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THE SITUATION ROOM

Targeting Mexicans; Defined And Focused; Gun Lobby; Rep. Jackie Speier (D) California Interviewed About El Paso Shooting; El Paso Gunman Admits to Police He Was Targeting Mexicans, White House Tells ICE to Do More Raids at Workplaces; Trump: Democratic Candidates Calling Me White Supremacist Are "Desperate" and "Lousy"; Fear Sweeps Across the Country After Twin Mass Shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:17]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news.

Targeting Mexicans. CNN obtained the arrest affidavit for the suspect in the El Paso mass shooting. Police say he told them he was targeting Mexicans and even admitted, quote, "I'm the shooter." We're also getting new details about why he drove hundreds of miles to El Paso. Why wasn't the attack in his home town?

Defined and focused. The manager of the El Paso Walmart gives CNN a gripping firsthand account of the shootings. He says the attacker didn't spray gunfire but was defined and focused and took direct shots at people. The manager also describes how he helped customers get to safety.

Gun lobby. President Trump pushes for gun reforms, telling reporters he sees strong support from very meaningful background checks. But are Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the National Rifle Association really on board, will anything get done?

And America on edge. From a motorcycle backfiring at New York's Times Square to an armed man wearing body armor at a Missouri Walmart, just about anything is setting off alarms and even panic and the country returned to normal.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

ACOSTA: And breaking news in the El Paso mass shooting investigation, the arrest affidavit for the suspected gunman quotes him as saying he was targeting "Mexicans." The affidavit also says when he surrendered to police, the suspect told them, quote, "I'm the shooter."

This comes as President Trump says he has spoken with congressional leaders and sees bipartisan support for gun law reforms. And the question-and-answer session as he left the White House today, Trump repeatedly touted the possibility of a deal on what he calls, quote, "very meaningful background checks." And predicted the National Rifle Association will come around or in his words be a little bit more neutral. The group already is signaling it is against the current proposal to expand background checks or enact red flag laws.

I'll discuss gun reforms and more with Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California and our correspondents and analysts have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news in El Paso. Our Brian Todd has been there all week. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we've been working sources here on the ground all day talking to the manager of this Walmart. Digging up records on what the suspect has said while in custody. Tonight we have new details on who the shooter said he was targeting and a new account, dramatic new account of the chaos at in store.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight CNN has obtained an arrest affidavit of the suspected shooter Patrick Crusius showing he allegedly told police he was there to target Mexicans. CNN spoke to the manager of that Walmart, Robert Evans, who saw the shooter firing at victims in the parking lot. Evans said the shooting appeared deliberate.

ROBERT EVANS, MANAGER OF EL PASO WALMART: From what I saw, he seemed like he was -- he knew what he was shooting. He was very defined. He looked very focused you know. And precision on what he was -- on what he was aiming for. I mean it wasn't just a spray of gunfire. These were direct shots.

TODD: El Paso police have told CNN, the suspect surrendered to a motorcycle policeman a couple of blocks away from the Walmart, getting out of a car and telling the officer he was the shooter. The affidavit says the suspect admitted to using an AK-47 to shoot multiple victims.

Robert Evans, the manager, says he got hundreds of people out back entrances. He saw one man shot in the back staggering out of the back entrance. He says one of his employees tended to the wounded man.

EVANS: I just wanted to save as many people and get people notified that there was danger, there is danger coming this way.

TODD: Then Evans says he circled back around the front of the building and saw an elderly couple who had been shot in their car.

EVANS: There were shots to the glass in the windows of the car. And the passenger was a female and she was shot in the face and an area and she was pretty -- not responsive at the time and then the man was kind of moaning and it appeared that he was trying to drive away from harm's way and he parked kind of crooked and he couldn't drive anymore and he was bleeding severely from his back as well.

TODD: And CNN is learning more about what drove the alleged gunman, Crusius, to El Paso to commit this horrific crime. Three sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN, Crusius told investigators he didn't want to carry out an attack in his home town of Allen, Texas, expressing shame or reticence to do such a thing near his home. That is one of the reasons he targeted El Paso over 650 miles away.

[17:05:03] The sources said Crusius believed that if he did this in another city, his family and people who knew him wouldn't know that he was responsible for carrying out the deadly attack.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The fact that the shooter traveled that far away from all of the way from Allen, Texas to El Paso in search of people that as you read his screed, didn't look like him. This speaks to his mindset. This speaks to his motivation.

TODD: The FBI says, its evidence response team is combing through the crime scene and will be for days. As law enforcement digs into the background of the alleged shooter.

SGT. JON FELTY, ALLEN POLICE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: We were able to locate a call that came in on Thursday, June 27th, at approximately 11:15 in the morning.

TODD: Allen, Texas police confirming that Crusius' mother did in fact call their station weeks ago with concerns about her son as first reported by CNN.

FELTY: The sole concern was the parent was motivated out of a concern that her son just did not have the training, the firearm safety training and the intellectual maturity to own this type of a firearm.

The call-taker really did a good job and comes around twice in fact and says is your son suicidal and then says has your son threatened any other person? And both times the -- it appears that there was not a problem with that.

TODD: And since the mother didn't identify herself, Allen police could not follow up with more investigation.

FELTY: The protocol is you always ask for identification. But you can't force someone to identify who they are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: To give an idea of the kind of scene the shooter was walking into, Robert Evans the manager and another Walmart employee are telling CNN tonight, they believe there were about 3,000 people at the store when the shooting began. So far, no Walmart employees are counted among the dead but two Walmart employees were wounded. Jim?

ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thanks. The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton provoked a national outcry for stricter gun laws. Today, President Trump is predicting action.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. She's at the White House. What is the president saying? Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, tonight the president says he's confident that he could get the Republican Party and the gun lobby on board with tougher background checks even though both groups have opposed such measures in the past and right now we haven't seen any new public stances from either of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): In a week where 31 people were killed in mass shootings, President Trump is claiming tonight that Republicans are behind him on background checks.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday, he's totally on board.

COLLINS: But his optimism is at odds with what the GOP has said publicly. The Senate majority leader signaled Thursday he's open to considering new legislation.

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER (via telephone): The key to this honestly is making a law and not making a point.

COLLINS: But his office is making clear he's endorsed nothing yet.

TRUMP: This isn't a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat.

COLLINS: The president also says he's confident he can persuade the gun lobby.

TRUMP: I had a good talk with Wayne --

COLLINS: Sources tell CNN, NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre warned Trump his base isn't on board with tougher background checks.

TRUMP: I think in the end Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe will be a little bit more neutral.

COLLINS: And after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, it was the gun lobby that ultimately swayed the president. Asked why the country should believe him now, Trump denied changing his mind.

TRUMP: No, no, I never said what I'm saying now.

COLLINS: Asked what his message is for the children returning to school who fear mass shootings, Trump said they have nothing to worry about.

TRUMP: Go and really study hard and someday you'll grow up and maybe be president of the United States.

COLLINS: The president leaving Washington today for his own vacation as he's facing new scrutiny over his trip to El Paso, Texas, now that a photo surfaced of him grinning and flashing a thumbs up while the first lady holds a 2-month-old orphaned baby whose parents were murdered in the El Paso shooting.

Amid criticism over the rhetoric on immigration, Trump is standing by the large-scale immigration raids in Mississippi which left children sobbing as they waited for word on what happened to their parents.

TRUMP: They're going to be brought out. And this serves as a very good deterrent. But you had many people --

COLLINS: Asked if Democratic presidential candidates labelling him a white supremacist will help him with voters, Trump called it a disgrace.

TRUMP: First of all, I don't like it when they do it because I am not any of those things. I think it is a disgrace and I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are.

[17:10:00] COLLINS: The president also taking a swing at Joe Biden after he made this mistake Thursday night.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.

TRUMP: Joe is not playing with a full deck.

COLLINS: When it comes to his cabinet, Trump also doesn't have a full deck.

TRUMP: Sue did a great job. I like Sue Gordon very much.

COLLINS: He's now searching for a new director of National Intelligence and a deputy director after Sue Gordon resigned Thursday saying in a note, it was "out of respect and patriotism, not preference." Sources said it became clear Trump wasn't going to pick Gordon for the top job. Despite wide support from Senate Republicans.

TRUMP: I'm in no rush because we have a great acting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jim, we also have breaking news into THE SITUATION ROOM tonight and that is shortly after those immigration raids you saw there in Mississippi, the White House instructed senior I.C.E. officials to conduct more of the workplace enforcement operations this year. It is those kinds of operations that could lead to the arrest like the ones you saw in Mississippi where nearly 700 undocumented immigrants were arrested, the ones that the president defended today as he was leaving the White House.

ACOSTA: It sounds like he and the White House like what they saw in Mississippi. Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

With us now is California Democratic representative Jackie Speier. She's a member of the Oversight and Intelligence Committees. Congresswoman Speier, thanks for joining us. The El Paso shooter admitted to authorities that he was the shooter and he told them he was targeting Mexicans. What is your response to that?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Well, it is consistent with his manifesto. It's also consistent with the kind of language used by the president in terms of wanting to target Mexicans. In the rhetoric he uses, it is very hot, he's very pointed and he is reaping what he has sewed.

ACOSTA: And have you heard President Trump offer any condolences specifically to the Mexican community or the Latino community and has he acknowledged the motivation behind this attack to your satisfaction?

SPEIER: Not at all. And president is not likely to do either of those things because he never apologizes, he never backs down. It is always about him. And that horrible creepy picture of him with a thumbs up with Melania holding an orphaned infant I think says it all. He is as the psychologist and psychiatrists have said, he's a malignant narcissist and it is always about him.

ACOSTA: You were disturbed by that photo?

SPEIER: Of course I was. I'm also disturbed by the crying children of these undocumented workers in Mississippi. What about throwing the book at the employers that intentionally hire undocumented workers and use them and abuse them and then fill comfortable releasing them and getting another whole group of people? These are jobs that Americans frankly won't take.

ACOSTA: And let's turn to our nation's gun laws. President Trump now says the country needs what he calls intelligent background checks, although we're not sure what that means precisely and he says the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is, quote, "totally on board."

Do Democrats have a strategy to keep up the pressure until the Senate returns from recess because as you know Congresswoman, when you are on recess like this and people come back in a couple of weeks, folks move on.

SPEIER: That is right. But this issue is not moving on. This issue is going to plague this administration and Mitch McConnell until we start taking action. This is not the last of the kinds of mass shootings that we will see this year. We will typically see more than 250. We've already seen 253 this year. More than 39,000 people were shot and killed last year from guns. So there will be another one. I say that with great pain. But it is not going away and we're certainly not going to let it go away.

Let me also point out that this background check bill is a modest provision that basically closes loopholes in an existing law. So this is not a heavy lift for Mitch McConnell, for the president, or for the Senate.

ACOSTA: What is stopping them, do you think?

SPEIER: Well, in the past what stopped them is the NRA. Now maybe the president is recognizing that the NRA is not going to get him re- elected like they did the first time with a $30 million contribution and that he has to recognize that this is a very modest proposal but should be on the books. There is about 180,000 people every year that are declined guns because of background checks. Now, that number will grow if we close the loophole for gun shows and for online purchases. ACOSTA: And what about these red flag laws that you hear about, that have been talked about? You survived a shooting as a young woman, Congresswoman, do those kinds of provisions go far enough, do you think? Do you think there is an appetite for a new assault weapons ban?

[17:15:09] SPEIER: I believe very strongly that we need to re-impose the assault weapon ban that Senator Feinstein put on the books over 14 years ago. I also think high-capacity magazines need to be abandoned and need to be banned. The Dayton shooter had 100-shot drum that he was -- had in his possession at the time. So when they have more fire power than the police officers that are trying to subdue them, we've got a problem. And I think there is much more that has to be done over the next few months besides passing this modest bill on background checks.

ACOSTA: And getting back to that workplace enforcement raid down in Mississippi, we're learning that in the aftermath of that I.C.E. raid, the White House is now directing I.C.E. to conduct more of those types of raids. What does that tell you?

SPEIER: It is very consistent with the White House attitude which is instilling fear on the Mexican-American community and those who are here, whether documented or undocumented. I just came from a town hall in an area in my district where there are a large number of Latinos. They're all afraid. They're afraid to go out. They're afraid to go to the store. And frankly, that is the case for people who are white now as well. So this is a problem that is affecting all of us. And we have got to get serious about ridding our country of guns that are weapons of war.

ACOSTA: And Congresswoman, you serve on the Intelligence Committee so I want to get your reaction to this "New York Times" report that President Trump rejected an intelligence briefing from Sue Gordon, the former director, or deputy director of National Intelligence last week. The White House denies this. But could that potentially put the country's national security at risk if he's objecting to this brief or that brief during a national security briefing?

SPEIER: Well, I think the president puts our country at risk frequently. He does not have daily briefings by the Intelligence Community like our previous presidents have done. He gets briefings maybe once or twice a week. And as we know, there are certain people he just doesn't even want to have come brief him because he just doesn't like their personality. Well this is not a personality game. This is our country's security at stake. And he needs to be briefed. He needs also to be willing to listen to what the briefers are telling him.

The fact that Russia has so impacted our elections in 2016 and again the attempted in 2018 is something he doesn't want to hear so he wants to rid the Intelligence Community of the people that came up with that intelligence analysis. That is not going to keep us safe.

ACOSTA: All right. Representative Jackie Speier, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. Up next, President Trump today dismissed all of them as lousy candidates but the 2020 Democrats are firing back and eager to take him on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:15] ACOSTA: Tonight Democratic presidential candidates are taking President Trump to task on gun control. CNN's Arlette Saenz is following the 2020 campaign from Iowa. Arlette, what are the Democrats saying about the president as well as their own plans for gun safety?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jim, gun control has really returned as a focal point in the 2020 campaign as those shootings in El Paso and Dayton. And the Democratic presidential candidates have been hammering away at both President Trump and the NRA over inaction they believe on gun control. Take a listen to what Senator Elizabeth Warren had to say in Humboldt, Iowa, earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump wants to have everything both ways. He wants to stir up as much hate and division as he can, and then say, oh, not me. He wants to say, oh, yes, I could support changes on gun safety and then say but let's all be sure to bow to the NRA. That just doesn't work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now Elizabeth Warren will be releasing a gun reform plan of her own in the coming days and some of these candidates aren't just looking for changes legislatively or through executive action, they're also, some of them, at least four of the presidential candidates tweeted today calling on Walmart to stop selling guns since that shooting in their store in El Paso. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, the four cantons who have made that call so far and tomorrow attention will turn over to Des Moines where many of the 2020 Democratic fields, the candidates will be speaking at a forum on gun reform, that issue really taking significance since those shootings last week, Jim.

[17:25:00] ACOSTA: And Arlette, bring us up to speed on this tussle today between Joe Biden and President Trump.

SAENZ: Yes, Jim, this all stems from comments that the former vice president made last night in front of a group of mostly Hispanic and Asian voters when he said that poor kids are as bright as white kids. He then did go on to say wealthy kids and black kids, but the Biden campaign said that he simply misspoke and went on to correct himself. But that hasn't stopped President Trump from seizing on those comments earlier today at the White House. He said that it showed that the former vice president isn't playing with a full deck. I asked a Biden campaign aide about the comment and they fired back that Donald Trump's deck is full of jokers and Joe Biden was asked about the criticism that was coming from the Trump campaign during an appearance in Boone, Iowa earlier today. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Tell him it is the second anniversary of Charlottesville coming up and they need to divert something.

QUESTION: Are you able to -- you think go through a whole campaign with this kind of scrutiny.

BIDEN: Yes, I have to. It is a legitimate scrutiny.

QUESTION: Mr. Biden, they say that they question your elect ability.

BIDEN: But that will be determined pretty soon, won't it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: And this comes as the Democratic presidential candidates - many of them are trying to paint the president as a divider since those shootings over the course of the past week. You now have at least seven of the Democratic presidential candidates labelling President Trump as a white supremacist. That call has increased in the coming days and we'll see if it continues to grow further. Jim?

ACOSTA: OK. Arlette Saenz in a very noisy Clear Lake, Iowa, thank you very much. Our political experts are here to discuss all the latest news. I want everyone to stand by. We have a lot to talk about right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:24] ACOSTA: Breaking news, disturbing details on the moments after the massacre in El Paso. According to an arrest affidavit obtained by CNN, the accused gunman told police he was targeting Mexicans during the slaughter. Let's get more analyst -- analysis, I should say, from our experts.

And turning to Susan Hennessey, first, according to this arrest affidavit, the El Paso shooting suspect told police he was targeting Mexicans. What does that tell you about the suspect and the fact that he's declaring this motivation to police?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: It's obviously going to make it a lot easier for federal investigators, the fact that the suspect in this case is cooperating. He's being quite open about it. It's going to make it easier for them to do things like seek federal hate crime charges with come -- which come with very substantial sentencing enhancements because, of course, they don't have to prove this was about racial animus. The person here is actually telling it to them.

You know, this is a standard feature of all kinds of terrorism. You're not just trying to target the specific victims that they've killed in this case; they're trying to send a message to instill fear in a larger group. And so for the shooter to be quite explicit that he was targeting Mexicans, that's one way to amplify that message and to try and essentially achieve the goal of terrorism. It's also important that we sort of note, this doesn't -- even though

we've had a lot of conversations about mental illness, this does not appear to be an individual who is mentally ill. It is an individual who is saying specifically why he committed the crime, appears to have selected victims specifically. So oftentimes, whenever we see these horrific acts of violence, we want to say this has to be mental illness because it's just difficult to imagine the mind of somebody who would do something like this. But this really is a case in which it's about evil, not mental illness.

ACOSTA: Right. And, Shawn Turner, we've heard the President talk a lot this week about what unfolded in El Paso and in Dayton, but we have not heard the President really talk about what this should mean to the Latino community, do they feel protected. Has the President said enough to the Latino community in the aftermath of what happened in El Paso, do you think?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Jim, I wish I could say he had, but no. Look, you know, the President is trying to strike an impossible and what I think is a misguided balance here between what he should be doing now to reassure the country and what he really wants to do.

On the one hand, what the President should be doing now is he should be taking steps to not only reassure but to protect the people in this country who are increasingly under attack because of this kind of warped ideology. But what the President really wants to do right now is he wants to send a subtle message or not so subtle message, actually, to his base and to those on the fringe of his base that when it comes to this immigration issue and these immigrants, that he's going to keep the pressure up. That he is going to continue to work to deal with this issue and to get these immigrants out of this country.

And I got to tell you, Jim, there is no better evidence of that than the raids in -- the ICE raids in Mississippi this week. You know, the President could've picked up the phone, he could've made a 30-second phone call and said, look, this is not the time to do this. We -- you know, I believe in this, I think it's important, but I -- but it's not the time. But he didn't do that. In a week when we had such horrific attacks here, he decided to go forward with that, and I think that speaks volumes for where the President's mind is on this.

ACOSTA: And, Ron Brownstein, instead of pulling back, instead of the President calling off an ICE raid because of how the Latino community is struggling this week, we just heard in the last several minutes that the White House wants ICE to conduct more raids like this.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

ACOSTA: They're not pulling back; they're expanding.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, Shawn is right. I mean, from the very beginning, Jim, the core -- the core of the core of the President's support had been the voters who are most uneasy about immigration in particular and demographic change in general. [17:34:49] I go back to the Republican primaries in 2016. In

virtually every state, it was only a minority of voters, even in the Republican primary, who said that all undocumented immigrants should be deported. But that minority voted for Trump in such overwhelming numbers back in 2016 that they provided a majority of his votes in almost every state during his march to the nomination.

And I -- he has never lost sight of that, you know. You see the President, I think, constantly -- today, for example, he had a series of tweets accusing -- he said I'm not a racist, Hollywood is racist.

And it's a reminder that the President, in following in the tracks of conservative populists, really, since Joe McCarthy and George Wallace and Joe -- and Pat Buchanan, always comes back to the argument that his voters, what he refers to as the real Americans, are under threat from two directions -- contemptuous cultural elites who look down on their values and minorities who are coming to either threaten their security or take their jobs. And he always gets back to ways to make one of those two points.

ACOSTA: And, Rebecca Buck, another pressure point in the President's base is on the issue of gun control. The President was saying earlier today that he believes Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is totally onboard with the idea of background checks, but you and I both know we've seen this movie before. Being totally onboard on this Friday is not necessarily where things will stand when they come back from recess.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And here's the thing when we're talking about whether or not Mitch McConnell is on board here. He can be onboard in principle, but all he cares about, as the Senate Majority Leader, is how can we put this in a piece of legislation that has enough votes to pass. He's not going to put his Republican senators in a position where they're going to have to vote for something that isn't passing, that's politically unpopular. Because the devil --

ACOSTA: Or be signed by the President.

BUCK: Exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: Well --

BUCK: And so the President might be, right now, very enthusiastic about this in principle, but the devil is in the details when we -- especially when it comes to the politics of gun control. And so that's, I think, where the divide could be here and where things could get really hairy.

BROWNSTEIN: Jim --

ACOSTA: Did you want to jump in, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I do, because -- I mean, look, universal background checks is as popular as anything ever gets in American public opinion. I mean, there is, consistently, polling showing that over 90 percent of the public believes that everyone who buys a gun, no matter where they buy it, should have to undergo a background check. That includes roughly 90 percent of Republicans, roughly 90 percent of gun owners. The problem isn't public sentiment. The problem is the institutional hold of the NRA on the Republican Party, particularly in more rural small states.

If you go back to 19 -- 2013 when there was the vote in the Senate on universal background checks after the school shootings in Connecticut, the senator -- if you assign half of each state's population to each senator, the senators who voted for it represented 195 million people. The senators who voted against it represented about 120 million people. That's about as decisive as it gets in a democracy, and yet it was blocked because of the -- of the -- of the role of the filibuster and the near-universal Republican opposition to it.

That's what we're talking about. It's not a question of whether Mitch McConnell has to make people cast an unpopular vote.

ACOSTA: OK.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a vote that they are unwilling to cast because of the institutional influence of the NRA, separate even from gun owners within the Republican Party.

ACOSTA: Yes.

BUCK: But there --

ACOSTA: All right, good point.

BUCK: But there is a recent example of the President leading the way on a bipartisan issue, criminal justice reform. He got it done when Mitch McConnell didn't think that they could get the votes, and so that could be where this goes as well.

ACOSTA: All right, we will see about that. OK, stand by, everybody. We have lots more to talk about. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll be right back in just a moment.

[17:38:24] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: OK, welcome back. And let's talk about the 2020 Democratic field.

Rebecca Buck, as you know, some Democratic 2020 candidates are taking their criticism of the President to a pretty incredible extreme. You would never think you would hear this in modern politics, but we're hearing it, labeling the President of the United States a White supremacist.

By CNN's count -- we could put this up on the screen -- we have roughly a half-dozen 2020 Democrats accusing the President of being a White supremacist. We don't really have that graphic ready, but that's OK. We'll talk about it.

BUCK: Right. ACOSTA: What do you make of this? I mean, it sounds like something

that a lot of these Democrats are agreeing on, but are there any political risks in going down this road, do you think?

BUCK: Well, the polling that we have seen over the past few years suggests that most Americans -- we haven't polled the question, specifically, do they believe the President is a White supremacist, but is he encouraging White supremacists, White nationalists? The majority of the respondents in these polls have said yes. So it's not so much a political risk for these candidates to be saying that he encourages this ideology, but this is, obviously, a step further and it's become a litmus test of sorts in this Democratic primary.

What I think is noteworthy, though, we have these half a dozen candidates who have said, yes, we do believe the President is a White supremacist. Joe Biden, the front-runner in the race, has not gone that far. And deliberately so. He said he does believe the President encourages this ideology, but he said, you know -- he actually expressed frustration, why do you want me to say this word? And so he's not there yet, trying to make a more moderate approach to this question.

ACOSTA: And, Shawn Turner, let me ask you about this. Let's listen to what the President had to say earlier today whether he thinks it helps him to be called a White supremacist. Here's what the President had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don't think it helps. First of all, I don't like it when they do it because I am not any of those things. And I think it's a disgrace and I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are.

They call anybody a racist when they run out of cards. I'm winning in the polls. They're desperate. They've got lousy candidates. They got bad candidates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[17:45:01] ACOSTA: And, Shawn Turner, I mean, the fact that we're discussing whether or not it's politically advantageous for the President to be, you know, called a White supremacist by Democrats, especially coming up on the two-year anniversary of Charlottesville, where are we right now with our politics?

TURNER: Yes. You know, it's a startling position to be in, a startling place to be in. Again, I talked to a former White House official recently who said to me -- you know, I asked whether or not she thought the President was a racist, and she said something that was pretty shocking. She said, no, he's not a racist, he's a brilliant strategist who understands that race plays well, that race gets him votes, and that race is a -- is a good strategy.

Look, you know, I can't under -- I can't underestimate, you know, how dangerous it is for the President to look at this as a game and to treat these issues of racism and division as political tools to get re-elected. All over this country, you have friends, colleagues, you know, neighbors who are looking at each other now with an increased level of skepticism because they don't know whether or not the person that they've known and worked with and been associated with for some time buys into and espouses to this view.

So this is a dangerous thing that the President is doing. And I think that if he's using it as a political stunt, that's even more dangerous than if he is an actual racist. Because if he is an actual racist, I believe that people in this country will ultimately see it and will vote him out.

ACOSTA: Yes. Susan Hennessey, I remember talking to a senior White House official one time. He said, no, I don't think the President is a racist; and I said, well, can you say that on the record? And the official would not say it on the record. I mean, what do you make of the fact that we're having this conversation, you know, heading into the 2020 campaign, decades after the civil rights movement in this country?

HENNESSEY: Well, look, I think at some -- at some point, you have to set aside politically advantageous and call something what it actually is, which is racism, which is White supremacy. White supremacists think Donald Trump is a White supremacist. Racists think Donald Trump is a racist. They hear his words and they feel emboldened by it, and we know that because they tell us that themselves.

And the President's response to that is not to be horrified and disgusted and appalled and say, I have nothing to do with those people, I condemn those people, and I'm disgusted by those people. It's to play coy and court them and sort of do a sort of a wink and a nudge because, obviously, he views these people as a critical part of his base.

ACOSTA: OK, all right. Thanks to all of you --

BROWNSTEIN: And --

ACOSTA: -- for a great discussion. Ron, we're going to have to get you next time. Thanks so much to all of you.

America on edge, that's our next story. Fear and false alarms in the wake of last weekend's dual massacres.

[17:47:31] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Our breaking news in the arrest affidavit obtained by CNN. Police say the man now charged in the El Paso mass shooting told them he was targeting Mexicans. The El Paso attack and the mass shootings Sunday morning at Dayton, Ohio have the country on edge.

Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera who has been covering events in El Paso. Ed, tell us more.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim. Well, as this week comes to an end amidst all the sadness and the grief that we've reported on, something else has been going on across the country as well. And that is a great deal of anxiety brought on by what happened here in El Paso.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Throughout the country, the El Paso gunman's actions put people on edge. This 20-year-old is now facing a terror threat charge, striking fear inside a Springfield, Missouri Walmart after walking through the store dressed like this.

LT. MIKE LUCAS, SPRINGFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT, MISSOURI: There were a lot of people hiding outside, behind these barriers and businesses, and it was pretty chaotic.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): It's the latest example of angst and anxiety across America -- from Times Square in New York, where a motorcycle backfiring sent people running; to a mall in Utah, where a sign crashing to the ground had shoppers scrambling to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't know what was going on until somebody went in to tell that we need to leave the place, so we just basically ran.

LAVANDERA: A Costco in California was evacuated after reports of a possible gunman inside. All of these incidents and others like it just this week.

And while protesters plead with Washington to act --

CROWD: Do something! Do something!

LAVANDERA: -- Walmart, today, took its first actions since the shootings, deciding to stop playing violent movies in their T.V. sections and eliminating displays of violent video games but still planning to sell the games as well as guns.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And, Jim, despite that anxiety we kind of see in various parts of the country, here in El Paso, the memorial that has grown throughout the week has really become a gathering place every day, people coming down here unafraid to gather and mourn together. And especially at night, we've heard singing and praying and hugging, and all of these people coming here in this one location to share in their grief after what has been an incredibly long week -- Jim.

ACOSTA: The nation is certainly on edge. Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

Coming up, more on the breaking news, the arrest affidavit for the El Paso mass shooting suspect. Police say he told them he was targeting Mexicans.

[17:54:43] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Direct shots. A key witness tells CNN it was clear who the El Paso gunman was aiming for as we're learning that the suspect admitted to police that he was targeting Mexicans.

Predicting progress. President Trump is sounding optimistic about the prospect of new background check legislation, but GOP leaders and the NRA seem to suggest otherwise.

More raids coming. After the arrest of hundreds of undocumented immigrants in Mississippi, a source tells CNN that the White House is ordering ICE to conduct additional operations that may separate more children from their parents.