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Experts Say Blaming Mental Illness For Mass Shootings Is Inaccurate; A Trail Of Bloody Gold Leads To Venezuela's Government; Pennsylvania Voters Divided On President Trump And The Economy. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:31:48] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, President Trump is backing off his support for expanded background checks following the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, placing the blame, once again, on mental illness.

This is what the president said yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a mental problem. And I've said it a hundred times, it's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the person that pulls the trigger. These are sick people and it is also that kind of a problem.

We're looking at mental institutions, which we used to have. Like, as an example, where I come from in New York, they closed up almost all of their mental institutions -- or many of them -- and those people just went onto the streets.


BERMAN: Joining me now is Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis. She is the president of the American Psychological Association. Doctor, thank you so much for joining us.

Understanding mental illness is your life's work. So when you hear the president say, as he said before directly, mental illness pulls the trigger, what's your assessment of that claim?


Even though there is mental illness all over the world and in the country, mental illness accounts for so little of violence. And people who have mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else.

So it's a simplistic argument and it's inaccurate.

BERMAN: We have some statistics we can put up on the screen here. Twenty-five percent of active shooters are diagnosed with mental

illness. That means that 75 percent are not.

People with serious mental illness are three times more likely to behave violently, but 23 times more likely to be the victims of violence.

But if it is 25 percent of active shooting victims -- look, gun control advocates point to a lot of measures that wouldn't stop all mass shootings but might stop some.

So what role do you see mental illness playing or understanding mental illness in helping stop mass shootings in the future?

DAVIS: I think what we must focus on if we want to stop mass shootings in the future are things that actually contribute to mass shootings. We've got to begin to look at bigotry and hatred. We have got to look at what drives an individual to commit a mass shooting.

And when we begin to look at those individuals we begin to see that there are some needs that they have. That they are responding to some kind of narrative they've heard that tells them that this is a good thing to do to save their people or to save something that they believe in. People need to belong.

There is a lot of fear -- fear driven by division in this country that speaks to those things that helps individuals believe that in order to be who I am, in order to save my race, in order to save my religion, I have to do some of these kinds of things.

And so, no, it's not mental illness but we need to begin to do some research about all of that, whether it is mental illness that we need to do the research on, of whether it is bigotry and hatred. Whether it is the needs, the fears, we need to begin -- it's a complex issue. It's not simple.

[07:35:05] BERMAN: And I do want to note, as you have noted, that rates of mental illness around the world aren't that different than the United States. It's the rates of mass shootings that are wildly different in the United States.

But you hear laypeople, doctor -- and I want you to try to explain this. Laypeople will say if you're going to commit a mass shooting you have to, by definition, be mentally ill. I mean, how could you be mentally sound and commit a mass shooting?

What do you say to that?

DAVIS: Well, that's just not correct. Just because people do bad things does not mean that they are mentally ill. It means someone has made a bad decision.

It means someone has responded to a group when we look at people who are radicalized. I'm glad that we're now beginning to call it terror because we look at and wonder how did these young people become radicalized? And we need to begin to explore that. They have so much access to

things that could help to radicalize. We need to begin to explore that.

That's part of the reason why I call on us to fund research --

BERMAN: Right.

DAVIS: -- to get to what are the real issues so that we can begin to respond to what is going on in this country. It's outrageous the shootings that we have and we have guns in the hands of so many people, and they're even turning those guns on the police.

We must change what is happening in this society.

BERMAN: Doctor, one specific thing the president brought up, and I want your take on this. He talks about mental institutions almost with a sense of nostalgia that New York State used to have many more and shut them down.

What do you see the role of what he calls mental institutions, and would more help stop gun violence?

DAVIS: Absolutely not. Those people in those mental institutions were not people who were committing mass shootings.

And the thing of it is is that we have got to increase access to mental health. We must do that because we did close those asylums and mental institutions because they were not doing the job. But then we didn't solve the problem. We didn't take care of those individuals, so too many end up in prisons.

And so, we do have to increase access and we must begin to say we've got to do everything we can to take care of those individuals. But mental institutions, certainly, is not the answer.

BERMAN: Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis, I certainly hope you're part of this conversation going forward. I appreciate your input this morning.

DAVIS: Thank you. I'll be glad to be a part of it.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


The crisis in Venezuela is entering a new and dangerous front. Up next, an exclusive look at the human cost of that country's gold industry.


[07:41:56] BERMAN: This morning, Venezuela stands at a political crossroads with embattled dictator Nicolas Maduro still in power. Part of the key to his power has been exploiting the country's abundant natural resources -- not only the valuable oil reserves but also a wealth of gold.

CAMEROTA: But, of course, there is a dark and bloody side to the Venezuelan gold trade.

And, CNN's Isa Soares got exclusive access to these illicit mines that are deep in the jungle and the crooked gold route that is keeping Maduro in power. So, a warning to all of you, some of the pictures in this story are graphic.


ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the fringes of the Amazon rainforest, a state-sponsored network of violent gangs and corrupt Venezuelan military hide amongst a vast land rich in minerals and seeping gold.

SOARES (on camera): All this has made this area Maduro's Eldorado, and it's this that's giving him the financial lifeline.

SOARES (voice-over): We've come deep into Venezuela's mining arc to find out how Nicolas Maduro is holding onto power and able to resist American pressure.

He's given himself direct control over this land and he's bleeding it dry, enriching himself and buying the allegiance of the military. And it all starts with the local miners who with mouths to feed at home risk it all operating this lawless region.

SOARES (on camera): Speaking foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking foreign language.

SOARES (voice-over): We venture in 50 meters deep. It is a precarious operation.

SOARES (on camera): Muchas Gracias.

SOARES (voice-over): Inside, the miners guide us through the various levels and galleries, past evidence of a colonial thirst for gold.

DARWIN ROJAS, VENEZUELAN MINER: Speaking foreign language.

SOARES (voice-over): Along the way, I meet Darwin Rojas, who has been mining here for three years now.

ROJAS (translated text): The gold comes out of here from the earth.

SOARES (voice-over): Back-breaking work in intense humidity.

ROJAS (translated text): When you're working a large section of the mine, we could dig as many as 50 or 60 bags.

SOARES (voice-over): Everywhere you look, speckles shimmer from above.

SOARES (on camera): This mine has been so productive for them because they have got 250 kilos of gold out of this mine, just to give you a sense, really, of why it's called the Millionaire Mine.

SOARES (voice-over): If 250 kilos or just over 550 pounds is accurate, that's well over $10 million at global market prices, all from one single-dug hole. There are dozens around us, thousands within Venezuela's mining arc.

But not all that shimmers is gold and these miners know it. These rocks need to be crushed, processed, scraped, and melted before you actually see the gold. This nugget here, $315.

[07:45:00] But it comes at a cost to the health of the miners as well as the environment, with mercury and other chemicals used to separate gold from grit, poisoning everything you see around us.

But this is business and these mills don't do it for free. And then, there's an additional cost even if the miners are scared to admit it.

SOARES (on camera): Do you have to pay anyone else?



LABRADOR: Right? It's like that.

SOARES (on camera): It's like that.

LABRADOR: It's like that.

SOARES (on camera): Is it more or less like that?

CORO: More or less like that.

SOARES (on camera): It's clear from what he's saying there are other forces involved. There are the people they have to pay in order to be continuing to work in these mines -- in these mines. But clearly, they're not prepared to tell us who they are.

SOARES (voice-over): They have every reason to be afraid. These mines are run by a network of hooded militias called pranes who, according to a senior military source, enter mines to extort, steal, and silence. They do so together with complicit members of the military who they bribe to operate freely.

SOARES (on camera): What kind of pressure? They kill people?

SOARES (voice-over): A local miner too scared to speak out about the gangs close to the mines, opens up once his identity is hidden.

UNIDENTIFIED MINER (through translator): They mutilate people, they cut them, torture them. And the ones that speak are also tortured and mutilated. They kill them and throw them down those holes.

SOARES (voice-over): One active senior military source confirms what we've heard in El Callao, telling me these same groups use death squads to command obedience, battling each other and the military for control over this mining area. It's a pressure tactic of blood and bullets.

I asked the miner if he blames Maduro.

UNIDENTIFIED MINER (through translator): I think the government has the capacity to put an end to the pranes if it wants to do it, but they are not going to do it because they benefit from it.

SOARES (voice-over): This is echoed from the top. General Manuel Figuera was the former spy chief for the Venezuelan president until April the 30th when he defected.

GEN. MANUEL FIGUERA, FORMER SPY CHIEF FOR NICOLAS MADURO (through translator): Maduro has knowledge of all of this and has done very little if anything.

SOARES (voice-over): For years, he was part of Maduro's inner circle, with the U.S. Treasury sanctioning him of accusations he oversaw mass torture, mass human rights violations, and mass persecution.

Now, with sanctions dropped, he's speaking out about corruption at the very top, backing the U.S. assessment that Maduro's family are also profiting.

FIGUERA (through translator): There are companies linked to Maduro's family circle that buy the gold or negotiate the extraction of the gold in the south of the country. They sell one part of it to the Central Bank and the other part they take out of the country without any kind of control.

SOARES (voice-over): In Caracas, we find its network expands beyond Venezuela.

In 2018, Maduro traded Venezuelan gold to Turkey, some in exchange for food, which the government then used in their subsidized food boxes. But it didn't stop there.

SOARES (on camera): According to a source at the Venezuelan Central Bank, 26 tons of gold were taken out of the bank to the end of April. They were put into private airplanes and a destination, Middle East and Africa.

SOARES (voice-over): That's $1.6 billion, much of it skirting U.S. sanctions.

According to the source, several other shipments left Caracas this year to United Arab Emirates, directly and also via Uganda on a Russian plane in exchange for euros.

FIGUERA (through translator): Maduro is at the helm of a criminal enterprise. He has hijacked all the state's institutions to work in his service. This has allowed him to corrupt public servants and military officials and all the power structures in order to perpetuate his rule.

SOARES (voice-over): This matches what we hear on the streets of El Calloa, here where gold is a standard currency. Many, like this gold seller, are just a cog in the system, which is

controlled all the way from the top.

GOLD SELLER (through translator): What we hear is that everything is completely controlled by the government. Directly or indirectly, we're all working for them.

SOARES (voice-over): But with a river of gold running deep and the economy shrinking by half in a span of five years, there is little sign Maduro and his men will turn their back on this blood gold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking foreign language.

SOARES (voice-over): Here, human misery goes hand-in-hand with environmental devastation. It's a free-for-all -- a gold rush where the main winner is Maduro.


SOARES: Alisyn and John, CNN contacted both the Venezuelan government and the Central Bank but obtained no response.

[07:50:00] The Venezuelan government has dismissed U.S. sanctions in the past, basically saying they are an unjustified attack on the country, as well as an attempt to get hold of its resources.

Now, we also reached out to the Turkish government but received no response.

An Emirate official did tell CNN, though, they take these matters very seriously and that the UAE government is in compliance with international law. But they wouldn't comment on legal proceedings in another country -- Alisyn, John.

BERMAN: Isa, I have to say what a remarkable report and journey you took to bring this all to light. Thank you so much. Just amazing work there.

CAMEROTA: And we would not know this but for your intrepid reporting of going down into those mines and talking to everyone, and showing us the aftermath of the mines.

Thank you so much, Isa, for that reporting.

BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news.

We are just learning that a U.S. drone has been shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Yemen. A U.S. official believes the missile was supplied to the Houthi rebels by Iran. It was not clear if the drone was being operated by the U.S. military or the Intelligence Community.

This comes after a U.S. drone was shot down off the coast of Iran in June.

CAMEROTA: OK, we'll continue to follow that. Meanwhile, is Pennsylvania the key to winning the White House in 2020? Coming up, we head to Joe Biden's hometown in Pennsylvania to see where voters stand today on the candidates and the issues.


[07:55:28] CAMEROTA: So, Pennsylvania turned red in 2016, helping Donald Trump win the election. But today, Rust Belt voters are sharply divided on some key issues.

CNN's Martin Savidge traveled to Scranton, Pennsylvania to hear from voters in that battleground state. Martin, tell us what you've learned.


Yes, when you want to have a conversation with people about the economy you come to a good hardworking town like Scranton here.

It's pretty clear that there is a divide in the perception among voters as to how well they perceive this Trump economy is doing.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Scranton, Pennsylvania, home to the sitcom "THE OFFICE", the birthplace of Joe Biden, and a state where white working- class voters helped propel Donald Trump to victory. And if he hopes to win again, Trump's chances may hinge on those same voters and the economy.

So I'm here asking people how is the economy, and I'm getting two very different answers.

COLLEEN DEAN, BARTENDER: Yes, I think things are definitely good. There's more jobs in the area. The stock market's really high.

PAUL WALKER, ATTORNEY: I think we're on the verge of a recession.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): I quickly pick up on a theme.

SAVIDGE (on camera): How are you feeling about the economy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm feeling optimistic.

SAVIDGE (on camera): So if I ask you how is the economy, you say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have some concerns.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): How people view the economy here is directly related to how they see the president.

Jessica Statsman owns Diskin's Saloon and she's a huge Trump fan.

SAVIDGE (on camera): And did you like the fact that he was a businessman and --


SAVIDGE (on camera): Yes?

STATSMAN: Yes. That was one of the biggest things. I feel the country has become like a business.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Criminal defense attorney Paul Walker is definitely not for Trump and he sees trouble ahead.

WALKER: And if this economy turns like I think it's going to, then it's going to turn on him.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Scranton is a factory town. Nationally, manufacturing jobs numbers are the highest they've been in a decade, according to the Department of Labor.

But there are signs hiring and production are slowing. Bad news for manufacturing workers, a key part of the president's base.

People like Trump voter Douglas Waltrup (ph), an electrician. Economic forecasts suggest dark clouds but he sees only sunshine where he works.

DOUGLAS WALTRUP, ELECTRICIAN: We've got more work than we know what to do with right now.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Really?


SAVIDGE (voice-over): I ask another key question. Would voters stick with the president if the economy turns negative?

Union rep Joe Laboranti, a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton, doesn't think so.

JOE LABORANTI, PRESIDENT, UNITED AUTO WORKERS LOCAL 1193: We're on a high right now and if we go belly-up I think it's going to be a big difference.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): While Trump voters say even if the economy turns bad they would still back the president.

WALTRUP: Right now, yes.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Would you vote differently?

DEAN: Not necessarily because I think the economy is always up and down.


SAVIDGE: Another question that I asked the Trump voters was were there any Democrats that they might consider? I was actually giving a nod, I thought, to Joe Biden because, after all, he is from this area. No, not even Joe Biden because some say he's become too progressive -- gone too far to the left, which says a lot about a Democrat that many people consider is walking right down the middle -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Martin, it is so valuable to hear from those voters. Thank you very much for bringing us the feeling from Scranton.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, the president basically abandoning his own calls for universal background checks. Why?

NEW DAY continues right now.


TRUMP: We have very strong background checks right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump assuring Wayne LaPierre this is not something the group needs to worry about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what he does whenever a shooting happens. I can't say that I'm surprised.

TRUMP: We're a big ally of Denmark. We help Denmark.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": President Trump postponing his trip to Denmark after the prime minister refused to discuss the sale of Greenland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He felt dissed by the Denmark government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a ridiculous headline. This pet project is going to materially impact our security going forward.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Eight years of Donald Trump will forever and fundamentally change the nature of who this country is. We must beat Donald Trump, period.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, August 20-firth (sic). It's 8:00 -- 21st, I should say. There's so much going on I can't get it out of my mouth all at once.

CAMEROTA: Right. It demands more than one date.

BERMAN: It is 8:00 in the East.

And the big question this morning, why is the president saying Denmark.