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Active Shooter in Charleston; Trump Feuds with McConnell and Ryan; Trump Threatens Government Shutdown; Trump Rips Clapper for Questioning his Fitness for Office; Trump Aide's E-mail Draws New Scrutiny; Interview with Sen. Bob Casey. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for me. Thanks for watching. The news continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, we'll take it from here.

Good to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We begin with breaking news.

This active shooter situation underway inside a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. We are told several hostages are still inside.

Let's go straight to Polo Sandoval, who's working this for us.

Polo, how are they? What do we know?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, it's still a very active situation that's unfolding right now in downtown Charleston. The suspect is currently holed up inside a restaurant there in Charleston called Virginia's on King.

We do understand, as you mentioned, that he apparently has taken an unknown number of hostages inside that restaurant. We don't, however, know if there have been any injuries that have been confirmed so far.

We do know based on witness accounts that they heard several gunshots in the area about an hour ago. That is obviously important here too, Brooke, because this is King Street. It is a very popular street there in the heart of Charleston, not just for people who live and work there, but also tourists as well.

So as you can imagine there, as you can see from these pictures, a tremendous undertaking here by law enforcement that are essentially trying to seal off this area. We do know that the College of Charleston as well, not far from there, did resume classes. They tweeted a message to their students to simply avoid the area.

But, again, a hostage situation unfolding right now in downtown Charleston. If we get another update, we'll pass it along to you, Brooke. BALDWIN: All right, Polo, thank you so much, for now. Keep us updated,

please, sir.

Meantime, moments from now, the first White House briefing in three weeks. The first since Charlottesville, since the president's wild speeches, and, of course, since this open warfare between the White House and Republicans. Warfare that right now is boiling over.

President Trump, he is pouring gasoline on these public feuds with the two men he needs to get anything done in Congress. I'm talking about the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. The president sent this tweet out today. Quote, the only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That should never have happened.

Here is tweet attack number two. Quote, I requested that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan tie the debt ceiling legislation into the popular VA bill, which just passed, for easy approval. They, dot, dot, dot, didn't do it, so now we have a big deal with Democrats holding them up, as usual, on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy. Now a mess.

Both Ryan and McConnell are playing it cool. You know, nothing to see here, citing these shared goals they have with the president. Both men spoke today. In fact, the Senate majority leader's disparaging words were for himself.


SEN. MTICH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: You know, I'm often asked, what is being the majority leader of the Senate like? It's a little bit like being a grounds keeper at a cemetery. Everybody's under you, but nobody's listening. So this new administration in Washington and this Congress is interested in getting America growing again. Put another way, taking our foot off the brake and putting it on the accelerator.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you see yourself personally influencing, and are you confident that you can influence the president?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's a day by day deal. I'm kind of joking.

We're in constant contact to try and put together a shared agenda which we agree on. And we're working together to move that shared agenda. For me, it's really important that the president succeeds because if he succeeds then the country succeeds.


BALDWIN: Rachael Bade, let me begin with you, a congressional reporter for Politico.

Nice to have you on. Let's just begin in fact here. You know, is the president's tweet

true, did the president request that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan tie the debt ceiling legislation into that VA bill?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, he did. And there were discussions about this.

But before going into that, let's just talk about how incredible this tweet is. I mean instead of using his bully pulpit to help congressional leaders get one of the most toxic and poisonous votes through the House and through the Senate, which it's a tough vote for Republicans, he is trolling them on Twitter.

Just think about it. These are Republicans. They've run on reducing the debt. Any time they raise the debt ceiling, it's really tough on them. They are wanting to cut, not increase, spending, right? So this is going to be a tough vote for both chambers.

And I was talking to someone in leadership last week who was saying they actually wanted the president to come out and tweet, Republicans, help me raise the debt ceiling, actively help them get these votes. And instead he's coming out and shaming them for doing a different strategy than he wants. This is not exactly what they were hoping for.

BALDWIN: And apparently the issue before with tying it to the VA bill, it was told the word was hated by an aide, hated by the House Freedom Caucus. So I don't even know if putting the blame on -- obviously, Mitch McConnell has no control over them. Or Paul Ryan doesn't totally make sense.

[14:05:14] Let's talk about September, Rachael. I mean what -- what are -- list the items on the agenda for me when everyone gets back. And tell me how this infighting, this battle between these Republican leaders and the president can truly prove to be problematic.

BADE: Well, let's see, when they get back they have about a dozen legislative days to keep the government open, to avoid a shutdown. Right now we're hearing Trump talk about shutting down the government in order to build his wall.

They want to get started on tax reform, which requires a whole bunch of political capital and focus and leadership and unity to do that. And they need to raise the debt ceiling by the end of September as well. And this, like I said, is going to be a poisonous vote for Republicans. They need to get together, come up with a strategy. Right now my sources are saying they don't have a strategy, Republican sources. And you know they don't know how many Democrats are going to vote for this. They don't know if Democrats are going to demand certain things in order to vote for this bill. How many Republicans will they get. A couple of dozen I think is all they have right now. It's a big mess and a big problem.

BALDWIN: We'll leave it on that. That cheery note there, Rachael, is where we're about two weeks before all these members of Congress head back to Washington. Wake me up until September ends. I can already hear the song playing now. Rachael, thank you so much.

A Republican leadership source is putting the blame on the White House for doing very little in recent weeks to sell this agenda. Let me turn now to Craig Fuller. He served as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush and helped lead his transition team when he won the White House.

Craig, nice to see you, sir.


BALDWIN: Do you put blame on both sides here? I'm talking president and also Republican leadership.

FULLER: You know, look, these are two leaders that you've been talking about, the speaker and the leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who are incredibly good strategists. But they have very difficult jobs. They don't hold a large majority. It has to be patched together very carefully.

They need a president in whom they can count on, day in and day out, and they don't have that. So it has become nearly impossible to see how this agenda is going to advance. And rather than try to bring the parties together, the president seems to be playing to his base and bludgeoning the congressional leaders into action. You know, the time I spent in Washington, over 30 years, that will not work.

BALDWIN: The bludgeoning is not a successful strategy.

So, they do, though, they do have the winning team, though, in both chambers in Congress and also, of course, the White House. We all know that. And so I guess to see it from a different way, Craig, doesn't the president have a point here with the tweets, again bringing up, you know, health care and the seven years. But to his point, I mean Republicans had seven years to come up with a battle plan and they didn't, at least not a successful one that worked.

FULLER: Well, they had -- they had seven years to talk about it, but they've only had a few months with a Republican president who was in a position to actually sign something. And that made the task of getting that health care legislation through the House and Senate much, much more difficult. And I think that's the reality that this White House needed to understand going in. They needed to help the process, not sit back and criticize.

And the numbers that came out today, by the way --


FULLER: That show greater presidential weakness are becoming a bigger problem for the president, not with -- not just with voters, but with members of the House and the Senate up for election next year who have to begin to wonder, does working with this president help them or hurt them? BALDWIN: Right. Right. Right.

You know a thing or two about being a chief of staff. I really wanted to talk to you about General John Kelly, who's been in the job not even a month. And, you know, the controversies are still coming. I'm curious, just what role is he playing right now? And how can he -- I know he says he's not going to get his hands all in the president's tweets or in what TV he watches, but, Craig, how can he protect the president from shooting himself in the foot?

FULLER: You know, I think he's in a very precarious situation. He clearly has brought some stability to the staffing of the White House. They clearly had a process of working through national security issues that -- with the national security staff, defense, and State Department on issues. And that seems to be more stable.

On the domestic side, I still think it's a challenge. And, again, you can't count on a statement made one day on teleprompter being replayed the next day on Twitter. It's simply -- they simply don't go together. So I think he does have to get control --

BALDWIN: Isn't he involved in that, Craig? I mean, that's a question, right? I mean a lot of people, and myself included, calling it whiplash, the back and forth, although the president says he's versatile, you know. But it's negating a message from the day before and wouldn't the chief of staff want a role in making sure that doesn't happen?

[14:10:07] FULLER: There's no question about it. You know, I heard the reporting that the chief of staff has managed to monitor calls inbound and outbound from the Oval Office. And I thought, that's nice, but, boy, is that old technology. If you're not monitoring that Twitter account, you're not really controlling the message very well.

BALDWIN: OK. Craig Fuller, thank you very much.

FULLER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: On the other side of the Twitter schoolyard, President Trump is lashing out at one of his recent critics, the former Director of National Intelligence is part of this whole tweet storm today. The president says this. James Clapper, who famously got caught lying to Congress, is now an authority on Donald Trump? Will he show you his beautiful letter to me?

Now, after the president's wild off script rally the other night in Phoenix, James Clapper, live on CNN, questioned the president's ability to run the country. Here he is explaining those comments a bit further.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: First of all, this is very, very difficult for me, personally, to be critical of a president. My dad served for 28 years in the Army, and instilled in me respect for the commander in chief and the incumbent in that position. And certainly in the 50 years or so that I served, 34 of that in the military, that was clearly my instincts.

He'll make a scripted teleprompter speech, which is good, and then turn around and negate it by sort of, you know, the unbridled, unleashed, unchaperoned Trump. And that, to me, is -- that pattern is very disturbing.


BALDWIN: This as CNN has new exclusive reporting on the Russia investigation. Congressional investigations have uncovered an e-mail from a top Trump aide referencing an attempt to set up a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the presidential campaign. That person behind that e-mail is now President Trump's deputy chief of staff.

So joining me now, CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner. He is a former spokesman for James Clapper.

So, Shawn, nice to see you.


BALDWIN: To be clear, and we can't crawl into the president's head, I can only imagine with the tweet referencing Clapper, he's referencing some of his testimony back in 2013 about NSA surveillance operations, which he later apologized for.

But, Sean, I understand you talked to James Clapper this morning about this very tweet. What did he say to you?

TURNER: Sure. Yes, absolutely I did. You know, unfortunately, the president's tweet suggested that there was some personal correspondence between Director Clapper and the president. That's not exactly what happened.

BALDWIN: The big, beautiful letter, you mean?

TURNER: Yes, the big, beautiful letter. Yes.

You know, this all stems from what happened the night before the election. You know, what happened was that there were two teams from the intelligence community that were deployed to give a brief to the new president-elect the following morning. No matter who that was. These -- both of these teams were prepared and they were ready to give that brief.

Director Clapper did something that he's kind of become known for in the intelligence community. He sat down and he wrote a handwritten note to both of the candidates, basically congratulating them on their victory. And he did a couple of things in that note on behalf of the intelligence community. He reassured or reiterated the fact that the intelligence community stood ready to serve the president and to provide the best intelligence that they possibly could so that he could do his most important job, and that's protect the country.

He also, you know, talked about the intelligence community's long- standing kind of adherence to and belief in the importance of speaking truth to power. And he encouraged both of the candidates in those letters to accept that and to support the intelligence community's efforts to do that.

So, two letters here. Very common for Jim Clapper to do this sort of thing. I worked for him for a long time and I've known him to do this kind of thing. So that's what the president's referring to.

And so I think that the suggestion that there was some beautiful, personal letter to the president is perhaps a little bit overboard.

BALDWIN: OK. Thank you for the clarity there.

Let me ask you about our new reporting. Investigators are focusing on this e-mail from Rick Dearborn, as we pointed out, who was working, you know, with the campaign, top policy aide and now he's in the White House. Two staffers in that e-mail relaying information about an individual looking to connect Trump officials with Putin. You know, you worked with the -- the intel community's assessment of Russian interference in the election. What do you make of this development here?

TURNER: Well, the first thing I would say is that the fact that this e-mail is revealing that someone at a high level of the Trump administration had direct contact with someone who was communicating a desire to connect directly with Putin is, you know, look, there have been a lot of concerning issues that have been raised, but this is one that's particularly concerning.

I think --

[14:15:03] BALDWIN: Why?

TURNER: Well, largely because this isn't about meeting with officials around Putin. This isn't about meeting with officials who represent him. But this is about meeting with Putin.

BALDWIN: This is the man himself.

TURNER: The man himself.

So, look, you know, as Director Clapper others have said, you know, look, we have not found concrete evidence of collusion yet. But as you look at these events and as we continue to find these little details, we're moving closer to that point where we have to ask ourselves, what really happened here.

And I'll just say, you know, for the president who has -- who's continued to be very critical of this investigation, the best thing that could happen for the president, if there is no "there" there, is for this investigation to move forward with his support so that this dark cloud that's been hanging over the country since the start of his presidency can be cleared. That's what this president should be supporting because we really -- we need to get past this, especially those who work in the national security space because this is a real distraction to the important work that they do. BALDWIN: Quickly, Shawn, just back on Clapper for a second and just

knowing the man and also his career and the different administrations he has served. Were you surprised when you heard him the other night speaking live with Don, fresh out of the president's comments on Phoenix, legit questioning the fitness of the president?

TURNER: Unfortunately, I wasn't. I think that what --

BALDWIN: You weren't?

TURNER: I was not. Because I think that what Director Clapper was doing was, he was putting to words what a lot of people in the national security space are thinking. Look, you know, we know that during times of trouble, the American people, and our partners and allies around the world, they look to the president of the United States for credibility, for competent leadership, and for -- and to project a steady hand. And I think that what Director Clapper is saying, and what others are saying, is that so far we have not seen that.

And what we really hope is, as Director Clapper said the other night, is that the president can right the ship here. Look, you know, for all the domestic issues that we talk about and all the domestic debates we have, people in the national security space believe that all of those things must happen under a blanket of strong national security. And so I think that, you know, for someone like Director Clapper, who has spent an entire life in intelligence, you know, more than 50 years, when he looks at some of the challenges that this president's having and being consistent and being credible, I think he sees real concerns with that. So I was not surprised at those comments. I think he's reflecting what a lot of intelligence and national security people are feeling.

BALDWIN: Not surprised. But, still, that was stunning listening to him the other night.

TURNER: It was.

BALDWIN: Shawn, thank you. Shawn Turner in Washington for me. Nice to see you.

TURNER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: As his Democratic colleagues question the president's fitness and stability, we'll talk to Senator Bob Casey, see if he agrees with that. Stand by.

Also, the president retweeting a meme of himself eclipsing his predecessor. Have you seen this? The story behind that tweet.

And, we are moments away from the very first White House briefing in three weeks. Lots to talk about. Everything from Charlottesville to the Republican food fight happening right now.

Stay here. You're watching CNN.


[14:22:38] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Live pictures inside that White House Briefing Room. We are waiting for the first press briefing. Haven't had one in about three weeks.

The president has been threatening this government shutdown over funding for his border wall as he engages in a public feud with his own party leadership. The president made his threat at his campaign rally earlier in the week in Phoenix, but House Speaker Paul Ryan is pushing back.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: So I don't think anyone's interested in having a shutdown. I don't think it's in our interests to do so. While we work on doing what we actually said we would do, what we've done already in the House, and we need to do, which is to control our borders. So I don't think you have to choose between the two.


BALDWIN: With me now, Democratic Senator Bob Casey, live in Philadelphia.

Senator, nice to see you again. Welcome back.


BALDWIN: So, there are a number of news outlets, senator, who are reporting a shutdown is growing more and more likely after that threat from the president. Can you just tell me what you're hearing?

CASEY: Well, Brooke, it's hard to tell until we actually get back to Washington, but we've seen this movie before. We saw it in 2013 where Republicans shut the government down to prove the point. It didn't work out well for them, but especially didn't work out for the country. When you shut the government down, you don't just stop some activities of government. People get hurt. The economy suffers. So it's one of the fastest ways to hurt the economy, kill jobs, and send the country into chaos. And I think we've had enough of that.

So I hope the president would be responsible here, lead the country in a direction of making sure the government stays open, making sure we pay our bills.

BALDWIN: What about -- and I realize you're not back in Washington yet, but you've seen the tweets and read the coverage on this, you know, call it cold war, call it a feud, this back and forth between the Senate majority leader and the president. Do you support your fellow senator in this feud with the president?

CASEY: Well, it's rather bizarre that in one party, the party that won the White House and controls both houses of Congress, that they can't get their act together. So, I'll let them sort that out.

But here's what I do know, Brooke, from traveling across Pennsylvania, I've been, just in the month of August, in more than 30 counties, 25 of those 32 were in counties the president carried rather easily, small towns, rural areas, those kinds of counties.

[14:25:04] And what they want us to do, both parties, in both branches of government, they want us to work together to fix bridges, to bring broadband to rural communities where they have no high speed Internet or very limited internet. They want us to focus on lowering prescription drug costs, raising wages, helping out with better ways to pay for college education. So, that's what they expect us to do. And the longer Republican's don't get along, it's going to --

BALDWIN: But do they understand? I mean that --

CASEY: I'm sorry.

BALDWIN: Forgive me, senator, for jumping in, but, I mean, that's a great list of things that, you know, it's easy to be on the side of, yes, we want those things and they particularly want those things. But do they understand this infighting between the, you know, intraparty fighting and how that may thwart all of those things from getting done?

CASEY: Well, we'll see. We'll see if that -- if it happens in the fall. But I think -- I think people do understand that.

But, look, all of us have an obligation to work together on these major issues. One of the best things that happened, frankly, after the health care bill went down on July the 28th was an immediate engagement by Democratic and Republican senators to work on small pieces of the health care system that we could improve. Focusing on the individual market. If premiums are too high, working on solutions to that, making sure the cost-sharing payments are made, which the president, in a very irresponsible fashion, has said he may not pay. Republicans don't agree with him on that.

So I'm hoping that Republicans will at least begin to work with us on these major issues like wages or health care or infrastructure. But the president's creating all kinds of chaos and uncertainty that really damages the economy.

BALDWIN: Well, it seems that he is angry. You mentioned health care and we heard about this very frustrated phone call from the president to the Senate majority leader. Some of it even -- not even over health care but over Russia. I mean your colleagues are getting these angry phone calls from the president accusing them -- this isn't even about, you know, legislation. Yes, it's in part about this Russian sanctions bill. But really it's about, you know, not protecting him on the Russia investigation. What do you make of that, Senator Casey?

CASEY: Well, it's bizarre because in our system we call it rule of law, meaning that when an investigator or a prosecutor of any kind is undertaking an investigation, especially one of this gravity and seriousness, as to whether or not the Russian federation, as a government, interfered with our election and whether a campaign, in this case a Republican presidential campaign, had anything to do with it. The rule of law tells you that you cannot interfere with that. You cannot slow it down, whether you're the president or anyone in Congress.

I hope my Republican colleagues wouldn't be pushed in the direction of trying to interfere. In fact, I was encouraged in the early part of August that when legislation was introduced to prohibit the firing of Robert Mueller, that some Republicans were supporting that effort, saying to the president, you cannot fire this person. You have to complete the investigation. I hope we see more of that bipartisanship.

BALDWIN: Right and it was that -- it was that North Carolina co- sponsor, you know, senator who apparently was on the receiving end of one of those phone calls.

Let me move on, though, Senator Casey, and ask you about your colleague, Jackie Speier, and what was said about the president's mental stability on CNN.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, there's actually a growing mountain of evidence that the president has been very erratic, has shown a mental instability. It was crystallized last week with the combination of his comments about fire and fury that he offered up against Kim Jong-un in North Korea and how we would take him out, followed by his back and forth on Charlottesville and how he really became almost abusive in calling people out.


BALDWIN: That was the congresswoman. I'm sure, sir, you have seen the comments from the former, you know, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, questioning the fitness of the president. Do you have those same questions? Do you question his fitness?

CASEY: Well, first of all, I can't make a medical judgment, obviously. But you don't need to have a medical degree or be any kind of an expert on psychology or otherwise to assess that the president, for far too long now, for many, many months, has created chaos where there is none, has created divisions in ways we couldn't even imagine.

[14:29:42] Who would ever believe that in 2017, a president of the United States would be pursuing an argument where there's a false equivalency narrative about whether or not you should clearly and categorically condemn the KKK and the white nationalist groups or whoever else is creating division and hate in the country. Condemn them and work against them. Try to put them out of business and not do this bizarre and insulting and really damaging false equivalency.