr. Rosenstein actually is conflicted. So the issue is can Mr. Whitaker now provide oversight, stay within the lines of constitutional governance and, in fact, you know, keep Mr. Mueller on the straight and narrow.

The fact of the matter is that he didn't get a blank check, he didn't -- he didn't get a license to go into a whole variety of areas. There was a very precise course of action that he was supposed to be pursuing. So, look, there are no free lunches for anybody in this.

I think we are lucky that folks will, in fact, stay within the lines and act within constitutional governance norms.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey, just very quickly, Comey's firing sparked the Mueller investigation.

TOOBIN: Correct.

SCIUTTO: Can Sessions firing spark another special counsel investigation?

TOOBIN: I don't think it would spark another special counsel investigation. It could be evidence in the existing Mueller investigation --

SCIUTTO: For obstruction of justice.

TOOBIN: For obstruction of justice. Laura Jarrett and others, our colleagues have reported that even while he was Attorney General, Jeff Sessions gave interviews to the Mueller about his own involvement --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: Right --

TOOBIN: In this case.

SCIUTTO: So we know it's another inquiry --

TOOBIN: I assume that the Mueller office will interview him again.


TOOBIN: Because it is all part --

SCIUTTO: Maybe this will --

TOOBIN: Of the same --

HARLOW: Well --

SCIUTTO: Maybe it don't have to be a self-inflicted wound, we don't know, yes --

HARLOW: And we know that those four top Democrats are now asking the -- you know, to preserve the documents for their own investigation --


HARLOW: As well. All right, thank you both very much, Ken Blackwell and Jeffrey Toobin. Also we're getting new details right now about the shooter in this horrific mass shooting overnight in California. We'll have more on that after the break.

SCIUTTO: And we are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Dow expected to drop slightly, investors will be watching the Federal Reserve announcement this afternoon on interest rates. A hike -- another hike could come as early as next month.