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Interview With St. Paul, Minnesota, Police Chief Todd Axtell; Trump Set To Deliver Remarks; Unrest In America; Six Hundred To 800 National Guard Members From Five States Requested For D.C.; Trump Invokes 1807 Law To Deploy Military Amid Protests. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 1, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: U.S. military personnel already have been brought in, in trucks onto the White House grounds. These are U.S. military police. You can see them there at Lafayette Park, off of Pennsylvania Avenue in New York.

Crowds are gathering there. We saw crowds gathering in Philadelphia, crowds gathering in Atlanta, other major cities as well.

We're staying on top of all of these developments, hoping that all these protests, all these demonstrations remain peaceful -- obviously, a lot of angry people there -- and don't deteriorate in the face of tension with the police and other law enforcement authorities, and get ugly and violent, as they have over these past several days here in the United States.

Let's get some reaction, some analysis from the St. Paul, Minnesota, police chief, Todd Axtell.

Chief, thank you so much for joining us.

As you see all these dramatic images of the protests around the country -- and, as you know, one week ago, George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis public officer -- tell us what you're seeing, first of all, in your city. And what are you preparing for tonight?

TODD AXTELL, ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, POLICE CHIEF: Yes, Wolf, thank you very much.

You know, we're very concerned. Our heart breaks. Our heart absolutely breaks for the Floyd family. Our community is hurting. Our police officers are hurting. And it's just really a strange, unusual, historic time in policing in America.

This is a pivotal moment. And we can take two paths. And I just really believe that all the police leaders throughout the country and leaders throughout the country in general really need to open our eyes, our ears, and, most importantly, our hearts to what's going on throughout this country.

BLITZER: What's your reaction to this official report from the Hennepin County medical examiner? Hennepin County is the county where Minneapolis is.

The medical examiner's report says that George Floyd's death -- and I'm reading -- was a homicide resulting from being restrained.

AXTELL: Well, it doesn't surprise me.

I haven't spoke to one police officer on the St. Paul Police Department that can really believe what they saw on that video. It's absolutely disgusting. And it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that Mr. Floyd lost his life at the hands of police.

BLITZER: Well, you're the police chief in St. Paul, right? That's the twin city right next to Minneapolis.

So, what do you think should be -- what should occur to the other three police officers who were there on the scene simply watching and doing nothing to prevent George Floyd being choked as he was? What should happen to them? And what do you think will happen to them?

AXTELL: Well, we have a very strict policy in the St. Paul Police Department that you have an absolute duty to intervene when you see misconduct going on.

And, specifically, that was an assault in progress. Those officers on the scene should have known. They should have had the courage to stand up and protect somebody who was about to take their last breath at the hands of a police officer.

We all have a duty to intervene in those situations. It was absolutely preventable. I think Chief Arradondo, the Minneapolis police chief, has done an incredible job. And he spoke about this yesterday. And I think this speaks volumes.

The officers who didn't intervene are absolutely complicit. We know that, as police leaders. And police officers throughout this country understand that. We have to really understand too that, in this country, we have a million police officers who answer 500 million-plus police calls per year.

A predominant number of them, a great majority of our police officers serve with dignity, respect, honor, and pride. And our hearts break for what's happening right now. And we're going to do everything we can to facilitate First Amendment activity throughout our city and also keep our city safe.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Chief, what are you bracing for tonight?

AXTELL: Well, we have active protests throughout our city right now. We have wonderful relationships with 95, 98 percent of our protest community, people who are out grieving, speaking their minds, speaking up and helping bring a call to reform throughout the country.

We're hoping for the best. But, of course, we have to plan for the worst. But I believe we're in for a good night in St. Paul. That's my greatest hope.

BLITZER: Let's hope -- I'm with you, obviously.

Todd Axtell is the St. Paul, Minnesota, police chief.

Good luck tonight. Good luck every night. Thank you so much for joining us.

AXTELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, I want to go to Minneapolis, sir, right now, and see what's going on there.

By the way, these are live pictures coming in from across the street from the White House. You see a standoff between protesters and Secret Service personnel, military police, among others. They're standing there.

And we also, just a little while ago, pretty extraordinary moment, saw U.S. military personnel being driven in several trucks onto the actual grounds of the White House. We're watching this closely. We're watching New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta.

[18:05:02]

Let's go to Minneapolis and see what's going on there.

You know, as we're watching, you know what's going on in -- before we go there, I want to see. You see, these are U.S. military police. And hold on for a moment.

Miguel, hold on for a moment, because we see the police moving closer for some reason.

Alex Marquardt, you're there for us. Tell us what's going on.

Alex, I don't know if you can hear me. Alex Marquardt is there in Lafayette Park.

And if you can tell us why the police are now getting closer and closer to the protesters.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, can you hear me?

BLITZER: Yes, I hear you now.

MARQUARDT: All right.

Well, there's been a significant ramping up of the police presence, of the law enforcement presence right there in Lafayette Park. And what we have seen in the last few moments is really the D.C. National Guard moving in.

They have in the past few days been supporting the Park Police on this -- in this park, which, as you know, Wolf, is federal land. So, these are federal authorities that have taken over this park to secure it right in front of the White House. So, what we have right here is United States Secret Service in blue,

the D.C. National Guard in camouflage, and they have been -- you have got that in the front row and then more D.C. National Guard behind them.

Now, I do not know why they have felt the need to bring more forces in. It is not as if the protesters here have gotten any more violent. There hasn't been anything thrown in the hours that I have been here. It has been an entirely peaceful protest.

The only thing that I can think of, Wolf, is that in, under an hour's time, there will be a curfew. The mayor of D.C. announced today that it will be two -- two days of a 7:00 p.m. curfew. That is in just 55 minutes.

And that is in stark contrast to the curfew there was last night at 11:00 p.m. And so what we saw last night was a real uptick in violence in the later hours. So, even if protests like this can be peaceful, they have in the last few days given way to much more violent protests.

That in part, according to the mayor of D.C., is Donald Trump's fault. She says -- she said that the words that we have heard from him have all but incited the violence that we have seen. We have seen -- we have heard from the president talking about possibly unleashing vicious dogs and ominous weapons if protesters were to breach the fence over there by the White House.

So, we have seen real anger by the mayor of D.C. directed at the president, who said that his comments were gross and are certainly not doing any favors. But, at the same time, Wolf, as we -- as we have been discussing, there is a huge amount of law enforcement presence in this city.

I have counted at least 10 different agencies or bodies that have now come together to work with the city and the federal government to keep the peace here.

So, again, there is a curfew going into effect in under an hour's time. When you look at this crowd, you hear this crowd, there's little indication that they plan to leave by 7:00. So, that remains very much to be seen, whether they will disperse and what kind of evening we have here in the nation's capital -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I just want to remind our viewers where you are, Alex.

You're in Lafayette Park, right across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. But on the other side is a truly historic church, historic Hay-Adams Hotel, 16th Street, for our viewers who have been to Washington, D.C.

And there was a lot of violence, and there were some fires that erupted there last night. And you were there on the scene. What happened?

MARQUARDT: Yes, it's going to be a little bit difficult to show you from here. But I can definitely explain how it went down.

You're absolutely right, Wolf. I'm going to ask Peter Morris to again pan over.

That lovely church over there on the opposite corner, that is, as you say, St. John's Church. It's famous because it is so close to the White House, because so many presidents have gone to it, including President Obama, President Trump, and presidents before them.

And right outside last night, a huge fire was set on 8th street, in the direction that the camera is pointing, as well as a fire that was set in a basement room in that church.

And then just a block north, in the large building of the AFL-CIO, which, of course, is the famous federation of labor unions, there was a large fire set by arsonists in the lobby. And as a result, Wolf, a number of these buildings, including the AFL-CIO, including St. John's Church, including the Hay-Adams Hotel, which is right behind us, right behind my cameraman, right in front of me, they have been boarded up.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Alex, hold on for -- hold on for a moment. Alex, hold on just for a moment, as we see more police and military personnel going into that area.

[18:10:03]

Clearly, there's a serious standoff between the protesters and the police, the military police who are there, as well as the uniformed Secret Service personnel, police as well.

We have just been told that the president will make a statement in the Rose Garden at 6:15, scheduled for five minutes from now. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the Rose Garden.

The president will walk there. You see the teleprompters are already set up. So, he will be reading a statement. We will see if he ad-libs as well, but he will be reading clearly what's going to be a carefully written statement.

Reporters are already there on the scene to hear what the president has to say. So we will have live coverage of the president of the United States, President Trump, getting ready to make a statement and walk out of the Oval Office, walk down that red carpet, and go to the podium there, and read a statement.

You see the teleprompters already established. We will see what he has to say. We will have coverage of that.

Once again, you see the attorney -- there's the attorney general, Bill Barr, over at the White House. I don't know if he's sticking around or leaving. But you can see him with his security personnel walking behind the police who have gathered at Lafayette Park in this standoff with the protesters who have gathered as well. That was Bill Barr clearly right there. There you see him right there.

Maybe he just wants to see what's going on there. But you see him with his security and his aides standing right there behind the police lines at Lafayette Park.

I wonder if he's going to walk back, back to the White House, and see what -- and be there when the president makes his statement. That's going to be in a few moments.

But, right now, he's very close to where the action is at Lafayette Park, right across the street from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, a very, very sensitive moment unfolding right now. I have no idea why Bill Barr decided go there. He clearly may have just wanted to see the demonstrators, see the police on the scene, get a firsthand account.

Looks like he's walking back now away from the police lines at Lafayette Park and heading back towards the White House.

Once again, we're awaiting the president of the United States. Momentarily, he's going to be making a statement.

Don, Don Lemon, all of us are anxious to hear what the president of the United States has to say, in the face of this angry, angry situation that has -- that has unfolded, not only in Washington or New York or Philadelphia or Atlanta or Chicago or Los Angeles, but indeed in cities all over this country.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Right. You're right.

And I think anything short of, we hear you, Wolf, we empathize with you, I want to help, I am on your side, I think will fall flat.

I think if he comes with a message of bringing the military and law and order and that sort of thing, I don't think it will help. Yes, there should be law and order in this country. Yes, people should follow the rules. No, people should not be burning down businesses. There should not be destruction of property.

But it's all in the message. And it's all in how you convey it. People are looking for, as I have been saying, to be heard. They're looking for leadership. They're looking for empathy. They're looking for someone to bring the country together, not divisiveness.

They're looking for someone not to be racist, not to be bigoted, not to both-sides this issue, not to say there are very fine people on both sides of that sentiment. That is not what America needs right now. That is not what these groups of people who are out there, it's not what they want at this particular time.

They want their voices to be heard. They have tried to protest peacefully. They have tried to get their points across in a number of protests that have led up to this, including Mike Brown, including Freddie Gray, including Trayvon Martin, including others, even in -- within the marches that happened after this president was inaugurated. They have tried to have their voices heard, including kneeling at a

football game only for the time that it takes to perform the national anthem. That has not been heard. It has fallen on deaf ears.

So, anything beyond, I hear you, I want to work with you, I'm going to listen to you, I understand the mistakes of the past, we're going to correct that, that is going to fall on deaf ears.

BLITZER: Well, we will see what the president has to say.

We're told, momentarily, he will walk out the microphone in the Rose Garden and make a statement. We saw the teleprompters already set up there.

Don, stand by.

Van Jones is with us as well.

And, Van, you have a unique perspective on what the president might be saying, because you actually work with him and his aides and Jared Kushner on criminal justice reform. That was, what, a year or two ago. And you succeeded in a bipartisan effort.

[18:15:07]

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

BLITZER: What would you like to hear from the president?

JONES: Well, look, I think there is a way out of this.

And it's three things. One, he's done the right thing in having the Department of Justice and the FBI leaning forward on the ground there. That's very, very good.

You need arrests, though. Clearly, federal laws were broken. The FBI should make arrests immediately. If he says anything about that, that's a positive. Number two, we need bipartisan federal legislation on police reform. We did it on prison and justice reform. We need now police reform.

If he says that he wants -- the door is open for that, he wants to bring Democrats and Republicans together for that, that would be very, very welcome.

And then, lastly, these communities, between the shutdown of the economy, which I supported, and then these riots and disturbances, you have a businesses that are flat on their back. The economy has been destroyed in a lot of these communities. If he says anything about lending a helping hand to some of these businesses -- it's one thing to attack the people who burned the businesses.

It's something else to reach out and help the people who are -- have been the victims. And so there are things he could say that would point a pathway forward that could bring people together. There are often contradictory impulses inside that building and inside

the heart of that man. I hope, today, he comes forward with a constructive pathway out, justice, legislation, economic help for these communities.

BLITZER: Van, I don't know if you can see what we're showing our viewer. It's an extraordinary picture.

This is Lafayette Park right behind, the U.S. military police, the Secret Service personnel, uniformed Secret Service police. There is the attorney general of the United States standing there simply watching what's going on.

That's Bill Barr, the attorney general. He's not wearing a tie. He's got his hands in his pocket, and he's just looking to see what's going on.

Now, what's your appreciation, what's your understanding of why he came to do -- basically, to undertake an eyewitness account of this standoff between the demonstrators and the police?

JONES: It's bizarre. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

(AUDIO GAP) administration and, frankly, at the highest levels of government to see the level of pain, to see the level of outrage, to see how disgusted people are with this.

Don Lemon hit it on the head over and over and over again. We are tired. Enough is enough. Too many funerals. We're tired of it. And we're tired of the lip service and we're tired of the kumbaya. We want this to stop. We want to change -- change the rules and the laws, so that police have some disincentive to keep doing this.

If you keep getting away with it, you are going to keep doing it. So something's got to change. So I think it's not a bad thing to have the attorney general -- he is the top cop -- to go and see. Maybe he's -- went out there to just see how the police were handling it.

But maybe just the pure raw energy off of the streets of America hitting him in the chest might make a bigger difference and show him some urgency. This could get out of hand, Wolf.

We could -- these disturbances right now are minor compared to 1992 with Rodney King, when you had American cities on fire, in 1968, American cities on fire. We are on a pathway right now not to riots, but to civil unrest, where you have five, six, seven cities on fire.

I hope the top cop, the attorney general, is out there and does his own math. If this starts to happen, if we get one more videotape, Wolf, one more videotape of some brutal, horrific murder or beating, this country could go over the edge.

So, I'm glad that he's out there. It's a little bit strange, but if he takes away from it that the people are tired, it's a good thing he's out there. BLITZER: Yes, there's Bill Barr. He's standing there surrounded by

some of his aides and security personnel. He's right behind the military police, the Secret Service personnel, the others who have gathered in this face-off with the protesters, who are only a few feet away.

And they're very vocal, but very peaceful right now. Last night, it deteriorated relatively quickly. There were fires. There was a very, very angry reaction. Let's hope that doesn't happen again tonight.

But you can see, right behind the police...

LEMON: Wolf, can I jump in here?

BLITZER: Hold on one second, Don.

LEMON: OK.

BLITZER: You can see, right behind the police, you can see the attorney general. He's in charge. So he's sort of like a general overlooking, overseeing his troops, who have gathered on the scene.

I guess, Don, that's the only analysis I can think. He just wants to see his troops in action.

Go ahead, Don.

LEMON: No, you took the sentiment I wanted to say.

[18:20:01]

This looks to me more -- my -- I think my colleague is being very generous, Van Jones. And I will allow that.

But I think there is, one, Bill Barr has a certain degree of anonymity that Donald Trump doesn't have, obviously. Many of these people, they can't see him. And he's -- we have the cameras trained on him, so he is hiding in plain sight.

And, number two, I think that this is probably a photo-op, and he knows that the media is going to have the cameras trained on him. And I think this is a law and order sort of play for the American people who don't happen to be in Washington at this point.

But, yes, it looks very militaristic to me, a general overseeing his troops at this point. Bill Barr was not out there on Friday, when there were protesters who were going back and forth with the Secret Service.

Bill Barr wasn't out there on Saturday when they were going back and forth with police, on Sunday. And on Monday, now that the National Guard is there, and members of the military are there, and he is well- protected, and the president is going to come out, and the Secret Service, more Secret Service are out there, and the Washington, D.C., police, he shows up, when the president is coming to give -- to make a media statement and to give the image of law and order. So I think that we have to be -- as members of the media and as

Americans, we need to be more savvy about how this White House operates when it comes to dealing with the media. They're very savvy at putting on a reality show, for obvious reasons, putting on a show, looking a certain way.

They are playing -- they're making, at this point -- let's see what he has to say. Hopefully, he says something that is -- that will unite the country, instead of divide. But, at this point, it looks at they're making the law and order play for the Trump voter and for his constituency, and this has probably more to do with November than it does with winning the hearts and minds and uniting Americans.

BLITZER: And we just got a tweet, Don, from the president.

It's a short tweet. He says: "I will be delivering brief remarks from the Rose Garden at 6:30 p.m. Eastern to update on the federal response."

So, that's, what, in about eight minutes or so from now.

There, we see Bill Barr. He's -- it looks like he's getting ready to leave Lafayette Park across the street from the White House.

LEMON: Everybody, Google General Patton before that happens. Let's see what happens. And then you will see what I'm talking about.

BLITZER: Yes.

I guess he's seen enough of the military police and the other police who have gathered there. They're very, very close to the protesters who are on the scene.

Jim Acosta is our chief White House correspondent. Jim is joining us right now.

Jim, are you there in the Rose Garden right now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I am, Wolf.

We just scrambled to gather for this Rose Garden news conference. It may just be a statement from the president coming up at 6:30 in just a few moments from now. He tweeted that this is going to be happening at 6:30.

And we expect these remarks to be brief. We will see if he takes questions. Obviously, we have seen some pretty stunning sights over here at the White House over the last hour or so. We saw about eight military vehicles, large military vehicles rumble through the White House complex, carrying U.S. troops over to Pennsylvania Avenue to help bolster some of the protective forces that are in place for tonight's potential unrest.

One of the things that we know that the president may talk about, because the press secretary talked about this earlier today, Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the president is considering or it's being considered inside the White House the use of the 1807 Insurrection Act, which allows the president, allows the U.S. government to deploy U.S.military troops to help quell a disturbance.

Now, obviously, this is a very old law. There are going to be a lot of legal experts who are going to argue over whether or not this is appropriate. But the sight of U.S. military forces rolling through the White House complex in a situation like this, Wolf, is just highly irregular and is obviously going to cause a lot of concern for people around the country and I guess around the world, as the United States is looked upon as a beacon of democracy.

It isn't every day, it's very rare to see military vehicles rolling through the White House complex. Now, we also saw the attorney general, Bill Barr, outside the White House inspecting the situation going on in Lafayette Park.

There have been discussions inside the administration about deploying multiple agencies, sending their protective units to over to Lafayette Park to make sure this place does not get out of control. As we saw last night, fires were set at multiple places around the White House, inside St. John's Episcopal Church, the historic church that has been worshipped at by every president since James Madison.

There are other installations around the White House, including the AFL-CIO, that was -- had its lobby torched briefly, before that fire was brought under control.

[18:25:05]

And so the president is stepping into this situation to potentially -- we think, to deliver a message of law and order. He hasn't been in much of a mood for issuing words of calm. He didn't do that on the phone earlier today with the nation's governors, when he was accusing them of being weak and saying that they need to dominate the streets, asking these governors why they aren't using National Guard troops and so on.

And so he has been kind of laying down this marker that he's ready to get tough, at one point tweeting earlier this afternoon, a tweet from Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton about the use of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, potentially using the Army to quell the unrest here in Washington and around the country.

So, just a ramped-up rhetoric that we just have never really seen before in my lifetime, haven't seen in generations in this country. And I suppose the question is whether or not any of this works for the president.

I will tell you, Wolf, there has been debate -- my colleagues and I in the CNN White House team have been reporting on this all day long -- there's been debate inside the president's team of advisers as to whether or not he should talk about any of this, because he -- there's the potential he could make matters worse.

We saw last week, when he tweeted about looters being shot, that obviously helped inflame the situation. There's just no way around that. And the potential is there once again, Wolf, for the president to walk out into the Rose Garden of the White House, after U.S. military vehicles just rolled through this complex, and inflame things further.

And that's what we're going to be watching for it in a few moments, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there was a conference call he had with the nation's governors earlier in the day today, Jim, that apparently got at times pretty ugly.

We're told that the president was delivering very stark warnings to them to get tough; otherwise, you're going to lose. And some of them were responding, including Illinois Governor Pritzker, saying the president should not be saying these kinds of things.

ACOSTA: That's right.

Governor Pritzker from Illinois was telling the president on this conference call that, your rhetoric is not helping the situation, it's hurting the situation, and that the president should be displaying a style of leadership that brings calm to the country.

And the president responded to that by saying, I don't like your rhetoric either. And you didn't do very well dealing with the coronavirus.

And so he's in a very feisty, combative mood. I have talked to Trump advisers over the weekend who said that they believe some of this law and order posture and the president's been putting on display may be helpful to him politically.

And that's, I think, very likely the reason why, Wolf, you're seeing the president behave in this fashion.

Now, the critics will say, hold on a second. There's a contrast here. The president's talking tough, he's tweeting tough, he's saying all of these things on this conference call with these governors, and yet, on Friday night, he was in the bunker in the emergency operations center of the White House taking cover when there were protests going on in the streets of Washington.

Not exactly a Rambo-style move. And so the question is going to be asked, why is the president tweeting one thing and saying one thing, and then behaving in a very different fashion when the chips are down, Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by, because I know, momentarily, the president is scheduled to walk out of the Oval Office and head over to the microphone in the Rose Garden and make what he's describing as a brief statement.

I don't know if he will answer reporters questions in the process, but he will be making a brief statement. And now, all of a sudden, we see the military police getting closer and closer to the demonstrators.

Alex Marquardt is there on the scene for us.

You see the demonstrators, large numbers. They're raising their hands. And, all of a sudden, they're eyeball to eyeball with U.S. military police. They have got their shields, their batons, and they're getting closer and closer.

Alex, you're very close to that scene right now, aren't you?

MARQUARDT: Yes, Wolf, we are right here, right in front of them.

It is unclear why they have decided they felt the need to come right up to the barrier. This is the closest they have been to the protesters in the last few hours now.

Now, it is most likely because the president is about to speak. And once this crowd finds out that the president is going to speak -- and I can tell you that most of them were not aware, have not been aware -- it would likely set off another ripple of anger throughout this crowd.

But, yes, Wolf, what you're looking at here is D.C. National Guard, as well as Secret Service, all with their riot gear who have marched right up to these barricades where these protesters are on the northern edge of Lafayette Square Park.

The protesters are putting up their hands, many of them saying, "Hands up, don't shoot."

Wolf, there is a long list of law enforcement agencies who have come here to quell these protests, who are out in the streets to quell these protests, I should say, in the streets of Washington, D.C.

And we have just learned that an additional 600 to 800 National Guard members from five other states have been requested for Washington, D.C.

[18:30:03]

So that, Wolf, just to put in context, that's over ten different law enforcement bodies that are now active in D.C. to keep control of these protests to make sure that they don't get out of hand, as we have seen the last few nights.

Now earlier today, Wolf, we learned that some 200 to 250 active duty army soldiers would be coming up from North Carolina to join the law enforcement efforts here in Washington.

As we've been saying, Wolf, these protests until now have been entirely calm. In fact, even as this escalation is happening, as these police come up to confront the protesters, we have not seen the protesters respond in any sort of way by throwing any sort of projectiles, by throwing any sort of rocks or fireworks like we saw last night.

So the protesters, for the most part, have their hands in the air, many of them chanting, hands up don't shoot, and holding their signs. But, Wolf, there is also a fear of escalation, not just because these forces have come up to confront them but because we've seen a number of them putting on their gas masks, which would be an indication that they are about to start firing tear gas. We have our gas masks get to ready as well. This is something that we saw last night and in the course the past few days.

So, Wolf, as we get ready to hear the president speak, the mood, the temperature is definitely rising out here in the Lafayette Park. And just a reminder that we are about half an hour away before D.C. has ordered a curfew and anyone would be arrested if they're still in the streets in half an hours' time. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, let's just take a look back. And there you see a police on horseback as well. This is America 2020 right now. We're still in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that has already had taken the lives of more than 100,000 Americans and we've seen 40 million Americans lose their jobs over the past ten weeks alone, and now this. You see more military personnel and Secret Service personnel moving closer and closer towards the protesters in Lafayette Park right now.

And as, Alex Marquardt, we just reporting additional 600 to 800 National Guard members from five states have now been requested to supplement the D.C. National Guard responding to what's going on. And in an official statement, a defense official calls this civil unrest.

I'll read the quote from the Defense Department official. This evening, the Department of Defense has been working with the Department of Justice and other officials in the City of Washington D.C., to provide sufficient forces for protecting the city and maintaining peace this evening. The stated goal is to help the city with their needs.

As we've reported before, the entire D.C. National Guard, that's about 1,200 military personnel, the entire D.C. National Guard has been activated already. The additional personnel will come from Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Utah, pretty stark development.

And you see the protesters now moving, they are backing up. This is in Washington, D.C., as the military personnel get closer and closer. This is potentially going to get very, very ugly, even as the president of the United States is getting ready to deliver what he describes as a brief statement on all of this that's unfolding.

These are stunning images we're seeing here in the United States of America right now, truly stunning images, protesters have their hands up. And all of a sudden you see the military police, the Secret Service personnel uniform, Secret Service personnel and others moving closer and closer to them. Clearly, they're anxious to try to disperse these demonstrators.

These demonstrators don't want to leave. They have been very peaceful, they've been screaming, they've been shouting, yes, but it's been very, very peaceful. And now, you see the military personnel, the other police officers getting closer and closer. This is a standoff that could explode even as we await momentarily. We're told the president of the United States walking to the rose garden and deliver a statement.

Don Lemon, what do you think?

LEMON: Well I think it was -- there was a reason, again, as I said, the attorney general came out, as you can see now there as he walked back in. There's an escalation in what police are doing. They appeared to have bit become more aggressive with the protesters. So let's see how this plays out.

And the president coming out, again, all of this sort of a made for T.V. moment as the president comes out and probably going to deliver a law and order-type speech.

But, listen, you know, Van Mitch (ph) in 1992 earlier and, yes, those were horrific riots and protests in the United States.

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But, mainly -- and, listen, I was in New York City working in news in the newsroom in New York City. Yes, there were riots in cities around the country, yes, there were protest in cities around the county but they did not last for seven days.

This has lasted in seven days in major cities, most every major city around the country. And it has no sign of slowing down. 1992 with Rodney King was mostly confined to Los Angeles. A lot of people died. 63 people died, about 2,300 people were injured, 12,000 people arrested, a billion in property damage, mostly confined to Los Angeles. This has been every major city in the country and building. Wolf, you got people on your screen you want to talk about now.

BLITZER: All right. Take look, Don, hold on. There's tear gas now being fired. You can see what's going on. The police are moving, they're trying to disperse this crowd that has gathered in Lafayette Park. Clearly, they don't want these protesters to be there even though they were peaceful. They were just screaming a little bit, but they were not endangering anyone.

And all of a sudden tear gas in these protesters now. They're going presumably run away and try to regroup elsewhere. But this is clearly a very, very dangerous situation and it's unfolding as we await the president of the United States to make a statement from the rose garden on all of this that has unfolded over the past week since the killing of George Floyd, 46 years old, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

You see the situation is deteriorating quickly right now. And I can't stress, this is right across the street from the White House off of Pennsylvania Avenue. The north lawn of the White House is behind Lafayette Park where these protesters had gathered, once again, very peacefully. And all of a sudden, the police were ordered in, they're firing tear gas to try to disperse this crowd and it's turning very nasty right there.

Jim Acosta, you are there in the rose garden. Can you hear the flash bangs going on? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We sure can. Yes, Wolf, we are standing at the rose garden right now waiting for the president to come out and address the nation. And as he is about to address the nation, we can hear the explosions from Lafayette Park. They are very clearly audible. And so we are now seeing the potential for the president to be addressing the nation as these explosions are going off at the same time.

I mean, that is just an absolutely unbelievable prospect but that's what we are facing at this moment. We can hear those flash bangs coming in as we've been hearing over the last couple of days, breaking out right now.

Now, we do expect the president to deliver a law and order-focused address. The teleprompters are set up. And so we'll be seeing as it's describe from time to time, Teleprompter Trump. That potentially means he won't be taking any questions.

But as you know, expect the unexpected with the president. He may deliver these remarks and then decide to take questions. But my sense of it is, Wolf, is that he's going to be explaining why we saw those military vehicles transporting those troops over to the park to try to help quell this disturbance.

Now, obviously, the question is going to be asked and we'll try to ask the question as he walks out of here if he doesn't take questions, you know, where is the message of calm, where is the message of trying to calm things down around this country. Because obviously you can send in the Calvary, you can send in all of these military forces, but that doesn't necessarily make the protesters go away unless you want to really crack some skulls out there. And those are images that this White House has to realize comes with a massive political risk.

BLITZER: Yes, people are suffering from the tear gas. You know, Jim Acosta, you know what I don't understand is, moments before the president is scheduled to -- says he's going to come into the rose garden and deliver a speech. All of a sudden the military police, the Secret Service police, others, they start firing tear gas to disperse the crowd. And you can see tear gas in there.

Is the president even going to come out with tear gas right across the street to the rose garden of the White House? Is that appropriate as this violence now has developed because the police decided to move forward and try to disperse the crowd with tear gas?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And we just heard three more explosions. And I can tell you, Wolf, when that tear gas is fired out on the street near the White House, you can smell it down the block. It is not something that you just have to be in that same vicinity in order to experience that.

And I think it does begs the question why is the president delivering his address in the rose garden where, clearly, we're going to hear this explosion and there is a potential that you could have tear gas fumes blowing over here in the breeze. I mean, there is a potential for that, absolutely. It makes more sense it seems to me, for the president to be delivering this address inside the White House, in the east room or in the Oval Office or even in the White House briefing room.

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To do it out here in the rose garden, I think, there is an element of risk to it. You know, I would love to say that that's not the case, but that certainly the case, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you can see the protesters, they've -- a lot of them have now left Lafayette Park. They're in front of St. John's Church on 16th Street, if you know Washington D.C. and I St. There're a lot of historic buildings there, the Hay-Adams Hotel right across the street, the AFL-CIO right over there, a big building.

And you see smoke from the tear gas that police have dispersed, right, moments before it supposedly the president was walking to the rose garden, right across Pennsylvania Avenue from where all of this is unfolding to deliver what the president describes as a brief statement on the national unrest. That big building AFL-CIO right over there, if you know Washington D.C.

This is an ugly, ugly situation that has developed not because the protesters were doing anything other than screaming a little bit and standing there and the police coming in to try to disperse them.

Alex Marquardt, you are on the scene, and I guess you're right in the middle of this. Tell us what you're seeing and hearing. We see you have the gas mask on.

MARQUARDT: Yes, Wolf, the police have clearly made the decision that they want all these protesters out. So this is right before this curfew went into effect, it's going to go affect (INAUDIBLE). Of course, right before the president is going to makes these remarks to the country, remarks that many have been waiting for, for him to talk about all these nationwide protests.

But, Wolf, just to give you a sense of things, the police have completely panned in (ph) the protesters, trying to push them out via 8th St. all along the park there. You have D.C. National Guard along with park police.

Protesters here with their hands up saying, don't shoot, because the police have been firing rounds of tear gas. That's why I have this gas mask on. The air is heavy with that tear gas. And if you look at the eyes of many of these protesters, they are red and they're full of tears.

What we've been seeing is the police moving forward at different moments to push people away from the park. So that is presumably their next move. You have this row of U.S. park police right here, right behind them, another row of mounted park police. And so at this point, these protesters are resisting and here come the mounted of police.

BLITZER: Let's listen and watch this for a second. MARQUARDT: Fire a flash bangs.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Wolf, those are rubber bullets, Wolf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see this, we're doing nothing.

BLITZER: You can see the mounted police, they're moving in. Tear gas, rubber bullets, they're trying to disperse this crowd that had gathered very peacefully and then all of a sudden the police start moving in to try to disperse the crowd and it's getting very, very ugly.

Once again, for viewers who may just be tuning in, this is happening as we're awaiting the president of the United States. He is supposedly going to be delivering a brief statement in the rose garden where you can clearly smell the tear gas that has enveloped not just Lafayette Park but the north lawn of the White House and heading towards the rose garden, where the president is going to be speaking momentarily.

Don Lemon, I'm anxious to get your thoughts right now. This is not pleasant to even observe this right here in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital as this has unfolded.

LEMON: Well, Wolf, this is -- I have -- very quickly, I'll have to say, I said earlier, this was a made for T.V. moment. This was a peaceful protest. And as the president is about to come out --

BLITZER: Hold on, Don. Hold on, Don. Here is the president. Hold on, Don, here is the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, my first and highest duty as president is to defend our great country and the American people. I swore an oath to uphold the laws of our nation and that is exactly what I will do. All Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd.

My administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served. He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries and peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob. The biggest victims of rioting are peace loving citizens in our poorest communities.

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And as their president, I will fight to keep them safe.

I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters. But, in recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others. A number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents. Innocent people have been savagely beaten, like the young man in

Dallas, Texas, who was left dying on the street, or the woman in Upstate New York, viciously attacked by dangerous thugs. Small business owners have seen their dreams utterly destroyed. New York's finest have been hit in the face with the bricks. Brave nurses who have battled the virus are afraid to leave their homes. A police precinct has been overrun.

Here in the nation's capital, the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial have been vandalized. One of our most historic churches was set ablaze. A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero, was shot and killed.

These are not acts of peaceful protests. These are acts of domestic terror. The destruction of innocent life and the spilling of innocent blood is an offense to humanity and a crime against God. America needs creation not destruction, cooperation, not content, security, not anarchy, healing, not hatred, justice, not chaos.

This is our mission and we will succeed, 100 percent, we will succeed. Our country always wins.

That is why I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America. I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.

Therefore, the following measures are going to into effect immediately. First, we are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country. We will end it now. Today, I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.

Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them. I am also taking swift and decisive action to protect our great capital, Washington, D.C.

What happened in the city last night was a total disgrace. As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property.

We are putting everybody on a warning -- our 7:00 curfew will be strictly enforced. Those who threaten innocent life and property will be arrested, detained, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I want the organizers of this terror to be on notice that he will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail. This includes Antifa and others who are leading instigators of this violence. One law and order, and that is what it is. One law. We have one

beautiful law. And once that is restored and fully restored, we will help you, we will help your business, and we will help your family.

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America is founded upon the rule of law. It is the foundation of our prosperity, our freedom, and our very way of life. But where there is no law, there is no opportunity. Where there is no justice, there is no liberty. Where there is no safety, there is no future.

We must never give into anger or hatred, if malice or violence reigns, then none of us is free. I take these actions today, with firm resolve and with a true and passion and love for our country. By far, our greatest days lie ahead.

Thank you very much, and now I'm going to pay my respects to a very, very special place. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right. So, there's the president making a six or seven- minute statement, declaring he is the president of law and order and he will stop what's going on right now.

As he was speaking, right across the street from the White House, there was a peaceful demonstration in Lafayette Park by protesters who were simply shouting, making statements, but they were not threatening anyone and, all of a sudden, military personnel, military police, uniformed Secret Service police mounted police went in to disperse and they were firing tear gas in the process, rubber bullets, we're told, as well.

The president saying that he is going to use an old law to deploy military personnel to deal with all of this. He says these are professional anarchists who are responsible, once again, as he asked for the past several days, he blamed a far left group Antifa for this.

They will lose, we will win, he said. This is our mission, we will succeed, he said, 100 percent. Mobilizing all resources, he said, citing an old law, civilian and military, the Insurrection Act of 1807, he says he was mobilizing that to deal with the riots, he said, and the lawlessness.

This situation is going to get clearly a whole lot worse, not only here near the White House and Washington, D.C., but bracing for angry reaction in other major cities around the United States as well. And remember, in only about eight minutes, there's supposed to be a curfew that's taking place here in the nation's capital. Everyone is supposed to be off the streets, we'll see what happens at that moment.

Don Lemon, the president did not mince, from his perspective, any words at all.

LEMON: He did not, Wolf. And just as the president was coming out, I was trying to make the point to you that this was a made for TV moment. This is the reason, as I said earlier, that the attorney general came out to survey the troops because they wanted to create this moment for the cameras.

So that when the president came out and gave his law and order speech which I said as well again for the cameras, that there would be chaos on the streets of America. This was a made for television moment.

And what I wanted to say after that, which I believe to be true and I know to be true now is that earlier on that phone call that we heard that Jim Acosta played for us earlier when the president said you are being weak, you have to show strength, that the Minneapolis Police Department was on fire, I've never seen anything like this before. I said he sounded weak and scared.

Those were the orders from the commander-in-chief for this very moment that just happened in front of our eyes. Why were we pretending otherwise? Open your eyes, America. Open your eyes.

We are teetering on a dictatorship. We are -- this is chaos. Has the president -- I'm listening -- is the president declaring war on Americans? What is happening here?

He's saying he wants to protect -- he wants to protect peaceful protesters at the same time sending law enforcement and military into the streets to push peaceful protesters back, to be aggressive with peaceful protesters. He is doing the exact opposite of what he said in that speech.

I think the president is playing a very, very dangerous game here. There are a lot of Americans who are out on these streets who are upset, who are frustrated, who are angry.

Again, I'm not condoning violence at all, and I hope that they remain peaceful, but I -- and I -- but I hope that they stand up and fight for their rights to peacefully protest in this country. But he's playing a very dangerous game, because this will backfire. People are upset and they're angry.

These people as I've been saying as well, they feel like they are occupied in their own communities by police departments.

[18:55:03]

Many of them militarized police departments.

BLITZER: All right.

LEMON: Now the entire country, according to his orders, we are living under a militarized country or we will be soon and it will play out in front of our very eyes on national television.

BLITZER: And, Don, the president said he is now going to be deploying what he described as thousands and thousands of U.S. military troops to American cities. He says he has the right to do so under the Insurrection Act of 1807, and that's why he's doing this.

Jim Acosta, you were there. You were listening to the president. He made a 6 or 7-minute statement, and then he walked away, didn't answer reporters' questions. Clearly insisting he's going to win, he's the law and order president, he said.

And he called -- what he called the terrorists, and he called them the terrorists, they will lose. And he complained so many of these cities and states were engaging in a total disgrace by not taking decisive military action.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And I just want to catch you up to speed on something that appears to be happening right now, and that is it seems they're making preparations over here at the White House for the president to make some kind of movement off the grounds of the White House. You heard the president say at the very end of his remarks he was going to go pay his respects.

You can see behind me the pool is gathering as we speak. That's the White House pool, that's a small group of reporters who trail the president throughout his day on his movements. We're not in the pool today but our colleagues at other network, NBC and other print reporters, they're gathering up right now for a -- what appears to be a very brief movement that the president is going to be taking here in just a few moments.

It is possible based on the logistics where we are and how he'll be able to make a brief trip here in just a few moments that he may be going to St. Johns Episcopal Church. If you look at this camera that is overlooking St. Johns Episcopal Church across from Lafayette, across from the White House --

BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures from St. Johns --

ACOSTA: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- St. Johns Church, right across from Lafayette Park, right over there on 16th Street, and it's a -- as you know, Jim, every American president -- I think almost every American president has gone to Sunday services there. There was a fire that was unloaded in the basement of that church yesterday, a small fire.

But right now, you can -- if the president is, in fact, planning on heading there that would -- we would now understand why the military police and the Secret Service decided to use tear gas and other weapons to go in and disperse that peaceful crowd --

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: -- that had gathered there.

And, Jim, I just want to read what the Insurrection Act of 1807 says, because this is what the president says he has the right to deploy what he calls thousands of thousands of military troops here domestically in the United States. I'll read the act.

The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the United States federal law that governs the ability of the president of the United States to deploy military troops within the United States to suppress civil disorder, insurrection, and rebellion. So that's the law the president is citing. That's why you're seeing

these military police on the streets right near the White House, right over at Lafayette Park having to disperse this crowd and maybe the president is planning on heading over there.

Go ahead, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's what it sounds like, Wolf. But, you know, you just read the 1807 Insurrection Act which authorizes the use of military forces to quell a disturbance. However, this appears to have been a use of military force in these other protective services to clear out the area for a photo opportunity. If the president is going to St. Johns Episcopal Church for a photo opportunity --

BLITZER: And we're told he is. We're now hearing, Jim, that's where the president is going and that's why the police decided to clear out this area. The president wants to have a photo-op over at the church.

ACOSTA: That's an extraordinary use of manpower for a photo opportunity, Wolf, because keep in mind as we have all been seeing over the last couple of days these protests that are gathered at the top of Lafayette Park, which is just across the street from the St. Johns Episcopal Church, that is a massive deployment of forces to clear out what was a very large crowd demonstrating against what we've been seeing over the last couple of days and the death, of course, of George Floyd.

But, Wolf, you know, using the 1807 Insurrection Act for this purpose, that's one thing for calming things down, getting things under control. That's controversial enough. But to use this law and invoking that law to clear out the park so the president can go to the church, that is just extraordinary, Wolf.

BLITZER: We were wondering why the attorney general of the United States had walked over behind the troops, the police as they were getting ready to disperse the crowd, peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park. Now we know the president is going to have a photo-op over at this St. Johns Church right across the street from the White House.

Our special live coverage continues here on CNN with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".

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