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Interview with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI); Interview with Victor Liu, American Detained in China; North Carolina Freshman Planning Mass Shooting Taken into Custody. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 10:30   ET


[10:31:18] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Ahead of the next Democratic presidential debate, another candidate is calling it quits. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made the call after failing to meet the donor or polling requirements to make the September debate.

About half the field has qualified, and several more missed the cut after they qualified by donor numbers, but not by the polling numbers as well. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, she is in that group. She is continuing her fight for the nomination. She joins us now, live from Iowa.

Congresswoman Tulsi, always good to have you on the air.


SCIUTTO: I just want to ask you about this very briefly, because the news just came out that the DOJ has cleared -- well, we knew they cleared James Comey, the former FBI director, of any criminal wrongdoing. They do say he set a dangerous precedent here, but they did clear him of releasing any classified information in the memos that he wrote, documenting his conversations with President Trump.

Just based on that -- and I know you haven't read the full report --


SCIUTTO: -- what's your reaction?

GABBARD: Yes, no, I'd like to take a look at it and see what the DOJ report has said.

SCIUTTO: OK, fine. Well, we'll set that aside. As you know, you did not make the next debate. You're staying in the race. How do you break through without that debate platform, as we get closer to Iowa, where you are, and to New Hampshire in January?

GABBARD: Yes. Yes, no, obviously, the debates are great platforms to be able to reach a lot of people across this country, but it's not the only way to be able to talk to voters, and to be able to spend time with them. And that's exactly what I'm doing, here in Iowa, and I'll continue to do across the country.

Being able to get out into these small towns and big cities, get into people's, you know, living rooms and sitting around the kitchen table, really talking about the issues that are important to them, is the kind of people-powered grassroots campaign that we are running, and I look forward to being able to continue to have the opportunity to do that.

SCIUTTO: OK. You told "Fox News" last night that the debate qualifying process lacks transparency, and that people deserve more transparency because the people will decide the nominee.


SCIUTTO: I mean, the fact is, as you know, the polling standards, they've been public since the beginning here. Why is that not transparent?

GABBARD: There's a lot of questions that have been and are continuing to be raised, around those qualifications. There's no explanation or transparency around why certain polls are qualifying, while other very credible, recognized polls are somehow not qualifying.

The frequency and who they're -- I mean, there's a lot of different questions here. And, frankly, the DNC has not provided any transparency to voters about how they're making these decisions. And that's my point here, is that this should be a very fair, transparent process so that the people, voters in this country, have the best information to make their decision about who they want to be their nominee.

SCIUTTO: But I guess I just don't understand what you base that transparency argument on, when they've been out there, they make judgments about particular polls, as to whether they meet their standards. But they have -- they have advertised what those polls are for some time. So how is that -- how is that not transparent?

GABBARD: Well, we could get into a whole bunch of details about, you know, demographics and where exactly these polls are taking place and, more importantly, where they're not taking place. I don't think we've got the time to get into that here.

But I'll tell you, there's a lot of questions that have come up, just as we're going through this process, and are continuing to come up, that point to a lack of transparency beyond what the DNC put out, which was just a simple saying, "Hey, we're only going to recognize these polls, but we're not going to recognize a whole slew of other polls." That's a problem, in my view.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Some folks at home might not be aware that you just completed two weeks of service, completing your service commitment.

[10:35:04] As you're aware, the Trump administration has introduced a new policy that makes it more difficult for service members, deployed abroad, for their children to automatically get citizenship in the U.S. They have to go through an application process, et cetera. This will also affect State Department employees, for instance, who are serving their country abroad. As a member of the military, do you find that change acceptable or warranted?

GABBARD: It's deeply troubling. This is deeply troubling. And I'm gathering more information about exactly how this will, in a practical way, impact our service members as well as civilians who work for the United States federal government, who are in these posts they're assigned overseas, continuing to do their job in serving our country.

Again, looking into more details. But on its face, I think it is -- it's offensive to them, as they're serving our country in these different ways, to -- if they have a child overseas, during that service, to not have that child be born a U.S. citizen, just as they would be if they were doing that service here at home, is a very big problem.

SCIUTTO: No question. You spent time during your two-week deployment just recently, with members of the military. And I'm curious --


SCIUTTO: -- as you're speaking to them, as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, what are they telling you their priorities are, going into 2020?

GABBARD: Looking for strong leadership. Understanding that the most important responsibility that the president has, is to serve as commander in chief. And, you know, we as service members across all branches of the military, are the ones who experience directly, firsthand, the consequences of the decisions that are being made by the president of the United States and, yes, by Congress as well.

I think one of the things that we really focused on, just during this training exercise where we had both soldiers and airmen there, we were working with the Indonesian military. But it was really focused on a problem-solving mindset. That's essential for military operations, it's something that's drilled into me over 16 years as a soldier.

But it's something that's really essential for leaders in our country to have, as they're making decisions, both about our foreign policy as well as our domestic policy.

And we can see the failure of that problem-solving mindset, which is really -- look, you've got to understand the situation, you have to define the problem, and you've got to come up with an achievable objective or goal. And we see how many times this has not happened in our country's past, especially as it relates to us as service members: Vietnam, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan.

And the consequence, the result of this is that --


GABBARD: -- our brothers and sisters in uniform are killed in combat, needlessly, because leaders have failed to do this.

SCIUTTO: Yes. They pay -- the deployed service members often pay the price for that. Final question -- GABBARD: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- you didn't make this debate, you may make the next one, you're sticking in the race. But the fact is, you're well behind was is a pretty established group of frontrunners in this race, including the former vice president, Joe Biden.

If you don't win the Democratic nomination, will you run as an independent?

TEXT: August 21-26, Quinnipiac University Poll: Choice for Nominee, Registered Dem/Dem-Leaning Voters: Biden, 32 percent; Warren, 19 percent; Sanders, 15 percent; Harris, 7 percent; Buttigieg, 5 percent; Yang, 3 percent

GABBARD: I will not, no. I've ruled that out. I'm going to continue to focus on moving our campaign forward, continuing this grassroots campaign, continuing to deliver our message to the American people, and ask for their support.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, we wish you the best of luck. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

GABBARD: Thank you, Jim.

[10:38:35] SCIUTTO: Two Americans, desperate to come home. This, after being trapped in China for more than a year. They say the Chinese government will not let them leave the country. I'm going to speak to one of them from China, that's coming up.


SCIUTTO: Two Americans are trapped in China, blocked by the Chinese government, and they're desperate to come home. Let's go back to June 2018. Cynthia and Victor Liu, along with their mother, Sandra, all traveled to China to visit their ailing grandfather.

But when it came time to leave, the Chinese government said no. Through the use of an exit ban, all three U.S. citizens -- we should emphasize -- were prevented from leaving the country.

Earlier this year, Cynthia Liu released a video plea, saying she and her brother wake up every morning, terrified. Liu said she and her brother have been separated from their mother, have not seen or spoken to her in a long time there.

Joining me now from China is Cynthia's brother, Victor Liu. Good morning, Victor. Thank you for being able to speak to us this morning.

VICTOR LIU, AMERICAN BEING HELD IN CHINA: Thank you for having me on, Jim. I really appreciate it. You know, right now, I am beyond terrified, being in China and just speaking with you. You know, I'm seriously concerned about my safety and my family's safety. And I desperately need to come home to the U.S., as soon as possible. SCIUTTO: And for folks who don't know your case, you're a U.S.

citizen, not allowed to come back to the U.S. Now, China accuses your father of financial crimes. Do you believe you're being held hostage there, to pressure him to come back to China?

LIU: That's exactly why we're being held here. That's what the authorities here have told us, and it's surreal and it makes me angry and it pains me, to know that because of my estranged biological father, whom (ph) I must know abandoned my family many years ago, whom I haven't seen since and who I believe has another family now.

[10:45:03] Because of what he allegedly did when I was just 8 years old, as an American elementary school student in third grade, living in Massachusetts, my family and I are being made to suffer and we are being used as human bait to try to get him back, to come back to China.

SCIUTTO: And held there for more than a year now. Has the U.S. government come to your aid? What is the U.S. doing? Of course, you're a U.S. citizen, being held by a foreign country. How are they coming to help you? Are they negotiating with the Chinese government? What kind of pressure are they applying that you're aware of?

LIU: This has been an extraordinarily difficult time, Jim, over the last year and two months that we've been here. You know, it's been the most difficult period of my life, period. But I would like to say that, really, the only source of solace and comfort that we get has been the tremendous support of the U.S. government, especially coming from the Trump administration.

I do want to take this time to say thank you to Ambassador Bolton, who came out publicly last year on Twitter and demanded our return home. I also want to express my gratitude, Secretary Pompeo, my home state senators, Markey and Warren, and especially thank President Trump, who has engaged on our behalf.

And, you know, knowing that we have the support and backing of the U.S. government, my sister and I are extremely proud and thankful to the Americans. But unfortunately, you know, the reality of the situation is, as you pointed out, we have been here for well over a hear now, and we desperately need to come home. More needs to be done on our behalf.

And I just want to take this time to address the president directly, if I may, and say this: President Trump, you know, you are the only person who could bring my sister and me home. We need your help, we need it urgently.

SCIUTTO: I can only imagine, just the difficulty of going through this, in addition to being separated from your mother there.

What communications do you have with the Chinese authorities? Do they speak to you? Do they follow you? Do you have a sense of being watched? Tell us what it's like there for you now.

LIU: Jim, I wake up, every morning, scared for my safety and for my family. You know, and on top of that, I feel alone. I feel like I kind of don't really have a purpose any more. But then whenever I'm outside, you're right, I do have to look over my shoulders and just make sure that nobody is following me. Safety is something that, frankly, I don't think I have here in China.

And to answer your question, I -- we have not had any contact with the authorities, probably because -- and they've made this clear to us -- we no longer have, really, anything to do with the investigation. That's really been clear from the beginning, and we are still held here, we believe for political reasons.

It's been extraordinarily difficult. And I would say that, you know, it's gotten so hard that actually, at the start of the summer, you know, after a year of living in fear without any normalcy in our lives, my sister and I actually had to go seek medical attention because mental health issues that have arisen from all this.

And, you know, doing so, obviously, is something that cannot be done completely without sort of fear of surveillance here in China. And, you know, during our diagnosis, both of us were diagnosed with depression, my sister also has severe anxiety. And just this past month, I have seen her suffer severe anxiety attacks. And sometimes --


LIU: -- break down completely. It's absolutely terrifying here, Jim. We need to come home. We need to come home as soon as possible.

SCIUTTO: You do need to come home. I can only imagine the stress and fear. And I know what the Chinese government is capable of. We're going to continue to make people aware of your case, Victor. Please send our best to your sister, to your mother, if you're able to communicate with her as well. Thanks so much for joining us.

LIU: Thank you, Jim.

[10:49:12] SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Listen to this story. Police in North Carolina say they foiled a mass shooting plot, after finding a pistol, shotgun and ammunition in a college student's dorm room. CNN's Martin Savidge has the details.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Despite the potential horrible consequence here, it's actually a good-news story. And that story begins with the actions that were taken by university students at High Point University in North Carolina, and by university officials, who tipped off authorities that 19-year-old Paul Steber -- this is a freshman, a young man who'd been on campus less than two weeks -- who apparently was planning some kind of mass murder attack.

In fact, after he was taken into custody, he told authorities that he'd actually been thinking about this since December. But he started really planning and preparing for this last weekend, when he reportedly purchased two firearms, a 9mm handgun and a double-barrel shotgun, in North Carolina. Authorities, still trying to determine whether he purchased the weapons legally.

[10:55:05] And that he had also been studying videos of mass murders and mass killing attacks, including Charleston, South Carolina, to name just one. Apparently, he was doing that to sort of learn the -- what to do and what not to do.

Authorities say that as far as motivation, there were a number of things, apparently, he told police that were going on, at least in his head. He said he was not going to be an outcast any longer. Also that he had been rushing for a fraternity on campus, and apparently said that if his roommate made it but he was somehow denied, he was going to kill his roommate, possibly himself. And that might have been the triggering event for this kind of mass murder attack.

Authorities say, right now, he is being held without bond. He's been expelled from the school. And one other interesting note, is that the whole reason he said he moved to North Carolina to go to school, was the fact that he felt it would be easier to purchase firearms in North Carolina than it would be back in his home state of Massachusetts -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: The laws make a difference.

Hurricane Dorian is now expected to be a powerful Category 4 storm when it reaches Florida, that's up from Category 3. We're going to have all the details, stay with CNN.