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Trump White House; Las Vegas Shooting; Hurricane Nate Heads for Florida; Aid Pours in to Puerto Rico; Catalonia Crisis; Challenges for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired October 7, 2017 - 03:00   ET



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): At a photo op, the U.S. president makes a mysterious comment with White House officials refusing or unable to say exactly what the president meant when he said "it's the calm before the storm," with military leaders there with him.

More disturbing details about the Las Vegas gunman. Police say that his car was loaded with explosives and ammunition but they say they don't have a clue yet about his motive.

And we're keeping a very close eye on a hurricane. It's called Nate, it is headed toward the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: Around the world, good day to you. The White House is not offering any new insight into a bizarre remark made by the U.S. president. That remark came during a photo op that took place Thursday, the president with senior Pentagon leaders there, when he suggested that the gathering was, quote, "the calm before the storm."

What did he mean by that?

He offered no further explanation except to say, "You'll see."

In the meantime is secretary of state Rex Tillerson, that job may be hanging in the balance after it was reported that Mr. Tillerson called President Trump "a moron." CNN's Jim Acosta has the latest.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump warns there's a storm brewing. But the White House won't say what the storm is or when it will hit.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I know the president has, as I have from this podium on quite a few occasions, we're never going to say in advance what the president's going to do. And, as he said last night, in addition to those comments, you'll have to wait and see.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House refused to explain comments the president made next to military commanders and their family members Thursday night, a photo op that was hastily scheduled after reporters were told there would be no more public events for the day.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could be the calm before the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What storm, Mr. President?

TRUMP: We have the world's great military people, I can tell you that. And thank you all for coming. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What storm, Mr. President?

TRUMP: You'll find out.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Asked again what he meant, the president winked.

TRUMP: You'll find out. ACOSTA (voice-over): But press secretary Sarah Sanders hinted Mr. Trump may be adopting what's known in foreign policy circles as the madman theory, a strategy aimed at throwing off adversaries with cryptic language.

ACOSTA: What is your sense of that?

Is there anything to that?

SANDERS: I think the president's addressed this himself. He certainly doesn't want to lay out his game plan for our enemies. So if you're asking, is the president trying to do that, absolutely.

ACOSTA (voice-over): This is hardly the first time the president's theatrics have unsettled Washington, like his superheated rhetoric aimed at North Korea.

TRUMP: They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But even members of the president's own party argue the White House needs less chaos, not more.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TENN.), CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and chief of staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House response to that?

SANDERS: The president is the one that's keeping the world from chaos.

ACOSTA (voice-over): For now the White House appears to be seeking stability at the State Department, where secretary of state Rex Tillerson seems to have the confidence of the president, at least for now. That's despite the fact that administration officials see Tillerson on his way out, after sources say he called the president "a moron."

SANDERS: Nothing has changed, despite what you may read in the media or watch on TV. I would certainly trust the president and my comments far above those of other reporters.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But with President Trump, a good rule is, expect the unexpected. Whether it's throwing paper towels to people in Puerto Rico or how he pronounces Puerto Rico...

TRUMP: We are also praying for the people of Puerto Rico. We love Puerto Rico.


TRUMP: Puerto.

ACOSTA: The White House was asked at the Friday briefing whether we should expect any cabinet departures, as it was the end of the week. The response from the press secretary of state, "I don't think so." That's as clear as it got -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Jim, thank you.

Earlier we spoke with political analyst --


HOWELL: -- Peter Matthews and Peter explained why a rift between the president and his top diplomat, the secretary of state is so troubling.


PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: So it's very important to have a person with some stability and some status and standing.

And that's Tillerson, of all the options, he's the person needs to be there. That's why John Kelly, the chief of staff, wants to keep Tillerson there and looking at the optics of him having to leave early would be terrible.

And so it's very possible that both Kelly and Tillerson would be leaving. I don't think they will right away. Tillerson might go before that because the conflict with the president on not only policy but personality, unfortunately, and Tillerson's disagreed with the president on the Iran nuclear deal, he wants to keep the deal, work with it; the president wants to jettison it, let it go.

And the same thing with North Korea. Tillerson just came out and said that he's had to direct line North Korea; we should use diplomacy. And president undercut him the next day and said, stop wasting your time negotiating with North Korea, very bad relationship at this point and this is showing up in public, that is also very bad.


HOWELL: The comments there of Peter Matthews, a political analyst.

Moving on now to the U.S. state of Nevada, people are paying tribute to the victims of the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas -- you see the scene here Friday near the Mandalay Bay hotel.

Mourners placed flowers, left cards there honoring the dead; 58 people were killed, this when a gunman opened fire from the hotel room that he was staying in on Sunday, this shooting one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

The tragedy has raised a number of questions, including why it happened, what was the motive here?

Authorities still don't know but they say that they found explosives in the gunman's car. CNN's Brian Todd has the latest on the investigation.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Stephen Paddock was raining gunfire down onto the crowd at the Route 91 harvest festival, his 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring, like this one, was parked nearby, filled with explosives.

A law enforcement source tells CNN's Kyung Lah and Scott Glover that the 64-year old had filled his car with 50 pounds of Tannerite and then rigged it to explode if shot, an explosion that could have been deadly, as these tests of exploding target compounds show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's composed of two substances. We had two chemicals of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder that, when combined, make the finished product of Tannerite. Sorry to tell you I don't know what he was going to do with all of that Tannerite.

TODD (voice-over): While it's not clear if Paddock rigged the car as a diversion or a final trap for police, there's new information about the precision with which he planned to kill.

CNN has learned from a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation that Paddock tried to buy tracer ammunition at a Phoenix gun show in recent weeks. But the official says, for some reason, Paddock could not obtain those bullets which light up in the dark.

TODD: If he could have gotten tracer ammunition, what would have been different with the attack?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first thing tracer ammunition does for a shooter, it allows them to get onto target in low-light conditions much more quickly than they might otherwise. So in his particular case, he would have been able to see pretty much where the strike of his bullets were landing within the crowd. TODD (voice-over): Former Las Vegas SWAT team member Chris Petco (ph), who was also a Marine machine gunner, says tracer bullets could have made the casualty count worse.

A law enforcement official said, with the ammunition he did use, while shooting in darkness, Paddock was probably just spraying bullets and couldn't see the people he was hitting.

Experts say investigators may be focusing on Paddock's chilling attention to detail leading up to the massacre, planning which seems to have gone beyond what police call meticulous. He brought 23 guns to his room in suitcases, undetected; carefully assembled them and stacked his clips of ammo neatly against a column.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had many layers of redundancy built up. And you can view simply the number of weapons that he had available to him, really, to underscore the intent that he had to inflict the maximum amount of damage.

TODD (voice-over): Paddock took the time to barricade the stairwell door next to his room, painstakingly rigged cameras to a service cart near the entrance to his suite and to a peephole in the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was planning a preparation because, at some point, he had to know they were going to come for him. That way he'd be able to address that threat.

TODD (voice-over): Officials tell CNN there was a note in his hotel suite, seen here in this photograph, leaked to the "Daily Mail," not a suicide note but a sheet containing numbers, now being analyzed.

Authorities are looking into what might have changed last October, when he began buying many weapons. But his motive remains unclear, as does his mental state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the girlfriend is the key part here, to provide information on what his mental state was. Hopefully, through the electronics and through the girlfriend, they're going to find out exactly what that is or --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- what his motive was.

A key question remains: were there any accomplices in Las Vegas with Stephen Paddock?

TODD: The undersheriff says they continue to investigate whether anyone might have known about this attack before it occurred, that they're examining voluminous amounts of videotape, including some from the Mandalay Bay hotel and that, so far, they have not located anyone else who they believe might be a suspect -- Brian Todd, CNN, Las Vegas.


HOWELL: Brian, thank you.

The explosive found in the shooter's car can be purchased legally here in the United States. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, spoke earlier with a top Las Vegas police official and asked him what the gunman might've been planning to do with it. Here's what he had to say.


MCMAHILL: He purchased legally that Tannerite. I believe he also had those two precursor chemicals, as we discussed earlier, the ammonium nitrate and the aluminum chloride. And it's just a simple taken -- it's a binary explosive, Tannerite is. You take the two different chemicals and mix them together and you have Tannerite.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: What was he doing with that Tannerite?

MCMAHILL: Wolf, I guess -- I guess I'm going to be clear. I don't know what he was doing with it. But to be clear, we found no evidence that his vehicle was -- or that material in his vehicle had intended to be used as an IED within that vehicle.

The answer to your question, as well, is I don't know what he was going to do with it. It's one of the mysteries of this actual attack. It's one thing that my investigators, as well as the FBI, continue to try to figure out. And that's one of the main focuses of our investigation today.


HOWELL: That was the undersheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, speaking to my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, there.

We're following this growing storm in the Gulf of Mexico, a storm that was once a tropical storm, now a full force hurricane named Nate. And Nate is headed straight toward the U.S. Gulf Coast as a tropical storm, Nate has killed at least 24 people in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras. Heavy rains and flash floods have knocked out power, knocked out drinking water throughout Central America.

And hundreds of people have had to be rescued from rushing floodwaters, like what you see there in San Jose, Costa Rica. Hurricane Nate is gaining strength as it moves north. The state of Louisiana is preparing for a direct hit. The mayor of New Orleans has ordered evacuations and a mandatory curfew.


HOWELL: For the past few years now, many women in the United States have had access to free birth control through their insurance and now that may be a thing of the past for many. We'll explain.





HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

Here in the United States a new rule from the Trump administration means that many women may no longer have access to free birth control through their employer's insurance.

CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins explains why.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing the Trump administration essentially walk back this mandate. This is an Obama- era rule, that required employers to provide women with birth control through their health insurance.

But with this new rule, it grants broad exemptions to companies that say they have a moral or religious problem to doing just that. So to put it bluntly, non-profits, private firms and these publicly traded companies can now stop offering free birth control through health insurance if they have, quote, "sincerely held religious beliefs."

This is something Trump promised to religion groups when he was a candidate on the campaign trail that he would do. We heard press secretary Sarah Sanders defend it at the briefing at the White House.


SANDERS: The president believes that the freedom to practice one's faith is a fundamental right in this country. And I think all of us do. And that's all that today was about. Our federal government should always protect that right. And as long as Donald Trump is president, he will.

COLLINS: That Obama-era rule was something that religious conservative groups pushed back against ever since it was first implemented. And as you can see from Sanders' comments there, it's something the White House is framing as a big win for religious liberty.

But this rule is certain to see some pushback from groups. We've already heard from the American Congress for Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who had some really powerful language about this rule, saying that the Health and Human Services leaders under this current administration are, quote, "focused on turning back the clock on women's health."

On the other side of the spectrum, we have House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said it was a landmark day for religious liberty. But what we know for certain, it's certain to end up in the courts. Several groups have already threatened to file lawsuits over it -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico amid the destruction there from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, there are also signs of hope and generosity. CNN followed one hurricane relief group that organized a supply run using a jet from filmmaker Tyler Perry.

Our Jason Carroll has this report.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an emergency mission, a mission is to literally save lives. But it's not organized by the U.S. government. It's all volunteer.

Miguel Estramera (ph) works for the Powell Skyhook Disaster Relief program, an organization got the supplies and a donated plane from filmmaker Tyler Perry.

I want to show you some of the supplies that we've seen here that are going out. There's medications in this particular box. In this one over here we've got insulin injectors, boxes of those. There are syringes is this box here. We're told all of that will be --


CARROLL: -- going to Good Samaritan Hospital in Aguadia (ph), where there's been a request there. This box over here going to the Coast Guard. The goal here is to get these supplies to people who have specifically requested them on the ground.

CARROLL (voice-over): And it's not the mission's only goal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On their way back, because the airplane will be empty, we can bring people out.

CARROLL (voice-over): Midflight, Estramera (ph) learns two of the evacuees are a young mother and her sick baby. First stop, the airport in Aguadia (ph) on western side of the island. It's where three people from Good Samaritan Hospital anxiously wait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got an SOS via Internet.

CARROLL (voice-over): They say the supplies will keep the hospital going for another two weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. We really needed this. Thank you.

CARROLL (voice-over): The U.S. Coast Guard also picked up supplies. You heard that right. Not only are some people not getting what they need here from the government, the Coast Guard needed a delivery as well.

We asked what specifically they needed but their representative would not tell us.

As supplies went out, it did clear the way for evacuees and it's where there would be many tears.

Maria Lopez said goodbye to her daughter, who had to stay behind while Estramera searched for that mother and her sick baby. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

CARROLL (voice-over): He waited as long as he could.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've spent hours now, trying to find this mother and her baby. Unfortunately I have to get these folks down to San Juan and get these supplies, get these people offloaded and we're way, way behind schedule. So I have to go.

It's a tough decision. It's heartwrenching.

CARROLL (voice-over): The mission moved on to San Juan, the mayor of the town, outside the capital, had put out a desperate call for supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They give us SOS and it included everything from adult diapers to batteries to generators, food.

CARROLL (voice-over): This as another family said their goodbyes. Esliya Roya (ph) says it's no longer safe for his wife or their one and a half year old to stay on their farm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's happening here is like a mini-war, like a war, drugs, cartel; they're getting out of control.

CARROLL (voice-over): Even with so many doing all they can, there are still families who, for now, say they must separate to survive -- Jason Carroll, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


HOWELL: The tears of so many people who are still in need of so much more, Jason Carroll, thank you for the report.

Moving on now to Spain, for the very first time, the government in Madrid is apologizing for the violence surrounding Catalonia's independence vote. Nearly 900 people there were injured during polling activities, this according to Catalonian officials.

Despite the apology, that standoff between Spain and Catalonia is far from over. Our senior international correspondent Atika Shubert explains why.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the streets of Barcelona may seem like business as usual but frankly there is still a lot of nervousness and confusion about what happens next in this political crisis.

Both the Catalonian government and the Spanish national government seem to have entered a sort of lull as they survey the aftermath of the independence vote on Sunday. Madrid's representative to Catalonia today actually offered an apology on television for the number of people who were injured as they were trying to cast ballots in that independence vote on Sunday, much of it due to this very tough police action by the national police.

And this is really the first act of contrition that we have seen coming from Madrid. At the same time, however, today, Catalonia's police was hauled before a court in Madrid and he faces allegations of sedition, the claim in his case is that he didn't do enough to prevent protest in the run-up to that vote.

In the meantime, we still have businesses here in Barcelona, very nervous, two of the biggest banks here have actually now legally moved their homes to other cities and other parts of Spain, trying to find some way to protect themselves from the political insecurity.

Also on Friday, the official results from the vote came in, no real surprise in the numbers, 90 percent of those that voted, voted yes to independence. There were about 2 million voters and according to local government officials here, that's about 43 percent of the electorate.

But those numbers don't mean anything to Madrid. The national government has said very clearly the vote was invalid. So the big question is if and when Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont will declare independence, as in the past he has said he would do.

There was a plenary session, Catalonian plenary session scheduled for Monday. That has now been moved to Tuesday --


SHUBERT: -- after the Spanish constitutional court said the first session could not take place.

But what Puigdemont will say, what he will announced and perhaps, more importantly, how Madrid will react still remains to be seen -- Atika Shubert, CNN, Barcelona.


HOWELL: Atika, thank you for the report.

From Brexit talks to calls for a change in leadership and what some see as a crisis in confidence, it's fair to say the British Prime Minister has a lot on her plate. These are just a few of the challenges that she faces and this just may be the beginning of it all.

Our Nina dos Santos explains.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Our economy is back on track.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR (voice-over): The stuttering performance of the British prime minister at the Conservative Party conference is viewed by many as a symptom of a deeper malaise, a crisis of confidence in the British government, triggered by a disastrous election, which cost the Conservative Party its majority and left some to suggest Theresa May is in office but not in power.

Now word that 30 of her own MPs would back a call for her to stand down, that claim coming from the former co-chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shatt (ph), the public face of this rebellion; 48 MPs are needed to trigger her removal.

Today, Theresa May moved to steady the ship.

MAY: What I think is necessary for the country now, what the country needs is calm leadership. That's exactly what I'm providing and I'm providing that with the full support of my cabinet. Thank you.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): But this call for calm, like the falling letter behind her confidence backdrop as she delivered her speech, is not a good look for the prime minister.

And the timing is terrible: with Brexit negotiations set to continue on Monday, the prime minister's weakness cannot have escaped the notice of E.U. negotiators or of the markets, with the pound having its worst week in a year.

The prime minister had hoped that a mea culpa over her decision to call a snap election would have turned the tide on her fortunes but to no avail.

MAY: I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign and I am sorry.

DOS SANTOS: There is one saving grace for Theresa May, that's the fact that, faced with a resurgent Labour and opposition, her party will do all it can to avoid triggering a general election. So until its members can fix on a suitable successor, it's likely that she may limp on a little while longer -- Nina dos Santos, CNN, at Westminster in London.


HOWELL: Nina, thank you.

And thank you for being with us for this edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" is up next. But first, your world headlines after the break.