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Trump Defends Massive ICE Raids; President Trump Using Pardons as Political Tool?; El Paso Gunman Reportedly Targeted Mexicans. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADAM LANDIS, DISTRICT CHIEF, DAYTON FIRE-RESCUE: And it -- yes, very proud, very proud.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST (voice-over): The Dayton Fire Department going beyond the call of duty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: I just wanted to say a massive thank you to the men and women at Dayton Fire for having us out this week and for everything you do every day. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We continue on, top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

We have breaking news now in the El Paso mass shooting investigation. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that the alleged gunman told police his intended target was -- quote -- "Mexicans" and confessed to police that he was the shooter.

During interviews with detective, sources tell CNN the suspects also revealed one of the reasons why he chose El Paso to carry out the rampage, driving for nearly 11 hours, more than 600 miles, because he told police he thought it would be wrong to commit the attack in his hometown near Dallas, since he says he didn't want his family and acquaintances to find out that he did it.

The alleged gunman was arrested on the day of the attack, surrendering to a police officer at an intersection just north of the Walmart store.

There are lots of conversations happening right now to prevent more mass shootings in this country, but any tangible action likely will not come for at least a month.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a local radio station that he will not call lawmakers back from vacation to work out a solution.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

QUESTION: You're not calling people back in early for -- to address this gun legislation...

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If we did that, we would just have people scoring points. And nothing would happen.

There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on. If we do it prematurely, it'll just be another frustrating experience for all of us and for the public, where people are just trying to score political points and not trying to get an outcome.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Agreeing with Leader McConnell, President Trump is also taking a vacation. Before leaving for the Hamptons for a fund-raiser today, the president admitted the country needs better background checks, but he didn't offer anything specific.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Frankly, we need intelligent background checks. OK? This isn't a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat.

I will tell you, I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. He's totally on board.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House.

And so, Kaitlan, what is the president actually considering?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president said Mitch McConnell is totally on board. And the president was calling for more extensive background checks.

But whether or not that's the case with McConnell is still an open question. He's back home in Kentucky. He did that radio interview yesterday where he did talk about pursuing new legislation, looking at new legislation when Congress does eventually come back from their August vacation.

But he didn't endorse any specific legislation. And his office made that pretty clear, issuing a statement after the president spoke this morning, saying that, no, he did not endorse any legislation.

So though the president sounds optimistic that Republicans are going to be on his side, we have not heard a wealth of Senate Republicans come out on the record endorsing any specific kind of background checks measure. That's something they have opposed in the past.

So whether or not the president can get them on board is still another question. One other group he is also hoping to persuade is the NRA. The president said that he's been speaking several times with Wayne LaPierre, who is the NRA's chief, and this is what he says that he's taking away from those conversations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I had a good talk with Wayne. And I like Wayne. And, as you know, they supported me very early, far earlier than anybody thought possible, especially me not being a politician.

There's been no president that feels more strongly about the Second Amendment than I do. However, we need meaningful background checks, so that sick people don't get guns.

I think, in the end -- I think, in the end, Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe will be a little bit more neutral. And that would be OK too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Right now, Brooke, the NRA is not there, making that clear not only in phone calls to the president, but also in a statement saying that they do not support the recent calls for extensive background checks.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you.

Wajahat Ali is a contributing op-ed writer for "The New York Times." And Leah Wright Rigueur teaches public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

So welcome to both of you.

And, Wajahat, I want to ask you just quickly, the news we have just been getting, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the suspect said he was targeting Mexicans.

WAJAHAT ALI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's not surprising at all. It's a white supremacist terrorist.

And if you read his four-page manifesto, like I did, Brooke, it spells it out. He said he targeted Hispanics after reading the manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist, where he killed 51 people in March, remember, including a 3-year-old boy.

[15:05:01]

BALDWIN: Yes.

ALI: And they used all the terms that were used by Donald Trump, invasion, right, cultural replacement, that the white race and the white identity will be replaced by these immigrants, these criminals, these terrorists.

If you simply replace, Brooke, Christchurch with El Paso and Muslims with Hispanics, the Christchurch terrorist is almost the exact copy of El Paso terrorist, who was inspired by him and his manifesto.

And, again, I want to remind people, Donald Trump promoted this white supremacist conspiracy theory of the invasion to win the midterm elections. And when he did that, Brooke -- people forget this -- around that same month, Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue and shot and killed 11 people because he wanted to punish the invaders.

Connect the dots.

BALDWIN: You mentioned -- you mentioned the president.

A new report from Axios says that his campaign, his officials in his campaigning actually welcome some of the 2020 Democratic candidates for publicly calling him a white supremacist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You have been very clear that you believe the president is a racist. Is the president a white supremacist?

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is. He's also made that very clear. He's dehumanized or sought to dehumanize those who do not look like or pray like the majority here in this country.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And he is not only egging on white supremacy and white nationalism, but he is one himself.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At some point, when he has been so embraced by the white supremacists and has not distanced himself, then he's there.

QUESTION: Do you believe, as Elizabeth Warren and Beto O'Rourke have said, that he is a white supremacist?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you should ask him that question.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why are you so hooked on that? You just want me to say the words, so I sound like everybody else.

He is encouraging white supremacy. So you can determine what that means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Leah, this is going to be to you first, but, again, here is -- this is the thinking from Trump allies, that if the Democrats use words like white supremacist to discuss the president, it might actually turn off more moderate Republicans and independents who might otherwise be inclined to vote for them.

Today, the president pushed back on that thinking. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does Democrats calling you and your supporters white nationals and white supremacists help you?

TRUMP: I don't think it helps. First of all, I don't like it when they do it, because I am not any of those things. I think it's a disgrace.

And I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are. But then to throw out the race word, again, racist, racist, racist, that's all they use to anybody. They called Nancy Pelosi a racist. She is not a racist. They call anybody a racist when they run out of cards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Leah, here's the question. If the real goal is to get gun reform on the federal level, and the Democrats need to work with Republicans, is it productive to call him a white supremacist?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Well, I don't know what exactly productive would mean when it comes to Donald Trump, because Donald Trump is all over the place. He has his own agenda. He sets his own rules, he sets his own norms, he has his own reality.

And so one of the things that we have seen come out is that, increasingly, people -- when we think about legislation, we have to think independent of Donald Trump, even as we continue to know that Donald Trump will play a role at some point.

So if you're thinking about something like gun legislation, I think you're much more thinking about, what are the kinds of alliances, what are the kinds of coalitions that we have in the House? What are the kinds of coalitions that we have in the Senate? Where can we get inroads?

Something like -- something -- thinking about Donald Trump's most recent comments about maybe we will have background checks, again, that might be real, it might not be real, it might be symbolic, it might actually have some teeth to it. But we don't actually know any of that.

So I think what you're seeing the Democratic candidates, particularly right now, doing is, one, doing -- pushing towards the moral element of this thing, pushing towards the emotional element, pushing towards the logical, right, the right -- essentially, the right thing to do, but also really thinking through political calculations and recognizing that, actually, this is something that their base wants to see.

This is something that their base does believe, particularly around supremacy.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: To that point, it is the Trump campaign who reportedly thinks, Wajahat, that being called a supremacist is politically advantageous. Do you think it is? ALI: Can I -- mean, can we just sit there for a second and just

marvel at what you just asked me? Isn't that amazing in 2019 that the president of the United States of America...

BALDWIN: That the president of the United States is being labeled a white -- I know.

ALI: Yes.

And so, look, look how he ran his campaign. Muslim ban, right? The wall. Obama birther conspiracy. Racist. Mexicans are rapists and criminals. He won.

But he tried it again, Brooke, in the 2018 midterm elections. He tripled down on only one talking point, not the economy, not jobs, invasion, caravan of rapists and criminals. Again, I want to remind Americans that is a white supremacist conspiracy theory that was mainstreamed by Trump and the right-wing media infrastructure.

What happened? He lost, historic losses.

Now the latest polls show -- poll shows a majority of Americans think that Donald Trump is racist. And they think he's more racist than George Wallace, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, who famously said, segregation today, tomorrow and forever.

[15:10:09]

And for some strange reason, Donald Trump thinks this is a win. And I just want to remind people, just today, for the fourth week in a row, he retweets Katie Hopkins, who, Brooke, is an extremist who calls for a final solution on Muslims, said that migrants are cockroaches, and she blames Jews for their own massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue, because their chief rabbi was pro-migrant.

She is a pal of white supremacists. This president, after everything that just has happened in El Paso, retweets this woman again for the fourth week in a row. How is this a winning strategy for America?

BALDWIN: You could apply that question to what I'm about to ask you next, this photo of this baby boy, right, in El Paso.

This is a photo that the first lady tweeted out, this baby in this picture 2 months old. The baby will be growing up with (sic) either of his parents, because his mother and father died shielding him from the gunfire in El Paso.

CNN has learned that this baby had been discharged from the hospital, was brought back to meet the president. The family says that they wanted to share their pain with the president, which they have every right to do.

But for the president to flash a thumbs up, Wajahat.

ALI: I -- you know, I rarely get angry, Brooke. I see that -- I'm not even going to look at the photo. I get so

angry, because this is a man so utterly devoid of empathy that he brings a child back to get a photo-op and a thumbs up sign. He's a man so devoid of empathy.

Look, Brooke, it's a simple ask. A child could do it. Don't tweet anything bad, console the victims, talk about the victims. What does he do? He talks about and brags about his crowd sizes. He mocks every other politician.

Then he brings a child, a baby, back and does a thumbs up sign. He blames mental illness. He blames video games. Just right now, he blamed Hollywood. And he's going to do nothing on gun control.

And, apparently, if you have been following the news, his administration is doing nothing to combat the number one domestic terror threat in America, according to the FBI, white supremacy, white supremacist terrorism.

And so, as a father, I see that, I get incensed. As a human being, I see that, and I go, what's wrong with this country where they have a man, Donald Trump, with zero empathy and somehow some people think that this man will make them feel great again, when he can't even console victims of a domestic terror -- terrorist attack?

I just -- it may be just me, Brooke, but it makes me -- it riles me up. It riles me up.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: No, I -- they have every right to meet the baby. And if the all -- they have every right, but it's the smiles and the thumbs up that just -- I have a really hard time with that as well.

As far as action, Leah, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has just used some seemingly significant language on background checks. But then, minutes later, his spokesman issued a statement saying the Senate Republican leader didn't endorse anything specific in their conversation on Thursday.

So which is it? And, by the way, when everyone comes back from recess in September, that is an entire -- that's an entire month.

Leah.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Yes.

I think the thing that we have to be aware of is that we haven't seen any movement on Republicans on this, particularly in the Senate from Mitch McConnell. We are unlikely to see it. I mean, at least in this case, the NRA is being completely honest in their opinion that they are not going to support anything around the Second Amendment, any kind of regulations, any kind of control.

What's interesting here is that the majority of Americans support commonsense gun reform. Right? And this includes NRA members, this includes some Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I just had an NRA member on my show said the same thing you just said.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Exactly. Exactly.

But I think what is important to remember here is that anything that Donald Trump is doing in this arena, right, realistically, is going to have to go through Mitch McConnell. And he is saying right now that that's not going to happen.

So, realistically, what is probably happening is Donald Trump is doing a lot of symbolic -- a lot of symbolic gesturing, but very little, if anything...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Do you think it's empty words from Trump and McConnell? Because they are talking background checks, but, you know, believe it when you see it sort of thing?

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: I mean, they're talking about it, but will they actually do anything about it?

(CROSSTALK)

ALI: They're hoping we forget. They're just waiting, dragging this out, hoping there's going to be another tragedy and some other chaotic thing that Trump tweets, so that, next week, like the dog whistle, we just -- like the dog from "Up," right? Squirrel?

And we just look at the other direction and just ignore all the crazy stuff that's happening. That's what they're praying that's going to happen. They're desperately trying to avoid talking about these three things, gun control, white supremacy, and Trump's racism.

If they can somehow just survive this week, and divert the attention, they're thinking most Americans will forget. I don't think most Americans and I definitely think the people of Dayton, the people of Gilroy and the people of El Paso will not forget what happened this week.

[15:15:00]

BALDWIN: Yes. It's on all Americans to keep this issue front and center.

Wajahat and Leah, thank you both so much.

ALI: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Still ahead here on CNN...

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Thank you. BALDWIN: Thank you.

President Trump doubles down on the tactics used in that massive ICE raid in Mississippi, calling it a very good deterrent. Meanwhile, we are hearing from children who are still separated from their parents.

Plus, as President Trump considers a pardon for Illinois' disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich, CNN has the inside story on how these decisions are made.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:25]

BALDWIN: We learned this week that President Trump is considering a pardon for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

But CNN also has a new reporting about how a kosher meat kingpin won clemency under President Trump.

It is the case of Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of America's largest kosher meat processing plant. He was convicted in 2009 of a series of fraud charges. And, interestingly, after his Iowa operation was the target of one of the largest immigration raids at the time, he was serving a 27-year sentence, when President Trump commuted it in December of 2017.

And Vicky Ward is with me.

A pleasure to -- finally get to have you on. Welcome.

VICKY WARD, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So you learned the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was instrumental in this case.

WARD: Pivotal.

I mean, that's really the point of this story, that, at the time, the commutation of Sholom Rubashkin's sentence, the second act of clemency in the Trump administration, the first being that of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, this was presented as something that was a bipartisan initiative.

There had been letters from Nancy Pelosi, loads of legal experts. And now Attorney General Bill Barr had written in support of this.

But, in fact, it wasn't -- those letters didn't have any sway at all. It was all Jared Kushner, whose father, Charles, had also been lobbying the New York legal community as soon as the president -- President Trump won the election

Jared Kushner again and again went to see President Trump about this case, and actually faced a lot of pushback from Don McGahn, John Kelly, then chief of staff, and Rob Porter, staff secretary, who were very worried about the messaging, because the Rubashkin case was so connected to immigration.

It was against the Trump administration's position on immigration. Sholom Rubashkin had been -- his whole case centered around the fact that all these undocumented workers were found at his kosher plant in Iowa.

BALDWIN: OK, it's Kushner who keeps going to Trump. It's Kushner who plays this pivotal role, as you point out.

So why in the end of the president's advisers not put up more of a fight against this commutation?

WARD: Question of, I say in the story, pick your battles. They felt that it was precisely because there was so much bipartisan support, it was precisely because it did seem as though the sentence was extraordinarily severe, 27 years.

It was two years longer than actually the prosecutors had asked for. There were questions as to whether the judge in the case had been involved in the raid. Those kind of issues is what made them think, you know what, there are battles to fight with Jared Kushner, this may not be it. It's clearly an example of favoritism. But this is not the one to fight him over.

BALDWIN: So how does this compare to the president's predecessor and their use of pardons in the first two years of their terms?

WARD: Well, I think this is, again, what's so interesting.

So Jared Kushner went to the president and said, this is going to be really good because you're going to win over the Orthodox Jewish community if you do this, a different part of his base, right? With the Arpaio pardon, it appealed to the tough on immigration members of his base.

So the president is learning that clemency is a useful tool, very transactional. President Obama, Bush and Clinton barely used clemency at all in their first two years.

This president, here, what we see is, we see it's who you know that matters, and we see it -- clemency being used as a naked political tool. And, of course, right now, we're all thinking about that with the case of Rod Blagojevich, again, Jared Kushner pushing that.

So it's been reported by "The New York Times." And, again, what's the political benefit?

BALDWIN: Clemency, a naked political tool. You are a writer.

(LAUGHTER)

WARD: I am.

BALDWIN: We will look for your piece on CNN.com.

Vicky Ward, thank you very much. WARD: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

One school district in Mississippi was, right, missing 150 students in the wake of the massive ICE raids in Mississippi, many children still unsure when they will get to see their parents again.

[15:25:00]

So I will talk with an activist who's trying to help her community.

Also, more on our news just in on the El Paso mass shooting suspect. We have now confirmed that he told police that he was in fact targeting Mexicans.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Today, President Trump is defending his record-setting immigration sweep. Latest word, at least 377 undocumented immigrants detained in the nation's largest single state raid remain in custody.

But it's not clear as of