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THE SITUATION ROOM

Dan Coats' Replacement; Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); President Trump Continues Racist Attacks; Democratic Presidential Candidates Get Set For Second Debate; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Talks With CNN Ahead Of Debate; Candidates Roll Out New Policy Plans Ahead Of The CNN Democratic Presidential Debates; Trump Names Congressional Loyalist For Intel Chief But Pick Draws Tepid Response From GOP Senators; Democrats Hoping To Reclaim Michigan From Trump; Police: Gunman Killed Two Children, One Adult With Assault-Style Rifle at Northern California Festival. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 29, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Does the president think that going after minority lawmakers will boost his chance of reelection?

Coats checked. The president moves to replace the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, with Texas Congressman and Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe. But, tonight, his lack of intelligence experience is getting some Republican lawmakers pause.

Motivated by hate? New details of the California festival shooting that left three people dead, including two children and a dozen people injured. Now investigators are revealing new information about the gunman, his weapon and how he carried out his murderous spree.

And no holds barred. We're counting down to the CNN Democratic presidential debates and the high-stakes showdown among 20 White House hopefuls. A new poll just out tonight shows who's gaining ground in the White House race and who's slipping.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Detroit. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're live here in Detroit in the spin room, which tomorrow night will be filled with candidates and their surrogates trying to influence opinion after the first of our two CNN Democratic presidential debates.

But, first, other news were following, including President Trump escalating and expanding his Twitter attacks on another African- American lawmaker, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings.

And now the president is trolling the Reverend Al Sharpton, who came to Cummings' defense.

Also tonight, a lukewarm response from Republican senators to President Trump's pick to replace National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, who was forced out over the weekend. The president has tapped Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe to replace Coats. Ratcliffe has sharply defended the president against the Mueller report, but has little intelligence experience.

We will talk about that and more with Congressman Ro Khanna of the Oversight and Armed Services committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, the president is making fresh attacks against Congressman Elijah Cummings and his Baltimore district. What's the latest?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump continues to go after Congressman Cummings and what he claims is his infested hometown, a word he used just recently to describe the countries where he said four minority congresswomen should go back to.

I just spoke to a senior White House official, who said Trump's use of the word infested has nothing to do with race and that the president's claim, according to this official, is factually accurate, that Baltimore does have a rat problem.

So, Wolf, even as the president's tweets stoke racial divide, his defenders vow he is 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 all talk no action," adding, "So tired of listening to the same old bull."

The feud with Cummings begin Saturday, when the president peppered the Oversight Committee chair with tweets, calling Cummings a racist, 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, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: 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'd be nominating me for his Cabinet.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Noticeably quiet in the feud is close Trump ally and longtime 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.

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

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

CUMMINGS: Yes, but you are.

BROWN: Today, Meadows ignored CNN's shouted question off-camera about the matter when he was at the White House for a bill signing.

The president's chief of staff defending his boss, saying he isn't a racist.

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": "No human being would want to live there."

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

BRENNAN: 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: All of this amid a shakeup involving the president's director of national intelligence, the current director, Dan Coats, now out.

[18:05:03]

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): I agree 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, which is where volume two of this report puts him.

BROWN: "The New York Times" is reporting Senate Intel Chair Richard Burr, among other Republicans, has privately expressed concern Ratcliffe is too political for the bipartisan post. A source close to Burr denied the claim. In a statement, Burr says 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: And I have asked the White House for clarification why Sue Gordon hasn't been named the acting DNI chief. And I'm waiting to hear back on that.

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

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly are.

Pamela Brown at the White House, thank you.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now and the tepid reaction from GOP senators to President Trump's pick to replace Dan Coats as director of national intelligence.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us with the latest.

Manu, the president wants Republican Congressman Ratcliffe to take over Coats' position. Tell us more.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

He's someone who has not had much experience in the intelligence world. In fact, he just joined the House Intelligence Committee at the beginning of this year and served on the House Judiciary Committee in last Congress, serving as an attack dog of sorts, someone who went after the FBI's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation in 2016 as part of the Republican-led investigation back in the last Congress looking into that matter.

That's how he gained prominence internally. And then, during the Mueller proceedings, he has a sharp line of questioning for the special counsel. That caught the president's eye. That caught other's eyes. And right now, Democrats and Republicans are looking at this nomination, some rather skeptically, including the powerful Republican committee chairman, Richard Burr, who told me he does not know John Ratcliffe, but he looks forward to getting to know him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Any concerns about Mr. Ratcliffe?

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): No, I don't know. I don't know John. But I look forward to getting to know him. RAJU: Are you concerned about Coats not being in that position

anymore?

BURR: I think Dan has served admirably, not just in this capacity, but as ambassador and as a senator. And I'm sure he's looking forward to retirement.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I'm gravely concerned when it appears that the president is trying to look for someone who will be a political loyalist, rather than that independent voice standing up for the intelligence community.

RAJU: Are you going to support Ratcliffe?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): I am.

RAJU: You are?

CORNYN: I am. I know him well.

RAJU: You do?

CORNYN: Yes.

RAJU: You don't have any concerns about his qualifications?

CORNYN: I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So the question, ultimately, is, can he get the votes to be confirmed?

We're very early in this process. There are a lot of questions that members have about his qualifications, about how he would approach key matters and whether or not he would provide intelligence to the president and brought without any filter whatsoever.

And the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, coming off the floor earlier today told our colleague Ted Barrett about John Ratcliffe, "When I have something to say about the nominee, I will let you know" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this said.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a member of the Oversight and Armed Services committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

And I want to get to Congressman Ratcliffe and the whole issue about becoming director of national intelligence in a moment.

But let's start with the president's attack over these past three days on your committee chairman, Elijah Cummings. What went through your mind, Congressman, when you started to read all those tweets?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Wolf, I said he picked the wrong target.

Elijah Cummings is respected not just by Democrats. Mark Meadows respects him. Jim Jordan respects him. He speaks with great moral authority.

And you saw how Elijah Cummings responded to President Trump. He didn't engage in personal insults. He said, Mr. President, I'm still willing to work with you on prescription drugs.

So, this is going to backfire on the president.

BLITZER: The attack follows the racist tweets he directed at four freshman Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.

And, today, the president also attacked the Reverend Al Sharpton, saying he -- quote -- "hates whites."

Is the president's 2020 message working, though, with his base?

KHANNA: No, it's not. He's overplaying his hand.

I know Steve Bannon believes that the more you talk about race, and the more you talk about immigration, it's on the president's turf.

[18:10:03]

But by insulting people that directly, he's offending something very basic about Americans. And this is going to backfire in suburban districts across the country.

So he has really overplayed this. And he has made the attacks something that most Americans cringe at.

BLITZER: As the chairman of the House Oversight Committee -- and it's a powerful committee -- Elijah Cummings has clearly aggravated the president by focusing in on conditions at the border with Mexico, for example.

And now your committee is out with another report on the administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia and the possible transfer of nuclear technology to that country.

What can you tell us about this?

KHANNA: Well, it's very concerning that the administration may have initiated plans to transfer nuclear energy to Saudi Arabia without coming to Congress, without getting any notification or giving notification to Congress.

And they owe the American people an explanation. The problem with the president is, he doesn't understand oversight. Cummings is not -- Chairman Cummings isn't going after the president personally. He's just doing his constitutional duty. BLITZER: The other news, Congressman, we're following, of course, is

the president's decision to nominate Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe to serve as the director of national intelligence.

Do you believe he's qualified?

KHANNA: Well, Wolf, let me be very fair here. I know John Ratcliffe. We actually did a bill together, the IDEA Act, that the president signed.

My view is that he ought to have the opportunity to make his case. But there's serious questions he needs to answer. One, is he going to be an independent voice? Two, what is his background in intelligence? Three, is he going to be able to stand up to this president and talk compellingly about Russian interference?

I believe he should have the opportunity to make his case.

BLITZER: On FOX News this Sunday, Ratcliffe said it's going to be really difficult for anyone to rely on the findings of the Mueller report.

Do you think Ratcliffe can be confirmed if he doesn't believe the findings, for example, of the Mueller report, that those findings are legitimate?

KHANNA: No, I think he has to at least acknowledge that Mueller's conclusions about Russian interference are legitimate.

And he has to assure people that he will take steps to prevent that from happening. I mean, you had Mr. Mueller testifying that the Russians are still interfering.

I can't see how you have a director of intelligence who isn't going to deal with that threat. I think he should have the opportunity to make his case, but he has some very serious questions to answer.

BLITZER: Let's turn to impeachment.

You do not -- at least not yet -- support opening a formal impeachment inquiry. But 107 of your Democratic colleagues do want to take that step.

Is the House Judiciary Committee essentially already conducting an impeachment inquiry?

KHANNA: Here was the big news.

Chairman Nadler has said that he can move to formally start a hearing, an impeachment inquiry, any time he wants. I think they're inching towards that. My expectation is that Chairman Nadler will do that. That doesn't require a House vote.

And I expect, after the court cases are resolved in the next few weeks, where they're seeking the underlying documents, that he will go forward, regardless of a House vote. BLITZER: We're also anticipating, of course, the CNN Democratic

presidential debates here in Detroit.

You serve as co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign. As you know, there's a new Quinnipiac poll that came out today, shows -- showing Bernie Sanders losing ground. He stands at 11 percent right now. That's down from 13 percent earlier in the month.

Does that worry you?

KHANNA: It doesn't, Wolf. I mean, the polls have him in second, some in third. Today's had him tied for third with Kamala Harris.

But the reality is, as long as he's in the top three or four people headed into the fall, he will be fine.

And I remember President Obama was about 15 points below Hillary Clinton, had a good speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa and catapulted into the lead. He's going to be one of the strong contenders. And he's got a very strong ground game in Iowa and New Hampshire and even in South Carolina.

BLITZER: What do you make, Congressman, of Senator Kamala Harris' new health care proposal that she released today? Joe Biden's campaign is calling it a Bernie Sanders-lite Medicare for all.

KHANNA: Well, I think she needs to clarify where she stands.

I mean, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are very clear. They're for Medicare for all. I have to read the details, but I don't think there's been a clear answer.

I hope that she will articulate exactly where she stands. But I think the two people in the race who have clearly committed to Medicare for all are Senator Warren and Senator Sanders.

BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

KHANNA: Wolf, thanks for always having me on.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Do the Democratic candidates risk giving President Trump fuel for attacks? They face off in our CNN -- that they will face off in our presidential debates.

[18:15:04]

Plus, more on the president's new racially charged Twitter attacks and his escalating feud with House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're live here in Detroit in the spin room, which will be filled with candidates and their surrogates tomorrow night, trying to influence opinion after the first of our two CNN Democratic presidential debates. First, let's get some more on President Trump's a new attacks on

Congressman Elijah Cummings now and the Reverend Al Sharpton with our correspondents and our analysts.

[18:20:06]

And, Gloria, is the president successfully doing this in order to change the subject from impeachment? The demand for some sort of impeachment process at least among Democrats is increasing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I guess.

I mean, he always is very good at diverting the conversation into anything he wants. But I think also the president just can't control himself.

And he saw something on FOX News. And he repeated it on Twitter about Elijah Cummings. And then it became larger and larger and larger. And then, as the president always does, he doubled down on it, because that's what he does. He never backs down. He doubles down.

And so what you're seeing are Republicans kind of shielding their eyes and thinking, I wish this hadn't happened, and the president needs to change his tone and all the rest. But they have been a little too circumspect about it, if you ask me.

And the president believes this helps him with his base. And so welcome to 2020.

BLITZER: That's what's happening.

Shawn Turner, what's your response to the president's attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings, the city of Baltimore and now the Reverend Al Sharpton?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Yes, look, it's not unusual to see the president picking a new target and attacking someone.

But I think, in this case, when you think about the language that the president used, it's particularly reprehensible language. It's dehumanizing. It's insulting language.

So when I heard this attack, I just thought for people who come on and say here's what the president was trying to say and suggest that this is something else, that's nonsense.

But we talk a lot about -- and Gloria made this point -- about why the president's doing this and whether or not he's doing this to strengthen his base. I think there's something else going on here.

I think that the president's advisers realize that there's a universe of people out there who may not have voted for the president, but they might quietly share some of the president's views with regards to these kinds of issues. And I think what they're doing is, they're looking at those people and

they're saying, those people are still up for grabs. And as the president kind of doubles down on some of these things, he's kind of saying to those people, look, I can say it. Now you can say.

And these are people who wouldn't normally say, send them back to where they came from. But if the president continues to say it, then those people are going to feel more emboldened. I think that's what they're going after.

BLITZER: David, does the president believe this racially charged kind of rhetoric will shore up his base?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He does. There's no doubt about that.

But you also have to remember the calculation here. This is also going to enliven the Democratic base. So what the president -- you will recall, Wolf, in the closing days of the 2018 midterm election, he was using the caravan that was coming, and that was going to be the thing that got his base very excited.

Well, it didn't seem to work, because independents -- that was more the kind of rhetoric that independents are really turned off from. And they ended up overwhelmingly deserting the president's party and helping the Democrats win the majority.

Now, Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot in the midterms. He is here. He does have a really loyal following. So, yes, he thinks he's going to get his base very excited, motivated to get out there.

But what is amazing to see -- and, again, let's -- I am doing a pure, crass political analysis here, apart from how immoral his comments may be.

What he doesn't seem to factor into the calculation is, how is this behavior going to increase his share of independent voters and not enliven the Democratic base in an equal fashion that makes it harder for him to win the states he needs to win?

So I think it is a very tricky proposition, what he's doing. It also seems to me his campaign believes this is the only path they have to reelection.

BLITZER: Are these racially charged attacks, Arlette, the type of attacks we should anticipate seeing more of as we get into this 2020 race?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, this appears to be a tried and tested strategy for the president. And he keeps turning to this time and time again, whether it's the comments over the weekend or the references to those four female minority members of Congress.

But, as David mentioned, this is going to be effective in energizing Democrats. And you look at Democratic candidates like Joe Biden, who have really centered their campaigns about making this about the president, him making arguments that it's us vs. them.

That's something that gets to the core of their message. And then, going forward, they are hoping that it'll invigorate Democrats to turn out.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by.

We're going to get a lot more.

Elizabeth Warren is now speaking to CNN. We will hear what she has to say, much more, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:29:17]

BLITZER: Before we get back to our correspondents and our analysts here in Detroit, I want to go to our political correspondent, M.J. Lee.

M.J., you have just spoken with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is holding a town hall in Toledo, Ohio. What's her strategy moving into tomorrow?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Elizabeth Warren said that her frame of mind tonight, right before the debates tomorrow, is that she's not looking to have a fight.

She's not looking to have a fight with Bernie Sanders, who she will be standing center stage with and who she is very good friends with and has worked on a lot of issues with. And she says she is not looking to have a fight with eight other candidates who will also be on stage with her, some of whom clearly believe that some of her policy ideas are too far to the left.

But the reality, Wolf, of course, is that there are some major differences between Senator Warren and the vision that she has for the country and many of the other democrats, including on the issue of healthcare.

[18:30:10]

And we just spoke with Senator Warren and got her reaction to Senator Kamala Harris' new healthcare plan, and it is very clear, Wolf, that she does not agree with Senator Harris' plan of keeping a role for private insurance companies. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: So what do you think of her plan?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Well, I haven't seen the details yet, but I support Medicare for all. I think that's how we're going to get coverage for everyone and we're going to do it at the lowest possible cost. Keep in mind, those insurance companies just last year alone sucked $23 billion out of our healthcare system in profits for themselves. And that doesn't even count the CEO's salaries and the big fancy office buildings. And how do they do it? You know what their basic business model is? It's taking as much money as you can on premiums and pay as little out in healthcare coverage as possible. That's just not sustainable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now, we also asked Senator Warren what her day will look like tomorrow, how is she going to prepare for the big night. She says she's going to go for a walk, she is going to read the news, as she always does, and she says that she is not going to do mock debates.

I thought that was really interesting because you might know that she was a high school debate champion, so clearly trying to show that she is confident and that she is really focused on trying to just think through the ideas that she wants to make sure that she is promoting on the debate stage tomorrow. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee reporting for us, M.J., good work, thank you very much.

And as we head into the CNN presidential debates, you know, David, let's talk about the candidates like Senator Kamala Harris rolling out new policy proposals on the eve of the debate. We can see more of this. Why are they doing it right now?

CHALIAN: Well, they do it two-fold, right? I mean, we've seen this in previous debates as well. They do it to mitigate some potential attacks coming their way and they can roll out a policy like Kamala Harris, who has been in different places in answering questions about healthcare. Now, she has a plan that she can just point to and repeat, so trying to mitigate some attacks and give you something prescriptive of your own to tout.

But I just want to be really clear about what Elizabeth Warren was just doing there in that interview with M.J. It was really -- they're not on the same stage tomorrow, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. They are on two different nights.

But when this primary season started, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris had the same position. They were both pro-Medicare for all, they're both co-sponsors of Bernie Sanders' bill.

Well, you just saw is Elizabeth Warren there seize on Kamala Harris' plan today and Kamala Harris' commitment to keeping a role for private insurance companies and basically saying you're not really a full Medicare for all supporter, Kamala Harris, anymore, no matter what you're saying and, therefore, you see Warren, for the first time, I think, really trying to distinguish herself from Harris.

BLITZER: It's interesting because look at this enough Quinnipiac University poll that just came out today. Joe Biden is holding a pretty commanding lead among democrats nationally, 34 percent for Biden, Warren 15 percent, Harris 12, Sanders 11, Buttigieg six percent, everybody else way, way down.

SAENZ: Yes. I think it shows you just how fluid the race is. Joe Biden has bounced back after he was in the low 20s after the last debate. Kamala Harris wasn't able to maintain that entire post-debate bump that she got.

But, really, since the last debate, you've seen Joe Biden adopt this different strategy. He's doing more national interviews. He is speaking with reporters out on the trail more. He's also engaging directly in these policy fights. Healthcare is a fight that he's been wanting to pick with Kamala Harris for several weeks. So we're going to see that potentially play out on the debate stage. And he's been sharpening that message recently.

But one other number that's really critical also in that poll is that 53 percent of black voters support Joe Biden. That's a key constituency not just in the democratic primary of but also a core base of Biden's support that he's been trying to make these arguments to, especially as he's had criticisms over racial issues from Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.

BORGER: And, you know, if you're Bernie Sanders, I think you're a little bit concerned about some of the results in this poll, because if you look at liberal voters, which they separated out, Elizabeth Warren is beating him by 14 points among liberals. So they're fighting over the same constituency, they're going to be on the same stage and they have to find a way to differentiate themselves.

Now, I know that they're friends and they don't want to fight, but they do have to find a way. If I'm Joe --

CHALIAN: They don't disagree all the time.

BORGER: That's right. So how do they do that?

And if I'm Joe Biden and I'm getting attacked on healthcare, I think I'd want to make the point that -- you know, I think I'd want to make the point that, you know, Obamacare worked and that we can continue this and why are we, as democrats, fighting over healthcare when the other party wants to get rid of pre-existing conditions and everything else.

[18:35:06]

If I were Biden, I know he's going to get attacked, but I would flip it. I would say, okay, we all basically agree that healthcare should be provided to people. Where is the other party? Because this is the democrats' sweet spot is healthcare policy. And instead of destroying each other over it, if I'm the frontrunner, I'm going to say, wait a minute, look at where we agree.

BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on the Director of National Intelligence. So the President of the United States nominating Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas, a republican, to the DNI, the Director of National -- you used worked there so you know something about this. What's your reaction? TURNER: You know, what it tells me is that despite everything we've been through, that when it comes to the important role of our intelligence communities, the President still doesn't get it. Look, the Director of National Intelligence sits at the helm of the most powerful intelligence apparatus in the world.

And it's an intelligence community that the President needs to be able to depend on to be able to get the information that he needs to make important national security decisions that our partners and allies depend on on our intelligence community.

What the intelligence community cannot be and what the Director of National Intelligence cannot be is a loyalist for the President. We simply cannot have that. And I think this is another example of the President nominating someone who he believes will be loyal to him.

And, look, I want to give -- much like with regard to Dan Coats, I want to give Ratcliffe an opportunity to prove himself. But I think that the performance that he had last week when he was challenging Mueller in the testimony, I believe that was the final interview for him and that's what sealed the deal for him.

So he's got a lot of work to do to convince the people in the intelligence community and the American people that he can put partisanship aside and actually lead this intelligence community.

BORGER: Yes. It was clearly an audition.

TURNER: It was.

BORGER: And he was the one who charged and Mueller pushed back on him very hard. He said, well, this -- your report was written by Hillary Clinton's lawyers effectively, and Mueller said, no, it wasn't. And I'm not partisan, these people I chose. I chose them because they are good and they're competent. But he really pushed out on that.

And seems to me that the biggest thing on your resume now has to be, if you want to -- is Team Trump. If you're on Team Trump, the world is yours and you can get just about any job.

BLITZER: Yes. Loyalty is really important. Qualification is important but loyalty --

BORGER: Flattery. Flattery is good too.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around, we have more news we're following, including more from Michigan, where we're counting down to the CNN Presidential Debates. Take a closer look at why this state is critical for democrats.

Plus, disturbing new details of that deadly festival shooting in Northern California and the gunman who killed three people and injured a dozen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're live in Detroit in the spin room, which tomorrow night will be filled with candidates and their surrogates trying to influence opinion after the first of our two CNN presidential debates. And for whom ever winds up being the eventual nominee, Michigan, this state, will certainly be a critical state on the road to the White House.

Our Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us right now.

Jeff, Donald Trump won this usually blue state in 2016.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is Donald Trump's victory here in 2016 that is driving this entire conversation inside the democratic primary debate. Why did democrats lose here? That is one of the undercurrents of this conversation, as 20 candidates head to Detroit to have their say at who's the strongest to take on President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: The great State of Michigan.

ZELENY: There's a reason President Trump speaks so fondly of Michigan. He's the first republican presidential candidate to carry this state since 1988, and he is gunning for a repeat.

TRUMP: We are very tough to take, aren't we? Very, very tough.

ZELENY: As democratic hopefuls gather in Detroit for their second debate this week, there's little appetite for re-litigating Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016.

But the collapse of the blue wall of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is a driving undercurrent of the 2020 race. Here in Michigan, one number is still seared into the minds of many democrats is 10,704. That's how many votes Trump defeated Clinton by.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): We were all kind of in disbelief. And as we parse through what the numbers were, it was very clear that people didn't turn out to vote, that that 10,000 plus votes that was the difference here in Michigan was a very low turnout.

ZELENY: Gretchen Whitmer is the state's new Democratic Governor, winning office last fall as the party rolled back in the midterm elections. She's closely watching the party's crowded primary, saying the outcome will play a critical role in determining whether Michigan is still Trump country.

WHITMER: Between 2016 and 2018, we had a massive change in who showed up at the polls. And the results speak for themselves. When the candidate shows up and listens to people and stays focused on the dinner table issues, that's how you persuade people that you're worthy of their vote. ZELENY: Do you think any Trump voters from 2016 can be persuaded to vote democratic in 2020 or are things so entrenched that it's more about turning out the democratic base?

WHITMER: I think people can definitely be persuaded.

ZELENY: But that is one of the essential questions framing the democratic fight. Should the party choose a nominee acceptable to more moderate Trump voters by winning over those who supported Barack Obama and rejected Clinton, or should they find a candidate who electrifies the liberal base.

[18:45:07]

That dynamic comes alive in Macomb County, just outside Detroit, one of the most carefully watched Obama to Trump battlegrounds.

Ed Bruley is the county's Democratic chairman and believes the answer is motivating voters who stayed away from the polls in 2016.

ED BRULEY, MACOMB COUNTY DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: I think there's too much a fixation on this hybrid voter. And I think you need to really look at those who went out to vote and chose not to vote for either candidate.

ZELENY: In Macomb County alone, Clinton received about 31,000 fewer votes than Obama. In a neighboring Wayne County, which includes Detroit, she received about 76,000 fewer votes than Obama.

Garlin Gilchrist, the state's new lieutenant governor, agrees that inspiring Democratic voters is key, but he also warns against complacency and thinking Trump can't win again.

(on camera): Should Democrats take seriously the prospect of his reelection?

GARLIN GILCHRIST (D), MICHIGAN LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Absolutely. That's why he's president because his prospect of being elected the first time was not taken seriously enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, there is no question that Democrats here do know that President Trump can be reelected, but, Wolf, one number also sticks out as we've talked to so many Michigan officials. That is 75,000. There were 75,000 people who went to the polls in November of 2016 who didn't cast a vote for president on either side. It's called an undervote.

So that is something that Democrats are trying to find a candidate who excites everyone that clearly wasn't the case in 2016. But, Wolf, I also asked the new Democratic governor her for some advice for these candidates, she said don't fall down the rabbit hole of following these tweets every day. Focus on real issues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice. All right. Jeff Zeleny reporting for us, thank you very much.

Just ahead, police revealed new information about the gunman who killed two children and an adult at a Northern California festival.

Plus, a police officer stabbed to death in Rome. Now, two American teenagers are in custody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:51:50] BLITZER: We're live here in Detroit.

And the spin room which tomorrow night will be filled with candidates and their surrogates trying to influence opinion after the first of our two CNN Democratic presidential debates.

Also tonight, new details emerging at the shooting of the northern California festival that left three people dead including two children.

Our national correspondent Sara Sidner is joining us from the town of Gilroy.

Sara, police know apparently a lot more about what happened, but they still don't know why, right?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And police say they engaged the suspect within a minute of the shooting, but even in that minute, three people had been killed, 12 injured, three of the dead, two of them, a 13 year old and a 6-year- old little boy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight, a search for answers. Police now identifying the gunman as 19-year-old Santino William Legan saying he was armed with an AK-47 style assault rifle purchased legally in Nevada three weeks ago.

CHIEF SCOT SMITHEE, GILROY POLICE: Despite the fact that they were outgunned, with handguns against a rifle, those officers were able to fatally wound that suspect.

SIDNER: Police now trying to figure out why.

SMITTHEE: Our preeminent and principal concern at this point is motivation, ideological leanings. Was he affiliated with anyone or any group?

SIDNER: An Instagram account created four days ago under the suspect's name with two images posted shortly before the shooting. One is a photo taken from the Garlic Festival. The other is a photo of smoky bear warning of high fire danger, the caption, recommends reading a white supremacist book, telling followers the towns pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos, a person of mixed race, and Silicon Valley white expletives.

Police say Legan entered the festival by cutting through a fence around the property, avoiding security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like he wanted to shoot at everyone. He didn't have no direct target.

SIDNER: They are still investigating witness reports of a second suspect but believe Legan was the only shooter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can hear bullets. The bullets are hitting the ground. You can see them go up. And that's what I called out, it's a real gun.

SIDNER: We also now know that two of the three people killed were children. A 13-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy named Steven Romero.

ALBERTO ROMERO, SIX-YEAR-OLD SON KILLED IN SHOOTING: I can't tell me what was happening. They tell me he was in critical condition, that they were working on him. And then five minutes later, they told me that he was dead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: We also know that his brother, his mother, excuse me, was shot in the hand and stomach. His grandmother was also hit. This family devastated by the shooting as were so many other people here who show up to this festival in a yearly basis, because it is sort of a last bastion of summer. A time in Northern California that most families really, really love, turned tragic -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So sad, so sad.

Sara Sidner on the scene for us, thank you.

Just ahead, two American teenagers, they are in custody after an Italian police officer is stabbed to death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two American teenagers are in custody in Rome tonight accused of stabbing an Italian police officer to death in a botched drug deal. Police say the teens stole a backpack from a drug dealer who gave them crushed aspirin instead of cocaine. The police officer who wasn't in uniform was trying to retrieve the bag when he was stabbed. One of the teens told the judge they didn't know the man was a police officer and thought he was going to hurt them.

One teen told the judge he didn't know the man was a police officer and thought he was going to hurt them.

The officer's funeral was held today.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.