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Under Pressure, Trump Lowers White House Flags to Half-Staff to Honor John McCain; Senate Convenes for First Time Since McCain's Death. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 27, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Yet one more tribute to the fallen senator. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Mourning McCain. As tributes pour in, funeral services are being planned for Senator John McCain. Former presidents are due to speak, but President Trump is not invited and, only under enormous pressure and after a scolding from the American Legion does he issue a proclamation and order the White House flag again lowered to half-staff.

Replacing a maverick. The loss of Senator McCain means Arizona's governor will appoint someone to fill his seat. With Republicans holding only a slim majority, who will be picked to hold that Senate seat through 2020?

An "understanding." President Trump invites the world to watch him on a rather clumsy conference call with the president of Mexico to announce what he calls a new trade deal. But Mexico calls it an understanding and so far, Canada is not in the mix. Will Congress sign off on a new deal?

And video game killer. A video game competition in Florida turns deadly when one of the competitors opens fire, killing two and wounding a dozens others before turning the weapon on himself as the shooting is captured on live stream.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, as Americans mourn Senator John McCain, the maverick Republican leaves behind a farewell statement, urging them to live up to the nation's ideals and not sink into tribal rivalries.

But President Trump, who will not join his predecessors at McCain's funeral, spent the day refusing to even comment on the late senator. It wasn't until the 2 million wartime veterans of the American Legion demanded that the president adhere to tradition that he issued a terse statement saying he respects John McCain's service and ordering flags to be flown at half-staff.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by with full coverage.

As the rest of the nation honors the service and sacrifice of the late senator John McCain, President Trump has kept a stony silence, issuing a brief proclamation, but only under public pressure.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the president just can't get over a grudge.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump put his bitter feelings for John McCain on full display today, refusing repeatedly in front of the cameras to say a kind word about the late senator. Throughout this weekend and all throughout today, the flags were lowered to half-staff, and then raised again, overnight, this morning, and only to be lowered again this afternoon, as we all saw here at the White House, when Mr. Trump finally issued that proclamation.

But Wolf, it was very obvious, painfully obvious that the president was nursing a nasty grudge.


ACOSTA: Mr. President, any comment on John McCain, sir? Mr. President, why won't you call John McCain a hero, sir?

(VOICE-OVER): They are the two words capable of hitting the mute button on President Trump, John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain?

ACOSTA: At five different photo-ops, the president was asked to comment on the late senator. And each time, Mr. Trump greeted the question with stone-faced silence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why won't you say anything about John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make your way out.

ACOSTA: The president's harsh feelings for McCain have been hard to miss, even in the days since the senator passed away. Instead of a full statement from the White House, Mr. Trump posted just this short tweet: "My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you."

A longer statement was drafted by staffers but not used. The flags at the White House, which were brought to half-staff on Sunday, returned to full staff on Monday morning, only to be lowered again in the afternoon.

Then finally, the president issued a statement, brief, though in keeping with tradition, ordering the flags flown at half-staff and saying, "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country."

This came after the head of the American Legion released a statement to the president, saying, "On behalf of the group's 2 million wartime veterans, I strongly urge you to make an appropriate presidential proclamation, noting Senator McCain's death and legacy of service to our nation. For Mr. Trump, it's a continuation of his verbal assaults on the former prisoner of war.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's a war hero -- he's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured. OK? I hate to tell you.

ACOSTA: McCain rarely fired back, but did so to C-SPAN, referring to the bone spurs that kept the president out of Vietnam.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never, ever, countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong.

[17:05:13] ACOSTA: The president nursed a grudge against McCain for voting against the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare with a memorable thumbs down.

TRUMP: We had a gentleman late into the morning hours, go thumbs down. That was not a good thing he did. That was not a good thing for our people, for our country, whether you're a Democrat or Republican.

ACOSTA: In a stark contrast with her father, Ivanka Trump praised McCain in a speech, calling him a hero.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: The nation is united in grief, and the world mourns the loss of a true hero and a great statesman.

ACOSTA: Even as Trump loyalists defended the president's refusal to pay tribute to McCain.

MARC SHORT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: If the president put out a flowery statement about John McCain's life, the media would criticize it and say it is not consistent with the other things he said in the past.

ACOSTA: The Trump-McCain split had always been a sign of the times for the GOP. As Mr. Trump falsely claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., it was the senator who took the high road and told the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's an Arab. He is not -- no?

MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am.

ACOSTA: Instead of taking time to praise McCain, the president phoned the leaders from Mexico. TRUMP: And I believe the president is on the phone. Enrique?

ACOSTA: As the White House tried to change the subject, pointing to a new trade deal with Mexico that's aimed at replacing NAFTA.

TRUMP: I think NAFTA has a lot of bad connotations for the United States because it was a rip off. It was a deal that was a horrible deal for our country.


ACOSTA: Now asked earlier in the day why more had not been done to pay tribute to John McCain, a senior White House official said, while the president did issue that tweet, as it turns out, the White House came to the realization that that tweet was not enough.

But Wolf, make no mistake, the president and his team had every opportunity to get this right. It took nearly 48 hours for the White House to do what could have been done on Saturday. That is, issue a full, respectful statement honoring McCain along with a proclamation that orders flags to be flown at half-staff. Wolf, it just felt all day long over here at the White House that this was just not what John McCain deserved. He deserved better than this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he clearly caved under enormous pressure. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

The Senate just convened without John McCain. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are mourning the senator from Arizona and recalling his life of service to his country. And in a farewell statement, Senator McCain has left behind a powerful message to the American people.

Let's go live to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, clearly, some very emotional moments up on Capitol Hill.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, extremely emotional moments, Wolf. McCain was such a giant here in the Senate. Certainly, we have heard comments and reaction from his colleagues, giving tribute to him, come flooding in and certainly will continue for some time.

This as the McCain family have released details of his memorial services for the latter half of this week, starting in Phoenix on Wednesday, coming here for ceremonies here in Washington, D.C., and then to his final resting place in Annapolis, Maryland, where he will be buried on Sunday.


SERFATY (voice-over): The legacy of Senator John McCain.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Moral support. Really, that's what John McCain gave this body, and this country, for so long. His memory will continue to give it. SERFATY: Palpable in the halls of Congress today, from the makeshift

memorial outside his Senate office building, to his desk on the Senate floor.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I'll miss how much fun he was and how much I learned from him. And he leaves a big hole in my heart.

SERFATY: McCain's colleagues, friends and rivals, Republicans and Democrats remembering him for his service, his sacrifice and the tone and tenor he brought to Washington.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: He never stopped trying to find ways to work with people, even if they'd been opponents.

SEN. TODD YOUNG (R), INDIANA: More than anything else, I think it is how he will be remembered, as someone who -- who did the right thing for the right reasons, at the right times, even when it was difficult to do so.

SERFATY: That sentiment emanating from McCain's own final words, a farewell letter written by the senator revealed and read today by his former campaign manager.

RICK DAVIS, FORMER MCCAIN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Fellow Americans. That association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American.

We have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement.

SERFATY: To that point, a push from Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer to rename the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington in his honor.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I'd like, decades from now, little children to ask their parents, "Who was John McCain?" And they'll explain his sacrifice, his patriotism and, most of all, his fidelity to do the right thing as he saw it.

[17:10:00] SERFATY: After being diagnosed with brain cancer last summer, McCain started planning his own funeral, designing where, how and by whom he would want to be memorialized by, with a specific request that President Trump not attend any services.

On Wednesday, what would have been his 82nd birthday, McCain will lie in state in the Arizona state capitol building. Thursday, there will be a service in Phoenix, where former vice president Biden will speak.

Then McCain's body will be flown one last time back to Washington, where he will lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Friday. Saturday, two former rivals, former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, will eulogize him at a service at the Washington National Cathedral.

And the week coming to an end Sunday with a private service at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where McCain will be buried.

The final good-bye --

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm going to miss him.

SERFATY: -- leaving an unmeasurable legacy, an unmeasurable void on Capitol Hill.

FLAKE: It's tough to imagine the Senate without him. It's tough to imagine politics without John McCain. But we need to go on.


SERFATY: And to that point of having to move on, this of course, leaves John McCain's Senate seat open. But Arizona's governor says he will not name a successor until McCain is buried later this week. The governor saying now is the time for remembering John McCain and his life that was so well-lived -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee. He's not just a key member; he's the top Democrat, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. You worked over the years closely with Senator McCain who headed up the same committee in the Senate. What are your thoughts on Senator McCain's legacy as a senator and as a military service member?

SEN. ADAM SMITH (D-WA), RANKING MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is what he said in his farewell letter. And that is his commitment to our country and his commitment to public service.

You know, we didn't agree on every issue. I don't think any Republican agreed with him on every issue. But you had no doubt that John McCain was trying to do what he thought was best for the country.

And also, understood that you need to work with people who you don't agree with. Something that, frankly, we need a lot more of right now in politics. You're not going to find someone who 100 percent agrees with you on every issue. That's what politics is all about: bringing diverse people together to solve problems.

And John McCain understood that. He was willing to speak the truth, even when it wasn't in his best interests, necessarily. And he was willing to work with people he disagreed with. And I'll tell you what, there was no more passionate advocate for the issues he cared about.

I got the privilege of negotiating the defense bill with him for, gosh, I think five years. You know, four of us sitting in the room. And when John McCain cared about something, you knew about it. And he was passionate and informed. And the biggest thing he cared about was making sure that the men and women who serve in our military are well taken care of and that the defense contractors providing the goods and services were held accountable to make sure that they did that in the best, most cost-effective way. He -- he was tenacious about those issues, and -- and really admirable as a public servant.

BLITZER: Yes. On those issues, he certainly will be missed. Well said. What do you make of the way that President Trump has handled this moment?

SMITH: Donald Trump is a spectacularly petty human being. Of the many things that I am just appalled by in terms of the way he conducts the presidency, this is, perhaps, the greatest. Because it's the exact opposite of what John McCain personified.

And look, John and I got in some really, really heated arguments, which I remember meeting with the secretary of defense one time, and they were talking about how we had to fund the defense budget. And this was at the time that they were talking about doing the tax cut. And I sort of said, look, you can't cut taxes by $2 trillion and claim that you care about funding defense. And then John just went ballistic about a whole bunch of things, went back and forth.

As we're walking out, he said, "Gosh, Adam. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so tough on you." It's like, but yes, he was speaking out for what he cared about.

Donald Trump cares about one thing, and that's the thing that looks back at him in the mirror every morning.

And look, I heard some of the Republicans saying, well, gosh, if he came out and praised McCain at this point, you know, people would call him a hypocrite. Look, this isn't hard. In public life, you always have people passing away who you disagreed with.

Donald Trump could have said, look, "There's no secret that John McCain and I had our differences, but I definitely recognize a patriot when I see one, and I recognize someone who served his country. I didn't agree with everything he did, but his dedication to public service, his service during Vietnam, six years in a prisoner of war camp, you have to admire that."

But our president can't get past his own pettiness to praise somebody who deserves it, even in that balanced way. You don't have to endorse someone's entire life to recognize what they did that was right. And in John McCain, I think there is plenty to praise in that regard.

[17:15:09] BLITZER: Republican Senator James Inhofe told reporters today that Senator McCain was, in his words, partially to blame for the controversy over the lowering of the White House flag. Inhofe said that McCain disagreed with the president in certain areas and wasn't too courteous about that.

What's your reaction when you hear that kind of criticism?

SMITH: That's absurd. You know, John McCain always kept it about the issues, always kept it about what he disagreed with the president on. He disagreed with the president's approach to health care, so he stated it.

It's the president who seems to always fall back on personal, petty attacks. And that is one of the biggest things that is dividing this country.

Look, I've worked in public policy for a long time. And there are people who, somedays, you're like, we're totally on the opposite side of the issue, and you disagree completely. And then the next day, you find something you can work together on. That's what it's about.

The notion -- I worked with Senator Inhofe, and I've got a decent working relationship with him. But the notion that, because Senator McCain disagreed with Donald Trump on policy issues, it's OK for Donald Trump to ignore the fact that John McCain was a war hero and dedicated his life to public service?

Look, we need leadership that brings us together and lifts us up. And what we get from President Trump is a constant string of insults that would get a second grader sent to the principal's office.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Smith, thanks so much for joining us.

SMITH: Thank you. Appreciate it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, breaking news up on Capitol Hill. Colleagues from both sides of the aisle pay emotional tributes to the service, sacrifice of the late senator, John McCain. But over at the White House, it takes enormous public pressure for President Trump to issue a rather terse proclamation and order flags lowered for the war hero turned lawmaker. Stay with us.


[17:21:30] BLITZER: Our breaking news, after defiantly refusing to answer or acknowledge repeated questions about Senator John McCain, President Trump, finally, under enormous pressure, issued a statement expressing respect for Senator McCain's service to our country. He also signed a proclamation to fly U.S. flags at half-staff until the day of Senator McCain's internment. The flag at the White House had been flying at full staff for most of the day.

Our analysts are here to weigh in. And John Kirby, you're a retired U.S. Navy admiral. I know you have some thoughts about Senator McCain, his legacy, and what he meant to the country.

ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It's hard to overstate the significance that he's had on the military, write large, not just the Navy, through the legislation that he sponsored, through the foreign policy initiatives that he helped push and prod and make better.

I was in the Navy for 29 years, 1986 all the way up to 2015. There wasn't a single year of that service that wasn't, in some way, affected by the service of John McCain on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: I understand he wrote a very personal letter to your son, who's also in the Navy.

KIRBY: He did. My son joined the Navy this year. And so, several months ago, back in the winter, I thought it would be nice if I could get some advice given to him -- by by Senator McCain. And, given everything that he was going through, him and his staff, he still took the time to pen a letter to my son. And if it's OK, I'd like to just read a little bit for you.

BLITZER: Please, read as much as you want.

KIRBY: "As you may know, my father and grandfather served in the Navy. Both were men of great courage and dignity. Both were tough acts to follow. But they also inspired me to serve a cause greater than my own self-interest.

"From the Naval Academy to government service, it was their leadership and inspiration that encouraged me to work for others. God blessed me with a company of heroes, and it has made all the difference in my life." And then he closed with this: "Be proud of your accomplishments, and never stop believing in yourself. And, most importantly, you will find the most happiness in serving a cause greater than yourself." John McCain.

BLITZER: Beautiful words. A real gentleman.


BLITZER: And I'm sure your son, who's now serving in our Navy, deeply appreciated what the senator wrote.

You know, it's been a rather contentious day, Chris Cillizza. The relationship that the president had with John McCain was great, as we all know. Pretty ugly from time to time. The president back in 2015 suggesting he really wasn't a hero because he was captured, he was a POW and today, repeatedly, photo-op after photo-op after photo-op, reporters tried to ask the president a simple question about what he felt about John McCain. Watch this.


ACOSTA: Mr. President, any -- Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain? Mr. President? Any thoughts on John McCain, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you have anything to say about John McCain.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any thoughts at all on John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Keep moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe John McCain is a hero?

Nothing at all about John McCain? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any action? The American Legion asked you to put

out a proclamation about John McCain? Why won't you say anything about John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, we're finished.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, any comment on John McCain, sir? Mr. President, why won't you call John McCain a hero, sir?


BLITZER: Could have been easy for him. He could have simply said he's a hero.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. You know, there's a gracelessness there that I think is worth noting. This isn't about politics. John McCain and Donald Trump didn't see eye-to-eye. That's a fact.

[17:25:13] But, as the admiral's -- the letter he read speaks to, this is not really about what John McCain thought of Donald Trump. This is, in the end, about what John McCain sacrificed for our country.

Donald Trump has repeatedly been unable to take the high road to understand that there is a moral leadership role inherent in being the president of the United States that people like Admiral Kirby, his son, others who have served, look and said, "I'm sure John Kirby didn't agree with everything John McCain said and did about the military, but you honor the service." Right?

Me, who has never served, you honor the service, because he has given and had given so much for the country. This is not about what he said about you or who invited you here. A president of the United States, in every case, up until now, has been able to say, "This is about something bigger than myself." I'm echoing John McCain here, but this is bigger than myself. This is about an office that is ultimately owned and controlled by the American people. And we honor those who keep us safe.

It's the easiest thing in the world to do, is say, "John McCain and I didn't agree on everything, but my gosh, he was -- he served honorably. And we are going to honor him to the extent that we -- to the fullest extent that we can."

You cannot do this -- I return back to it. There's a gracelessness there that we need more of in politics. We need more grace.

BLITZER: And Bianna, late in the day, under enormous pressure, the president finally caved, issued a statement saying he was ordering the flags flown at half-staff.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It says that the White House can't even mourn properly. It's not that difficult. Chris is right, Wolf. I mean, this is what the void feels like when you don't have a consoler in chief. You put your personal feelings aside. You put your own bickering

aside and you talk about the larger picture. What this person meant for this country.

This isn't the first politician, by the way, of the same party John McCain had disagreements with. Remember when it came to torturing and waterboarding, the disagreements, the very public disagreements John McCain had with President George W. Bush.

George W. Bush finally had to come out. He gave in to John McCain and his demands that -- that we do not torture in this country. And when George W. Bush, by the way, will be delivering, one of the people delivering one of the eulogies, came out and talked about John McCain as a hero, as a patriot, with reverence.

We don't hear that from this president. And it's crucially important that we tell our children about what these people meant, what these heroes meant for this country.

We hear from world leaders in response to John McCain's death, offering their condolences. Who did we not hear from? Vladimir Putin. Why? Because John McCain, since day one, said, "I see three letters when I look at Vladimir Putin: KGB. He is somebody who's trying to undermine this country."

And look at what we've heard from from the president. President Trump has spoken more highly of Vladimir Putin than he has of John McCain. And I just think of this past year, since we've known about this diagnosis, this death wasn't a surprise. And I think about all of the heartache, the unnecessary heartache that this White House, that this president, in particular, put his family through in addressing issues about public spats, about going out to rallies and demeaning him. So unnecessary and so childish.

And it really is telling when you read reports that White House insiders agree to be named. Right? John Kelly. Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that they disagreed with the statement that the president gave out. They encouraged for him to include the word "hero." It shouldn't be difficult. And you know, we're all Americans here.

So trying to cover this as objectively as we can. But at the same time, you've got to call a person out for not mourning as a leader, not teaching us how to mourn somebody who meant so much to this country.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. Laura, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have much more to report on the tributes pouring in to Senator John McCain, including, at last, from the president.

Also, I want to ask you about something else the president did today. He announced the new trade deal with Mexico that he says will replace NAFTA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And Laura Coates, I know you want to weigh in on the way the president has handled this entire John McCain issue.

[17:34:23] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: One of the big legacies that John McCain has, particularly with the African-American community, is the way in which he referenced and defended Barack Obama at the time in my home state of Minnesota when he was attacked.

And it shows to you the candor that he had of self-awareness, to say even if it came from his campaign, that people were spouting vitriol about his opponent. He said the civility and the decorum to say, "It won't make me popular, but I'll still respond, nonetheless." And if the president of the United States just read the concession speech of John McCain following his loss, too, then president-elect Barack Obama, he would have seen the need for restoring divisions of the United States of America.

Although they totally disagreed on many things, he could still have a diplomatic relationship that had a lot of respect in it. And that's what was missing, I think, in the discussions since his death on Saturday from the president of the United States. A man who had self- awareness and knew that he, himself, had made unpopular and downright wrong decisions, whether it be the vision to keep up the Confederate flag in South Carolina or the decision to vote against the Martin Luther King holiday in Arizona. He then had about faces the more he progressed intellectually and socially, acknowledged that and should be rewarded in that respect, as well.

[17:35:33] BLITZER: And Bianna, amidst all of this, the president today called in reporters in the Oval Office, and he announced that he has just worked out a new trade agreement with Mexico to replace NAFTA. He said doesn't he want to call this NAFTA anymore; hates NAFTA; it's been a disaster, he says, for the United States. Canada is not involved at all. What's your analysis?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it can't be NAFTA, because as you said, Canada is not involved. So you have three countries as part of this deal. We're still missing one.

And it's still a partial deal. Once again, we see a sort of norm that's broken, with the president announcing a partial deal. Nothing is finished; nothing is written in Stone; nothing has been signed.

In fact, with regards to NAFTA, we need to have Canada as a signatory. So this could very well be the president's attempt to put more pressure on Canada to come to the table. For that to happen, you have, basically, two weeks. September 1 would be the deadline for Canada to come on board with this deal.

Look, going through some of the details, it looks like they've been able to work out things related to the automobile industry, in particular, that 75 percent of cars would be built in North America. They've increased wages for about 40 percent of workers, as well.

So, a lot of the fine details we still don't know of. The president touting this a bit too soon, at least as many other presidents would have touted a deal, because it's not a final deal, yet. But as we know, this president is all about bilateral deals. That's where he feels that he's at his best and at his strongest. We've yet to hear from Canada and whether or not they'll come to the table.

BLITZER: I want to quickly shift gears, and Laura, let me get your legal analysis. Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of the president, he's now telling his supporters that he's about to be indicted by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. He put out an e-mail saying, "Fellow patriots, Robert Mueller is coming after me. President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, just made a plea bargain with the FBI after months of intense pressure. And I'm next on the crooked special prosecutor's hit list, because I've advised Donald Trump for the past 39 years. I'm being targeted, not because I committed a crime but because the deep-state liberals want to silence me and pressure me to testify against my good friend, President Donald J. Trump."

What's your analysis?

COATES: Well, the witch hunt serenade continues, doesn't it? This is not the first time Roger Stone has asked for money in a funding for his attacks or what he perceived to be attacks on himself. He asked as early as last November and perhaps even earlier than that, about these sites, in order to give him more money to do so.

The irony here is, I've never heard of somebody who was preparing to be indicted to release information and say, "Can you please fund me and my support of it? Oh, by the way, I'm completely innocent. And oh, by the way, my great friend, Donald Trump, and his campaign rhetoric about their being witch hunt is what I'd like to go with, as well."

What it tells you is that perhaps he is particularly, you know, apt about the fact that all the walls are closing in on him. You have Andrew Miller, one of his assistants, who was subpoenaed. You have his personal friend, also, Kristin Stewart, also being somebody who is also being asked the questions. He sees the writing on the wall.

The question will be whether the American people choose to support him, actually know where the money is going and why.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following. More on the breaking news: President Trump, after ignoring questions most of the day, finally issues a statement on the death of Senator John McCain.

Also coming up, the guessing game over who will be named to the empty U.S. Senate seat that Senator McCain once occupied.


[17:43:44] BLITZER: As the nation mourns Senator John McCain, his death means that Arizona's governor will have to appoint someone to fill his seat through 2020. And with the Republicans holding only a slim majority, that pick takes on huge significance. Our national correspondent Miguel Marquez is joining us now from

Phoenix. So first of all, Miguel, what are you hearing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, this is going to be a very, very tough decision for the governor here, Doug Ducey.

McCain, Senator McCain bucked the president, opposed the president both on substance, oftentimes, and on his style, oftentimes. And the governor will have to figure out whether or not he can pick someone in the McCain libertarian conservative, sort of more moderate camp, perhaps, or somebody who's more aligned with President Trump and that wing of the party.

Arizona Republicans here have become increasingly part of the Trump Republican Party, much more difficult for someone like McCain to operate. I think, fair to say, no matter who is picked by the governor, it is going to upset one wing of the Republican Party or the other here in Arizona, Wolf.

BLITZER: Who are the contenders, Miguel?

MARQUEZ: There is a very, very deep bench of contenders. This is also part of the problem that the governor has here. It could be anyone from Cindy McCain, Senator's McCain's wife and longtime -- you know, she has been with him and by his side for so many years and knows Arizona, its politics. And she is someone who those who surround -- or are close to Senator McCain like very much.

But there is a deep well of other possibilities, everything from those who are more pro-Trump on the state's side or even national figures who are now retired -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Miguel Marquez reporting for us from Arizona. We'll watch this very closely. Thank you.

Coming up, very disturbing questions in the wake of another deadly mass shooting, this time at a video game tournament.


[17:50:24] BLITZER: Tonight, we are learning new details about the shooting at a video game tournament in Florida. Authorities this afternoon said the gunman shot 12 people, killing two before turning the gun on himself.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us from Jacksonville right now. So, Brian, what are the investigators saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, investigators are saying that this was a very deliberate attack, that the shooter walked past other patrons at that restaurant to get to the gamers. We're also getting new information tonight from people who participated in this tournament about a possible motive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Gamers from around the country competing in an online video game tournament. The announcer's call of the match is interrupted by gunfire.

Twenty-two-year-old Elijah Clayton was shot and killed while playing. Twenty-seven-year-old Taylor Robertson also died, and 10 others were injured.

The shooter, 24-year-old David cats was in town for the tournament. Police say he recently purchased two handguns legally in his home state of Maryland. Though they haven't confirmed the motive, authorities say Katz's targets were obvious.

SHERIFF MIKE WILLIAMS, JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF'S OFFICE, FLORIDA: The suspect walked past patrons who were in other parts of the business and focused his attention on the gamers.

A video surveillance footage from inside the restaurant clearly shows that this is a single shooter incident and that the suspect took his own life after shooting the victims.

ALEX MADUNIC, SHOOTING VICTIM: Next thing you know, pop, pop, pop, pop.

TODD (voice-over): Alex Madunic was shot in the foot.

MADUNIC: My first instinct was just to drop down to the floor and get cover. And I was in a fetal position underneath the table. I was next to some guy that also got shot. I don't remember his name exactly, but I just remember him -- holding our -- you know, holding each other's hands.

TODD (voice-over): Madunic says Katz was known as a loner in the competitive yet close-knit gaming community and had lost recently to one of the gamers he killed, Elijah Clayton. He says the shooter's appearance just before the attack was alarming.

MADUNIC: He actually wore the same exact outfit that he wore the night before. He had, like, some sunglasses on and the same exact thing he wore the day before. And he came back just with that one look, just -- you know, kind of just off, like something was going to happen eventually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have a third semifinalist moving on. He is 23-year-old David Katz, a.k.a. Brett.

TODD (voice-over): Katz seen here competing in the Madden 17 tournament after a win, sounding confident but defensive.

DAVID KATZ, SUSPECTED SHOOTER IN JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: I don't think of myself as a seventh seed. I think, personally, I'm one of the better players, and I like to let my game to prove that.

TODD (voice-over): Gamers at this event tell CNN these tournaments are intense, hypercompetitive, where adrenaline rushes and trash talking are the norm. NICK WITHROW, SHOOTING WITNESS: We want to win. Every drive matters,

every tick on the clock matters. So when there's a good play, we get adrenaline and we want to scream, let's go. When there's a bad play, you know, we get affected. You know, it's very competitive.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, they're all trying to cope with the realization that one of their own turned on them.

WITHROW: We were all in the bathroom. People were calling their families, saying goodbyes. And they were saying, you know, if you don't see me again, I love you.

TODD (voice-over): Did you think you weren't getting out of there, Nick?

WITHROW: I thought, 100 percent, we were dead. I thought he was going to load clip after clip, but he took his own life, you know. But I thought we were dead. Everybody did.


TODD: Both of those witnesses we spoke to, Nick Withrow and Alex Madunic, were visibly frustrated over what they called a horrible lack of security at this event.

They say that unlike other gaming tournaments that they've been involved with, there were no guards that they observed checking people for weapons. And they say a lot of people were allowed to move in and about the venue very freely.

We contacted the owner of the Jacksonville Landing, Sleiman Enterprises, as well as the sponsor of yesterday's event, E.A. Sports, for response to those assertions. We have not heard back from them, Wolf.

BLITZER: I understand, Brian, there's some important new information tonight from the shooter's parents. Is that right?

TODD: Right, Wolf. The family of David Katz is telling CNN -- according to a law enforcement source telling CNN, excuse me, that David Katz has suffered from mental health issues. This law enforcement source is saying that the family is being very cooperative with investigators.

BLITZER: A sad, sad story. Brian Todd reporting for us in Jacksonville. Thank you.

Coming up, there's breaking news. As the nation mourns Senator John McCain, it takes enormous public pressure and a scolding from the 2 million veterans of the American Legion to get President Trump, finally, to issue a proclamation and order the White House flag, again, lowered to half-staff.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Grudging respect. The White House returns its flag to half-staff as the President finally issues a formal statement on John McCain's death that's still very short on praise. Mr. Trump clearly feeling the heat after being scolded by members of both parties and a leading veteran's group.

Replacing NAFTA? President Trump says he is scrapping a trade agreement he loves to hate, announcing a tentative replacement deal with Mexico in an awkward phone call. Is he leaving Congress out of the loop and Canada in the lurch?