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Trump Faces Challenges In Court Congress Over Emergency Declaration; 1,000 ISIS Fighters Likely Have Fled Syria Into Iraq; USAID Planes Deliver Aid To Venezuela Border; Kaepernick's Attorney Predicts He Will Soon Sign NFL Contract; Aurora Man Has Built 26,579 Crosses For Gun Violence Victims. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 17, 2019 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats vowing to fight the declaration in court and in Congress, Republicans remaining divided on the President's move to bypass Congress to fund his border wall. But Democrats say the President's national emergency is unconstitutional. Today the President's supporters are arguing the declaration is needed to deal with the border crisis.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISER: What the President was saying is, is that like past presidents he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency as others have, but that's not what he's going to do.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS: If they pass a resolution of disapproval, will the President veto that, which would be the first veto of his presidency?

MILLER: Well, obviously, the President is going to protect his national emergency declaration, Chris?

WALLACE: So yes, he will veto?

MILLER: He is going to protect his national emergency declaration guaranteed.


WHITFIELD: CNN White House Reporter Sarah Westwood is in West Palm Beach, Florida, not far from where the President is spending the weekend. So, Sarah, the -- it does appear to be signaling that the White House is ready to fight for this declaration.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Fred. The White House is maintaining that they're prepared to defend this national emergency declaration against challenges from Capitol Hill from the courts. White House officials maintain that the declaration was crafted over the past few weeks and months with these expected legal challenges in mind that they expected that they would have to defend this declaration from groups suing to challenge the constitutionality of the order. And obviously landowners along the southern border, they will be suing the administration to try to prevent the government from using eminent domain to seize their lands once it comes time to start actually building the physical border barrier.

And on Capitol Hill, House Democrats are already vowing to pursue a resolution of disapproval to try to stop the President from accessing federal funds using this emergency declaration, and there could be some support for that kind of move in the Senate. Obviously, there are Republicans who have long expressed concerns about the idea of using a national emergency declaration, the kind of precedent that would set. And Democrats, of course, have been opposed to the President building the wall by any means this entire time.

Now, we just heard Stephen Miller hint that the President could use his veto power to try to stop that declaration, but thus there are other things that Congress can do. For example, the House Judiciary Committee already saying it plans to investigate the process that led up to this investigation. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, saying he plans to hold hearings about this national emergency declaration.

So, Fred, there are a lot of roadblocks facing the Trump administration before they ever touch a dime of the $6 billion Trump is trying to access with this national emergency declaration.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much. So with me now Patti Solis-Doyle, Hillary Clinton's former Presidental Campaign Manager and a CNN Political Commentator. Also with me is Charlie Dent, a former Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania and a CNN Political Commentator. Good to see both of you, all right.

So, Charlie, how much does the White House have to, you know, convince the nation, convince Congress that there is indeed a national emergency after making that declaration in order to get access to the money that they're hoping for?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the President has a lot of persuading to do. He has to certainly persuade me. I was the guy who wrote the Military Construction Appropriations Bill before I left Congress. And as far as I'm concern, this is clear and blatant and flagrant violation of the law. It's a slap in the face to Congress. He is -- the only emergency here is this constitutional crisis that he's setting off.

The President is essentially going to raid 25% of all military construction funds for this year. Mexico is not paying for this wall. Military families are. This is coming out of military housing, military schools, military hospitals and healthcare. It's coming out of various projects. There's probably close to a billion dollars of projects just in the last year alone, which in those aren't necessary?

WHITFIELD: And the President had loosely said these things don't seem that important. How did that strike you when the President said he looked over some of these things and these things don't seem that important? DENT: Well, that's insulting. That's insulting that the President would say such a horrible thing. In fact, these projects were requested by his Pentagon, Secretary Mattis. They brought those to Congress. The Armed Services Committee scrubbed the list as did the Appropriations Committee on which I served. These were their priorities. Now, they're telling us they're not their priorities.

If I were in Congress right now, I would demand that those generals come before the Appropriations Committee and tell Congress which of the projects that are requested are unimportant. They're all very important to our military.

WHITFIELD: So, Patti, you know, the Democrats now have or, you know, anyone in Congress has 15 days in which to challenge this. The Democrats have, you know, threatened do so. Perhaps there may be a consensus in the House. Do you believe there will be, you know, a consensus in the Senate? There are some very high profile senators who have said they don't like that the president has, you know, has declared this emergency.

[15:05:00] PATTI SOLIS-DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, absolutely. I think there's going to be a legislative challenge. I think there's going to be a challenge in the court from the states, from groups, from landowners on the border.

Here's the deal. There is no national --

WHITFIELD: There at least already three lawsuits like that.

SOLIS-DOYLE: Right. Here's the deal. There is no national emergency, Fred. This is one big giant con job from a renowned con artist. I mean, let's look at the facts.

First and foremost, we are at historic lows, historic lows of illegal crossings into the US. Crime rates, statistic after statistic shows that crime rates of undocumented immigrants is far lower than that of Native-born Americans. And the illegal drugs that come into this country, 90% of it comes from point of entry, Fred.

So the fact that he's preparing --

WHITFIELD: But we heard that the President was challenging that from the Rose Garden. He said, you know, he doesn't even buy the numbers from the Homeland Security, which essentially substantiates those claims.

SOLIS-DOYLE: It's his own Homeland Security that he is questioning, Fred. So if -- bottom line is, by his own admission, he didn't have to do this, and by definition if you don't have to do it, it's not an emergency.

WHITFIELD: Here is Senator Sherrod Brown on the "State of the Union" this morning. Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: He got turned down by Congress and went ahead and did it. That's why you see so many Republicans saying don't do this. Republicans are afraid he's going to take the money from somewhere else, in something they care about. But fundamentally they think it's the President who failed, who hates to lose, who is acting childish and is violating the constitution.

Republican after Republican is telling us that privately. We will have a vote on this likely in the next two or three weeks, see if those Republicans show the backbone that they generally haven't shown standing up to this President in the past. But this is more serious because it's a constitutional question, so I take them at their word that they'll stand up to him.


WHITFIELD: And, Charlie, what do you believe the vote on this resolution will reveal?

DENT: Well, I'm certain that the resolution will likely pass the House and probably the Senate. The only question is by how many votes, and do you get a two-thirds majority. I just can't imagine Republican members of the Armed Services Committee or the Appropriations Committee can take this lying down.

This is just too big of a deal as far as I'm concerned. This, fundamentally, alters the relationship between the President and the Congress. The Congress, you know, has to authorize or has to approve these type of transfers. And if the President is going to run rough shot over them, it will really damage the ability of the administration to get things done they need.

They need a cooperative and flexible relationship with the Appropriations Committee because sometimes you do have to have some flexibility to move some money. But all goodwill be gone, and so I really think this is really going to setoff a bit of a constitutional crisis. And by the way, this is also going to delay and maybe kill some of those military construction projects because they're going to be tied up in court for a long time so the money won't be able to be spent.

WHITFIELD: And, Patti, what do you make of, you know, Steven Miller who made the argument, you know, when he was on Fox today which he said, bottom line, this is the President defending the country, thereby it should be treated, this emergency declaration should be treated just like the other 58, you know, before him since 1976 involving other presidents, even though most of them involved, you know, issues relating to foreign countries, Yemen, Sudan, et cetera. And, of course, you know, high profile domestic one, post-9/11. What about his argument this is about defending and protecting this country?

SOLIS-DOYLE: Look, I think, obviously, I do not agree with Stephen Miller. There is no emergency at the border. The Democrats and the bill that passed clearly had money for border security. The issue is the wall in and of itself. Experts after experts have said that this is an inefficient, ineffective very expensive way to treat border security, number one.

Number two, what -- at bottom, what this really is, is a way for the President to come and make good on a campaign promise that he made in 2016. The problem was the actual promise was he was going to build this great big beautiful wall and that Mexico was going to pay for it, not the American taxpayer.

WHITFIELD: And now, Charlie, you heard the President from the Rose Garden, and now the Trump-Pence re-election campaign is using this moment to say we need your donations, we need to raise another $2 billion, you know, to complete or to construct this wall. And they're asking for donations from people. How does that sit with you that, you know, this is now part of the re-election campaign? We want your money, money to go toward the wall.

[15:10:06] DENT: Well, I'm really not surprised or shocked that they're politicizing this issue in this way. What they're really doing, though, is jeopardizing military readiness and preparedness on the backs of military families.

And, by the way, Fred, what Stephen Miller said this morning, if the President's going to declare an emergency, well then, the remedy, in this case, a wall must address the underlying emergency. And I can make a very strong case that it will take too long to build a wall and by the way building a wall probably really won't address the issue of poor migrants coming to legal ports of entry. Of course, we need barriers, we need technology, we need personnel on the border, but this is the absolutely wrong way to go about it. I'm not surprised they're politicizing this, and we're going to keep hearing this ad nauseam between now and the presidential election in 2020.

WHITFIELD: All right. Charlie Dent, Patti Solis-Doyle, thanks to both of you, appreciate it.

So the border wall will likely be a big topic of discussion when Senator Amy Klobuchar holds a town hall event in New Hampshire. That's tomorrow, CNN's Don Lemon moderates, airing at 10:00 Eastern Time Monday, only on CNN. All right.

Up next, President Trump's pick for a UN Ambassador bows out of the running. Why Heather Nauert is stepping down, and what the President is saying about that. Plus, Venezuela is gripped in what Senator Marco Rubio called a man made crisis of epic proportions. What else he's saying about that and the latest efforts to deliver US aid to that country?


[15:15:48] WHITFIELD: Nanny issues are killing Heather Nauert's bid to be the next ambassador to the UN. Nominated by Trump to replace Nikki Haley, Nauert who was once a "Fox & Friends" host and most recently a spokesperson for the US State Department is withdrawing on the heels of the news Trump tweeted today.

Quoting now, "Democrats in the Senate are still slow walking hundreds of qualified, highly qualified people wanting to come into government. Never been such an abuse in our country's history. Mitch should not let Senate go home until all our approved. We need our ambassadors and all others now."

I want to bring in CNN's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Michelle Kosinski. So, Michelle, this is interesting because he is making a blanket statement about --


WHITFIELD: --, you know, the nomination process. But while he made it public, he wanted NAUERT to be the UN ambassador. That nomination had not been sent yet to the US Senate, had it?

KOSINSKI: Right. And Senate Democrats denied that they're slow walking a lot of these people. In fact, the White House has been very slow to go through the process and send the nominations along with the paperwork to the Senate. So when we talked to our sources on the hill, they say, well, you know, it's strange for example, that Nauert's paperwork hasn't shown up yet. Her formal nomination was never submitted. But the reason they didn't think it was so unusual was because they told us that there were so many other nominees whose paperwork had not yet been sent.

So they dispute that. In Nauert's case, it's come out according to sources to CNN, that when she went through the initial process of vetting, to be spokesperson for the State Department, and keep in mind, she wasn't only spokesperson. She eventually became acting under-secretary for public diplomacy. So in one year's time, she went from being a Fox News anchor to the number four person at the State Department. It didn't come up in that vetting that she had hired a foreign nanny years ago, who was legal to be in the United States according to the sources, but not legal to work.

Only now, in this process, according to sources, she brought up the issue. She acknowledged to investigators that she had not been paying the proper taxes on the nanny, that the nanny wasn't paying taxes. But in the end realized according to these sources she realized it was going to be too tough to get through confirmation. And she put out a statement last night saying the past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.

However, I will say, multiple sources have told CNN that in actuality there were multiple issues surrounding her nomination that would have made it tough to get through the confirmation process, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So will she remain as a spokesperson, or does that job change too now that, you know, there was an admission about, you know, the tax issues, the nanny issues, legalities about working and all that?

KOSINSKI: Yes. Apparently, there is something about this that is so tricky and so difficult for her that made her feel she can no longer stay in the position even of spokesperson for the State Department. So we don't know the inner workings of who has decided that this issue is so big among other issues that she's not going to stay on at state at all, but apparently she's leaving. And it's unclear at this point who will be the next spokesperson or undersecretary of state for public diplomacy or US ambassador to the UN, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Lots of openings, all right. Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. A new US military assessment says thousands of ISIS fighters have likely fled Syria into neighboring Iraq.

[15:19:45] So what did they possibly take with them?


WHITFIELD: There are new concerns from the front lines in the battle against ISIS. Military officials now believe thousands of ISIS fighters in Eastern Syria may have already fled and possibly taken hundreds of millions of dollars with them. Here is CNN's Barbara Starr in Iraq.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps more than 1,000 ISIS fighters have fled Syria in the last six months of fighting into the western deserts and mountains of Iraq, and they may have $200 million in cash with them to finance future operations, all of that according to the latest US assessment. All of this comes as the US backed- Syrian fighters with US assistance are struggling to take the last ISIS stronghold in Syria.

[15:25:07] The big concern now is there may be hundreds if not thousands of civilians in the area, many of them perhaps being held by ISIS. The top US general tonight in Baghdad talking about how little the US may be able to predict when that last stronghold is taken.

LT. GEN. PAUL LACAMERA, INHERENT RESOLVE COMMANDER: It's an active battle. I mean, they could capitulate while we're sitting here or it could be several days. I mean, there's a lot of fog and friction on the battlefield. I mean, we were moving at a pretty good clip three or four days ago, and then the amount of displaced civilians that were starting to come out, civilians, fighters that we're trying to infiltrate or exfiltrate with families, we slowed it down so that we could do the proper screenings.

STARR: And happens after the last stronghold falls, Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the top commander here, says that SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces that the US has been backing will have to make some key decisions. The US is willing to continue providing weapons and aid, but that may only last so long if the SDF decides its only option is to now align itself with the Assad regime.

LACAMERA: So we are in Syria because of the threat to Iraq. They're our partners in Syria to fight ISIS. Once that relationship is severed because they go back to the regime, which we don't have a relationship with, the Russians we don't have a relationship with, when that happens then we'll no longer be partners with them.

STARR: Now that the US is pulling its troops out of Syria, the SDF may have few options. They cannot align themselves with the Turks, their enemies, of course. And if they go with the Assad regime for protection the US will cut relations with them because the US cannot legally do business with Assad.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Baghdad.


WHITFIELD: And President Trump heading to Miami tomorrow, where he'll address the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Trump will give the speech in Sweetwater, an area heavily populated by Venezuelans. Right now more American aid is now sitting on the Venezuelan border with Columbia after being airlifted there over the weekend. Also there, Florida Senator Marco Rubio who was greeted by cheering crowds. Here's what he said a short time ago.


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: What is happening here today, what is happening in Venezuela is a man-made crisis of epic proportions, not caused by a natural disaster but by a man-made one. A criminal regime that is willing to starve and kill its own people before it gives up power.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Nick Valencia is just back from the border where he was on one of those USAID flights. So what happens next with the aids sitting on that border?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the big question here, exactly how this aid will get in. But this humanitarian aid, from the US, is coming out of critical time, Fredricka, at a time when children are starving in the country. Hospitals are struggling to provide basic services. They're struggling to stay open at this point.

Venezuela now, the displacement of people, one of the largest displacements of people in the history of Latin America, which is why the US says they are acting now. And we were on that trip yesterday with State Department officials as well as Department of Defense and USAID. This is what we saw.


VALENCIA (voice-over): It isn't just a mission to deliver basic goods. It's a mission to deliver hope. Over the weekend three planes carrying 66 metric tons of humanitarian relief made its way to the Venezuelan border with Columbia. The supplies, part of an effort led by the USAID, and both the Departments of Defense and State.

JULIE CHUNG, STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: These are just the basic necessities. VALENCIA: State Department Official Julie Chung helped lead the mission to assist the millions impacted by what she called a man-made crisis created by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

CHUNG: The only thing stopping us is the Maduro regime. We've seen them block the bridges, block the roads and it's an abomination to humanity, to stop basic necessity and goods from entering your country to help your own people.

VALENCIA: Is there any concern that something like this would provoke him from doing something even more drastic? That this could perhaps be seen as further politicizing a crisis?

CHUNG: If anyone's politicizing the crisis, it's Maduro.

VALENCIA: Lester Toledo, a representative of self-declared interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaido joined the US officials on the trip to the border. He was there when the first aid of USAID arrived on the Venezuelan border, February 8th. I asked him if this is the year Venezuela will turn the corner. He said he thinks it'll happen in a matter of weeks.

This is the second shipment of humanitarian aid sent by the US government to help Venezuela in the last two weeks. They say it is part of their commitment to interim President Juan Guaido. And inside these pallets they say is enough to feed 350,000 children, and up to 25,000 adults.

[15:30:07] Landing in Columbia, the humanitarian convoy was greeted by USAID Director Mark Green. He said the aid is arriving at the most critical time.

MARK GREEN, USAID DIRECTOR: The crisis Venezuelans are fleeing is man-made.

VALENCIA: In a matter of minutes, the supplies were off-loaded and driven to this warehouse in Cucuta, Columbia, positioned only a few hundred yards from Venezuela. The question now with the border closed and Maduro's regime showing no sign of backing down, how to get the supplies to the people who need it most.


VALENCIA: Ultimately, it will be up to the Venezuelan military on whether or not they will allow that US-led aid into the country. Representatives for Interim President Juan Guaido, well, they're optimistic. They believe they say that the military will do the right thing, the moral thing and allow this aid in to help the people of Venezuela.

The concern is, however, Fredricka, are that this involvement from the US in recent weeks and months could do something to provoke an already unpredictable Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to do something drastic. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nick Valencia, now in Miami, thank you so much.

All right, let me bring in Brett Bruen, he is a former US Diplomat who served in Venezuela and is also a former Director of Global Engagement in the Obama White House. Good to see you.

So, is it your opinion that the US could push out Maduro, and if so what are your concerns?

BRETT BRUEN, FORMER US DIPLOMAT IN VENEZUELA: You know, it was interesting that Julie Chung was in that piece you just aired. She and I were in training together at the time she was headed to Columbia, I was going to Venezuela.

And I think what is interesting about the Venezuelan situation is this isn't new. America, the world may just be paying attention, but back then, over 15 years ago, Venezuela was refusing international aid. It was not recognizing the problems that were starting to take hold in society. And I think this is the reason why Maduro is in such a tough spot. The economy has collapsed. The health situation's gone downhill, and his last hold on power really is the military, and that's a pretty precarious one.

WHITFIELD: And, of course, once the military or if the military were to, I guess, lose hope or faith in Maduro and instead, you know, choose sides with Guaido, then is that Maduro's demise or do you see that potentially as how things could change?

BRUEN: I think the likeliest scenario for this situation in Venezuela is for border guards to just start crossing over to the Columbian side, to the Brazilian side. They are -- if they're offered the right incentives I think will choose a future for themselves, for their families. And then slowly steadily, that erosion of support will creep towards Caracas.

And I think that's the way that Maduro is most likely going to lose his grip on power. Right now he's got a firm grip on the generals. The mid ranks, the lower ranks, the military is much more tenuous.

WHITFIELD: So, how influential is the US? The US has backed Guaido calling, you know, Maduro's reign an illegitimate outcome, you know, from this election. So does the US have any influence here?

BRUEN: It does. But I think it needs to play its cards very carefully. And I give the Trump administration mixed marks on this score. On the one hand, I think they have taken a lot of the right steps. They've cut off Maduro's access to finances from the oil sold here principally in the United States. They've also recognized Guaido, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution. They've built an international coalition.

What concerns me is the rhetoric coming from the White House has been a little bit too bellicose. This is not something that will play well either in Caracas or in other capitals around Latin America, which we need to force Maduro from power.

WHITFIELD: So you recently, you know, said that Russia is using the same disruptive play book in Venezuela that it did in Syria. What do you mean by that?

BRUEN: Well, Russia has seen in Venezuela an opportunity, one where it can meddle not only with the United States but with the whole hemisphere. And what we are seeing from Russia, they've sent hundreds of mercenaries to secure Maduro's position on power. They have provided desperately needed financing. They've offered over $45 billion in loans to the Maduro regime, so all of this is an important lifeline especially as the other access to support to international recognition has dried up.

And the last point that I would just make is they have been a critical piece in the propaganda machine, arguing that this is a power grab by Washington.

[15:35:00] WHITFIELD: Brett Bruen, thank you so much for your time and expertise. Appreciate it.

BRUEN: Good to be with you.

WHITFIELD: We're going to talk about the NFL coming up. Colin Kaepernick has not played football in the NFL in two years, but that just might be changing. Why his lawyer now says the controversial quarterback could find a new team at any day now.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Colin Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL in more than two years, but his attorney says he could be back on a team in a matter of weeks.

The former NFL quarterback is weighing his options now that he has reached a settlement with the league. Kaepernick accused team owners of colluding against signing him because he protested against racial inequalities by kneeling during the national anthem.

[15:40:01] CNN's Andy Scholes is covering the story from Charlotte.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season. But his attorney, Mark Geragos, says that Kaepernick is in incredible shape. He is ready to play in the NFL right now.

And Geragos came on CNN just last night and said that now that Kaepernick's collusion grievance has been settled with the NFL he predict that Kaepernick will be signed by a team any day now.


MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: I think you're going to see -- I'll make the bold prediction. You can save the tape. I think you're going to see within the next two weeks that somebody is going to step up. Somebody is going to do the right thing.

Do you want me to predict too? I will tell you, besides the Panthers, it would not surprise me if Bob Kraft makes a move.


GERAGOS: Yes. That would not surprise me. And it would not surprise me if his former coach -- I'll test your knowledge -- also makes a move.


SCHOLES: And Geragos is possibly referring to former Patriots Coach, Pete Carol who now coaches the Seattle Seahawks. So that would leave the Panthers, Patriots and Sea Hawks as possible destinations for Kaepernick according to Geragos. We'll wait and see if that ends up happening.

Now, meanwhile here in Charlotte, LeBron James has never shied away from speaking out on social issues. He's always supported Colin Kaepercick in what he's tried to accomplish. And yesterday when speaking with the media, LeBron said, he was thrilled to learn the news that Kaepernick had settled his collusion case with the NFL.


LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: I'm staying with Kap. I kneel with Kap. I mean, I just feel what he was talking about nobody wanted to listen to. Nobody ever really wanted to actually understand where he was coming from, you know. And, you know, I think that anybody that would sacrifice their livelihood for the betterment of all of us, you know, I can respect that. And he's done that.

So I'm happy to see the news come out yesterday that he won his suit. I hope it's a hell of a lot of money that could set not only him up, but set his family up, set his grand kids up for the rest of their lives.

And I hope that, you know, the word of what he did will also live on throughout American history but also world history because it's important for all of us not only African-Americans but for everybody that want to stand up for something that's more important than them.


SCHOLES: Now tonight here at Charlotte, LeBron James will play in his 15th NBA All-Star Game. You can watch that starting at 8:00 Eastern on our sister station TNT.

And, Fredricka, we're hoping for another exciting game just like we saw last year.

WHITFIELD: All right. Always a lot of fun at this All-Star Game. All right, thank you so much Andy Scholes.

Next hour, I talk with Kaepernick's attorney, Mark Geragos, on what led to the NFL settling. All right.

Still ahead, he has dedicated his life to honor the lives of those lost to gun violence. Now a man from Aurora, Illinois, is making five more crosses for his hometown. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:47:15] WHITFIELD: Family and friends are grieving the loss of five people killed in a workplace shooting in the Chicago suburbs. And today loves ones are paying their respects in front of wood crosses that stand outside the Henry Pratt Company building in Aurora, Illinois, where an employee who was being terminated opened fired on his colleagues.

The man who built those memorial crosses is local carpenter, Greg Zanis. He has spent years traveling the country delivering tributes for gun violence victims. But for him the shooting doesn't just hit close to home, it is home.

Here is CNN's Scott McLean.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than two decades 68-year-old Greg Zanis has been hand-making and hand- delivering comfort to grieving families across America. It's a big job that takes a lot of lumber, a lot of paint and countless nights inside of his truck.

GREG ZANIS, CROSSES FOR LOSSES: I'm the kind of guy that falls asleep real easy.

MCLEAN: It's not comfortable but neither is the task at hand.

Most people don't want to think about these shootings until they happen on their doorsteps, but you live it 365. Why?

ZANIS: Because it feels that it's making a difference.

MCLEAN: He's placed his wooden crosses at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs Texas, Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas, Parkland, Florida, and that's barely scratching the surface. In total --

ZANIS: Twenty-six thousand five hundred and seventy-nine. You have no idea what I've seen in this country.

MCLEAN: He's seen America at its worst yet still believes in its best.

ZANIS: We're in a country that's so full of hope.

MCLEAN: In every place he hears people say, they never thought it could happen here. Even he believed that until Friday.

ZANIS: I feel so dumb that I wasn't even thinking that it could happen here. I should have thought it could happen here.

MCLEAN: Just three miles from his home in Aurora, Illinois, a man opened fire on his colleagues after learning he'd been let go. Five people were killed. The next day Zanis left five crosses bearing their names.

ZANIS: My heart rate was going up because I can't believe I'm standing on the ground here of my town -- in my town doing this at all, in my turf, my town. You know, it's like a nightmare.

MCLEAN: Following each tragedy, Zanis takes comfort in the fact that he can get in his truck and leave.

ZANIS: I put on like I'm strong, like I'm carrying the whole weight of the world on my shoulders because I know that I'm going to be in and out.

MCLEAN: Just not this time.

ZANIS: That's why I'm having such a hard time here, living here, because I'm not in and out.

[15:50:01] MCLEAN: This time it's a much heavier cross to bear.


MCLEAN: And they have closed off this entire block for this vigil to the five victims. Clayton Parks, Russel Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Josh Pinkard, and Trevor Wehner who is an intern, a student intern, at this company. And it was his first day on the job. They are here to pray, and they are likely here to wonder why this happened.

And that is a question that Greg's in. This has had a lot of time to consider as he drives from tragedy to tragedy. He doesn't think that guns are the problem in this country. He thinks that it is a lack of love for the perpetrators before they commit these crimes and a lack of God in American society that is becoming more and more secular, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Scott, the suspect is dead, but where is the investigation?

MCLEAN: Yes. So we heard from the company's CEO yesterday, who confirmed that he was, in fact, fired for multiple violations, that he didn't get into detail on. He said that guns are not allowed in the building, but there's also no security protocol to actually keep them out.

It did do a background check on the suspect. It did not, though, bring up his felony conviction. That is the conviction that should have prevented this suspect from ever owning a gun. He was sent a letter in 2014 by police asking him to turn it in. The problem, though, is that neither the state police nor the local police ever followed up on it to make sure that that weapon was actually seized, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Scott McLean, thank you so much.

And we'll be right back.