Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Administration Rule Change Could Deny Citizenship To Legal, Low-Income Immigrants Who Use Federal Assistance; Feds Charge Friend Of Dayton Shooter; Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) Is Interviewed On Gun Safety Legislation; Trump Escalates Feud With Ex-Loyalist Scaramucci; A.G. Barr: "Serious Irregularities" At Jail, Epstein Co-Conspirators Should Not Rest Easy; Trump Says Skyfall Missile Caused Deadly Blast; Crude Complaint Follows North Korean Launch. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news, shooter's friend charged: federal prosecutors charge a friend of the Dayton, Ohio, gunman, who killed nine people and injured dozens.

Authorities say the man bought the 100-round magazine and body armor used in the attack and helped the shooter assemble his gun. Tonight, what we're learning about why he helped the killer hide his weapons.

Punishing immigrants: the Trump administration is rolling out brand- new regulations designed to deny green cards, visas or citizenship to people who come to the country legally just because they have used federal aid programs. At the same time, the White House said it is planning more raids on businesses that use immigrants.

Is the president trying to slam the door on people whose only crime is being poor?

Also breaking, losing the Mooch: President Trump is escalating his feud with his one time communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, the Mooch as he's known, says he is now against the president's re- election bid because of Mr. Trump's behavior after last week's mass shootings. Scaramucci said the president is acting nonsensical.

How is the White House responding?

And Russian nuclear mystery: alarming new questions about what caused a deadly explosion and possibly Russia's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Is Vladimir Putin trying to cover up a meltdown in his nuclear program? I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the investigation of the mass shooting that left nine people dead in Dayton, Ohio. Police killed the gunman less than a minute after he opened fire but now federal prosecutors have filed charges against one of his friends. He's accused of buying the high-capacity magazine the gunman used during the attack which also wounded dozens of people.

And also tonight, President Trump is escalating his feud with the man who used to be one of his most loyal defenders. Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said he no longer supports re-electing the president, citing statements and tweets, he said, gave people, and I'm quoting now, "a license to hate."

And the Trump administration has announced new regulations that could limit legal immigration. The rules could prevent low-income immigrants from getting green cards or becoming permanent citizens if they use federal aid programs such as food stamps, which is legal.

I'll get a reaction from Democratic Congressman Denny Heck, a member of the Intelligence Committee, and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's begin with Ryan Young.

Ryan, tell us more about the breaking news, about the new charges filed in the aftermath of the Dayton mass shooting.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new information in this case, Ethan Kollie, 24, charged with trying to provide some of these materials to the shooter. We know that 100 drum, the ammunition run that we've seen with Ethan Kollie that was out there before has now been connected to this man and according to investigators he wanted to hide it from his parents. And that is why Connor Betts didn't order it himself. Investigators talked about how it was ordered; they assembled at an apartment and during that time they also did drugs.

In fact, listen to federal prosecutors talking today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN GLASSMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO: Kollie indicated that he purchased these items for Betts and stored them at Kollie's residence in order to assist Betts in hiding the items from Betts' parents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: This is important if you think about the shooting, where nine people were killed. That high capacity weapon was used and, as you walk down the street, methodically trying to get inside of the club, federal investigators and local police, who showed that video as police were able to surround him and shoot him before getting in the club, tells us that if Connor Betts was able to get inside, hundreds of people could be injured.

But now we know these two men were talking about parts of this in terms of those weapons and assembling it at the apartment. What we do know from federal investigators is they do not believe this man had any idea about the shooting or what was going to take place.

They also did tell us they've been able to get into the shooter's phone and they're starting to go through that evidence, because, of course, people in the community are wondering about what the motive could have been in the shooting. That so far hasn't been determined yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: And prosecutors are also suggesting he actually helped the shooter hide the gun, the ammunition, the clips and all that, right?

YOUNG: Right. Exactly, at his apartment, they believe he got that 100-round drum and part of the AR-15 and the body armor, which was supposed to be so important --

[17:05:00]

YOUNG: -- as he moved his way down.

Of course the cops were able to surround him and take him down before he got inside of the apartment -- but this is all part of the prosecution. You see the ATF and federal investigators were at the apartment the day after the shooting. They did a lot of quick work in the case to figure this out all.

BLITZER: They certainly did. Ryan Young, thanks so much for that report.

The president's response to the mass shootings has cost him the support of a one-time aide. Let's go our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, outside of the president's golf resort in New Jersey for us.

Jim, the president's feud with Anthony Scaramucci seems to be escalating.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. Just this afternoon, President Trump and Scaramucci exchanged attacks on Twitter and President Trump said he just wants to be on TV and Scaramucci said the president has lost his fastball.

The White House is also firing back: press secretary Stephanie Grisham is accusing the Mooch of acting in a self-serving way but now that the Mooch is loose, the question is whether other Republicans will follow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It is a Mooch mutiny as former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci is bolting from Trump world, announcing he will not back the president in next year's election. ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, TRUMP INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: I think you have to consider a change at the top of the ticket when someone is acting like this.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The reason: Scaramucci points to the president's handling of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton and his divisive rhetoric.

SCARAMUCCI: He is giving people a license to hate, to provide a source of anger, to go after each other. And he does it on his Twitter account. So let's just stop for a second and think about this.

ACOSTA (voice-over): That rare scathing criticism from a Trump loyalist turned defector comes after the president slammed Scaramucci over the weekend, tweeting, "Anthony, who would do anything to come back in, should remember the only reason he is on TV. And it is not for being the Mooch."

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Scaramucci is just out for attention saying in a statement, "He worked at the White House for less than two weeks and is certainly no expert on this president. This is all self-serving on his part and the media plays right into it. It is embarrassing to watch."

But the president's critics say Mr. Trump has learned little from the El Paso shooting and is still targeting Latinos, noting a new administration policy aimed at making it tougher for legal immigrants to receive government assistance like food stamps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're simply making effective what Congress had already put on the books. So there is no reason for any particular group to feel like this is targeting them. This will apply across the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Announcing the change, top immigration official Ken Cuccinelli predicted more ICE workplace raids like the operation last week in Mississippi, which left migrant children in tears.

CUCCINELLI: I think you can expect to see more of that as part of the message this administration, we're going to enforce the law.

ACOSTA (voice-over): On vacation in New Jersey, the president isn't taking a break from Twitter, re-tweeting a wild, unproven conspiracy theory over the weekend that the Clintons were somehow behind the apparent suicide of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the retweet is part of his long pattern of spreading false conspiracy theories.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I think the president just wants everything to be investigated. Perhaps there is a public interest in knowing more about that. But again this is all speculative and is not for me to go further than where the DOJ and FBI are right now.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One actual occurrence that isn't getting much attention from the president, the fact that it has been two years since the white supremacist violence that erupted in Charlottesville, one of the low points of the Trump presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest --

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: It is not clear whether Scaramucci's defection from Trump world will have much of an effect on the rest of the Republican Party. The president has spent much of his vacation already fundraising and will hold a rally in New Hampshire later on in the week.

Scaramucci said he's only saying out loud what many Republicans say privately -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta reporting.

Joining us now Washington State Democratic Representative Denny Heck who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. Several issues I want to go through with you. But let's start with the news that a friend of the Dayton shooter bought the high-capacity magazine used in the attack.

First of all, do you support a ban on these high-capacity magazines?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Sure. I see no reason whatsoever that weapons that are equipped such as that, whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible, should be allowed on the streets.

I hope that this individual is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and according to the charging authorities. But the fact of the matter is we won't even begin to mitigate this, as important as prosecutions are, until we can adopt common sense gun safety legislation.

BLITZER: Republican Congressman Mike Turner, who represents Dayton, now supports limits on magazines.

[17:10:00] BLITZER: Is this an area you think you could find common ground, Democrats and Republicans, working together?

HECK: Well, I hope so, Wolf. And in fact, I see some perceptible shift going on here. You had the Mooch response to that -- in a rare instance, I actually agree with the president, the Mooch will say anything he can to get attention. But I find it incredibly rich the president would accuse anybody else of this.

But you also had your own host, S.E. Cupp, announce she dropped her membership in the NRA. There are signs here but we need to qualify and temper this by remembering Martin Luther King's wisdom when he said, change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability -- because we also know the president is fickle and could change his position. We know he has said that he hopes to get something in the way of background checks.

But the NRA, who is opposed to all gun safety legislation, will have a seat at the table and we know that a certain senator, John Barroso from Wyoming, said he doesn't see something happening here.

So this will happen if and only if the American people rise up and make their points of view known and say it is time to put a stop to the senseless slaughtering of American citizens in our malls and our churches.

BLITZER: We've gone through this drill so many times in recent years.

How do you make sure this time, Congressman, that this will still be a priority when Congress returns in mid-September from the recess?

HECK: So there are a lot of members of Congress, including the majority of the House, who, you know, Wolf, passed not one but two gun safety legislation bills in February, six months ago, both related to background checks. The only way in which the Senate will move is twofold.

One, if the president of the United States finally makes his position clear and sticks to it, that it is time to stop the slaughter. And I frankly don't think that will happen unless Americans throughout our great land make it clear to him that this is what they expect him to do and what they expect the United States Senate to do.

BLITZER: On immigration, Congressman, this new rule that the administration is putting out will penalize people who use certain services like food stamps or Medicaid and it will benefit immigrants with better English and better education.

Is the administration bypassing Congress to enact the president's vision of what the president calls merit-based immigration?

HECK: Well, yes, of course, he is. The president hates all immigrants except his mother and father-in-law and his wife evidently. He hates them whether they are here without documents or a green card or here seeking asylum. He hates them all. And the incredible irony of this particular circumstance, Wolf, is a

lot of people here who are on green cards are working in very low- paying jobs that nobody else wants to do. And that is why they qualify for some of these benefits.

He's not only going to be hurting these families, he's going to be hurting the local economies, which need these people to fill the jobs.

BLITZER: If it is harder to emigrate legally, talking about people who come to the United States legally, could this actually incentivize illegal immigration?

HECK: Well, as I think I've said to you on this very program, Wolf, I believe the president's behavior over the last two years has, in fact, incentivized an increased attempt to migrate to the United States because the so-called coyotes down in the three Triangle countries of Central America have been telling people, you better get in now because it will only get worse.

So, yes, I think his rhetoric has increased efforts to get in both legally and illegally.

BLITZER: The Trump administration as you know has also directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to conduct more raids like the ones we saw in Mississippi the other day.

What is your reaction to that?

HECK: You know, Wolf, I didn't go to sleep after the night of that raid feeling one bit safer because these 600 people got up very early in the morning to go work in a chicken factory and provide for their family.

It seems to me the priority of ICE ought to be trying to find those people who have genuinely criminal backgrounds -- and I'm not talking about speeding tickets. Some of these people actually had ankle bracelets, not because they were criminals but because they had sought asylum here and that was the way to continue to track them.

I don't feel any safer that ICE undertakes this. I think they out to have better priorities for what they use their money for.

I was just down at the border week before last and we have a situation down there that isn't good. And it is going to get worse as the president implements his so-called -- and I say so-called advisedly, "migrant protection protocol," where he is sending everybody back south of the border.

I was in El Paso the day before the Walmart incident and the truth of the matter is Juarez is going to struggle -- and I think it is a ticking time bomb -- to deal with all of the people seeking asylum in America that we've sent south. I think that is extralegal and there are two courts that have suggested that it is an illegal action but we'll see where that goes.

[17:15:00] BLITZER: Representative Denny Heck, thank you for joining us.

HECK: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump said he received what he described as a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un last week. But Kim's government is following up another round of missile launches with a crude and rather vulgar complaint.

And a deadly explosion is followed by conflicting reports of a possible radiation release at a military test site in Russia.

Did one of Vladimir Putin's newest weapons blow up?

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump is ramping up his feud with former White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, who criticized the president's divisive and sometimes racist rhetoric and announced he no longer supports the president's re-election.

Let's discuss with our political experts.

Chris Cillizza, you write that, quote, "what Scaramucci is doing is trying to soothe his own conscience."

Explain what you mean.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: OK. Anthony Scaramucci in an interview with John Berman on "NEW DAY" this morning as well as in several other interviews in the last 72 hours, said this is a nuclear reactor melting down. His device that is -- Donald Trump's divisiveness and his rhetoric is now providing cover for people who hate and intolerance.

Well, two years ago today was the anniversary of the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, a death caused by white supremacist riots that Trump described in their immediate aftermath as both sides being responsible for.

My point here is Scaramucci has every right to say I no longer support this president. The justification that things are somehow different with Donald Trump today than they were two years ago or five or 10 years ago is just not borne out by the facts.

BLITZER: Let me get Toobin to weigh in.

Jeffrey, Scaramucci points to the president's, quote, "increasingly divisive rhetoric" as the reason he can no longer back the president. But as Chris Cillizza just pointed out, this rhetoric has been going on for quite a while.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not nearly smart enough to know what is going on inside of Anthony Scaramucci's brain but I do know he's not an elected official. And what will really matter is when Republican-elected officials, who are running for re-election, start criticizing the president. Because that is going to indicate that they believe the Republican Party is moving away from him.

Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, the senators who criticized the president, Republicans, they fled. They gave up because they knew how much Donald Trump controlled the Republican Party.

Anthony Scaramucci doesn't control any votes as far as I'm aware. The interesting thing and the important thing will be when Republican- elected officials start standing up to him. And as far as I'm aware, not a single one has.

BLITZER: Yes, the ones who have, the elected officials, they quickly announce they're not seeking re-election for whatever reason.

TOOBIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Jackie, why is Scaramucci's abandonment causing the president such grief, because he's tweeting about it sort of nonstop?

JACKIE ALEMANY, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That is a great question. We feel like it is a broken record at this point.

Who isn't the president attacking on Twitter?

I think this goes without being said but the president just does not like being publicly humiliated and he's obviously an avid CNN watcher and cable news consumer.

But I think Jeffrey is exactly right. At the end of the day it doesn't matter what Anthony Scaramucci says. What matters is what all of the people who continue to work for him are saying and what they really refuse to say on the record about the president and what elected officials also refuse to say about this president.

CILLIZZA: Just one quick thing to add to Jackie's point, I do think it is worth noting, Trump prizes loyalty over everything else, including over sometimes the law.

When someone who he views as having been loyal to him breaks that code for whatever reason, I think he reacts more viscerally. He can't keep it to himself more. That probably explains the Scaramucci thing. We've seen that with other people who have publicly broken from Donald Trump, whether it is Omarosa or whoever. He reacts this way because I think he can't help himself.

BLITZER: Let me get April to weigh in.

What do you think?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I want to go back to Chris's earlier point. This road to Damascus moment for Anthony Scaramucci has been an evolution. I remember when Anthony Scaramucci and I first met; we were on opposing sides of each other about Donald Trump and he went in on me. And then we talked about it.

And then later on he became a White House employee for 11 days and then he was still in support of the president and still on television and he and the president were talking.

But after a while there was an erosion and Anthony started to see the light and he would say things that made me say, hmm, he's thinking about this.

And then I emailed with him yesterday and today. And we have been talking and he's very concerned about this -- all of this racial animus and rhetoric that the president said and this Elijah Cummings stuff and these tweets and comments, especially when Elijah Cummings's home was broken into.

It really bothered Anthony and he even talked about how he treated me, how the president treated me and he's very concerned --

[17:00:00]

RYAN: -- on this two-year anniversary of Charlottesville, at the same time Anthony is coming out saying this.

But Anthony is also taking -- getting death threats because of this and this is what some people are not reporting. But he told me today via email he's getting death threats because he came out against the president. He feels in his heart this has got to stop and he doesn't feel the president should be re-elected.

BLITZER: You make an important point, Jeffrey Toobin, that, despite all of the rhetoric over the past 2.5 years, the president's approval among his base really hasn't changed.

TOOBIN: Yes, because what we never fail -- we never come to grips with is that all of this hostility to immigrants, all of his racism, maybe that is what people like about him. Maybe it is not something they just put aside.

Maybe the fact that Donald Trump disparages immigrants, the way he always talks about people of color in disparaging ways, the way he gloats when Elijah Cummings' house is broken into.

Maybe that is what people like about him, that it is not a flaw. Now it is not a majority of the population but the idea that his racism and his bigotry are going to cost him support, maybe it will gain him support.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There is a lot more we need to discuss and we will right after a quick break.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (MUSIC PLAYING)

BLITZER: Back with our analysts and our correspondents and, April, it has been exactly two years since the deadly protest in Charlottesville that led to the president's now infamous comments "very fine people on both sides" and now the accused shooter in El Paso is believed to have parroted President Trump's language in that so-called manifesto he posted about 20 minutes before the shooting began.

Does the president fully understand the impact of his own words?

RYAN: The president is cunningly skillful and strategic in his wording. He knows what he's saying. And he knows what he does. Again, I've said this before, he may not think he's a racist but the racists believe he's a racist. This president has got to understand that words mean something.

And he does know words mean something. But his use of words at the wrong time.

[17:30:00] And not only has this president put himself in a situation where history will carry those words from Charlottesville or when he talked about the exonerated five, you know, both sides, you know, he says things to evoke feelings from a certain group. But those feelings are causing a division in this nation, that we feel, that we see, and people are now getting hurt. And this president understands -- even though he's limited in his governing, he understands keenly what he is saying and doing.

BLITZER: And it's very interesting, Jackie, because you saw this " New York Times" analysis that showed the language used by the confessed killer in El Paso doesn't just match what President Trump has been saying but relies on terms that he and others have been saying, like invasion, replacement. Commonly used by this right-wing media attack by White supremacists, if you will. So what does that tell you?

ALEMANY: Yes. I mean, we -- the conservative echo chamber has had a pretty corrosive and damaging effect to democracy, but I just want to go back to a point that April made which I think is just so important. It doesn't really matter whether or not the President believes he's racist. He understands that his explicit racist attacks and his coded attacks on people of color or lawmakers of color, he understands the political expediency of these things and that it works to his benefit and it works to stirring up his base.

So whether or not a Democratic candidate wants to call the President a White supremacist, he is aiding and fueling them and providing them with ammunition to carry out these pretty atrocious things that are resulting in mass shootings and in deaths. And I think we all really need to be watching out for, you know, his next campaign rally.

I think that's going to be the next true test of whether or not he understands the gravity of his words. It's clear from his visits last week that he didn't see the need for unity as, really, the rest of the country did. CILLIZZA: And always has been since a candidate. His first speech,

he announced and, you know, he talks, oh, I came down the gold elevator or escalator or whatever. Remember, in that first speech is when he said Mexico is sending us rapists and criminals. Let's not forget when he talked about Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana-born judge of Mexican descent who was overseeing a Trump University case that he couldn't be -- he had conflicts of interest in this because Trump said he's going to build the wall.

He has, throughout his life, not just his political career -- but if we're looking just at his political reporter, repeatedly weaponized race and racial animus. It's just a --

BLITZER: Let me get

CILLIZZA: It's a fact. You can't debate it. And I think, at some point --

RYAN: And birtherism.

CILLIZZA: -- even if he didn't know he was doing it at the start, he knows what he's doing now, to April's point.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?

RYAN: Birtherism.

TOOBIN: Well, it's the core of his --

RYAN: Birtherism.

CILLIZZA: Right.

TOOBIN: It's the core of his political appeal. I mean, we're -- the reason he's involved in politics at all is that he told racist lies about where Barack Obama was born.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

TOOBIN: I mean, that's the -- that's how he became a -- you know, went from being a reality television star to being a political figure, by telling these racist lies about Barack Obama. And so -- and it all flows from that. And the idea that he's going to change in some way is absurd because, if you remember the 2016 election as I think many of (INAUDIBLE) you do, and he thinks he's going to win again the same way.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BLITZER: A lot of people -- a lot of Democrats are nervous, Chris, because, yes, his job approval number hovers around 42, 43, 44 percent, but when folks are asked in these national polls, his approval on the economy, it's in the mid-50s.

CILLIZZA: Yes. If you had a messenger who focused exclusively on the economic numbers or almost exclusively on the economic numbers, I think that would be a bigger worry. Donald Trump ain't that messenger. He steps on good economic news regularly with his tweets, with his comments, with his attacks on people like Elijah Cummings.

So I actually think that disconnect should worry Republicans more than Democrats. The reason why is, typically, when people approve of the economy, presidential approval is high. The fact that people approve of his handling of the economy and his presidential approval is still in the low 40s, that would concern me if I was Donald Trump because something that -- that is ahistorical, and I don't know how soluble it is.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by because there's other news we're following right now. New developments in the investigation (INAUDIBLE) following his jailhouse suicide over the weekend. Sources now tell CNN, Epstein was not checked on for a number of hours before his death. Our national correspondent Athena Jones is joining us from New York right now.

Athena, the Attorney General Bill Barr, today, said there were serious irregularities at the jail. Update us.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right, serious irregularities according to A.G. Barr. And this not checking on Epstein's cell is against protocol. According to our source briefed on the matter who spoke with my colleague, Evan Perez, for a number of hours leading up to Epstein's death, guards did not check on his cell. It's protocol for guards to check on inmates every half hour.

And Justice officials have also uncovered broader problems here at this facility. It's long been considered among the best in the entire Bureau of Prisons system, but these issues are certainly to be part of the investigation into what happened to Epstein.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[17:35:06] JONES (voice-over): Tonight, growing questions and investigations announced after accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died from an apparent suicide over the weekend at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I was appalled -- and indeed, the whole department was -- and, frankly, angry to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner.

JONES (voice-over): U.S. Attorney General William Barr blasting the federal jail for what he called serious irregularities that are deeply concerning.

BARR: We'll get to the bottom.

JONES (voice-over): Barr promising the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice Inspector General would get to the bottom of what happened.

The multimillionaire financier was found unresponsive in his cell early Saturday morning and later pronounced dead at a local hospital. The New York medical examiner conducted an autopsy Sunday but has not determined the cause of death pending further information. Epstein had been held in the federal jail since early July when he pleaded not guilty to charges of running a sex trafficking ring of underage girls, some as young as 14.

He was placed briefly on suicide watch after he was found in his cell with marks on his neck on July 23rd. But he was taken off suicide watch at the end of July. According to protocol for the special housing unit where he was kept, guards are supposed to check on inmates every 30 minutes. But a source tells CNN, Epstein's cell was not regularly monitored the night before he was found dead.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Was this a matter of incompetence, indifference, or was there something more nefarious?

JONES (voice-over): Epstein's apparent suicide comes less than 24 hours after over a thousand pages of documents containing more disturbing sex trafficking allegations against Epstein were unsealed in a related lawsuit one of his alleged victims filed against one of his associates. As for Epstein's accusers, now robbed of a chance to face him in a court of law, Barr insists this is not over.

BARR: But let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who is complicit with Epstein. Any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And there is more on the legal front today. Epstein accusers are asking a federal judge to unwind the non-prosecution agreement Epstein reached with federal prosecutors in Florida over a decade ago as part of his previous sex abuse case. That would give authorities greater power to go after Epstein's alleged co-conspirators. That 2007 deal granted immunity to Epstein's co-conspirators and identified four women by name -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones in New York for us. Athena, thank you.

Just ahead, experts fear a deadly mishap involving a nuclear-powered Russian missile may have just caused the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:38:03] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is weighing in on Twitter after a U.S. official told CNN a new type of nuclear-powered Russian missile likely caused the deadly explosion at a remote military test site. There is concern it may have caused the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is joining us live from Moscow right now. Fred, what are you learning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the Russians call this -- or the U.S. calls this missile the Skyfall. It's apparently not just a nuclear-tipped cruise missile but one that's actually powered by a nuclear engine as well.

And you're absolutely right, President Trump weighing in on this as well, saying the U.S. is learning a lot from this mishap that took place. And a lot of people are very concerned about the quality of the air in that area. The Russians, for their part, Wolf, not acknowledging that it was this new type of rocket and not saying whether or not there is actually any radiation that was released. Here's what we're learning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Tonight, confusion and concern about a mysterious explosion and a missile test gone wrong that some now fear could be the worst Russian nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Moscow acknowledges a blast took place at a naval range last week but won't say whether it was nuclear. Instead, they're saying liquid fuel caught fire during trials in the Arctic North, leading to the blast.

Local authorities initially said they recorded a short-term spike in radiation levels, but their statement was later deleted. And the Defense Ministry claims no dangerous substances were released after the explosion. But tonight, experts tell CNN, satellite images appear to show that the Russians have sent a special nuclear fuel carrier ship to the area.

JEFFREY LEWIS, DIRECTOR OF THE EAST ASIA NONPROLIFERATION PROGRAM, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT MONTEREY: That ship is used to carry nuclear fuel. And Russia, in the past, has used that ship to transport the radioactive reactor unit from the nuclear- powered cruise missile.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russia's state-run nuclear agency did admit that five of its employees were killed in the blast.

VALENTIN KOSTYUKOV, DIRECTOR, RUSSIAN FEDERAL NUCLEAR CENTER (through translator): A chain of tragic accidents happened. Although our preliminary analysis indicates they were fighting to get the situation under control. Unfortunately, that failed.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Last year, Vladimir Putin revealed Russia is testing nuclear-powered cruise missiles to counter NATO's missile defense systems.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): Now that the missile launch and ground tests were successful, we can begin developing a completely new type of weapon, a strategic nuclear weapon system with a nuclear-powered missile.

[17:45:07] PLEITGEN (voice-over): If this was nuclear, it would not be the first time Moscow muddled its messaging after a potential nuclear mishap. In 1986, the Soviet Union didn't acknowledge the Chernobyl disaster until Western nations detected heightened radiation levels in Europe.

RALPH INESON, ACTOR: You will need to move quickly, and you will need to move carefully. PLEITGEN (voice-over): Thousands of people died in the aftermath of

that meltdown which is now the subject of the HBO series, "Chernobyl."

And in 2000, Moscow kept its own public in the dark about the sinking of the cursed nuclear submarine killing all 118 sailors on board, leading to harsh criticism of then-new Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Tonight, more questions than answers remain as Vladimir Putin's office still has not commented at all on the explosion, leading Russians and the world guessing how dangerous the aftermath might be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, just to give you an idea of how low the confidence in the local authorities and their information is for the people who live in that area, we're getting media reports that, apparently, there was a run on pharmacies in the adjacent towns in that area. People buying iodine tablets, obviously, to try and counteract any sort of radiation they believe could be in the air, Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty scary stuff indeed. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow. Thanks very much.

Coming up, North Korea follows up another round of missile launches with a rather crude and vulgar complaint. Yet President Trump is touting what he describes as a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un. What's the brutal dictator up to now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:20] BLITZER: Tonight, another twist in Kim Jong-un's campaign to win over President Trump. We're learning new details about a recent letter the North Korean dictator sent to the President and what it might mean for U.S. relations with a crucial ally.

Brian Todd is on the story for us. Brian, so what is Kim up to now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Kim Jong-un appears to be doubling down on a tactic he's been using for months. He's been trying to drive a big wedge between President Trump and his South Korean ally, Moon Jae-in. And the North Koreans have now resorted to using curse words to portray the South Koreans in the worst possible light.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, as North Korea's brutal dictator continues to play pen pal to the President, he's also trying to drive a wedge between America and one of its most important allies. Kim Jong-un's Foreign Ministry is threatening to freeze South Korea out of future nuclear talks and expressing anger over the joint U.S./South Korean military exercises underway this week.

Kim's regime is accusing South Korea and its president, Moon Jae-in, of trying to disguise those military drills by changing their name, putting out a rare statement in English that reads, an expletive, though hard and dry, still stinks even if it is wrapped in a flowered cloth.

PATRICK CRONIN, ASIA-PACIFIC SECURITY CHAIR, HUDSON INSTITUTE: This is the kind of bombast that we've come to expect out of Pyongyang's propaganda machine. And it being illogical doesn't change the fact that North Korea is basically just dumping on the South Koreans right now. They don't respect Moon. They're looking for equality with the United States.

TODD (voice-over): In an apparent attempt to win that equality, Kim Jong-un sent another personal letter to President Trump, which the President, again, called beautiful.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was hand delivered and it wasn't touched by anybody. They literally take it from North Korea to my office. We have a system, the old-fashioned system. You don't have to worry about leaks. Something nice about that, isn't it?

TODD (voice-over): In the letter, Trump says, Kim complained a lot about the joint U.S./South Korean exercises. And Trump, in a tweet, said that, in the letter, Kim even did the unheard of, saying he was sorry for something, saying it was a, quote, small apology for testing the short-range missiles, and that this testing would stop when the exercises end.

Trump and his team have minimized several short-range missile tests Kim's regime has conducted over the past few weeks, even though experts say they pose a threat to millions, including the roughly 80,000 U.S. military personnel in South Korea and Japan.

ABRAHAM DENMARK, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR EAST ASIA: As North Korea develops these capabilities, it enhances their ability in a conflict to be able to threaten an attack on American civilians and military personnel living across East Asia.

TODD (voice-over): Veteran diplomats say the young dictator is, again, manipulating Donald Trump's ego in an effort to get sanctions on North Korea lifted and to peel Trump away from his allies in the region.

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER UNITED STATES SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: I believe, for Kim Jong-un, this is all about playing to Donald Trump's vanity, conveying to him that you are the man, you can do the deal that nobody has been able to do before.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say that while all this is going on, it is very possible, even probable, that Kim Jong-un is still manufacturing nuclear warheads and perfecting his long-range missiles, all in secret, so that if this entire process with the United States breaks down, he's going to have new capabilities to show off and to use for provocations -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, we'll have more on the escalating feud between the President and the former Trump loyalist known as The Mooch.

[17:54:58] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Federal charges filed. A friend of the Dayton gunman is in custody tonight, accused of helping to arm the shooter. Authorities say he made a crucial purchase that allowed so many people to be gunned down so quickly.

[18:00:05]