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THE SITUATION ROOM

El Paso Gunman Reportedly Targeted Mexicans; Interview With Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH); Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Police Says El Paso Suspects Said He Was Targeting Mexicans; U.S. Official Says, North Korea Launches More Short-Range Missiles; CNN: Major EPA Environmental Reversal After Trump Meeting. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 9, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: A source tells CNN that the White House is ordering ICE to conduct additional operations that may separate more children from their parents.

And race cards. The president claims some Democrats are calling him a white supremacist out of political desperation. Is he being helped or hurt by the attacks?

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: We are following breaking news on a chilling confession reportedly made by the man charged in the El Paso shooting massacre.

An arrest affidavit shows the alleged gunman told police he was specifically targeting Mexicans when he opened fire inside a Walmart with an assault-style weapon.

Tonight, the store manager tells CNN the shooter was precise and -- quote -- "very focused" and it was clear who he was aiming for as he fired direct shots.

Nearly a week after the shootings in Texas and Ohio, President Trump claims there's tremendous support among Republicans for tightening background check laws.

But aides to Mitch McConnell warn the Senate GOP leader has not endorsed anything specific.

Also breaking, we're learning that the White House is directing immigration officials to conduct more raids on undocumented workers after hundreds were arrested in Mississippi this week.

I will get reaction from Democratic congressman Ro Khanna. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First to CNN's Brian Todd in El Paso. Brian, you have new information from police and from the Walmart

manager.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim.

We have been working sources on the ground, including, as you mentioned, the manager of this Walmart. We have been digging up some important new documents on the suspect's arrest.

We have new details tonight on the chaos at this store and on who the suspect said he was targeting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has obtained an arrest affidavit of the expected 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 says the shooting appeared deliberate.

ROBERT EVANS, WALMART MANAGER: From what I saw, he seemed like he was -- he knew what she was shooting. He was very defiant. He looked very focused and precision on what he was -- you know, what he was aiming for. 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 a back entrance. He said 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 through the glass in the windows of the car. And the passenger was a female, and she was shot in the face area, and she was pretty not responsive at the time. And 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 -- you know, he just 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 did not want to carry out an attack in his hometown of Allen, Texas, expressing shame or reticence to do such a thing near his home.

That's one of the reasons he targeted El Paso over 650 miles away. 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 the way from Allen, Texas, to El Paso, in search of people that, if you read his screed, didn't look like him, this speaks to his mind-set. 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 27, 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 would -- just did not have the training, the firearm safety training and the intellectual maturity, to own this type of a firearm.

[18:05:11]

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: Now, to give an idea of the kind of scene this shooter was walking into, the store manager, Robert Evans, and another Walmart official tell us they believe about 3,000 people were at this store at the time the shooting began.

So far, no Walmart employees are counted among the dead, but we're told two employees were wounded -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thank you.

And, tonight, as we're learning more about the apparent motive in the El Paso massacre, President Trump is sounding upbeat about the prospects for new legislation to address gun violence.

But we have heard talk like that before, only to see him backtrack under pressure by fellow Republicans and the NRA.

We're joined by CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president spoke at length with reporters before starting his vacation. What did he say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said he's not calling on Congress to cancel their vacation and come back to town, but he says, when they do, he does want them to do something.

And even though he maintained he does have tremendous support among the Republican Party for those tougher background checks, that's not something they have ever been able to move on before. And so far, Jim, we haven't seen any movement on it now.

(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.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): 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: OK, 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 says they have nothing to worry about.

TRUMP: Go and really study hard, and some day you will 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 has 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 his 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.

COLLINS: Asked if Democratic presidential candidates labeling 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's a disgrace. And I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are.

COLLINS: The president also taking a swing at Joe Biden, after he made this mistake Thursday night.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids -- wealthy kids, black kids, Asian 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)

[18:10:03]

COLLINS: Now, Jim, back to those immigration raids you saw in Mississippi, CNN is learning tonight that, after those raids, the White House directed top senior ICE officials to carry out more of those workplace enforcement operations.

Those are the type of operations that lead to arrests like the ones you saw in Mississippi, where nearly 700 undocumented immigrants were arrested.

We asked the White House about this reporting. They denied that they have ever instructed law enforcement to carry out any kind of operations like this one.

ACOSTA: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

Joining me now, Congressman Ro Khanna, a Democratic member of the Oversight and Armed Services committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.

Let's go back to El Paso.

The El Paso shooter told authorities that he was targeting Mexicans. What's your reaction to that?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, it's horrific.

And we have had an increase of these hate crimes. They are motivated by absurd ideologies, the ideology of the great replacement, a French author who talks about the replacement of white people.

We need to call this for what it is. It's domestic terrorism. And we need the Justice Department to put the resources and the expertise to tackle this, just like they have kept us safe from international terrorism.

ACOSTA: And do you believe the president has done enough to reassure the Mexican community, the Mexican American community here in this country, or to address that motive of the shooting, in your view?

KHANNA: No, I don't.

I think the president needs to give a speech about this. He needs to identify what this ideology is. It's the great replacement ideology. There's a French author, Camus, who has propagated this.

It led to the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand. It led to those awful shootings in Norway. It's proliferating on the Internet, on 8chan. The president needs to give a speech. Any other president would say, this is an awful ideology, we need to expose it, defeat it.

And this president hasn't done that. Just one line in a speech isn't enough.

ACOSTA: Why doesn't he do that, in your view?

KHANNA: I have no idea, other than to say that he doesn't get it. I mean, he doesn't understand, perhaps, how pernicious this ideology is and how contrary it is to the very founding of America. Our nation was built on the idea that we aren't a nation of blood,

we're a nation committed to the Constitution and to philosophical principles. This ideology is about the most anti-American ideology you could have.

ACOSTA: And the president says he wants to take action on background checks and he says that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is -- quote -- "totally on board."

Democrats are skeptical, as we know.

Do you think this represents some kind of narrow opening? Is there any room for optimism here, do you think?

KHANNA: I'm hopeful, but I have been burned before.

I mean, 90 percent of Republicans want this. Here's the irony. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA actually testified in support of background checks in 1999, after the Columbine shooting. So, if I were the president, I would ask the NRA, what has changed? Why are you 20 years later still not supporting this?

The country wants it. And I think it would be politically disastrous for any person in the Republican Party not to vote for this at this point.

ACOSTA: And the White House organized an event today on the rise of violent online extremism. You represent Silicon Valley. Do you think anything productive will come from this? Is Silicon Valley doing enough on all of this, do you think?

KHANNA: We need to do more.

Certainly, there are some sites, such as 8chan, that clearly need to do more. I mean, they have propaganda on there that incites violence. They need to be regulated, and that type of content shouldn't be allowed.

But it's a complicated issue. I mean, when you have Mitch McConnell putting a video on his own campaign site about violence threatening him, then you have questions of First Amendment speech.

And, you know, Twitter was criticized for removing it. So we need well-crafted regulations that will remove content that incites violence, while protecting the First Amendment.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you about those immigration raids in Mississippi this past week.

The White House is actually directing ICE, from what we understand, to conduct more of those raids. What does that tell you?

KHANNA: Jim, it was heart-wrenching.

I mean, like so many Americans, I saw those kids in tears with their parents being pulled away. And you ask, why the inhumanity of it? First of all, if we're going to go after folks, why aren't we going

after the companies? They're the ones with the help wanted signs on our border. They're the ones who are hiring folks who don't have documents. Let's crack down on the companies that are doing this.

And, second, why are we doing it in such an inhumane way, where you have people being hauled and detained when their kids may be U.S. citizens and their kids crying in schools? There was not an ounce of empathy. It seems that's what's missing in our politics, our governance.

Where is the empathy for other human beings?

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I know your committee is going to be looking into this. We appreciate your time.

Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

KHANNA: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: And more breaking news ahead on the El Paso shooting massacre.

I will talk with Democratic presidential candidate and Congressman Tim Ryan. Does he believe the president's optimistic predictions about new gun legislation?

[18:15:06]

And there's breaking news out of North Korea on suspected new missile launches by Kim Jong-un.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: And we're back with breaking news on the El Paso shooting massacre.

CNN has obtained an affidavit showing that the accused gunman told police he was targeting Mexicans.

Joining me now, Democratic presidential candidate Tim Ryan, congressman from Ohio.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

[18:20:00]

What is your reaction to this news that the El Paso shooter actually admitted to targeting Mexicans as he surrendered to authorities?

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, when you read the manifesto, this is not much of a surprise. That is what his intention was from the very, very beginning.

And that's why this is a hate crime. We have seen hate crimes go up 25 percent in the last few years. This is a real issue in the United States, which is why we have got to have the president create more of an environment of inclusion, of tolerance, of uniting the United States, instead of dividing us.

But this should be prosecuted at the highest level. And, you know, we will see where it goes.

ACOSTA: And some of the language in that alleged manifesto reflects what we have heard from President Trump about immigrants and Mexicans.

And now some of your rivals for the Democratic nomination are openly calling the president a white supremacist. Do you think that's an appropriate label?

RYAN: Well, I think the white supremacists think he's a white supremacist. So...

ACOSTA: What do you think?

RYAN: ... that, to me, says all you need to say.

David Duke -- well, it doesn't matter what I -- my opinion is irrelevant. And the president doesn't listen.

But I think it is a dangerous position where the white supremacists in the United States think they have a white supremacist in office, that David Duke, the leader of the KKK, is saying: This president is implementing our agenda.

That is a dangerous position.

The most dangerous thing, though, is that this kid can get his hands on the kind of weapons that he could get his hands on and do damage. There are people in other countries who are white supremacists, but they can't necessarily get their hands on the kind of firepower that this kid was able to do and go to a Walmart and do that damage.

So that's where I think we have got to focus, is, how do we get this background check passed, how do we put pressure on the president, pressure on Republicans, pressure on Mitch McConnell to make sure they pass this universal background check, so that we can prevent these things from happening, from anybody getting these weapons?

ACOSTA: And President Trump says that all of this talk about his motivations, racial motivations, whatever you want to call them, that that is evidence that the Democrats have bad candidates. He said bad candidates earlier today.

How do you respond to that?

RYAN: Look, this president is in a weak position.

As a sitting president, with supposedly a good stock market and a low unemployment rate, this guy is as vulnerable as it gets. And he's divided the country. People are ready for a new and better agenda, which I am offering. We have got to get out of this left-right fight that we're in right

now. We have got to get into new and better. We have got to start securing the American people. And that starts with towns like Dayton and El Paso. And you help secure them by passing these reforms that we need, like closing the loopholes.

But people are still economically insecure. They're insecure around health care. They're insecure around the environment and climate change, obviously around immigration, obviously around criminal justice. The whole country is insecure.

Jim, just quick, that Times Square video of the bike -- the motorcycle backfiring and people scrambling and getting hurt and running into bars because they thought it was -- guns were going off, that is the anxiety level of almost every American today.

And the president has created this environment, both economically and otherwise. And that's why he's very, very vulnerable right now.

ACOSTA: Well, let me ask you. Some of your Democratic rivals, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, they all say that Walmart should stop selling guns.

What do you have to say about that?

RYAN: Well, of course.

I think that one of the heroes of the last few years is the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, when he said, look, we're not going to sell these anymore, these -- I mean, we're not talking about a hunting rifle. We're not talking about -- I hunt with my oldest son. It's one of the great days of the year, when we go duck hunting.

And I come from Ohio. We hunt. You can protect your family, protect your home.

But you don't need these weapons of mass destruction, these weapons of war. And so I would commend Walmart for not selling those weapons anymore.

To the extent that they can do it as quickly as possible, I would hope that they would, like Dick's did. I think Dick's showed some real leadership.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you.

A group of gun control activists and yourself, you marched over to Mitch McConnell's hometown to call for action. Now the Senate majority leader says background checks, red flag laws will be front and center when he gets back.

Do you have any optimism that this is going to happen when you return to Washington, when Congress returns from recess?

RYAN: I'm taking a very cynical position on this, because I have been burnt so much on these issues. We had almost 1,500 people there yesterday from five different states.

The base is energized. These were Democrats, Republicans, hunters, vets. So we have got to continue to apply the pressure.

I think the fact that he said that means he's feeling the heat. But we have got to apply the pressure. This is -- to me is like the Potomac two-step. He's going to just dance around a little bit and hope the news cycle changes.

[18:25:04]

We can't allow that to happen, Jim. We have got to continue to apply pressure. Moms Demand Action, all of these other gun rights -- or control groups need to be out there and active and putting pressure on these Republicans.

I know they're feeling the heat. We have just got to keep applying that pressure.

ACOSTA: And what about these upsetting images in the aftermath of that raid down in Mississippi, that workplace raid in Mississippi by ICE?

The White House, from what we understand, is now directing ICE to conduct more of these raids. What does that tell you?

RYAN: There's a level of inhumanity happening now, and when they conduct these raids.

And I say, why aren't you going after the businesses? There have only been a handful of businesses in the United States in the last couple of years that have been prosecuted. They want these workers to come and work. And they want them in a position where they're undocumented so they can hold that over their heads and not pay them wages at all.

And the businesses never get busted. And this speaks to the Donald Trump economy and the Donald Trump system. There's a protected class that, no matter what they do, they're OK.

The banks -- you know, the economy collapses, the banks get bailed out. The auto industry collapses, the auto companies gets bailed out. There's people that are hiring undocumented workers. The workers get punished, not the businesses.

This is the Donald Trump economy, Jim, and this is what we're campaigning for here today. How do we flip this economy, get out of this left-right divide, get into the new and better ideas that can really transform our country?

But it speaks to the level of corruption there is in the government today around that protected class that they could do whatever they want and they consistently get away with it. And what happened in Mississippi is just another example of that.

ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Tim Ryan, thank you very much. Good luck tonight. We appreciate it. Just ahead: President Trump is slamming Democrats for calling him a

racist, but does he privately think the label could help energize his base?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Breaking tonight, new evidence that the El Paso shooting massacre was an intentional attack on Latinos. CNN has obtained an arrest affidavit that shows the alleged gunman told police he was targeting Mexicans when he opened fire inside a Walmart. The store manager tells CNN the shooter was very focused and he was clear who he was aiming for as he fired direct shots.

Let's bring in our analysts to talk about this. Phil Mudd, let me get your take right off the bat here. The El Paso suspect telling police in El Paso that he was targeting Mexicans. Your response to that?

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is a big step to me. Aside from the fact that this is confirming to us that he's speaking, this is stepping -- taking a step from what we thought before that this was an act of domestic terrorism to confirming that.

Look, if you kill a family member, if you kill your boss for firing you, that's straight-up murder. When you're killing immigrants because you want to return to a white America, you want to persuade immigrants to leave, that's murder with a political intent. We all that terrorism, in this case, domestic terrorism.

We thought that just a couple of days ago, Jim. The fact that he's speaking about his motivation is confirming to us that what we thought is in fact true.

ACOSTA: And, David Chalian out there in Iowa, this moment that we've been through this past week, this has really unified Democrats in ways that we really haven't seen much of during this campaign.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, no, there's no doubt about that. We were just witnessing a pretty intense Democratic debate a week ago or just over that, Jim. And there was a lot of concern about the Democrats sort of tearing into one another.

This week, this has been a unified field of Democratic candidates in aggressively pushing back on the president, on his rhetoric, on pushing and pressuring, as you just heard, Mitch McConnell on gun reform. This has been a unified Democratic Party this week in a way that they are making the case that the president is incapable of unifying the nation.

And I think it's going to be a little bit before we see that intraparty battle, which no doubt will be here again. It will be a little while before we see it again.

ACOSTA: And, Sam Vinograd, the suspect is saying to police that he was targeting Mexicans. What does that do to relations between the U.S. and the Mexican government? They're already in pretty sorry shape.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly right. And as Phil said, from a counterterrorism standpoint, the president is doing exactly the opposite of basic standard operating procedure when it comes to preventing more attacks. Mexico is an important partner of the United States.

We have not heard about the president getting on the phone, speaking with the president of Mexico and figuring out how cooperatively to prevent further attacks. We haven't heard about the president meeting with his Hispanic leaders throughout the country.

And we haven't heard about a surge in resources to meet the threat that intelligence professionals have been screaming from the rooftops about. The FBI, the DNI, in terms of the global threat, have been talking about this. But when they briefed lawmakers or policymakers on these threats, they hit a dead end.

ACOSTA: And, Sabrina Siddiqui, let me ask you about -- I mean, what is the threat that exists right now on 8chan and other fringe internet sites with respect to this kind of white national -- this strain of white nationalism, this far-right domestic terrorism that we're seeing in this country? How grave a threat is this?

[18:35:00]

We know the White House was having a meeting earlier today about online extremism. Do you think the administration gets it?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the president wasn't at that meeting. This is a very serious threat and authorities have repeatedly been pointing to the fact that the country increasingly faces a real risk from domestic terrorism.

And we learned through CNN's reporting just yesterday that the White House had rebuffed efforts by employees at the Department of Homeland Security to make combating domestic terrorism, which includes white supremacists, a greater part of the administration's national counterintelligence strategy.

You haven't even heard the president really talk about it beyond one line in his speech on Monday that was added into the teleprompter by his aides at the last minute. There has been no moment where the president has stood back and even addressed the fact that this shooting in El Paso targeted a predominantly Hispanic community. Instead, he's out there sharing Tweets from known voices, known anti- immigrant, anti-Muslim voices.

And so I think we're just going to see a lot more of the same from this president, because he's much more concerned about keeping intact his base than he is about trying to bring the country together.

ACOSTA: And I was going to ask Phil Mudd about that, because the president earlier this morning, even at the end of this week where we've seen extremism, the targeting and going after a minority community in this country, the president re-Tweeting a far-right extremist from Britain, Kate Hopkins.

What kind of message does that send when you're somebody in counterintelligence, when you're somebody who's in the counterterrorism community, and you see the president of the United States really fanning the flames to some extent here?

MUDD: Well, let me make this real simple. Let's go to the other end of the spectrum, the people receiving that message. The message that they want to hear is that immigrants aren't welcome in this country and they want to be validated. They want to be validated in a judgment that if they take action against immigrants -- I'm not suggesting the president is responsible for violence -- he is responsible for messages. The people listening to the president want validation to say, if we take action against immigrants, it's okay.

If you're at the other end of the spectrum and if you're a right-wing extremist who doesn't like immigrants, are you going to take, A, the message that you're more isolated, that nobody in this country believes that immigrants should leave or are you going to feel that your validated, that people in this country think like you think and that immigrants should be deported quickly from this country. Anybody listening to this who wants to be validated, even if the president doesn't want to send that message can only take one message away. Other people think like I do. Immigrants got to go.

ACOSTA: All right. And we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to all of you for all of that. We appreciate you coming up.

Just hours after President Trump praised Kim Jong-un, the U.S. says North Korea has fired new missiles. We have breaking news on that straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

ACOSTA: And some breaking news, more suspected missile launches by North Korea just this morning. President Trump downplayed North Korea's recent string of launches and told reporters he's received another, quote, very beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un.

Let's bring in CNN National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood. Kylie, what's the latest?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Tonight, North Korea has indeed launched some more ballistic missiles, a U.S. official confirming that to CNN. And this comes after they've continued to do this over the past few weeks. It's kind of a pattern that we're seeing here, four missiles were launched in less than two weeks before what we saw today.

So why is North Korea continuing to do this? They got President Trump to the negotiating table, and now, they're pushing the U.S. away. Of course, one reason that they're doing it is because the U.S. and South Korea are continuing their joint military exercises. We know that North Korea is frustrated and also intimidated by those exercises.

But a source close with the U.S./North Korea relationship also explained to me that the U.S. believes that North Korea could actually be carrying out these missile tests before they come back to the table with the U.S. And that's because Kim Jong-un said that North Korea would be working on mass production of its missile program, but they haven't perfected that program yet. So if they're going to sit down and discuss getting rid of their nuclear program, they want to have their missile program perfected and that's what they're working on now.

ACOSTA: And the president is very proud of his relationship with Kim Jong-un. He just walked on to North Korean soil earlier this year. He was talking about this with reporters earlier today. What's his response to all of this?

ATWOOD: Well, we haven't heard anything officially from the White House tonight after this breaking news. But today, President Trump was telling reporters about a letter he just received yesterday from Kim Jong-un. It's a three-page letter. And he described it when he spoke with reporters at the White House. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think we'll have another meeting. He really wrote a beautiful three-page -- I mean, right from top to bottom, a really beautiful letter. And maybe I'll release the results of the letter, but it was very positive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ATWOOD: So he's saying it's a positive letter from the North Koreans, but he's taking out some of his frustration in this ongoing situation with the South Koreans, who are the traditional U.S. ally here. A source at the White House explaining to me that Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with South Korea as these missiles have been launched and that's growing a tension between the two countries.

[18:45:00]

ACOSTA: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you very much for that.

Stay with us for more breaking news on the El Paso shooting and new information on a motive back in a moment.

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ACOSTA: Tonight, we're learning that a major new reversal on U.S. environmental policy may have involved President Trump. CNN has exclusive details of an Air Force One meeting that could throw out more than a decade of scientific warnings about a controversial copper and gold mine.

[18:50:04] Senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPODENT (voice-over): The meeting took place on the tarmac during of an Air Force One stopover June 26th. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, a pro-mining, pro-business, anti-EPA governor met with Donald Trump for nearly a half hour.

GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R), ALASKA: I just got off of Air Force One with being with President Trump.

GRIFFIN: Dunleavy has been pushing for approval of a massive gold and copper mine known as the Pebble Mine, planned for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed, home to the breeding grounds for one of the world's largest and most pristine sockeye salmon fisheries.

And after his meeting aboard Air Force One, Dunleavy said this about the president.

DUNLEAVY: He really believes in the opportunities here in Alaska and he's doing everything he can to work with us on our mining concerns.

GRIFFIN: Inside EPA, sources now tell CNN the very next day, June 27th, top EPA officials in Washington held an internal video conference with Seattle and told the staff the EPA was removing a special protection for Bristol Bay and in essence clearing the way for what could be one of the largest open pit mines in the world.

That internal announcement was a total shock to top EPA scientist, sources told CNN, because their environmental concerns were overruled by Trump political appointees.

Bristol Bay and the tributaries are regarded as one of the most important salmon fisheries, roughly half the world's sockeye salmon come from here. It's been protected since 2014, when after three years of study, the Obama era EPA used a rare provision of the Clean Water Act to basically veto any mining that could pose a threat.

EPA scientists writing a mine would result in complete loss of fish habitat that was irreversible.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: It's mindboggling that it's still being considered at all.

GRIFFIN: Christine Todd Whitman is a Republican, a former New Jersey governor and under President George W. Bush ran the EPA. She has joined several other former EPA chiefs to publicly oppose the mine.

TODD WHITMAN: The potential damage is so overwhelming. The opposition to it up there is amazing. Over 80 miles of streams, thousands of acres could be damaged from this project.

GRIFFIN: This is the second time during the Trump administration the political appointees at the EPA have decided to remove special protections for Bristol Bay to pave the way for this huge mine. In 2017, President Trump's first EPA administrator, scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt cancelled the protections after a private meeting with the mine company CEO.

After a CNN report exposed the meeting and lack of scientific debate behind the reversal, Pruitt backed down and put the protections back in place.

Now, another private meeting, this time with the president himself, has led to another win for the mine and removal of environmental protections for this pristine watershed.

TODD WHITMAN: One of the most troubling things about the administration on the environmental side is this disregard of science. There -- they're gutting science across the agencies, across the departments, across the government.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Even if scientists at the EPA are advising you, Mr. President, this is very dangerous to the environment, to the fisheries, to the state of Alaska -- if the president decides, that's the decision?

TODD WHITMAN: That's the decision.

GRIFFIN: And the only recourse then is for environmental groups to sue?

TODD WHITMAN: Environmental groups, Native Alaskans, they'll have a host of lawsuits, I am convinced.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Alaska's Governor Mike Dunleavy, elected last fall, is a huge Trump supporter. He's met with President Trump multiple times, sent this letter to the president asking for a long list of EPA reversals, including what he called the clean water 404 veto, a direct reference to Pebble Mine. A member of his staff used to work on the Pebble project in public relations.

And at EPA headquarters, Andrew Wheeler, the former coal company lobbyist who now runs the agency, has to tie to Pebble Mine, too. He has recused himself from decision making on the project because his former law firm represents the mine.

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GRIFFIN: Jim, in response to the report, the EPA said those Obama era protections were outdated and the mine still has to go through the approval process. Our sources are telling us it's a done deal. And when we asked about the internal EPA meeting on June 27th, the day after the governor met with the president, at first the EPA denied it happened but when we presented them with our evidence, they admitted the meeting took place. And our sources say, that, Jim, is when officials told scientists, the decision has been made and their work was not needed -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Excellent report. Drew Griffin, thank you very much.

And we'll have more news straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ACOSTA: We end this painful week the mothers, the fathers, the children, the grandparents, the neighbors and friends we have lost in mass shootings. Funerals are beginning for the 31 people gunned down in El Paso and Dayton. Their lives cut short by killers armed with weapons of war. One of them traveling across the state of Texas, police say, to specifically target Mexicans.

Two-month-old Paul Gilbert lost both parents in the El Paso attack. He got to meet the president and first lady, a moment he won't remember. But we won't forget this past week, will we?

What kind of world is Baby Paul entering? A better one, we hope than the one we lived through this past week.

I'm Jim Acosta.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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