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Mother of El Paso Suspect Called Police Weeks Before Massacre; Trump Attacks Dayton Mayor, Ohio Senator After Visit; Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) Is Interviewed About Action on Gun Legislation; Rep. Ryan Leading "Caravan" to Push Action on Gun Bills; 2020 Dems Call Out Trump Over Rhetoric, Response to Shootings; Kamala Harris Debuts Major Ad Buy In Iowa. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 8, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president back in Washington this morning after a day that was really a strange brew of political combat and consoling. Here in Dayton -- oh sorry, I should say here in El Paso and also in Dayton, cities trying to heal. There was a kind of confusion over what actually happened.

President Trump did visit hospitals where he spoke with emergency workers and the families of victims but before, during and after, he was all over the place with attacks on political opponents, some that he just seemed to make up. Here in El Paso, there are reports that the victims still recovering in one hospital, they would not meet with him. Those some who had been released did speak with the president.

And just to give you a sense of where his head is and maybe isn't, on the way back to the White House last night after visits to these two cities that suffered mass shootings, the president was dwelling on commuting the sentence of former Illinois governor and "Apprentice" contestant, Rod Blagojevich.

Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, John, as all of that is happening, we should point out there is still no action on gun control in the Capitol. The Senate, of course, remains in recess despite repeated calls for action after the shooting deaths of 31 people in a span of just 13 hours.

And this morning, the Washington Post is reporting the NRA's chief executive reached out to President Trump this week after the president voiced support for a background check bill. That conversation apparently coming with a warning for Mr. Trump, that the measure would not be popular, John, with his loyal supporters.

BERMAN: Interesting.

All right. We're going to get to the politics of gun violence in just a moment because there are new developments this morning, but first, a CNN exclusive about a potential red flag missed. Lawyers for the family of the El Paso shooting suspect, they say his mother called police weeks before the massacre. She called police because she was concerned about her son owning an AK-style weapon. She was told he had the right to own the gun. Police did not seek any additional information though.

Let's get the details here from Brian Todd who is with me in El Paso.

The mother called the police.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. There was clearly some concern there in the weeks before the shooting. Something was up in her mind, interacting with her son. This information from our investigative unit Scott Glover and Majlie de Puy Kamp who spoke with lawyers for the family and they say as John mentioned that in the weeks before the shooting, not clear exactly how long before but pretty close to it, she did out of concern called the police department in Allen, Texas out of concern that her son was owning an AK-style firearm, an AK type firearm. So clearly a reference for those who don't know to an AK-47, an assault-style weapon that is designed to kill people in combat. But the public safety officer who she spoke with told her that given the situation and her son's age, he was legally entitled to own that firearm.

And her concern really was because of his age, his lack of maturity and his lack of experience in dealing with this kind of a weapon. It was not out of concern that he posed a threat to people. That's according to lawyers for the family, John. But the public safety officer in Allen, Texas who she spoke to said that he was legally entitled to own that weapon and did not really ask for any additional information. The mother did not give her name or her son's name to the officer.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting because the red flag laws that are being discussed now in states and in Washington, it's not totally clear whether it would have stopped this given that the mother had called.

TODD: Right.

BERMAN: But it's not impossible either had the law existed then maybe the police would have pushed back and asked for more information. That conversation might have continued and maybe, just maybe, it would have led to some kind of intervention. We won't know because those laws don't exist here in Texas right now.

TODD: Right.

BERMAN: But, Brian, I understand you also have some new information about the shooter, the suspect, himself behind bars. What's going on?

TODD: Right. We are told by the sheriff's department in El Paso County that he's being held in a seven by 11-foot cell. He is totally on lockdown in isolation. They were trying to keep him away from other inmates. He's not on suicide watch.

They will not tell us whether he's had any visitors, whether he's asked for anything or anyone in particular but there's clearly a concern this morning, John, about exposing him to other inmates at the detention facility in downtown El Paso. BERMAN: All right. That's interesting, Brian, but again, the big news this morning, the fact that the mother had made contact with police --

TODD: Yes.

BERMAN: -- and discussed concerns about weapons, I think that's going to hurt the families of the victims from this shooting behind me --

TODD: Absolutely.

BERMAN: -- as they hear that information this morning. Brian, thank you very much.

So, Erica, let's go back to you in Washington.

HILL: All right, John.

Well, before traveling to El Paso, President Trump, of course, met with victims and first responders in Dayton. And he was joined by the city's mayor and also Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. Here's what they said after the visit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Well, he was comforting and he did the right things, and Melania did the right things. And it's his job in part to comfort people. I'm glad he did it in those hospital rooms.

MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D), DAYTON, OHIO: I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[06:05:02] HILL: So why then was the president ripping both the mayor and the senator later aboard Air Force One. CNN's Brynn Gingras is live this morning in Dayton with more for us.

Brynn, good morning.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Yes, that's a great question. And you just saw it there, they were complimentary. You know, the president and first lady were on the ground here in Dayton as you said visiting patients who are still in the hospital recovering, visiting first responders. They were here for three hours and then they got onto Air Force One.

The mayor and the senator held that news conference saying that he was comforting, that he was well-received, but the president heard it a different way and he sent out a tweet expressing his displeasure with that news conference. Let me read it to you. He said, "I saw failed presidential candidate zero percent Sherrod Brown and Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place." Now, I will say that Brown and Whaley, they did give a little criticism about his divisive rhetoric and they did talk about how the fact there were people here in Dayton who didn't want the president to come visit. And I can tell you, I've talked to a lot of people here in Dayton and that is true. There were people in favor of his visit and there were people who were not. But nothing negative about the fact that he was comforting and his visit here on the ground

So listen to the mayor's reaction to the president's tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHALEY: I don't -- I mean, like I'm really confused. We said he was treated like very well, so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd love to hear what news --

WHALEY: I don't know what he's talking about misrepresenting, so. Oh well, you know, he lives in his world of Twitter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRAS: And it wasn't just in that news conference. The mayor went on CNN, went on different news organizations saying the same thing about his visit, that he was comforting. And the senator also said this, he said the president's a bully and response to tweet saying, people here Dayton deserve a president focused on protecting them from gun violence and not protecting his ego.

Erica?

HILL: Brynn Gingras with the latest for us there. Brynn, thank you.

And a programming note, we will actually speak with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. She is going to join us here on NEW DAY in the 8:00 hour.

John?

BERMAN: All right, looking forward to that.

So this morning, 2020 candidate and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan says he will lead a caravan to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home in Kentucky to demand action on gun safety legislation. The caravan will start in Niles, Ohio. With stops in Akron, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati before ending up in Senator McConnell's hometown of Louisville for a gun reform event tonight.

Congressman Ryan joins me now from Niles where the caravan will depart any moment now. Congressman, let me just tell you, it's very windy here in El Paso. So if you have trouble hearing me, that's what's going on. Let me ask you, why do you think this caravan will change Mitch McConnell's mind?

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's been an accumulation over the years. This is all adding up by people who say why is it different now? I just think this has all accumulated. You can go back, it's Parkland, it's Sandy Hook, it's Columbine, it's -- all of these things over the past, you know, 20 years, you know, happened again back-to-back in two iconic American cities and people in Ohio want to act. And so this is about getting Mitch McConnell to pass this legislation.

And I think when you see like Republican Congressman Mike Turner down in Dayton, when you see Republican Governor Mike DeWine in Ohio make significant steps towards trying to make the country safer, you recognize that this is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is about keeping people safe in the United States. And I think all of those tragedies, all the heartache, all the pain, all the sorrow is coming to a head and now it's time to act and I think we can get Mitch McConnell to do it.

BERMAN: President Trump himself mused about background checks, universal background checks yesterday when he's leaving the White House. CNN is reporting along with other that he's been calling people talking about background checks. Now, I do want to note, he talked about background checks after Parkland and had indicated that he would support them then too and then nothing happened.

RYAN: Right.

BERMAN: He backed off after the NRA got to him, but how do you assess his comments about it now?

RYAN: Like everything else really, you can't take him seriously. You know, his lips are moving, let's put it that way. That's how you know you can't take him seriously.

And so this is going to be from the bottom up. That's what we're trying to talk about. It's time for us to start playing an offense, to be proactive, to continue the fight with the groups who have been engaged in this for a long time. But I think their coalition that they started, you know, Moms Demand Action, and Sandy Hook and these other groups, every town, these groups are now pulling in Republicans in places like Ohio. And so it's going to be from the bottom up. That's why, quite frankly, this is exciting.

Our number one responsibility as elected officials is to keep people safe. This is a security issue.

[06:10:04] And I will tell you as you probably know, John, I mean, we see people every day that tell me and I feel it myself, when you're in public you're looking around, you know.

The whole country is on high alert now with our kids. They're going back to school. When you're grocery shopping, when you're out in a public place, I think most Americans now are just a little bit hesitant and that's no way for us to live and we can do better than that. And that's what this is all about, doing better and securing our communities.

BERMAN: I got to say when we saw that video in Times Square of a motorcycle engine backfiring and a near stampede starting, that just tells you the level of fear in this country right now. RYAN: Yes.

BERMAN: And you know as public officials, your number one job is to keep people safe, which is why I want to ask you about CNN's fascinating reporting. Jake Tapper put out yesterday something that's pretty disturbing to a lot of people which is that Homeland Security officials, former and current, tell Jake that the White House rebuffed efforts from Homeland Security to put a greater emphasis on domestic terror including white supremacy. How do you explain that?

RYAN: Again, you know, I think the president of the United States needs to take responsibility. He does this promotion of himself to the white nationalists in the country and as I've said the white nationalists and the country think he's a white nationalist. That's a problem.

And so the Department of Homeland Security, I'm glad there are people in that department that are taking this very, very seriously because this is a danger for everybody. And again, we've got to secure the country and we've got to heal the

country more than anything else, and that starts by acknowledging that we have some problems.

It means guys like me saying, look, we're not going to take your hunting rifle. We want you to be able to protect your family, but there's no room in America for these weapons of war on the street that can, you know, annihilate people within 30 seconds. So you got to make it happen.

BERMAN: I do want to ask you, Mitch McConnell has said he's interested in genuine bipartisan efforts to battle gun violence. One thing that he has been more receptive to, the president has talked about and Republicans all over the country have, are these so-called red flag laws. Now, I understand you want much more than that, but is that an area you think that you could work with Republicans immediately, maybe get that through separately from some other legislation?

RYAN: Well, I think we have a responsibility to take any step we can in that direction and see, you know, how far we can go to protect people and keep them safe. And if that's something that can get through the United States Senate, you know, we want these comprehensive background checks. We want to close the Charleston loophole. We want to get the weapons of war off of the American streets. That's what we want and that's what we're going to push for.

And, you know, until we can change the makeup of the Senate and change the presidency, we're going to go after and work with them for whatever we can get. And if it starts with red flag laws, you know, I for one would be open to that. And I think our leadership in the House of Representatives and Chairman Nadler is already working and drafting some of those pieces of legislation for us to consider when we get back in September.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Ryan, thank you very much for being with us. I know you have a long day ahead of you as you drive into Kentucky from Ohio.

RYAN: Yes.

BERMAN: Thank you very much.

RYAN: If I could just say everybody come out and join us. We're going to be at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville and we've already getting inquiries from Indiana, and Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. So come on out, it's at 7:30 tonight.

Some people can leave right after work to come. It's only a few hours from a lot of big towns and Indianapolis, et cetera. So come on down and meet us there and let's make our mark and start pushing the needle on this. It's going to be from the bottom up, so thanks.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Ryan. Congressman Ryan, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

I do want to note, the congressman is not the only 2020 Democratic presidential candidate calling out the president after these shootings. The strong words from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[06:18:53] JOE BIDEN (D-DE) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Former Vice President Joe Biden just one of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates calling out the president for his rhetoric and in the strongest terms yet. Critiques that have certainly gotten President Trump's attention.

Let's bring in now Jeff Zeleny, CNN's senior Washington correspondent, and Tanzina Vega, the host of Public Radio's "The Takeaway." Good to have both of you with us.

So clearly striking a cord there, those comments with the president who was essentially rage tweeting in between his stop in Dayton and in El Paso yesterday, Jeff, and really the White House trying to push back. But this is what we're seeing from the president. Joe Biden, he's really striking a nerve, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Erica, there's no question, being at that speech yesterday with the former vice president. I'm not sure I've ever heard a clearer message or a more decisive or direct message from Joe Biden since he has gotten into this race. Of course, he started out running for president saying he was fighting for the soul of American, to repair the soul of America. And that is exactly what he was talking about throughout the speech. [06:20:03] Erica, I was struck by how he sort of steeped this in history so that, you know, Donald Trump, you know, is not -- he compared him to more George Wallace than George Washington. But also, he certainly got under the president's skin when he said he, you know, did not believe him when earlier in the week he condemned white supremacy. He said he did not believe the president actually believed the words that he wrote on the teleprompter.

Then Joe Biden got a little bit in the mud like most of Donald Trump's opponents have over the years and he called him low energy. He said that he did not believe that he believe those words.

But I think the bigger point here for Joe Biden as the 2020 politics begin to seep back into the conversation this week, Joe Biden wants to make this context about him and Donald Trump. He's been trying to reframe that to make the argument that he's the strongest Democrat to take on the president.

We haven't heard as much from the other Democratic candidates this week. Of course, Cory Booker was in South Carolina yesterday also making a bit of a different approach, but Joe Biden going directly after Donald Trump. The question is, of course, most Donald Trump supporters aren't listening to this, but are those independent voters in the middle who may just be turned off by all of this really what they saw yesterday from the president who started out today, you know, trying to console people and he ended up, you know, just trying to pick more fights along the way.

HILL: One of the many great unknowns. Tanzina, what has been pointed out to repeatedly is what we -- the other thing that we didn't hear from the president was addressing specifically the threat to the Latino community. Because we know from this manifesto that, again, police believe the shooter in El Paso is the one who posted. This was a direct target on the Latino community.

TANZINA VEGA, HOST, "THE TAKEAWAY": And this is one of the things, Erica, that the president himself has really failed to address directly, that this was a threat, not just a white supremacist threat but also a threat to the Latino community, probably one of the most violent that we've seen in American history. So we have to start there.

In terms of Joe Biden's response to this, you know, there's been a lot of talk previously about whether or not Joe Biden and others can be moderate, whether or not they're going to scare away certain independent voters. And I think after what we saw over the weekend with the shootings in Dayton and Ohio and other mass shootings, specifically those that are tied to white supremacist ideology, Joe Biden isn't saying anything that isn't true. And if we take the politics out of this, we have to be honest about whether or not, you know, this idea of being a Democratic moderate is actually going to hold with communities of color, particularly black and Latino communities, who have a very big percentage of the Democratic vote and whether or not, you know, that idea of being a moderate is going to remain. And I think Joe Biden has essentially been pushed not just to say some -- not to say anything that's unfactual but really to address this head on in the void that the president has left behind.

HILL: And in terms of addressing things head on, more candidates seem to be certainly more forceful in the last few days. They're also being asked directly about the president. I just want to point out the New York Times in an interview with Elizabeth Warren asked directly if Mr. Trump was a white supremacist.

The Times writes, "Ms. Warren responded without hesitation. Yes. He has given aid and comfort to white supremacist. He's done the wink and a nod. He has talked about white supremacists as fine people. He's done everything he can to stir up racial conflict and hatred in this country."

Bakari Sellers is also with us now, a CNN commentator. I do want to point out too, full disclosure, you have endorsed Kamala Harris for president. When you see that, though, coming very directly from Elizabeth Warren, when you hear more from Joe Biden this week and other candidates, where is this now going in terms of the conversation, whether it's about being a moderate, being a realist, however you want to phrase it, Bakari?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's above all of those issues. This does not fall in the lane of being progressive, being moderate. It doesn't in the fall in the lane of being too far- left or in the center. This is just someone who's going to be forceful, stand up, and speak the truth with moral clarity.

Right now, we're absent in that moral leadership in this country and now is a test for all the candidates to display they have that leadership. I honestly think though the individuals -- I know that Elizabeth Warren came out and uttered those words, that's true, but it's going to require a little bit more than that.

I've been very, very pleased Joe Biden gave the best speech of his campaign yesterday, maybe the best speech of his political life yesterday. It was the energy, it was the presidential nature and tone that people thought they were going to get out of Joe Biden this entire time. You know, the question is can he keep that up. But you have to give kudos where kudos are due.

But also, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke, and Kamala Harris have all been very forceful in their tone. Beto on the ground in El Paso is showing leadership that's direly needed in that area, and Cory Booker giving a rousing speech yesterday at a venue that is very sacred to many of us, just highlighting and uplifting the need for love in this country.

So there are some candidates who are stepping forward and I think that Senator Harris, Senator Booker, Vice President Biden, Beto O'Rourke probably leading the charge have shown that they can stand up and take the president to task over this issue.

[06:25:08] HILL: Jeff, you're of course in Iowa. State fair kicking off which means that everyone and your brother is going to be in Iowa as you know. Ahead of that though, a big ad by -- for Kamala Harris' campaign and she's rolling at an ad called "Me, Maya, and Mom," talking about her 3 a.m. agenda. I want to play a little bit of that that's just released this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's what I'm fighting for, real relief for families like yours, not in 20 years, not in 30, starting my first day as president, because you've waited long enough to get a good night's sleep.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Jeff, as we see this rolling out, what more do we know about what's behind this? I mean, she does address as well in this ad, she talks about health care for all, Medicare for All. That's been tough one for her. She's had to continually come out and sort of redefine what she's been saying, Jeff.

ZELENY: Erica, there's no question and what's most interesting about this for Senator Harris, she's the first top-tier candidate to release an ad like this, a television ad like this in Iowa. She clearly is trying to reintroduce herself or in some cases introduce herself to voters. There's no question she had a strong first debate performance, not as strong of a second debate performance. She is slowing a little bit in her rise. So her campaign is clearly trying to spark that a bit more.

But when you talk to voters here, they are still in the very early stages of deciding, you know, who looks good, who can stand up to the challenges at hand here. So this is all about introduction, but of course she's not going to get into her own contradictions on Medicare for All in her own ad. She's trying to just introduce herself. And she of course, as all the other candidates, will be here in Iowa this week, Erica.

Jeff, Tanzina, Bakari, good to talk with all of you. Thank you.

VEGA: Thank you.

SELLERS: Thank you.

HILL: John?

BERMAN: All right. Here in El Paso, the atmosphere yesterday was much more charged than we have seen. The president's trip here was controversial. We're going to get new reaction from his supporters, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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