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Republican Revolt?; Interview With Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Florida Mass Shooting Investigation; Sources: Security Firm Did No Follow-Up Psych Exam; Trump: GOP Delegate Revolt Would Be "Totally Illegal". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 17, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The company where the shooter worked as a security guard now acknowledging a surprising gaffe in its background check -- new details tonight about the warning signs that were missed.
Weapons of war, a top retired general urging new limits on high- powered assault rifles, saying they belong on the battlefield, not on America's streets. I will ask a congresswoman and Iraq War veteran about the military's role in the gun debate.
And illegal revolt? Donald Trump firing right back at fellow Republicans who are discussing ways to block him from getting the nomination. Will a last-ditch efforts by some convention delegates gain momentum?
We want to welcome viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight in the Orlando terror investigation, as the FBI digs deeper into the killer's contacts, his motives, and preparations to commit a massacre.
CNN has learned two FBI agents questioned an official at the Fort Pierce Islamic Center today looking for any connections or clues they may have missed. Omar Mateen worshipped there more than a decade, and was there just days before his shooting rampage.
We are also learning more about the killer's phone conversations during his three-hour standoff with police, a source telling CNN that a friend who is a medical professional called in and spoke with him about medication after seeing Mateen's online posts during that massacre.
And tonight, a new warning by Donald Trump that any attempt to prevent him getting the GOP nomination at the party's convention would be totally illegal. Dozens of delegates launching an anybody but Trump campaign held strategy talks overnight.
I will talk about the Orlando investigation and more with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's an Iraq War veteran, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees And our correspondents, analysts, and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.
But up first, our CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, he is in Florida tonight for us.
Drew, what more are you learning about this terror investigation?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in 2007, he was kicked out of a law enforcement academy. We know now why. Apparently, the records just released from Department of Corrections telling us that not only was this shooter falling asleep in class, but at one point asked a student, if I brought a gun to class, would you tell anybody about it?
It was particularly alarming at that time because in 2007 when this statement was made was shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre. That led to his being kicked out of a law enforcement academy. We are learning all of this now, as we continue to find out there was extensive planning going on for the attack that happened in Orlando, not only planning the attack, but the shooter apparently planning for his own death.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Law enforcement sources say in the weeks leading up to the attack, the killer made numerous preparations, including making sure his wife had access to bank accounts, and adding her name to important documents like his life insurance policy.
He bought his wife an expensive piece of jewelry and transferred his share of a home where his sister and brother-in-law currently reside for just $10.
FBI agents visited the mosque today where the Orlando shooter prayed, mosque officials telling CNN the agents hey were looking for anyone who knew him or know anyone he associated with. And the FBI director visited the crime scene in Orlando for the first time as his investigators continue to examine what Omar Mateen's wife knew about this attack and when.
CNN has learned the couple communicated during the attack. According to law enforcement sources, Noor Salman called her husband multiple times after news broke of the shooting.
At around 4:00, two hours after the shooting began, he texted her asking if she saw the news. At one point, she responded telling him she loved him.
Police notified the gunman's family, first knocking on his sister's door at 4:00 a.m. She called her parents, breaking the news to the rest of the family.
Sources tell us, in the weeks leading up to the attack, the gunman spent a significant amount of money, including money spent on weapons used for the attack. And we are learning more about the gunman's background.
According to school records obtained by CNN, Mateen was disciplined 31 times in elementary school. One report from third grade called him -- quote -- "verbally abusive, rude, aggressive, much talk about violence and sex." In high school, he was suspended a total of 48 days. Among the incidents are two that involved -- quote -- "fighting with injury."
Meanwhile, in Orlando, officer Omar Delgado was one of the first- responders to Pulse nightclub and pulled several victims from the club.
OMAR DELGADO, EATONVILLE POLICE OFFICER: I had my flashlight and we kind of looked around and somebody yelled out, this person is moving.
GRIFFIN: A co-worker told him one of the victims he pulled to safety was in a press conference at the hospital.
DELGADO: I'm one of the ones that helped you get out of harm's way. I need a big hug from you, man.
GRIFFIN: The two reunited on Thursday.
DELGADO: Oh, my God. It was amazing. It was a feeling that you just can't describe, can't put into words, knowing that you helped save someone.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, we're also learning new detail about a phone call that was made to a friend, the killer making that phone call during the attack.
We now know from FBI sources that that phone call made to a friend was made to a friend in Washington, D.C., the friend, a medical-type person. They discussed medication. The FBI tracked down that friend, talked to that friend. They do not believe that friend of this killer knew anything about the attack at this time, but another example of another phone call that was made while that killer was actually inside Pulse nightclub -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he was busy making phone calls. He was posting stuff on Facebook even as the massacre was unfolding. Drew, thanks very much, Drew Griffin reporting.
Also tonight, there are more questions about whether the killer's employer missed critically important warning signs during years he worked as a security guard.
Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us.
Brian, the company now revealing more about what it did and didn't do to check into Omar Mateen's state of mind.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
And more security gaps now being revealed. An official at G4S, that security firm which hired Omar Mateen, telling us tonight that when he got one background check in 2013, he did not go through a psychological examination then. We're told that -- by the company that he did get two large background checks, one when he was hired in 2007.
And in that one in 2007, he did receive a psychological examination. We are told that that examination is fairly extensive, checking for mental disorders. But he got a second extensive background check in 2013 in which he did not, according to a company official, get a psychological examination.
Now, remember, 2013 is crucial, because that is when he got transferred out of a job as a security guard at a courthouse near here because of inflammatory comments that he made about terrorism. Now, he himself claimed that he was being harassed at that job. Nevertheless, that's when the FBI first became aware of Omar Mateen.
They interviewed him. They talked to some people around him. And that was also the time, Wolf, that he was transferred from that job at the courthouse right here to the PGA Village. This is a gated community here in Port St. Lucie. We are not allowed inside, but our photojournalist Eddie Gross is going to take you right into a crucial piece of this puzzle here.
Omar Mateen -- there's a guard house. Omar Mateen, we are told by sources, manned one of these guard houses just hours before he undertook that murderous rampage at the Pulse nightclub. We're also told that residents here are simply furious with that security company for hiring Omar Mateen and posting him here at the PGA Village.
I talked to Larry Lee. He's a state representative in Florida. And although we were not allowed to talk to people inside here, we did talk to him and other residents here. Here's what he said about how residents are feeling right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY LEE, FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Many of them are very afraid, and -- but I think not just in our development. I think that this is a wakeup call to anyone in America.
Just because a guy is a security guard, you don't know, if such incidents happened at a prior location, that our homeowners association should know about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So, key question, did the homeowners association here at PGA Village know about his past problems? We asked that question to G4S. So far, no word back from the security firm. We called the PGA homeowners association here. A staffer said they had no comment on that and they hung up on us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, you're also digging up some additional disturbing information about Mateen's time at school. What have you learned?
TODD: It just gets worse and worse. We have been digging through the records all week from St. Lucie County school system and the Martin County school system.
The Martin County school documents that we found today indicate that he was suspended from high school for a total of 48 days. And in two of those instances, it involved -- quote -- "fighting with injury."
And again in high school, we have been given accounts by his high school classmates that on and or around 9/11, he was harassed by some classmates, but he also kind of acted out. He imitated planes hitting buildings. He said that Osama bin Laden was his uncle. He got into confrontations with high school classmates.
That was in high school, and, of course, as we have been reporting for the past couple of days, numerous instances, dozens of disciplinary instances when he was in elementary school in St. Lucie County. This was a kid, Wolf, who just seemed out of control.
BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty shocking when you think about the fact that he worked for nine years for the security company, even though the security company was informed by him that he was under investigation by the FBI.
It is all pretty shocking, indeed. All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Let's talk a little bit more about the Orlando investigation with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's a member of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs Committee, also an Iraq War veteran.
Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Are you confident in the way the FBI initially handled all these investigations of this, we now know he was a terrorist?
GABBARD: At this point, no.
I think we're learning more about exactly what happened. And I think we have to identify that there are clearly some gaps that allowed this to occur.
Somebody like Omar Mateen, why was he dropped off this terrorist watch list after such a short period of time? Why was he allowed even after being on this terror watch list to get a job as a security guard, where he would have easier access to purchase these weapons that he ended up using in this attack?
There are a lot of questions we need to be looking at here I think that still remain unanswered, so that we can try to prevent this type of thing from happening again.
BLITZER: As you know, the FBI director, James Comey, he is there in Orlando today. Are you confident in the way they're conducting the current investigation into the brutal massacre that occurred?
GABBARD: Well, I know that he's looking into it, and there's a lot of us who are watching very closely and very carefully.
And we will be continuing to provide that oversight and question their investigation, really looking broadly at what was missed, and how do we make this better, how do we better utilize our monitoring to make sure that people like this Orlando terrorist are continued to be monitored.
BLITZER: Because, in the last couple weeks or so, he went out, bought this semi-assault -- this military-style rifle, if you will, a handgun. He also had a dramatic uptick in his social media, going into all sorts of ISIS-related videos, Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda in Yemen operative who was killed by a U.S. drone.
Should there have been any notice of that by law enforcement?
GABBARD: Yes, there should have been, especially again for someone who had already gotten the attention of the FBI, someone who was already on the terror watch list.
There are simple things I think that should have occurred to continue monitoring him. You can't just take someone like this who is saying these things. He got their attention for a reason in the first place, and then after a short period of time, they drop off. This continued monitoring, this smart use of technology and the smart and efficient use of our resources really is what needs to occur for others who are in this situation, so that we can recognize and try to prevent these types of attacks.
BLITZER: I know you have strong views on this, but I want to hear them again in the aftermath of what the president said earlier in the week. What different would it make if he used the phrase radical Islamic terrorism or extremism?
GABBARD: Look, this is something that I have disagreed with the president on, because I think it's important that you identify your enemy, you know who they are, you call them by their name, and you understand the ideology that's driving them.
You know, I understand and appreciate the president's concern, which is, he doesn't want all Muslims to be cast with the same targeting or the same look as this handful of radical jihadists, and I agree with that. No one wants that to happen.
But that's why I think it is important that we make the distinction between the vast majority of Muslims who are practicing their spiritual path, who appreciate and support a pluralistic society and government that's free vs. this small handful of people who basic -- like ISIS and al Qaeda, who believe that unless you abide by their caliphate and their theocracy, you should be killed. And, obviously, that's something that we need to be able to identify
in order to defeat this threat.
BLITZER: We have more questions for you. Can you stick around?
BLITZER: All right, much more coming up with Tulsi Gabbard.
We will take a break -- right after this.
BLITZER: We are back with Representative Tulsi Gabbard. She's a member of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congresswoman, stand by, please, because we are also learning more now about that sharp new criticism of President Obama's policy on Syria coming from inside the State Department.
Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
Elise, dozens of U.S. diplomats, career professionals, they're now urging strikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime. What's going on over there.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf.
The State Department has a long history of encouraging diplomats to confidentially challenge U.S. foreign policy. But this number of signatures on this internal memo, 51 people, is extremely large, if not unprecedented. These officials say American policy is overwhelmed by the unrelenting violence in Syria and warn, without a military strategy to get rid of Assad, diplomacy will continue to fail and ISIS will never be defeated.
LABOTT (voice-over): A scathing protest of President Obama's Syria policy, more than 50 U.S. diplomats urging military strikes to force Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table, arguing in an internal memo shown to CNN that the moral rationale is -- quote -- "unquestionable," and warning, "The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous humanitarian, diplomatic, and terrorism-related challenges."
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think it tells us clearly that Syria matters a lot to the people who work here at the State Department, as it should, and I think it says to me that we need to keep working just as hard as we can for better outcomes.
LABOTT: The memo, a challenge to the president's strategy to focus military might just on the ISIS battle, a fight he claimed progress on this week.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ISIL is on defense, and it's now been a full year since ISIL has been able to mount a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq.
LABOTT: But the diplomats warn, if Assad -- quote -- "continues to bomb and starve Syrians," it will only -- quote -- "bolster the ideological appeal of ISIS, despite losses on the battlefield."
JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Trying to get Assad, the Russians, and the Iranians to back off their victory policy without using force or having other sanctions is not working, and it is basically enabling the continued slaughter that now is up to 400,000.
LABOTT: Even America's top diplomat has pushed behind closed doors for more aggressive military action, with a negotiated cease-fire and political talks on a new Syrian government all but collapsed.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Having gassed his people, barrel-bombed, dropped bombs on hospitals, driven 12 million people out of their homes, tortured people, starved people, what kind of legitimacy could somebody who has committed these atrocities suddenly claim to run the country?
LABOTT: International investigators claim they have the strongest evidence since Nuremberg to prosecute Assad for war crimes, with reports of mass torture, barrel bombs, and chemical attacks against his own people. Yet, with a half-a-million Syrians killed, and nearly five million forced from their homes, President Obama still reluctant to force him from power.
LABOTT: And, tonight, the Obama administration sought to limit the fallout from this leaked memo, traveling overseas today, Secretary Kerry called that memo important. He said he respected the State Department's process, and would meet with diplomats to hear their views, but no change is expected to U.S. Syria policy as a result of this memo.
Tonight, the White House said that it still believes there's no military solution to the conflict in Syria -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Elise Labott, with that report.
We are back with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
Is it time, do you believe, as an Iraq War veteran -- you have seen war up close -- time to consider that recommendation from those 51 U.S. career diplomatic professionals?
GABBARD: No. What they're proposing is exactly the wrong thing to do. BLITZER: Why?
GABBARD: Because it would escalate the current war, the illegal, counterproductive war that the U.S. is waging to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad.
It is something that Secretary Clinton is proposing that she would do as commander in chief, as president, which is implement a no-fly zone, which essentially would worsen the humanitarian crisis, it would escalate this war, worsen the refugee crisis, and it would take us directly into a violent conflict with Russia, the other nuclear power in the world.
We have got to learn from the past, Wolf, and this is what's most important here. Nothing appears to have been learned from Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the failure of that country that came after them, the strengthening of al Qaeda and ISIS.
No one appears to have learned from what happened in Libya with the overthrow of Gadhafi. We just had the CIA director testify yesterday that ISIS' strongest and most dangerous foothold exists in Libya, a failed nation, tremendous loss of life, and now ISIS stronger there today.
What we will see in Syria if this escalation were allowed to occur, if we continue down the path that we're on, would be that same outcome, stronger ISIS, stronger al Qaeda, greater threat to the region and to the world, what to speak of the worsened humanitarian refugee crisis and genocide that would come about as a result of that.
BLITZER: The CIA director, William -- Brennan yesterday testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that ISIS today, despite some losses on the battlefield, as far as its global terror capability, is just as powerful and just as strong as ever. You agree with that assessment?
GABBARD: I think so, yes.
If you look at the many different ways that ISIS and groups like ISIS are continuing to launch attacks, we have got to look at not just what's happening in Syria and Iraq, but, unfortunately, we can see what happened in places like Orlando just earlier this week.
I have introduced legislation in the House that would take away all funding for this counterproductive regime change war in Syria that we are waging, urging my colleagues to support this, because this is the only way that we can prevent Syria from really getting into a place that is far much worse and from getting our country again into a direct conflict with Russia.
BLITZER: We're out of time.
One quick political question. You still supporting Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination?
GABBARD: I think there's a Democratic presumptive nominee at this point. There are a number of issues that I remain concerned about and I look forward to discussing with you again in the future.
BLITZER: So, are you endorsing Hillary Clinton for the nomination? Are you in her camp yet?
GABBARD: I am not prepared to do that. There are a lot of things that I'm looking at, in particular this issue that she has not moved on at all in this campaign, which is this commitment to continue this interventionist regime change policy in Syria that's proving to be so disastrous.
BLITZER: Should he drop out of the race?
GABBARD: I am not going to go there. This is -- I respect Bernie Sanders and whatever decisions that he makes.
BLITZER: And I know he is grateful to you for your support as well, because he's told me.
All right, thank you very much, Tulsi Gabbard, for coming in.
GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, more of the breaking news we're following on the Orlando terror investigation. Did the FBI drop the ball?
And Donald Trump's preemptive strike, as some worried Republican delegates consider waging a convention revolt.
BLITZER: We are following news in the Orlando terror organization. The security company where the killer worked now confirming it did not -- repeat, not -- give him a psychological exam during the nine years on the job after an initial check by a psychologist when he was first hired. This despite red flags, including his claims to colleagues that he had tied to terrorists, which prompted an extensive FBI investigation.
[18:30:37] Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez; our senior law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; our counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd; and our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen.
So Tom, there were lots of small hints out there about this guy, looking back. You're a former assistant director of the FBI. No big -- no big flares, if you will, but did the FBI drop the ball during their two separate months-long investigation of this killer?
FUENTES: I mean, they're closely looking at that, Wolf, but the problem is all of the indications are that the radicalization, where he really goes over the edge, starts planning to do an attack, really occurs just in the last few weeks and months. When he gets the guns a week before the attack, the ammunition, tries to get body armor couple weeks before the attack.
Back in 2013, they don't have that. And they investigated him. They introduce undercovers into him, informants into him, and all of the surveillance effort, all of the effort that went into that, he hadn't crossed the line yet. And the investigation revealed that.
The second investigation in '14 was because of the other individual from that mosque that went to Syria and blew himself up.
BLITZER: They knew each other.
FUENTES; They just didn't have enough that they would be able to lock him up for what he did.
BLITZER: What about, Phil, the security firm where he worked for nine years? During the course of those nine years, he had a background check. He had a psychological exam when he was first hired, but really not much more than that during those nine years after they learned he had been under investigation by the FBI for uttering some sort of allegiance to various terror groups.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure, but there's a couple of things we've got to consider here, Wolf. First, that during that investigation, the FBI is not going to talk to a private security firm or any employer about the investigation of a U.S. citizen, particularly when they don't find evidence that he's violated federal law.
But the second and more significant thing is I think this conversation about the security firms and background checks is a red herring. We're talking about a security guard who's going to go through a paper exercise that is a psychological exam. We're not talking about the kind of thing I went through or Tom would have gone through at the FBI or CIA, where you're sitting in front of a psychiatrist who's really studying your responses, looking at your body language.
I don't think these security firms are undertaking background checks or psychological exams that are extensive. And I don't think, if they did anything, they would have found much.
BLITZER: Even security firms, Phil, that have contracts with the U.S. government and operate at U.S. government buildings?
MUDD: That depends on what kind of contracts they're operating under. But if you're talking about somebody who's doing simple entry-level security, perimeter security at a federal facility, you're not going to undergo a difficult, a sophisticated psychiatric test. That is expensive. It's time-consuming. And for the tens of thousands of people we're talking about in any security positions, I don't think that's going to happen.
BLITZER: Peter, it's been almost a week since this horrible terror attack occurred in Orlando. Initially, ISIS was claiming responsibility or applauding it in a video, but they've been relatively silent since then. What does that say to you? PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it says that,
you know, this was -- they claimed it after the fact. They didn't have a real relationship with this guy. He pledged allegiance in the middle of it. I mean, they've moved on.
It's not like this was an owned and operated mission, as the -- as we saw in Paris in November, when 130 people were killed, or in Brussels in March, where 32 people were killed. It's very different.
BLITZER: Evan, it seems that not a whole lot of information -- information is coming out but not as quickly as a lot of people would want. Does the FBI, you think, right now, have a good appreciation of what motivated this individual to go out there and kill all those people?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think it is a complicated picture. I think, going back to what Peter just said, I think his claim of having some kind of allegiance to ISIS is not -- it just can't be accepted that way, because again, we're talking back to 2013 when he was uttering things about Hezbollah and watching Awlaki videos. And even more recently, he's been -- he's been doing a mix of different ideologies. This guy also may have other things going on, apparently psychological issues. So we don't know.
I mean, they're going to check out everything, including people that come forward saying that he was on gay chat rooms and so on. All these things have to be checked out. They don't know whether any of them are true, Wolf.
And in the end, I think we're going to find a very complicated picture for this man who carried out this attack. We're trying to put -- we're trying to apply logic to something that, by its nature, is not logical.
[18:35:07] BLITZER: Tom, as you know, Drew Griffin reported earlier today that FBI agents went to the mosque where he prayed in Florida and started interviewing individuals over there. What are they trying to find out?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Trying to find out if he told anybody else at that mosque what his intentions were, or, you know, that he was radicalized, was crossing the line and about to be violent, maybe trying to recruit a partner or multiple partners to help him, whether there were others that he was talking to over there, about doing this attack or in general doing attacks. So they'd like to get more information and like to get the cooperation of the individuals at that mosque.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, is there a better way for authorities to go do searches on social media, Google or wherever and try to find out more about what this individual might be looking at?
MUDD: I think the future lies in partnerships with Silicon Valley, that is with the people who own the data.
In the past, Wolf, when you're looking at technical information, phone intercepts, for example, in 1990s, even 15 years ago, the U.S. government owned that data. They intercepted Soviet communications and brought it into the U.S. government.
Today, the people who own the data live in California. They live in Washington state. They live in Oregon. These folks know how to mine data for things like determining your shopping patterns. The U.S. government has to get out of the business of doing this business themselves and saying, look, the guys who are expert in this have to do it for us.
That partnership right now is frayed after Edward Snowden revealed how much information the U.S. government has collected, but they've got to restore that partnership -- that is the U.S. government with Silicon Valley -- because the answers are out west.
BLITZER: All right, guys. I want you to stand by, because we're also digging for more information right now on the Orlando terror investigation. We'll have an update on that.
Also, Donald Trump now responding to the threat of a revolt at the Republican convention next month. Is there a real chance delegates there could deny him the presidential nomination?
[18:41:35] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight in the presidential race. Donald Trump now warning opponents within his own party that any move to block him from officially claiming the nomination would be, in his words, "totally illegal."
A coalition of dozens of delegates holding talks overnight on the possibility of an anti-Trump revolt at the convention.
Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, concerns about Trump seem to be growing as the post-Orlando gun debate is playing out. What are you hearing?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, growing indeed. But as Republicans gather in Cleveland in just 31 days, the worries are out there, but the prospects for hijacking this nomination are minimal. Not only are they running out of time; it's the lack of an alternative to Trump that has thwarted this effort all along.
But in the middle of all of this, a heated debate over guns still dominates the political conversation.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: And I'm going to save your Second Amendment, folks. I'm going to save your Second Amendment.
ZELENY (voice-over): Donald Trump in search of a life line, trying to rally Republicans behind his full-throated support of the Second Amendment. But tonight, not all Republicans are rallying around Trump. Florida
Governor Rick Scott, a Trump ally, telling CNN's Pamela Brown the Orlando shooting calls for a different conversation.
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: The Second Amendment has been for around over 200 years. It didn't -- it didn't -- that's not what killed innocent people. Let's have a conversation about how we destroy ISIS.
ZELENY: The Orlando massacre is thrusting the gun debate to the front of the political agenda. A new Gallup poll finds 79 percent of Republicans say the nightclub shooting was an act of Islamic terrorism, while 60 percent of Democrats interpret it as domestic gun violence.
With Republicans increasingly divided over his candidacy, Trump hopes guns will galvanize his support inside the GOP and beyond.
TRUMP: And Hillary wants to abolish the Second Amendment. Remember that.
ZELENY: Hillary Clinton is pushing for new and stronger gun laws, but far from abolishing the Second Amendment.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: These are demonstrably lies, but he feels compelled to tell them, because he has to distract us from the fact he has nothing substantive to say.
ZELENY: But what he is saying is riling up Republicans. On NBC's "Meet the Press," House Speaker Paul Ryan offering a permission slip for Republicans to vote their conscience, for or against Trump.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that's contrary to their conscience. Of course I wouldn't do that.
ZELENY: Ryan is not rescinding his endorsement, but that doesn't mean he likes what Trump is doing to the party.
RYAN: He's a very unique nominee, but I feel as a responsibility institutionally, as the speaker of the House, that I should not be leading some chasm in the middle of our party.
ZELENY: Yet the chasm among Republicans is widening. Several top Republicans are looking beyond Trump in hopes of salvaging the party's Senate majority.
Former president George W. Bush, who has said he will not support Trump, is campaigning for vulnerable Republican Senate candidates across the country.
But some Republicans are focusing on Trump, exploring last-ditch efforts to block his nomination at next month's convention in Cleveland.
CNN has learned a plan is under way to push some delegates to break their allegiance to Trump. One organizer is New Jersey Republican and former Cruz supporter Steve Lonegan, who told CNN, "These delegates have a moral obligation to nominate a candidate who best represents the values of the Republican Party.
[18:45:00] Right now, Donald Trump is taking the party into a catastrophic loss."
ZELENY (on camera): And tonight, RNC chairman Reince Priebus is reaching out to state GOP leaders to see how serious block Trump talks really are. As for Trump, he released a statement a short time ago dismissing the effort, saying this -- any such move would not only be totally illegal but also a rebuke of the millions of people who feel so strongly about what I am saying -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jeff, stay with us.
I want to bring in our senior political reporter Manu Raju, and our CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston.
So, Mark, what are the options realistically for Never Trump Republicans going into the convention?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Listen, could it happen? Technically, absolutely, it could happen. How it would happen is that the rules committee more than likely would put out a minority report that would then go to the full convention floor, and then all of the delegates in the convention would have to vote for it. Realistically, that is not going to happen. It is something that the Never Trumpers would like to see happen, they're trying to cling to something for it to happen.
Three reasons why, Wolf. Speaking to somebody just an hour ago who is close to the process. One is that there's no one really leading this effort of real prominence, OK? Number two, they don't really have a strategy. We're on the verge of the convention taking place. There's no real strategy. Number three, we haven't seen a prominent figure step up and say I would be the one who would step in if Donald Trump were to leave.
ZELENY: Some of the Trump delegates would have to vote on this. That's the whole issue, it would be decided the week before, that might happen.
ZELENY: But Trump supporters would have to vote on it or it would never happen.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: I talked to a number of senators who are not supporting Donald Trump right now, like Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, all these people in the Never Trump movement, but they haven't endorsed him, don't want to do it. They're worried it can cause an uproar. It can cause a revolt. They said we are stuck with Trump. PRESTON: Unbelievable violence in Cleveland, mind you, right? I
mean, could you imagine if they dump Donald Trump, what would happen in Cleveland? We talked about it a month ago. And if that happened, Cleveland would burn down. And I really think that that is --
BLITZER: The rules committee meets the week before the convention. Today they named the head of the rules committee someone from Utah who had been a big Mitt Romney supporter.
PRESTON: Her name is Enid Nicholson. She hasn't endorsed in the Republican presidential primary but had interesting things to say. She told a couple months ago said this could happen, there was a mechanism for this to happen which is absolutely true. Now the quote is being circulated by the Never Trumpers saying listen, the woman that runs the rules committee says this can happen, so they're trying to rally support around it.
BLITZER: It's going to be an interesting rules committee meeting that we will see, what happens, that's the week before the Cleveland Republican convention.
Donald Trump keeps saying that Hillary Clinton wants to get rid of the Second Amendment. She says she doesn't want to get rid of the Second Amendment. Just wants to tighten gun control. How does it resonating politically?
ZELENY: I think politically, anyone who is already suspicious of the secretary, this probably feeds into that. But the reality is she's on record, she doesn't want to get rid of the second amendment. What's more interesting about this is that Democrats in this presidential election more than 8 years ago are more united behind a stronger gun laws, used to be a third rail for Democrats. No longer.
Look at her position in '08 versus now, but still no talk of abolishing the Second Amendment. She wants stronger laws. But her supporters know that, so I don't think it plays that much. It helps Donald Trump among Republicans to say that because any time he is attacking her, it might be good for him, but the reality is it doesn't meet the fact check.
BLITZER: Manu, starting, what, Monday night, the Senate will have four various pieces of gun control legislation before the 100 senators. How does -- you know the Hill as well as anyone. Does it look like any of that is going to pass?
RAJU: No, actually, all of them are going to fail. Two Democratic measures, two Republican measures, and they're recycled bills that have been pushed before, including two dealing with trying to prevent suspected terrorists from obtaining guns. A Democratic bill Republicans fear is much too broad, can sweep up people who are innocent Americans. The Republican bill Democrats believe is to onerous, will do nothing to solve the problem.
We're going to probably see more stalemate. Susan Collins is trying to push a bill. I am skeptical it will get enough support but the debate -- BLITZER: It needs 60 votes out of 100 to pass. So, presumably going
to be a filibuster, 51 maybe, but 60 is a hard reach for the 45 Democrats, 43 Democrats, two independents who caucus for the Democrats.
RAJU: That's right. And if the NRA supports something, most Democrats are not going to support it. If the NRA doesn't support it, you're not going to get Republican support.
BLITZER: Is Marco Rubio going to run for reelection? Because he said all these many months, he's retiring from the U.S. Senate. He's not going to run.
[18:50:01] What's the latest you're hearing?
RAJU: Well, he's going to take the weekend, talk about it, think about it, he told leaders privately. What he said publicly as well, the expectation in the capital is that he is going to do it.
BLITZER: That he's going to run.
RAJU: That he's going to run. That is the expectation, the feeling right now. Of course, he may change his mine over the weekend and he hasn't made a decision yet. I am told.
But clearly that's the feeling. The stars are sort of aligned for him to run right now. His close friend, Carlos Lopez-Cantera who was in the race says he'll step aside. Also, David Jolly, another candidate who was in the race today said he was going to run for his own house seat. He would still have a primary, Wolf, something to worry about, and he would still have a tough general election.
BLITZER: What are you hearing, mark?
PRESTON: Manu is right on. I think this is the biggest political story for junkies that has happened in the last couple days, minus everything Donald Trump says and does and Bernie Sanders, you know, is he going to endorse Hillary Clinton. The fact that Marco Rubio, who appeared to us that he hated being in the Senate is now thinking --
ZELENY: He's been on record saying he hated being in the Senate. And that attendance record that wasn't much of a problem, that will be an issue in the Senate race. That's why I talked to one of his top donors today, said yes he's keeping his eye open. This person thinks he will not run because he is afraid of losing and if he has two losses in the name cycle, he's done in politics.
PRESTON: At a young age.
RAJU: And that's why Democrats have put a lot of money into this race, because if they beat to --
ZELENY: The biggest target, instantly.
BLITZER: A lot of incumbents are fearful with Donald Trump in the head of the ticket. That could affect the Donald balance. PRESTON: In a state like Florida, no doubt.
ZELENY: And Hispanic voters, of course, which he would need in the state of Florida.
BLITZER: We're going to watch this very, very closely together with you guys. Thanks very much. Stand by.
We have more news coming up, including more on the terror in Orlando right after this.
[18:56:19] BLITZER: CNN's coverage of the terror attack in Orlando will continue in just a few minutes. But first, more breaking news in the investigation, including new details that raise new and very troubling questions about the warning signs that were missed in the weeks before the attack. Also, new details of what happened during the long ordeal in the nightclub. All that, coming up.
But, right now, as we end this heartbreaking week, we want to leave you with a tribute to the victims. Our thoughts are with them and their families.