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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Steps Up Attacks On Rep. Cummings And Baltimore; Trump Names Inexperienced Loyalist For DNI; Interview With Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) On Trump And His Cabinet; 107 House Democrats Support Impeachment Inquiry; Harris Releases Medicare for All Plan, Drawing Criticism From The Biden And Sanders Campaign; Police: Gunman Used Assault-Type Rifle To Attack Festival; Russian Opposition Leader Suggests He Was Poisoned In Custody. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 29, 2019 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, Trump's new feud: President Trump is escalating his attack on powerful Congressman Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore after a series of racially charged tweets called Cummings' district a "rat-infested mess" and now there's a new target, activist Al Sharpton.

What is the president up to?

Coats' tail: the president picked an inexperienced loyalist congressman for the powerful job of Director of National Intelligence to replace Dan Coats, the respected former Republican senator, who openly contradicted the president on Russia and North Korea.

Killer's motive: police identified the gunman who they say opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, killing three people and wounding a dozen others.

Do ominous social media posts quoting from a white supremacist book give a strong clue to his motive?

And it is debatable: as Democratic presidential candidates prepare for two nights of debates, right here on CNN, they're fighting among themselves over health care.

Will Medicare for All be the hot topic during the debates?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in Detroit and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: We're in Detroit, where we're counting down to tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. We're in the Spin Room, which tomorrow night will be filled with candidates and their surrogates to try to influence opinion after the debate. But we're also following other major stories. President Trump is stepping up his attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore, parts of which are in Cummings' district.

After racially charged weekend tweets, a rant in which he called the city a "rat and rodent-infested mess," where "no human being would want to live," the president is calling Oversight Committee Chairman, Elijah Cummings "King Elijah" and calling African-American activist Al Sharpton a "con man."

Also tonight, the president plans to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats with Republican congressman John Ratcliffe. While Coats is experienced and independent and has contradicted the president on Russia's election attack, Ratcliffe is a Trump loyalist who scored points with the president by attacking former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

And even Republican senators have given the pick a tepid response. I'll speak with Congressman Don Beyer of the House Ways and Means Committee and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown.

Pamela, the president is going after an African-American congressman and his city.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That is right, Wolf. He's also now going after an African-American activist in addition to Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Using the word "infested" to describe his hometown, a word he used just recently to describe the countries where he said four minority congresswomen should go back to. But tonight as the president fuels racial division, the president's defenders vow he's not a racist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight President Trump expanding his attacks against Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings, to include activist Al Sharpton.

Trump tweeting, Cummings district "has the worst crime statistics in the nation, 25 years of all talk, no action, adding, "so tired of listening to the same old bull."

The feud with Cummings began Saturday when the president peppered the Oversight Committee chair with tweets, calling Cummings a racist and claiming his district is the most dangerous anywhere in the U.S. and "no human being would want to live there" and a "rat-infested mess."

Cummings fired back, saying he goes to his district every day and fights for his constituents. Cummings recently subpoenaed Trump's family and complained about the administration's handling of the border crisis. Trump is going after Democratic activist Reverend Al Sharpton for

supporting Cummings, saying, "Next Reverend Al will show up to complain and protest," adding, "Sharpton is just a con man at work."

Sharpton was also quick to fire back.

AL SHARPTON, FOUNDER, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I know Donald Trump. He's not mature enough to take criticism. He can't help it. As far as me being a con man, if he really thought I was a con man, he would be nominating me for his cabinet.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN (voice-over): Noticeably quiet in the feud is close Trump ally and long-time friend of Elijah Cummings, Congressman Mark Meadows. Cummings has previously come to Meadows' defense during a public hearing when he was accused of being racist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Of all of the people on this committee, I've said it and got in trouble for it, that you're one of my best friends. I know --

[17:05:00]

CUMMINGS: -- that shocks a lot of people.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): And likewise, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes. But you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN (voice-over): Today Meadows ignored CNN's shouted question off camera about the matter when he was at the White House for a bill signing. Then his chief of staff defending his boss, saying he isn't a racist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "No human being would want to live there."

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When Donald Trump attacks people --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is being perceived as racist.

Do you understand why?

MULVANEY: I understand why. But that doesn't mean that it's racist. The president is pushing back against what he sees as wrong --

BROWN (voice-over): All of this amid a shake-up involving the president's Director of National Intelligence. The current director, Dan Coats, now out. Trump's choice to replace him, Texas Republican congressman John Ratcliffe, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, who has less than five years of national security experience and who Trump once thought was too nice, according to sources, until he aggressively questioned the former special counsel Robert Mueller last week.

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX), DNI NOMINEE: I agreed with the chairman this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He's not. But he damn sure shouldn't be below the law --

BROWN (voice-over): "The New York Times" is reporting Senate intel chair Richard Burr, among other Republicans, have privately expressed concern Ratcliffe is too political for the bipartisan post.

And in a statement, Burr said he will move swiftly to confirm Ratcliffe and says he hopes to work with DNI principal deputy Sue Gordon in the interim.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now I've asked the White House for clarification on why Sue Gordon hasn't been the acting DNI chief and I'm waiting to hear back. Meantime, Congressman Meadows provided a statement that was read on Jake Tapper's show, where he said he doesn't believe either Elijah Cummings or Donald Trump is a racist.

But even as allies of the president defend him as not being a racist, his tweets are stirring racial divide and putting some of his allies like Meadows in a tough spot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who is monitoring this.

So what do we know about Congressman Ratcliffe, what does he bring to the possibility if he's confirmed as the Director of National Intelligence?

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a much shorter resume than previous directors of National Intelligence. Look at James Clapper, he served in intelligence for 50 years and previously had been the director of one of the 17 intel agencies that the DNI oversees.

You look even at the other directors of agencies today; Paul Nakasone, director of the NSA, was prior commander of Cyber Command and commander of U.S. 2nd Army.

And Gina Haspel has been at the CIA for decades so to have a congressman relatively inexperienced who served just a few months on the House Intelligence Committee doesn't match up in terms of experience. And it raises the question, as CNN is reporting, that would truly impress the president who had reservations about Ratcliffe, was his performance in the Mueller testimony just last Wednesday and his comments often echoing the president's own critiques of the Russia investigation.

Listen to here. RATCLIFFE: The Mueller Report and its conclusions weren't from Robert Mueller. They were written by what a lot of people believe was Hillary Clinton's de facto legal team, people that supported her, even represented some of her aides.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Bob Mueller pushed back against that and said that politics played no role in his choice of the many deputies and lawyers on the investigative team that he chose purely for competence.

Another point, the DNI was created after 9/11 to help coordinate intelligence sharing among the agencies but also to help prevent politicizing intelligence or at least concerns about it.

Of course there were all of those concerns about the use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. Politics have very much been separated from this position by design. And that is why you're hearing reservations, not just from Democrats but from Republican lawmakers.

BLITZER: What does this tell us, Jim, about the way the president sees his chief intelligence leader, the man who is supposed to bring him the daily national security intelligence briefings?

SCIUTTO: It raises the question as to whether the president wants someone in that role who is willing to bring him information and intelligence he doesn't want -- he doesn't want to hear.

We know from reporting that Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, instructed a former DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, not to bring up intelligence about Russian interference in the 2016 election because that was not a topic the president wanted to hear about, even as we know that Russia again attempted to interfere in 2018 and will do so again in 2020.

And that raises questions about what the president wants from the role. Remember Dan Coats a year ago, perhaps when he put one of the first nails in his coffin as DNI, said he will remain in the role as long as he could speak truth to the president and we knew he did that on occasion, particularly with regard to the Russia investigation, to a degree the president was not comfortable with.

So this raises the question about how the president sees this role. We know --

[17:10:00]

SCIUTTO: -- what the intention of this role was when it was created. It may be that the president has a different view.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Sciutto, reporting for us. Jim, thank you very much.

Congressman Don Beyer is joining us, he's a Democrat and a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Congressman, I want to get all these issues involving the Director of National Intelligence but let me get your reaction to what the president said over the weekend about your Democratic colleague, Elijah Cummings, the tweets that he posted about Cummings and Baltimore.

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA): Just absolutely reprehensible. I keep hearing back to, "Have you no decency?"

Elijah Cummings has been an extraordinary public servant. I think it is terrible to mock him by calling him King Elijah and it's remarkable that every time Trump talks about "rat-infested," he's talking about a member -- either a city of color or a member of color.

It's -- you know, he's the president for Baltimore and for Maryland, too. He should be bringing us together rather than attacking us and driving us apart.

BLITZER: You know, it is really pretty significant because presumably at least a lot of political pundits suggest the president believes these kind of attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings will help him politically.

Do you think they will?

BEYER: I certainly hope not. He's racist but I really don't want to believe that America is racist. It certainly is a terrible long-term strategy. Even if it would help somebody in one election, it divides our nation on the worst possible -- on the nation -- on the matter of color alone.

Again, we need healers to lead us, not people who bring out the worst in each of us.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the Republican colleague, John Ratcliffe, the president's expected nominee to become the next Director of National Intelligence.

Do you believe he is qualified?

BEYER: Absolutely not. I was horrified by the distortions in his presentation with Mueller last week. And it is terrible to think that because he made a splash on national television that he's now qualified to be DNI.

Dan Coats was a remarkable leader, a Republican but a long-time senator and Intelligence Committee; who was ambassador to Germany for three or four years. He had the insight on intelligence for decades before he was appointed to that position.

As Jim Sciutto pointed out, for the other leaders in our community, so to take somebody like John Ratcliffe, I don't think he's a bad guy but he was a prosecutor for a couple of years and a member of Congress. There is no way he has the background to lead DNI.

BLITZER: When Congressman Ratcliffe questioned Robert Mueller the other day, he said he agreed that Russia interfered in 2016 but then he said this -- and let me read it. "I want to find out if Russia interfered with our election by

providing false information through sources to Christopher Steele about a Trump conspiracy that you determined didn't exist."

Does it sound, Congressman, like Ratcliffe accepts the conclusion from Mueller and the intelligence community that the Russians interfered to help Donald Trump?

Does Ratcliffe need to be asked about that?

BEYER: He does need to be asked about that. And if he thinks that Russia interfered, I wish he would talk to Senator Mitch McConnell and let the Senate proceed with all of these good bills to help prevent Russian interference in 2020 and 2022.

BLITZER: On FOX News this Sunday, Ratcliffe said the Mueller report was effectively written by, quote, "Hillary Clinton's de facto legal team."

Do you think he could be confirmed if he doesn't believe the findings of the Mueller report are legitimate?

BEYER: Well, I don't think he should be confirmed, period. But yes, I think that is a reasonable thing. I'm also so glad that Bob Mueller fought back right away and pointed out that -- that is a ridiculous statement.

There are one or two or three people on the whole defense team that had given to Democrats in the past. This was not a Hillary Clinton defense team at all.

BLITZER: Let's turn to impeachment. There is a big debate among Democrats, now 106 of your colleagues support opening some impeachment inquiry. On Friday, members of the House Judiciary Committee said what they would do -- what they are doing is already an impeachment investigation.

Do you think there is a real difference?

BEYER: Oh, I think the investigation is the first major step in the inquiry. I've come out for inquiry. That number is growing every single day. I think we added a number right after the Mueller hearings. And some people push back and say why impeach if its dead on arrival in Mitch McConnell's Senate?

But we just passed a $15 minimum wage; we've passed preserving the pre-exclusion for health care benefit and meaningful immigration reform and universal background checks and we've done a lot of stuff that is dead at the feet of Mitch McConnell. But that doesn't prevent us from trying to make the most perfect union we can.

BLITZER: Do you --

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: -- need that full House of Representatives to formally vote to begin an impeachment inquiry?

BEYER: I do not believe so. I think that is up to the committee chair, specifically the chairman of Judiciary. I don't think that Nancy Pelosi as our Speaker will move aggressively until we get to a working majority, at least among the Democrats.

I was glad to have Justin Amash on board. We'd certainly like to get more Republicans who are aghast at the president's behavior and the crimes he's done in the past and his divisiveness to come on board with us.

BLITZER: You serve on the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman. You filed a lawsuit to get the president's tax returns. Now his lawyers are asking a D.C. federal court to block House Democrats from getting his state tax returns. But your committee hasn't gone that route.

So how do you interpret this move by the president?

BEYER: Oh, I think he's afraid. My understanding is that New York has gone forward and gotten the returns that he's filed in New York. Obviously, we would love to see them but our chairman, Richie Neal, is following the law carefully. This law, 6103, dating back to 1924, gives Ways and Means the right to ask for his tax return but not necessarily the New York returns.

So we're fighting this in the courts. We may lose a battle or two but I'm confident we're going to win in the end at the Supreme Court level, just because the law is clear.

BLITZER: Congressman Don Beyer, thank you so much for joining us.

BEYER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, as we count down to this week's Democratic presidential debates right here on CNN, the candidates are squabbling among themselves over health care, especially the idea of Medicare for All.

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: We're back here in Detroit in the Spin Room, where the candidates and their surrogates will gather after the CNN presidential debates tomorrow and Wednesday night. Certainly a lot of news to cover today, including President Trump's continuing his feud with Baltimore and Democratic leaders of the African-American community.

And in a series of tweets over the weekend, the president criticized Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, calling his Baltimore area district -- and I'm quoting the president now -- a "rat and rodent- infested mess." Let's bring in our political experts to discuss.

Nia, is the president using this, going on the offensive, going after Elijah Cummings, going after Baltimore, to try to change the subject from the Mueller testimony?

Because increasingly a bunch of more Democrats are now supporting some sort of impeachment procedure.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that is right. You have seen a handful of additional Democrats come out and say that they want to at least open up some sort of inquiry into the president and possibly impeachment inquiry.

But I think this is also part of the main attraction for this White House and part of the main attraction of his re-election campaign, stoking racial division, stoking a culture war between urban areas and rural areas, perhaps suburban areas and city areas.

So that is what we've seen. It's echoes 2016 and of 2012 when he was teasing a run for the presidency and talking about birtherism. This is what we'll get from this president going forward.

But sure, I do think he often practices the art of distraction. But I think with this, this is going to be part of the main ingredient of his campaign because he thinks it stokes enthusiasm. It binds his base emotionally in many ways as he talks about identity and who belongs here and who doesn't. So I think this is what we'll see from this campaign.

BLITZER: Let me read, April, a bit of the Boston -- "The Baltimore Sun" editorial board reaction to what the president was tweeting over the weekend. This is from "The Baltimore Sun" editorial board.

Quote, "While we would not sink to name calling in the Trumpian manner or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman's name correctly" -- it's Cummings, not Cumming -- "we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women's private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are good people among murderous neo-Nazis, that he's still not fooling most Americans into believing he's even slightly competent in his current post or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one," closed quote.

You're from Baltimore and you still live in Baltimore.

What is your response?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In the Baltimore area. "The Baltimore Sun," bravo. They got it right.

This is such a punch in the gut. This is something that a lot of people are really trying to digest. I mean, just personally, like I said, I'm from the Baltimore area, I've had doctors call me, I've had preachers, my pastor call me. They can't believe this.

These are people who are helping in the community. And now this. And I'm trying to find out what is next. From Congressman Cummings and from the Congressional Black Caucus because this is an urban area. And I talked to the head --

[17:25:00]

RYAN: -- of the Congressional Black Caucus, who happens to be in Ghana for the 400th anniversary of the -- well, commemoration of the first slaves coming to this country. I talked to Karen Bass and she said we're waiting -- when we get back, we're going to talk to Congressman Cummings and see what he suggests.

This is a real issue. And the president is not -- his hands are not clean in this. He is the president of the United States. He can come in with some kind of emergency order to do something.

I mean, I think back, Wolf, remember Katrina. George W. Bush dealt with those communities and cities in urban areas or areas, rural areas, that were affected by Katrina. They were held in a special category.

Then you had Barack Obama deal with the city of Detroit. You know, Detroit was placed in a special category. Now, Mr. President, it is time for to you do that about Baltimore instead of talking about the rodents and the infestation there.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, does the president believe his rhetoric will help solidify his base and is that a good assessment on his part?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly believes that and we'll find out if it is going to work or not. This is a pattern that we've seen again and again.

Our colleague, Victor Blackwell, counted over the weekend the number of times the president has used the word "infested." So he believes this is language that comes naturally to Donald J. Trump.

The difference is now he's president Donald Trump and that is why it carries so much more magnitude and we'll see if it works or not. I think certainly among his base, he knows that this is a way to fire them up and things.

The question is the exhaustion factor among voters of all stripes, of many stripes.

What does that do?

Do people just tune out of politics overall?

And that could be a win for the president as well here. So I think buckle up. This is largely what is going to be happening over the next 16 months or so. We'll see if it works. We don't know now if it will or not.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, you wrote that if the president loses next year in 2020, this will be why.

Why do you say that.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It goes to the point Jeff was making. I think that there is a limit to what people are willing to tolerate, even if they like some of the things that he's done, there is a recognition that this is -- to live at a 10 all of the time with the president of the United States issuing these divisive, racist kind of grenades, launching them time and time again, picking fights with tantrums on Twitter that engulf everyone, it makes it very, very tough as a country to get anything done.

And I think that the real question people -- you know, Reagan said, are you better off now than you were four years ago. The question people will have to ask themselves in 2020 is can we take another four years of this?

BLITZER: But the economy is very good.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That is an important issue.

AXELROD: It is a very important issue and it's an asset for him but instead he's talking about this. And I think that frustrates a lot of Republican politicians.

But I think one of the things we should note is that his rating on the economy and people's sense of the economy is much higher than their estimation of him. And I think the reason for that is his personal behavior.

BLITZER: You think this is going to continue between now and November of 2020, this kind of assault?

HENDERSON: I think that is right. If we look back to 2015, as he was launching his campaign, this is the kind of rhetoric he employed throughout his campaign and the whole idea of building the wall and banning Muslims.

And those are the chants that got the loudest applause, became a chant, obviously the build the wall idea. And so, yes, I think he thinks it works. As you said, it comes to him instinctually. This is who he's been for many decades.

If you go back to his history, even in New York, this is who he is, this is where he lives. He gets feedback and sort of support from the chattering classes of conservatives, whether it is on FOX or Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart and it also goes back to something Steve Bannon talked about as well, the idea if you get Democrats having to talk about race and racism, they feel like they're on good ground.

We don't know if that is the case.

Who do you alienate, as David talked about, by focusing on this so much? ZELENY: And experience on the eve of the debates, the president I think is really just trying to program everything. His background is in television and entertainment, by announcing the revival of the federal death penalty last week, on the eve of these debates. By having this conversation on the eve of this debate, he does, indeed, try to program the conversation.

It will be interesting as we see Democratic candidates here; of course, they want to talk about a lot of other things. We don't know if this is going to work or not. But among his voters, he believes it will. Of course, the voters in the middle, who elections ride on, we'll see if it --

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: -- jiu-jitsu as a strategy and turn his negative energy against him, if you get into a tit-for-tat with the president, negative energy against negative energy, he's always got more force than you.

[17:30:00] RYAN: But he's injected himself into this debate by talking about Baltimore. Baltimore is every city. And Baltimore is Philadelphia, Baltimore is Atlanta that he's talked about. Baltimore is Chicago, Baltimore is Flint, Baltimore is Detroit.

And not only that, I'm thinking back to something that you said -- you know, talking about what Reagan said, but I'm thinking about what the President said when he was running for president the first time. What do you have to lose?

BLITZER: Everybody --

RYAN: What do you have to lose, Wolf?

BLITZER: Everybody stand by because there is a lot more we need to discuss. We're here in Detroit. The Democratic presidential debates tomorrow night and Wednesday night. We're here in the spin room. We'll be right back.

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[17:35:16] BLITZER: We're back with our experts in the spin room near the site of the CNN presidential debates here in Detroit. Amid preparations for her appearance Wednesday night, Senator Kamala Harris, today, released details of her Medicare for All health care plan, and it drew immediate criticism from both the Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders campaigns.

Let's go to our Senior National Correspondent, Kyung Lah. Kyung, tell us more.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, immediately, what this does is, according to Senator Harris, if she does become president, she envisions that it would essentially scale up Medicare as we know it in 2019. So, here's a look at the details. It does preserve a single-payer option, a government-run option,

traditional Medicare as we know it, but it also has an option for private insurance. So, if you get your insurance through your employer, if your employer decides to offer it, you could stay with that private insurance, but it would be regulated by the federal government.

The Harris plan envisions that it would look for Medicare Advantage, which is something that about a third of Medicare enrollees take part in. It is different from Sanders in that Senator Sanders wants to eliminate all private insurance.

So, how would she pay for it? She says that she would not tax households that make less than $100,000. There would be a progressive tax that starts once you hit over $100,000 in your tax plan -- in your household income. Again, different from Bernie Sanders because he would start his tax at $29,000.

So, the criticism started right away, the opposition. The Bernie Sanders camp saying, quote, you can't call this Medicare for All. Joe Biden's team saying, quote, this looks like they're trying to unravel the ACA. And the Republican National Committee is saying that looking at when she would start her tax hike, well, it's a lot like unicorns and magic wands, that being a quote.

We should point out she's releasing it on the day before the debate, Wolf. Certainly, throwing down the gauntlet, saying here is what I believe, now bring it.

BLITZER: Are policy rollouts, Kyung, like this one part of preparing for tomorrow night's debate?

LAH: A little bit, but, you know, when you try to sort of draw that out from the Senator, just asking what else is she doing, she's been very mum. What we did see from her today is she did do a couple of retail stops. She went out -- she took a coffee break, if you will, with a bunch of campaign reporters trailing her. And what she said as we try to ask her what she was doing to prepare, she kept it quite lighthearted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your mission in this debate specifically? I mean, going off from your health care answer there.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do not mess up.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: My mother raised me to be polite and I intend to be polite. I will express differences and articulate them and I -- and certainly point out where we have differences of opinion because I believe that Democrats and the American voter have a right to know that. But there is no reason we can't be polite.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LAH: And the usage of that word, "polite," is in response to what Joe

Biden said last week saying, Wolf, that he will not be so polite in the debate this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kyung, thank you very much. Kyung Lah, reporting for us.

You know, Nia, after the first debate, Senator Kamala Harris, she got a nice little bump.

HENDERSON: She did.

BLITZER: Do you anticipate she'll get another bump tomorrow?

HENDERSON: Yes, it depends on how she does. She got about a seven- point bounce. She was up to number two in our debate right behind Joe Biden. I think she had 19 points or something. She's at about 12 points now in this latest Quinnipiac poll.

That has always been the question about Kamala Harris. When she got some momentum, could she sustain it? We see now that this was a post- debate bounce, and she hasn't been able to sustain it. You see her trying now to stake out ground where she's to the left of Joe Biden and to the right of Bernie Sanders on any number of issues.

The question about that is that sort of no woman's land. And is it too mushy? Is it not clear enough in terms of what kind of presidency, what kind of administration would a Kamala Harris administration be? Obviously, Joe Biden trying to stake out the centrist lane and Sanders, as well as Warren, trying to say that's -- stake out the progressive lane.

AXELROD: Well, we should --

HENDERSON: We'll see how she does on Wednesday. If she's going to be attacking who.

AXELROD: We should also point out, she's trying to staunch the bleeding here --

HENDERSON: Yes.

AXELROD: -- on an issue that's been very, very tough for her, Medicare for All. She's had -- been on both sides of this, whether she was going to eliminate private insurance or not and joined Sanders. She's signed on to his bill.

She's been attacked for that, so I think she needed to establish what her position is before this debate. And even so, I expect this will be a point of contention. She may hope for politeness; she may have a better chance of passing Medicare for All.

(LAUGHTER)

[17:40:03] BLITZER: Let me show our viewers the new Quinnipiac University poll. This is national numbers, presidential -- Democratic presidential candidates. And you see -- we'll put it up on the screen -- Biden has got a nice lead, 34 percent; Warren, 15; Harris, 12; Sanders, 11; Buttigieg, six. Everybody else, way, way down.

ZELENY: Way, way down. Look, for Joe Biden, it shows that he has had a pretty successful July nationally. He's had a much more aggressive phase two of his campaign, if you will, doing a lot of interviews, doing a lot of policy speeches. Of course, he was trying to gain up ground from, you know, his pretty lackluster Miami performance.

But David is absolutely right about Kamala Harris. I believe that she, of course, is trying to articulate her position because she has had several of them on health care. Now, she finds herself in a -- it is the center but she'll be, you know, defending attacks on both sides here, so how she responds to that is interesting.

But inside this poll, very interesting, Joe Biden, the former Vice President, still has the majority of support, some 53 percent, from African-American voters.

RYAN: Yes.

ZELENY: That is a key block in this primary race here. So, to me, what I think is the most telling, not this 34 percent, this is a fleeting number. We have to look at early state polls. He still holds the majority of African-American voters. And for him, that is what he is going to need if he is going to weather what sure is to be a tough week for him as well.

BLITZER: Because the -- in the early voting, in the early states like South Carolina, the African-American vote is critical.

RYAN: Yes. Critical, yes. And it's interesting -- you just brought up South Carolina. Kamala Harris, I talked to her a couple of weeks ago at the Essence Festival, the place where -- the largest gathering of African-Americans in the nation annually, and I said, you know, your numbers in the Black communities still aren't where they should be.

And she was keenly aware that Barack Obama's numbers weren't all there at first, but South Carolina was the pivotal point for him when all of that kerfuffle with Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson happened. But also, what really put Obama over the top was Iowa, so --

AXELROD: Absolutely.

RYAN: Right, right. So, I don't know how the stars will line up for her if they can line up, but she's banking on, you know, what happened in the past for Obama. It could happen for her.

BLITZER: Because right now, Biden does the best among the African- American voters.

AXELROD: Yes, and Barack Obama is largely the reason for it. He chose Biden as his running mate, and that is considered a certification on the part of a lot of --

BLITZER: Why doesn't he endorse --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why doesn't he endorse him?

AXELROD: He's -- you'd have to ask him that, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know but --

RYAN: He's waiting and he's got friends --

AXELROD: I'm not here as his spokesperson.

RYAN: He's got friends. All of them are friends.

AXELROD: I'm here for CNN.

BLITZER: Because he picked him. He thought he was best qualified to be president of the United States.

(LAUGHTER)

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: I think one of the reasons is -- and I've done a lot of reporting around this, the fact is, an endorsement certainly would be helpful, but it's not going to be determinative. And President Obama knows he has to sit this one out.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: I mean, he has not ruled out endorsing entirely but, certainly, in this phase of the campaign. But Joe Biden knows he has to win this on his own, without a question.

RYAN: He's got to earn it. He's got to earn it.

ZELENY: And so, I think even though he's coming in with high numbers, boy, he has a lot on the line here because he's been telegraphing a lot of attacks that he's going to be doing.

RYAN: Yes.

AXELROD: Yes.

ZELENY: If he does not articulate those --

HENDERSON: Deliver, yes.

AXELROD: I mean, the words that --

ZELENY: -- or deliver those as well as his aides are, that is going to become matted for him.

AXELROD: The words that he used in the debate were less important last time than the body language. He seemed a step behind. HENDERSON: And the President's clap back.

AXELROD: And what he really needs to do in this debate is be engaged --

RYAN: To clap back.

AXELROD: -- interactive and kind of be commanding in the center of the debate.

ZELENY: No decaf.

RYAN: To clap back.

ZELENY: Maybe a cup of caffeinated coffee.

BLITZER: Come out swinging. All right, everybody, stick around. There's a lot more news we're following, the urgent search for clues behind the deadly attack on a food festival in California.

[17:43:32] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, there are disturbing new clues about the gunman who opened fire at a festival in California. Police say he used an assault-type rifle and killed three people before officers shot and killed him. CNN's Dan Simon has the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, police identifying the shooter in the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting as 19- year-old Santino William Legan.

SCOT SMITHEE, CHIEF OF POLICE, GILROY POLICE DEPARTMENT: The suspect engaged the officers and fired at the officers with that rifle, and I had three officers that engaged the suspect.

SIMON (voice-over): Police also revealing the weapon used in the attack.

SMITHEE: The rifle that this suspect used was an SKS. It was an AK- 47 type assault rifle. It was purchased legally in the state of Nevada on July the 9th of this year.

SIMON (voice-over): Before the shooting, posted on Instagram, under an account bearing the shooter's name, mention of a friend's White supremacist book. The caption reads, why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make more room for hordes of mestizo and Silicon Valley expletives? The post features an image of Smokey the Bear and talks of high fire danger today. And in another, a picture of the garlic festival.

According to police, Legan bypassed security by cutting through a fence and then went on a rampage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looked like he just wanted to shoot at everyone. He didn't have no direct target. He just wanted to be shooting everywhere.

SIMON (voice-over): Officers killed the shooter about a minute after he opened fire, but not before he injured 12 and killed three.

SMITHEE: Despite the fact that they were outgunned with their handguns against a rifle, those three officers were able to fatally wound that suspect, and the event ended very quickly.

SIMON (voice-over): A 13-year-old girl, Keyla Salazar; a man in his 20s, Trevor Irby; and six-year-old Steven Romero were among those killed.

[17:49:57] ALBERTO ROMERO, FATHER OF STEVEN ROMERO: I couldn't believe what was happening, that what was she was saying was a lie. Maybe I was dreaming. They told me he was in critical condition, that they were working on him. And then five minutes later, they told me that he was dead.

SIMON (voice-over): Police have not identified a clear motive for the shooting, and they're still chasing leads on a possible second suspect.

SMITHEE: We certainly are investigating all leads to try to determine who that potential second suspect is and what exactly that person's role was.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: And once again, the gun used was purchased legally in the state of Nevada earlier this month. Such weapons, assault-style weapons, cannot be bought or imported legally into the state of California, which further highlights the major gun divide that we have in this country.

And, Wolf, I just want to point out where we are. We are in a parking lot that was used by volunteers to park their vehicles. And you can still see lots of cars in the lot. They had to flee so quickly that they couldn't even grab their cars. Wolf, we'll send it back to you.

BLITZER: Awful situation. Dan Simon, thanks very much.

Other news we're following, days after being arrested and jailed as part of a crackdown on protesters, a top critic of Vladimir Putin is strongly suggesting he was poisoned while in custody. Our Brian Todd has been looking into that for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Alexei Navalny is pointing the blame squarely at the Kremlin for an allergic reaction he had while in jail. Putin's government isn't saying much, but analysts say given Vladimir Putin's track record and what Navalny was just arrested for, something nefarious could very well have occurred.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He is one of Vladimir Putin's worst enemies, a thorn in the side of the Russian strongman. The opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has led protests and called for Putin to be ousted. But tonight, through his attorney, he says he was the victim of Putin's ultimate form of payback -- poison.

OLGA MIKHAILOVA, PERSONAL ATTORNEY OF ALEXEI NAVALNY (through translator): He really was poisoned by some unidentified chemical agent.

TODD (voice-over): Navalny was arrested last week after he called for protests in Moscow. Once in jail, he says he suffered an allergic reaction and was hospitalized even though he says he's never had allergies.

Today, he was released from the hospital and sent back to detention, all under the watchful eye of a Russian security officer. His personal doctor says there was a chemical substance introduced into his body that caused the reaction, but a hospital official denies the accusation.

ELENA SIBIKINA, HEAD OF THE INTERNAL MEDICINE DEPARTMENT, CITY CLINICAL HOSPITAL NO. 64 OF MOSCOW (through translator): Nothing of what you spoke about has been proven.

TODD (voice-over): Navalny is no stranger to Putin's rap. He's been arrested by Putin at least 15 times and was once attacked with an antiseptic green die that he says damaged his vision in one eye.

Despite his arrest, the protests Navalny called for last week still brought thousands on to the streets of Moscow over the weekend where Putin's forces cracked down and arrested more than 1,300 people.

ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, "DEATH OF A DISSIDENT: THE POISONING OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO AND THE RETURN OF THE KGB": It is quite possible and actually very probable that they did something out of spite to Navalny who actually was the first one to call for a protest.

TODD (voice-over): Navalny called for the protests because of a decision by election authorities to bar several opposition candidates from running for Moscow's city council, a seemingly minor position but one, experts say, Putin and his cronies still control.

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL: They don't want any outside political forces making their way on to any part of the election ladder, even a Moscow city council.

TODD (voice-over): The Russian President himself wasn't in town, electing instead to preside over a huge parade on the water in Saint Petersburg staged by the Russian Navy.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TODD (voice-over): But analysts say despite being miles away, Putin could have easily ordered Navalny to be punished, especially given the fate of some of Putin's other enemies. Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned and nearly killed last year in Great Britain with a powerful nerve agent, Novichok. British authorities tied to the Kremlin.

And in 2006, former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko, who had dug up information tying Putin to organized crime, was killed in London when someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into his tea.

Navalny has been on a campaign to expose the alleged corruption of Putin and his cronies, which analysts say is the biggest threat to the former KGB colonel.

MENDELSON: There's a lot of anxiety around Putin's succession around the elites that are around Putin, and I think there is a sense of, is everybody going to hang together? Is there loyalty if somebody dissents? Is the deck of cards going to come down? So, I think that this -- they're in an era of anxiety.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: As for all the poisonings, Vladimir Putin has consistently denied involvement, calling the accusations unfounded -- Wolf.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks very much.

Coming up, President Trump steps up his attack on powerful Congressman Elijah Cummings and his city of Baltimore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, picking a fight. President Trump escalates his racially charged attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings and expands them to include the Reverend Al Sharpton. Does the President think that going after minority lawmakers will boost his chance of re- election?

[18:00:07] Coats checked.