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Trump Accuses Dayton Mayor and Ohio Senator Brown of "Politicking" His Visit with Dayton Shooting Victims; Dayton Mayor: "Not Sure What the President Thinks Sen. Brown And I Misrepresented" During His Visit. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 7, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:24] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

Traditionally when a president visits a city in mourning, he meets with victims and families, doctors and nurses, police and other first responders. He praises their efforts and, most of all, he listens to those who lost loved ones and adds what words of comfort he can.

President Trump did that today in Dayton and El Paso as tradition away from cameras, away from microphones, at least we have to assume that is exactly what he did. But we also just moments ago heard the president of the United States using some of his precious time to talk about himself and to attack an Ohio senator and the mayor of Dayton. Somehow for some reason, the president felt this was an appropriate venue to air his grievances and praise himself.

The president spoke shortly before leaving El Paso and where any other president might have put the victims first or the wounded or the first responders, this president's first words were about the love and respect he got in Ohio.


DONALD TRUMP. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had an amazing day. As you know, we left Ohio and the love, the respect toward the Office of the Presidency, it was -- I wish you could have been there to see it. I wish you could have been in there.


COOPER: He wishes you could have been in there to see all the love and respect he got, the office of the presidency. He did not mention the dead in either city, 31 -- 22 in El Paso, nine in Dayton. He didn't mention the wounded.

He briefly nodded towards a first responder and said he looked forward to working with Democrats and, quote, getting something done in Washington but he did not go into specifics on that. Where he did get very specific was when asked about his attacks today on some of his hosts in Dayton. But before we get to that, to quickly set the stage for that, here is what happened. According to Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, he was well-received at the hospital there and quote did the right things. The president he said was comforting. Dayton's mayor who we're going to talk to in a moment adding quote, I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton, which is precisely what you would expect to be said of any president, yet, it wasn't praised enough for this president.

So with the help of his social media director, he made it known. Dan Scavino tweeting, quote: Some extremely powerful moments throughout the visit with so much enthusiasm and love contrary to what the Trump hating Dems would ever show or say. The president was treated like a rock star inside the hospital.

The president was treated like a rock star inside the hospital.

He also weighed, the president weighed in saying, quote: Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with victims and families, law enforcement, medical staff and first responders. It was a warm and wonderful visit, tremendous enthusiasm and even love. Then I saw a failed presidential candidate, zero percent Sherrod Brown and Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud.

As I said, the mayor is going to join us in a moment and again, she had nothing bad to say about the visit, but the president wanted rock star and I guess had to settle for normal decent human being and apparently, nursed that grudge all day.

Here's what he said about a few minutes ago.


TRUMP: They shouldn't be politicking -- they shouldn't be politicking today. I had it with Sherrod Brown. He and the mayor, Nan Whaley, they asked to go in, could we possibly go in and make the tour with you, I said, yes, let's do it.

They couldn't believe what they saw and they said it to people. They have never seen anything like this. The entire hospital, no different than what we had in El Paso, the entire hospital was -- I mean, everybody was so proud of the job they did. They did a great job here and then I say good-bye, I took them in at their request.

We made the tour. They couldn't believe. She said it to people, he said it to people. I get on Air Force One where they have a lot of televisions, I turn on the television and they say I don't know if it was appropriate for the president, you know, et cetera, et cetera. The same old line.

They are very dishonest people and that's why he got I think about zero percent and he failed as presidential candidate.


COOPER: That was the president in El Paso.

The president today also attacked Biden who had just criticized him. He did that on the way to El Paso tweeting quote: Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech, so boring. The lame stream media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy. It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our country will do poorly with him.

So, that's the president of the United States talking about cable news ratings and online clicks. That's what he was thinking about and openly tweeting about on route to a city where 22 people have been massacred in racist attack.

[20:05:04] He said this just hours after claiming his words bring people together. There are so many moments now when it's hard to know why we listen to anything the president says and take it at face value because inevitably, he undercuts what he has been told to say, moments ago later sometimes, or hours later, by revealing time and time again what he is really thinking about.

The day began with these words from the president.


TRUMP: No, I don't think my rhetoric has at all. I think my rhetoric is a very -- it brings people together.


COOPER: Well, he's right about that today in a certain sense. Here are a number of people his rhetoric brought together. Protesters in both cities holding signs chanting, giving speeches against the language the president has used.

There is simply no way to over state how far from normal this is how sadly at this point how typical.

Joining us now is Dayton mayor, Nan Whaley, who as we said, hosted the president earlier today.

Mayor, first of all, I just want to start with what's actually important, how the city is doing, how people are dealing with this now right today?

MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D), DAYTON, OHIO: Well, thank you, Anderson. Folks in the city are grieving. You know, this is going to be a long process for us and it's quite emotional as we -- you know, even I, we are processing this at different rates and, you know, folks are talking about the emotional trauma now that is coming forward.

There is survivor guilt. There is sadness for those loved ones we've lost. This is going to be a long process for us in Dayton.

COOPER: Yes. Of course. I mean, there is no timeline for grief and everyone grieves in different ways.

In terms of the injured, do you have updates on their conditions?

WHALEY: Yes. So, we saw some of the folks that were still in the hospital today. There is only a few left in the hospital, but folks actually came back to see the president today and seem to be doing OK physically. It's really the emotional toll that's going to be the long, hard road here. COOPER: And for people just in terms of -- you know, I was in El Paso

and there are a lot of people who needed help in terms of paying for funerals and things like that and a lot of organizations coming forward. Are you seeing that in Dayton, as well?

WHALEY: Yes, there is a lot of just great support in Dayton. A lot of people just really holding on to one another, and supporting each other in ways that, you know, I'm not surprised by. This is a gritty resilient city.

But it's been really beautiful to see, Sunday night's vigil at 8:00 that we had. This whole area was filled the entire block. It was beautiful. There was a lot of compassion, a lot of grieving but a lot of anger, too.

COOPER: I want to turn just briefly to the president and what he said today. I want to play what you actually said about his visit to the hospital earlier. Let's listen.


WHALEY: I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.


COOPER: You also commented on his rhetoric, how it can be divisive and how divisive rhetoric is the last thing that Dayton needs, but did you say anything else about his visit to the hospital?

WHALEY: No, Anderson. That was pretty much all we talked about with the press. You know, it's a full press conference, which I think the president saw. You know, our conversation and, you know, what we really are grateful for the president coming and comforting these victims but what the city of Dayton and Daytonians want is some action out of Washington D.C., and we didn't get a lot of comments about anything really being done from the president's desk.

COOPER: So did you have conversations with the president or his staff or did Senator Brown have conversation with the president or anyone on his staff what you would like to see happen in terms of action?

WHALEY: Absolutely. You know, when we first came on the tarmac, I said to the president, you know, welcome to Dayton. You know, the citizens of Dayton are looking for action and I hear you're a man of action.

Then towards the event, you know, Senator Brown during that time talked about hoping he would call McConnell back, that, you know, the importance of mental health, and the importance of, you know, Medicaid, in that conversation for mental health. Senator Brown and I stood next to each other most of the whole morning.

And then as he was leaving, after he saw the first responders, he was talking about how he wanted to give them a special award and we had talked about the assault weapons ban and Senator Brown said it most eloquently. He said the best gift you can give these first responders, Mr. President, is getting these guns off the streets so they don't have to fight them anymore.

COOPER: Did he respond to that?

WHALEY: He said we're going to do something.

COOPER: So, the president called you and Senator Brown, quote, very dishonest people, do you -- I mean, what -- do you know where that comes from and what you say to that?

[20:10:07] WHALEY: Look, I mean, I think I've known and watched President Trump's Twitter feed for a while. He is a bully and a coward, and it's fine that he wants to bully me and Senator Brown. We're OK. We can take it.

But the citizens of Dayton deserve action. We're hoping that, you know, this isn't a typical politician that's all talk and no action. We want to see him do something around common sense gun legislation.

COOPER: Does it -- I was going to ask does it surprise you, I assume it probably doesn't surprise you, that a president -- is it appropriate that any president of the United States would go to a city and take time in that city, again, not speaking about the victims, though he did meet with victims' families in both cities, but instead of, you know, taking time to talk about them, to in public remarks to take time to attack you and Senator Brown and talk about him getting zero percent according to the president? I mean, does that make any sense to you that a president would do that?

WHALEY: No, I mean, I really don't understand the comments at all, and, you know, he did have good report with the victims we said that and first responders were grateful. You know, really keeping this the focus on the victims and also on getting something done really was the whole crux of the whole conversation. And, you know, we want action from the president and it's something that the citizens of Dayton have demanded.

We've seen that Governor DeWine, who is a Republican, in the state has introduced and has 17-point plan that he'll start putting legislation forward. So, we're seeing bipartisan support for this. You have Congressman Turner who has a 93 percent NRA record called for an assault weapons ban.

So, we're seeing movement in Ohio of being able to see this effort. We just were hoping that we could see some action from the president, as well.

COOPER: Mayor Whaley, appreciate your time. Thank you.

WHALEY: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, we're going to talk with our political professionals about the president's tone today and questions about his capacity for rising to the occasion. Coming up later, we'll hear from the U.S. congresswoman who represents

El Paso who said she turned down a White House invitation to be in the presidential motorcade today.

We'll be right back.


[20:16:43] COOPER: We're talking tonight about President Trump's remarks just a few moments ago in El Paso in which he put himself or his political grievances first and last as you heard Dayton's mayor said before the break there is nothing out of the ordinary about his visit with the wounded, even though he's now taking exception to the mayor's remarks and took pains to highlight the reception that he got.


TRUMP: We had an amazing day. As you know, we left Ohio and the love, the respect for the Office of the Presidency, it was -- I wish you could have been in there to see it. I wish you could have been in there.


COOPER: Again, in that speech phrasing himself, his only remarks to the press on the trip, he didn't mention the dead in neither city, 31, 22 in El Paso, nine in Dayton. He didn't mention the wounded.

Joining us is now is CNN senior political commentator, former Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. senator, Rick Santorum, also CNN political commentator Tara Setmayer, former communications director for Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, to hear the president -- I mean, what I don't understand is by all accounts in the hospitals, he did a nice job meeting with the victims' families and wounded and first responders and doing what presidents do. And the president is a charming guy when he wants to be and I'm sure he was great with it. To under cut that by publicly have statements be about, you know, Sherrod Brown and getting zero percent.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The three words that always characterized the president's behavior are shocking but not surprising. I mean, this is how the narcissism, the lack of empathy, the endless sense of grievances, even invented grievances with Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dayton who had no fight with him there. I mean, this is who he is and it is important to remember every time people try to change his behavior, you know, whether they bring in a new White House chief of staff, he says, I got elected president of the United States being exactly this way, and he's right, and he may get reelected as president behaving exactly this way.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, I mean, we've all seen these unfortunately kind of presidential visits before. Was this the way to end it? RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know that the

president watches the media. He was watching it on Air Force One and the media is reporting all day about all the protesters who are out there and how angry everybody was and how everybody didn't want him to come and how elected officials, Democrats and others were complaining about it.

How -- so, what he was hearing, what he was responding to I think is the fact that the media spin on this was nobody wanted the president to come and he wanted to counter that narrative and say as a matter of fact, people were very happy to see me. And so, you can't take the president's colts comments in a vacuum. I mean, he's responding to what the media narrative is about his trip and then criticize him for responding to it.

COOPER: But he's not a child and he's the president of the United States and he's just met with people that lost loved ones, people who had body parts blown apart, he's not talking about them. He could have waited to Washington to go back and air his --

SANTORUM: He did talk to them.

COOPER: Yes, he did talk to them. He didn't talk publicly at all about them so we don't -- you know, I hope he talked to them, and I'm assuming he did a great job because as I said, he can be a very charming guy.

[20:20:02] But he's not a child who has to respond to everything right away in front of first responders in a hospital setting. I mean, it seems tawdry, you know?

SANTORUM: Look, I would agree with you I would not have done it that way. I think we all know the president well enough to know when he feels like he's being attacked and his good intentions are being misrepresented, then he's going to try to counter that narrative.

I agree. He probably should -- he could have waited but I would make the argument that the people who are there, like even the mayor, lobbying for something that she well knows the president is never going to support was also as inappropriate as what the president did.

TOOBIN: It's inappropriate?

SANTORUM: Yes, I do.

TOOBIN: What is inappropriate about mentioning --

SANTORUM: This is the time when he's going to meet with victims and first responders and she can't -- she can't help herself and Sherrod Brown can't himself to say you need to call McConnell and do this and you do that, instead of trying to work on things they can work on together to help these victims.

COOPER: Tara, I want to hear from you.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here is the bottom line. Today was not supposed to be about Donald Trump but he is such a malignant narcissist he can't allow one minute of one day in the wake of two massacres in this country to go by without it being about him. He's not the consoler in chief. He never will be. He's the victim in chief. Everything about him is about victimizing poor me. I mean, for goodness sakes, pull up your big boy pants and act like the president of the United States and rise to the occasion for once.

I mean, come on, you can't sit here and tell me, Rick Santorum, that you looked at the way the president behaved today and you were proud of that. Is that what you want? Is the president of the United States, you're proud of that? Because that's an embarrassment. He acted like a 5-year-old because he couldn't take some criticism, he couldn't take protesters.

I mean, for goodness sakes, he couldn't remember the name of Glendon Oakley (ph), who was a hero in El Paso that saved children. But he was happy to stand there and take a photo op with a black guy who was a hero. I mean, he couldn't even bother remember his name.

But the first thing that came out of his mouth, was oh my goodness, everyone, it was such an amazing day today. Amazing? People died. People died in El Paso partly because of the rhetoric he incited with white supremacist in this country and he's talking about what a good day because he got a couple hugs and slaps on the back in a hospital in Dayton?

It's ridiculous. We are talking about the fight for the soul of America as Joe Biden so eloquently discussed today and here what the president is doing, this cannot be what the American people deserve.

SANTORUM: The reality is people have been politicizing this moment has not been the president of the United States. It's been the Democratic candidates for president, as well as a lot of local elected officials.

SETMAYER: They're not president. He is. He is, Rick.

SANTORUM: You know what? They are not president, but the president is a human being like everybody else, and he has a right to defend himself when he's being attacked unlike any president during a time of crisis. Every other president --


SETMAYER: It's about him.

COOPER: Let him finish.

SANTORUM: Every other president who has tried to be a united and consoler was not met with this kind of hostility. They're just not. And you can say he's different but that's not just the case.

SETMAYER: You're kidding? Obama wasn't met with this kind of hostility --

SANTORUM: No, not even close. SETMAYER: -- when people like you and other Republicans saying he

incited police violence when all that was going on and Black Lives Matter. You guys didn't go after him claiming that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were responsible for ISIS and therefore the Paris attack? You said that yourself. So don't sit here and tell me --

SANTORUM: Not even close.

SETMAYER: -- go after Obama the same way. They did. I was one of them. Let's be honest about it.

TOOBIN: I like this business of politicizing. It strikes me that at a time when assault weapons are used to kill large numbers of American people is exactly the right time to talk about whether assault weapons should be legal. It's exactly the right time to talk about whether people should be able to buy guns without background checks.

This idea that there is some politics-free moment after these events is just an excuse not to talk about what's really at stake here.

COOPER: It is true that if, you know, if a Muslim person or an undocumented immigrant committed, you know, the horrific shooting in El Paso, do you really think the president would say you know what? This is not the time to talk about banning all Muslims or this is not the time to talk about, you know, undocumented immigrants and illegal aliens coming over here and infesting our communities. I mean, that would exactly be what the president would do, no?

SANTORUM: Well, it's the difference between talking about the perpetrator of the crime and the instrument being used in the crime. And I think it is appropriate to talk about what we can do to stop perpetrators of crime from perpetrating crimes, and it's not necessarily to talk about did they use a car, did they use a knife, did they use a gun, did they use a handgun?

COOPER: You don't think part of that conversation would be how did this Muslim terrorist get an AK-47 in the United States and this alien get a pump shotgun or AR-15?

[20:25:01] That would, of course, be part of the conversation.

SANTORUM: The reality is, Anderson, that we had an assault weapons ban in this country and the institution, the Urban Institute, who was charged with looking as to whether it reduced crime. We actually can't make a decision --

COOPER: I agree with you.

SANTORUM: -- because it hasn't reduced at all, because some of these crimes are committed with these guns.

COOPER: Well, no, actually -- yes, I mean, what it said was we can't -- after what they said was the final report on it is we cannot, there is a drop in crime but we can't link that to this ban because it's not really a ban because there are so many assault weapons out there and people who couldn't get assault weapons went and got other weapons with high capacity magazines. That's what the final report said.

It said had the ban lasted longer, maybe we could study long-term as these guns age and new guns aren't being brought in but essentially said they couldn't come to a determination, they couldn't make a link between the drop in crime. So, you're right in the bottom line that it's not a guarantee, there is no one can argue 100 percent assault weapons ban would have any impact.

SETMAYER: But how --


SANTORUM: That's the whole point. We know there are things we can do and do on a bipartisan way. I mean, if this is -- if people are really serious about trying to engage as opposed to just playing politics, which is what is going on right now. You heard Will Hurd on the last show talk about a variety of different things that can be done in a bipartisan way to start dealing with the problems of Internet violence and depression and disassociation of all these people who are committing these crimes, and, you know, if you see something, say something on the Internet and have law enforcement take these things seriously, there is lots of things that can be done if you want to unify and get behind this.

But that's not what people are talking about. That is not what the media is talking about.


TOOBIN: Rick is talking about the agenda of the national rifle association, which owns the Republican Party in total. And so, all that nonsense about violent video games is a way of not talking about the fact that the guy in Dayton had a gun that had 100 bullets in it at once. And that's legal because the National Rifle Association wants it to be legal and that's who is in charge of gun policy in the United States.

COOPER: Tara, you can make argument there is plenty of depression in Japan and there are a lot of people who play violent video games in Japan and there's a lot of mentally unstable people around the world and yet, there are not mass killings you see in the United States.

SETMAYER: Yes, you can make the correlation that it's because guns are so readily available here. I don't think that completely dismissing the desensation of violence in playing, immersing yourself in these violent video games the way these millennials do playing 10 to 12 hours a day isn't a factor. But I don't think that should be used to deflect away from other things.

And if the president was serious about actually pushing through bipartisan legislation, he would have. He made promises to Democrats after Las Vegas, after -- I mean, after Parkland, nothing happened.

COOPER: Right, he was going to get stronger background checks.

SETMAYER: Instead of wasting time going after Beto O'Rourke on twitter or now he just recently tweeted tonight against Joaquin Castro and his brother calling them nobodies, instead of wasting that kind of time when we're in national mourning looking for real solutions, maybe he should get to work and stop freaking watching cable news and tweeting all the time and do the job of presidency.

COOPER: We got to leave it there. Appreciate the discussion, Rick Santorum, always. Tara Setmayer, Jeffrey Toobin, as well.

Just ahead, my conversation with the Democratic congresswoman who represents the area where the El Paso mass shooting occurred. Why she declined to join President Trump's motorcade today. We'll be right back.


[20:32:38] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: As we mentioned, the President has just left El Paso. I spoke earlier this evening with Congresswoman Veronica Escobar whose districts includes the Walmart where Saturday's shooting took place and who turned down, she says, the White House invitation to join the President's motorcade saying yesterday, "I declined the invitation because I refuse to be an accessory to his visit."


COOPER: Congresswoman Escobar, you said that President Trump put a target on the back of your community and that he needs to peel it off. I'm wondering if -- how you feel about his visit today? Did he take any steps in your opinion to do that?

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): You know, I've been spending all of my time with El Paso families, and so I don't know what occurred. I don't know if he used this as an opportunity to tell the American public that the words that he has used to describe immigrants and to describe Hispanics and really all minorities, that those words are wrong, that he should never have done that -- never said them, and that he takes them back.

So, those are the words that I think a lot of Americans want to hear. They're the words that I know a lot of El Pasoans want to hear. There was a petition that was circulated within 24 hours, 21,000 El Pasoans signed on asking him to stay away. Health care workers circulated a petition asking him to stay away.

So there is a feeling here in the community, and not everybody, I mean, there are folks in the community who were excited about his visit, welcomed his visit. This for us, for me, not a political issue. The issue is when will the President stand up and recognize the humanity, the grace and the dignity of every human being regardless of whether that human being is an immigrant or a Latino or a Muslim. And so we need that in this country.

COOPER: I understand that you declined an invitation by the White House to accompany the President today. Why did you decide to do that? Because those who say look, it could have also been an opportunity to, you know, to make your argument directly to the President.

ESCOBAR: So, you know, I knew that should I join him on the motorcade, that was the invitation, I did not know if I would be in the same vehicle with him. I knew also that it probably would not be appropriate as he's talking to families or as he's talking law enforcement for me to try to interject and get a few stolen moments to talk about this issue.

[20:35:07] And that's why I requested, when the White House reached out to offer the invitation to ride in the motorcade, that's why I requested a phone call yesterday, on a day when I knew there was nothing on his public schedule and where I thought we could have a few moments and I could say to him directly without any distractions, without it being public, just a private conversation to look for that potential, that opportunity for all of us to kind of reclaim the humanity of this country and he declined.

And so my view, Anderson, was if there is no time for a dialogue, then I just -- I don't want to be a prop during a visit. I'd rather spend time with the families and we had a beautiful rally where we denounced hate, we denounced bigotry, we denounced racism and we said we were going to lead with love.

COOPER: I want to ask you -- I know you said you didn't hear what the President said and you were hoping he said kind of words taking back some of the words and rhetoric he's used in the past. He certainly didn't do that.

But this morning when the President was asked if he was concerned about the rise of white supremacy, he responded, "I'm concerned about the rise of any type of hate, I don't like it, any type of supremacy, whether it's white supremacy or antifa."

Now, some people said the fact that he brought in antifa that it echoed sort of the, you know, very fine people on both sides comment. I'm wondering how you hear those comments.

ESCOBAR: You know, I felt the same way that this is a moment where he has an opportunity to really use this as a turning point for the country. I mean, believe me, Anderson, we don't -- we didn't want this. We didn't ask for this. This is devastating.

The healing that this community is going to have to go through, healing of body, healing of mind, healing of soul, is a journey that we're -- it's going to be a long one for us and we're going to face it with love, we're going to take care of one another.

But he had an opportunity after all of this horrific rhetoric and everything that led to this moment and all of the bloodshed in the Walmart right behind me, he had an opportunity to really truly demand that all of us as a country see the humanity in one another. And again, you know, I watched that press conference. He refused to really use that as an opportunity. It's sad.

COOPER: Congresswoman Escobar, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.


COOPER: Still to come, new CNN reporting about a sustained and failed attempt to get this White House to focus more on domestic terror and white supremacy. Two Democratic presidential candidates already reacting.


[20:41:31] COOPER: CNN's Jake Tapper's new reporting that the Department of Homeland Security tried for more than a year to no avail to make combating domestic terror a greater priority for this administration. The best they could do was one paragraph in the national counterterrorism strategy, it's what a senior source involved in discussions tells Tapper was "a throw away line."

Two presidential candidates have reacted so far to the story. Senator Kamala Harris says the President is "turning a blind eye to American's national security threats." And Beto O'Rourke says, "He made us less safe."

Also today, the President appears to be taking a page from his Charlottesville playbook, no longer talking solely about taking on white supremacies as he did from the White House, Monday. Today, before he left at Dayton, he spoke about the violence on essentially both sides.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate, I don't like it. Any group of hate, I have, whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy, whether it's antifa, whether it's any group of hate, I am very concerned about it and I'll do something about it.


COOPER: Well, joining me now is CNN National Security Analyst and a former assistant secretary at DHS Juliette Kayyem. So, first of all, what do you make of Jake Tapper's reporting that the administration essentially has resisted in the past focusing on this?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it's essential for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's inconsistent with what the FBI has told us, right, that the rise of white supremacy is the number one terrorism threat in the United States. It's not ISIS, it's not immigrants, so there's just a misalignment between what the Department of Homeland Security was focusing on and certainly what the FBI was seeing.

But what's as important and what people have to understand is the Department of Homeland Security essentially guides state and local efforts. There's only about 12,000 FBI agents. There's over 800,000 local, state and county police officers who need guidance, right, from a department that should be able to look at the statistics and tell them what they should focus on.

So the White House essentially by seeing no evil, right, would stop no evil. So it was just -- it was -- it just undermined everything that was going on, on the ground until today or over the last couple of days. We wake up and realize this is a real threat killing that's killing lots of people.

COOPER: So isn't just semantics? I mean, when something isn't prioritized federally, it impacts state and local law enforcement, which is really where the rubber hits the road.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. I mean, we used to say at the Department of Homeland Security just overall there's only 300,000 of us, right, there's only about 300,000 Department of Homeland Security employees and millions of first responders across the United States.

So what you -- what we did from the department or what a good department would do is it would guide priorities, it would guide funding. The Department of Homeland Security writes big checks to state and local first responders, but has guidance about how they should focus it.

So the fact that they could barely mention white supremacy, meanwhile the FBI is, you know, hair on fire saying this a big issue, means that I'm not surprise that state and locals are caught off guard because -- with the rise of white supremacy.

COOPER: It's interesting when the President, you know, talks about white supremacy. I mean, initially he said, you know, hate and bigotry -- racism, bigotry and white supremacy. I assume now -- he's put antifa in there, I assume that's in the, you know, bigotry part. I'm not sure of those three.


[20:45:00] COOPER: But -- I mean, it was just back in March that the President was asked if he saw white nationalism as a rising threat, he said no. As you mentioned, that is counter to what his own FBI director says and now he sort of just -- he's never really willing to just kind of drill down and even talk extensively about white supremacy or white nationalism. It's just sort of, I'm against hate and all supremacies.

KAYYEM: Right. So I want people to understand that this is purposeful. That this is -- this is what I've been talking about, what we've talking about. This is part of the playbook. We call it statistic terrorism.

In other words, it's a use of social media, use of the President's platform to essentially radicalize, to insight hatred towards other, Mexicans, Hispanics, immigrants, LGBTQ, African-Americans, whoever. That will more likely than not result in violence even though if we don't know specifically what that violent action will be. So this is something that those of us who know about radicalization have been talking about for awhile. This is what the President is doing. It's not an accident. It's not like he cares about all of these different kinds of ideologies. It's a way for him not to shame white supremacist.

Now, the political people can decide why he's doing that. But essentially what it does is it gives comfort, it gives a sense of acceptance to the community of white supremacist who are inspired by this kind of language. So, I don't give the President a buy pass (ph). He's the President of the United States. He's not an innocent bystander.

He's not just, you know, throwing words out there. This is a strategy that the President is utilizing that we've seen in other terrorism and other radicalization efforts. And the fact that he turned back to it today to me is no surprise.

COOPER: So, I mean, at some point, can law enforcement officials whether it's DHS or FBI Director Chris Wray or U.S. attorneys around the country just say, look, fighting white nationalism, you know, might not be priority for President Trump, but it is a priority for us and they'll do whatever they feel they need to do? Does it how -- does it work that way?

KAYYEM: I think that's true to a certain extent. Obviously the FBI, obviously local, state and county, first responders, do not want bad things happening. And so I do believe that there is a focus on this, especially after the horrors of the last couple days.

But I think it defies logic to think that the President's priorities, right, won't have an impact on people's willingness to start these investigations, the community's willingness to come forward, people's interest in the issue, a White House matters.

I've always worked at the departments, either Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security. So just from a bureaucratic perspective, White House matter because they get the departments to focus and that's essential.

And so with the White House unwilling to mention, barely mention white supremacy means that, you know, yes, people are looking at this, but you need them to -- you need the White House to embrace it to really, really fight it.

COOPER: Juliette Kayyem, appreciate it. Thank you.

Breaking news just ahead, lawyers from the El Paso shooter's family say his mother called police before the killings saying she was concerned her son owning -- was owning AK-type weapon.

Also reminder, stay tuned for the Chris Cuomo town hall tonight, "America Under Assault," called "The Gun Crisis," that's at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:52:26] COOPER: It's almost time for a CNN town hall, "America Under Assault: The Gun Crisis," moderated by my friend, Chris Cuomo. Chris joins us right now. What are you going to be focusing on, Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You know, brother, the time is now. You know, you and I have been to too many of these together. The issues never change. We just wind up staring into different faces who have the same pain. And many will tell us, well, let it pass. Let them process. Don't politicize.

It's not about politics, it's about change and it's about talking about what we know is obviously, the filter of people who've lived it, work on the issues, you know, understand that obstacles. It's not about right and left, it's about reasonable and it's about change, and all of us tonight being open to a conversation we know we need to have.

COOPER: And so that's -- who are you talking to tonight?

CUOMO: We have different sets of panels. We have people who have survived. We have an audience full of survivors. I wanted them around me because I want to be surrounded by their strength and them putting pain to purpose is one of the most beautiful gifts of humanity.

And we'll have panels of people who've lived through it, people who deal with the issues on different sides. You know, this is not about how do we get rid of guns. I don't think that's a political practicality. And I don't think that that's where this country is, frankly.

So, we'll look at it from different ways but with one obvious cause, we can't stay where we are, anymore. This is killing us. And I think that that has to be a point of consensus.

COOPER: All right, Chris, we'll see you in about six minutes from now. I look forward to that. Thanks very much.

Important breaking news also, just ahead, lawyers for the El Paso suspect's family say his mother called police weeks before the shooting. What she told them, next.


[20:57:33] COOPER: There's breaking news on this busy Wednesday night. Lawyers for the El Paso suspect's family say his mom called police weeks before the mass shootings. CNN's Brian Todd joins us now with details. So, what have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Anderson, this is from our investigate team Scott Glover and Majlie de Puy Kamp. They were in touch with lawyers for the family of the suspect.

Those lawyers are telling CNN tonight that in the weeks before the shooting, the suspect's mother called the police department in Allen, Texas, expressing concern that her son was purchasing "AK-type firearm." Now, for those who don't know, that's like -- very likely a reference to an AK-47, an assault style rifle that was originally manufactured for combat, designed to kill several people with one burst.

Now, according to the lawyers, the mother was worried about his maturity level, his age and his lack of experience regarding owning that kind of a firearm. The lawyers say she was not motivated out of concern that he posed any kind of a threat to anyone and it is not clear tonight whether that AK-type firearm was the same weapon used here in this Walmart shooting, Anderson.

But clearly the mother had some concern, enough concern in the weeks just before this shooting that she contacted the fire -- police department, excuse me, in his hometown of Allen, Texas.

COOPER: And that is something -- that kind of weapon is one of the things he wrote about. Did authorities act on the information or, frankly -- I mean, is there anything they could have actually done?

TODD: Well, according to the lawyers, a public safety officer who was on the phone with the mother during that call informed her that given her description of the situation and the law, that her son was legally entitled to own that firearm.

Now, the mother did not give her name or her son's name and the public safety officer did not ask for any additional information on this. And we're told by our team there that the Allen, Texas, Police Department has not responded to our own requests for information, public information, documentation about that phone call.

So, the Allen police did tell her that under the law and given her description of the situation that her son was legally entitled to own that firearm.

COOPER: And, Brian, just very quickly, do we know anything more about sort of police response time and when officers or if officers actually went into the Walmart while the shooter was there?

TODD: We do know, Anderson, from the police accounts that it took them six minutes to get here. But what's unclear right now is whether they actually engaged with him. Because we have reporting, police telling me, that he got in his vehicle and drove about a half mile away before he turned himself into a motorcycle cop.

COOPER: Yes, all right.

TODD: So did they ever engage in, that's not clear tonight.

COOPER: All right. Brian Todd, thanks very much. Coming up right now, the "Cuomo Prime Time" town hall, "America Under Assault: The Gun Crisis," that starts now.