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Search for Motive Uncovers Gunman's Dark Past; U.S. Air Force Admits Failure to Report Gunman's Violent Past; Trump Claims "A Lot Of Progress" With North Korea; North Korea Pledges To Bolster Nuclear Weapons; White House Pitching Tax Plan To Democrats. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 7, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Listen, we're better than this. There's got to be an answer. And so you and I will keep asking lawmakers for solutions.

I'll see you back in New York soon, and it's time now for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I am Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I am John Berman. This morning we're learning for the first time from the man who confronted the killer in the Texas church massacre.


STEPHEN WILLEFORD, SHOT AND CHASED TEXAS CHURCH SHOOTER: I can hear the sound, pop, pop, pop. All I'm thinking is I've got to get there.


BERMAN: More from this the interview in just a moment.

HARLOW: Also the gunman's violent pass. He fractured his infant stepson's skull, his obsession with his estranged wife's family. He spoke to them the day of the horrific shooting. All of this as the Air Force confirms that it failed to relate critical information about the gunman's past that would have likely prevented him from legally buying those guns.

Let's begin on the scene with our Dianne Gallagher, who joins us now from Sutherland Springs, Texas.

What is the latest, Dianne?

DIANNA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, at this point investigators are still trying to nail down exactly what that motive was, and they have said that they don't believe it's religiously motivated, they don't believe that it's racially motivated. They do think that this stems from a domestic dispute.

In fact they've said that they believe that his obsession with a family dispute with his in-laws was something that he couldn't take his eyes off. He was fixated on it in the past few days, increasingly obsessed with that issue they had there. In fact, we are told that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law the morning of the shooting.

Now she was not in the church, but, of course, his wife's grandmother was. His grandmother-in-law was, she was killed, Lulu White. It's something that they're trying to figure out what may have sparked this.

Now we've talked to neighbors who have said that they noticed an uptick even in the gunfire in the days and weeks leading up to the shooting. People in the community trying to sort of put things together at this point.

Now, John, Poppy, his employer, he worked at a resort. They said that on Friday he actually spoke with them about what the policy was for property there, for vehicles on their property. And so they didn't have any sort of indication that he wasn't planning on coming back. He was due at work at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. He didn't call in, he never let them know he wasn't thinking about showing up.

They described him not really as friendly. He kept to himself and quiet, but they didn't notice anything out of sorts there. So law enforcement here in Sutherland Springs still trying to kind of piece together what may have caused Devin Kelley to snap, or what may have caused him to decide that Sunday morning. He wanted to walk into a church, empty 15 magazines.

John, Poppy, we are talking roughly 450 rounds that they found on the First Baptist property.

HARLOW: Just horrifying. Dianne Gallagher -- Dianne Gallagher in Sutherland Springs, thanks so much.

Look, one thing we do know is the U.S. Military did know about this man's past.


BERMAN: He was convicted of a violent crime that should have kept him from owning a gun, but it did not because the Air Force did not report it.

Want to go to CNN's Ryan Browne at the Pentagon with more on what we're learning about that -- Ryan.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the Air Force yesterday issuing a statement that initial indications is that the proper procedures were not followed and that his conviction in a military court martial for domestic violence, assaulting both his then-wife and their stepson was not properly entered into the database that would have prevented him from ever purchasing a firearm.

Now that military policy dictates that all services must enter such information regarding domestic violence convictions into the national database thereby preventing a person convicted of domestic violence from ever purchasing a firearm.

Air Force saying that Holloman Air Force Base where the court martial took place, the Office of Special Investigations there did not enter the information multiple into the necessary databases which then allowed him to purchase multiple firearms.

But the Air Force launching a review to see exactly what happened here and working with the Department of Defense inspector general to see if there are any other similar cases where those convicted of domestic violence were not properly entered into this database -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Ryan Browne, thank you very, very much.

Look, this is a glaring, glaring oversight.

HARLOW: Huge. And they -- you know, look, they came forward yesterday and said look, we dropped the ball and the question becomes, how do you prevent it from happening again?

We're going to debate that in a moment. But now to the man credited with saving lives. An emotional embrace last night between two men united by this tragedy. Stephen Willeford hugging the man whose truck he jumped in moments after he exchanged gunfire with the killer. Stephen now describing that gun battle for the first time.


WILLEFORD: I kept hearing the shots one after another, very rapid shots, just pop, pop, pop.

[09:05:10] And I knew every one of those shots represented someone, that it was aimed at someone, that they weren't just random shots more than likely.

I grabbed a handful of ammunition and started loading my magazine. I ran outside, I didn't even take time to put my shoes on, and I ran across the street looking for it. And when I came into the neighbor's yard, his Dodge pickup truck was sitting right there, and I noticed an SUV, a gray SUV sitting across from the church or in front of the church, across the street from my neighbor's house with the driver's side door open in the middle of the street.

And I didn't know it at the time but the engine was running. And I am trying to survey the situation not knowing what's going on. And then I saw a man in a black tactical helmet with a sun -- with dark shaded helmet on, and obviously looked to me like it was bullet proof vest. He had a pistol in his hand. We exchanged gunfire.

I'm no hero. I am not. I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done. And I just wish I could have gotten there faster.


BERMAN: And the skills, he also had the bravery, the courage to do what he did. HARLOW: You heard that a lot down there. I'm not a hero, I'm just

doing what you're supposed to do.

BERMAN: That was the man who drove.


BERMAN: And ultimately chasing him down, he said the same thing, said I just wanted to do it. Just what you do.

Overnight in South Korea the president was asked if stricter gun laws or enforcement might have made a difference here. His answer pretty much just no.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I wonder if you would consider extreme vetting for people trying to buy a gun.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There would have been no difference three days ago and you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him and hit him. If he didn't have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.


HARLOW: Joining us now, James Gagliano, our law enforcement analyst, and Major General James "Spider" Marks, our military analyst.

So, James, to you first. We're not even talking about extreme vetting. We are talking about the most basic vetting, the passing of critical information about violent crimes from the military to civilian authority. If that had actually happened would he have been able to legally buy these firearms?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Poppy, your point -- I mean, the Air Force came -- I think it was yesterday got in front of this with a statement and said there was a glitch.

The system is designed to work, which means anything that comes out of the military in a court martial proceeding or dishonorable discharge or in this instance a bad conduct discharge should have gotten into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System at the FBI. And that has the list of precluding information that allowed -- disallows people from getting weapons.

HARLOW: But he wouldn't have been able to buy these, right?

GAGLIANO: He would not have been able to buy these. There are definitely some glitches in the system. The Second Amendment has been around since 1791. We all understand its utility, but in 1791 an armed militiamen, if they were good and competent, could literally load and fire three times in one minute. And now we have an instance like this, where this gunman had 15 magazines with 30 rounds in each magazine to cause this carnage. BERMAN: You know, General, help us understand the military justice

system here. Is this just a glitch? Did someone blow it or is there a hole in the system?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think there's a hole in the system. This is more than simply an administrative glitch.

Look, it's harder to get out of the military with an honorable discharge to insure administratively that everything is taken care of and that your records can now pass in a very honorable way over to the Department of Veterans Affairs so you can then begin the benefits process and the nation says thank you for your service, there are things that we want to do to help you make this transition.

This young man had a bad conduct discharge, was found to be a criminal, was put in jail and he was able to get out without a full and administrative vetting process. Frankly, I don't get it. But I do trust the Air Force. I know the Air Force quite well, I know the services quite well. DOD will figure this out. This is not a glitch.

[09:10:02] This was a tremendous gap that existed because it's not discretionary. This isn't something that individuals could have the determination as to whether it was going to the databases as James indicated or not. There has to be a fail-safe system that would not allow an individual like this to depart service.

HARLOW: What else, James, that we've learned about the investigation, the fact that, you know, 15 empty rounds of 30-round magazines, 450 bullets, all of this ammo? He owned these four guns. What else does this tell you about the nature of the attack, the motive? I mean, all of these people that knew him over the last year say unfortunately were not surprised this happened.

GAGLIANO: I think these two events from Vegas to the Texas church shooting, the last 37, 38 days have been a clarion call for a number of folks like myself, who are Second Amendment proponents, former law enforcement veterans, we have concealed carry permits, but we look at the glitches that are in the system.

The general spoke to the administrative piece there. But what about the glitches that say, in many states, Poppy and John, if you have a weapon, a legally-owned weapon that is stolen or lost, you are not compelled to report it to police. And then the secondary market exclusion which basically says if I buy a weapon legally and lawfully and I choose to sell it to my son or to a random Joe Q citizen, I don't have to report it in many states.

BERMAN: I want to just ask you something else the president said there. He said had there been stricter gun laws, the hero here --

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: -- would not have been able to do what he did. That's just simply not true. Unless he was a criminal.


BERMAN: Unless he committed a violent crime in the past, he would be able to have his rifle.

GAGLIANO: The hero, the two heroes, obviously one was the truck driver and the other was the shooter. The hero shooter owned a legal assault rifle, which -- how do we define assault rifles? Well, in that jurisdiction, usually it's a pistol grip, it's a detachable magazine-fed semiautomatic weapon, possibly with a barrel shroud on it. It's legal.


GAGLIANO: And you can buy 20 and 30-round magazines. It is absolutely legal. There's no laws on the books that would have precluded him in most states from purchasing that weapon.

HARLOW: What can be done going forward, General, so that -- I mean, you know, using the word "glitch" seems to minimize the fact that the -- I mean, system failed the American people here. The system failed the families of those 26, you know, 5- to 72-year-olds who were murdered. There's got to be something that can make sure there are no glitches like this.

MARKS: Well, of course, and I would recommend we not call it a glitch.


MARKS: This is a terrible event that occurred. I mean, it's a tragedy beyond words.

James has really put his finger on it. There needs to be a very fulsomely review. Not only within the Air Force but across all the services and I can guarantee you all the services are doing that right now. They're blowing the whistle, they're getting all their staff judge, advocates together, and they're saying, guys, this cannot -- we cannot afford to have this happen to us.

There need to be some processes. You literally should not be able to go from one status in the military, i.e., you're in the military whether you're in good status or bad status, to a civilian status unless certain things occur. This has now been identified and we need to put those in place. You literally can't advance from one to the other, is where the process needs to be reviewed right now.

And then I think more fulsomely is the broader discussion of the secondary market. Look, I own a weapon and I got that through the secondary market. I registered it only because I registered it. Nobody required me to do a thing.

HARLOW: Right.

MARKS: That problem needs to be addressed.

BERMAN: General, James Gagliano, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it, gentlemen.

This morning the president is touting progress with North Korea. At the same time, North Korea pledging to bolster its nuclear weapons program.

We are live in Seoul and Pyongyang. Also inside the marathon Russia testimony. A former Trump campaign adviser unplugged. Our first look at what he said.

HARLOW: And the jury about to enter day two of deliberations to the corruption trial for Democratic senator, Bob Menendez. We are live outside the courthouse. Stay with us.



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Tension is high on the Korean Peninsula, but now President Trump sounding a bit optimistic. No "Little Rocket Man." No fire and fury rhetoric on this Asia trip so far.

In Seoul, South Korea today alongside the South Korean president, a short drive from the North Korean border, President Trump set aside the taunts even claimed progress towards easing the standoff, the nuclear standoff with the North, acknowledged, though, there is a long way to go.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: North Korea is a worldwide threat that requires worldwide action. It's time to act with urgency and with great determination.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president spent time with U.S. and South Korean soldiers, and vowed the tensions of Pyongyang ultimately will all work out. He did not say how. For its part, the North today vowed to bolster its nuclear sword of justice.

We're live this morning in both capitols. No other U.S. network can say that. We want to start with CNN's Jeff Zeleny in Seoul -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. President Trump just wrapped up a state dinner tonight, spending even more time with the South Korean president, who he spent most of the day with.

And he did indeed change his tone from that bombastic tone that he has been directing at North Korea for weeks and months, he had more of a conciliatory measured tone when he was talking today. But he did not exactly explain what progress he was talking about as he addressed reporters a few hours ago. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think we are making a lot of progress. I think we are showing great strength. I think they understand we have unparalleled strength. There has never been strength like it.

[09:20:02] I really believe that it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and to make a deal that's good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world. I do see certain movement, yes, but let's see what happens.


ZELENY: Of course, this is no standard negotiation there, so the reality here is even though the language has changed the facts on the ground have not. But the president also gave us a window into a bit of a change of mind he had.

You will remember just a couple months ago he was sharply critical of his own secretary of state for saying that he should talk directly with the North Koreans. He said that it was a waste of time.

Well, the president today said that he would not answer that. He said he wants to hold his cards close to the vest here and he wants to, you know, talk about this progress, but John and Poppy, no question, a change in tone which will continue tonight when the president addresses the National Assembly here before heading to China from South Korea -- John, Poppy.

HARLOW: A big night, indeed, for him, perhaps his biggest of this entire trip. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much in Seoul.

Now to North Korea, the capital, Pyongyang there as leaders pledged to bolster their nuclear weapons program. Our Will Ripley inside for the 17th trip inside the reclusive nation speaking to the regime. Your sources are telling you what, when it comes, Will, to the president's claim that progress is being made on this front.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From the North Korean perspective, they feel that a bad situation with the United States has really gotten worse. Yes, the president has taken a more measured tone, speaking in South Korea, but for the North Koreans, they told me just tonight, it doesn't erase everything that was said in the weeks leading up to this historic -- this landmark Asia visit by the president.

The fire and fury, the threat to totally destroy North Korea made at the United Nations General Assembly back in September, and then, of course, that demeaning nickname for North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un where Trump called him "Little Rocket Man."

The North Koreans haven't forgotten that and diplomacy, we've been told, sources on both sides has really broken down. North Koreans have been saying for weeks now that they don't feel they can talk with the Trump administration until they send a clear message, until they prove they have this effective nuclear deterrent, which is a missile that could reach the United States with a nuclear war head. And to get there, they would need to conduct more tests. North Koreans telling me within the last couple of hours, those tests will happen, nuclear tests, missile launches at a time and place of their choosing.

The big question, will it happen during the president's trip and of course, this major policy speech in the coming hours, where the administration has been hinting they may announce a decision about whether to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Combine that with the joint naval exercises that are happening and even bigger exercises involving three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups in the coming days, all of that adds up from the North Korean perspective to essentially wanting to show the United States and President Trump that they mean business here and are going to keep their nuclear arsenal very tightly and not willing to put that on the negotiating table at all.

BERMAN: Will, the speech tonight that the president will give, what do you think the North Koreans are watching for the most closely?

RIPLEY: Well, certainly, they are going to listen for any policy announcements from the United States. So, while being placed on the state sponsor of terrorism list, it mostly would be a symbolic move, but it would absolutely infuriate the North Koreans, who would strongly deny any association with terrorist acts.

Despite the murder in Malaysia of the half-brother of North Korea's leader, which North Korean has strongly denied any involvement in. But there are also -- they are going to be looking at any indication from the United States about their military strategy moving forward.

Because what really infuriates the North Koreans more than anything are these massive exercises that continue to happen very close to their own borders. They view it as a dress rehearsal for an invasion and they feel that that kind of exercise justifies their development of nuclear weapons.

And then on top of that, you have Japan and South Korea now pledging to invest billions of dollars in American-made weapons. Japan slapping even more sanctions on North Korea just today. And again, it just all kind of reinforces the North Korean argument that the United States is out to get them and therefore, they feel they have to defend themselves.

And that they have to send a message to the United States. We just don't know what that message is going to be and when it's going to happen.

BERMAN: All right. Will Ripley for us in Pyongyang. Will, thank you so much for being there as always. His 17th trip.

HARLOW: Seventeen trips, unbelievable.

BERMAN: All right. This morning we are learning about new contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Revelations from transcripts of insider testimony.

HARLOW: Plus, making their pitch, White House officials head to Capitol Hill today to try to sell Democrats their tax plans. Christine Romans has more before the bell.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, guys. Yes, you know, we know they have been talking to Republicans from these high-tax states who have been concerned about state and local tax deductions going away. Now they are going to have to try to woo Democrats up on the Hill.

[09:25:03] Gary Cohn, the president's chief economic adviser and Mark Short, his legislative affairs guy, they are going to be going talking to Democrats, trying to convince them that the president's plan, the GOP blueprint and tax bill is good for them, the tax cuts and jobs act.

You know, Democrats have painted this as a giveaway to the rich and to corporations and not necessarily affecting the middle class. What we can tell you is that there are tax cuts for every bracket. I mean, there are tax cuts across the board.

The Tax Foundation found that when you break out who gets the best benefit, the top 1 percent would see their income rise 7.5 percent, if tax cuts were enacted, and the rest of us would be more like a little 0.8 gain to the middle, it would be like a 2.5 percent gain there.

So, they are going to have to go -- White House advisers are going to the Capitol Hill and explain to Democrats why this is a good thing for all Americans in all tax brackets. We are expecting stocks probably to open very close to record highs here.

It's something, by the way, the president in Seoul, South Korea, was tweeting about, it was evening in Korea, and he was -- tweeted this, "Stock market hit yet another all-time record high yesterday. There's great confidence in the moves that my administration is making, working very hard on tax cuts for the middle class, companies and jobs." So, the president tying tax cuts and the stock market overnight, guys.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans for us, thanks so much. The latest Russia revelations when we come back.