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Jeffrey Epstein Reportedly Commits Suicide in Jail; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Gun Reform Measures; Warren Speaks At Gun Safety Forum In Iowa; Dems Take on Trump, Guns At Iowa State Fair; Trump Reveals Contents of New Letter from Kim Jong-un; Acting DHS Secretary Was Prepared to Resign in June; Man Charged With Plot To Bomb Vegas Synagogue, Gay Club; March Underway In El Paso In Response To Mass Shooting; 2020 Democrats Push Gun Reform At Iowa Forum; March For A United America In El Paso. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired August 10, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again everyone and thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We're following this breaking news out of New York. Jeffrey Epstein, the multi millionaire, financier and accused sex trafficker is dead. Sources telling CNN that he was discovered in his jail cell early this morning where officials believe he hanged himself. He was transported to a hospital where he died of cardiac arrest. Epstein was being held on multiple federal charges which he pled not guilty to in July.

The indictment accused him, in part, of soliciting sex from young ladies as young as 14 years old, and if found guilty, he would have faced up to 45 years in prison. CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval is following the story for us. So Polo, what do we know at this hour? What kind of explanations are coming about this apparent suicide when it was a few weeks ago he allegedly attempted suicide and would be on suicide watch at this point?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you know Fred, just outside that facility itself, it does appear to be business as usual but inside, you can imagine that those questions are certainly being asked. Everything that you just mentioned a little while ago is what investigators now are trying to determine. At this point the Department of Justice and its Bureau of Prisons has confirmed it was about 6:30 this morning when prison -- facility personnel discovered Jeffrey Epstein was unresponsive in the special housing unit. They attempted life saving measures, took him to a nearby hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Law enforcement sources now saying that he took his own life, specifically that he hanged himself. I can tell you now Fred, this is - today's incident is certainly going to renew attention on an incident from about two weeks ago that was when Epstein was discovered inside his cell at the same facility with marks around his neck, some bruising. He had claimed that he was called a child predator by some of the fellow inmates here and he was assaulted. However, investigators and mainly prison personnel never actually confirmed whether or not that was self-inflicted, those minor injuries, or if it was actually the result of an assault. We do know is that shortly after that incident two weeks ago, he was

placed on suicide watch. Now the main question was he still being closely observed by prison personnel? Was he still in that special housing unit? That is certainly something people are asking because obviously this was an extremely high profile case. There are many people, particularly the alleged victims of Epstein who are now basically coming forward with concerns and with frustrations and anger because they could potentially see this individual not be brought to justice. Again, this is the latest we have from the Department of Justice confirming Jeffrey Epstein found in his cell and then died, taking his own life, at this facility behind me.

WHITFIELD: And then Polo, what do we know what it means to be in this special housing cell? What's the criteria? What are the added protections by being in that particular place where he was?

SANDOVAL: We are poring over some of those procedures right now looking into the actual protocol that entails being housed in one of these units. I can tell you just speaking from previous experience and covering other similar cases where defendants are kept in those kinds of measures, I can tell you that they're essentially isolated from the rest of the population here. There' are special procedures. Now the big questions though is would somebody that is - that could potentially be a harm to themselves or others be housed in that special unit? I think that is something we hope to learn here in the coming hours.

WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

All right, let's talk more about this now. Marc Fisher, senior editor of "The Washington Post" and author of, "Trump Revealed" and CNN legal analyst former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti; good to see you both. So Renato, this is incredibly peculiar because we're talking about somebody who may have attempted suicide or at least alleged and officials do confirm that something was odd about potential injuries around his neck a couple weeks ago. He might be on suicide watch. We're hearing from variations of reporting and that this would happen, he could successfully commit suicide this morning?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it raises huge questions, Fredericka. I have to say you have an inmate first of all who appears that has previously attempted suicide like you mentioned. Also inmates who are accused of child exploitation often are subject to violence in prison and they're often watched more closely. He's a high profile inmate. There's a lot of reasons why you would want to be keeping a very close eye on Jeffrey Epstein and frankly, I think the FBI has already initiated an investigation. The Bureau of Prisons announced that. Really, the results of that I think need to be public because there already a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories that are abounding.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and this is a facility, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, is accustomed to handling high profile inmates, right? Everyone from -- a variation of alleged crimes.

[12:05:00] You know, it seems like they're inmates, right? Everyone from -- a variation of inmates, right? Everyone from -- a variation of alleged crimes. You know, it seems like they're accustomed to and have a protocol in place to protect high profile cases, Renato. So what is this facility and what are authorities now assessing to try to figure out what happened and why there was this opening for this kind of suicide?

MARIOTTI: That -- that's a great question. This is not your typical federal prison where people are housed long term. The MCC is the facility where prisoners are held while they're involved in court proceedings or while they're potentially awaiting trial. They're usually for prisoners who are going to need to be back and forth to court or are going to be involved in proceedings in New York. So yes, as you point out there are a lot of high profile inmates that have come and gone through that prison over the years. And more importantly, you know, they are used to dealing with this. This is the prison where Chapo was.

WHITFIELD: Right. El Chapo, Paul Manafort among just a few recently.

MARIOTTI: Exactly. So this is a prison where they should, you know, have procedures and be able to take care of inmates like Jeffrey Epstein.

WHITFIELD: So then, Marc, you know, all this taking place, you know, less than 24 hours after federal -- New York court unsealed documents were provided and every major national newspaper is profiling some of the accusations, including yours, in those documents. Do you see a correlation? Marc, are you able to hear me?

MARC FISHER, SENIOR EDITOR OF "THE WASHINGTON POST" AND AUTHOR OF, "TRUMP REVEALED": Yes. I'm sorry.

WHITFIELD: Yes, do you see any potential correlation between the fact that he's now committed suicide, less than 24 hours ago these documents were released. Your newspaper, "The New York Times," all national newspapers are reporting on the details, CNN.com. -- the details that come from these documents in terms of the accusations against him.

FISHER: Yes, there wasn't a lot new and certainly nothing that would be new to Jeffrey Epstein in those documents. These are accusations that have been kicking around in lawsuits against him for many years. Also, we should caution that law enforcement has not said this was suicide and people close to Epstein are saying that this may well have been a murder. Previous investigation into the previous attack has not been concluded. We don't know whether that was, indeed, a question of self-harm or someone attacking Epstein. So there's a good deal of question about this. The authorities are going to be investigating this. There are no new allegations against Jeffrey Epstein. He's been successfully skating around these allegations for decades.

WHITFIELD: And what will this do now potentially to the case? We've talked to a variety of lawyers, experts who say the case will go on. Representatives for some of the accusers say that they'll go after the estate. There will be civil suits. But then, you know, he is the big fish. You know, the defendant and the cases span so many years, Marc, so this, it would seem, would compromise even those efforts and certainly will not bring the kind of justice to these accusers that they would receive by being able to look him in the eye and see him stand trial for what was expected to be next June potentially.

FISHER: That's absolutely right. Obviously the criminal case comes to a crashing halt with his death. But these civil suits will go on. They will, as you say, be steered toward the estate. That raises all kinds of questions. How much money does Jeffrey Epstein really have? Where it is stashed? In what countries and what kind of access is there? And there will be many claims on that money not only from the victims of his alleged sexual abuses, but also the victims of his alleged financial scams that go back to the 1980s and 90s. There are lawsuits kicking around on those questions as well. So this will be a long and complicated legal process and - but the overall theme here is that Jeffrey Epstein has once again managed to skate by when the moment of reckoning seemed to be at hand. It's just something (inaudible).

WHITFIELD: Marc, am I hearing from you skepticism of the suicide even though sources are telling CNN that it does appear to be a suicide by hanging.

FISHER: Well the sources we've been talking to say that that is entirely possible but it is also possible that it was an attack by someone other than Epstein and that the authorities are genuinely do not know the answer to that and that's where the investigation will focus.

[12:10:00]

WHITFIELD: OK, and that doesn't match the reporting that we have but I hear you with "The Washington Post." Marc Fisher, Renato Mariotti, thanks so much. Again, the very early stages of the investigation, the probe, as a result of the death now of Epstein in jail. And, of course, when we get information, confirmed information, we'll pass it on.

All right, still ahead, El Paso still reeling one week a shooting killed 22 people right now, a march to remember the many lives lost as a community tries to heal.

Plus, Democrats on the campaign trail in Iowa talking gun violence after that mass set of shootings. Their plans, the candidates plans to ensure that shootings never happen again of that magnitude, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A Nevada man is in custody after allegedly plotting to bomb a Las Vegas synagogue and a gay club. The Justice Department says police found bomb-making plans when they searched 23-year-old Conor Climo's Las Vegas home Thursday. They also discovered a notebook with several hand-drawn schematics for a potential attack, including drawings of a timed explosive device.

[12:15:00]

A criminal complaint also links Climo to a white supremacist extremist organization.

CNN affiliate KTNV profiled Climo in September of 2016 when he began patrolling a neighborhood with a military-style rifle and long knife. Prosecutors say local news reports like this one prompted the investigation. Climo was not arrested, however, or charged back then. CNN has reached out to Climo and his representatives for a response to these new accusations against him.

And one week after the El Paso community was left in horror by a mass shooting that killed 22 innocent people, members of the community are marching and rallying across the city right now in Texas. They're calling for an end to what they say is President Trump's divisive rhetoric.

We're also now seeing the moments right after the attack. But we do want to warn you that these are disturbing images.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So this is cell phone video taken in the Walmart parking lot as it was happening and the aftermath of last Saturday's shooting. And you can hear people calling for help, while others are running from the scene.

Meanwhile, an arrest affidavit reveals the accused shooter told police that he was deliberately targeting Mexicans.

CNN National Correspondent Natasha Chen is in El Paso, Texas, where people have been gathering. They're remembering the victims and they are vowing to make sure something like this never happens again. It's also -- this rally has also included a presidential candidate, an El Paso native, Beto O'Rourke. Tell us more.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, absolutely, all these speakers are calling for change. A lot of their signs say enough is enough, ya basta. And they are also talking about calling for the Senate to come back and talk about gun safety measures. They are speaking out against hatred and racism.

One of the very emotional speeches just now a minute ago was from a woman who was injured. She was assisted up on stage with her wheelchair. She was able to get up at the podium. She said this will not stop me. And she vowed to get up and fight and to make sure this never happens again.

Of course, this whole group walked over here to the courthouse from a downtown El Paso Park a few blocks away. And the very front of that march was Beto O'Rourke holding onto a banner along with Congresswoman Barbara Lee and a man whose daughter is still recovering from her injuries in the hospital today.

Here is what Beto O'Rourke said to this crowd when they got here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to remember this. Not only did El Paso bear the brunt of this hatred and this racism perpetrated not just by white nationalists and terrorists and Klansmen and neo-Nazis but by the president of the United States himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And so right now, they are going to be reciting the names of the 22 victims right now. The crowd is repeating those names back to the speaker. So a very impassioned emotional event for the people today who have marched from a park to this courthouse to make a statement, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And, Natasha, this affidavit, you know, where the suspect admits to wanting to target Mexicans, has there been a response from people there you've interacted with today?

CHEN: Absolutely. I think they are very, very bothered with the fact that he drove across the state to target this community specifically. State Representative Mary Gonzalez said to the group before they started walking, she said, it is no accident that he chose our community. And, of course, this community is majority Hispanic and they feel that they are targeted here. They feel a sense of fear. But these people who are here today have chosen and deliberately to show up and make a statement despite that fear, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Natasha Chen in El Paso, Texas, thank you so much.

All right, coming up, the 2020 Democrats are taking the stage in Iowa right now to talk about the issue of gun violence. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is on the stage right now. We'll take you there live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:20:00]

WHITFIELD: It's been one week since the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that left those cities and the nation for that matter feeling shocked and reeling. But they are far from the only communities struggling with gun violence, an issue that's now front and center as the 2020 candidates campaign in Iowa.

Every Town for Gun Safety is the name of the organization founded after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And that organization is hosting a forum right now where 16 of the 2020 Democratic candidates will be speaking, including Senator Elizabeth Warren. And their message enough is enough. You see Julian Castro on the stage right now. CNN's Arlette Saenz joins me right now from the forum in Des Moines, Iowa. So, Arlette, how hard are these candidates hitting that issue and what are they proposing they would do?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Fred, each of these candidates is saying that it is long past time that action needs to be taken to try to address the gun violence issue in this country. And you're hearing from multiple candidates this morning saying that part of the problem is President Trump, Republicans and the NRA, saying that they also need to come forth and try to work with Democrats to try to pass legislation.

Take a listen to what two of the candidates had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If every one of you spends the next four weeks speaking out using social media to be heard, Tweeting at Mitch McConnell, saying, Mitch, call the vote, Mitch, call the vote, he could call us back into Congress today. We could pass universal background checks today.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Politically, my party's got to get out of the defensive crouch that has us thinking that we're in the minority on these issues.

[12:25:06]

America is with us in demanding common sense gun safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now, in just a short while, we're going to be hearing from Senator Elizabeth Warren, who this morning released her own gun control proposal. One goal in that proposal is trying to reduce the number of gun deaths in this country by 80 percent. She's calling for an assault weapons ban, passing universal background checks, as well as instituting a federal licensing system. So we're going to be hearing from Warren in a short while.

Each of these candidates really trying to hone in on this issue of gun violence and offer their proposals for how to stem this issue going forward. Fred?

WHITFIELD: And then, Arlette, what's the format there? You know, you see accompanying perhaps hosts or moderators on the stage with the candidate, but then are audience members asking questions? Are they also helping to drive the conversation directly with these candidates?

SAENZ: The audience members are getting involved. So the candidates take the stage and they take an initial question, kind of laying out what they would do about gun control in this country. And then there have been audience questions where several audience members have shared their direct experiences with gun violence, either against themselves or potentially against a family member or a friend or loved one that they have lost to gun violence. So a lot of this is also the conversation has not just been political, but also very personal in tone as these candidates are trying to relate, not just on what they're going to do politically, legislatively through executive action, but also trying to emote and connect with these people who have been affected by gun violence.

WHITFIELD: All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about all of this. Joining me now from El Paso, Texas, is Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee. She is of California. But, Congresswoman, I understand this is where you were born and raised in El Paso. So this is home. This is personal. You have returned on the day that people are marching to celebrate the lives of the 22 that were killed and also pledging that this should never happen again. How important is it that you are there? What are you feeling right now?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): It's really with a deep sense of reverence and humility that I am here in the town of my birth where I was born and raised. El Paso, Texas, to first, of course, send my condolences and sympathy to the victims' families, to the community, to those who were injured and to honor them and to bring condolences from my wonderful congressional district, the 13th congressional district of California.

El Paso is a city where I was raised and a city where love always trumped hate. And what we see now through this horrific tragedy is the toxic combination of domestic terrorism, of racism and of gun violence.

And so I'm here in solidarity with the people of El Paso honoring the lives of those we lost, but also to say to Senator Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back and pass these very modest, but righteous in many ways, gun reform, gun safety measures. He should call the senate back immediately and do that. This is a call to action. And in their memory, and honoring their legacy, we must do this and do it right away.

WHITFIELD: So Senator McConnell has at least one bill that was passed in the House on his desk as it pertains to beefed up gun control legislation. Do you have any more confidence today that as a result of these massacres that there will be some movement in the Senate to have a vote to pass that legislation?

LEE: The House has sent him two measures with regard to background checks. And it's going to be the voice of the people. And that's one of the important moments that we're experiencing here in El Paso with this march for a united America, that the power of the people, the voices of the people, working for the people to get this done is what is going to make it happen.

And so we always have to have hope and we have to be optimistic, because without home and without our work, then we could see this happen over and over and over again. Enough is enough. This has been such a horrific moment with Gilroy and Dayton, Ohio, El Paso, Texas. My own district in Oakland, California, cities, counties, communities throughout the country are experiencing gun violence each and every day. 100 people every day die of gun violence. We have to stop this.

And so we can't give up. We've got to work hard and, again, for starters, Senator Mitch McConnell, call the Senate back in and pass these gun reform measures that are on your desk and ask the president to sign them.

WHITFIELD: So if Mitch McConnell was not inspired to do so within the last week. When the president yesterday said he was an advocate for meaningful background checks, was -- in your view, was that the president sending a signal to Senator Mitch McConnell that legislation he already has on background checks is something that needs to be addressed now? Or do you see them speaking in step? Or is this just more confusion about where is America right now in response to these massacres?

LEE: Well, for me, it's more confusion. It's more of this president's rhetoric because he has said this before. He has done this before. But we have not seen any action. So I hope that he's for real and I hope that the bills that are on Mitch McConnell's desk are moved forward.

But with regard to Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric and what has been unfortunately created the environment for this tragedy and other tragedies to happen, I'm not so sure if he really means what he says. But I hope he does because the NRA has got to understand and stop running with their agenda that's killing so many people in our country.

WHITFIELD: And then, quickly Congresswoman, you mentioned domestic terrorism, racism, gun violence. These are all the things, a confluence of events, these massacres have just underscored. Do you see that those things can be tackled legislatively? Or do you see a combination of other things on the horizon?

LEE: They've got to be tackled on all fronts. When you look at racism and when you look at the racist attacks against African- Americans, people of color, Latinos. Racism is alive and well in America. When you look at domestic terrorism, domestic terrorism has existed for decades. And in fact, it's really hypocritical that the president really moved to defund the offices that would address domestic terrorism. And when you look at gun reform efforts, Congress has been stopped dead in its tracks because of the unfortunate influence of the NRA.

So all of these issues have come together now and have created a toxic environment for our future. So enough is enough, we have to move forward and we have to get this done.

WHITFIELD: Congresswoman Barbara Lee in El Paso, Texas, your birthplace. Thank you so much.

I want to take you to Iowa. This is the issue that candidates are tackling. Those on the road to the White House. Here's Elizabeth Warren in Des Moines. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can just start off by telling us how you would prioritize the issue of gun safety if elected as president, including all forms of intersectionality.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All right, so it's a wonderful question -- can I just stand up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WARREN: You can always tell a school teacher. I've got to get where I can see everybody's face. But let me start with this. I come to you, I know, with these latest shootings in El Paso and Dayton at a time of sorrow in our country, but a time of real determination. We are going to make change. We are going to pass gun safety laws in this country.

Now, the way I see this is we've been talking for a long time about what we need to do. We've talked about all the different pieces, all the different edges, and they're there. And I support them. But here's what I'm going to do as president of the United States. I have put out this morning a comprehensive gun plan that has a lot of details in it. I will introduce it in the first 100 days. And I will help repeal the filibuster so that we can actually get it passed in Congress.

But I want to do more. I want us to change how we think about gun safety in America. It's not just about passing four pieces of legislation over there or changing two regulations over here. It's about reducing the deaths from gun violence. That's what our goal has to be. Forty thousand Americans died last year from gun violence.

So here's my commitment as president. I will reduce that number by 80 percent. We will make change, we'll figure out what works and then we'll make some more change and some more change.

[12:35:06] You know, here's the thing. You look at that number and you say, wow, that's -- I saw your face when I said that. Wow. How does this woman plan to get this done? And I'll tell you the answer. Go back to 1965, and at that point, we have five deaths per million miles traveled on the roads in America. And people were using words like carnage. How many Americans were dying?

As a country, we said enough. We are going to make changes. We are going to make ourselves a safer country. Some of it was obvious. Seat belts, safety glass. Some of it hasn't even been invented like airbags and automatic braking systems. But since that time, we have reduced the deaths per million miles traveled by over 80 percent in this country.

I want us to do the same with guns. I want us to keep our eye on the ball. This is about death by gun violence. I want us to study what works. I want us to try. I want us to make change as we keep driving down that number.

Now we've got two tools. The first one -- and I love saying this -- what a president can do all by herself.

And I will do it. I will take executive action in every corner with the Department of Justice, with ATF, to move as much as I can. But, there's much that must go through Congress. So here is what I propose with Congress. And that is, start with the question if 90 percent of Americans want to see some basic sensible changes, why do they not happen? You're out there talking about it. I'm out there talking about it. I tell you why it doesn't matter. Corruption, plain and simple.

The gun industry controls Washington. And we have to fight back against that corruption. Until we hit that corruption head on, until we disrupt the way they give money to folks in Congress, the way they put the lobbyists in the field. We're going to fight this fight and we're going to keep losing this fight. So for me, real change, meaningful change starts with breaking up the corruption in Washington, breaking the stranglehold of the gun industry and the NRA.

It's time. It's time for real meaningful change and we can do it. What it's going to take is a leader in the White House and pressure, the fighters on the ground like you.

It's an honor to be here with you today. Thank you. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, you've been listening to Senator Elizabeth Warren there saying, you know, it's time for real meaningful change. And she's pledging as president she will reduce deaths by gun violence by 80 percent.

Let's talk more about all of this and how much this issue is going to, you know, pepper the Democratic field in the race for the White House.

With me now to discuss all this, Francesca Chambers, she is White House correspondent for the Daily Mail, also joining me is Seung Min Kim, a White House reporter for the Washington Post and a CNN political analyst. Thanks to both of you, appreciate it.

So Francesca, you first. You know, let's talk about, you know, new sweeping gun control plans. This one namely coming from Senator Elizabeth Warren. She says, you know, if elected she will issue an executive order on background checks and push to pass a federal assault weapons ban. Very big ambitions --

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILY MAIL: -- knows some of these gun violence victims, he's met with the families of people who were killed in the Pulse nightclub attack.

[12:40:07] He's met with the Sandy Hook families. But from that didn't really go beyond that to say what it is. He believes he would be able to do differently, considering the fact that Barack Obama and Joe Biden had the house, they had the Senate when they first took office and they weren't able to get anything like this passed.

Meanwhile, you heard Kamala Harris here at the fair saying that she wants to just start with background checks. You said that Elizabeth Warren promoted an ambitious plan, you have on the opposite side of that Harris saying let's start with background checks. If we can get those, then we can move forward.

WHITFIELD: Seung Min, you know, the aftermath of these two mass shootings now. You know, that the president of the United States is claiming that he has strong congressional support from Republicans, you know, in Congress for strengthening background checks. Meaningful background checks he says. What are you hearing about the kind of support that he says he has?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would question the president's definition of the world strong there. Because background checks, expanding background checks on gun sales is something that has been incredibly controversial among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Recall the last major gun debate we had on Capitol Hill. It was in 2013, it was in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. There were just four Senate Republicans who backed an expanded background checks bill at that time in a Democratic Senate. Two of those senators -- two of those four Republican senators are now gone.

Yesterday, President Trump said Mitch McConnell is totally on board with background checks. We checked with Mitch McConnell's office, and McConnell's people made it very clear that the majority leader has not endorsed any specific gun legislation yet. And anything that restricts access to guns and gun rights whether it's expanded background checks, certainly a federal assault weapons ban, federal licensing programs like a lot of the 2020 Democratic candidates have announced is going to run into a lot of resistance obviously among Republicans on Capitol Hill. But even some of these conservative Democrats who still represent more of these rural areas, rural states.

Now they are a diminishing number in the Congress and house Democrats have -- particularly aligned very heavily beyond stronger gun measures. But still this is a very difficult issue to move forward on Capitol Hill no matter who is in charge.

WHITFIELD: Seung Min Kim, Francesca Chambers, thanks to both of you, appreciate it.

And we'll be right back.

[12:41:08] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

A short time ago, President Trump revealing the content of a new letter from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Saying Kim wants to restart nuclear negotiations once joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea are over. The tweet also saying that Kim asked for another direct meeting and offered, quote, a small apology, end quote, for testing short range missiles. The president told reporters about the letter yesterday as he left the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He really wrote a beautiful three-page from top to bottom, a really beautiful letter. It was a very positive letter. I'd love to give it to you, I really would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Trump's tweets come just hours after North Korea conducted its fifth round of short range missile tests in just over two weeks.

Sarah Westwood in New Jersey near where the president is vacationing at his resort in Bedminster. So Sarah, what are we making of the timing of these tweets and what information we are receiving about them, the letter?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, the president's tweets this morning come after a week of President Trump shrugging off more of those short range missile launches from North Korea. And as President Trump seems to be channeling those frustrations into the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea.

This week, he's been demanding that Seoul contribute more in an exchange for remaining under the U.S. security umbrella. And administration officials tell CNN that Trump privately has expressed frustration with the fact that in his eyes, South Korea has not done more to contain the aggression of its northern neighbor. That's a frustration that President Trump had projected onto China at one point in his presidency. Now he's focusing that ire on South Korea.

And his tweets this morning about that letter from Kim Jong-un also comes as North Korea continues to express its frustration with the joint military exercises going on this month in the region between the U.S. and the South Korean military. President Trump said that in that letter, Kim Jong-un expressed his frustration with the fact that those drills which have been scaled back this year are still going on. Trump's scaling back those military exercises in order to leave himself more room to negotiate with North Korea.

But these short range missile tests could be a real problem for President Trump. He says he's OK with them because his agreement with North Korea was that they should stop their intercontinental ballistic missile launches. That they should stop their nuclear testing. But because President Trump hasn't been able to extract any real concessions from North Korea, all he really had to point to as a sign that his strategy of engaging with North Korea was working was the fact that those missile launches had stopped.

Now that they are starting again, Fred, it could be harder for the president to justify his embrace of the North Korean dictator.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you so much, Sarah Westwood, appreciate it.

And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:53:03] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

Right now, the Department of Homeland Security in turmoil as it tries to combat the fallout from President Trump's hard lined immigration policies. Sources tell CNN Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan went to the White House in June ready to resign. McAleenan had concerns over President Trump's vague threat to deport millions of undocumented immigrants believing the operation was half-baked and too far-reaching in scope.

All this being revealed as ICE, Immigration Customs Enforcement agents detained nearly 700 undocumented immigrants this week in Mississippi. A source tells CNN the White House has instructed ICE to conduct dozens of workplace raids over the rest of the year.

Let's bring in Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent under President Obama. Good to see you.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Nice to see you.

WHITFIELD: So with these, you know, reports that the acting secretary, you know, is facing internal and external, you know, tensions at DHS, so how effective is his ability to lead this department if he doesn't believe allegedly, you know, in all the policies and practices?

WACKROW: Absolutely. Fred, the key point there or the key word there in what you just said is acting. And when I hear the word acting secretary, it's -- I liken it to a substitute teacher. Somebody is in charge, but they lack the full authority to effect change. And that's what we're seeing here.

The secretary does not have the ability to set a long-term strategy policy across the department to include immigration. You couple that with the immigration hard liners that the White House had installed into the Department of Homeland Security, it only makes his job more difficult. The focus right now at DHS is on immigration but that's not what DHS is. It's the Department of Homeland Security.

They need to govern and oversee other aspects, election security, cyber and critical infrastructure, disaster recovery and preparedness, as well as other law enforcement functions.

[12:55:01] Unfortunately, right now for the acting secretary, he sits in a position that's actually a hot seat right now in Washington, D.C. as it's one of the most divisive positions within the cabinet. That is leading to a lot of policy issues that are facing the 2020 campaign. So this acting secretary is going to be in the hot seat for a long time.

WHITFIELD: And the president has made it clear what he believes as it pertains to these raids. Just listen to what he had to say, Friday.

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TRUMP: I want people to know that if they come into the United States illegally they're getting out. They're going to be brought out. And this serves as a very good deterrent. If people come into our country illegally, they're going out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So the president says it's a deterrent. Is that what you believe? WACKROW: It's not a deterrent, it's an optical issue right now. We're not solving for the issue of immigration. We're not talking about why people are motivated to come from their home countries into the United States. So this is less of, you know, a policy issue, it's a knee-jerk reaction again by immigration hard liners to satisfy a base.

WHITFIELD: Jonathan Wackrow, thank you so much.

WACKROW: Thanks a lot.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, more on the breaking news that Jeffrey Epstein, the multimillionaire and accused child sex trafficker is dead by an apparent hanging in his jail cell. Details straight ahead.

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