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Democratic Aides Skeptical White House & Congress Will Take Action on Expanding Background Checks; Democrats Accuse of Mitch McConnell of Stalling on Gun Measures; Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) Discusses Gun Measures, Background Checks; MCC Warden Reassigned, 2 Guards on Leave Following Death of Epstein in Jail Cell; Swedish Court Convicts A$AP Rocky of Assault But No Jail Time. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 14, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the question is, Kate, where are they going. Because right now, these talks are happening at early stages between congressional aides and White House aides, of course, on legislation that could strengthen background checks, something you have heard the president calling for.

But there's also a great deal of skepticism involved in these talks because they say, based on what our sources are telling us, if there was any changes to the way the current gun system operates, they don't think there's a wealth of support from Senate Republicans right now.

That's reflected in what we are hearing that these lawmakers are telling lawmakers privately as he's continuing to insist publicly that he's got the support from people like Mitch McConnell and other Republican Senators, even though that's not what they're saying about these background checks.

So, yes, these talks are happening, but evidence and the fact there isn't a ton of support right now, Kate, is the fact that Pat Toomey is the only Republican right now, a Senator from Pennsylvania, and he's the only Republican so far involved in these discussions. So if that shows you where these talks are headed, right now, there's not a lot of support.

The president insists there is, despite hearing otherwise from lawmakers telling him background checks are not the way to go. The NRA telling him this isn't something that his base in those red states are going to want to support.

But we are being told that White House officials are going to come to Bedminster, they'll brief the president during his vacation of how these talks are going. Because right now, essentially, they're putting off any progress until those lawmakers get back from their August vacation. The president returns to Washington next week.

But right now, even though the talks are happening, we should stress, there's a great deal of skepticism it actually will move the needle on anything -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Skepticism is the only place to be, considering what history looks like and how much you can trust the president's position will be the same from one day to the next.


BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, great to see you. Thank you.

So while these informational talks may be happening, Democrats are demanding more than talk and soon. Calling on Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back early to start a debate on guns. That is very unlikely to happen. And Democrats are now accusing the Senate majority leader of trying to run out the clock. Listen.


REP. DON BEYER (D-VA): We know exactly why he isn't here. He's waiting for the outrage to die down, for the headlines to change, the people are turning the page and think about something else. But as he delays and waits for people to lose interest, 100 Americans are dying every day from gun violence.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now Republican Congressman Tom Reed, of New York.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. TOM REED (R-NY): It's always good to be here with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Is Mitch McConnell stalling?

REED: I don't believe so. Obviously, I think there is a groundswell of support. I've talked to members as we've been back in the district, that are eager to do something about gun violence. But the issue at hand is, how do you do that? Do you attack the who, that is the root cause of these horrific acts? Or do you go after the what, the objects? If we do gown the object path, I don't think that's not going to have much success.

BOLDUAN: Then there's kind of like a middle road of background checks. That's not a who or a what. That's just is simply a check.

REED: No, no. No, that actually gets to the who. So the who in the background check that we're talking about are those exhibiting psychopathic mental illness and have indications of that. That could be part of the conversation. That's where this red flag-type of discussion, that's the heart of that discussion.

You also have -- you know, you talk about 100 people dying a day in gun violence. Many of those are being committed by previously convicted criminal defendants that used weapons in their prior acts.

I will tell you, that is something where, if you're a criminal defendant, having a weapon in the future is something maybe we can have a fruitful discussion about. BOLDUAN: You're signaling you're open to the discussion. You voted

against the background check bill that passed the House in February. Have the mass shootings changed your view on that though?

REED: No, because that bill was just overly broad. You start to remember, this is about a constitutional freedom as represented in the Second Amendment. That bill would have banned even family exchanges, family gifts to loved ones. That's not something we want to do. In my opinion, that's a law-abiding citizen's right as represented in the Second Amendment that cannot be infringed upon.

That's one of the reasons this is so difficult.


REED: We are dealing with a constitutional freedom.

BOLDUAN: Republican Congressman Peter King is supporting that expanded background check. He supported that bill. And here is what he says in the aftermath of the mass shootings about it all: "It's not going to answer it all. It may only answer a small part. But we know the bill will save lives, and it will start to make it harder and harder for people who are the most dangerous to obtain weapons."

How is he wrong?

REED: I disagree with my colleague on that. I think it's too much of an infringement on that Second Amendment right. And also, to the conclusion that this is somehow going to save lives by implementing some magic bullet on the federal level under this bill, I just don't see it.

I see us having a conversation about getting to the mental illness question, those with psychopathic behavioral indications. You know, that to me is something that could move. And actually, the criminal defendant pieces of this, that's what gets lost in the debate also.

[11:34:59] The mass shootings take a lot of headlines, and rightfully so, but the day-to-day headlines are those killed on the streets of America by criminal defendants, rightfully and duly convicted, that can't be lost in this conversation.

BOLDUAN: Let me play you another Republican, Adam Kinzinger, from Illinois, what he says about the background check bill. He voted against it. He also thought it was overly broad. But now he's changed his view after these shootings. Listen to this.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I guess the epiphany I came to in terms of, will this stop all shootings, no. But if they can help, if they can stop even one shooting from happening and not infringe on the Second Amendment rights, we ought to do it.

If there's things in this bill that was passed out of the House that can be tweaked and adjusted for more support, great. But I think, if it came back to me, even in its current form, though there are things I don't like, I would probably vote for it.


BOLDUAN: He supports the Second Amendment. He says you can support both.

REED: So I believe -- Adam is a good friend, and I know Adam, and his heart is good. And the initial response, where he says we can improve upon in legislation to respect the Second Amendment rights of law- abiding citizens, if we can approve upon that, I think you get many Republicans, Republicans like myself, that are willing to have that conversation.


BOLDUAN: Yes, you're talking about family transfers


BOLDUAN: He's talking about the farmhands and ranchers, kind of those elements of that bill. He says that


BOLDUAN: -- through an amendment process. And if that happened, could you be on board with H.R.-8 then?

REED: So if we improve that bill to respect the law-abiding citizen, that's a conversation that rightly we could have.

But I will just tell you, what I saw in that bill is just overly board. And this is the heart of the issue. How are we going to respect law-abiding citizens' right, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, versus trying to do something about this problem?

BOLDUAN: I'm really curious. The president says that he is convinced that Mitch McConnell wants to do a background check bill. The president said a lot of Republicans do. Is that your understanding of where things are right now? Because what the president is projecting is optimism and, I think, probably the smartest place to be is it's skeptical that anything would happen.

REED: Obviously, the skepticism, given the history of what we've dealt with on this issue, is legitimate. But that doesn't mean that Republicans don't want to do nothing on this issue. We care about these individuals.

When we get attacked because we're Republicans that somehow we want people to be killed in our streets, that's just so patently offensive to a person like me.


BOLDUAN: I'm definitely not saying that. I'm just trying find where that - where that --


REED: I know you're not, Kate. Kate, I know you're not. But many people do. And many people lump that together. That's not productive.

If we can respect the position we come from, respecting freedom, as represented by the Second Amendment, but wanting to do something on this issue, that is a conversation that will lead to common ground. And that's what Adam Kinzinger was referring to, is let's work together to improve the proposals in there to find that common ground.

BOLDUAN: I'm curious to see where you land when you guys get back and the discussions begin. We'll check back in.

Congressman, thank for you coming in.

REED: It's good to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

Coming up, new details about one of the critical questions surrounding Jeffrey Epstein's death: Where were the guards who were tasked with watching him? And what does his death say about the federal prison system right now? That's next.


[11:42:57] BOLDUAN: New developments in the death of Jeffrey Epstein. The "New York Times" is reporting that two staff members guarding Epstein failed to check on him for about three hours on the night that he died by suicide. We know that the guards are required to check on him every 30 minutes. So what were they doing? That's one of many things that the Justice Department is investigating.

The Justice Department has also reassigned the warden at the corrections center for the time being, and two guards -- we're not sure if it's those two guards, though -- have been put on administrative leave.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has been following all of the developments. She's outside the correction center right now.

Brynn, what more are you learning there?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, well, there's investigative teams that were here yesterday and there's more arrived today to help answer some of those questions.

But you laid out the big one: What were the guards doing during that time? Possibly, hopefully, cameras will help answer some of those questions. And another one: How long was Epstein possibly dead inside his cell before he was actually found. Hopefully, an autopsy will give more insight into that. But these are all questions that need to be answer. The investigation still continues. This, as we are learning about the horrible conditions inside this

prison that have been plaguing this prison for a long time.


GINGRAS (voice-over): The Metropolitan Correctional Center, a high- rise hell, as it's been described. A building that is now getting a closer look in the wake of the apparent suicide of sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.

GINGRAS: Attorney General Barr said he was angered by the lapse in protocol with monitoring Epstein, who wasn't check on for hours after coming off suicide watch, according to one source briefed on the matter.

That, at a facility the Justice Department once considered to be one of the best-run in the Bureau of Prisons system, partly because of the high-profile inmates it's housed, like suspect terrorist, to financier, Bernie Madoff. Former Trump aide, Paul Manafort, also spent a few days there in June.

[11:45:02] While the DOJ considered it well run, some of the most high-profile inmates do not, including the leader of the Mexican drug cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who spent years at MCC and complained about the lack of light and having to use toilet paper as ear plugs to drown out surrounding noise. A court denied Guzman's request to investigate his claims.

Civil rights attorney, Andrew Lougher (ph), says he's represented people who have been locked up in MCC and is currently suing the Bureau of Prisons after one client was allegedly beaten to death.

ANDREW LOUGHER (ph), CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I have heard numerous complaints regarding roaches, rats, feces in the showers. Also, the heating and cooling. In the winter, it's freezing. You know, they get sick.

I would refer to it as unacceptable conditions.

GINGRAS: Overcrowding is an issue, too. The MCC opened in 1975 and planned to house 474 inmates. It currently holds 763. That means cells originally designed to hold one inmate often have two, a problem that puts serious strain on those who work there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot have someone work two, three, four days in a row, 16 hours each day, and think that you're going to have somebody who is going to be at their -- operating at full capacity.


GINGRAS: Yes, a lot of problems allegedly inside these walls. But let's turn to the accusers. It's a big day for them, Kate. That's because one of them, Jennifer Araoz, has filed a civil lawsuit today naming as defendant the estate of Jeff Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, who is the alleged madam for Jeff Epstein, and then three Jane Does, described in the suit as the recruiter, the secretary, and the maid. And she says they're all complicit to the sexual abuse that she endured when she was just 14 and 15 years old here in New York City.

So this is the first law filed, and it likely will not be the last -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Brynn, thank you for the update. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now is Robert Gangi. He's the former executive director of the Correctional Association of New York for nearly 30 years.

Bob, thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

What is your reaction when we see "New York Times" reporting -- we know there's a requirement that they do checks on an inmate like Jeffrey Epstein every 30 minutes. And "New York Times" reporting, according to sources, that they had not checked on him in three hours.

GANGI: Right. A couple points that I think are important. A couple truths there to understand.

One is, everything that's being reported, as a person who's worked on prison issues for over three decades, I have to be skeptical. All of this is being reported by the Department of Justice to the press. There's no independent investigation.

And for all we know, it might be true that the officers were asleep for three hours and left Epstein alone in the cell, but we don't know for sure. The investigations are being done by the agency that runs that institution.

What we need to find -- how to put this -- for the public to -- for the findings to be more credible for the public, is outside independent investigators that have no vested interest in what the findings are and what they're going to report.

Having said that, what was reported is he was taken off suicide watch, which makes no sense, given his profile that he tried to kill himself --


GANGI: -- a couple of weeks ago, that he was clearly seriously depressed, probably abandoned by most of the people in his life, charged with the kind of crimes that brought a heap of shame on him. He is a textbook case of a suicidal incarcerated person.

To take him off suicide watch, it doesn't make any sense. And to check his cell every 30 minutes doesn't really make sense because that gives him plenty of time to kill himself, even if they were checking him every 30 minutes like they were supposed to.

So outside investigation is critical, independent investigation is critical. What we know, though, is already damning.

You know, the conspiracy theories that are coming out of it -- I'm usually pretty dismissive of conspiracy theories.

But they are providing so much raw material for credible conspiracy theories. Because it makes a lot of sense that the wealthy people and the powerful people that we know Epstein was connected with, and maybe even used, quote/unquote, "his services," would like to see him dead so he couldn't expose them and report on them. And then he winds up dead in enormously suspicious circumstances.

BOLDUAN: One thing we do know is there's an investigation. And until then, they are just that, just conspiracy theories without any foundation at this moment.

GANGI: Right.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Bob. Really appreciate you coming in.

GANGI: Thank you.

[11:49:39] Coming up. It's an assault case in Sweden involving an American rapper. It then became something of an international incident when everyone from Kim Kardashian to President Trump got involved. Now A$AP Rocky was just found guilty. What happens now? That's next.


BOLDUAN: New, this morning, Rapper A$AP Rocky found guilty of assault by a Swedish court but he will not be facing jail time.

CNN's Hadas Gold has the details on this.

Hadas, what's the backstory here? What are you hearing about the court's decision?

HADAS GOLD, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Kate, this all stemmed from a fight June 30th in Stockholm. A$AP Rocky and two co-defendants were found guilty today of assault in a court in Sweden but they will not be facing any more jail time. So they're essentially free.

A$AP Rocky already spent a few weeks in jail awaiting the trial. He was allowed to go home earlier this month. He will have to pay some damages to the victim as well as legal expenses.

We are all talking about this case because of President Trump's involvement. He tweeted several times after being asked by Kanye West to get involved. He tried to pressure the Sweden prime minister to release A$AP Rocky.

But Swedish officials did not seem to be deterred by President Trump's tweets and said that their investigation and their judicial system is completely independent from politics.

The judge also told reporters today he did not let the president's tweets affect his judgment.

A$AP Rocky's attorneys said they're disappointed in the verdict but there's no word on whether they will appeal.

And, so far, we've not heard from President Trump.

[11:55:04] BOLDUAN: We'll wait and see if that is coming.

Hadas, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Coming up, warning signs flashing. The Dow tumbling. Look where it is at this moment. Is the U.S. economy facing a recession? What is setting off fears today? More on our breaking news, straight ahead.