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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Trump's Poll Numbers Hit New Low; Authorities Investigate Texas Mass Shooting; Air Force: Do Not Relay Info About Gunman to National Database; North Korea Warns of War If Trump Does Something "Crazy". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 6, 2017 - 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: Is there any political incentive to consider gun control in the Trump era?
Sinking feeling. The president's approval rating fails to a new low, as Americans' concerns about the Trump campaign's Russia ties ratchet higher. We're digging deeper into CNN's just-released poll.
And strong rhetoric. North Korean officials are accusing President Trump of foul-mouthed language that could lead to war, even as the president is about to travel into Kim Jong-un's backyard. CNN is live in the North Korean capital with an exclusive report.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, we have learned that the Texas church gunman killed his wife's grandmother in a massacre that may have been fueled by his interest in mass shootings and a growing obsession with a family dispute.
Authorities say the shooter sent threatening texts to his mother-in- law who attended the church, but wasn't there when he opened fire on Sunday, murdering 26 worshipers, including a child only 1.5 years old. Tonight, 10 of the 20 people are in critical condition.
Investigators believe the gunman, Devin Kelley, likely killed himself after being chased and wounded by an armed resident. Kelley had multiple weapons, including a military-style rifle, even though the Texas governor says the state denied himself a license to carry weapons.
President Trump speaking about the shooting during his Asia trip says the problem is mental health, not guns.
The president is about to leave Tokyo for South Korea where he will deliver a crucial speech on North Korea's nuclear and missile threats. North Korean officials tell CNN that they're watching Mr. Trump very closely, warning if he says or does anything crazy it could ignite a new Korean war. Also breaking, President Trump's approval rating falls to a new low of
only 36 percent in CNN's just released poll; 44 percent of Americans now say they're very concerned about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, more than ever before.
I will talk about those stories and much more with the Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But first let's go to Brian Todd. He's in Sutherland Springs, Texas, with more on the church massacre.
Brian, update our viewers on the very latest.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is still an active crime scene behind me.
You see (OFF-MIKE) First Baptist Church, forensic teams, technicians and others combing through the grounds, looking for shell casings and other evidence.
This comes as we're getting new information tonight on how the attack unfold and of the shooter's history of domestic violence and threats to his in-laws.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, authorities believe a domestic conflict may have led to the deadly horrific shooting at this small Texas church.
FREEMAN MARTIN, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: The suspect's mother-in-law attended this church.
TODD: A law enforcement source tells CNN the gunman sent a text to his mother-in-law on Sunday morning before the shooting, but his mother-in-law was not inside the church at the time of the shooting.
MARTIN: We can't go into details about that domestic situation that is continuing to be vetted and thoroughly investigated.
TODD: Tonight, the details emerging about the killer, 26-year-old Devin Kelley, show a pattern of conflict and violence.
Kelley served in the U.S. Air Force and was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and a child. He served a year of confinement. Then in 2014, Kelley was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct, and just this past summer terminated from his security job.
The former Air Force colonel who prosecuted Kelley described to Wolf Blitzer Kelley's attacks on his wife and stepson.
COL. DON CHRISTENSEN (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: During this time, he would often be physically violent with his son, include violently shaking him. As a result of that, his stepson had suffered fractures, had a subdural hematoma.
TODD: Questions now as to how he was able to purchase weapons.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: All the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun, so how did this happen?
TODD: Kelley had three guns in his possession Sunday morning. According to police, Kelley legally purchased the Ruger attack rifle he used in the shooting.
When filling out the paperwork for his background check, Kelley did not disclose any disqualifying criminal history. Kelley wielding that attack rifle and dressed in black tactical gear and a black mask with a white skull imprinted barged into the church and gunned down more tan two dozen parishioners during the Sunday service.
As he fled, a nearby resident, also in possession of an AR-15-style weapon, exchanged gunfire with Kelley.
MARTIN: They exchanged in gunfire here at the church. We know that the suspect was shot when he dropped his assault rifle, jumped in his Ford Expedition and fled the scene.
TODD: That's when Johnnie Langendorff pulled up in his truck.
JOHNNIE LANGENDORFF, CHASED SHOOTER: The gentleman with the rifle came across the street, opened my door and said he just shot up the church we have to chase him. And I said, let's go.
TODD: Together, in Langendorff's truck, they chased for more than 10 miles. Police say that during the chase, Kelly called his own father saying he didn't think he'd make it.
When police arrived on the scene, they found Kelley in his vehicle dead because of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. Nearly 50 residents of the small community of Sutherland Springs are dead or wounded.
The victims ranging in age from 17 months to 77 years, including eight members of the Holcombe family. The pastor, seen here during a previous church service, was out of town at the time of the shooting, as was his wife. Their daughter was one of the victims.
SHERRI POMEROY, MOTHER OF VICTIM: As much tragedy as that entails for our family, we don't want to overshadow the other lives we lost yesterday. We lost more than Belle yesterday. And one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact that Belle was surrounded yesterday by her church family, who she loved fiercely.
We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we worshipped together. Now most of our church family is gone.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And tonight we have learned that one member of that church family who Devin Kelley killed was his own grandmother-in-law, a woman named Lula White. That's according to several friends of hers who spoke to CNN. She was the grandmother of the shooter's wife -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, we're also learning about an animal cruelty charge against the shooter. What can you tell us about that?
TODD: Right, Wolf.
That's from three years ago, August of 2014. This is according to the sheriff's office of El Paso County, Colorado. This is where the shooter, Devin Kelley, was living at the time in an R.V. park Colorado Springs.
A witness saw him take a small husky dog brown and white in color and beat the dog several times around the head and neck area, hit him several times, and then dragged the dog away. The witness called police and complained about it
He was given a summons to appear in court. Devin Kelley denied the charge, and he never served any time on those charges, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks very much.
Law enforcement officials still are putting the pieces together to try to determine exactly how and why the slaughter happen.
I want to bring in our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, who's been working his sources.
What more are you learning, Shimon?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.
As we've been reporting, it appears the shooter here was obsessed with mass shootings. He did research on mass shootings. We're also being told he had a fascination with guns. And then there's this family dispute issue, what really seems to be a focus for investigators because they're not sure there's any real reason for him to have been upset over the family dispute or if this was more about something he made up kind of in his head, perhaps going to the theory he may have been suffering some mental health issues.
BLITZER: It's a serious issue.
A lot of people are wondering if the U.S. Air Force dropped the ball. He was convicted, spent a year in the military prison, brig, for assaulting his wife, stepchild, and little baby boy. Spent a year in prison. But apparently, what, did the Air Force not notify the FBI about this guy's behavior because he went ahead over the next four years and was able, without any problems at all, to buy guns?
PROKUPECZ: Yes. That's right.
We have spent the day asking these questions of the Air Force and also federal officials. And we were waiting to hear soon from the Air Force on their response. It's not clear what they're going to do now. So far, from everything we have seen, there's been no indication that there was any kind of report to federal authorities about this conviction, but again we have been waiting to hear from the Air Force to confirm that.
BLITZER: If the Air Force didn't notify the FBI, that would be a blunder because then there wouldn't be a records of his criminal behavior and he'd be able to go ahead and buy weapons, including an assault-type weapon.
PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right.
It would not prevent buyers from selling him a gun. So a seller would research this, would do a background check and nothing would come up in the background check and that appears to -- what have happened here. He purchased four guns. So there were at least four instances, four occasions when they could have found something may not have been right had this been flagged.
And it appears right now...
BLITZER: And you know who agrees? Don Christensen, retired U.S. Air Force colonel, the chief prosecutor in the Air Force.
I spoke with him last hour and he didn't know if the Air Force did the right thing and notified the FBI, but he did agree that, if they didn't, that's a major mistake. They have to go back and see if they haven't notified the FBI about other potential problems to make sure this doesn't happen again.
You're staying on top of it. You will get back to us. Shimon, thank you very much.
BLITZER: Let's talk about this, the shooting, with Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, thank you for having me
BLITZER: It's very disturbing, as you know.
The shooter was discharged from the U.S. Air Force for bad conduct, did not get an honorable discharge, spent a year in prison, extremely troubling domestic violence, including on his wife, a little stepchild.
Why didn't that stop him from buying four guns over four years, including an assault-type weapon? CASTRO: Well, Wolf, there are many breakdowns and ironies of this case so far, first, that he would only spend 12 months in prison for fracturing the skull of an infant stepson, but also that he was able to get four guns, even though he had this history of domestic violence.
And so I'm anxious to see whether the Air Force reported that history to the national database.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of concern the Air Force, for whatever reason, didn't. And if that's the case, we have to go back and check, and I'm sure you agree, Congressman, to make sure there are not other cases along those lines where they didn't report these kind of troubling convictions.
It looks like the system failed and I wonder if you want to react to that.
CASTRO: Well, no, that's absolutely right.
That would represent a colossal failure of the system. But really, Wolf, there are two pieces here, because we're often put into this false choice of choosing between this being a mental health vs. a gun issue. And the fact is it's a combination of both of those things oftentimes.
The first part is prevention. We have to make sure that, as much as possible, guns don't get into the wrong hands. That means doing things like universal background checks, which Americans support by about 90 percent, but also doing things to increase mental health funding.
Unfortunately, as you have covered, the budget proposal so far would do the exact opposite. They would slash mental health funding. But even when you put those preventative measures into place, there are still going to be people who either legally or illegally get guns and then use them to try to commit mass murder.
That's where you need the second strategy of basically damage control, making sure that you limit the amount of damage that these weapons can do. And that means usually one of two things, either banning assault rifles, like the kind that the shooter was using, or, second, limiting the number of bullets in a cartridge.
The Las Vegas shooting is an example of a shooter being able to shoot off an incredible number of rounds, 500, 600 rounds of bullets, in a matter of minutes. Even yesterday's tragedy, somebody being able to walk into building, in this case a church, and in a matter of seconds leave 26 people dead and many more injured.
We have -- Congress has to act. And state legislatures and city halls shouldn't wait on Congress, especially this Congress. They should take action also. But that doesn't relieve this body in this building from doing something.
BLITZER: The shooting, and it's not far from your district in Texas, stemmed from a history of domestic violence. Are there specific policy solutions, Congressman, that you can put forward to address that threat?
CASTRO: Well, most of all, we have to protect the funding for combating domestic violence and intervening when you these mental health issues.
I know in your report just a little while ago, you mentioned the fact that he had a history of animal abuse. That's another indicator that we've seen of people who later become violent, not just towards animals, but towards human beings.
And so we have to rededicate ourselves to intervening in situations like this, to being able to offer counseling and other services that will basically take somebody off of that dangerous path.
BLITZER: You were optimistic, Congressman, that President Obama would get gun control measures passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. But if Congress couldn't get it done after first-graders were gunned down, and now when 58 people were just killed in Las Vegas, another 26 people massacred in a Sunday morning church service in Texas, what are Americans supposed to think about their leaders and about the ability to deal with these issues?
CASTRO: Well, most of all, they're supposed to replace this Congress and bring in people who can change that; 80 to 90 percent of Americans, for example, agree on background checks.
So this is not a matter of convincing America about the necessity of changing laws. It's a matter of convincing a group of people in Congress who are still, for whatever reason, beholden to lobbying interests and special interests, rather than the American people.
BLITZER: This is the second year in a row in which the mortality rate of gun death rose in the United States, that according to the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC.
When does this become a public health emergency?
CASTRO: I think it has been a public health emergency.
And, Wolf, it's sad to say, before yesterday's shooting, I was having a conversation with a few colleagues after the Las Vegas shooting, and everybody, at least in this conversation, was frustrated that nothing has been happening in Congress, not even doing something about the bump stock problem that turned that semiautomatic weapon into an automatic weapon.
But as we were having that conversation, I thought, you know, this conversation is going to come up again. And I will say the same thing now. Unless something changes, these conversations and this coverage is going to come up again and again in our country.
BLITZER: You take a look. We just had a graphic up. Let me put that graphic up and you can see two of the most -- deadliest shootings have happened in the past 30, 35 days.
Look at this, in Las Vegas, 58 killed, now in Sutherland Springs, Texas, 26 killed. You take look at Orlando back in 2016, 49 killed, in Blacksburg, Virginia, back in 2007, 32 killed, 27 killed Newtown, Connecticut.
These are awful, awful situations. Following any of them, Congressman, has there been any significant gun controls enacted?
CASTRO: Not by the U.S. Congress, no. And that's a shame and it's unfortunate.
BLITZER: That's a real problem.
All right, we're going to continue this. There's other breaking news we're following. Congressman, let's take a quick break. We will resume our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: All right. We have got some breaking news.
The Air Force now acknowledging it made a major mistake in not informing the FBI about this Devin Kelley's criminal background. As a result, he was able to go ahead and purchase weapons, including an assault-type weapon.
Shimon, you have been the working. You have got the statement from the U.S. Air Force.
PROKUPECZ: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
This is sort of information we have kind of been hearing all day, and finally now we get a statement from the Air Force where they say -- quote -- "Initial information indicates that Kelley's domestic violence offense" -- that's the shooter -- "was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Air Force. It's an Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations."
So clearly now we have -- they admit that, at least from their investigation right now, they did not enter this information, which would have prevented Kelley from purchasing weapons.
And he purchased four weapons over four years and this information was never entered into the database, a database that is controlled by the FBI. And we have been hearing from law enforcement officials they did not see any of this history, the shooter's history in their database, and now the Air Force admits they never relayed it.
BLITZER: A major, major mistake by the U.S. Air Force.
BLITZER: Congressman Joaquin Castro is still with us. Want to get your reaction to the breaking news, Congressman.
The Air Force acknowledging now they did not enter this killer's domestic violence conviction while he was in the U.S. Air Force into this federal law enforcement database. As a result, he could go ahead and purchase weapons without any problem.
CASTRO: It's a deadly failure, just a deadly failure, a colossal failure. And they need to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
BLITZER: Not only that, Congressman. They have got to make sure that there are not others out there who did have criminal records, who did serve time in military prisons, who are now out there, they're civilians, and they have to go back and check and make sure if they didn't notify the FBI of these criminal records, they do it now to make sure these other individuals who may be out there can't go ahead and buy weapons.
CASTRO: Yes, that's right.
There's going to be a lot of remediation that has to go on, as you mentioned, to track down anybody else that fell through the cracks, whose records they may not have forwarded.
BLITZER: If, in fact, they do discover there are other individuals like this guy Kelley who may have had a criminal background, served time in the military prisons, but are out there now and have been buying weapons, can you go out there now and confiscate those weapons?
CASTRO: If those folks are not entitled to be able to purchase weapons, then, yes, they should.
BLITZER: You think that they would be able to do so.
All right, Congressman, I want you to stand by. There's other breaking news we're following.
We're getting some new information right now on the Russia investigation.
I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, who is joining us.
Jessica, former Trump campaign Paul Manafort, he was back in court today.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was, Wolf.
And it was a bit of a defeat for both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Despite a week's worth of arguments from their defense teams, both men will remain under house arrest. The judge seeming to agree with government prosecutors that the details of their financial disclosures are just too incomplete to assure they won't be flight risks.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates remain under house arrest with GPS monitoring. The judge determined today their financial disclosures weren't clear and asked for more information before deciding whether to ease the conditions of their release next month.
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN JUSTICE WRITER: In court, the judge suggested they could modify the bail for Manafort and Gates, that they would possibly still wear ankle monitors, they would have to stay near their homes, they would have to do things like not go near airports and railroads and have an everything curfew.
SCHNEIDER: Paul Manafort claims to have a net worth of $28 million, according to court filings, and offered up three of his properties as collateral for his $10 million bond.
But prosecutors said the value of his property and net worth have yet to be substantiated. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to 12 counts, including money laundering and false statements, which stem from their work as lobbyists for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
The charges do not explicitly relate to their work during the campaign. The court appearance comes as new allegations emerge about that Trump Tower meeting attended by Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016.
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya led that meeting and now tells Bloomberg News Trump Jr. indicated the law she was lobbying against might be reexamined if Trump became president. The 2012 Magnitsky Act imposed sanctions on Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.
"Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it," Veselnitskaya describes Trump Jr. as saying.
Veselnitskaya says Trump Jr. also asked for documents backing her claim that a donor to Hillary Clinton's campaign evaded U.S. taxes. The number of Trump associates with ties to Russia now stands at 11, according to CNN's reporting.
And tonight Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is under scrutiny for his investments in a shipping firm with significant ties to a Russian company linked to President Putin's inner circle.
In an interview with the BBC in London, Ross slammed the suggestion his business ties constitute anything improper.
WILBUR ROSS, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: If our government decided to sanction them, that would be a different story. But our government has not, thus far, made the determination to sanction them. So there's nothing wrong with it. The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company does not mean that there's any evil in it.
Where there is evil is the misstatement that I did not disclose those holdings in my original form.
SCHNEIDER: While Ross met his disclosure requirements, some lawmakers feel they were misled. They're now demanding an investigation and possible resignation.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He apparently concealed these ownership interests. There ought to be hearings. And if he fails to provide a convincing and compelling explanation, he ought to resign.
SCHNEIDER: Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer has responded to the new claims that he discussed the possible repeal of the Magnitsky Act with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 at Trump Tower.
The lawyer putting it this way, he said, what this interview shows once again is that everyone in attendance has a very similar account as to what transpired.
Now, Trump Jr. has repeatedly insisted that the meeting was mostly about Russian adoptions which were halted for U.S. families as a direct result of the Magnitsky Act -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, thank you, Jessica Schneider reporting.
I want to go back to Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
What concerns do you have, if any, about be the commerce secretary Wilbur Ross' business ties to Russia?
CASTRO: One, that this is a continuing pattern of basically members of President Trump's either administration or campaign team who seem to have forgotten key meetings with Russians or Russian officials, businesspeople, or conversations that they had.
Now, if it turns out that Wilbur Ross did, in fact, not disclose this information properly or was not up front about it, then I think that he should resign.
BLITZER: Do you want Donald Trump Jr. to appear before your committee to answer questions about these new details from this Veselnitskaya, this Russian woman, this lawyer?
CASTRO: Well, let me put it this way, Wolf. There's no way that this investigation in the House of Representatives or the Senate investigation could be complete without talking to Donald Trump Jr. about exactly these events.
BLITZER: We're also just learning tonight, Congressman, that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is going to appear before your committee next week, I think November on 14.
So give us a preview. What questions do you have for him?
CASTRO: Well, you know, because this is obviously committee-sensitive information, I can't comment on his appearance.
But I can say what I would like to know from Attorney General Sessions generally is, first of all, why he wasn't honest with the Senate committee during his confirmation process and about the public reports, the media reports, about new conversations that he may have had with officials from the Trump campaign about visits to Russia and other meetings.
BLITZER: One of your colleagues, Ted Lieu of California, he thinks that Sessions did perjure himself. Do you think he did?
CASTRO: I think it's quite possible, yes.
BLITZER: All right, so that hearing on November 14, is it behind closed doors or open?
CASTRO: The interviews would be behind closed doors.
BLITZER: Behind closed doors. All right. We will stand by and we will wait for that.
Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have more on the massacre at the church in Texas and President Trump's response. And we'll also have live reports from Asia as the president is about to leave for the volatile Korean Peninsula. Is there any softening of his language as the North Koreans accuse him of being a war maniac?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:30:18] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong. But look what's happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:35:11] BLITZER: We're following breaking developments in the Texas church massacre.
New revelations about the gunman who killed 26 people. The U.S. Air Force now admitting it made a major mistake by not putting the gunman's domestic violence conviction while he was in the Air Force into a national database.
President Trump is responding to this, the second mass shooting in a month, as he travels in Asia. And tonight, there are new numbers out, showing his approval rating at its all lowest rate in CNN's polling.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's joining us from Seoul, South Korea. That's the president's next stop. Jim, our exclusive new poll shows the president's approval rating at a mere 36 percent.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And they're low here in South Korea, as well, Wolf. President Trump is about to land just 35 miles from the border with North Korea and his nemesis, Kim Jong-un. The president is expected to continue to test his policy of brinksmanship with North Korea. Aides to the president say he won't alter his trip following the church shooting in Texas, but the president is being forced to confront a subject he'd rather avoid: gun control.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Accepting condolences from the Japanese prime minister during his trip to Asia, President Trump tried to make sense of the nation's latest mass shooting, this time at a church in Texas.
TRUMP: Such a beautiful, wonderful area with incredible people. Who would ever think a thing like this could happen?
ACOSTA: Almost immediately shutting down any talk of gun control, the president appeared to be reaching for the talking points of staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, blaming mental health issues alone for the carnage in Texas.
TRUMP: This was a very -- based on preliminary reports -- very a deranged individual; a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn't a guns situation. We could go into it, but it's a little bit soon to go into it.
ACOSTA: The president's comment that it's too early to talk about guns mirrors his response to the Las Vegas massacre from just over a month ago.
TRUMP: And we'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.
ACOSTA: As for the president's concern for the mentally ill, critics noted that earlier this year, Mr. Trump signed a measure terminating an Obama-era regulation designated to keep guns out of the hands of people with serious psychological issues.
Even some members of the president's own party were conceding more could be done.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I've never felt that anybody who is on a no-fly list should be able to get a gun, for example. There are some things that we can do.
ACOSTA: The church shooting in Texas threw the president off-script just as he's trying to reassure allies in Asia that he has a handle on North Korea.
In Japan, the president defended his escalating rhetoric aimed at the communist regime... TRUMP: Rocket Man.
Fire and fury.
ACOSTA: ... and its leader, Kim Jong-un. Brinkmanship that doesn't sit well in South Korea.
TRUMP: The era of strategic patience is over. Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong. But look what's happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now.
ACOSTA: Part of the president's North Korea strategy appears to be a more militarized Japan. Mr. Trump encouraged Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to buy more U.S. military equipment and put it to use to protect against any North Korean missile tests.
TRUMP: He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment.
One of the things I think that's very important is that the prime minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should. And we make the best military equipment by far.
ACOSTA: The president is also hoping to lure leaders across Asia into more favorable trade deals with the U.S.
TRUMP: We want fair and open trade, but right now our trade with Japan is not fair and it's not open.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump made it clear to Japan he wants the U.S. economy to remain the big fish.
TRUMP: I don't know if it's as good as ours. I think not. OK. We're going to try and keep it that way, but you'll be second.
ACOSTA: And, of course, the big "X" factor on this trip for President Trump is whether or not Kim Jong-un decides to go ahead and launch some kind of military test while the U.S. president is on the ground here in South Korea.
Wolf, of course, the White House is indicating at this point the president is not about to back off of his super-heated rhetoric, rhetoric by the way, that the president of South Korea is no fan of -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Seoul, South Korea, for us. Jim, thank you very much.
We want to dig deeper into all of this with our commentators, our analysts. There's lots to talk about right after this quick break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:44:37] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. Our exclusive new CNN poll showing President Trump's approval rating now at a new low. The majority saying they're concerned about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia.
Gloria Borger, take a look at this. Only 36 percent approve of the job the president is doing; 58 percent disapprove. That's -- that's the lowest we've seen at this point for a new president in modern times.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it is. And if you look more deeply into those numbers, you see that 48 percent strongly disapprove. Not moderately, not maybe, but strongly disapprove of this president. Sixty-four percent say Russia is a serious matter. Three out of four Republicans think that the Trump team actually may have coordinated with Russia.
And among those stalwart Republicans -- again, Trump is very popular with Republicans, non-college educated white voters. His approval now is at 46 percent, but that's down 13 points from this past April.
So, if you're looking at those numbers, you have to say that the president, while popular with his base, is losing ground.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news we're following, Phil, is the U.S. Air Force now acknowledging they made a major blunder, a major mistake in not notifying the FBI about this Devin Kelley's criminal background, served a year in a military brig, in a military prison, for abusing his wife, stepchild, a little baby boy, slapping that little baby boy with who knows the kind of permanent damage that may have been caused. A statement the Air Force put out.
The initial information indicates that Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database, by the Holloman Air Base Office of Special Investigations. An inspector general review is now underway.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERORRISM ANALYT: Well, I'll tell you, there's a couple things to think about here. First, I sat at headquarters at both the CIA and FBI when you establish policy, implementing policy at the local level is difficult, we might find an implementation problem here, where people overnight going into tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday in a military checking, checking databases to answer who else -- who else did we miss. And there's a secondary question, do they we have weapons now that we have to retrieve?
I do think there's a political question here, and that is for everybody who says this is a gun control issue and for those who don't want to partake in that debate, do they now say, well, clearly, we have a policy that worked. It's not about gun control, we attempted to control these. This is now an implementation problem. Not a gun control problem.
BLITZER: This is a serious blunder by the U.S. Air Force. And Phil is absolutely right, are there others at large right now who did get convicted of criminal violent offenses while serving in the U.S. military, but the FBI was never notified about them and they could go out there and buy assault weapons, whenever they -- whenever they want.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, Wolf, and I think Phil is right, that right now at least in the short term, now that the air force has come forward and said this information wasn't in this database, the FBI didn't have them and therefore couldn't potentially prevent the suspect from obtaining these weapons, those in Congress and others who are against further gun control measures will be able to say, look, we have laws on the books, they weren't properly implemented. As we go forward, yes, there are so many shootings that people will ask eventually their legislators to pass laws of stricter gun control laws, but as long as Republicans aren't feeling that push, and they control Congress, there's not going to be that much push.
BLITZER: You know, Congressman Steve Scalise, who himself was shot playing baseball, as all of us remember, he responded to Sunday's church shooting in Texas by saying that gun control bills wouldn't have prevented this, that now is not the time to debate gun control on the political agenda. So, it shows the reluctance on the part of so many in the House and Senate to even to take up further tightening of gun control laws.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf, and we heard the same in aftermath of the shooting from Senator John Cornyn, who's in Republican leadership in the Senate, and, of course, hails from Texas where this tragedy occurred. So, Republicans across the spectrum, those like Scalise who have dealt with this personally and those for whom this is just another policy issue, for Republicans, they just don't have support among their voters for policy changes to gun laws. Republican voters and lawmakers believe that and this perhaps is a case study for them, that more laws aren't necessarily the answer.
In a case like this, laws were on the books and they weren't implemented. So, that's certainly the argument we're hearing.
BORGER: It's not just Republicans. You know, it's -- when President Obama, after Sandy Hook, tried to get serious, comprehensive gun control packaged through, he was stymied by not only Republicans, but by Democrats who were from red states who had problems with this issue.
And so, if you're going to get anything done, you have to make it more of a values based issue than just like political tit for tat. If you can't do anything after Sandy Hook, for heaven's sakes, Congress hasn't done anything about bump stocks after the Vegas shooting because there's a fight over whether it should be a regulation, or whether it should be a law and they can't manage to get their arms around that.
BERG: That's a good point.
BORGER: So, you know, they just -- they can't. BERG: And as we're going into 2018, would John Tester or Claire
McCaskill or Joe Manchin want to have this debate about gun control?
[18:50:07] BORGER: I mean, they can't.
BORGER: I mean, they need to have it. And they need to kind of try and shed all the trappings that they are trapped by and just sort of say, OK, look, let's get the bump stock issue done, that's easy. And let's figure out, should we tie domestic violence to gun control, to making sure the people who have been convicted of domestic violence perhaps should not be able to get a gun. How about that?
BLITZER: Are we going to see something in this area as a result of all these mass shootings that we've been watching?
MUDD: No, because our leadership verges on cowardice for one simple reason. They won't speak the truth to the American people. Let me give you a couple of facts. This country has an incidence of violent crime and murder that you can track by statistics. You can track every industrialized country with the same statistics.
Let's look at a couple of countries. The U.K., Canada, right to the north, and the country the president is visiting. He could have turned over to the Japanese prime minister today and say, what's the incidence of violence in Japan? It is infinitesimal compared to the United States. Canada, the same way. It's something like a third of what you would see here.
My point is that Congress and the congressional leaders don't have the courage to look at the American people and say, we're not as good as other countries and there are reasons why? Because they don't want to get voted out of office. Pretty simple. They follow the votes.
BLITZER: Are we getting numb, David, to these incidents that we keep seeing and reporting about?
SWERDLICK: We are. They are happening so frequently right now. Texas coming on the heels of Las Vegas, that it's hard in some ways just for the average person watching the news, to distinguish -- I also add to what Phil is saying -- that the president who sort of delights at thumbing his nose at the Republican establishment on all sorts of issues, talks the straight Republican line on this issue.
BORGER: You know, I think the answer in many ways has to come from the first responders. You know, the people who are out there and who respond to these tragedies, if they get together and say, this is what we think, because we're out there on the front lines and this is what needs to be done, and they can lead the political debate, then maybe the elected officials who are cowardly, to a great degree, maybe they will follow the first responders because they have ultimate credibility here.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. More threats coming in from North Korea, just hours before President Trump arrives in South Korea. We'll get an exclusive live update from the North Korean capital.
BLITZER: We're standing by for a live news conference from law enforcement authorities in Texas, they'll be updating us on the investigation of the church shootings right at the top of the hour. Stand by for that.
With President Trump due to arrive in South Korea very soon, there's now some tough new talk coming in from North Korea.
CNN's Will Ripley is now on his 17th trip to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
Will, you're there for us right now, you had a chance to speak to two North Korean officials with the Kim Jong-un regime. They said they're watching the president's Asia visit very closely.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And they also said, Wolf, that a bad situation in regards to relations with the United States is just getting worse. They're furious about the facts that there are scheduled joint naval exercises that will begin in the coming days. Three U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean, carrier strike groups with generally around 10 ships each. So, a massive show of military force.
The North Korea says it's only agitated further by tough rhetoric from the Trump administration. And as President Trump is due to arrive in South Korea in just a matter of hours, he'll be speaking just miles from where I am here in the North Korean capital, the North Koreans say they'll be listening closely.
They say there's been full-mouth rhetoric coming from the Trump administration. They say that the words of the U.S. president could push the situation to the brink of an all out military conflict. That is a threat that we've heard before, but we've been hearing for weeks now from the North Koreans that they want to back up their own rhetoric with action, with a clear message to the Trump administration. And so, we really have to watch very closely the next hours and days are certainly critical here.
BLITZER: Because some analysts as you know, Will, they say they're seeing some new activity at North Korean test sites. What does that suggest?
RIPLEY: Yes, there are new satellite images released by 38 North, the North Korean think tank, and they have detected significant new activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, indications that in the past have been followed by North Korean nuclear detonations, also South Korean military detecting activity at North Korean missile launch sites. We know that the North Koreans have been threatening for quite some time to conduct their 7th nuclear test, and to test a new kind of long range intercontinental ballistic missile, the kind of which they say could hit anywhere in the mainland United States. Could this be the time while President Trump is in the region and North Korea decides to demonstrate this new capability, or is it just posturing? That is something we have to watch very closely.
But it has been noteworthy, seven weeks since North Korea has conducted any sort of major live military event, right now, they're trying to showcase that they're building their economy --
RIPLEY: -- telling their people to brace for the impact of more sanctions -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Will, be careful over there.
The news conference with authorities in Texas has just started. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your thoughts and prayers, they're very much welcomed and very much needed during these troubling times.