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Gunman Had History of Abuse; Gun Control Debate Reignites; Trump on North Korea. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 7, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Massacre shooter and now the Air Force admitting that they dropped -- that they failed to report information on his conviction to a federal database that would have kept him from -- kept a gun out of his hands.

Thank you so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

It's Election Day in America. New Jersey picking a replacement for Chris Christie. And the Virginia's governor's race is being watched most closely as a test and both the Trump effect and of Democratic dysfunction.


ED GILLESPIE (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: If you're going to be governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, you better be able to work with the president of the United States.

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIR: I put 700 miles on my car over the weekend in Virginia and everywhere I go people are focused on the future. They know what they have to do. And I feel optimistic.



KING: Plus, what to make of this. In Asia, rocket man locked and loaded give way to a commander in chief who says he's open to deal making with North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: First, though, add shock to the stunning grief in Texas. Word now the Air Force failed to list the shooter in a database that might have kept him from getting an assault rifle. The president, though, says gun control isn't the issue. Residents of Sutherland Springs have more immediate worries.


REGINA RODRIGUEZ, LOST FATHER IN TEXAS CHURCH SHOOTING: He just keeps on telling me he wants to go to grandpa's house. Can I call grandpa? And I just tell him, where he's at, no, we can't call and that he's in heaven.


KING: We're learning more today about the man behind Sunday's brutal massacre at that small town church in Texas. And the many, many warning signs that came before an attack that left 26 people dead and 20 more wounded. The U.S. Air Force now admitting it failed -- failed to alert civilian authorities about the gunman's often violent past, including his conviction for domestic violence. Had they followed proper procedure and entered the charge into a law enforcement database, the gunman should have been prevented from buying guns.

Now Congress among those demanding answers. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain, releasing this statement today. Quote, the Senate Armed Services Committee will conduct rigorous oversight of the department's investigation into the circumstances that led to this failure. The Air Force inspector general also conducting an investigation into what happened.

We're also hearing from that good Samaritan who ran towards the danger during the terrifying worship service. Stephen Willeford managed to shoot the killer in the leg and torso and then chased him down as he fled. But Willeford insists, don't call me hero.


STEPHEN WILLEFORD, CHASED SHOOTING SUSPECT: The people of that church, they're friends of mine and they're family. And every time I heard a shot, I knew that that probably represented a life.

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. But I didn't know. I didn't know what was happening.


KING: Texas authorities say they'll give a briefing on the shooting, what the know, the latest on the investigation, later this hour. We'll take you there live when they do.

For now, though, let's get straight to CNN's Brian Todd. He joins us from New Braunfels. That's Devin Kelley's hometown.

Brian, you just spoke with the Wilson County sheriff. What did he tell you?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, John. Just moments ago came out of the Comal County Sheriff's Office. Officials here telling us some of the background that Devin Kelley had in this county.

They say that in June of 2013 he was investigated for a sexual assault. The exact details of that alleged assault are not being revealed now. The alleged victim is not being revealed. But they do tell us that he was investigated for an alleged sexual assault in June of 2013. He was not charged. That case stalled out. They think he may have moved out of the state shortly thereafter. But the case is still open. That sexual assault case from 2013.

In addition, John, we've just gotten some court documents here from Comal County, Texas, which indicate that in 2014 law enforcement was called to his house here in Comal County. He lived with his parents not far from here. A friend of Kelley's girlfriend reported to authorities that she had gotten texts from Kelley's girlfriend saying that her boyfriend was abusing her. That girlfriend was identified as Danielle Shields (ph), which we now know is the woman he's currently -- he was currently married to at the time of Sunday's shooting. The girlfriend apparently told her girlfriend who told authorities that she had -- her arms had been reddened in this alleged attack by her boyfriend. But according to the court records, when officials got to the home, they were told that everything was all right and that there was no problem. So there were no charges filed in that case.

[12:05:21] In addition, John, I spoke not long ago with the Wilson County sheriff, Joe Tackitt, who told me that investigators believe now that the shooter, Devin Kelley, excuse me, may have intended to target his mother-in-law when he went into that church on Sunday. We had been reporting that there was hostility to his mother-in-law. That he had sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law. That she had actually gotten a text the morning of the shooting. But now the sheriff of Wilson County, Joe Tackett, telling me that they believe that he may have intended to target her when he went into that church.

Also, John, the sheriff telling me that the pastor of the church, Frank Pomeroy, had told him that Devin Kelley had attended several events at that church over the years. That the pastor had known Kelley quite a long time and that he wanted to run Kelley out of the church but felt that he could not do that.

So all of this coming on the heels of this new information that you mentioned at the top here, that the U.S. Air Force now saying that they did not appropriately relay the information on his domestic assault cases in the Air Force to federal law enforcement. So that might have indeed prevented him from buying weapons if they had done that. The Air Force now admitting, John, they had not done that properly in their investigating.

KING: Brian Todd, straight from a source. Great investigative reporting there, Brian, in Texas. A lot of dots still to consider as we put all this together.

The broader conversation about gun control here in Washington. And today in Seoul, the president was asked if he'd consider extreme vetting for the purchase of a firearm. That term used in the question because the president called for extreme vetting of immigrants after last week's truck attack in New York.


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 and neutralize him. And I can only say this, if he didn't have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.


KING: The president earlier today in Asia.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Sahil Kapur and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg," Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," and CNN's Dana Bash.

Let's start with what the president said now, you can factually take that statement apart in the sense that the gentleman who jumped into the truck with the rifle, as long as he could pass a background check he would have his gun, even if there were gun controls, unless you banned the assault weapons. Hundreds, I think that's hyperbole from the president.

The president does have a point, though, and that is where gun control -- gun rights advocates believe they're in a very strong position because of what happened. They think they're on very solid ground saying, look what happened here. A hero, a law abiding citizen with a legal rifle got in a truck, shot this guy first, then chased him down and is a hero here and stopped more deaths. Forget the number, stopped more deaths. If -- the gun control advocates are actually hurt, are they not, by the details of this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I mean that is a fact. There is no question that in this case the good guy with the gun argument played out. It is also a fact that this system is incredibly broken, that the military -- the military system did not alert the authorities that needed to know about this guy's domestic abuse history, clearly about his mental health history, as they're all connected. And he shouldn't have had the gun in the first place.

And, you know, the question, and you said earlier in the show that Senator McCain, who's the chair of the Armed Services Committee, is going to look into what happened. That is really a very important issue. And the question about whether that -- or not, you know, after 9/11 you sort of -- you know, we heard a lot about stove piping and about how different agencies don't know a lot about what the others are doing. Well, is this a question of stove piping? Does this -- is this something that needs to be addressed? You know, and how can this be addressed? And I -- and I hope that the president is as -- in the White House is as active in fixing that as advocating for the good guy with the gun theory. KING: Good guy with the gun theory.

And the president took offense at the question. He said, I guess you can ask me that if you want so soon after the shooting in Texas and while I'm traveling in Asia. That's how the president put it. The president had no hesitation at all with demanding more extreme vetting and tougher immigration laws within minutes of what happened in New York City. So some might see a double standard there.

I guess my question is, can we even have a conversation? Number one, the government blew something here. Somebody -- somebody or some system made a huge mistake.

And let's listen to some of the people who should matter most in this conversation. These are residents of Sutherland Springs, Texas, saying, we need to have a conversation about, a, what went wrong at the Air Force perspective, and some of them say about guns.

[12:10:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVANGELINA SANTOS, SISTER OF VICTIM, RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: Anybody can carry a gun now. Even crazy people. Tell the president that. No more guns.

REGINA RODRIGUEZ, DAUGHTER OF VICTIM, RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: They said that he had a lot of red flags to prevent him from buying a gun. So when he went, why wasn't there something on his record showing that he wasn't capable of holding -- he shouldn't have access to a gun? How are people like this getting ahold of them?


KING: Can there be a conversation as opposed to everybody going off into their corners about, it did not affect this Texas shooting, but, why not, more than a month later, bump stocks. The administration's done nothing. Congress won't move legislation. Is that possible or am I just off my rocker to think they could have a conversation?

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think in this discreet case you actually could have the conversation because of the reasons that Dana mentioned, because this is something where clearly something didn't work in the system.

And this is not a philosophical issue about gun access. This is more about -- I think there's a wide consensus on either side of the aisle that people who are domestic abusers should not be able to access a firearm.

And the politics of that, by the way, are good for, you know, both sides, too. So I think in this narrow case, potentially, yes.

The broader issue, John, I just -- I'm skeptical that it's going to move. And here's why. People who support gun rights vote on the issue. And the left has not figured out a way to get supporters of gun control to vote on gun control the way the right has. They just haven't figured that out yet. And until they do that, the NRA -- (INAUDIBLE) contributions -- the NRA will have the upper hand here.

SAHIL KAPUR, "BLOOMBERG": This is where, I think, we're going to see a lot of cross-talk on this issue. I mean certainly true that the gun rights folks will point out that, you know, the good guy with the gun theory, you know, had a point here I think. But the gun control side is going to point out that there are 270 million guns in this country. There should be fewer. And it shouldn't be this easy to obtain one. And they're also -- they've also been saying that 26 people dead in this instance is not an acceptable outcome for that. Meanwhile you have congressional Republicans, including Speaker Ryan today, saying enforce the laws on the books. They have a very easy sort of path forward in saying there was a law that should have prevented this one. Let's focus on that.

And, yes, no action on bump fire stocks. Three was a lot of talk about that. There were Republican leaders who said, let's look into that. It didn't happen. Any action on gun control, anything, even if it's wildly popular, faces such blowback because the gun folks think -- the gun owners think, enough of them, that it's going to lead to --


KING: And every second -- every second we get closer to 2018 of an election year, less likely you think it's going to happen.


KING: All right, pause on this conversation. We'll continue it in the days ahead though.

Up next, though, President Trump in South Korea right now on his nearly two week tour of Asia. He's preparing a big speech to the parliament about ways to pressure North Korea and maybe something more.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have an exciting day tomorrow for many reasons that people will find out. In addition to the fact, I look forward to making a hopefully very comprehensive speech before you and the leaders of Korea.



[12:17:17] KING: Welcome back.

A most noteworthy shift in tone from President Trump today about North Korea. The big question now is this, is he suddenly sounding more diplomatic because he's in the neighborhood and being polite to U.S. allies, or is there something happening behind the scenes? Speaking in South Korea, yes, President Trump readily reminded his audience and those listening in Pyongyang, the United States military mind is, quote, unmatched. But then listen here, the commander in chief mentions nuclear submarines in one breath and then suggests movement towards some diplomatic opening in the next.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a nuclear submarine also positioned. We have many things happening that we hope, we hope -- in fact I'll go a step further, we hope to God we never have to use. With that being said, 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.


KING: CNN's Sara Murray is in Seoul travel with the president.

Sara, has the White House explained what that certain movement is and whether this is a true diplomatic opening or just nice language?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it won't surprise you that they didn't offer a lot of specifics on what the president was referring to. And, in fact, he pointed out in that press conference, he likes to keep his cards a little bit close to the vest. And so I think everyone's going to be closely watching the speech he gave to the General Assembly. We're expecting a couple of things from that, him to put the conflict with North Korea in a sort of historical context and sort of talk up the alliance, the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea, in addition to something we've heard from the president throughout his travels so far, which is encouraging China and Russia to put more pressure on North Korea and try to isolate them.

But it was funny, the other day a senior administration official came and was talking to reporters, briefing us on different stops of the trip and was sort of joking about the fact that this president is not one to moderate his tone. He's not one to hold back on what he's thinking.

But we saw something very different from the president today. We've obviously seen him mock diplomatic efforts. We've seen him refer to Kim Jong-un as little rocket man. We've seen him make threats of fire and fury. But when he was here in Seoul, here in South Korea, here, you know, speaking to the nation that has the most on the line, we did not see that kind of barbed rhetoric. In fact, we heard a much rosier view of potential diplomatic efforts.

KING: Sara Murray in Seoul for us. Sarah, we'll talk to you after the president's speech later tonight. We'll see what happens there.

Let's bring the conversation here.

So, Margaret Talev, you've covered this White House. And, actually, let's -- before you jump in, let's listen. You heard Sara just say this president, remember during the campaign, I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do. I want to be unpredictable. A little bit of that from the president today. So listen to close to the vest, but then what follows. [12:20:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't like talking about whether I see success or not in a case such as this. We like to play our cards a little bit close to the vest.

With that, yes, I think we're making a lot of progress. I think we're showing great strength. I think they understand we have unparalleled strength.


KING: So is the progress that he was in Japan, now he's in South Korea, he's moving on to China, and he thinks he's putting together this coalition to stand tough and to be more aggressive in sanctions and building up necessary military preparations, God forbid if it comes to that, or, as the president suggests in the earlier sound, is there something going on? We do know the secretary of state had a back channel open to North Korea. Was that a hint?

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG": Yes. We know that that has been up and running and possible for them to tap as much as they want to. We know that the president has said he doesn't want to talk in public about any direct negotiations or the prospect of those. We also know that he told us a few months ago he would be willing himself to personally talk with Kim Jong-un when the timing was appropriate.

But look at what else we know from just the beginning of this Asia trip, using pretty harsh rhetoric in Japan and talking about Japan buying U.S. weapon systems so they could shoot missiles out of the sky.

I think another thing that's important to remember is that the Chinese government has said , you know, publicly, not just behind closed doors, that they would like the rhetoric tamped down and they want less sort of provocative, whether it's on Twitter or whether it's in public forum, less provocative behavior.

So the president is looking I think on a few different fronts. Number one, at addressing China's concerns before he gets to China to maximize his position there. Number two, to keep the North Koreans guessing. A little bit of this. A little bit of that. And, number three, to get these talks going about comparison to the Cuban missile crisis. What could be possible now? Could he be the next greatest thing in the last 50 years?

But the fundamentals of this haven't changed, which is that there are real questions inside the U.S. government about whether North Korea, under any circumstance can be negotiated into a situation where it stops pursuing this program and also that is the only thing that really matters.

BASH: We have seen presidents struggle with North Korea and its nuclear program since Bill Clinton. And I actually thought that the way that Donald Trump handled that was as deft as we heard him handle sort of the complexity of the North Korea issue. Whether it just happened to be that way because he was standing there and wasn't going to repeat his fire and fury, or whether it was thought out in that he very deliberately mentioned the teeth of military might and the fact that nuclear submarines are there in the next breath as the potential for diplomacy. I thought that was very interesting. We don't know if that means that he's actually engaged in nuclear talks or he's sort of setting the groundwork for it. But the fact that he kind of put those two together in a very calm way was something new for this president.

KING: But if you're the people who live in the region and you are worried, and you've been worried not only about all the North Korean provocations, all the missile tests, the nuclear tests, but governments of Japan and diplomats will tell you they've also been -- and South Korea, they've also been worried about the president's rhetoric. Is it escalating this (INAUDIBLE) where somebody can make a miscalculation.

BASH: Right.

KING: If you are the leaders in the region and you heard that from President Trump, don't you have the same question we have at this table, is there something -- maybe they know about it, but is there something behind the curtain here?

KAPUR: All right, so we know President Trump is very capable of moderating his tone, but he has a very strong tendency to unmoderate right back.

KING: Right.

KAPUR: I'm sure being in that region he was told by -- you know, by the people there, by our South Korean allies there, that they are 35 miles away from the North Korean border. That's why there's a military stalemate that he seems to be recognizing the same way his predecessors had. North Korea cannot win a war against the United States. But the United State is not willing to risk a nuclear bloodbath when their military assets in that region very close by in Seoul. That -- you know, that's why I think he's at least taking the -- taking the tone of let's talk.

KING: I get the more diplomatic talk, Jonathan, but we track all the president's words and all the president's tweets and I do see certain movement, yes. That's -- that's not, I want to be diplomatic. I want to be careful. That's, I see something. He's just lifting us up to let us down?

MARTIN: No. I think he's trying to accommodate the audience in front of him and the question in front of him.

It kind of reminds me a little bit of, we're going to take a look at it, which is one of his stock answers, too. I mean it's -- has the appearance of being out on a limb without being out on a limb itself, I think.


TALEV: Well, and we're also waiting to see, in the next couple of days, or perhaps some time in the days after this string of visits, whether he puts the U.S. -- whether he puts North Korea back on that state sponsor of terror list.

BASH: Right. And the big question is, talk to what end? North Korea has made clear over and over again their nuclear ambitions are their number one -- this -- that's the whole ball game for them.

KING: Right.

BASH: And so the idea of them giving that up is a nonstarter. So how -- if you do sit down and if they are talking -- even talking about talks, what's on the table?


[12:25:07] KAPUR: This is, I believe it when you see it when it comes to a North Korean breakthrough. Too many people have tried for too long.

KING: Right.

KAPUR: And as Dana said, they're not giving this up.

BASH: Right.

KAPUR: This is their -- this is their view of how they defend themselves from the world. Without this, they're extremely vulnerable.

KING: Believe it when you see it is a good way to put it.

An important speech from the president tonight our time, next morning in South Korea. Then he moves on to China. We'll keep an eye on this one.

Want to remind you, law enforcement authorities in Texas, a briefing soon, updating us on the shooting down there.

Plus, when we come back, if that briefing hasn't begun, politics here at home. Ralph Northam, Ed Gillespie, big names on the ballot in Virginia today. They're running for governor. But the name that might matter just as much in this crucial race just might be Donald J. Trump.


KING: A little more than a minute away from a press conference down in Southerland Springs, Texas, about the shooting there. Until that begins, we'll continue with some other news here in Washington.

[12:30:00] If there were ever an almanac of all things Donald Trump, well, Keith Schiller would be it. Today the long-time Trump bodyman and former director of Oval Office operations goes before the House Intelligence Committee. The latest interview in an ongoing probe of meddling by Russia in the 2016 election.