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Trump Grows More Erratic Amid Economic Warnings; Police in California Embark on Massive Manhunt for a Gunman Who Shot a California Deputy; Police Thwart Possible Mass Shooting Targeting California Hotel; Trump Slams Danish Prime Minister's Comments as "Nasty" in Greenland Feud. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 22, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: This will always be your home.

BERMAN: All right. Time now for "NEWSROOM" with Jim Sciutto.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy Harlow is off today.

He prides himself on being a counter puncher but over the last 24 erratic hours President Trump is fighting more like he's on the ropes. In just one day, the president called himself the "Chosen One" to take on China on trade. He praised a conspiracy theorist who dubbed him the "King of Israel," called the prime minister of Denmark's comment nasty after she said that Greenland, an autonomous part of her country, was not for sale. He flip-flopped on new tax cuts and went after one of his favorite obsessions, President Obama, blaming his predecessor 20 times for all his current problems. All that blame coming in the span of 30 minutes.

"The New York Times" reported this morning, quote, "Some former Trump administration officials in recent days said they were increasingly worried about the president's behavior suggesting it stems from rising pressure on Mr. Trump as the economy seems more worrisome and next year's election approaches."

This all comes as the president zigs and zags on gun control saying one thing one moment, another the next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important. People don't realize, we have very strong background checks right now. And I have to tell you that 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. I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, it's understandable you might have trouble keeping up.

Joining me now, CNN's Joe Johns. He is at the White House. Joe, the administration says it's working on options. Are there any

serious options on the table because the president, you'll remember, after Parkland he went there and backed off under pressure from the NRA, concerns about his re-election. Is it different this time or no?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You know, we're in a position where we're forced to try to decipher the meaning of the president's words when they're confusing and sometimes contradictory as I think that little lash up there really shows. The president has said and reiterated now that he's interested in meaningful background checks. That comes just 24 hours after sources said he told the top man at the NRA that he was not interested and therefore would not put universal background checks on the table.

Important also to say there that the emphasis is on that word, universal, and what that means. So, CNN's Jim Acosta has reported that the president has been presented with some options. What those options are, the sources would not say what those options are. Also, the sources in the gun lobby would not say.

We are essentially waiting for the White House to give us more information. We also know that the United States Congress is still out of session. They're in their long August recess. And when they get back, perhaps there will be someone who can describe to us what those other options are for meaningful, as the president has put it, gun control or background checks. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you might say if there were serious options they'd be public now. There'd be discussions of it.

Joe Johns, at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now, Rachel Bade, she is congressional reporter for the "Washington Post" and Astead Herndon, he's national political reporter for the "New York Times."

Rachel, Astead, good to have you on this morning.

Rachel, you've covered this White House for some time. Is there a serious effort by this president to pass gun control measures?

RACHEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that what you saw yesterday with the president coming out and saying he is still open to background checks after this reporting that he had told the NRA he was not, this is perhaps the president trying to push off any suggestion that he is in any way beholden to the NRA. I mean, Trump came out and said after the shooting that he was interested in background checks, which is obviously against Republican orthodoxy. This is not something they support. And the NRA had been lobbying him privately for the past few weeks.

Now, he clearly has retreated to the Republican position since then, not only talking about mental health saying it's a mental health problem.

SCIUTTO: Yes. BADE: But saying we have background checks now. And so it's

understandable that people are very confused right now, but it sounds like he was self-conscious about that story or these reports that the NRA --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: He called the NRA and said, OK, no more background checks.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: He's now suggesting we are going to do something but no one really knows right now.

SCIUTTO: That's smart. No question on that. Let's play the blame on a little bit here because there's not a lot of appetite among Republican lawmakers to move forward, and there's been a lot of talk from our hill reporters that Republican lawmakers could get behind something if the president led the way, right? In effect, gave them cover.

[09:05:04] But do you see any serious effort on the hill to present something?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's really unlikely. I mean, what we know is always true. It's going to take a coordinated, united front from the White House and from Republican leaders to make any type of gun legislation happen particularly around background checks. And we know it's so contentious around the Republican base. And so if we're operating from that premise, we have not seen that level of organization from the White House, we have not seen that level of organization from the hill to really say that there's that type of appetite.

I mean, if the president used that kind of bully pulpit, if the president marshalled the resources to give Republicans cover among the base, then sure, that seems like something that might be able to happen because there's such energy around the issue particularly as we lead into an election. We have not seen that. And so until that becomes clear from my perspective and from all the things that I hear from the hill, we shouldn't hold our breath for it.

SCIUTTO: Listen --

BADE: Yes, it's --

SCIUTTO: Go ahead.

BADE: He's talking a lot about being the chosen one on China or speaking of himself in this sort of messiah like terms on various things.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: Whether it's the economy or Israel. But when it comes to guns Republicans universally say that he actually is the one who can do this.

SCIUTTO: Right.

BADE: If he is the one that leads the way he can really make a difference.

SCIUTTO: Unless he makes a calculation, and that seems to be -- seems to have been Wayne LaPierre's message.

BADE: Right.

SCIUTTO: Is that the NRA helped get you elected. And if you --

HERNDON: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: If you, quote-unquote, "abandon" them now, you're going to pay a price in 2020 which the president loathed to do.

BADE: Right.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned chosen one on China trade, king of Israel as -- retweeting that comment there. You know, beyond the surprise and interesting nature of those comments from a sitting U.S. president, there is some messaging, is there not, to evangelical voters?

HERNDON: Oh, yes, I think that this is a president who has thought that his message particularly on Israel is one that he can kind of drive a wedge between Democrats and Jewish voters. So he is making the argument that some would call anti-Semitic that if they would vote for Democrats, it is a disloyal thing to do. We know that has roots in really kind of dangerous throes but this is president who has gone to those lengths repeatedly for those electoral purposes. He has not shied away even from criticism, even when it's come from even some members of his own party.

I mean this is -- I think yesterday is kind of an encapsulation of what we've seen from a long time from the president particularly as he approaches election -- re-election day. He is someone who will go to all the lengths, who will go all the way there, if he thinks it's in the name of getting votes and that's the only kind of electoral method he knows.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HERNDON: It's not going to be to grow out the base, it's not going to be the come to the middle, it's going to be the double and triple down. We should expect that for the next year.

SCIUTTO: And the divide and conquer. And Rachel, I know you made the point that, you know, Israel -- there is concern about this among folks in Israel but also American Jewish leaders that this has always been a bipartisan issue from Israel's perspective for their interest. Because they don't want it to sort of swing on a pendulum from Republican to the Democrat. The president, though, is making this very much a partisan issue. BADE: That's right. And I mean, Israel is the number one recipient

of U.S. foreign aid. That is has traditionally been a bipartisan position on the hill both Republicans and the Democrats, but there's really concern amongst lawmakers and Jewish voters that by making this a partisan issue you're actually undermining Israel in the long run. You know, if you say, if you're a Jewish voter you have to vote Republican, you know, obviously he's trying to peel off some Jewish voters who typically vote Democrat to support him.

But, you know, if you really want to support Israel in the long run, a lot of lawmakers are arguing by trying to make this a Republican position that's going to erode for instance perhaps that vote to give Israel in future years. I mean, if you make this a partisan issue, it's going to upend that bipartisan support that typically helps Israel, you know, in the past.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Another topic. There's been a lot of talk about the possibility of Nikki Haley replacing Mike Pence on the ticket for 2020. The former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley attempting to dismiss that in a very strongly worded tweet. We'll quote it for your, "Enough of these false rumors," she says. "Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years, he has a loyal and trustworthy VP to the president. He has my complete support."

Does this effectively put that talk to rest, Astead?

HERNDON: I think that talk was always unlikely. It was a really dramatic shift for the president and Vice President Pence has held down that kind of evangelical constituency for the president. And so I think it was always kind of a low chance of happening. This probably puts that down to zero. But when we talk about Nikki Haley and Vice President Pence it's not really in 2020 we should be talking about, but 2024 when those two might be in a Republican primary and Iowa with each other, so, you know, while that tweet certainly will go down and put down the vice presidential rumors what won't stop is the Haley 2024 rumors because, you know, she escorted that, and she has kind of view that as probably likely point where her and Pence might be on a collision course.

SCIUTTO: Right. And the president does not particularly love when other people attempt to share the spotlight with him but (INAUDIBLE).

BADE: Well, not only that but he surrounds himself with yes men, right, people who say -- who take his ideas and sort of run with them and don't push back. And Nikki Haley has shown that she is willing to sort of stand up to the president when she feels like it really is necessary.

[09:10:02] For instance just tweeting a couple of weeks ago when he was attacking Elijah Cummings, the Democrat from Maryland, saying this is, quote, "so unnecessary," when Trump seemed to be making fun of the fact that someone broke into his home.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: So, you know, the idea of him replacing Mike Pence who's very much been a loyal foot soldier for Trump with Nikki Haley seems absurd.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Unless he calculates that it helps him win, right? Is it not? If he says he has a problem with women. I'm just thinking if his focus is on winning purely --

BADE: You know, if he has a problem with women, he can also perhaps background checks because guess what, a lot of suburban women.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: Republicans support those.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Rachael, Astead, always good to have you on. Thanks very much.

Still to come this hour in the week since two mass shootings dozens of arrests have been made. The suspects all accused of making new threats of gun violence. What's behind the apparent uptick in such threats? All this as police in California say they stopped a planned attack on a hotel.

Plus President Trump says that ISIS prisoners captured by the U.S. will not go to Guantanamo Bay saying he may have no choice but to release them inside European countries. Does he mean that?

And massive fires raging inside the Amazon rain forest, you can see it there, you can see it from space. Burning at a record rate. This is an important story, we're not going to lose sight of it, it has enormous consequences for the planet. We're going to be live in Brazil coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: This morning, a massive manhunt is under way in California for a possible sniper who shot a sheriff's deputy. Officials say the shooter fired somewhere from a four-storey building across the street from the sheriff station. They say the officer's bulletproof vest saved his life. Authorities searched the building, but did not find the gunman.

A disturbing new detail this morning of yet another potential mass shooting foiled by police. Officials in California arrested a man they say was planning to attack employees and guests at a Marriott hotel where he worked. Look at the arsenal that he was able to collect.

Police say they found multiple high-powered weapons, tactical gear, high capacity magazines, all the normal ingredients for mass shootings in this country. Let's go to CNN's Nick Watt, he's been following developments. Nick, just how close do they think this came to an attack here?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, they don't know the exact timing of the planned attack, but the police chief from Long Beach said that had this not been reported, he is sure that lives would have been lost. Now, the alleged -- the suspect is a 37-year-old, he was a cook at that Marriott near the airport down there in Long Beach, and apparently, he was upset with what the chief described as work place activity with something to do with human resources.

He then allegedly told a fellow employee of his plan to shoot at his fellow employees and as the chief described, anybody else who he saw coming into that hotel. Let's take a listen to a little bit more of what the chief had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: Now, so that -- his plan was reported to police, Monday evening, he was arrested within 24 hours, and that cache of weapons found in his home, Jim. As you mentioned including high-powered rifles, assault rifles, high capacity magazines that are illegal here in California and tactical gear.

And the chief just kept on saying, if this had not been reported, we would have lost lives, and he says, I believe it is our obligation that if we see something, we say something in these times in our country, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And the consistent fact is that folks making plans like this can compile an arsenal like that. It's just amazing to see repeatedly. Nick Watt, thanks so much. That arrest in California comes as police and FBI agents are making a big push to thwart potential attacks. In less than three weeks, more than two dozen people have been arrested for making threats to commit mass shootings. CNN's Rosa Flores following all of this.

Rosa, how extensive are these threats, and I suppose how serious is the extent of these threats?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, law enforcement is definitely taking these very seriously. As for the extent of the threats, they vary, Jim, but there are some similarities. Most of them have been made by males who make these threats online on social media or via text message.

Some of the similarities are also in the targets that these individuals post about. Those include places of worship. After El Paso, Wal-Mart was also targeted. There's also been schools that have been targeted and also groups of people. We've seen various suspects target Hispanics, ask for a genocide of Latinos, for Mexicans.

Now, if you're wondering why so many suspects, why so many foiled plots? Why now? Well, CNN learned from law enforcement sources after the El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, shootings that FBI Director Christopher Wray asked for all of his FBI offices around the country to conduct a threat assessment to prevent mass shootings.

Now, CNN has asked the FBI about an update of this threat assessment, and we haven't heard from the FBI yet. However, Jim, it is clear that law enforcement, both federally and locally and in the different states around the country are taking these threats very seriously. Jim?

[09:20:00] SCIUTTO: Well, it appears they should. Rosa Flores, thanks very much. Let's discuss all this with James Gagliano; he's a retired FBI supervisory special agent and CNN law enforcement analyst. James, always good to have you on.

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Good to be here with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, let -- James, actually talk again because I think we're having trouble hearing you.

GAGLIANO: Yes, you got me, Jim, can you hear me?

SCIUTTO: There you are --

GAGLIANO: All right --

SCIUTTO: So, you look at this, I mean, this is remarkable number, a couple of dozen just over the course of the last week or so. In your view, are we seeing an increase in the number of threats here or is it an increased awareness of such threats and a willingness to act?

GAGLIANO: Jim, I think that's a fair point. I mean, we're certainly much more aware of things like hate crimes and the FBI director testified in April before a house committee and suggested that, yes, there appears to be an uptick, but it could also mean that we have better reporting and better threat analysis.

Look, we've got to handle this the way the military did back during the searched strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not suggesting we call in the national guard, what I'm saying is, we need to flood resources to where our emerging threats are.

Now, I think the data sets are still incomplete because internationally speaking, you know, the vast majority of terrorism and killing is perpetrated by four groups like ISIS and Taliban, Al- Shabaab and I think Boko Haram. But at home, the FBI director has noted that white supremacy is a persistent, pervasive threat. We need to take it seriously and I think that's what he's doing.

SCIUTTO: And it can't be handled politically, and the president of course --

GAGLIANO: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Has tried to down-play the size and scope of the threat. I wonder from a law enforcement perspective, is there a danger of overreaction, right? For some of this, we had a case of 15-year-old --

GAGLIANO: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Boy, he was arrested Friday after making threats on a video game platform, and when police came to his house, his mother was pleading with them saying, well, this wasn't serious. Listen, I know that this is a difficult and tough call, and you want to act with an abundance of caution here.

But I imagine when you're trying to do prediction for these kinds of things, how serious they are, that presents challenges for law enforcement.

GAGLIANO: Just a couple of days ago, you and I and Jermaine Williams(ph) of the public advocate for the city of New York had a sober conversation about this. We do ask cops to do too much. There's only about 1.2 million of them in a country of 335 million people. When they show up or when they do these investigations, they have to sort through so many things.

They have to sort through First Amendment protections and Fourth Amendment protections, Second Amendment protections. They've got to be a social worker, they've got to be a counselor, they've got to be a mental health specialist. Jim, it's a tough spot because we allow people to think hateful things in this country, that's protected and we can't be thought police.

But when does it -- when does it metastasize into something dangerous? That right there is a tough spot that law enforcement is in --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

GAGLIANO: Is knowing when to interdict pre-incident or pre-attack.

SCIUTTO: And a lot of these shootings, I mean, we saw that -- you know, there's shootings that were actually carried out, there were often warnings in advance that were not heeded. I mean, you look at the Parkland shooter, and I know the FBI looked into that.

I wonder having been a former FBI special agent yourself, is the FBI learning from these? Are they learning how to discern what's real, what they have to act on?

GAGLIANO: They are absolutely studying this, and I think Director Wray has made this a principle focus for two programs. Obviously on the terrorism side, we have joint terrorism task forces across 56 field divisions in the country domestically as well as folks that are prepositioned in embassies across the globe.

The second piece is the civil rights division. They have to look at hate crimes and bias incidents. It is a tough needle to thread, Jim, you and I talk about it all the time, where do you make that effort to step in and interdict somebody?

When is it hyperbole, satire, somebody blowing off steam, and when is it an indication that they're actually going to act?

SCIUTTO: Right, and the comparison you make to responding to terrorism, reining terror taxes is really remarkable because that is the way law enforcement looks at it increasingly. James Gagliano, great to have you on.

GAGLIANO: Thanks, Jim, thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead at this hour, President Trump once again using the word nasty to describe a female politician. This time, it's the Danish Prime Minister. But will she engage in a war of words with him? She doesn't want to.

And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, stocks are searching for direction this morning, investors worrying over the potential for an upcoming recession. There was new insight from the Federal Reserve, minutes released from the July meetings show no one suggested there were signs of a recession when they were debating the interest rate cut.

Investors will be watching for any clues on rate cuts and the health of the nation's economy when Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks tomorrow.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is working to smooth over the United States relationship with NATO ally Denmark just hours after President Trump pinned the blame for his canceled state visit to Denmark on the country's Prime Minister. This after she shot down Trump's idea of buying Greenland; a sovereign part of a sovereign country, of selling that to the U.S.

On Wednesday, Trump reverted to his.

[09:30:00]