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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Brags About Crowd Size During Hospital Visit in El Paso; El Paso Shooter Thought It Would be Wrong to Attack Dallas Instead; Armed Man Arrested in Missouri Walmart; Authorities Say At Least 377 Migrants are Still in Custody After Mississippi Raids; Parents and Children Separated Following ICE Raids in Mississippi; One of House of Representative's Top Democrats Now Backs Trump's Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- gun control legislation, emphasis on possibility. The president says discussions are under way, weighing in just minutes ago with two tweets. Even Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says that certain gun control measures are important, even urgent in his words. Just not urgent enough to end the August recess early.

The president also facing criticism this morning after his visits with shooting survivors in El Paso and Dayton. The visits were closed to the press but cellphone video shows the president in front of those doctors, injured victims of the shooting, bragging about crowd sizes. All this inside the Texas hospital where those victims were being treated.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is live at the White House.

And Joe, let's begin on gun control. Forgive me, we've been here before. The president has raised the possibility of significant gun control measures in the past. Always pulled back, concerned about his base's reaction, and the NRA. Is this any different?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The million-dollar question and hopefully we'll get a little bit of an answer when the president steps out from the lawn in just a while in a helicopter to go out to these fundraisers. But, look, you're absolutely right, Jim, this president has been down this road more than once and he stopped short of really pushing through anything significant.

Interesting when you look at those tweets this morning the president essentially indicating that there are talks going on about gun control, specifically background checks, and we know that because some of the people the president has talked to effectively have said publicly that they're talking with the president. That's Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The question of course is where is all this going? We do know there's also been some talk about executive action, but what kind of executive action, anybody's guess. So the president's tweets this morning indicating, yes, there have been talks and making also the very important point, I think, that the friction in all of this is the National Rifle Association, the NRA, the president calling on the NRA to understand he says he is the biggest Second Amendment supporter of them all, also says something has to be done for the good of the country.

So that's the president's perspective. We'll see what else he says about that.

We also have the issue, of course, of the president's video that came out after his visits with some of the doctors, and that's problematic certainly because many presidents and many White Houses in the past have had to deal with human tragedy, and tone has been probably the most important thing to deal with, not to make it look political. In this case, of course, the president was upset about his coverage and the result was we got some video that perhaps they wished they didn't send out. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some crowd.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for all that you do. Thank you.

TRUMP: And we had twice the number outside. And then you have this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So anyway, also important to say to make clear they did not send that video out. Nonetheless, it's the type of video that causes problems and not just for Donald Trump but also for the Office of the Presidency and how things like this have been handled in the past -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And that video, he went on for longer than that in fact talking about his crowd size on his last visit to El Paso. That seemed to be his focus and not the victims there.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

JOHNS: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now. I'm joined now by Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, and Eliza Collins, she is national political reporter for the "Wall Street Journal."

Julie, first on the topic of gun control. The forces are aligned like this. You've got the American public, even Republican support measures such as universal background checks. You certainly have Democrats. You even have some Republicans coming out and saying this. On the other side, of course you have the NRA. The president is speaking to the NRA. Wayne LaPierre tells the president, your base won't like this. Which of those forces wins out? JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if past is prologue here,

the NRA tends to win out in these situations. The public has been in a place where -- this is one of the few issues in this deeply divided country where you have the overwhelming majority of Americans that support stricter gun control laws, specifically tougher background checks.

And yet even as we have seen the public move in that director, the NRA continues to remain this incredibly powerful force. They fund a lot of Republican presidential campaigns. They have a massive membership and we all know that Trump cares deeply about where his base is. And if he's going to be hearing from Wayne LaPierre and some Republicans that he will lose that base or risk losing that base if he takes this step, he tends to go with where his base is.

So it is possible certainly over the next couple of weeks that we could see some shifts in this development but we have seen a version of this story, sadly, play out before.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And listen, his strategy for reelection is purely a base-strategy.

[09:05:02] PACE: It is a base play.

SCIUTTO: It's his only --

PACE: It's a narrow play and that's what he has.

SCIUTTO: You know, on the NRA, too, I mean, let's distinguish between the NRA leadership and membership because a majority of the NRA members actually support universal background checks as do a majority of Republicans.

Mitch McConnell, of course, Eliza, is very important in this. He can basically determine whether the Senate will even consider one of these measures. Listen to his comments this morning speaking to a Kentucky -- an interviewer in Kentucky on the radio and I want to get your reaction. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There's also been some discussion about background checks. That's an issue that's been around for a while. A lot of support for that, and there's a bipartisan bill in the Senate. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, so those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So I wonder if that's a signal to the president there because practically we know McConnell won't bring that before the Senate unless he's confident that the president backs it. I mean, that's really -- it's in the president's hands, is it not?

ELIZA COLLINS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think it is a signal to the president that he has seen support grow on this issue, and he's saying that he's going to bring it to the floor which is actually very significant for Mitch McConnell, because he controls the floor and he does not bring up things that he does not think the president will support or that he does not think will be helpful to his Republican Party.

So the fact that he is saying it will be part of the discussion is significant, but he is not saying it will pass. He's not even saying he will promise to bring it up for a vote. And so I think he's sending out a signal, he is saying there is this bill, it is bipartisan, it is being discussed. But he's being very careful with his word choice here.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COLLINS: Democrats in the House did pass a bill earlier this year, two bills actually that would expand background checks. They've gone nowhere in the Senate.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COLLINS: So it is noteworthy that he is saying it's part of the discussion but not making any promises.

SCIUTTO: No question. There's a lot of daylight between those two. Just in the category of we've been here before because it's informative. After Parkland, again, it was a ground swell of public support even among Republicans, a few, because so many children had died. Of course that disappeared. Listen to the president then when he was describing the NRA. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm a big fan of the NRA. They want to do right. These are great people, these are great patriots, they love our country. But that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don't know. So I'm just curious as to what you did in your bill. You don't address it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't address it, Mr. President. I think we --

TRUMP: You know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, who else is afraid of the NRA?

PACE: Well, we all know what happened after those comments. Nothing got done. And you know, to Eliza's point, the complication for Republicans is that the president's rhetoric on this can really change. And they need to know if they're going to take a risk, and it remains a political risk for some of these Republicans to back stricter gun legislation, if they're going to take that risk, is he going to have their back? Is he going to come to their districts and campaign, defend that decision? Will he even just sign the legislation?

You know, his approach to politics leaves them with very few examples of when he has been consistent and backed his own party when they've taken a tough vote for him.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they worry he pulls the carpet out from under them.

PACE: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Blames them. He's either for passing it or for nothing happening.

I want to get to this other issue Joe Johns discussed here, the president's visit to El Paso and Dayton. He promised to speak about unity, comfort the victims, et cetera. Yet you see the video from inside there, and of course the White House did not allow these to come out. They released a very kind of propaganda like edited video of the president's visit there. To see him spending so much time on the size of his crowd at an El Paso rally to the people who are treating the victims, tell us how much of a problem that is for the White House at this point.

COLLINS: Well, the White House wanted to be out front on this issue. They wanted to send him out and -- to console a nation that is really grieving. I mean, there were three massacres in a week. This is a time the president should not be partisan, he should be out there. And it should be a fairly easy thing to go out to provide comfort.

When there's videos like this it just undermines that and what it does is it gives sort of -- it helps these Democrats who are out there saying he's part of this problem, he's causing division. And so instead of just saying, no, he was out there being not political, he was helping, these videos just Democrats will be able to point to them.

SCIUTTO: It was really, and I was down in El Paso and in Dayton. I mean, these are communities that are reeling from this. You know, there's not a lot really you need to say except that I'm here, I feel your pain, tell me what I can do to help you. But the president reverted to greatest hits, right, talking about crowd size.

Eliza, Julie, thanks very much.

This is just in to CNN, sources telling CNN that the alleged killer in El Paso told investigators that one of the reasons he targeted El Paso was because he thought it would be wrong to carry out the attack in his hometown, closer to Dallas.

[09:10:07] Let's get to CNN's Ed Lavandera who just broke the story for CNN.

Ed, what more can you tell us?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is some insight into what we already knew that investigators were talking, and that this suspect, 21-year-old suspect, was talking to investigators and has been since he was taken into custody Saturday afternoon. And according to these sources with knowledge of the investigation that the suspect had mentioned that one of the reasons that he had targeted El Paso was a reticence and a shame of carrying out this kind of attack closer to his hometown in Allen, Texas, that suburb of Dallas more than 600 miles away and a 10-hour drive from here.

And that that was one of the reasons why the suspect was looking for somewhere else to carry out this attack, that on some level he believed that if he were to do this away from his hometown, his family and friends wouldn't know that he was the one that had carried out this attack, as preposterous as that might sound.

This reporting does not change the fact of the writings in this manifesto that investigators believe is connected to this 21-year-old gunman, that the reason that he was carried out this attack was this fear of a Hispanic invasion of Texas. It doesn't change all of that, but it does offer some insight into what investigators have been hearing from this 21-year-old.

SCIUTTO: No question, a cold killer there.

Ed Lavandera on the scene. Thanks very much.

The country of course already on edge after these two mass shootings in a single weekend. Three in a week. So when a man was seen walking through a Missouri Walmart in body armor carrying a rifle and a number of rounds, the manager understandably pulled the fire alarm. Now the firearm cleared the store and an armed bystander held the man for police. A picture there with his face blurred. Was a crisis averted? We're going to learn more.

CNN national correspondent Omar Jimenez joins us.

Tell us, Omar, what we're hearing this morning about him, what his intentions were, do we know?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, at this point that is something that Springfield Police Department is investigating right now. What were his intentions when he walked in? You saw a little bit of what he looks like when he did so, donning some of that body armor and wielding a rifle as well, and doing so just five days after that Walmart El Paso Shooting.

Now one of the things that he was doing when he first walked in, according to bystanders, he was recording into a cellphone and pushing a shopping cart and that was when the manager out of what we can imagine was an abundance of caution at the very least pulled that fire alarm to get those people out. And in the process of those people getting out, this man exited as well and was approached by an armed off-duty firefighter and held up there until police arrived just moments later.

So obviously a very scary scene for the bystanders. And here's how police described it again when they arrived at the scene just about three minutes later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. MIKE LUCAS, SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI POLICE: He walked in here heavily armed with body armor on in military fatigues and caused a great amount of panic inside the store. So he certainly had the capability and the potential to harm people. He was compliant with us. But his intent was not to cause peace or comfort to anybody that was in the business here. In fact, he's lucky he's alive still, to be honest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIMENEZ: Now, it should be noted Missouri is an open carry state for anyone who's at least 19 years old. But it is illegal to carry a weapon with lethal capacity in any threatening manner. And I think it is safe to say that at least the people there did feel threatened in that moment. And again with this just being five days after the shooting at the El Paso Walmart and even earlier this week when people ran in Times Square from a motorcycle that back fired, I think it's very safe to say what happened this past weekend and beyond still very much on the minds of many people here in the country -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: You can imagine their fear, very reasonable fear to see that.

Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, children separated from their parents after ICE raids targeting nearly 700 undocumented immigrants in the state of Mississippi. All on the first day of school. We're going to have some of their emotional stories next.

Plus the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, says that his committee is already doing formal impeachment proceedings. What exactly does he mean by that?

And nearly every Democratic candidate is in Iowa this weekend for the all-important Iowa State Fair. How are they responding to President Trump's difficult week?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Right now at this hour, immigration officials say that at least 377 migrants are still in custody, this after Wednesday's massive sweep at seven Mississippi food processing plants. At least 680 people were rounded up, many of them parents to young children.

Wednesday was also the first day of school in these communities, leaving many of the children returning home to no parents at all. Joining me now is CNN's Natasha Chen, she is live in Canton, Mississippi. So, how are these communities dealing in the wake of these raids particularly when you have children it seems with no one to take care of them?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it's still a lot of anxiety here. We talked to those families, those kids. We were struck with how much they wanted to speak out and tell us what their day was like. Many of them on their first, second day of school, finding out that their parents weren't going to come home to them.

Some of those parents were taken from facilities like the one behind me, this food processing plant. We talked to an employee here who's not an immigrant, but she witnessed the agents she said rushing the property and she said she felt really angry to see this happen to her coworkers.

[09:20:00] She told me we're all one. We talked to one man who was detained and released, he was wearing an ankle bracelet when he told us what it was like when those officials asked the workers in the room to split up, he said Hispanics on one side and everyone else on the other side.

And we spoke to this man's daughter as well, she was on her second day of high school for the year, she said she found out her dad was taken. She was the one having to make phone calls to the hotline to navigate the system of finding out where her dad was because this U.S.-born child has the best language skills -- English language skills in her family. So, these teenagers taking on very adult responsibilities. Here's what the kid said to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARLENY LOPEZ, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT PARENTS ARRESTED: They didn't want to give me any information. They kept telling me -- they kept telling me, oh, we don't know where he's at or like we don't know if he's detained yet -- like they were giving me -- they were telling me information that I know and I was like in my head, I was just like, I know more stuff than you all do.

RANDY GARCIA, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT PARENTS ARRESTED: They took them -- they took him away to the -- to Louisiana, I believe.

CHEN: Have you been able to talk to your dad on the phone?

GARCIA: No, the last time he said something, he said to my mom, take care of the kids because the immigration has now captured me and I might be going back home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Twelve-year-old Randy right there, his mom did come home after 10:00 p.m. that night, but he still doesn't know exactly where his dad is. He was trying that day, he said to feed his little brother and try to get help from other adults. We want to point out that we also spoke to a 19-year-old Pascal Gomez(ph) who did not want to go on camera but told my colleague that he had a copy of his work permit at work to show that he had the right to be there, but he was detained anyway, he said for 16 hours.

And we have reached out to ICE for comment on that situation, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Natasha Chen, thanks very much. Let's discuss now with Alida Garcia; she's the Vice President of Advocacy for FWDUS; a national advocacy organization focused on immigration and criminal justice reforms. Alida, thank you for joining the broadcast this morning.

ALIDA GARCIA, VICE PRESIDENT OF ADVOCACY FOR FWDUS: Thanks for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, first, let's talk big picture here because what's interesting about this is that they targeted these food processing plants, picking up nearly 700 undocumented workers or some that they claimed to be, although some apparently had their documents. No penalties for the employers, just to focus on the employees. Tell me about that strategy here and what that means.

GARCIA: Well, I think what we've seen whether it'd be the repeal of DACA, whether it'd be the imprisonment of young children and families at the border or remain in Mexico policy or the raiding of these families with no notification where children were left to sleep in gyms and are still unable to find their parents.

That the chaos and the cruelty of this administration's immigration policies are the point. And there is no plan, it is intended on harming young people, and they have complete disregard for the traumatization of children as they implement these policies.

SCIUTTO: And there have been public comments from administration officials talking about family separation, for instance, saying the deterrence is as you say part of the objective here. But do you see it as being inherently unfair that the focus is on solely on the undocumented workers as opposed to the employers employing them, you know, presumably without proof of documentation?

GARCIA: Well, right, we are traumatizing children and the employees, but if anybody has a chicken salad today, it is likely that your chicken may have been processed by these families. And so, we are all complicit both as Americans and the administration and the employers. But the issue is not necessarily how do we kick these immigrants out of the work force, it's how do we put them on the pathway to citizenship so that they are able to lawfully contribute in working in the United States because they are a long-time community members.

SCIUTTO: Tell us about these families now because viewers have been seeing pictures of these young children crying as their parents are taken away. We just saw one there, a young boy -- how is the community handling children who may have lost one parent or possibly two parents as the school year is beginning, who's taking care of those kids?

GARCIA: Well, I think right now at least the reports that I'm hearing from advocates on the ground is that this mess that the administration has created is left for the NGOs, the teachers, the faith leaders, the churches to pick up the pieces. And people still don't know where their parents are. And so when this happens, they take the parents to a military base and then they transport them all across the country to wherever they have ICE detention facilities.

And so, it's not like the parents are right down the street in Mississippi. Some parents have already been moved across state lines. And so, it's utter chaos, you know, these are rural neighborhoods, and it's demanding a massive response both in legal services and humanitarian aid.

[09:25:00] And there's a large group of advocates from the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance and the Department of Justice Center and others that are scrambling to try to fix this the best that they can.

SCIUTTO: You know, there was a great deal of outrage even among Republicans and others to the Trump administration's family separation policy at the border a number of months ago. And the president ostensibly backed off that policy although there's been evidence the family separation is still taking place at the border.

Do you view these raids in a similar context, in effect, is that a continuation of a family separation policy?

GARCIA: One hundred percent. Whether the separation is happening at the border or in the interior of the United States. What we are doing are ripping apart families without regard to the long-term traumatization of the children, to the pain of the parents and the spouses and the community members.

You know, I'm an American citizen, but I have a number of undocumented friends who have either had parents deported or have parents currently detained. And the pain and the trauma of that lasts for decades. And so, this is just --

SCIUTTO: I could see that --

GARCIA: Day three of this happening.

SCIUTTO: I met -- I met a family in El Paso when I was there, a woman whose husband had been deported and now living on two sides of the border. But let me ask you what do you suggest is the right path, then, for authorities to deal with folks who don't have documentation, who entered illegally and who the administration claims has not shown up for their court-mandated hearings, et cetera. What should be the process for them?

GARCIA: Well, the majority of the American public actually supports putting the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States in a process to citizenship. It's up to the United States Congress to stop twiddling their thumbs and actually pass policies that would do this.

SCIUTTO: Alida Garcia of FWDUS, thanks for joining us this morning.

GARCIA: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: House Democrats are pushing for the president to face a formal impeachment inquiry. They now have a new and powerful ally.

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