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Concern over Trump's Behavior; Ivanka and Kushner Missing in Action; Possible Trump Challengers; Dozens of Arrests over Mass Shooting Threats; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) is Interviewed about Ending Birthright Citizenship. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 22, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, as the president grows more erratic, former White House officials are reportedly growing more concerned about his behavior.

Meantime, the deficit's growing faster than expected. The bond market just inverted again and manufacturing is weak, which means the president may not be able to dismiss the economic red flags for much longer.

Plus, more arrests for mass shooting threats, including a hotel cook plotting to gun down this co-workers and guests.

And the Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, careening toward a wide-reaching environmental disaster.

And we begin with the president and what appears to be a tailspin. At this hour, "The New York Times" reports that those who know President Trump are growing increasingly concerned by his erratic and bizarre behavior. The paper writes, quote, some former Trump administration officials in recent days said they were increasingly worried about the president's behavior, suggesting that it stems from rising pressure on Mr. Trump as the economy seems more worrisome and next year's election approaches.

So, here's the behavior that is so alarming. In just one single day, President Trump doubled down on accusations that Jews are disloyal or ignorant if they vote for Democrats. He's shared clips of a conspiracy theorist who calls the president the king of Israel and the second coming of Christ. He's told reporters that he was the chosen one to take on China on trade and he's attacked the prime minister of Denmark because she called his idea to buy Greenland absurd. He's taken an indiscernible stance on background checks for guns, while bragging that mass shooting victims love him. He's threatened to send ISIS fighters to U.S. allies in Europe. And he's blamed Obama, the former president, no less than 20 times for virtually all of the problems he is facing. Our first guest, J.W. Verret, advised the president pre-transition

team. He's currently an assistant law professor at George Mason University.

And as you watch, J.W., what is your reaction to the president's behavior?

J.W. VERRET, ADVISER, TRUMP PRE-TRANSITION TEAM: It's not unexpected. I mean the guy's always had problems on his best day.

I think the hope for the future is Democrats nominate someone who is moderate, who can work with Republicans, and we can get together in the post-Trump era.

You know, I think the irony of the damage he's done is that the divisions he's created in trade and immigration actually open up the possibility for an event window for bipartisan reform if we can get rid of this guy.

KEILAR: Are you talking to current White House officials? Are they concerned?

VERRET: I am. Current folks in the White House, the Treasury Department, in my policy area in financial services. The level of concern isn't higher than it was before. I think for the most part they tend to try to ignore him and go about their business, go about their jobs. I certainly don't think any of them are proud of him.

KEILAR: So it's not necessarily registering anymore for them, this erratic behavior, but for you it is?

VERRET: It certainly looks -- it's growing worse and worse. I can't explain it. Frankly, I don't really want to get into this guy's head. I'd rather kind of focus for the future.


VERRET: I hope the Democratic Party looks toward a moderate nominee who can work with Republicans like me and I think we could have a bright future there, working on trade and immigration.

KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, you have some new reporting about where two of the president's closest adviser, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, are amid all of this, particularly those accusations that Jews who support Democrats are, quote, disloyal or ignorant, as the president put it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, as the president has been rotating between these controversies this week, two of his top advisers, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, have been really flying under the radar. A pattern that we've seen from the two of them in the past. But, of course, this week has been really a tumultuous one for this administration and this president where there has been uncertainty over the economy, questions about whether or not the president is going to support background checks. He's been retweeting conspiracy theorists, getting in a fight with the Danish prime minister. And, of course, the big one, that there have been questions about where the president is doubling down on those comments that he thinks Jewish people who vote for Democrats are being disloyal to Israel.

Now, we know that, based on our reporting, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were in Wyoming over the weekend for a family vacation. They attended a Trump victory fundraiser on Monday. But, overall, you've really seen them be essentially missing in action as the president has been facing these controversies, these questions about comments that he's made. And even though he's doubling down on the comments, especially about the one about people who support Democrats, as you saw from the White House yesterday.

Now, this fits a pattern that we've seen from Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at times during times when the administration tried to repeal parts of Obamacare, the government shutdown, other times where they've insisted they've been involved in these discussions, then you see them missing publically. And even though there are questions about whether or not they're advising the president privately.

[13:05:14] But, of course, the big one has been about the comments that the president has made about Jewish people who are supporting Democrats. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are both orthodox Jews. They've been involved with the president. Obviously they advise him privately on some things where there are these seemingly selective leaks about what it is that they're telling the president. But neither of them have said anything publicly about the president's comments. And when we asked the White House, have they been advising the president privately on this, the White House did not get back to us on a question -- or on an answer regarding that.

Now, we know they've advised him privately, but there are still question about what exactly they have said to the president about this, whether or not they're going to say anything publicly. And, of course, Brianna, as you know, that's been something that they have faced criticism over in the past.

KEILAR: Indeed.

And, you know, J.W., I want to revisit that "The New York Times" op- ed, that anonymous one that was written by a White House official in September of last year. It said, quote, meetings with him veer off topic, and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back. It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room.

That was from almost a year ago. Are there still, in your estimation, adults in the room?

VERRET: I still have some respect for, yes, adults in the room. People who went into this because the guy is president for four years. There's no getting around that. Congress is not going to move on impeachment, obviously, at this point.

They're trying to do the right thing. They're trying to implement good policy and keep things from going off the rails. But the public apologists for the worst of Trump's impulses, I think there's not much hope for them. And I think the world's going to remember the decisions they make now.

KEILAR: The former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, suggested that the cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment. SO that would deal with replacing a president due to death or, in this case, as he's making the argument, incapacity. As an attorney, is there anything to that?

VERRET: I mean absent some finding by a physician, I don't think we go there. I don't have any information for that.

But I do think it's been very dangerous the way he's flirted with the idea that post-election, if he loses, he would challenge the legitimacy of the vote and may not step down, may not leave. I don't think that would be successful. I don't think the Secret Service would stand for it. I don't think the armed forces would stand for it. I don't think the cabinet, or the Congress, would stand for it. But it is dangerous that he's talking about that right now.

KEILAR: It is -- we do want to know when he does have these moments where he's behaving particularly erratically, why is that? And there are folks, even in his corner who suggest that this is because of this pressure right now due to the economy, questions about when a recession will happen, if that's something that could happen before the election? Before that, his erratic tendencies were explained as being linked to the Mueller investigation and the pressure that he was being put under there.

Does it matter, though, to you the reason why?

VERRET: It's a high-pressure job. It's the most high-pressure job in the world. An investigation, lots of presidents have worked under investigations, and at the same time accomplished tremendous things. I don't think it matters. I think it's irrelevant. So I don't think there's any excuse for his behavior, no.

KEILAR: J.W. Verret, thank you so much for coming in. Really appreciate it.

VERRET: Good to be here.

KEILAR: And Trump's unconventional presidency and troubling tactics could lead to something that we have really never seen. A serious intraparty primary challenge to a sitting president. Right now former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is the only official challenger. Then there's former South Carolina Congressman and Governor Mark Sanford, who is considering a run. He wants to bring a spending and deficit debt into this conversation, but still says that he would vote for Trump over a Democrat. Now there's former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who says that he should know by around Labor Day whether he's going to launch a primary challenge to President Trump. And he spoke today with CNN's John Berman.


JOE WALSH (R), FORMER ILLINOIS CONGRESSMAN: The Republican Party will always, always regret the fact that they did not call this man out. Somebody has to.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": If you feel that way, are you running against him?

WALSH: I'm strongly, strongly considering it.

There are bigger names than me. There are bigger former senators and members of Congress. But none of them have the courage to step up and challenge him. John, this is the time where somebody's got to be brave.

Trump's a bully. And he's a coward. And the only way you beat a bully and you beat a coward is to expose them, is to punch them. Donald Trump's been a con man his whole life. Again, for the life of me, John, I don't know why any other Republican can't say this.

[13:10:02] I think a good challenger can win, again, John, only if they make the moral case. This guy's unfit. He lies every time he opens his mouth. If you're not going to say that, then don't even challenge Trump.

BERMAN: Is it worth -- is it worth running, though, even if you can't win?



KEILAR: Sarah Longwell is with us. She's a Republican strategist and executive director of Defending Democracy Together. This is an organization with a goal to take Trumpism out of the Republican Party.

So you have been looking for someone to challenge the president. Here's Joe Walsh. Is he the guy?

SARAH LONGWELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Joe Walsh is an interesting candidate, especially because in 2010 when he was in Congress he was actually like a proto Trump, somebody who was saying really incendiary thinking, called President Obama a Muslim. But now he says he's had this road to Damascus moment. He's completely changed his mind. And with the zeal of a convert, he is going at President Trump really hard. And that sort of distinguishes him from everybody else who's kind of thrown their names out there who's been a little more on the establishment side. He's more of an insurgent.

KEILAR: So he piques your interest for sure.

He says it doesn't matter -- you heard him there, he says it doesn't matter if a Republican wins, that really the fight is very important as well. Why run then if you're not aiming to win? You don't think you can.

LONGWELL: Well, I don't -- yes, I've always agreed with this idea actually that somebody could win -- that somebody should run regardless of whether or not they can win. I mean Ronald Reagan ran in '76 and he really laid down a predicate for what the future of the Republican Party was going to be. And I've always thought that somebody like Governor Hogan or Ben Sasse could really do that.

Now, I think Joe Walsh is making a different calculation and he's saying, I'm ready to have a bar fight with President Trump, which is kind of a different thing all together.

KEILAR: A different thing. You're talking about a very sort of thought-out, laying the road map for the future. OK, just to be clear.

Who else are you looking at here? The -- Mark Sanford, he's talking about a run, because he wants to get back to those fiscal conservative roots of Republicans. But he's still not considering, say, a vote for a Democrat over a Republican.

LONGWELL: Right, he's somebody who's saying he would still vote for Trump. And this is actually where Joe Walsh is a little interesting because he's coming at it, you know, from a moral thing, I would never vote for this guy. He's unfit. But I would say other people who would be really interesting would be like a Nikki Haley, I think John Kasich is continuing to look at it, Jeff Flake. Who knows. With this president, who knows where things can go. This is an erratic time. It's an interesting time. And so, you know, whether the economy takes a downward turn, who knows where this could lead.

KEILAR: Very interesting,

Sarah Longwell, thank you so much for your perspective.

LONGWELL: Thank you.

KEILAR: We appreciate it.

And since El Paso and Dayton, there have been dozens of arrests across America involving alleged mass shooting plots. I'm going to speak live with a famed FBI profiler who has studied mass shooters.

Plus, despite creditability issues, the president's two former press secretary just landed lucrative TV jobs. We will talk about the backlash from that.

And the Amazon rainforest veering towards a potential disaster as it burns the a record rate. We're going to take a look at the damage.


[13:17:53] KEILAR: The city of Lancaster, California, is on edge as police search for a sniper. A barrage of bullets rained down on a Los Angeles County Sheriff's station yesterday hitting a deputy. And authorities say that his injuries are minor, thankfully. They believe the gunfire came from a nearby four-story apartment building that serves as a mental health living facility.

The incident in California follows two mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. And authorities have also arrested at least 29 people across the country for threats to commit mass attacks. The suspects who have been arrested seem to fit into a pattern. Most of them are between 13 to 38 years old, according to the ages that police have released. The majority are white males. Eighteen out of 29 threats were made on social media. And some of the biggest targets are schools, Walmart's and places of worship.

Here with me now is Katherine Schweit. She is a former senior FBI official with expertise on mass shooters. She's one of the nation's pre-eminent experts on active shooters.

Thank you for coming in to lend us your particular expertise here.

Why do you think we've seen this recent spate of mass shootings? And I also don't want to forget the one in Gilroy, California, because there were a number of victims there and that was -- that precipitated El Paso, indeed.

KATHERINE SCHWEIT, FORMER SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL WHO STUDIED MASS SHOOTINGS: Yes. Why -- why is this occurring? Is that your question?

KEILAR: Yes, why.

SCHWEIT: I mean it's kind of a -- it's a -- it's a very multifaceted why. But I think if we look to solve it -- if we want to solve it, and we have to look to how our -- how can we catch the people who might be doing it, because they may be doing it for a whole bunch of different reasons, right? So it's really what we're looking for is kind of not a profile of a person, not a -- not a white male who's 20 years old. We're looking for anybody, although most of these shootings occur absolutely are males, but they hit all demographics, they hit all age ranges. And as you said, the -- a lot of these people were identified through social media. That is the key. We're looking for the behavior that social media interaction by them, that's a -- that's them reaching out, for whatever reason, to find like kind people, or to brag about what they want to do because they have a grievance and they're all frustrated and they're feeling hopeless, and they want to lash out, so they're doing that. So what we want people to do is look for behaviors, like posting in social media, or other actions that aren't online.

[13:20:14] KEILAR: Posting threats on social media?

SCHWEIT: Posting threats on social media, but also actions they see right in their own home, right in their own neighborhood, right in their schools.

KEILAR: Like, give us -- give us some examples, because these are the things that teachers, family members, neighbors could be looking for?

SCHWEIT: Absolutely.

So I would say this. FBI research shows that if the -- if the subject is 17 or under, chances are teachers are going to be the first ones or peers are going to be the first ones who see -- see these actions by -- by these potential shooters. If they're over 17, they're likely to be peers, co-workers and, most importantly, partners, spouses, domestic partners.

KEILAR: So they're looking for social media postings. They're looking for people reaching out to find like-minded folks on opinions --


KEILAR: And other behaviors?

SCHWEIT: Absolutely. We know from research that we're looking for what really categorizes itself as atypical behaviors. So, if you have never shot a gun before, and you buy a gun, that's an atypical behavior for you. If you have a gun, you use guns, you grow up in an area that they hunt and fish, that's fine, but is the behavior of that person with regard to firearms suddenly changed? Are they buying more firearms? The FBI research just released last summer said 40 percent of the weapons that were used between 2000 and 2014 -- 2013 for the active shooters, 40 percent of those weapons were purchased for the shootings. So, are there more shootings that are being -- that weapons are being purchased for? Is your Amazon account at home suddenly click, click, click and there's packages arriving at your house that include bulletproof vests and other types of ways that a shooter can harden their -- harden themselves, more ammunition, more clips.

So we're looking for not just firearms. We're looking for other things like, have you started to -- have you stopped -- like are you giving your things away? Are you -- have you stopped participating in life? Have you moved to isolate yourself? These are all things that peers, families members are the first ones. We know that -- from research that 80 percent to 90 percent of the time there are signs that people see and they look the other way. That's the hard part. They look the other way. They deny it.

KEILAR: Because they're in denial. So if we're talking about the younger shooters, like you said, teachers, peers are going to see things.


KEILAR: Parents also need to have a dose of reality, right?


KEILAR: What do they need to do?

SCHWEIT: Yes, that's a big concern, too, because although as many of these shooters are in their 20s and 30s and 40s, it's super important to remember that, as a parent, you know, your job in -- in -- is to make sure that, you know, you don't have a lock on your kid's door, that you know what your kid is doing.

KEILAR: That they don't -- that they don't have a degree of privacy that completely shuts you out of what might be going on? SCHWEIT: Right. Exactly.

And don't deny it. You know, we just had this arrest in Florida of a 15-year-old and the body cam video from the -- from the police officer. The mom is standing there saying, he's not like one of those crazy people. He just made silly comments. He's a good boy. That's denial.

And I understand, as a parent, I'm a mom, I understand as a parent that you don't ever think your kid could do that. But isn't it better that you find out that your kid might be headed in that direction and you save them from being killed at the scene of a crime?

KEILAR: Katherine Schweit, thank you so much. Amazing expertise.

SCHWEIT: Thank you.

KEILAR: To give us a look into what we should lo for and what we shouldn't be districted by it. It's so important.

SCHWEIT: My pleasure. Than you.

KEILAR: President Trump again says he is looking seriously at birthright citizens, putting him at odds with the U.S. Constitution. Could Congress step in?

Plus, new warning signs on an economy, including a deficit that is rising faster than expected.


[13:28:36] KEILAR: Once again, President Trump says he's considering putting an end to birthright citizenship. He also floated this idea last years, right before the midterm elections, proposing an executive order to overturn the provision in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that says, quote, all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States. The president wants to take a look at ending that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where you have a baby in our land, you walk over the border, have a baby, congratulations, the baby's now a U.S. citizen. We're looking at it very, very seriously.


TRUMP: I don't know how you found that out, but that's very good. We are looking at birthright citizenship very seriously. It's -- it's, frankly, ridiculous.


KEILAR: Well, here's the thing, the president can't just overrule a constitutional amendment. Presidents don't have that power. Two-thirds of each chamber of the Congress would have to vote to do that. And, obviously, that's not going to happen.

Let's bring in Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly to talk about this.

You're on the House Oversight Committee. You're on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Do you take a threat like that seriously? And if not seriously, how do you take it?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Well, I think, first of all, it shows the ignorance of Donald J. Trump about the Constitution he swore to defend and protect.

[13:30:00] Secondly, I think it shows his lack of respect for the Constitution and for the millions of Americans who fall within this category. We have to remember --