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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Nation Mourns Four Marines Killed In Shooting; Family Friend Remembers Marine Skip Wells; 2016 Candidates Attack, Embrace Trump; New Hampshire Voters: Reluctant On Trump, "MEH" On Jeb. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired July 17, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:30:08] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: They chased the vehicle on foot?
SALLY BRYER, STEPSON INSIDE CENTER DURING ATTACK: Yes, sir, they did.
BERMAN: This guy drove off after shooting up the recruiting center and the servicemen inside were doing their duty. They thought they'd try to catch him as he was driving off. I had not heard that before. Your step son intends to join the service still, what branch?
BRYER: He wants to go into the National Guards and he is more determined now than he was yesterday.
BERMAN: Well, good for him. Good for you. Thanks so much for being with us. Sally Bryer, thank you.
BRYER: Thank you, sir.
BERMAN: All right, the victims of this heinous crime, sons, fathers, husbands, most of all, brothers in arms. Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, one had two purple hearts. We'll tell you what we're learning about the people killed in this tragedy as the tributes pour in honoring their lives and honoring their sacrifice.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper today. We've been learning more about the four Marines killed in yesterday's attack in Chattanooga. We know their names, their ranks, their ages. They served their country with honor before they were gunned down. Alexandra Field has been working on their stories. Alexandra joins me now.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And John, we now know their remains are on route to Dover, Delaware where they will be given an honorable transfer so that they can be laid to rest. These are four servicemen who were killed. Three of them have served multiple tours of duty, the youngest, the fourth realizing his dream of becoming a Marine just one year ago.
FIELD (voice-over): Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan earned a purple heart, a two-tour Marine, a son of Massachusetts, saluted today in the city of Springfield with flags lowered to half-staff.
JIM SHEREMETA, SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS RESIDENT: My heart went down to my toes. I suppose when things hit home, close to this area, it affects you a lot deeper.
FIELD: "He was our hero and he will never be forgotten. Thank you, Tommy, for protecting us," a loved one wrote on Facebook. From Massachusetts Governor Charley Baker, "Terror comes home to Massachusetts. God bless Tom Sullivan and his family and his friends."
Sullivan's last day of duty spent in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the Naval Marine Reserve Center, his Marine brothers by his side. Sergeant Carson Holmquist, a decorated Marine from Wisconsin served two tours of duty before he was killed here at home.
Lance Corporal Skip Wells graduated three years ago from Sprayberry High School in Murrieta, Georgia, service was in his family.
CAROLINE DOVE, GIRLFRIEND OF SKIP WELLS (via telephone): I want everybody to know that he really wanted to fight for his country. He wanted to be remembered fighting for his country.
GARRETT REED, FRIEND OF SKIP WELLS (via telephone): He loved his country. You know, his mama, served in the military, I believe she was a Marine, also. So I figured he just wanted to follow in her footsteps. He was in ROTC in high school. He loved that. I think that's just a calling that he had.
FIELD: Wells recently took a trip to Disneyworld with his mom. She says, "My son died doing what he loved for the love of his country and his family."
Staff Sergeant David Wyatt is pictured with his children. There's no sleep tonight someone writes. The family's home in Chattanooga is now decorated by American flags. Outside sheriff deputies standing guard. Honors for the fallen and the families they leave behind.
FIELD: Four men who volunteered to serve, these are their faces, their memories weighing heavily on hearts and minds today, but John, they are not the only ones who are affected, of course, in this attack, three others injured in yesterday's attack.
A police officer who was shot in the ankle, a Marine who was treated and released, and a sailor who was in surgery overnight, his grandmother telling CNN that he has been fighting for his life. He is the father of three.
The grandmother said that when the gunman walked in he tried to warn the others. He couldn't get away. A lot of thoughts and prayers are with him and his family today.
BERMAN: It's important that these are the names we talk about and these are the names we remember going forward. Alexandra Field, thank you so much for being with us.
Joining me from Murrieta, Georgia on the phone is a friend of the Wells family. We just learned about Skip Wells. Andy Kingery, he is acting as a family spokesman. Thanks so much for being with us. We are so sorry for your loss, the loss of Lance Corporal Skip Wells. How are you and the family doing?
ANDY KINGERY, SKIP WELLS FAMILY SPOKESMAN (via telephone): John, I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. The family is doing well. They're going through something nobody wants to go through, but I think they're doing very well. There's been an out pouring of support from people who knew Skip and people from church.
And, you know, a typical situation of a family member passing, there's plenty of casseroles here. Skip is being remembered. Members from his ROTC unit at Sprayberry High have been by to visit and support.
There is a small memorial that's been set up next to the ROTC room at the high school. That was done today with materials donated by local businesses. The family is very grateful for all that's happened.
And even though they don't want to go on camera or speak a lot, they do hear and they do understand that a lot of people are supporting and they appreciate it very much.
BERMAN: I think the country is behind them right now. Of course, their son, Skip Wells, the lance corporal, he was killed, every reason to believe because he was a Marine. It was a Marine that he always wanted to be. It was his dream his entire life. What kind of kid was he?
KINGERY: Skip was the kind of fellow that you want to hang around with if you were a kid. He was very uplifting, you know, I've described him as the guy you'd want on your team if you had one.
[16:40:10] In fact, you'd want ten Skips because he was -- he did his part and more. He was -- his high school marching band. He was very much into that. The ROTC, he was the one that would be more precise in the drills than the next kid.
That's the way he lived and he always wanted to serve whoever he was with, whatever situation he was in, he wanted to be the best support he could be.
BERMAN: I called him a kid, he is a Marine. That's no kid. That's a grown man serving his country.
KINGERY: Unfortunately, I still think of him as a kid. We saw him grow up.
BERMAN: Boot camp, graduated a year ago. Was his first year, what was his first year of service like?
KINGERY: Skip was sent to assignments. He was in the Marine reserves. He was awaiting assignment from the Marines, perhaps overseas, wherever they needed him. He was ready to go. His duty in Chattanooga was a voluntary assignment.
It was a two-week thing. I don't know what it means. They ask for people in his rank to go to Chattanooga for a couple of weeks to help out and his end was up as it normally would be.
BERMAN: It was a two-week assignment. Yesterday, when the word first came in there had been a shooting in Chattanooga, the family, friends knew that Skip was there. What was the concern, the feeling as you were waiting for that call, waiting for any sign of how he was doing?
KINGERY: The afternoon was long for his mom. She watched the news. She saw the developments. She saw more than a person would want to see in that situation from helicopter shots. Then every service mom in America and the history of our service dreads opening the front door and seeing people in uniform. She faced that with strength that I would not ever have.
BERMAN: Well, please give our regards to the family. Let them know we are all thinking of them right now and we are all thinking of Lance Corporal Skip Wells and the other three marines who lost their lives in this horrible event.
KINGERY: I thank you very much, John.
BERMAN: We'll have much more on the Chattanooga shooting ahead. Plus, we also have some other news.
Our Politics Lead, we're going to talk Donald Trump. You may have heard of that guy. He's on top of another Republican poll continuing his rise. Now other Republicans are coming up with some new ideas of how to battle him in the political realm.
It might be the most polled people in the nation, the people of New Hampshire. We went beyond the top line questions to find out the nitty-gritty of what they're thinking. Our focus group, that's ahead.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We continue to follow all the breaking developments in the Chattanooga shootings. But we are going to turn for a moment to the Politics Lead. Love or hate him, another new poll today confirmed that Donald Trump has surged to the top of the Republican pack in the race for the nomination.
A Fox News poll shows Trump on top with 18 percent, Scott Walker behind him at 15 percent, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is at 14 percent. He was in first place back in June. That's it, candidates with double digits.
Trump surge is putting those behind him or currently gasping for air time in a tough spot. What do you do? Do you embrace him? Do you ignore him? CNN political reporter, Sara Murray is looking at the Trump dilemma for the other candidates -- Sara.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Hi, John. Yes, at first the other Republican candidates tried to ignore him, but now that Donald Trump's at the top of the pack, that's no longer an option.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump's rise in the polls causing heartburn for his Republican rivals.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to save the country. Our country is going to hell. We have a problem. I want to make America great again.
MURRAY: After initially brushing off the brash billionaire, some are now engaging head on. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush took a heart line this week in Iowa.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Trump has every right to have every belief he has. He's going to run, that's fine. I don't want to be associated with the kind of visceral he's spewing out these days.
MURRAY: Bush isn't the only one. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has gone toe to toe with Trump on social media, releasing this video.
RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your remarks might make for good reality TV, but they're way out of touch with reality.
MURRAY: And followed up by tweeting, "What Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism. It is Trumpism, a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense."
Trump hit back tweeting that Perry doesn't understand what the word demagoguery means adding that Perry should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.
But some Republican contenders are embracing Trump, hoping to win his supporters if the real estate mogul's political star fades. Texas Senator Ted Cruz had warm words for Trump following a private meeting between the two this week in New York.
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A big fan of Donald's. One of the things I respect about Donald Trump is he's willing to stand up and speak the truth and he's willing to take on Washington.
MURRAY: One thing is clear Trump's entrance to the race has made a big slash. Look no further than next week's cover of the "New Yorker." And all the attention on Trump has left some Republicans, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looking to change the subject. GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm done answering those questions. I've answered about 15 times in terms of my view on it.
MURRAY: Now, there's another challenge for Republicans, figure out how to take on Trump before they face off head to head in the first Republican debate on August 6th -- John.
[16:50:02] BERMAN: You can bet they are practicing already. Sara Murray, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
I want to get back to our breaking news. The Chattanooga attacks, was it inspired by ISIS. There seems to be conflict of opinion right now. Wolf Blitzer joins me now. Wolf, that will be a subject no doubt on "THE SITUATION ROOM?"
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": You know, he left no doubt what was in his mind as you reported, Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security saying this was an ISIS inspired attack. That's his conclusion. Others are saying maybe not, maybe yes. They are investigating, it's a terrorism investigation.
We have key members of the House Homeland Security Committee, the Senate Intellligence Committee. They have been briefed on what's going on. We'll have the very latest, John, that's coming up right at the top of the hour.
BERMAN: All right, it will be interesting here what inside information they are getting. Thanks so much. We'll have much more right after this.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The breaking coverage of our National Lead, the Chattanooga shootings that left four Marines dead, a vigil for those Marines set to start in the next hour. The lives remembered as investigators try to piece together how the shooter's life ended in a hail of bullets.
The FBI says right now they have no indication that the gunman is linked to ISIS or another group. They continue to dig through his past. Not to mention his phones and computers. The agency is treating this as a terror investigation until the proof dictates otherwise.
Turning back now to the Politics Lead, another new poll today showing that Donald Trump is on top of the Republican field, his favorability rating among Republican voters has also jumped right along with his bump in the polls.
But what about finding actual human voters on the Trump band wagon? CNN's chief national correspondent, John King, travelled to the granite state this week to speak with voters who took part in CNN's most recent poll -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Our goal in New Hampshire was to find out why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are at a minimum, at the moment, the big spring flings of American politics.
On the Republican side, this was the biggest take away. Donald Trump is dominating the race right now, even among voters who say they could never vote for him.
KING (voice-over): The Republicans in our conversation agreed on two things. All were open to supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker calling him a proven winner, and all agreed Donald Trump is entertaining.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm really rich.
KING: And the force driving the Republican race, even if they can't imagine voting for him.
(on camera): How many of you could vote for Donald Trump in a New Hampshire primary? Just one. Why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not totally disagreeing with what he's saying, it's how he says it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He likes to stir the pot. He gets a lot of attention doing that.
KING: He's second in the polls in this state right now. Only one of you say you're open to voting for him. Why is he second in the polls then?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's saying what other candidates won't say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's why people are getting excited. Once everybody settles down and looked at the whole picture, they're going to come to their senses and say, OK, is this the person we would really like representing our country.
KING (voice-over): Eleven percent supported New Hampshire is hardly overwhelming. But it puts Trump in second place in part because the field is so crowded and in part because support for the leader, Jeb Bush, at 16 percent is lukewarm.
(on camera): I know we're six months plus away before New Hampshire votes. Are you open to the idea that you might support Governor Bush?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only if he becomes the nomination.
KING: You won't vote for him in the primary?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the primary, no, I don't see it. There are too many other good candidates in front of him.
KING: There was a lot when I asked if anyone was open to voting for Governor Bush, why? What's wrong with Governor Bush?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is just too lax on immigration. I think that's probably because of his wife.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, actually I agree with them more on immigration than most of them. If they want to be here for the right reasons, they're not taking from the government, from us, taxpayers they should stay and contribute.
KING: Let's go around again. Let's play the one word response when I say Jeb Bush.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Presidential.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leadership.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just unexciting for me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Experienced.
KING (voice-over): Among Democrats, well, the heart belongs to Bernie Sanders, but the head thinks about who can win the White House tends to be with Hillary Clinton.
(on camera): So you didn't have the warm and fuzzies for her in 2008?
MICHAEL COLLINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY VOTER: Right. I don't have the warm and fuzzies for her now. I think, you know, her ideals and her philosophy is, you know, good solid Democratic values and she can win. She can raise the money and win. You want to have a candidate you can fall in love with. You know, she's not that type of candidate.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also have great memories of coming to New Hampshire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary of state, woman's rights, stem cell research, environment, a bunch of things I support. She has the experience so I'm very excited to back Hillary Clinton.
KING: Now a lot of young people I've met over the last couple of months are with Bernie Sanders, they think he's new and different. Do you have friends like that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do. And honestly I probably like Bernie Sanders a little bit more. However, I feel with the atmosphere that we're in as a country. I don't think much would get done.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: What's common between Sanders and Trump, they both sound like atypical, different, blunt speaking politicians. John, here's what we found so interesting. Most Democrats think the Clinton Trump rivalry will end peacefully, the Clinton-Sanders -- when it comes to Trump and the Republican race, they expect a long unpredictable storm.
BERMAN: Not end peacefully there. John King, thanks so much. Great to have you with us. That's all for THE LEAD tonight. I'm John Berman. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter anytime and the show with theleadcnn. That's all for us. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer now in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, attack investigation, the FBI says it's probing the killing of four U.S. Marines in that Chattanooga, Tennessee.