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THE SITUATION ROOM
Deputy DNI to Resign; Trump Brags About Crowd Size During El Paso Hospital Visit; Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); Trump Says Deputy to Outgoing Director of National Intelligence Will Not Take on Acting Role; Sen. Kamala Harris (D) California Says President Trump Does Not Have The Capacity For Empathy. Aired on 6-7p ET
Aired August 8, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: And on the road in Iowa. As many 2020 Democrats are converging on the leadoff state caucus, CNN is traveling with Senator Kamala Harris. We will hear from her live this hour.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ACOSTA: Breaking tonight, President Trump's aides are privately admitting the obvious, that his visits for two cities reeling from gun violence did not go well.
This as a new video from the president's stop at an El Paso hospital shows he spent a good deal of time talking about himself, even bragging about the crowd size at his recent rally in the city.
Also breaking, we're told House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is solidly in favor of an impeachment inquiry. His panel is now engaged in a full-blown investigation and legal fight aimed at deciding whether to recommend articles of impeachment against President Trump by the end of the year.
This hour, I will talk with House Judiciary Committee member Eric Swalwell. And our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by.
First to CNN's White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, the president's aides have publicly defended his El Paso and Dayton trips, but that's not what they're saying behind the scenes, right?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not.
Now, especially as this video is surfacing of the president bragging about crowd sizes in a hospital hallway, those crowd sizes he's talking about is that rally he had back in February, which is essentially what he associates the city of El Paso with, this feud he had with Beto O'Rourke over his border wall.
And that's why you saw the president bring it up there in the hallway while he was visiting with some of the victims of this mass shooting that occurred, something that is causing aides to say that the visit did not go how they hoped it would.
COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, some of President Trump's own aides are conceding his visits to two cities in mourning didn't go as planned after new video shows him bragging about crowd sizes while at a hospital in El Paso.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We met with also the doctors and nurses, the medical staff.
COLLINS: The White House stopped reporters and their cameras from capturing the president's visit, but new cell phone video shows Trump praising medical staff before turning the conversation to himself.
TRUMP: I was here three months ago. We made a speech and we had -- and what was the name of the arena?
That place was...
TRUMP: ... right? Right. The judge is a respected...
TRUMP: What was the name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was in the front row.
TRUMP: Come here.
That was some crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
TRUMP: We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot. They said his crowd was wonderful.
COLLINS: The president bragging about how many people attended his February rally, where he boasted of booting undocumented immigrants from the country.
TRUMP: They go into our country. The good news is, we have great law enforcement. And many of these people, we know where they are, and we're going to get them the hell out.
COLLINS: The president still owes the city of El Paso over half-a- million dollars in unpaid fees for police use and public safety costs for that trip.
CNN has learned that Trump lashed out at his staff for keeping the cameras away during his visits to two hospitals, complaining he wasn't getting enough credit, though aides said it was out of respect for the patients.
None of those eight patients at the Texas hospital Trump visited agreed to meet with him, CNN has confirmed, while two who had been discharged did return for his visit.
The president's trip now being followed about new questions on what's next for gun control. Trump has told aides and lawmakers he's open to endorsing extensive background checks.
TRUMP: I think background checks are important. I don't want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people.
COLLINS: It's a position he's taken before, but never followed through on.
TRUMP: We're going to be very strong on background checks. We're going to be doing very strong background checks.
We certainly have to strengthen background checks. Everybody agrees with that.
We're really, I think, going to have the support of the NRA having to do with background checks, very strong background checks.
COLLINS: New reporting might explain why.
TRUMP: There's no bigger fan of the Second Amendment than me and there's no bigger fan of the NRA.
COLLINS: CNN has learned the president has spoken with NRA chief Wayne LaPierre several times in recent days. And LaPierre warned Trump his supporters in deep red areas don't want expanded background checks.
The NRA spent more than $30 million to get Trump elected in 2016, according to financial records, and has swayed him on gun control in the past.
TRUMP: They're very close to me. I'm very close to them.
COLLINS: And despite demands, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won't bring senators back to Washington during their August recess.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If we did that, we would just have people scoring points. And that's what happened.
COLLINS: Now, of course, McConnell is facing intense pressure from Democrats to bring back the Senate, something he said there he's not going to do.
But he did say he wants lawmakers to consider paths forward potentially while they are on this recess before they return to Capitol Hill this fall. He talked about red flags. Background checks are something, we should note, he has strongly opposed in the past.
And, of course, though he did not sign any -- signal any kind of support for a specific bill on background checks, so the question of whether he'd actually take action on that and it would succeed is a whole 'nother ball game, Jim.
ACOSTA: Kaitlan Collins, thank you.
I have been talking to a hospital official at El Paso's University Medical Center. And I'm told none of the eight patients who were on hand for the president's visit wanted to meet Mr. Trump -- quote -- "Some didn't want any visitors," the official said before adding, "And some did not want to meet the president."
We have confirmed two patients who had been discharged were brought back to the hospital to meet with the president. CNN has learned one of those patients was the 2-month-old baby who was shielded by his parents during the shooting.
That baby has been identified as the child of Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who died protecting him. According to the hospital official, the president has displayed a -- quote -- "absence of empathy" during his visit.
That hospital official went on to say the president made other comments similar to his remarks about former Congressman Beto O'Rourke that left some staffers thinking Mr. Trump was not focused enough on consoling people.
That hospital official went on to say about these patients who are being cared for at University Medical Center -- quote -- "The stories and retelling of their experience at that Walmart will chill you to your core and break your heart."
Now let's go to El Paso and CNN's Brian Todd.
Brian, you have been on the ground for days covering the shooting. What do you hear about the president's visit and the response to that visit one day later?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, on the ground here, we have noticed a little bit of support for President Trump's visit here.
But, really, the vast majority of people who CNN has talked to on the ground all around El Paso are fairly angry with the president, really didn't want him to be here, frankly.
Meanwhile, tonight, we are learning, getting new information about a crucial moment in the weeks leading up to this massacre, a moment when the mother of the suspect contacted police in their hometown and expressed concern about their son. Somehow, the ball was simply dropped.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, as authorities piece together a profile of the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, CNN is learning more about possible warning signs in the weeks leading up to the massacre.
Lawyers for the suspect's family tell CNN his mother contacted police weeks ago in their hometown of Allen, Texas, because she was worried about her son owning an AK-style firearm. The family attorneys say her warning was more innocuous in nature, concerned about her son owning the weapon because of his age, maturity level and inexperience with such a firearm, but not out of concern that he posed a threat.
MIGUEL VEGA, FORMER EL PASO POLICE DETECTIVE: If the call came in here in El Paso, a police officer will respond to the to the home and speak to the mother more in detail.
TODD: The suspect's families lawyers say Allen police took the mother's call, but, based on her description of her son's situation, she was told her son was legally allowed to possess the weapon.
The mother didn't give her name or her son's name, the lawyers say, and they say police didn't ask for any more information.
Former El Paso police detective Miguel Vega says he doesn't want to pass judgment on how the Allen police responded. But he says, if he had taken the mother's call:
VEGA: Me, personally, I probably would have tried to inquire more information, names, address, a little bit more information to warrant a further investigation, a further look into it.
TODD: Allen police tell CNN they always ask if a person calling with those concerns wants to give more information, wants to file a formal report, or wants them to investigate further. But they say, in this case, they're not certain what happened, because the mother gave so little information.
One lawyer for the suspect's family tells CNN -- quote -- "This was not a volatile explosive, erratic-behaving kid. It's not like alarm bells were going off."
There are currently 17 states and Washington, D.C., most of which lean Democrat, that allow extreme risk protection orders, or red flag laws, allowing authorities to confiscate firearms from those deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.
Those orders are generally prompted by warnings from relatives and must be approved by a judge. Texas is not one of the states that have red flag laws. But it's also not clear the warning from Crusius' mother would have been urgent enough to require confiscation.
Experts say the best way to help a loved one you're concerned about is to seek out help immediately.
DANIEL Z. LIEBERMAN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: People can be worried that, if they call the authorities, it's going to have a negative influence on someone they care about a great deal. They have to remember that the truth is exactly the opposite. Getting the help, getting the treatment that they need can have a dramatic effect for the better on their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And, tonight, we're getting new information from a source familiar with the suspect's family, who gave us some background information on how the suspect's life was going in the weeks and months leading up to the massacre, the source telling us that the suspect was not untypical of a 21-year-old young man, that he was unsure about the path his life was taking.
He was considering enlisting in the military. He was considering getting a full-time job. He was thinking about maybe transferring to a four-year college.
And here's a chilling quote from that source: "When did the wheels come off? We don't know" -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Now we have breaking news on the impeachment debate. The House Judiciary Committee and its Chairman, Jerry Nadler, now engaged in an urgent new push to make a decision.
CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us.
Manu, we're now told Nadler is clearly in favor of an impeachment inquiry. What are you learning?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the House Judiciary Committee is moving forward on an investigation and court fights that could lead the committee to make a decision about recommending articles of impeachment against the president of the United States later this year.
Now, recent statements, recent court filings point to this dramatic escalation that could lead to these articles of impeachment. Now, for days, we have seen Democrat after Democrat saying they support formal -- an informal impeachment inquiry.
But I am told by Democratic sources on this committee that's really known that issue is essentially moot, because what the committee is doing is, in all essence, an impeachment inquiry. And no -- look no further than what Jerry Nadler has been saying publicly and recent court filings like the one that was filed yesterday to compel the testimony of the former White House counsel Don McGahn to come before the committee after President Trump urged -- told his former White House counsel not to comply with the committee's subpoena. But, in that lawsuit, it says this: "To fulfill its duties, the
Judiciary Committee must obtain testimony and evidence from witnesses for the president's actions to determine whether to recommend such articles against the president and whether to recommend additional or alternative articles that the Judiciary Committee may prepare."
Now, one person who did endorse that language is the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has thrown cold water about moving forward on impeachment over several months. But, increasingly, she has shifted her phone. She sounded more open to the idea.
She even pointed to this language in this lawsuit as she touted what the company's been doing in a private -- in a letter that she sent to all of her members of the House Democratic Caucus, which signals that she at least is keeping that on the table in the days and weeks ahead whether to move forward on actually impeaching this president.
Now, the ultimate question here, Jim, though, is whether they're using this language to help with their fights in court, or whether they will eventually decide to move forward. We will learn that in the weeks ahead, after they have some key hearings in the fall with some witnesses who they plan to issue subpoenas to as well in the days ahead -- Jim.
ACOSTA: All right, a very big development. Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Joining me now, a Democrat who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is on the Intelligence Committee as well.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Good evening, Jim.
ACOSTA: We have a lot to discuss on President Trump's visit to El Paso.
But, first, what's your reaction to this news you heard just a few moments ago from our Manu Raju about Chairman Nadler? How significant is this?
SWALWELL: We're conducting an impeachment investigation. And we want to hear from all of the witnesses to President Trump's lawlessness.
Now, if you take a step back, all of these individuals could come in on their own. They don't have to follow the president's unlawful orders that they don't testify.
So, first, why can't Don McGahn just tell the White House to go pound sand and that he's going to come in and talk to us? These folks, if they have nothing to hide, they will cooperate with an investigation of this magnitude. That would help us make this determination sooner.
Second, obstructing Congress is also an impeachable offense. And that was one of the third articles of impeachment against Nixon. And the president should not benefit from telling all these folks, don't come forward, don't cooperate, and then say, well, you don't have anything because he has obstructed us.
That is something we can also hold him to account on.
ACOSTA: And let's get to the new details we're learning about President Trump's visit to El Paso yesterday.
A source tells me none of the eight patients at that hospital accepted the offer to meet with the president. So, they had to invite two patients who had already been discharged back to the hospital.
What does that say to you about this visit yesterday?
SWALWELL: It was unnecessary.
And I hate to say that, because, during times like these, whether it was, you know, President George H.W. Bush going to Miami after Hurricane Andrew, President Clinton going to Oklahoma City after the bombing there, presidents pull our country together.
And every time this president sees discord and division, he widens it. And we really needed him to pull us together. And, instead, he used this as a political rally, so to speak. He released a campaign video. He insulted one of his presidential rivals, Beto O'Rourke, while he was at the hospital.
Those families, I'm not surprised that they didn't want to meet with them, but my heart does break for them. And just as a parent myself, to think about those two parents who lost -- that child who lost two parents who threw themselves over that child.
Every parent in America right now imagines themselves in that position and wants to know, what is the president going to do to take that fear away from all of us?
ACOSTA: And getting to the issue of gun control, President Trump has spoken to the NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre, multiple times over the last couple of days. I'm sure you have seen this.
And he's been getting pushback after expressing support for background checks.
How likely is it, do you think, that we will see any new legislation?
SWALWELL: Well, we actually should take stock of where we are, Jim.
After Parkland, we saw groups across the country converge. And they said, we're going to make gun safety a top issue at the ballot box. So, during the midterms, 17 NRA-endorsed members of Congress lost. That helped us win the House. And in the first 100 days, we passed background checks.
So we have made significant progress. We need the Senate now to take it up. Background checks, as far as I see it, is -- that's the floor. It's not the ceiling. We also need an assault weapons ban and buyback.
That's the only way we're going to truly keep people safe from shootings like this. But I also think about cities like Chicago and Oakland and cities across America that have mass shootings every weekend.
And they need structural reform when it comes to investments in education and health care and access to good-paying jobs. This -- these are not beyond our imagination. But, right now, it's beyond the political courage from the Republicans.
ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I mean, you focused on gun control during your campaign.
And, as you know, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- this has just come out in the last several minutes -- he now says he won't bring the Senate back during the recess to vote on new legislation. But he says background checks and red flag laws will be front and center.
But aren't you concerned, Congressman, that the momentum will die down over the next few weeks and there just won't be the same momentum that there would be right now? This happened after Parkland, as you know.
SWALWELL: We're not going to let the momentum die down because we don't have to live this way anymore, Jim.
The other day, constituents of mine were calling me and telling me they don't want to go to church, they're afraid to take their kids to the supermarket. A priest called me in my district who's an immigrant and said, what can we do so that my parishioners are safe?
And, Jim, this is a priest who's having his faith tested.
We don't have to live this way. And that means we can't let the momentum die. We need to put the pressure on Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back into session.
And it's so insulting when Mitch McConnell says it's premature to have a conversation about this. Was it premature to do it after Sandy Hook? Was it premature to do it after Charleston? Would it have been premature to do it after Pulse, or how about Las Vegas or Parkland or Santa Fe?
I could go on and on and on, Jim. And there's going to be another city, sadly, until we find the political courage in the Senate to do something.
And one last point, Jim. If you are a senator who is running for president, you have a unique position that no one else has. You can go to the Senate floor when the Senate reopens and filibuster and stand until your legs give in and speak until your lungs give out and force a vote on this, so we know where every single senator stands.
ACOSTA: And that's what you're calling on your fellow -- I guess your former rivals who are senators to do, to filibuster?
ACOSTA: OK. All right, Congressman Eric...
SWALWELL: And they would do a great job of it. I would love to hear from them.
ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much.
Just ahead, a live interview with Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris -- she is a senator -- on her campaign in Iowa and her reaction to the president's troubled trip to El Paso.
ACOSTA: And we're getting new information the president's trip to the cities rocked by gun violence, as his aides privately acknowledge it went off the rails.
Let's bring in our analysts.
And let me go first to David Chalian, who's out at the Iowa State Fair.
David, we have some new information coming in, that the president was, I guess, rebuffed when he went to that hospital in El Paso. Eight patients there did not want to meet with him for a variety of reasons. Some did not want to meet with him, and that they brought two patients, two discharged patients back to the hospital, including that baby who was protected by his two parents and survived the El Paso shooting.
What does that say to you, David, when a president's trip to a hospital becomes so controversial?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I mean, I don't think it's terribly surprising, as we have been paying attention and covering this president, nobody closer than you have, Jim, for these last two-and-a-half years, that a trip that the president of the United States took to people who are in grief, to express the consolation of a mournful nation, has instead become about him than about the purpose of comforting those who are grieving.
That is probably the least surprising news development of the week.
ACOSTA: And, Phil Mudd, let's watch some of this video once again, the president talking about his crowd size in El Paso earlier this year.
Let me get your reaction to that. Let's watch it first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I was here three months ago. We made a speech and we had -- and what was the name of the arena?
That place was...
TRUMP: ... right? Right. The judge is a respected...
TRUMP: What was the name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was in the front row.
TRUMP: Come here.
That was some crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
TRUMP: We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot. They said his crowd was wonderful.
I just left. We made a speech here about three months ago. And we may have sold it out four times. So I have a good feeling. You know that, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Phil Mudd, what did you make of that when you saw that?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, why the heck should we consider being surprised?
This man from day one has said he's the genius who can resolve China, the genius who can resolve North Korea, the genius who can fix Iran, the only guy to confront the G7, he's smarter than the Federal Reserve on interest rates, the only guy who can tell NATO how to spend money, the only guy who can fix NAFTA, the only guy who knows anything about immigration, every previous president, going back to George Washington, is an idiot.
And he told us from day one or day two standing in front of the CIA that the loss of CIA officers, he stood in front of the stars of the fallen, was insignificant, and, instead, that he wanted to talk to CIA officers in front of those stars about how many of them voted for him.
And we're surprised? He's going to tell us next week he resolved cancer, he fixed heart disease, and he knows the meaning of life.
Look, don't be surprised when the president is supposed to be the consoler in chief in front of people who've been shot -- I went down there a couple days ago -- a woman walked up to me crying -- and talks about how many people show up in a crowd months ago.
The man is the ego in chief. He is not president in chief -- or the commander in chief. And he shows it every day from the moment he walked into the office and insulted the CIA. That's what I think, Jim.
ACOSTA: And, David Swerdlick, was this trip just a bad idea?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know if it was a bad idea.
In the abstract, Americans want to hear from their president in these kind of times. And the president was sort of in a trap, right? If he didn't go, he would have been criticized. If he did go, he would be criticized.
But, to Phil's point, this is the problem when you have a president that is essentially the ego in chief, when his primary framework is how things make him look, not the job he's doing. It shouldn't be a surprise to him, of all people, that he didn't get good reviews and good coverage out of this trip, Jim, because we already know, and he knows, too, that being reflective and being dignified is not his jam.
This is a president who likes to go to rallies and make fun of people and say things about immigrants and other people, other marginal groups in our society.
And so, when he goes to a city like El Paso, where you have a large immigrant community, you have a large Latino community, and he's already mocked these communities, he shouldn't expect a great reception.
ACOSTA: OK, hold on, everybody. We have some breaking news coming in.
Susan Hennessey, I want -- I want you to comment on this.
Sue Gordon, the number two intelligence official here in the U.S., is resigning. She's stepping down at the middle of this month, coinciding with the departure of Dan Coats, who was the head of the -- who was the director of national intelligence.
The president just tweeted about this a few moments ago.
What do you make of that, Susan? What can you tell us about that? This is an important development, because the process for naming a new director of national intelligence may not be followed, it seems, here.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right.
So this has been the concern ever since Dan Coats announced that he was leaving, whether or not the president would essentially follow the law -- it's called the Vacancies Reform Act -- that requires that the next in line become the acting director.
And so we saw Trump do this actually whenever the DHS secretary stepped down. What he did was, he went ahead and forced out the number two, Claire Grady, so that he could appoint any other Senate- confirmed executive officer in that position, and basically a way to work around the laws that Congress has set here.
So, once again, this looks like it might have occurred here. In the past couple days, there's been reporting that Trump didn't want to Sue Gordon to rise up to be the acting DNI. He was concerned that she might have ties to John Brennan.
She's a longtime, well-respected, highly regarded intelligence officer. So the concern here really is that she's being forced out, after this very long and storied career, to open the way for the president to basically put someone in that job by -- and circumvent Congress to do so.
Now, keep in mind, why would the White House even care about something like this if they were planning on nominating a new DNI in just a couple of weeks, the kind of time frame you might expect?
We have heard Trump say again and again he likes acting, he prefers acting, he thinks that gives him flexibility. What he's saying is, he prefers a work-around to the Constitution.
ACOSTA: And, Phil Mudd, let me get your reaction to this, because Sue Gordon's departure leaves a very big vacancy at the head of the U.S. intelligence community.
And the president's critics have said the reason why this is happening is, he wants somebody who is very political, somebody who's going to be loyal to him at the top of the intelligence community.
MUDD: I think that's only part of the story.
Let me read between the lines, and having heard of this now for 90 seconds, and give you an interpretation.
I think Susan's right. I mean, you have a standard process where Sue would go through -- and I know her a little bit -- would go through and be acting for at least a bit. She's got to feel disrespected, if that's not going to happen.
But there's something else afoot here, Jim. Typically, if she's got 30-plus years of service, if you have that level of service, you're going to say, even if I have been disrespected, as a responsibility to the American people, I'm going to stay in place while the president of the United States picks somebody else in a leadership position.
To step away and leave this level of vacancy tells me, behind the scenes, it has got to be ugly, Jim. It's got to be ugly.
ACOSTA: And, David Swerdlick, you wanted to weigh in there?
SWERDLICK: No, I was just going to say, it sounds like, from what Phil and Susan are saying, that the problem here is that she's too independent and too qualified, and knows what she's doing too much to fit into this scheme that the president wants at the head of the intelligence community.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: And let's point out for a minute the importance of having a non-partisan apolitical actor in this role. The DNI role is really about coordinating those intelligence agencies, making sure that the information that gets pushed up to the White House so the president can make decisions, life and death decisions for America --
ACOSTA: This is the structure put in place after 9/11.
HENNESSEY: Exactly, post-9/11 to correct for some of those deficiencies that led to that catastrophic intelligence failure with 9/11.
And so you really want someone there who is experienced, who has national security experience, and who's going to tell the president the truth and make sure he has accurate information so he can decide what to do with it.
And so the real fear is not just that the president is going to put a political actor in that role, but then he might put someone who's not willing to tell him the difficult and inconvenient truths that there are going to be serious consequences, life and death consequences for Americans if we have consequential intelligence failures.
ACOSTA: And, David Chalian, what does that mean to you? You were at the Iowa State Fair. You saw former Vice President Joe Biden there talking to supporters earlier today. I suppose Vice President Biden may want to weigh in on all this. And there is a political dimension to this, and that Republicans up on Capitol Hill are now being put to the test. Once again, are they going to stop the president from doing something he shouldn't be doing, many critics would say, on the front of national security?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Sort of the question for Republicans on Capitol Hill throughout the Trump era. But you are right. Vice President Biden, when he addressed the crowd here from the Des Moines Register Soap Box at the state fair, he did put national security and foreign affairs into his remarks, talking about the need to restore not just the soul of the nation here at home but America's position in the world. And he says it is this kind of change in approach that Donald Trump is taking here that is why Joe Biden, it's at the heart of his rationale for running for president.
ACOSTA: And, Phil Mudd, let me read you -- this is a statement that just came in from chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, Richard Burr. Sue Gordon's retirement is a significant loss for our intelligence community. And more than three decades of public service, Sue earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues with her patriotism and vision. She has been a stalwart partner for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I will miss her candor and deep knowledge of the issues. I look forward to seeing what new challenges she will tackle next. It sounds like the chairman is not really happy with this departure and that she leaves a very big hole at the top of the U.S. intelligence community, as you were just saying, Phil. You said you know Sue Gordon. This is somebody who has steeped in knowledge and experience here in Washington and knows her way around the intelligence community, and as Susan was saying, is in the position to give that unvarnished truth to the president.
PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: But I tell you, if you look at what Senator Burr said, there's a couple messages in there that I think are really interesting. What he is politely telling the president is, if you're going to replace people like this, you'd better not nominate an amateur to be DNI, which is what happened last and within days the president withdrew a nomination.
The second piece of this, which I'll be watching, I'd think very few people outside Washington would, would be if you have a political nominee at the top who has got to learn something about the intel business, Sue Gordon was a deputy. People like her can train a political nominee for how to learn. Who is going to get that second position, people like me know that name. And will that person have the pull in the intelligence community to tell the new DNI, here is what we've got to tell the president on things like Russian interference when he doesn't want to listen.
HENNESSEY: I think that is a really important point, having both of those top positions being empty, it shows the degree of chaos, the lack of planning, and essentially sort of care for the intelligence community and national security matters that has become unfortunately characteristic of Trump's tenure in office.
ACOSTA: And the president said he will be naming an acting director shortly.
Kaitlan Collins is over the White House, our White House Correspondent. Kaitlan, what are you hearing over there? Do they understand how significant a departure this is to hear that Sue Gordon is going to be leaving the administration, leaving this very important position in the intelligence community?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they do, but here is the thing. These aides back at the White House, despite those Republican senators wanting Sue Gordon to not only become acting director but also to get the top job, to take over Dan Coats as a Director of National Intelligence said that was just simply never going to happen.
The president had an incredibly fraught relationship with Dan Coats where at times he could be heard yelling about things Dan Coats had said here in the west wing or up in the residence on several different occasions, and just by association of the president associating the two of them, that is similarly how he felt about Sue Gordon, which is why people thought she was never going to get this job.
But, of course, now, this does put the White House in a position of having to find someone to not only fulfill Dan Coats' job but also to take the deputy position as well.
They both leave in just a week from today. And right now, we are being told by sources the president has not selected anyone to take that job yet.
So it's certainly something they're going to be looking for.
But this is one of the things where the president does not agree with Republicans on Capitol Hill, as David was noting there, and as we saw from that statement from Senator Burr, because they wanted Sue Gordon in this position. And, of course, we have seen just how much influence they have over who is going to get this job as we saw with the Ratcliffe nomination being withdrawn because he was facing such resistance outside the White House.
A lot of this also speaks to how the president selects someone. Oftentimes, he doesn't ask people who are going to be key factors in whether or not that person gets confirmed to this position. So that is certainly something that White House aides are aware of, that Capitol Hill aides, Republican Capitol Hill aides are aware of, and that's going to be something they're keeping in mind as they are moving this search forward. But, no, the president has not picked anyone to replace Dan Coats yet, and now he's got to pick someone to replace Sue Gordon.
ACOSTA: Okay. All right, stand by, everybody. We're going to have some breaking news in just a moment. CNN's Senior National Correspondent Kyung Lah, she is joining us from Iowa right now with one of the leading 2020 presidential candidates, Senator Kamala Harris. There she is on the bus.
Kyung, Senator Harris is kicking off a five-day bus tour. You're on board. There's a lot of breaking news back here in Washington. Perhaps you'll get the senator's take on some of it.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're going to ask her about that right away. The reason why we're moving is because this bus is actually moving, Jim. And this is the very first day of the bus tour.
But I want to get to the breaking news about Sue Gordon leaving, second in command at DNI. What do you think about this resignation?
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I'm not surprised. I'm on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I meet on a consistent basis with leaders of our intelligence community. They are hard working, they are patriots to their core, and I don't know why she's leaving but I think that this president has been less than supportive of our intelligence community and that the importance of their work and the kind of sacrifice that they put into it.
So, you know, when we have a president who carries the role of Commander-in-Chief, but coddles and cuddles up to strong men around the world when the intelligence community has told us Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States, but our president prefers to take the word of the Russian president over the word of the intelligence community.
On the issue of the student who was killed, an American student who was killed, the president prefers to take the word of the North Korean dictator over the word of the American intelligence community.
On the subject of a journalist who was assassinated, and a journalist who had American credentials, and he prefers to take the word of a Saudi prince over the word of the American intelligence community.
I think that the people that do that work do it with great purpose and with a sense of real commitment to our nation's security. If you have ever gone to the buildings where they work, you'll see stars on a wall with no names because so much of the work they do is work that they cannot take credit for. So they do this work not for any selfish purpose.
LAH: Let's talk about the president. He recently visited El Paso. Today, there's a video surfacing of him talking about the size of his crowds. You heard what he said after the news conference with Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dayton, Ohio. Should he have even gone to Dayton and El Paso?
HARRIS: I mean, he's just so -- his preoccupation with size, I'll leave that for someone else to analyze. But I will say that this president has used the platform that is given to the Office of the President of the United States in a way that has been about trying to divide our country. He has used language that has been borne out of hate and he generally shows no evidence of any natural ability to have empathy.
And, you know, so, I mean, of course, the president of the United States should visit and should be in a place that has experienced such tragedy, but I think that this president doesn't really have the capacity to have empathy. And I just -- you know, my heart goes out to not only the families but also the leaders of those communities who are trying to pull it together and stand strong.
LAH: Do you believe, as Elizabeth Warren and Beto O'Rourke have said, that he is a white supremacist?
HARRIS: I think you should ask him that question.
LAH: Are you willing to say that?
HARRIS: I think you should ask him that question. I would be interested to see what his answer is.
LAH: Joe Biden has said today that the president, as what he has done, quote, encourages white supremacy, that he doesn't feel that there's much of a distinction and what he is doing, maybe even worse. Do you concur with those points? HARRIS: Yes, I think that's absolutely right. I think that's absolutely right. This is a president who has -- I mean, we don't even need -- the sad thing about this is it's no longer really a debatable point. There is just a long list of statements and Tweets and behaviors from this president that make it very clear that he possesses hate aAnd that he is divisive and that he is a racist.
LAH: Is it important to call him a white supremacist though, as some of your competitors have said?
HARRIS: I think it's important to call it what it is, which is that we have a president of the United States who does not reflect the values of who we are as a people. He is someone who gives -- who empowers white supremacists, and who condones their behavior. And that is not the kind of president that I think most Americans can be proud of, much less support.
LAH: Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that he will at least talk about background checks, the red flag laws as a member of the senate body. What do you think about his shift?
HARRIS: I think he needs to put the bill on the floor for a vote and call all of us back to Washington, D.C. to vote on it right away.
LAH: He doesn't want to call people back, but he says he will make it front and center.
HARRIS: Well, I did train (ph) on this, we have to judge everyone by their conduct, not just their words.
LAH: And we can't let this go without talking about where we are.
HARRIS: We're on the bus.
LAH: Tell me what this is. We're on the bus.
HARRIS: We're right now in Sioux City, Iowa and we are, for the next five days, going to be on this bus traveling throughout Iowa from river to river. We'll be in 11 counties. And talking about the 3:00 A.M. agenda, which is about the issues that wake people up in the middle of the night, and about how we're going to solve those problems. Because I do believe strongly that the American people want a problem solving president. And that's the kind of president I intend to be.
LAH: Do you feel that the problem solving that you're focusing on, not looking at -- I think you said you don't want to talk about structural change or be too ideological. You want to look at solving these kitchen table issues.
HARRIS: I want to solve the things that wake people up in the middle of the night, which is is about healthcare, it's about their -- can they keep a job or get a job, can they pay the bills by the end of the month, those bread and butter issues that literally wake people up in the middle of the night because they are worried about whether they're going to be able to see a week through, much less a month through. Those are my priorities.
LAH: So of the people who have won previously, Trump, make America great again, Barack Obama with hope and change, they've been a bit more sweeping, have a larger vision. You've taken a different route. Do you sense that voters are looking for this versus what we've seen before?
HARRIS: I think that Americans want in a leader somebody who actually sees their life and is interested, and is interested in solving problems people face every day. I think people don't -- they don't want in their leader somebody who's going to just give a beautiful speech and grand gestures, they want action, and action that is about solving the problems that they face every day.
And those are my priorities. Because, look, when it comes down to it, if people can't get through the end of the month, if we can't solve the issues that They deal with every day, what else matters?
LAH: Did you happen to see the video of the children crying when their parents were taken away by ICE agents?
HARRIS: I have not seen the video, but I know about it and I know about the work of ICE under this administration, and it is immoral. These are human rights abuses being committed by the United States government.
I serve on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, from the first day I arrived there about two years ago, I have been taking DHS to task and ICE to task. I was, I think, the first person in the United States Senate to ask about this child separation policy. And it is clear to me that this administration has been not only irresponsible but has literally committed human rights abuses.
And these most recent raids, hundreds of people who are now separated from their families for at least 24 hours, and causing people in our country to be in fear, and in particular, the Latino community. People are in fear all over the country when you combine those raids with what just happened in El Paso.
And again, do you think that this administration and this president might step back and say, wait a minute. After what just happened in El Paso, when it was motivated by hate against immigrants and Latino immigrants, do you think that a responsible leader would have said, don't do those raids?
It just -- it shows a level of insensitivity and callousness that should not be traits of the president of the United States.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You brought up El Paso. CNN has been reporting out today about the last 24 hours, that says that the White House rebuffed DHS efforts to focus on domestic terrorism, the White House -- .
HARRIS: I gave a speech about that many, many months ago. I have been talking about this for months. They have shut down the enforcement and the investigations of domestic terrorism.
Meanwhile, we have a president of the United States who is constantly creating terror in the people of our country. Again, Donald Trump is ill-equipped to be president of the United States on so many levels, including the fact that he creates fear in the people of his own country.
LAH: Senator Harris, thank you so much for spending all this time with us.
HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you. I'm glad you're on the bus. Thanks for being on the bus.
LAH: Day one of the five-day bus tour. Back to you, Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: OK, Kyung Lah and Senator Harris, thank you so much for that. We appreciate it.
Let's get back to our panel to talk about what we just heard.
Let me go to David Chalian, out in Iowa.
David, some strong words from Senator Harris about what we have seen in El Paso over the last 24 hours and its aftermath.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, she talked about a president as she sees it without the capacity to accomplish what a president should accomplish in moments like this. But what I think you heard from Senator Harris is similar to the language we heard from all of the Democrats running for president this week. It is not just we're only a week away, Jim, from what was an intraparty battle that concerned a lot of Democrats, that there was a lot of Democratic on Democratic tension.
And this week, what the president of the United States has done through his behavior is unify this field of 2020 Democrats who have been more aggressively calling out his behavior I think this week than anytime we've seen in the Trump presidency.
ACOSTA: And, Susan Hennessey, when Kyung Lah asked Senator Harris about departure of Sue Gordon, it sounded like the senator wasn't really aware of this, this was breaking news to her like it was to all of us. And that she was sort of searching for an answer as to what is going to happen with this very important position.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it tells you a lot you need to know. Kamala Harris is on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Any normal administration would have been engaged in lots of conversations with the intelligence committees about who might be possible replacements. They would have wanted to stagger departure of the DNI and principal deputy at DNI.
It's pretty clear that that's not what happened here. You know, Donald Trump appears to have picked John Ratcliffe by tweet essentially. Of course, that sort of crashed and burned after it was found not only that he had no qualifications for the role but had inflated his existing resume. So, now once again, the president sort of lobs a grenade into the situation, says, well, I haven't thought this through, I decided I don't like this person. He is unhappy to get pressure, including from Senate Republicans to nominate Sue Gordon for the position.
So what does he do? He takes it off the table entirely. That leaves everybody sort of running around to decide who is the replacement going to be, who is going to keep the ship sort of steered in the appropriate direction, and a critical, important role.
There's lots of conversation about whether or not the DNI is a good idea or bad idea. The way the current intelligence community is structured at this moment, it is a critically important position. You need somebody that knows what they're doing, knows that's agencies. You can't just have a Trump loyalist sort of parachuted in there and not expect there'd be consequences.
ACOSTA: And, Phil Mudd, it sounds as though, I mean, there's a tight time line here. The president tweeted out that both Dan Coats and Sue Gordon are leaving in a matter of days it sounds as though. Why is it so important, Susan was touching on this. Why is it so important to have a professional, a pro in that job and structure at DNI? I mean, people at home might say, why can't the president just have anybody, whoever he wants in those positions?
[18:50:05] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The intelligence community is supposed to give the president advice, whether he likes it or not he can make the best informed decisions possible, using the billions of dollars that we spend on intel.
So, let's go through North Korea. The president wants to cut a deal. The intel guys have been trying to tell him what their truth is. They're not sure Kim Jong-un will ever cut a true deal.
Let's go to Russia. In the past week or two, the president still questioned Russian interference. A new DNI going into an election cycle has to tell the president, Mr. President, this isn't just our analysis. This is technical information about Russian efforts to get into state election systems. I could go on and on.
But the point is, somebody -- whether the information is public or not at least in the Oval Office needs to give the president the information that Americans are paying billions of dollars for. And that information is going to be something that the president doesn't want to hear. So, you're going to have a pro.
ACOSTA: And, David Swerdlick, one of the things that Senator Harris said during the interview of Kyung Lah, the moving bus, we should point, a technical achievement for our crew on the scene in there as well, was that ICE should have called off the raid in Mississippi in light of what happened in El Paso, the fear that has been struck in immigrant countries all over the country this is not the time for sweeping raids of that nature.
What did you make of that when she talked about that? I think she talked -- she used the word callousness. DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it does come
across as callous and probably is callous. We've already had administration officials coming out earlier saying, look, this was already planned, this was in the works. And I'm sure it was.
But for the whole of government to sort of speak with a voice that makes sense to the American people, you do have to take some of the things into consideration. You have a situation where you didn't just have a mass shooting. You didn't just have a mass shooting in a border city with a lot of -- with a large immigrant community. You had a mass shooting in a border community with a large border community after the president demonized immigrants, demonized Latinos and then the alleged shooter is alleged to have written the manifesto saying that he was, you know, striking back to take over for white culture and to push back a Hispanic invasion.
In that context to do in massive roundup in Mississippi I think at a minimum is -- is as the senator said, the word she used is escaping me. But at a minimum, it sends a terrible message to the American people.
ACOSTA: And, David Chalian, let me ask you, because Kyung Lah also asked Senator Harris about what Vice President Biden has been saying about the president encouraging white nationalism and white supremacy. This seems to be a question now du jour for a lot of the candidates I suppose at the Iowa state fair.
I guess how -- what is your sense as to how the candidates are answering that question and the vice president was asked this question earlier today?
SWERDLICK: Yes, I was there when the vice president answered that question, Jim. And he -- he didn't go as far as let's say as Elizabeth Warren to say Donald Trump is a white supremacist or Beto O'Rourke said that as well. But he said he doesn't see the distinction, in his view the president is giving comfort to white supremacists, that everything he says and does encourages them. And he sees that as being without distinction.
You heard Senator Harris to Kyung just say she totally agrees with what the vice president said. Again, this is now a sort of a unifying moment for the Democrats. Donald Trump is helping sort of bring the party -- his opposition party together here in this last week, just as they were becoming sort of fractured opponents in this primary season.
ACOSTA: OK, David Chalian. Yes, they are not attacking President Obama more than President Trump these days.
David Chalian and everybody, thank you for all of that. We appreciate it.
Much more on the breaking news when we come right back.
[18:58:35] ACOSTA: Tonight, police investigating the Dayton mass shooting, continuing to dig into the gunman's past searching for motive.
CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll has the update on that.
Jason, you've been talking to city officials. What are you learning tonight?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the chief of police briefed the city manager about the latest on the investigation. There were a few headlines.
First and foremost, still no defining sense of what triggered the shooter in all this. Investigators still are interviewing people around the shooting. Still re-interviewing folks. But the city has made it clear, there is a very clear sense at this point we may never know the motive for what set off the shooter here.
In the meantime, Dayton's mayor is still trying to do all she can to bring healing to the community. Also still trying to get her head around why the president tweeted about her and why he criticized her for how she characterized his visit here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D), DAYTON, OHIO: I did see his tweet about me. I think that -- that's interesting. But I haven't gotten -- I mean, I like that you guys have coverage of me reading a tweet. It's just another surreal moment for me. My focus is getting something done around gun control, so this terrible tragic incident in Dayton may not have to happen in other places.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: What was extremely frustrating for the mayor, Jim, was during the meeting with the president she was unable to get the president to commit to anything specific when it comes to gun safety legislation -- Jim.
ACOSTA: All right. Jason Carroll, thank you very much for the update. I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.