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Sources: Gunman Killed Wife's Grandmother in Church; Investigators: Gunman Focused on Mass Shootings. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 6, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Motive for massacre. The gunman who killed 26 people in a small Texas church had a history of domestic violence which led to his ouster from the U.S. Air Force. And he had an ongoing dispute with his in-laws who attended the church. His wife's grandmother is among the dead. How was he able to obtain a military-type weapon?

[17:00:26] Disapproval. Our brand-new poll shows President Trump's job approval at just 36 percent, an all-time low. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of his performance. That's an all-time high. Is the Russia investigation having an impact on public opinion?

Losing patience. President Trump encourages Japan to buy more U.S. weapons to defend against the North Korean threat. As he heads to South Korea, the president warns that the era of strategic patience with Kim Jong-un is over. Could his rhetoric lead to war?

And senator attacked. Senator Rand Paul has five broken ribs and bruised lungs after an altercation with his longtime neighbor, a fellow doctor, who's been charged with assault. What was the dispute about?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Investigators are learning more about what may have led to the massacre at a small Texas church. Officials say the gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, was involved in an ongoing domestic situation and had sent threatening messages to his mother-in-law who attended the church.

Authorities say Kelley texted her on the day of the shooting, but she was not present when he opened fire on the congregation. Friends say the grandmother of Kelley's wife was among the 26 dead.

As the gunman left the church, he was shot by an armed resident but got into his vehicle and fled. Investigators believe he then died from a self-inflicted wound.

Kelley served in the U.S. Air Force but was court-martialed, imprisoned and discharged for assaulting his first wife and child. He was later able to purchase, without any difficulty, the military-type rifle he used in the assault.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott says Kelley was not supposed to have access to a gun.

President Trump, meanwhile, on a five-nation Asia trip, voiced his condolences, saying the shooting was not a, quote, "gun situation," but, rather, a mental health problem.

And our new CNN poll shows the president's approval rating at just 36 percent. That's the lowest since he took office. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of the president's performance. That's an all-time high.

I'll speak with retired Colonel Don Christianson, former chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're all standing by with full coverage.

First, let's go straight to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's outside the gunman's home in Texas there. Sara, what are you learning?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning new nix about the victims in this terrible massacre as well as the shooter, who lives deep in the woods here on what is about 28 acres of property.

We heard from neighbors who said they hadn't seen him, but they think they certainly heard him on this property this week.


SIDNER (voice-over): Searing pain after a terrifying ordeal. More than two dozen people slaughtered as they prayed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. One family losing eight members to gunfire.

The resident pastor and his wife saved by their absence, but their 14- year-old daughter Belle was there and is among the dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were a very close family. We ate together. We laughed together. We cried together. And we worshipped together. Now most of our church family is gone. Our sweet Belle would not have been able to deal with losing so much family.

SIDNER: The killer, identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, an Air Force veteran discharged for bad conduct. He arrived at the church ready for battle with three weapons: two handguns and a rifle.

FREEMAN MARTIN, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: He was obviously suspicious to others, based on the way he was dressed in all black. He was wearing a black mask that had a white face -- skull face to it.

SIDNER: The 26-year-old had a history of domestic abuse. In 2012, while in the Air Force, he was court-martialed and spent a year in confinement for assaulting his then-wife and a child.

In 2014, he was charged with cruelty to animals after allegedly punching a dog repeatedly.

Today, authorities say domestic issues with his current wife's family may have sparked his decision to target this particular church. MARTIN: There was a domestic situation going on within this family.

The suspect's mother-in-law attended this church. We know that he had made threatening -- threatening -- she had received threatening texts from him.

[17:05:05] This was not racially motivated. There -- it wasn't over religious beliefs.

SIDNER: CNN has learned he killed his grandmother-in-law in the rampage, along with more than two dozen others, ranging in age from 17 months to 77 years old.

Kelley lived on a large piece of land worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Neighbors we spoke with had never met him, but Robert Gonzales says he has heard someone on that property blowing off dozens of rounds of ammunition all last week.

ROBERT GONZALES, GUNMAN'S NEIGHBOR: I was hearing a lot of shooting. Like a .45 and then an assault rifle would go off. I never thought nothing of it, because you know, we all shoot around here.

SIDNER (on camera): You're saying that every morning somewhere around 8 a.m., you would hear a barrage of firing from over there?

GONZALES: Yes, ma'am. A load of rounds that would always be going off around this time. From a .45 to an assault rifle. Like rapid fire all of a sudden.


SIDNER: Now Mr. Gonzales, how does he know the sound, the different sounds of the different guns? He himself is a veteran.

I should also mention we were able to speak with a manager where the shooter worked. And he was there this Friday and this Saturday. They said they were waiting for him to show up on Sunday at 4 p.m. when he started his shift, and he didn't, of course.

By 5 p.m., they had seen the news, and they said their jaws dropped because he was a quiet guy. He didn't talk a lot with others, but he was always polite, they said -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sarah, thanks very much. Sara Sidner reporting.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's also near the scene of the massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Brian, what's the latest in the investigation?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can show you what they're doing here behind me. This is the First Baptist Church. You can see the small bell tower over to your right, my left. That is a large set of evidence tents right there where officials still processing a lot of the evidence from the scene. This still very much an active crime scene.

Now long ago, we saw FBI technicians and others scouring the grounds with metal detectors, looking for shell casings and other evidence.

Wolf, I can tell you, a short time ago, officials put out a very jarring timeline of how the attack unfolded right here behind me. They said that the shooter, Devin Kelley, actually had donned an all- black outfit with a tactical vest. Part of that outfit involved him wearing a mask with an imprint of a white skull on it.

They said he first shot outside the church, then moved outside. After he shot up the church inside and killed all those people, when he emerged, he was confronted by two Samaritans. One of those gentleman, a gentleman named Johnnie Langendorff, told CNN what happened next. Take a listen.


JOHNNIE LANGENDORFF, PURSUED CHURCH SHOOTER: I saw the shooter coming out about where the cars were parked and the other gentleman coming from across the street. Both had weapons drawn and, in a matter of half a second, there was an exchange of gunfire. It lasted just a few seconds, and the shooter got in his vehicle and took off. And the gentleman with the rifle came across the street, opened my door and said, "He just shot up the church. And we've got to chase him."

And I said, "Let's go."


TODD: Now, at just about that moment, officials say, as he was speeding away, the shooter, Devin Kelley, called his own father on his cell phone and said that he had been hit by gunfire and said that he didn't think he would make it.

That witness, that Samaritan that you heard from, Johnnie Langendorff, said about that time, he saw the shooter steer his car into a ditch. Langendorff and the other Samaritan approached the car. He yelled for the shooter to get out of the car. He did not get out of the car, so they waited for the police to get there.

Police say they think it was about that moment that Devin Kelley ended his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what do you think about the cruelty to animals charge three years ago in Colorado that he faced?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. We're getting information just within the last couple of hours of a very disturbing incident back in El Paso County, Colorado, in 2014.

At that time, the shooter lived in an RV park with his wife in Colorado Springs. According to the sheriff's office there, there was a complaint filed by a witness, who said that they saw Devin Kelley basically hit his dog several times about the head and neck, that he really abused the dog, that he hit him several times and then dragged the dog away. So they called 911, complained about it. He was given a summons to appear in court, but he never served any jail time on those accusations, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Brian, stand by. We're going to get back to you


Joining us now, retired Colonel Don Christianson. He was chief U.S. Air Force prosecutor when Texas gunman Devin Kelley was sentenced for assaulting his wife and child.

Don, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right. What can you tell us about the case? It occurred back in 2012 when he was sentenced and he spent, what, a year in the U.S. Air Force military prison, a brig?

[17:10:05] CHRISTIANSON: Right. So these offenses occurred somewhere between 2010 and 2011 and involved multiple occasions of domestic abuse against both his wife and his stepson.

His stepson was born about July of 2010, so was basically a baby when these offenses started. During this time, he would -- he would often be physically violent with his son, included violently shaking him. As a result of that, his stepson had suffered fractures, had a subdural hematoma, and then he was eventually charged after he confessed to committing these offenses.

And then he was court-martialed and, as a result of that court- martial, he was sentenced to a year of confinement and a punitive discharge, a bad conduct discharge, reduced to grade of E-1.

BLITZER: Explain the fractures, what he did to this little boy, this stepson. How old was the stepson? How violent were the assaults and how permanent the damage?

CHRISTIANSON: Well, any time you have a subdural hematoma, which is a bleeding between the skull and the brain, that's considered very dangerous and can lead to death. So that typically comes from violent shaking, which is what he was charged with doing.

Fractures often occur with that, as well, when you have somebody who's violently shook. And then, from what Mr. Kelley said at the time, he also admitted to, out of anger, pushing his son down and injuring him that way, as well.

BLITZER: What did he do to his wife?

CHRISTIANSON: Well, I don't know all the details on that. I just know that on multiple occasions he was physically violent with her.

BLITZER: Do you know what was driving his anger, what was pushing him to be so violent with this little boy and his wife?

CHRISTIANSON: I don't. You know, unfortunately, shaking a baby is not an unusual situation in the military. There's lots of times that it's associated with someone who's extremely tired, extremely stressed. I don't know if his job did that, but when you look at the crimes he's committed yesterday, think it's much more to it than just being stressed.

BLITZER: He could have served up to three years, right? He served one. Why?

CHRISTIANSON: All right. So it's a very unique part of our justice system in the military. So in the civilian world, when you have a plea bargain with -- between the accused and the government, they're typically going to serve whatever that agreement is. So if they say three years, it's going to be three years.

In the military, a pretrial agreement is a cap in what he can be sentenced to. And he can be sentenced in anything less than that. And so the jury in this case gave him only a year when they could have given him much more.

BLITZER: Do you know how the assaults were reported to the U.S. Air Force?


BLITZER: What does the incident tell you, though, about Kelley's personality and the threat that he might have posed outside of the military? He was eventually dishonorably discharged for bad conduct, right?

CHRISTIANSON: Well, yes, he was given a bad conduct discharge. There are two types of punitive discharge. One is a dishonorable. The other is a bad conduct. And he got a bad conduct.

But what it tells you is that you have somebody with a history of violence and that that history was never really addressed. You know, a year in confinement, he's not going to get any kind of treatment for that. He obviously would have anger issues, and that's one of the problems with the military justice system. We don't have a way to order somebody into a treatment like that where they would get help for it.

BLITZER: Do you know if, after he was discharged, he received any treatment to try to help him cope with civilian society?

CHRISTIANSON: Not that I'm aware of.

BLITZER: What obligations, Don, does the U.S. Air Force have to report this conviction to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies?

CHRISTIANSON: So, the obligation is to report to the FBI. They -- I'm not aware of any obligation to report to state or local, because people can move anywhere after the court-martial conviction. So they typically report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That's done by our Office of Special Investigation. Whether that was done in this case or not, I don't know.

BLITZER: So we should check that because, you know, he clearly, in the four years that followed, he went ahead and -- each year he bought a weapon. He bought a gun, including an assault-type weapon, eventually killing all these people at this small church in Texas. And he apparently didn't have any problems. There were no records of his conviction as a U.S. -- in the U.S. Air Force. That's a problem, isn't it?

[17:15:09] CHRISTIANSON: Yes, that's very troubling. And that to me is the most troubling part about -- about what happened with the Air Force, is that without a doubt what he was convicted of, both the severity of it and the fact it was domestic violence, he was required under 18 USC Section 922 to be barred from purchasing or owning a firearm.

And so somebody, whether it was the Air Force, whether it was a civilian authority, somebody really dropped a ball in this case, and there's, you know, 26 dead people dead now.

BLITZER: So, Don, I just want to be precise. In this particular case, you don't know if the U.S. Air Force actually informed the FBI, which presumably would have informed the ATF, would have informed others that this is an individual who should never be allowed to purchase a weapon in the United States, is that right?

CHRISTIANSON: That is right. That process is not done by the prosecutors. That's done by our law enforcement arm of the Air Force. And I -- I have no idea whether he was -- actually ever reported to the FBI.

BLITZER: All right.

CHRISTIANSON: And there's also another possibility, is that they reported it but the military's got archaic verbiage when it comes to our justice system. And maybe the FBI didn't understand exactly what he was convicted of.

BLITZER: That's a problem that we have to check into, make sure we learn lessons from this so it doesn't happen again.

We're speaking with retired Colonel Don Christianson, former chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force. Colonel, I'm going to have you stand by. There's more we need to discuss. We'll take a quick break. We're watching all of the breaking news unfold. We'll be right back.


[17:21:16] BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following. We're getting new information on the gunman who killed 26 people and wounded 20 others at a small Texas church.

I want to bring in our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, what are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. So what we've learned is that increasingly, it appears, based on some social media scrubs by law enforcement, that the shooter was obsessed, was thinking, was writing about mass shootings. He spent some time on social media writing about it. And this

obviously now is an added element into the motivation behind this shooting.

We also are being told that he was obsessed with this family dispute. Whether or not it was something that he sort of manifested on his own and came to him and was in his head on his own, or if it's actually something that he was fighting with the family over is still unclear. But there was this obsession with this family dispute that he just had a hard time letting go of.

Again, investigators have been spending the day trying to paint a picture of his life, his timeline and what's led into this. And it seems there are at least two significant factors here now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Was there any indication, though, of violence along the nature that eventually unfolded?

PROKUPECZ: So there's no indication that, since the time he was arrested and court-martialed, that there has been any violence with him. He was having this ongoing dispute where he was texting his mother-in-law about. That continues to be something investigators are looking at. No one will really tell us exactly what that dispute was.

BLITZER: Were there threats in that dispute?

PROKUPECZ: There were. There were threats. He did send threatening...

BLITZER: Threats of physical violence?

PROKUPECZ: Well, we don't know exactly what the threat is. But all officials will say is that there were threats that he made in these text messages to the mother-in-law.

BLITZER: The mother-in-law was not in the church.


BLITZER: That was the mother-in-law's church. The grandmother was there, and she was among the dead.

All right. I know you're working your sources. Shimon, we'll get back to you.

I want to bring back retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Don Christianson. He was the Air Force chief prosecutor several years ago when this gunman, Devin Kelley, was sentenced for assaulting his wife and stepchild.

So let me get your quick reaction to what we heard from Shimon, Colonel. What do you think?

CHRISTIANSON: Well, I'm not in any way shocked, you know? He clearly has a history of violence, and he clearly has mental health issues in the sense that he wants to lash out at others that way. It's disappointing that we had an opportunity to -- a chance to get

him on a different direction when he court-martialed him and also very disappointing we didn't stop him from getting guns in his hands.

BLITZER: Was the Air Force -- did the Air Force have -- make a mistake in this particular case based on what you know, Colonel, that they didn't inform authorities about the potential danger of this individual?

CHRISTIANSON: Yes, Wolf, I don't know the answer to that question. That's something the Air Force, I would hope, would very quickly let the American people know whether they followed appropriate procedures or not. That's something only they have access to. I don't. But it's something I think the American people have a right to know.

BLITZER: So going forward, Don, what do you think the U.S. Air Force needs to do down the road?

CHRISTIANSON: Well, I think not just the U.S. Air Force but all of -- all the services and the Department of Defense need to reevaluate how we do the sentencing process.

We had this individual, Mr. Kelley, was sentenced by a jury rather than a judge. It's one of the weaknesses of our process because, you know, I've been a military judge. It's often difficult for jurors to know what really to sentence someone to.

And I think we need to get sentencing guidelines. The military has steadfastly opposed any kind of guidelines that would ensure that someone like this would get an appropriate sentence.

[17:25:07] And then I think the military needs to very seriously look at the domestic violence issue it has and ways to address that.

BLITZER: And I think the military needs to also inform authorities of the potential danger of an individual, especially making sure that that individual can never go out there and buy assault weapons, right?

CHRISTIANSON: Oh, absolutely. The -- there's obviously somewhere where there's a breakdown between what we're telling the authorities and what's happening, or even if we are telling the authorities.

So I think this is something, you know, Congress is going to have to look at very quickly and very seriously: what happened here, how do we fix this, how do we absolutely make sure that never again do we have a case like this, where someone can get their hands on a weapon?

BLITZER: Yes, I think the military has to go through and scrub similar cases and make sure that, if they didn't inform authorities about potential danger, they do so now to make sure it doesn't happen again.

All right. Colonel, thank you so much. Colonel Don Christianson, retired U.S. Air Force colonel. He was the chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force. Thanks so much for joining us.

CHRISTIANSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we're continuing to follow the breaking news. We're also learning new details about the gunman who killed 26 people and wounded 20 others at that small Texas church.

And Senator Rand Paul has five broken ribs and bruised lungs after an altercation with his longtime neighbor, a fellow doctor who's now been charged with assault. What was the dispute about?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The breaking news. According to our brand-new CNN poll, President Trump's approval rating has now fallen to its lowest point since he took office. Only 36 percent approve of how the president is handling his job. Also, the president's disapproval number, 58 percent, is at an all-time high.

[17:31:36] These latest numbers come as the president is in Asia right now. He's talking about trade as well as the threat posed by North Korea.

However, the church massacre in Texas certainly casting a shadow over his trip.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He's awaiting the president's arrival in South Korea. Jim Acosta joining us from Seoul.

Tell us more about the president's day, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president will be here in South Korea shortly to continue to test his policy of brinkmanship with North Korea.

The White House says the president has no plans to alter his trip here in Asia as a result of that church shooting down in Texas, but the incident has forced the president to confront a subject he'd rather avoid, and that is gun control.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Accepting condolences from the Japanese prime minister during this trip to Asia, President Trump tried to make sense of the nation's latest mass shooting. This time at a church in Texas.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Such a beautiful, wonderful area with incredible people. Who would ever think a thing like this could happen?

ACOSTA: Almost immediately shutting down any talk of gun control, the president appeared to be reaching for the talking points of staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, blaming mental health issues alone for the carnage in Texas.

TRUMP: This was a very -- based on preliminarily reports, a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems our country, as do other countries, but this isn't a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it, but it's a little bit soon to go into it.

ACOSTA: The president's comment that it's too early to talk about guns mirrors his response to the Las Vegas massacre from just over a month ago.

TRUMP: And we'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.

ACOSTA: As for the president's concern for the mentally ill, critics noted that earlier this year, Mr. Trump signed a measure terminating an Obama-era regulation designated to keep guns out of the hands with people with serious psychological issues.

Even some members of the president's own party were conceding more could be done.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I've never felt that anybody who is on a no-fly list should be able to get a gun, for example. There are some things that we can do.

ACOSTA: The church shooting in Texas threw the president off script just as he's trying to reassure allies in Asia that he has a handle on North Korea. In Japan, the president defended his escalating rhetoric aimed at the communist regime...

TRUMP: Rocket Man.

Fire and fury.

ACOSTA: ... and its leader Kim Jong-un. Brinkmanship that doesn't sit well in South Korea.

TRUMP: The era of strategic patience is over. Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong. But look what's happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now.

ACOSTA: Part of the president's North Korea strategy appears to be a more militarized Japan. Mr. Trump encouraged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to buy more U.S. military equipment and put it to use to protect against any North Korean missile tests.

TRUMP: He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment.

One of the things that I think that's very important is that the prime minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should, and we make the best military equipment by far.

ACOSTA: The president is also hoping to lure leaders across Asia into more favorable trade deals with the U.S.

TRUMP: We want fair and open trade. But right now, our trade with Japan is not fair and it's not open. ACOSTA: Mr. Trump made it clear to Japan he wants the U.S. economy to

remain the big fish.

[17:35:15] TRUMP: I don't know if it's as good as ours. I think not, OK? And we're going to try to keep it that way. But you'll be second.


ACOSTA: Now, President Trump did signal a potential opening to Kim Jong-un if North Korea were to release Japanese citizens its abducted over the years. And, of course, the "X" factor here on the ground in South Korea, Wolf, is whether or not Kim Jong-un somehow conducts a military test while President Trump is in the region. That would certainly escalate things very quickly if that were to take place, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Jim Acosta in Seoul, South Korea, only about 30 miles or so from the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

All right. I know you're standing by for the president. We'll get back to you, as well.

Our political specialists are standing by. We have a lot to assess. We're following the breaking news. We'll be right back.


[17:40:38] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Our new CNN poll shows President Trump's approval rating at a new all-time low. Only 36 percent approve of the job he's doing. His disapproval rating also at a new high, 58 percent.

Let's get some insight from our political specialists. This is a big problem, Chris Cillizza, for the president.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I mean, yes, especially considering that we're not a year into his term. Thirty-six percent approval is bad at any point if you're the president of the United States, or if you are in the president's party and you're going to be on the ballot in about a year's time.

I actually think what's interesting here, Wolf, is Jenna Justa (ph), our pollster, dug into the numbers a little bit for me. I was just wondering about where he's lost ground since 100 days. A hundred-day polling, he was at 44 approval, now 36.

The most interesting place for me is non-college-educated whites.


CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, that's his base. He's down 11 percent. You know, we always hear the story line, which is "Well, his base is still strong." And they are, right? Trump voters are still, by and large, supportive of him. But there is erosion there, and that's problematic for him, because if he doesn't have -- even if he does have that, I don't know if it's enough in 2020, but if he doesn't have that or he has part of it, it's certainly not enough.

BLITZER: You know, the president is blaming mental health for this killer in Texas going into this church, killing 26 people. Has there been anything in his policy so far, Dana, or in his budget that addresses the whole issue of mental health?

BASH: Well, in a way, that actually is kind of counter to what he suggested today. He did by executive order earlier -- earlier this year something that relaxed rules that made it harder for people with mental health issues to get guns.

Look, mental health is the answer that Republicans who are gun rights supporters give at every one of these tragedies and, you know what? He may be right, but what he's missing is the next part of the sentence, and it's how does mental health connect to people with not just mental health problems but with real sort of legal issues like this man had, domestic abuse and others? How does that connect to their ability to get a gun?

And that is something that we still don't know in terms of this horrible, horrible tragedy. That should be addressed.

BLITZER: Yes, the guy -- the guy spends a year, Jeffrey, in a military prison for -- for abusing his wife and hitting a little child. He gets out and then, over the next four years, he can buy four weapons, including an assault-type weapon, without any problems.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, you know, Dana really started to say just this. I mean, this is the position of the Republican Party. More than any other issue, more than abortion, Second Amendment rights are the core of what Republicans believe.

And that is meant to be not just the ability to buy a weapon. It's the ability to -- for virtually anyone to buy virtually any kind of weapon.

Any sort of restrictions on who can buy a gun or what kind of gun they can buy is verboten. And remember, after Las Vegas, we heard a lot about, "Oh, we need to ban bump stocks," which turn semiautomatics into automatic weapons. You notice as the days have passed, that proposal has floated out to sea. Any sort of gun restrictions are anathema to the Republican Party.

BASH: And Wolf, what he just said is related to what you asked Chris about when we started, which is the poll numbers and the fact that where his shrinking numbers are most evident is his base. And he's still OK, but they are shrinking.

The last thing -- and he knows this instinctively, he, the president -- the last thing he's going to do is say something that would make gun rights supporters, which is the core of the base, go bananas at the idea that, you know, he's actually not one of them.

On other issues, including guns, the president when he was a businessman, he had a different point of view. When he thought about running in 2000 as an independent, you know, he was all for having some gun restrictions. But he understood the way to get the Republican nomination on this issue was not to do that, and he is sticking to it as president.

BLITZER: You know, I want to quickly -- Jeffrey, you've got a great article in the new issue of "The New Yorker" magazine about Senator Tom Cotton. You describe him as a leader of "Trumpism without Trump." All right. Tell us about that very briefly.

TOOBIN: Well, what, you know, we've paid a lot of attention to Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, but most Republicans, as we've discussed, they still support Donald Trump. And so does Tom Cotton, and -- but Cotton has the appeal of Trump without some of the embarrassing characteristics.

You know, he doesn't tweet silly things. He has a distinguished military war record. So Tom Cotton is definitely someone to keep an eye on as the Republican Party moves on from Trump but not away from Trump in the same issue directions that Trump took the party.

BLITZER: Your really strong piece, I recommend it to our viewers.

TOOBIN: Well, thank you.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There is more breaking news we're following, including some bizarre new details about why Senator Rand Paul might have been assaulted outside his home in Kentucky while cutting the grass. We're learning of a possible motive.


[17:50:41] BLITZER: We're learning strange new details about the attack on Senator Rand Paul. Police originally said the Senator suffered minor injuries when he was assaulted at his home in Kentucky on Friday. It turns out his injuries are much more serious.

Let's go to our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin. He is joining us from Bowling Green in Kentucky right now. That's where Senator Paul lives.

Drew, you're learning new details of a major cause of conflict between Senator Paul and the neighbor who authorities say attacked him.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And initially, it was thought that this may be political in nature. Now, it looks like it can be as silly as yard waste.

We're hearing from a long-time neighbor that these two men who share a property line have been quibbling, is the quote we are getting, over lawn and yard waste, basically leaves and grass, blowing back and forth along their property line for years.

As silly as it sounds, it erupted into a very serious situation on Friday and could lead to even more serious charges filed against that neighbor. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: The attack came out of nowhere. Senator Rand Paul, reportedly on his riding mower, trimming his lawn, when he was assaulted. The result? Five broken ribs and lung bruises.

According to the arrest warrant, Paul told police his neighbor came on to his property and tackled him from behind, forcing him to the ground and causing pain. He had trouble breathing and the defendant admitted going onto Paul's property and tackling him.

The Senator didn't find out until later about the broken ribs.

DETECTIVE JEREMY HODGES, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, KENTUCKY STATE POLICE: It is an open investigation, which means that future charges can stem from this. With it being a serious -- a more serious physical injury.

GRIFFIN: The suspect is Paul's next-door neighbor, Rene Boucher, who is now out on bail. The two share a corner of a property line in this upscale, gated community in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

But the motive remains a mystery. Why would a fellow physician assault a senator, a man who's lived next door for 17 years? They even worked together in the past.

One person who used to work with Boucher tells CNN they were surprised to hear the news about Boucher. That nothing in his past indicated he would do something like this.

Boucher is a Democrat, his Facebook page reportedly filled with anti- Trump postings. It has since been deleted. But his attorney insisted to CNN affiliate WBKO politics had nothing to do with this.

MATTHEW BAKER, ATTORNEY FOR RENE BOUCHER (via telephone): It was absolutely not planned out beforehand. It had -- it -- you know, I've seen a couple of media spots that would tend to suggest that it was politically motivated. That is absolutely and unequivocally untrue.

It's just a very, very hugely regrettable incident that would not happen again in a million years.

GRIFFIN: In a statement to CNN, Boucher's attorney, Matthew Baker, added -- it was a very regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial. We sincerely hope that Senator Paul is doing well, and that these two gentlemen can get back to being neighbors as quickly as possible.

Boucher, a retired anesthesiologist, invented something called the Therm-a-Vest in the mid-2000s to help people with back pain. The business website is now defunct.

And Paul, himself, through a representative, says he is not talking. But on Sunday, he posted on Twitter -- I appreciate the overwhelming support after Friday's unfortunate event. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: And, Wolf, while this may be just a trivial matter over this blowing of leaves back and forth over property line, Mr. Boucher could actually face felony charges if those injuries of Senator Rand Paul are deemed serious enough.

We've also learned the FBI is involved just making sure this was not political. Of course, if it is political and this is an attack on a U.S. senator because of his politics, that could bring in federal charges, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly could. All right. We'll stay on top of it together with you. Appreciate it very much. Drew Griffin reporting from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

[17:54:56] Coming up, there's breaking news. The gunman who killed 27 people at a small Texas church had a history of domestic violence.

Investigators are now learning he was obsessed with a family dispute, was interested in mass shootings, so what set him off?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. The killer's texts. We're learning more about the threatening messages sent by the Texas church gunman, including one to his mother-in-law shortly before the deadly rampage.

Also tonight, new questions emerging about how he was able to obtain guns, given his history of violence.

[17:59:56] Not blaming guns. President Trump responds to the shooting during his trip to Asia, focusing in on the killer's mental health problems not his weapons. Is there any political incentive to consider gun control in the Trump era?