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CNN NEWSROOM

Houthi Rebels In Yemen Take Credit For Drone Attacks On Saudi Arabian Oil Facilities; Former Red Sox Player, David Ortiz, Speaks Publicly About Being Shot In Dominican Republic; Analysts Examine Democratic Presidential Candidate Beto O'Rourke's Comment About Government Taking Assault Rifles From Owners; White House Confirms Death Of Osama Bin Laden's Son, Hamza bin Laden By Counterterrorist Operation; CEOs Sign Letter Demanding Lawmakers Take Action On Gun Violence; Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. Faces Criticism After Release Of Stolen E-mails. Aired 2-3p ET.

Aired September 14, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:30]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with what is being described as a large-scale operation in the Middle East, and a huge blow to the oil industry. Sources tell CNN that Saudi Arabia has shut down half its oil output after Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for deploying 10 drones to successfully attack two of that country's major oil facilities.

Joining me now is CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Ben Wedeman. So Ben, just how devastating is this for the oil industry and for Saudi Arabia?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a massive blow not only according to sources familiar with Saudi oil operations are saying that five million barrels per day have been knocked out of production. That's about five percent of the world's oil supply. One of the places that was hit, Abqaiq, that is the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world. So this is a massive blow to the oil industry, certainly in Saudi Arabia.

Now, these 10 drones claimed by the Houthis flew at least 500 miles to hit their targets. This is a level of sophistication from the Houthis that we have yet to see as far as this war that's been going on between the Houthis and the Saudi led coalition. Now, the coalition has come out with a statement, saying that they're describing this attack as a terrorist attack, but interestingly, even though the Houthis have claimed responsibility, the coalition statement says they're still investigating who might have been behind it. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.

Joining me right now to discuss is CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst and former CIA Operative, Bob Baer. Bob, good to see you. So these attacks and these Yemeni Houthis, who

in your view is supplying them with these at least 10 drones? How would they be able to do this?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the suspicion will be Iran. The Saudis will definitely accuse Iran of this. And this is what is probably true, because the Houthis are backed by the Iranians. It's a very potent proxy force and the Iranians know how to keep their fingerprints off an operation like this, but the suspicion, as I said, Fred, will be Iran.

WHITFIELD: So these two attacks alone have now shut down half of Saudi Arabia's oil output. How vulnerable would Saudi Arabia be feeling about now?

BAER: Well, Fred, it's hard to overestimate the effect of this attack because it's not just a fire that's the problem at Abqaiq. It's the release of a poisonous gas called H2S, hydrogen sulfide. That is deadly gas, and it will contaminate the infrastructure of Abqaiq, and some estimates would put two years to repair it. So this is a catastrophe.

WHITFIELD: And so what about endangering people who might live near that, when you talk about contaminants?

BAER: It certainly will, and workers there. We don't know that this attack took out the exchange, which would have released hydrogen sulfide, but I can tell you back in the 80s, this was the worst nightmare of the White House is that the Iranians would hit Saudi facilities, in particular Abqaiq, and take out Saudi production. We're just going to have to wait to see what sort of damage it really did, these attacks.

WHITFIELD: So who would come to the assistance of Saudi Arabia in a case like this? What allies in the region would assist in some kind of response, or even do you see the U.S. in any way engaging?

BAER: Well, certainly American engineers will help to repair the equipment. But the real problem is if the Houthis continue to attack and if Iran is held responsible, and these attacks continue all along the Gulf, we're moving toward the logic of war with Iran. I just don't see it any other way.

WHITFIELD: And then clearly this comes at great risk, how the U.S. would calculate how to assist its ally, Saudi Arabia, when the U.S. not only provides arms to Saudi Arabia but has other interests in that country too.

[14:05:13]

So what is being calculated for the United States on how and whether or when to engage?

BAER: Well, the real question now at the White House is, should we hit Iran in response to this attack? And then what will the Iranians do? This could cascade into a major war. And we know this president is reluctant, very reluctant to get in a war with Iran. He's even been talking to Rouhani. But now his back is against the wall. These attacks cannot continue without bringing down oil markets around the world. You just run the numbers, it's not good.

WHITFIELD: So then what would be the calculus, what's the provocation that comes with Yemeni Houthis targeting these tanks?

BAER: Well, they can also hit Ras Tanura, for instance, and completely shut off 10 percent of the world's oil resources, that's one figure. Would the Houthis attack the UAE and take their oil out? Yes, it's possible. Apparently, there's no defense against the drones. They can come in low, fast, they're hard to detect, they can strike before you can really respond to them, and there's no air defense system clearly that can take them out of the air. This is a huge attack, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And what do they see to gain here? Why, why would they attack in this manner, and what would be the gain?

BAER: Well, the only way the Houthis can respond to Saudi bombardment is attack the oil facilities. They have been doing it more than a year. They know that eventually they can bring the Saudi economy down. Saudi Arabia does not have the military to invade Yemen.

It's a quagmire already, and they're just not going to go in. So, who do you respond against? It's a real dilemma. You respond against Iran, you get something that looks like World War III, you don't respond at all and you risk the Houthis continuing to go after the Arab gulf side, all of the oil facilities. It's a mess.

WHITFIELD: It's a mess, and it's very significant. Bob Baer, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BAER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, a former baseball all-star, Red Sox great David Ortiz speaking out for the first time since being shot. What he is saying about the ordeal today.

Plus, President Trump announces victory in the war on terror, a U.S. counterterrorism operation killing the son of Osama bin Laden. Details coming up.

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[14:11:28]

WHITFIELD: Red Sox legend David Ortiz speaking publicly the first time since he was shot in the Dominican Republic. In an exclusive interview with CNN affiliate Univision, Ortiz recounted the moment that he was struck, saying, quote, "When the bullet hit me, the first thing I felt was like a sting. The first five seconds I thought I was having a nightmare." He went on to say "I was feeling something that I had never felt before, and that was just the feeling of trying to survive." In June, Ortiz was at a Santa Domingo bar with some friends when

surveillance video captured a gunman walking up and shooting the 43- year-old from behind. But police don't believe Ortiz was the target, but rather the victim in a botched hit attempt.

I am joined by "USA Today" columnist Christine Brennan. Christine, good to see you.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Hey, Fred, great to see you as well.

WHITFIELD: It's amazing to hear his thoughts about all of this, and amazing that he is making an incredible recovery. So we saw him appear publicly for the first time, throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park. How significant is this come back, the way in which he is handling it all?

BRENNAN: David Ortiz and Boston sports are intertwined in a way that very few athletes are linked to a city, and in this case a franchise in the Red Sox. He of course is remembered for bringing those World Series finally to Boston after all those decades of waiting, being such a hero for the Red Sox teams that did win the World Series three times, but also when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. And he went on the field, and with an expletive he said this is our blanking city. And it was as if he was speaking for literally everyone in Boston, sports fan or not sports fan.

And so because he is larger than life, this character who has been so linked to the beloved team in Boston, so fitting that he would come back and throw out that first pitch, surprising everybody, and have his comeback from this horrible shooting exactly three months earlier, have his comeback so linked to Boston and linked to the Red Sox in such a glorious way.

WHITFIELD: So amazing. He even admitted that he almost died, actually falling into a coma. But he says he still only worries about his country's success. What is meant by that? How is that being received?

BRENNAN: The baseball stars and other athletes in other sports, I guess, but especially these baseball stars going back to these island nations, the Dominican in this case with -- there have been other incidents with athletes who go back, and they are, of course, loved, beloved, and they're revered as heroes. They're coming back to talk to kids and be a part of their community, which is just so admirable. But they're also targets, and they have to be careful.

And this is certainly a warning to every athlete everywhere obviously, the U.S. as well. But coming back and being part of their culture is so important to them, and again, that's something that we should be applauding. Obviously, there are risks involved as we saw in this case.

WHITFIELD: Potentially being the target, that is one of the realities of being a public figure, but at the same time that he was just hanging out at the bar with his friends is a testament to who he is and how comfortable he was at home. And he was actually asked why did you go back there and not even have security with you.

[14:15:02]

And he is like, you know what, I haven't argued with anybody in a really long time, and that time was on the baseball field. So that says a lot about his kind of character, his demeanor, that kind of laissez-faire.

BRENNAN: Big Papi, he's been beloved in Boston, he's beloved in his own land as well. And there were so many people were rounded up, over a dozen, who are suspects in this case. So I'm sure there's some sense of relief that it looks like they captured a lot of the people, and if there's a show of force like this in any community, you would then hope that people who have this idea of targeting athletes would not do that again.

But it has certainly led to one of the great comebacks over the summer. And you know that everybody who has been a fan of his is breathing a sigh of relief when they see him back, especially back in Fenway Park.

WHITFIELD: It's so lovely to be able to tell this story this way, and for it to be just full circle. And again, he is somebody who symbolizes hope, fight, and just an amicable, nice guy to boot. Christine Brennan, thank you so much. Always good to see you. Appreciate it.

BRENNAN: You too, Fred. Thank you. Take care.

WHITFIELD: Coming up next, Beto O'Rourke is demanding mandatory government buyback of assault style weapons. Now the White House is responding as President Trump looks to 2020. More coming up.

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[14:20:23]

WHITFIELD: All right, gun violation is a passionate issue on the campaign trail. And it was Beto O'Rourke who delivered one of the most definitive responses to the issue. In the wake of two mass shootings in Texas last month, including one in his hometown of El Paso, O'Rourke said this about assault style weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by the AR-15 in Odessa, in Midland, there weren't enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell yes, we're taking your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans any more.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: So the Trump administration is already seizing on those comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: When they weren't talking about higher taxes, they were talking about gun control, and not just gun control. You had leading candidates for the highest office in the land talking about taking firearms away from law abiding citizens. Well, the American people deserve to know this president, this vice president, and these House Republicans will always stand for the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk more about this now. Eliana Johnson covers the White House for "POLITICO," and Karoun Demirjian is a congressional reporter for the "Washington Post". Good to see you both.

All right, so Eliana, you first. O'Rourke's comment, it is playing into the hands, clearly, of the Trump administration, Republicans who are broadening it, saying it is not just assault style weapons but trying to take your guns away. How effective is this counter- messaging to O'Rourke's message going to be?

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOURS REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think it is likely to be pretty effective. The Trump campaign's strategy is to portray Democrats as extremists, even before they have a candidate, to define the candidate before they're nominated and to say these are socialists, they're coming for your guns.

And that used to be more extreme than where Democrats were. But I think you're right that Beto played into their hands, and that's a clip that's likely to be played in a Republican ad regardless of who the candidate is in midterm campaigns and in the presidential campaign ahead of 2020.

WHITFIELD: Flipside to that, though, Karoun is that people know this hit really close to home for O'Rourke, happening right there in El Paso. You saw his visceral response when he was informed well on the campaign trail what was happening.

And now he has got t-shirts that are already selling with -- there it is, with this quote from that debate stage. Do you feel like, however, people will look at O'Rourke and his moment there on the debate stage and say, wait a minute, I can identify with that because I, too, am frightened about when the next mass shooting might be?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and those people exist in the Democratic Party. I think right now Beto O'Rourke standing for the gun control issue is going to get a boost out of that for himself but also be the voice for that on that Democratic dais in that field that holds the Democrats to this line where they do take a stand that says yes, we are in favor of control.

Whether that means that they echo exactly what O'Rourke is saying or just move closer to that than where the middle of this debate politically has been a long time, the point is that him saying that and sticking to that issue and doubling down on the debate stage does put a standard out there that Democratic candidates have to at least answer to, and many of them have moved in that direction.

And as we have seen from polling recently, even though the majority of the country does still favor issues like the assault weapons ban, especially the majority of Democrats. It is a very polarizing issue when you get into these questions of buybacks or assault weapons bans or magazine bans, unlike the issue of do you just want background checks or red flag laws. Those, almost 90 percent of the country, including over 80 percent of the Republicans seem to support.

And yet as a primary issue for Democrats, it is actually going to resonate fairly well with a lot of people, not necessarily an overwhelming sweeping majority of the whole country that would make President Trump change his mind, but give the party something to rally around that will help distinguish the Democrats in the primary season.

Whether that causes them problems for taking a stance that may be further than most of -- the vast majority of the country is comfortable with in the general election, that remains to be seen. But we have seen that gun control, there's an appetite for some form of gun control out there in the general population. And this puts more of the debate out there to continue as we go forward.

[14:25:10]

WHITFIELD: Gun violence, the economy, and health care, Eliana, are huge issues for the American voter. And at the debate, we heard Joe Biden reminding people about where he is on health care, defending his stance on building on Obamacare. And then Bernie Sanders, he was challenged on his Medicare for all. This as we are seeing a lot of voters confront candidates at their events, giving their personal stories like this one at a Sanders event last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are you going to pay it off --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't. I can't. I am going to kill myself.

SANDERS: Hold it. Stop it. You're not going to kill yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't deal with it. I have Huntington's disease. Do you know how hard it is? You probably don't, do you. I can't drive. I can barely take care of myself.

SANDERS: All right, let's chat later at the end of the meeting, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: Eliana, does this exemplify, it maybe make or break for a lot of candidates, where are you on health care, and voters' accessibility to health care sans debt, Eliana?

JOHNSON: That's absolutely heartbreaking obviously, and I think well- handled by Senator Sanders. But health care really has become the defining issue of the Democratic primary, and I think the debate was good in that it did give the top tier candidate, Senator Sanders, Senator Warren, and former Vice President Biden a chance to really go at each other about health care.

And you saw Senator Sanders and Senator Warren attack Biden and really say not going in for Medicare for all is a half-measure, he is not where he needs to be. And Biden really demand of them to explain how they're going to pay for these plans which he called impractical and said would be absolutely disruptive to the existing system.

WHITFIELD: And Karoun, that was a very unique approach for Senator Warren who is like, I'm with him, Bernie Sanders, I like his plan, not necessarily elaborating on one she might be thinking about.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, it's interesting that Warren hasn't really tried to severely distinguish herself from Bernie Sanders' health care plan. And in way that might work well for her. She's in large part not completely drawing her support from the same type of supporters as Bernie Sanders, but a good number of supporters also look like Bernie Sanders's base, too.

And also, we're hearing cacophony on that debate stage we start to debate health care plans. It is good to see the candidates try to articulate exactly what they would do with health care. But it is also coming up as a bit of mess on that debate stage as they argue with which element of whose plan are better for which portion of the population, it can get a bit confusing.

By not taking a step that goes any more differently than Bernie's plan, Warren is potentially leaves herself some room as we head towards general election, because clearly whatever Democrat comes forward is going to have to answer for the general conversation that's happening in the primary season in the party. And if it's her, she may have a chance to distinguish herself freshly coming out of that, if she ends up being the nominee, because she said I'm with Bernie, but she hasn't necessarily put her own finishing touches on it. So that's still ground she could cover.

WHITFIELD: Maybe this will be a reminder, too, that the whole health care debate, that's been going on decades. It didn't just start within the past couple of years. All right, Karoun Demirjian, Eliana Johnson, thank you so much. Good to see you both.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Coming up, the son of Osama bin Laden killed by a U.S. counterterrorism operation. How big a victory is this for the war on terror? More next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:32:57]

WHITFIELD: We continue to follow breaking news in the war on terror. Today President Trump confirming the death of Hamza bin Laden in a U.S. counterterrorism operation. He is the son of Osama bin Laden and was seen as an emerging leader of the terror group, al Qaeda. The president releasing a statement today that said bin Laden had been killed in a United States counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

With me now is retired Rear Admiral John Kirby who is a former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon, also now a CNN military and diplomatic analyst. Also with me is David Rohde, he is an executive editor for the "New Yorker" website and a CNN global affairs analyst. Good to see you both.

So Admiral, you first. It was first reported Hamza bin Laden was killed over the summer. So what is the procedure of verifying that before a notice like the one we saw today from the White House is made public?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: So a couple of things go into this, Fred. One, you want to be sure that you actually did in fact kill the person you think you did, and you're going to usually wait awhile to string all the bits of intelligence that you can get, signals intelligence, human intelligence, and all of the different strands to make sure that you actually got the target that you think you've had.

We have made the mistake in the past of announcing a certain terrorist killed here or there, and then finding out later that maybe they were just grievously injured and survived it. Number two, you want sure that you have extrapolated all the intelligence you can through the conduct and execution of this operation so that you can disrupt any future attacks or any ongoing things that they might have been planning.

You want to be sure that you have taken all of that information and intelligence on board before you come out definitively and make such a statement. So I'm not surprised it took a while. Clearly, they were trying to get their ducks in a row, make sure that they had all the context surrounding the strike that they needed to prevent future such operations by Al Qaeda.

WHITFIELD: And then David, what kind of impact does this kind of counterintelligence operation have on Al Qaeda?

[14:35:00]

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it has a large impact. There was concerns I think growing in the intelligence community that he could emerge as a new charismatic leader like his father. We're not sure of his exact birthdate, but he was in his late 20s. There were reports that Hamza bin Laden had actually married the daughter of Mohamed Atta, who was one of the leaders of the 9/11 attacks, one of the pilots that crashed into the World Trade Center.

So I think this is a significant victory for the U.S. intelligence community. My guess is it was a drone strike. Many of these people are hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and there might have been some signals intelligence that's come through to confirm his death.

WHITFIELD: And David, none of us can forget, you were kidnapped by the Taliban, it was in Afghanistan, right, in 2008. You escaped and are here to tell us about your experience. So this correlation or relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, how strong is this bond, is this ongoing relationship, almost like reliance on one another, even?

ROHDE: It is. It's a fact that the Taliban did shelter bin Laden and Al Qaeda when they planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks. I think there's a chance that the Taliban could mean this pledge they have of if they were in power in Afghanistan, they would not allow Al Qaeda to carry out attacks.

The question is so many groups are present now. There's a big and powerful ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, and can the Taliban really control the country even if they make this pledge? So it shows how difficult it is to counter terrorism permanently and the risks of pulling all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.

WHITFIELD: Because, Admiral, isn't it considered, ISIS is kind of an off chute of Al Qaeda, sharing a very similar ideology, even if some of the methods may be different.

KIRBY: Al Qaeda is really in many ways a shadow of its former self. Its' been eclipsed in many ways by these franchises, offshoot groups like ISIS, like Boko Haram. They are still a viable terrorist network, and I agree with David that it's significant, symbolic and significant that we were able to get Hamza bin Laden, but you just can't count out the entire group or even their offshoots. This should be a reminder that groups like Al Qaeda are still virulent, still powerful, still looking for ways to damage our interests and the interests of allies and partners.

And I think it is very important that the president remembers if he wants to and should take credit for killing Hamza bin Laden, that he remembers that Al Qaeda and the Taliban still have a relationship. The Taliban haven't renounced Al Qaeda. And I agree with David, I think it is very questionable whether they even have the ability to prevent other terrorist groups from operating effectively inside Afghanistan should they ever come back to power.

WHITFIELD: David, what kind of chatter will be monitored, or what would the intelligence community be looking for in terms of response coming from the now confirmed death of Hamza bin Laden?

ROHDE: There were several drone strikes right near where I was held captive. Four militants were killed when I was there, some militants from Uzbekistan. My guards, my captors were really angry. They were calling each other on their cell phones and expressing anger.

So there may have been communications initially about Hamza being killed, and then you would wait to see if any new communications emerge over those several months, confirming he's alive. So they were very angry. They saw these people that had been killed when I was captive as sort of great Mujahideen, great leaders. And so I'm sure there was reaction like that, and probably I assume when Hamza bin Laden was killed.

WHITFIELD: David Rohde, Admiral John Kirby, good to see you both. Thank you so much.

Still to come, the debate over gun control enters the corporate world. Now some of the top CEOs in America are joining together, urging Congress to act. I'll speak with one of those business leaders next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:43:04]

WHITFIELD: Welcome back. And 145 CEOs and counting, that's how many business leaders so far have signed a letter demanding that lawmakers take action on the nation's gun violence epidemic. Addressed to the U.S. Senate, the letter implores leaders to, I'm quoting now, support common sense gun laws, including background checks and red flags. They also argue that "Doing nothing about America's gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable."

The group of executives say that their proposals are not only bipartisan but widely supported by the American public. Rob Frohwein is the CEO of Kabbage, a financial tech company that specializes in lending. Rob is one of the 145 CEOs who signed the letter. Good to see you, Rob.

ROB FROHWEIN, SIGNED LETTER TO SENATE DEMANDING COMMON SENSE GUN REFORM: Thanks. I am grateful for you having me on.

WHITFIELD: What compelled you to do that? Or first off, how did you learn of the letter and that you would sign on?

FROHWEIN: One of our investors actually shared the letter with us and asked whether it would be something that we would support among other portfolio companies. So as soon as we saw it, myself and Kathryn Petralia, my co-founder, it was a no brainer. It was literally a few second decision to do that. It was consistent with what we had done in the past.

WHITFIELD: Then let's talk about that in the past. After Parkland, you were compelled to doing.

FROHWEIN: Yes. What we did is we looked at our own practices, and we realized we're lending capital to small businesses throughout the U.S., and some of those businesses sold automatic weapons and sold guns to kids under the age of 21. We made a decision we weren't going to do that anymore. And then we also backed it up with capital, matching funds and also contributions specifically. WHITFIELD: So then this time what was the impetus, what are you

hoping this commitment will then do?

FROHWEIN: Well, I believe you have to, and you read the letter, that you have to do something. You can't stand around and do nothing.

[14:45:00]

And I'm for -- everybody has a different something. Ours is we have the time, the stage, and we have the financial backing to be able to share this message and get more people to realize that this is something that needs to be done.

WHITFIELD: And your doing something means you're urging Congress to do more. Do you feel they would be much more receptive to the letter of more than 140 American CEOs urging you to do so when so many of the American voters or electorate, family members of people who have been victimized by a host of mass shootings feel like they haven't been able to get them to move the ball on something?

FROHWEIN: Yes. Look, I agree. And the fact of the matter is there are a lot of groups out there that obviously don't support this kind of legislation, and they have a lot of money behind them. And corporations have been often asked to stay in the background and not take a stand on matters like this. And I think it's important, Kathryn, my co-founder, thinks it's important to actually do just the opposite and make sure that we're part of that conversation.

WHITFIELD: So what's the response you're looking for? This is a letter to Congress.

FROHWEIN: Right.

WHITFIELD: And at what point will you feel like members of Congress hear you or are receptive to the letter?

FROHWEIN: Obviously, legislation. That does the trick, and that allows for stricter background checks, red flag legislation. Those things will be a step in the right direction. Look, data, just knowing there are fewer shootings and gun violence in the United States is imperative. I as CEO, if I see data going in the wrong direction, I must act as a business leader to make sure I turn that around or I should be fired.

WHITFIELD: But as a CEO, you're also calculating risk in how you make decisions. And we know that Walmart, we know that Dick's Sporting Goods, they all took a hit, or at least heard from their consumers who were disappointed, angry about decisions they were making about the availability of weapons on the market. So what kind of risks were you considering before signing on this letter?

FROHWEIN: We have the top value at the company is care deeply. We care about our employees, about the small business owners across America. We also care about our communities. And so when I look at that, this is a health and safety issue from my perspective. And this is something, we all deal with regulation every day that

relates to our own health and safety. This becomes obvious. And what I need to do as a CEO when my customers ask me about this is explain our position, or when our employees ask about this is explain the position, and say it comes from the right place, it comes from our heart, it comes from caring about people and not wanting people to be injured.

WHITFIELD: Have there been any complaints or grievances that come from your customers as a result of you signing that letter?

FROHWEIN: It's actually been very few. There's been a few. And we work with over 200,000 small businesses in the U.S. right now. So you're always going to have a handful. But what we really try to do is treat our customers as we would want to be treated. So we talk with them, we explain our position, and we try our best to help them understand we're really on their side, we're really on the side of everybody that has been affected by this or could be affected by it.

WHITFIELD: What's the personal satisfaction, if there is such a thing, after signing this letter. What are you personally feeling after having joined?

FROHWEIN: Well, I'm thankful for having the opportunity to do that. And I believe more organizations, and by the way, the letter is now on the internet and can be signed by a multitude of additional CEOs. I'm just one person out there, Kathryn is just one person. We need everybody to really stand up and sign that now.

WHITFIELD: All right, Rob Frohwein of Kabbage, thank you so much.

FROHWEIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Appreciate it. Thanks for coming in, too.

Straight ahead, Jerry Falwell Jr. facing backlash after emails surface over his handling of students and staff at Liberty University. Details straight ahead, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:52:48]

WHITFIELD: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is facing growing controversy following a "POLITICO" article in which he is accused of presiding over a culture of self-dealing. And now Falwell is facing new backlash and protests over leaked emails which allegedly show him belittling staff members and a student. Our Martin Savidge has been following this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Losing faith, an uncommon sight, students protesting at one of the largest Christian colleges in the world, targeting the school's president Jerry Falwell Jr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not being a great religious figure. He's not being a great leader.

SAVIDGE: Founded in 1971 by his father Jerry Falwell, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, today boasts a student body of 110,000 students. But Jerry Falwell Jr. is facing a backlash over the culture and business dealings of the school, and just this week, revelations from emails over the past decade in which Falwell belittles a student and staff members.

ELIZABETH BROOKS, JUNIOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: We want to know the truth. We want transparency through that process, and we want accountability for Falwell himself. We want to know what our president was doing.

SAVIDGE: Counter protesters were also on hand supporting Falwell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of it has just been taken out of context to smear his name personally. But I think some of it might be true. I think a lot of it probably is exaggerated.

SAVIDGE: "Reuters" this week reported on dozens of emails, some of which contained offensive language. In one from 2010, Falwell reportedly called a then student "emotionally imbalanced and physically retarded." In a 2015 email reported by "Reuters," Falwell is quoted as lashing out about students parking in private lots instead of paying parking fees to Liberty. Quote, "These students need to learn to play by the rules or they can go to another college. I'm tired of this crap," unquote.

In other emails reported by Reuters, Falwell calls a university official a bag of hot air who couldn't spell the word "profit." In another, "Reuters" says Falwell calls another official "a half-wit and easy to manipulate."

[14:55:00]

Speaking to CNN, Falwell confirmed the emails were authentic, but said they lacked context, saying, quote, "I would have to see the full thread to see what I was talking about," unquote.

Falwell also told CNN that the emails had been stolen and that he has asked the FBI to investigate what he calls a criminal conspiracy, saying that former employees and board members have leaked documents and emails in attempt to oust him. Falwell's demands for federal probe follow a "POLITICO" story based on email and unnamed sources, accusing him presiding over a culture of self-dealing at the university, including real estate transactions that would seem to benefit family and associates.

When asked about his tumultuous week, Falwell said this, quote, "I really don't care what they say. In the end, they are going to look like fools. So I'm actually very much enjoying this week," unquote.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Atlanta.

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WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, Martin.

A look at our top stories now. Now the Food and Drug Administration has taken a major step in approving its first peanut allergy treatment called Palforzia. The treatment could reduce the severity of allergic reactions in children ages four to 17. The FDA is expected to approve the drug by January.

And a 66-year-old man has been arrested in connection with dealing and stealing this solid gold toilet from Winston Churchill's birthplace. Police say the thieves broke in overnight and tore out the fully functioning 18 karat gold toilet, causing significant damage and flooding.

That's one way to end our hour, in the toilet. Just kidding. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

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