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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Police: Hotel Cook Stockpiled Guns, Was Planning Mass Shooting; Republicans Walsh, Sanford Considering Primary Against Trump, Former GOP Governor Weld Has Already Declared; Overstock CEO Resigns After Revealing Affair With Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina; World's Largest Rainforest Engulfed By Massive Wildfires; New Look At The Icon Who Changed The Fashion Game. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 22, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: As CNN's Nick Watt reports, it is just one of a series of plots thwarted by law enforcement since the massacres in El Paso and Dayton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): High-powered rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, 38 illegal high-capacity magazines, and tactical gear, all found at Rodolfo Montoya's home.

CHIEF ROBERT LUNA, LONG BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT: Suspect Montoya had clear plans, intent and the means to carry out an act of violence that may have resulted in a mass character incident.

WATT: The 37-year-old was a cook at this Marriott Hotel near the airport in Long Beach, California.

LUNA: He was upset about workplace activity, having to do with HR.

WATT: And allegedly confided in a colleague his plan.

LUNA: He was going to shoot up employees and people coming into the hotel. So, he had a plan of shooting everybody that he saw in the hotel.

WATT: That colleague reported Montoya's alleged threat to hotel management Monday night. Police were called, and he was arrested at his home in nearby Huntington Beach within 24 hours.

LUNA: Because this was reported, I firmly believe many lives were saved.

WATT: More than two dozen people are being arrested across the country for alleging plotting or threatening mass casualty attacks since that spate of shootings in early August that killed 34, at a Garlic Festival in California, in Dayton, Ohio, and in El Paso, Texas.

Security sources tell CNN that FBI Director Chris Wray has ordered field offices to conduct new threat assessments to stifle future attacks. This alleged Long Beach plotter currently held on a half million dollar bond had no previous criminal history that would have raised a flag on a background check.

MAYOR ROBERT GARCIA (D), LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA: We are certainly living in dangerous times I think in our country and our community. Incidents where folks that should not have access to weapons and to certainly illegal weapons are facing our departments and our police departments across the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, the Long Beach Police Department will be filing their case with the D.A. any minute now. Meanwhile, we know that Montoya is being held on a half-million-dollar bond on charges of manufacturing and distributing assault weapons, possessing an assault weapon, and making a criminal threat -- Erica.

HILL: You see something say something, takes on new meaning, doesn't it?

Nick, thank you.

WATT: Yes.

HILL: Joining me now, James Gagliano, former FBI supervisory agent, CNN law enforcement analyst. So, when we look at this, what do you make of this plan specifically? This sophistication, the plan to shoot up not only employees of the hotel, but people as they were walking into that arsenal that we saw?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I've got to tell you, Erica, this is what law enforcement across the country, the state, law and federal level do every single day and twice on Sunday. This was a disruption of a plot before it resulted in Gilroy, California, or El Paso, Texas, or, Dayton, Ohio.

Now, in this instance we have an individual who appears to have been a disgruntled employee. He also had access to a veritable cache of weaponry. When you ask me about the specificity or how supremely his plan -- how well his plans were, let me read this to you. This is chilling from the police chief.

Mr. Montoya had clear plans, intent and the means to carry out an act of violence that may have resulted in a mass casualty incident. He had three things: intent, plans and the means. The fact that law enforcement interdicted when they did is an absolute, I mean, just hats off and kudos to law enforcement officers what they did.

HILL: When you look at this, as Nick pointed out, more than two dozen since the shootings in the summer. More than two dozens arrest by local and federal law enforcement. Do you see this as a surge in plots? Are you more concerned about copycats? Is it people like this co-worker hearing something, and saying, I have to tell someone about this?

GAGLIANO: You know, I think the FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke to Congress, spoke in front of the House Committee back in April, he was very careful, and he was talking about hate crimes, and bias crimes, and the uptick or what appears to be a proliferation of these things, and he said, we're not certainly if there is an uptick or if it's just better reporting.

Erica to your point, could this be better reporting? Look, we just had three successful shootings, from the bad guys' perspective shootings. So, of course, we're going to need much more acutely aware of a plot like this that was disrupted prior to something bad happening.

HILL: I know we don't always hear about all the arrests that are made, for obvious reasons. But when we're looking at the spate of them, and you talk about, this is what law enforcement does every day and twice on Sunday, does this add at all? Are you concerned that they may need more resources to deal with what you want, which is people reporting things?

GAGLIANO: Yes, we have a country of 335 million people.

[16:35:01] There are approximately 1.2 million police officers. It is an infinitesimal personnel resource.

Look, they're working really hard. It's tough being a cop today, or be in law enforcement. You got to be a social worker, a therapist, you've got to have mental health understandings of how people are built and how they're going to react, and you have to be a definer of intent. And that's the hardest part, Erica.

It's looking at something, reading something on the Internet, hearing something, say something, and determining whether or not they're spouting off or whether they're actually going to commit a heinous act. That's the tough part.

HILL: James Gagliano, always appreciate the insight, my friend. Thank you.

GAGLIANO: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: One more Republican apparently wants in on the 2020 race, as another is deflecting V.P. speculation that was seemingly started by that person.

Plus, the CEO of a major company resigning because of his tryst with this accused Russian agent.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:20] HILL: In our politics lead, former Illinois congressman turned conservative radio host, Joe Walsh, might be the second Republican to take on President Trump in the primaries, hinting at a run earlier in today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Are you running against him?

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN FROM ILLINOIS: I'm strongly, strongly considering it. That's -- again, I'm not trying to be cute or coy. I've told you before, if somebody's going to get in and go after him, John, it's got to be done soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Joe Walsh clearly sees an opportunity here. It wouldn't be the first time. He, of course, gained national attention as part of the extreme right wing of the Tea Party, also for his comments on birtherism, repeatedly questioning President Obama's faith, the list really goes and goes on. And then, of course, there was a mea culpa last week in "New York Times."

Sabrina, I'm curious because you've actually covered him as a candidate. What do you make of all this? What's behind this latest move and even, you know, what we saw last week from him?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the keyword is opportunity. A lot of Republicans I've spoken with look at someone like Joe Walsh, and they don't see a politician who can try to claim the more high ground when it comes to President Trump, who he supported very forcefully in 2016, even when Trump was making all of these incendiary comments about immigrants and people of color.

You point to some of the comments that Joe Walsh himself has made. He also suggested the reason president Obama was elected was because he was an articulate black man, and there were a lot of feelings of white guilt. He accused him repeatedly of being a secret Muslim.

He once called on Americans to come together and defeat Islam. He was involved in a lengthy dispute over not paying child support to his ex- wife. As you said, the list goes on and on.

And now, he has penned this op-ed apologizing for some of that past behavior. I don't think it's a coincidence to most people who are reading that op-ed saying you picked now to apologize when you're flirting with a possible challenge to the president, which people would see as a publicity stunt.

HILL: It's interesting too, because if we look at where we're at, right, in 2019, leading into 2020, the president has an 88 percent approval rating I believe is the latest number among Republicans. So, yes, we have former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, as we know, officially challenging. There, Mark Sanford is, you know, flirting with a run.

But at this point, is anybody a realistic challenger to President Trump?

JOSHUA HOHNSON, HOST, 1A: Well, at least Bill Weld is out answering questions. He was at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Black Journalists earlier this month in Miami, attended a candidate forum which Mayor Buttigieg, Senator Sanders, Senator Booker also attended. So, at least he's answering questions, as if he's really running.

But here's the image I keep in my mind, right? I imagine somebody saying seeing that buzzsaw that's been running since November of 2016, I want you to walk straight for that buzzsaw and keep walking, no matter what happens. That is the cultural equivalent of running against Donald Trump right now.

Why would you put yourself in that position, unless you're ready from the moment you announce to be at the top of his Twitter feed from now and until the primary starts? I just don't know who will want to walk into that, especially if they're not committed to winning. That's why when Mark Sanford was speaking on Sunday, when he said I'm thinking about running, talking to my family and was asked if Trump was the nominee, will you support him? And he said yes.

That didn't square for me. If you're not running to win, why walk toward the buzzsaw? It doesn't make sense.

ALICE STWART, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They will acknowledge -- Mark Sanford acknowledged this would be a daunting task. Weld said this would be a bar fight.

But, look, you have Donald Trump, as you say, virtually 90 percent approval in the Republican Party. This is a guy who can raise three quarters of a million dollars selling plastic straws with his name on it. You're going to go against that? You might as well walk into a buzzsaw, because it's just not going to happen.

For the Republican primary, I'm all about vigorous primaries, but the president has this party locked up. You can disagree with his tone and tactics, but if you're a Republican, his policies have been spot on.

JOHNSON: If I may add, I'm sorry, if I may add also, the people talking about him being unfit, you know, Joe Walsh, Mark Sanford, Bill Weld, they're talking about the character of President Trump and his actions and his words. With those actions and words, he still has an 88 approval ratings.

So if you're going to beat Donald Trump, you need to go after something else. Can you make us more prosperous than Donald Trump? Can you make America more respected in the world?

You've got to hit voters in terms of the benefits they perceive from Donald Trump, because clearly the unfit thing, that's not doing it.

HILL: I want to get to this before we go, because it has a lot of people scratching their heads. So, Nikki Haley shot down what she called rumors, but apparently she's the only one though who's heard this rumor, at least what I can see, rumors of her replacing Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket.

[16:45:00] You see here, she posted a picture of her along with the VP saying, enough of the false rumors. Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He's been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the president. He has my complete support."

The president, of course, said -- I mean, months ago back in June, he said listen, 100 percent he is my running mate. I don't know where Nikki Haley is hearing the rumors. Is she floating them?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think she's floating them herself which is a fun little tactic on Twitter, and just to kind of keep her name I.D. out there. I don't think she would seriously make a play for the vice presidency. Pence is the perfect person for Trump and I don't think anybody would support her replacing him because again, the conservatives and those folks in that 88 percent, they love Mike Pence.

HILL: Well, if nothing else, it got us talking about Nikki Haley.

FINNEY: And that's --

HILL: There we go. Just ahead, we are also talking about what is known as the planet's lungs producing nearly 20 percent of the earth's oxygen. Now though, the Amazon rain forest is burning at a record rate. What's far to many of those fires next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] HILL: A three-year affair with an accused Russian agent and now the CEO of a major American company, he's out of a job. Overstock had Patrick Byrne resigning today after admitting to a relationship with Maria Butina. Yes, that Maria Butina, the woman on your screen who admitted to trying to infiltrate conservative political circles and promote Russian interests before and after the 2016 presidential election.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now with more. So what more do we know about? Three years is a long time.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a very bizarre story essentially because Patrick Byrne the CEO was the one who came forward and shared this information in a variety of interviews and now is stepping down. He admitted to having a three-year relationship. He said in an interview with the New York Times that it started when they met in a political event called Freedom Fest and they sort of hit it off from there.

You know, this whole time, she also had another long-term boyfriend. His name was Paul Erickson. He was a Republican political operative so apparently, these were going on at the same time. And you know, this bubbled over I guess to the point where he ended up stepping down from his post.

You know, he sent us a series of press releases that I think scared some of his investors and cause their stock to tumble. And of course, we know what's happening with Maria Butina. She was sentenced to 18 months for her sentence. She's behind bars in Tallahassee still.

HILL: Wow. It is -- it is fascinating. Not the development that I was expecting but there you go. Never a dull moment. Sara, thank you. In our "WORLD LEAD," the Amazon is burning at a record rate and Brazil's President believes the fires were purposely set to make him look bad. Researchers Meantime, say the raging fires were likely started by

ranchers and loggers who we're hoping to clear the land. The Amazon Rainforest produces nearly 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen. It's often called the planet's lungs. And the World Wildlife Fund warns these fires could cause the Amazon to make carbon instead accelerating climate change.

He's admitted involvement in murders and kidnapping so why didn't you as officials just race to protect El Chapo godson?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] HILL: In our "POLITICS LEAD," the White House today dropping a controversial plan to get rid of up to $4 billion of foreign aid without getting approval from Congress. A source telling CNN, it was the President's decision not to move forward with that plan, the latest in a series of flip flops from the White House.

In our "POP LEAD," he once said you're only as good as the people you dress. And Halston dress some of the best including Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, even designing Jackie Kennedy's iconic pillbox hat. CNN's Kate Bennett looks at the man who epitomized style from his time and changed the game of fashion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BENNETT, CNN REPORTER: It was the free-wheeling party vibe of the 1970s and 80s New York City that defined the fashion of Halston.

NANCY NORTH, MODEL: His clothes hit me like this is it and this is the fashion that I would want to wear.

BENNETT: Halston embodied chic has designed sometimes no more than an expertly cut piece of fabric, no zippers, and buttons. He was a visionary. Sunglasses, slicked-back hair, and parties at nightclubs Studio 54 where his muse.

HALSTON, FASHION DESIGNER: I do everything with every design. They're -- you know, they're my designs. I don't have any other designers.

BENNETT: Despite his in status, Halston wasn't from a cosmopolitan upbringing. He was born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa in 1932. A shy Midwestern boy, he learned to sew from his grandmother, eventually attending design school and becoming a hat maker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you the person who put the pillbox on Jackie Kennedy?

HALSTON: Yes, I was.

BENNETT: A storied start to his career was creating the hat of the era for Jackie Kennedy at her husband's inauguration and quite by accident.

HALSTON: It was rather windy day, and she put her hand on the hat, and it ended up to have a dent in it, and so when -- during all the ceremonies, her dent in the hat. And everybody copied it, put it dent on it which was so funny.

By the 70s, Halston clothes were revolutionizing the fashion scene, dressing rock stars and artists passing around with Andy Warhol and using his friends, models of color, like Alva Chinn and Pat Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He made things as though you didn't really need the structure as much as you needed the woman. He really based most of this collection on most of us girls.

BENNETT: Halston, eventually sold his name to JC Penney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His name is Halston.

BENNETT: Making Halston clothes, Halston perfume, Halston luggage, and Halston bedding, losing control of the Empire he created, which he would later come to regret. And though he tried to buy back the label, his career in later years became making one-off looks for good friends like Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli.

LIZA MINNELLI, ACTRESS: I am wearing a classic Halston.

BENNETT: Halston was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, and died in 1990. But his legacy as the fashion designer of the glitterati generation lives on. Kate Bennett, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Our thanks to Kate for that pace. The all-new CNN film Halston premieres Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on CNN. Thanks for joining us today on THE LEAD. You can follow me on twitter @ERICARHILL and be sure to tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.