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President Donald Trump Cancels Peace Talks With Taliban At Camp David; Search And Rescue Operations Are Still Underway In The Bahamas Today; Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford Will Challenge President Trump In 2020; House Oversight Committee Is Looking Into Increased U.S. Military Spending At The Trump Turnberry Golf Resort; Congressional Democrats Expected To Take Official Steps in Impeachment Probe; Lawmakers Are Under Renewed Pressure To Do Something On Gun Safety. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 8, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:16] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. And welcome this Sunday. Thank You so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with stunning developments in the efforts to end America's longest war. Today President Trump says he was to hold peace talks with leaders of the Taliban at camp David. In a series of tweets last night, Trump revealed this secret meeting was to be held just days before the 9/11 anniversary. The President announcing he called off the talks with the Taliban and the president of Afghanistan saying in part, unfortunately in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great, great soldiers and 11 other people. I immediately canceled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?

The president is referencing a car bombing in Kabul that killed sergeant first class Ellis Angel Barreto Ortiz. Ortiz was the 16th U.S. service member to die in Afghanistan this year. His body arriving at Dover, Delaware, last night.

And today on CNN, U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo defending the President's decision to invite members of the Taliban onto U.S. soil and the President's ultimate decision to cancel the meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been working on this for awhile. And it was the case that when the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that is not going to work. We are going to walk from a deal if others try to use violence to achieve better ends at the negotiations. It's not right, it's not appropriate to kill an American. And it made no sense for the Taliban to be rewarded for that bad behavior. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. CNN's Boris Sanchez is covering these developments for us at the White House.

So Boris, you know, what more are you learning about this canceled peace talk?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the decision to invite the Taliban leaders to Camp David for a meeting with President Trump, it was decided upon at a meeting last week. President Trump according to sources had become frustrated with the pace of these peace talks. He was putting intense pressure on officials to try to speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The President famously promising in the 2016 campaign to end America's longest war. And the President according to officials that he felt like he would be in a better position to negotiate wit the Taliban directly himself. Of course, as you noted, that meeting was scrapped following that bombing on Thursday. But there is still hope that an agreement could be brokered with the Taliban as the secretary of Mike Pompeo said on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning. Listen to more of what he's saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: The President believed that we could further that, that we could further America's national interests by having conversations with people that have the capacity to actually deliver, Jake, on what you just described. That was the effort. That was the mission. That was the purpose that President Trump has laid out.

But you saw if the Taliban don't behave, if they don't deliver on the commitments that they have made to us for weeks now and in some cases months, the president of the United States is not going to reduce the pressure. We are not going to reduce our pressure for the Afghan security forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: But Fred, we should also point out this tweet from 2012 from President Trump in which he criticized then-president Obama saying he would slashing the military and negotiating with our sworn enemy the Taliban who facilitated 9/11.

Secretary of state Pompeo was also asked about this. He said essentially that Trump and others didn't have that confidence that Barack Obama would hold the Taliban to account. We should point out, those Taliban leaders never actually made it to the United States. They put out a statement today saying ending peace talks would only harm the Americans, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much from the White House.

Let's talk more about all of this. Let me bring in retired major general James Spider Marks who is the former commanding general of the U.S. army intelligence center and a CNN military analyst. Also with me, Max Boot, a senior fellow on the council of foreign relations, a "Washington Post" columnist, and a CNN global affairs analyst. Good to see you both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Max, you first, you know. If this is a secret meeting, you know, why would the President tweet out about it, put it out inn the open, possibly undermine any other opportunity to have a secret meeting?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, welcome to the latest episode, Fredricka, of the Trump show. Diplomacy by tweet. You are seeing how that works which is not very well. Now, I will commend President Trump to this extent. I think it's a good idea to disinvite the Taliban from camp David during the week we are commemorating the 9/11 attacks carried out by the allies of the Taliban. This would have been incredibly unseemly. You could just imagine how Trump would have attacked any other president like president Obama if that other president had decided to invite terrorists to camp David. So it's a good thing that Trump is now disinvited them.

But what this shows is the negotiations that have been carried on are sort of in shambles. That I think what's really happening here is not the fact that the Taliban carried out another attack on Thursday. Because they have been carrying out attacks throughout the course of these negotiations. We have lost --

[14:05:31] WHITFIELD: There have been 16 U.S. deaths, 16 this year in Afghanistan.

BOOT: Right, exactly. We lost 16 soldiers in Afghanistan this year. And so, if we can negotiate during the previous 15 fatalities, why is number 16 suddenly the breaking point? It doesn't make a lot of sense. But what it does underline is that the Taliban have not really shown they are committed to peace. In fact, we have not asked them to actually cease fire. We have not asked them to stop fighting either as a condition for negotiations or even as a condition of the drawdown of U.S. forces.

So, you know, we are -- our demands have not been nearly tough enough. I think what's really happening here is not that President Trump suddenly changed his mind because of an attack last week. It sounds to me like he is getting cold feet because this agreement has got a lot of criticism from his own conservative allies and from his own national security advisors and others.

WHITFIELD: So Max, in your own opinion that you wrote in "Washington Post" today, you said disinviting terrorists from camp David seems like a good idea. It was appalling that he would have been considering hosting Taliban leaders just days before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks plotted of their ally, Osama bin Laden. Imagine what Trump who excoriated President Obama for negotiating with the Taliban, would have said if Obama had invited them for a sleepover. But Trump's explanation for this cancellation as with most things, he says, makes little sense.

So, is your feeling that this another distraction? Or what is the motivation that the President would have behind doing this in your opinion, Max?

BOOT: I don't think it's a distraction as I was saying. My suspicion is that Trump has probably gotten cold feet because he is hearing from people like Lindsey Graham and John Bolton that this is not a very good agreement. And he seemed to think that he could step in and negotiate a better one and he certainly got a cold feet about it.

But I certainly would not conclude, Fredricka, that this is the end of the negotiations with the Taliban. Because remember, in May of 2018, Trump said he was going to cancel his meeting with Kim Jog-un and then three weeks later he showed up in Singapore to meet with Kim Jog-un.

So one way to look at this is part of the Trump negotiating playbook. That he thinks that walking away from the table gained sol leverage. Now, there's not a lot of evidence to indicate that's true. But that's Trump's mentality. So this may just be Trump grandstanding in order to try to reset the terms for a more favorable agreement.

WHITFIELD: So general Marks, how do you see it? Because the Afghan president, you know, apparently has been skeptical of these talks and even to the conditions. And according to "The New York Times" reporting, you know, this meeting is ultimately about, you know, drawing down these 14,000, you know, U.S. troops. And that the Taliban would help in counterterrorism. Does this sound like, you know, the makings of a solid viable deal to you?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE CENTER: Well, first of all, the Afghans and Ghani's government were all in in terms of these negotiations. Whether there was secret concerns or they had voiced in private quarters, their hesitations might be the fact. But they were at the table and they were participating.

And I think what we need to do now is, and I appreciate Max, what you are saying. But I think we need to look forward and figure out what do we do from this point going forward. And the United is either, as a result of this, United States is either all in to try to facilitate a resilient Afghan government that can have a Taliban participation, resilient enough to maintain its fledgling form of emerging democracy, some form of representation, but really it is all about security. And if the United States is going to do that, we are either all in which means we are going to keep 14,000 or maybe we increase the number of troops that are on the ground or we are out.

WHITFIELD: Is part of the issue though, general, and while there's advocacy for the talks and having these parties at the talk, but the location. Perhaps there is a neutral location, perhaps it's not at, you know, camp David or is part of the issue the conditions that are on the table as well? That make --

MARKS: Exactly, Fred. There needs to be some pre-existing conditions. At least that's what you would hope the diplomats would be doing so when the senior folks show up, the president of the United States, Ghani, and the leader of the Taliban show up, magic suddenly occurs because of the hard work that occurred among the various diplomats.

But it's a non-event. Whether it was going to take place at camp David or some place else, it's not going to take place at camp David. So that's a discussion point that I think is moot at this point. We should probably move forward and figure out what is our relationship with the Afghan government and what is our comitment to peace in that part of the world so that we can avoid what took place in advance of 9/11 and the results from 9/11. And that's what this focus needs to be about.

[14:10:12] WHITFIELD: And so, Max, quickly. Does this say anything about the relationship between the U.S. and the Afghan government?

BOOT: Well, this is really strained our relations with our allies in Kabul because president Ghani has not been included in these negotiations. And the U.S. envoy has apparently even hesitated to share a copy of the agreement with the president of Afghanistan. I think we really need to go back to square one here, Fred, in the failure of this camp David idea and really think about a new way to proceed here which is to facilitate an actual peace agreement between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. That should be our focus, not simply finding a way to withdraw the U.S. troops and leave our allies and Afghanistan in (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: All right. Max Boot, general Marks, good to see both of you. Thank you so much.

BOOT: Thanks, Fredricka.

MARKS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, you can call it a long shot, but former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford says he plans to go head- to-head with President Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Why he says he is running.

Plus, new information on the devastation in the Bahamas. The death toll is rising and tens of thousands are homeless. The U.S. coast guard scrambling to find any survivors. The latest from Nassau next.

And breaking news off the Georgia coast. Rescue efforts to locate four missing crew members from a capsized cargo ship. And now the efforts have been suspended. Why? Details straight ahead.

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[14:15:12] WHITFIELD: All right. Search and rescue operations are still underway in the Bahamas today for hundreds of people still missing. The U.S. coast guard says it has rescued more than 300 people so far conducting operations with five helicopters and five coast guard cutters.

CNN's Gary Tuchman got a first hand look at the heart breaking destruction as crews sift through piles of rubble, they used to be homes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the U.S. coast guard and a city of Miami paramedic from the fire rescue unit looking at the rubble here in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. One of the most beautiful cities on earth and now it's hell on earth. This is immense rubble. It's impossible to tell how many houses we're standing on. They have been flattened. You get an idea here of what so many of the houses in this area look like.

We came here to this part of Marsh Harbour because we were told by the local fire department here that they expected there would be many bodies in this area. Indeed, five minutes ago these coast guard and paramedic personnel found the body of a female just past that house you are looking at.

You can see in the distance there, more U.S. coast guard personnel looking around helping the Bahamian government, helping the Bahamian police look for bodies and also treat people who may be hurt. We have been traveling with them in a coast guard cutter, 25 coastguards men and women and the paramedics from Miami fire rescue going all over the island. Not just here this portion in Marsh Harbour and the Abaco's but other little caves and inlets looking for people who maybe suffering.

A small case of inlets to the north of here are just that. But this is the worst we have seen right in the biggest town in Abaco's Marsh Harbour. And what we are being told by the fire rescue personnel here in Bahamas is there are still a lot of bodies to find here. And we have been here ten minutes and they found one.

This is Gary Tuchman, CNN, in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: That's an unbelievable scene.

Joining me right now, Rein Paulsen, the head of the United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Rein, good to see you. I mean, the devastation is just remarkable. And the U.N. is saying at least 70,000 people are now homeless on the Abaco islands and in the grand Bahamas. You just heard from Gary Tuchman's piece, I mean, count countless people, you know, perished in the Abaco islands. So what can be done for the survivors? The 70,000 people now left homeless.

REIN PAULSEN, UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR THE COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS (LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN): So thank you for having me on today. And the government of the Bahamas leading the response requested support early from the United Nations and international partners, we pre-deployed staff. In fact, a couple of days before the hurricane hit to be able to move as quickly as possible to respond to needs in response to requests from the government.

I led a team yesterday north of Marsh Harbour to some of the most severely affected areas. That the infrastructural damage, the damage to houses was catastrophic. Our challenge now, the work that we have been focus on for the last few days, is delivering life-saving food, water, other types of urgent assistance to the most vulnerable people.

Two days ago, for example, the United Nations world food mobilized maybe 15,000 meals ready do eat. They have been moved out to the worst affected areas. The Pan American health organization in concert with the ministry of health have deployed emergency medical teams.

So we have been responding. We are responding. And our challenge now is to make sure we are focused on those few thousand most vulnerable people who don't have any other means of support.

WHITFIELD: So Rein, you said, you know, request from the Bahamian government there. But you know, that the government has made up of Bahamians who were hit really hard by this storm just like everybody else. So talk to me about whether there is a real infrastructure of the government, you know, if it is in the position to actually assist in aid and communicate with people. Or, you know, if it is crippled, you know, beyond words so that agencies such as yours, the U.N., bodies such as yours have to help uplift and help the Bahamas.

PAULSEN: I mean, I think it's important to signal that as devastating as the physical impact was on Abaco and grand Bahama, this country is made up of many islands. The central government of course here in Nassau continues to function well and is leading coordinating mobilizing all of the efforts that is supported by regional institutions. And our role as the United Nations and international organizations is to complement activities under the government's leadership. That's what we have been doing. That's what we did in the leadup to the hurricane and that is what we will continue to do for as long as requested and required.

[14:20:20] WHITFIELD: Rein Paulsen, thank you so much. Appreciate your time and your work and your efforts there.

PAULSEN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: President Trump has yet another Republican rival in the 2020 race for president. Mark Sanford says he has what it takes to take on the president and change the Republican party. His main objective next.

And breaking news off the coast of Georgia. A U.S. coast guard effort to rescue four missing crew members on this capsized ship have just been suspended. Much more straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:24:49] WHITFIELD: All right. This breaking news now. The U.S. coast guard is pausing rescue efforts after a huge cargo ship ended up on its side off the coast of Georgia. Officials say fire and unstable conditions are hampering efforts. Four people on the 24-member crew ship are still unaccounted for. The U.S. coast guard says this 71,000 ton vessel capsized after leaving the port of Brunswick early this morning. The golden ray is carrying cars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:25:23] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we are still conducting rescue operations. We have assets on scene that continue to do what they can. It is a complex situation, so we are looking not just for the safety to be able to rescue the people on board but to be able to provide safety for crews. So it's ongoing and we're looking to throw as much of it as we can. And we have everybody looking to try and solve this complex problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Crews are working to stabilize the vessel with salvagers. And the coast guard says they will resume operations once it is safe to do so.

All right. Meantime, reaction is now coming in from Democrats on the campaign trail to President Trump's bombshell announcement that he had canceled a secret meeting with Taliban leaders on U.S. soil at camp David. The President said he scrapped the meeting at camp David after the Taliban took credit for a deadly attack in Afghanistan killing an American soldier. This has given 2020 Democrats more fuel to question the president's foreign policy agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's just another example of the president treating foreign policy like it's some kind of game show. This isn't a game show. These are terrorists.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Even though I do support a negotiated political settlement there that will increase stability and make sure that Afghanistan is not used as a base of terror operations, it's very odd to invite a terrorist organization like that to camp David. This is the worst president when it comes to negotiating, I think, that we have had in a very long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston is here with us now.

So part of the criticism also includes the timing of this next meeting which would have been days before marking 18 years since 9/11, Maeve.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And that was what was so baffling, I think. Not only many of the Democrats but also Republicans across the spectrum who just thought that the timing of this meeting was really inappropriate, Fred.

And another one of the candidates who is weighing in today is south bend mayor Pete Buttigieg who is one of the two combat veterans, one of the two veterans in the 2020 presidential race. And he -- let's listen to what he had to say about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm also puzzled by the idea that you would invite the Taliban to the United States on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary without having a rock solid way forward or that you did it at all, frankly. So, you know, as usual there is a lot of noise and confusion around this president. And around the strategy on Afghanistan which is unfortunate because we're a few days away from where you can be 18 years old and have not been alive on 9/11 and yet we are still at war over there. I thought I was one of the last guys turning out the lights when I left, and here we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RESTON: So mayor Buttigieg obviously having a chance to address his own military experience, the fact that many Americans are sort of confuse by President Trump's foreign policy. And also the fact that there's a lot of desire out there for us to end this conflict which is what President Trump has been saying he wants to do.

WHITFIELD: And Maeve, you know, this new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll, you know, is looking at the state of the democratic race, you know. Ahead of Thursday's debate, Biden has a sizable lead over the rest. But what stands out to you about this poll?

RESTON: Well, it's a sizable lead, but, you know, it doesn't look as big as it did when these polls were first started being taken. Obviously these three candidates are still up there at the top -- Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. But once again in this poll, we are seeing Elizabeth Warren kind of steadily rise her way up doing all that work and the rest of the field is just way down there at the bottom not gaining traction. And she is going to have a chance this week to be on that stage with Joe Biden showing what she would be like and whether she would, indeed, be as strong a candidate up against Trump as he would be in the view of most Americans.

WHITFIELD: All right. Maeve Reston, thank you so much.

RESTON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. That's the look for the Democrats. And then there were three in the Republican category. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford now officially throwing his had into the ring to challenge President Trump in 2020. Sanford joins former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld. Sanford is a vocal critic of the president but also acknowledges his long odds of beating Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:30:00] MARK SANFORD, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: I think we need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican. And I think as a republican Party, we have lost our way. And I would say so in a couple of different fronts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got to know you have basically no chance of winning the Republican nomination, so why run for president?

SANFORD: I think you probably would have said that same thing to Donald Trump just a matter of months ago as he faced the likes of Jeb Bush and others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you honestly think you have a serious chance of beating --

SANFORD: I'm saying you never know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: President Trump's campaign had a one-word reaction to Sanford's announcement -- irrelevant. And just in, the South Carolina GOP said this is about Mark Sanford looking to raise his political career from the grave, not him wanting to advance ideas. In fact, calling his campaign a vanity project.

Let's talk about all this. Francesca Chambers is the White House correspondent for "the Daily Mail," Lis Lerer is the national political reporter for the "new York times." Good to see you both.

All right. So Francesca, you first. You know, Trump's approval rating among Republicans is pretty high, 90 percent. Sanford is considered a long shot. You heard his reply as to, you know, why and he said why not, you know. You know, President Trump or candidate Trump seem to be a long shot too. Or is it what the, you know, South Carolina GOP says that it's, you know, about raising his profile? Why would he do this?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY MAIL: So I actually spoke to Mark Sanford on the phone earlier today about this exact subject. And he seems to think that President Trump's support among Republicans is softer than it would appear in those numbers. And that if someone else were to truly challenge him, that they would be willing to defect from President Trump. So there is that.

But another key thing here is when I asked what the goals are of his campaign. He said the very first thing is to draw attention to the balloons U.S. deficit. And the second thing he would like to do is win. The order of those two answers really tells you something about what he intends to achieve.

WHITFIELD: OK. So if that's the argument, then Lisa, is it really irrelevant that he is running?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I don't think it's irrelevant. I think he faces extremely, exceedingly long odds of beating Donald Trump because, you know, in part because beating an incumbent is really hard but also because of how beloved Donald Trump really is in his own party.

The question here is really twofold. First of all, does he potentially weaken Donald Trump in a general election by raising, you know, sort of concerns about spending and fiscal responsibility that could resonate with more moderate Republicans who already are concerned about the president's tone? And second of all, if he does catch some fire, is he softening the ground for another Republican who could potentially be a more viable nominee. That's a harder thing to do particularly because of the structure of how these primaries are going to be run. But it is something some in the party are thinking about.

WHITFIELD: Well, speaking of the structure of the primaries, you know, Republican party leaders in South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, are really on the verge of canceling the presidential primaries. And the RNC, you know, has done away with the committee to set up debates. So perhaps it really is setting the stage, you know, Francesca, so the president doesn't have any competition within the party.

CHAMBERS: Well, if you take a look at a state like South Carolina which is where Mark Sanford is from, it is going to be an even greater uphill climb. Because that is a state where he would expect to get the most support and he wouldn't be able to compete against Donald Trump there even. So he says, though, that he is trying to build a bigger national movement, have a national conversation about the spending. And that's what's important to him. But what I did find curious is he did admit it's, quote, "suspect" that on the same week that he was planning to make this announcement, and he wasn't shy about that, that that's when they said they were not planning to have their primary.

WHITFIELD: So Lisa, what does this say about the Republican party? That, you know, they really are behind maybe four states that won't have primaries. Won't have any competition for the president.

LERER: This is not unprecedented. Obama in his reelection, a couple states didn't hold primaries --

WHITFIELD: Well, that's because they were unchallenged. But this would be.

LERER: This would be. I think the states are really interesting as Francesca pointed out. South Carolina, of course, is where Mark Sanford is from. You also have Arizona which is a state where there has been a fair amount of opposition among Republicans and independents who make up about a third of the voting base there. So I think it is very interesting, the states where these primaries are being canceled. And you know those polls have to show Donald Trump as very strong. You have to wonder if the party is seeing weaknesses that maybe aren't coming out in the public polling.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will leave it there for now.

Lisa Lerer and Francesca Chambers, good to see you both. Thank you.

All right. Still ahead, are U.S. military dollars propping up one of President Trump's golf resorts? What lawmakers have uncovered in a new investigation next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:34:11] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. President Trump's business empire is at the center of yet another

house investigation, this time it's his golf course and resort in Scotland. The House oversight committee is looking into increased U.S. military spending at the Trump Turnberry golf resort. Air force members paid to stay there when they stopped to refuel back in March.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is following details on all of this.

So Nic, the air force acknowledged that this happened, but they are also defending this decision?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They are. They are saying that it's not unusual that the air force members and in this case in March on this flying this c-17 on a refueling stop for the Prescott airport in Scotland on the way to Kuwait, there was seven of them, that they stayed within the bounds of what the recommendations are. That they booked their tickets through the defense ticketing agency. That they were -- that they could choose hotels, if you will, providing they were lower than the per diem and that they were in the, you know, in the right place, I suppose is the best expression. Not too far from the refueling which Prestwick is close to Turnberry. There were other hotels in the area, but this one was deemed by the air force to meet all those monetary requirements that they weren't exceeding values, that they were limited to.

But further investigation here has revealed a trend and the total seems to reveal perhaps a much greater over rule spending than just these seven National Guardsman on this one c-17 transport aircraft. Since President Trump's election since October 2017, Prestwick airport, there have been 629 refueling stops totaling a stand on fuel of about $11 million. Prestwick is a very small civilian airport. It's not doing well commercially. It is 629 aircraft tying for number of men and the air crew, if they are all staying at Turnberry, significant figure.

[14:41:24] WHITFIELD: And so you touched on the airport there that had financially not been doing very well. And now as a result of many of these stops, it has helped them stay afloat. Isn't that a significant tie being made?

ROBERTSON: It's a connection that's being made. The Scottish government is saying that they -- you know, that this is not something that they follow in a detailed day-by-day basis. But obviously it raises questions about that airfield. That it is an important airfield (INAUDIBLE) for that part of Scotland. Glasgow airport is not so far away but not as convenient for Turberry. And certainly as a feeder airport for clients potentially coming in to Turnberry, it would be useful. So yes, the possibility for -- the possibility here for, you know, for money not being spent as is appropriate is quite big.

WHITFIELD: Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

All right. Straight ahead, the drum beat for President Trump's impeachment is expected to get even louder on Capitol Hill this week, but will Congress freshmen put the brakes on it? Why they have reservations next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:46:40] WHITFIELD: All right. Just into CNN, CNN has learned that warrants have been served against the business that owns the scuba diving boat that caught fire last week killing 34 people. The boat went up in flames on labor day just off the southern California coast. Officials say the coast guard investigative service issued search warrants today on Truth Aquatics earlier today, part of the ongoing probe. The coast guard has been assisting the ATF and the FBI with this investigation.

All right. Just three days from now, congressional Democrats are expected to take official steps to lay the ground work for an impeachment probe into President Donald Trump. House judiciary members lead by chairman Jerry Nadler will vote on a resolution that sets the rules for any hearings. At least 134 House Democrats along with independent Justin Amash have publicly voiced their support for an impeachment inquiry. But one group openly grappling with the question of whether this will hurt or help Democrats is the party's newly elected freshman class. It's an issue that CNN politics reporter Jeremy Herb has been following very closely.

So Jeremy, what is the overarching sentiment among Democratic freshmen members of Congress here?

JEREMY HERB, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. You know, for Democrats who won Republican districts in 2018, there are clear divisions about whether to go forward with impeachment or not. The House Judiciary Committee, they are voting to expand to formally kind of set their probe and expand it in the coming months.

But Nancy Pelosi is still not on board with impeachment. And a key reason why is the house Democrats. I traveled to California over the recess and heard from constituents in several districts where Democrats won Republican seats. And there really was a range of opinions. You had some voters who were very adamant that the House should impeach the president. Others who were worried that it would help Trump politically. And Republicans, they were there too. And they were warning that it would be a major mistake for these Democrats.

So we have, you know, Democrats like Katie Porter of Orange county. You know, she said politics aren't going to affect how she ultimately decides and she is in favor of an impeachment inquiry. A little up the road, you Katie Hill of northern Los Angeles, Democrat. And what she is saying is she is not ready to support an inquiry yet, but she wants to see the evidence and then she is going to make a decision. So she is leaving the door open. And so it will be Democrats like hill that will be key to watch in the coming months.

WHITFIELD: So what is it about California?

HERB: Well, you know, you see California and think it's about the least competitive state you could get in politics. But when you get to the congressional districts, there are very key battleground. Democrats flipped seven seats that were held by Republicans, including four in Orange county which is typically have been a long-time Republican stronghold.

And so, when California really does illustrate this divide that we are seeing among freshman Democrats in these districts because four Democrats do not support impeachment inquiry from California who were nearly elected in 2018 while three do. And so, you know, it was kind of all of these members were in one place where you could kind of see that division and that grappling that you do when it comes to deciding what to do with impeachment.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Herb, thanks so much.

HERB: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Straight ahead, a Texas lawmakers now joining the fight for tighter gun laws after recent mass shootings in his state. And the NRA? Well, they are not too happy about that. Details coming up.

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[14:53:30] WHITFIELD: All right. U.S. Congress is back in session after a deadly August with three mass shootings in America. Lawmakers are under renewed pressure to do something on gun safety after the killings in Odessa and El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Just last week Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says he will not bring any gun legislation to the floor without President Trump's backing.

CNN's Polo Sandoval joining us now from New York.

So the question is, you know, will these mass shootings have any impact as Congress makes its way back this week?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, you just showed those grim numbers that lawmakers will be returning to. And the question will certainly be will we see any kind of significant changes in terms of gun reform not just from lawmakers in the Senate, in the House, but also in the White House where President Trump has been receiving advice from those close to his circle. But you have also been hearing from even the country's top cop where attorney general William Barr according to several sources has been even trying to nudge the President in a direction of implementing some kind of universal background check here. We should note that this is something that President Trump was quick to support after the most recent shootings here in this country. But then he also seemed to have backed down after pressure, if you will, from the National Rifle Association and those close to his conservative circle.

WHITFIELD: So now you've got Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, who says he is willing to back stricter background checks. How influential might that be?

SANDOVAL: Fred, as a Texan and as a journalist, this is something that is fascinating here. It is a stunning endorsement that we heard from essentially the second in command in the state of Texas where Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, spoke to a Texas newspaper on Friday and endorsed expanding these background checks, specifically though for private sales between strangers here. He said that would not apply, this potential legislation would surely not apply for any private gun sales that happened between family and friends. But still, you are talking about a Republican here who has been a strong proponent of gun rights and has not responded to repeated requests for comment. So I want to read a portion of his statement to the Dallas Morning News. This is straight from the lieutenant governor here.

He says, I'm a solid NRA guy, but not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger-to-stranger sale makes no sense to me and to most folks.

So I think that's certainly significant here especially in light of what's happened in the lone star state alone. Of course the two shootings this year. And then you go back to 2018 with the high school shooting that left nine people dead. And then also of course the Sutherland springs shooting that left more. A total of 64 innocent lives cut short here.

So what does that actually mean for the state of Texas? It's really important here. I have spoken to various Democrats in the state House of Representatives. And they feel do the comments coming from this official is an acknowledgment that Texans are very tired and that they do believe that this would be well received by not just Democrats but even some Republicans.

And then finally, Fred, before I let you go. I do want to tell you that obviously these comments were not well received by the National Rifle Association. They were very quick to respond to the lieutenant governor's comments.

Before I let you go, I'll read a portion of what they had to say. The NRA with a specific message to the lieutenant governor saying instead of trampling the freedom of law-abiding Americans, they should focus on actual solutions. So the question here, what will we see in the state of Texas and does that have potential to shape what we will see in Washington, D.C.?

[14:57:04] WHITFIELD: Interesting.

All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you for bringing all that to us. Appreciate it.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.

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