Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina; Hurricane Dorian Devastates Bahamas; Hurricane Dorian Nears Florida After Devastating Bahamas; Florida Feels Impact Of Hurricane Dorian; New Video Of Dive Boat Fire, 34 Now Presumed Dead; CNN: West Texas Shooter Bought Gun In Private Sale. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 3, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: annihilated. We have a horrifying first look at the catastrophic destruction in the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian has left a sea of homes and ruins or underwater -- this hour, new accounts of the damage and weary survivors hanging onto roofs and then clinging to rescuers.
Flooding threats. Dorian is on the move tonight, getting dangerously close to the United States. Millions of people from Florida to North Carolina are at risk, as storm surges up to seven feet high are in the forecast.
Consumed by fire. Dramatic new video the deadly blaze on a dive boat, as the Coast Guard responded to the disaster. Tonight, the search for victims has ended, with many questions about the blaze unanswered.
And private sale. CNN has learned the gunman who went on a killing spree in Texas bought his AR-style rifle from a private seller, allowing him to evade a federal background check. Could the massacre have been prevented if that loophole didn't exist?
We want to welcome our viewers to the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: As Hurricane Dorian turns its deadly force on the United States, we're starting to see the utter devastation it unleashed in the Bahamas.
New aerial video reveals a cataclysmic scene, after Dorian hammered the Bahamas for days, entire neighborhoods flattened, as though hit by a tornado or a bomb. Hundreds of homes that haven't been wiped out are now underwater. Officials predict the Dorian death toll that now stands at five will certainly climb much, much higher.
A just released forecast shows Dorian gaining speed, as the still powerful hurricane moves closer and closer to the Southeastern United States. Winds are intensifying in parts of Florida right now. Hurricane warnings and watches have been extended farther up the East Coast into North Carolina. Life-threatening storm surges are up to seven feet high. That is what is expected.
Our correspondents, experts and other guests are standing by as we cover this hurricane disaster.
First, let's go to CNN Brian Todd. He is in Sewall's Point on Florida's east coast for us.
Brian, Florida is starting to feel some of Dorian's power that left so much of the Bahamas in ruins.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
We are getting hit with strong bursts of wind, rain and storm surge, as Dorian continues its torturous turn up the East Coast of Florida. But, tonight, it's the victims in the Bahamas who are dealing with just some incredible carnage inflicted by this storm.
TODD (voice-over): From above, utter devastation, as Hurricane Dorian continues churning towards the U.S. Tonight, we are seeing the first images of what it destroyed. This is what is left of Great Abaco Island, buildings leveled, homes splintered, the airport flooded, nearly everything gone.
This is the scene from the air. There is fear that what will be found on the ground will be far worse.
HUBERT MINNIS, PRIME MINISTER OF THE BAHAMAS: The initial reports from Abaco is that the devastation is unprecedented and expensive.
TODD: The howling winds and heavy rains that battered the Caribbean islands for nearly two days, powerful enough to twist this radio tower and to shear off rooftops. At least five people are confirmed dead. But the death toll will almost certainly rise, as reports continue to come in of those still missing and injured.
One man telling CNN's Patrick Oppmann he watched his wife die. And, tonight, there are tens of thousands homeless.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The roof was fine. We were holding really well. But when the water started to come in, it surged like we just didn't expect it. And it went really fast.
TODD: The U.S. Coast Guard is now aiding search-and-rescue operations, along with the Royal British Navy and Bahamas' Royal Police. The entire Bahamas island chain is facing extreme flooding, from roads, to hospitals, to the Freeport International Airport, which is completely submerged, making rescue efforts even more difficult, supplies nearly impossible to deliver.
This satellite image of Grand Bahama Island shows just how much of the island was underwater after Dorian passed through on Monday. Tonight, the storm that wreaked so much havoc there is heading here, to the U.S. coast, moving slowly northwest, pushing wind and storm surge towards the coastline. Many Florida counties are still under mandatory evacuation orders.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This is going to be riding Florida's coast for the next day, day-and-a-half. While we think this is a much better track than we were looking at 72 hours ago, we just ask people to stay safe, remain vigilant.
TODD: In Sewall's Point, a low-lying community in Martin County, officials say three-quarters of the town evacuated. Two large rivers and the ocean converged near here. Storm surge pushed water from the Indian River Lagoon into the streets, as crews scrambled to restore power even at the height of the storm.
The sheriff of Martin County now issuing a stern warning.
WILLIAM SNYDER, MARTIN COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: My biggest worry would be we let our guard down, that people stop paying attention, and that too many people let themselves get into harm's way.
TODD: Sheriff Snyder and other law enforcement officials telling us tonight one thing they are really concerned about as people come back from being evacuated over routes like this and back to the barrier islands is that criminals are going to come back with them and blend in to target homes that they know have been evacuated for burglary.
He says that's happened quite a lot before. And he's quadrupling the number of deputies that he is stationing on these barrier islands -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you, Brian Todd reporting for us.
Now let's go to the Bahamas, where the scope of the Dorian disaster is becoming clear tonight.
CNN's Patrick Oppmann is in Freeport for us.
Patrick, you have had an opportunity to tour some of the devastated areas, to speak to some of the storm survivors. Tell us what you are learning.
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today was the first day after many days of being here -- I have frankly lost count, Wolf -- that we were able to get outside. The winds weren't blowing so hard, although they were still blowing pretty hard, that we could try to get around some of this island.
Many of the roads are still underwater. Many of them are blocked by submerged cars. We got to one area, though, in East Freeport where a crew of people, a collection of volunteers, have brought their jet skis, their small boats, and are trying to carry out the rescues the Bahamian government so far has not been able to do. We met one man. His name is Howard Armstrong. He had been pulled out
of his house early this morning with just the clothes on his back. He said he had lost everything, including his wife.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD ARMSTRONG, HURRICANE VICTIM: It came over the roof, I would imagine 21 feet at least.
We were doing all right, until the water kept coming up, and all the appliances were going around the house like a washing machine. That's probably I got hit with something in there.
And my poor little wife got hypothermia. And she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets, until they disintegrated. And then I kept with her. And then she just drowned on me.
OPPMANN: I'm so sorry.
ARMSTRONG: I know. I know. So...
OPPMANN: How did you get out?
ARMSTRONG: I got out. I had a big boat anchored in there. I'm a crab fishermen. And I have a 40-footer on a mooring, which stayed there.
So I didn't even think it was there. So I had got out of the house after my wife drowned, and -- because you couldn't be in there anymore. And I had no tools to chop a hole in the roof, in the ceiling.
So I swam. I saw my boat was still there. And I swam. I took a chance and swam out to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OPPMANN: Armstrong said, after he swam out, Wolf, he went over to the house of a neighbor, ran to the house of a neighbor who had been calling for help all night long.
He said, when he looked in the window, he saw her dead body as well. We left Armstrong today. He was waiting to see if his wife's body would be recovered today. Rescuers said, though, their first priority, though, is bringing back the living, rescuing the living.
They are doing -- they have rescued dozens so far today. There are believed to be still hundreds of people out there waiting to be rescued -- Wolf.
BLITZER: An awful situation, Patrick.
How is he dealing with it? Is he in shock right now, because it's so, so sad?
OPPMANN: He was -- incredible shock. We tried to help him. He said he just wouldn't leave until his wife's body was brought out.
And there were other people who told us about missing relatives, people that said they'd seen the relatives pulled off by the waters. So the death toll tonight is at five, but it does not include anybody from this island, the island of Grand Bahama.
And we have heard reports, multiple reports of missing and dead. So that death toll, once authorities are finally able to reach this island, is just going to rise.
In the meantime, Wolf, you have to think about those people spending their third nights in houses that are underwater.
BLITZER: Is this the worst you have ever seen, Patrick? Because I know you have covered these hurricanes for many years.
OPPMANN: I have covered Katrina. I covered Wilma. I have covered Irma. And you see some terrible devastation, and nothing like this. It gets worse every day. It doesn't get better.
Usually, after a hurricane, things start to get better. Here, things are continuing to get worse. Our only hope is that, now the skies have cleared enough, that it will be safe for the Bahamian or U.S. government to be landing planes and choppers here that can help with the rescue efforts.
The Bahamians who live on Grand Bahama need that help desperately.
BLITZER: All right, Patrick, we're going to have more from you coming up.
Thank you so much for your really excellent reporting for us. I know this is difficult for you. It's difficult for everyone on the scene over there.
I want to get another look right now at the mind-boggling destruction that we're beginning to witness in the Bahamas.
The storm chaser who look the new aerial video we have been showing you is Brandon Clement. He is on the phone for us right now. He is in the Bahamas.
Brandon, I know you do this for a living, but is this the strongest hurricane you have -- that has ever made landfall in the Bahamas? Is this the most incredible destruction you have seen?
BRANDON CLEMENT, STORM CHASER: Well, it is hard to compare hurricanes. Like, Hurricane Katrina, it demolished and complete ground up, left nothing for many miles along the Mississippi Coast.
And, of course, you had New Orleans with the levee failures. You had Mexico Beach in Michael where it was just completely leveled, nothing left. Here, it's different. It's not one area that is just completely
demolished. There are multiple areas that are really bad over a widespread area on either side of the island.
But to complicate the matters, it is an island. And the airport is underwater. The relief effort is going to be very difficult to get in. The (INAUDIBLE) for boats. The -- too much debris for helicopters. There is nowhere for fixed-wing aircraft to land.
So, it's very difficult (INAUDIBLE). Again, we were able to get in and land on a golf course this morning with some first aid -- or first responders just getting in. And their purpose, you know, is to get in and clear spots for other helicopters to land, different areas to land around the island to get relief in.
But there is only one way in. It's by air right now. So, if you can't land, then the relief effort is no good. So, it's a devastating situation. It's horrible. I know that we're just beginning to get some of the numbers as far as death counts (INAUDIBLE) and stuff like that.
But I really am reserved to think that's going to be the final.
BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be awful, because the numbers are going to increase dramatically.
We have heard that people survived this storm clinging to their roofs. And you actually saw some of those survivors. Tell us what you saw.
When we got in there today, the water had already had pushed out for the most part. There were some areas still underwater, but it was nothing like it was yesterday and some of the images we saw yesterday.
So, what we saw today was not people clinging to roofs. It was people all gathering into the remaining structures that were at least usable or habitable. And we saw groups of people, sometimes 10, 20 people. And, sometimes, we saw 50 or 60.
Then we saw some other people who appeared to be looting, and others driving around. So, there's a little bit of everything. It's very hard to tell what's going on right now, especially from the air, with the conditions so bad (INAUDIBLE) all the places that we could go.
BLITZER: Brandon, what are you hearing from people who are still trapped?
CLEMENT: Yes, I'm hearing stories.
I'm always hesitant. Whenever coms go down, everybody assumes the worst. So, one rumor seems to be spoken as gospel. But I'm hearing some really crazy stories, like bodies are being stored in school buses and stuff like that.
But you never know what's really true or not until coms get back up in the area. I know we saw the same thing happen in Irma. There were rumors that body bags were (INAUDIBLE) the streets of Key West.
When I flew over Key West, though, it was fine. There was nothing wrong. But then you get down towards Summerland and Big Pine Key, and it's total destruction.
So the rumors we heard were absolutely false for that. And it tends to be the case most of the time. But you just never know until you get coms up and start getting widespread help and then people on the ground.
BLITZER: Brandon Clement, a storm chaser, thanks so much for the important work that you are doing. We are appreciative.
CLEMENT: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to show you harrowing rescues in the Bahamas and get an update on the hurricane threat along the East Coast of the United States.
Cities like Charleston, they are on alert tonight for a huge storm surge and very serious flooding.
And new video shows the Coast Guard responding to the fiery dive boat disaster off California. Why couldn't 34 victims be saved?
BLITZER: We are following all the breaking news on Hurricane Dorian threatening the United States tonight, after causing unprecedented destruction in the Bahamas.
CNN's Patrick Oppmann is on the island nation, where neighbors are trying to save neighbors, with no official rescue crews in sight.
OPPMANN: We are walking out to a staging area where they are bringing people in from the communities out here that have been flooded, sometimes one at a time.
You can see there are still hurricane-force winds and rain coming down on us, and yet these people are going out and pulling people from their houses, from on top of their houses, and saving their lives.
Look, there is a little baby here, a boy. They are covering him up and protecting him. I assume this is his mother.
Come through, come through, come through. Good job.
And they are going on a jet ski, because sometimes the boats -- ma'am, how are you doing? How are you doing? You made it. You're safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes.
OPPMANN: How high did the water get?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was up to the first floor.
OPPMANN: You are safe now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
OPPMANN: So, as she was saying, the water was up to the first floor of her house.
Many people here told us that the water came in so quickly into this neighborhood, you wouldn't be able to tell from what you're looking at here, but there are hundreds of houses back there. The only way to get the people from the houses is from small boats and jet skis.
What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we are trying to do the rescue here in Freeport after the hurricane.
OPPMANN: How many people are out there still?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few hundred.
OPPMANN: A few hundred?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. A lot of homes are over here.
OPPMANN: And it's tough to get out there and get them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's tough.
OPPMANN: How long are you going to keep doing it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until we get everybody. We are Bahamians. We are not going to stop until we get everybody in.
OPPMANN: This is all-volunteer. People are coming. They're bringing their jet skis. They're bringing their boats. They are going to get their neighbors, they say. Everyone says they know of people. They say it's very hard to navigate because there are, of course, no more streets.
And yet they are doing it. You don't see anybody from the government here. It is all very ad hoc, people coming with what they have, the jet skis they have. They are dealing with horrible weather conditions. It's not safe to be out in a boat right now. It's not safe to be out here at all, and yet they say they know people are out there.
There are people who have lost their lives out there, we are told. They have brought back at least one body. And they say they will not stop until they get everybody.
They have hours, if not days, of work ahead of them.
BLITZER: Patrick Oppmann reporting live for us from Freeport in the Bahamas.
The situation there is awful, as you could see.
Also, tonight, a state of emergency is in effect in South Carolina, as the state's coast is threatened by Hurricane Dorian.
The mayor of Charleston is warning his city is at risk from the triple threat of storm surge, high tide and heavy rain.
Mayor John Tecklenburg is joining us right now.
Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.
And you say there is a triple threat to your beautiful city of Charleston. What sort of impact potentially are you bracing for? How are you preparing for a worst-case scenario?
JOHN TECKLENBURG, MAYOR OF CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you, Wolf.
And, yes, I mentioned that earlier today, that there is a real triple threat, when high tides and heavy rains and storm surge happens at the same time, because Charleston is the center of what we call the low country. We are very close to sea level.
And, for example, tonight -- I mean, tomorrow night, they're predicting a tide over 10 feet. And at that level, many streets in Charleston could be flooded.
But I must tell you, we have had great practice, now five years in a row with major storm events. And our sense of recovery and resiliency is terrific. And so we will be back in business, I'm sure, maybe by the weekend.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope.
Charleston, of course, as you know, is under an evacuation order, at least for parts of your city. What percentage of your residents will heed that warning and actually evacuate?
TECKLENBURG: Well, that's a good question.
I think it's been pretty low so far, as people have been monitoring the storm, maybe 25 percent, but that's an estimate.
We urge folks, if you live in a home that has flooded over the last four years in one of these other events, to please evacuate. Take this storm very seriously. We will be seeing impacts from the storm.
We have been preparing, Wolf, in all kinds of ways, getting pumps and clearing drains and helping. Why, just over the last two days, we have given out 75,000 sandbags to our citizens.
So we have been in preparation mode. Now we have to got to see what licks we're going to take and move into response and recovery.
BLITZER: So what is your message to people who have decided to stay put?
TECKLENBURG: Those who stay put need to hunker down, be safe, be inside, be on high ground.
And I will tell you, three years ago, when Hurricane Matthew came, and I rode through the streets the night before the storm, and they were deserted, I felt like we had done such a job of preparation getting people safe.
And the same thing is happening in Charleston right now. So people will be out of harm's way, either by evacuating or being in a safe place. We will take our licks, and then we're going to clean up and get right back to business.
BLITZER: I am sure you will.
Mayor John Tecklenburg, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Charleston. We will be staying in very close touch with you. Thank you so much for joining us.
TECKLENBURG: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Just ahead: As millions of Americans brace for Hurricane Dorian, President Trump canceled an overseas trip to monitor the storm. Tonight, he is defending his decision to spend time on the golf course instead.
BLITZER: More on the breaking news, Hurricane Dorian moving dangerously close to Florida, now, Georgia after devastating the Bahamas.
Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, the White House said President Trump cancelled his trip to Poland so he can monitor the storm. But he, what, spent four hours at one of his golf clubs yesterday while millions of Americans were evacuated.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump and Vice President Pence are both defending their Labor Day weekend activities tonight after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Bahamas, and now, the storm threatening the southeast.
The president spent much of the holiday weekend playing golf, as you said, and tweeting out his grievances while Pence was staying at one of Mr. Trump's golf courses during an official trip to Ireland, something that aides say the president actually suggested.
ACOSTA: President Trump isn't asking for a mulligan after hitting the links at his Virginia golf course over the Labor Day weekend as Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas. He is teeing off on his critics, tweeting that many politicians exercise for hours or travel for weeks. Me, I run through one of my courses, very inexpensive.
But the president wasn't alone in showing his preference for Trump properties. Vice President Mike Pence stayed at the Trump golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, three hours from Dublin, where he was to hold officials.
MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I understand the political attacks by Democrats. The opportunity to stay at Trump National in Doonbeg to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel made it logical.
ACOSTA: As it turns out, staying at the Trump club was Mr. Trump's idea. Pence's chief of staff told reporters, I don't think it was a request like a command. I think it was a suggestion.
The White House says the president was receiving constant updates on the storm even as many Trump was stating he had never heard of a Category 5 hurricane before.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm not sure that I've ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed. And I've seen some Category 4s, you don't even see them that much. But a Category 5 is something that I don't know that I've ever even heard the term other than I know it's there.
ACOSTA: But that's not true. The president has repeatedly claimed he's never heard of such storms in the past.
TRUMP: It was a Category 5. I never even knew a category 5 existed.
Nobody has ever heard of a 5 hitting land.
I saw the devastating effects of that Category 5 hurricane, Category 5.
ACOSTA: Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci says he is worried about the president's mental state.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He has a few phrases that he uses repetitively that he thinks is working. And so saying that he's never heard of a Category 5 hurricane and not remembering that a sort of a Category 5 hurricane is emblematic of what's going on in terms of the mental decline.
ACOSTA: Over the weekend, the president stated that in addition to Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama will most likely be hit, much harder than anticipated. [18:35:00] But wasn't quite right. The National Weather Service in Birmingham appeared to correct Mr. Trump's tweet, saying, Alabama will not see any impacts from Dorian.
The president didn't like the coverage that received, tweeting, it was, in fact, correct that Alabama could have received some hurt. Always good to be prepared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, God, they're shooting right there.
ACOSTA: One of the big questions as Congress returns from recess is whether lawmakers will pass new gun laws. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says much of that is riding on the president.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If the president took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I would be happy to put it on the floor.
ACOSTA: Getting back to the vice president's visit to the Trump property in Ireland, the White House says Pence will be paying for the costs of his family members who also stayed at the resort. But the rest of the cost for all the Secret Service agents and other government workers traveling with Pence, that will be picked up by the taxpayers. And aides say the president will not be picking up the tab. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thank you.
We want to talk about all of this and more with our experts and our analysts. They're standing by. Our discussion begins right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on Hurricane Dorian, and we're joined now by our experts and our analysts.
And, David Swerdlick, the president had cancelled a trip to Poland in order to be here in the United States to monitor this monster storm. But yesterday, he goes out and plays golf.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He played golf a couple of times this weekend. And it sends a message to people along the Southeastern United States, in Florida, in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, et cetera, that their troubles, their distress or potential distress is a hassle for him.
It makes people like me who just said last Wednesday or Thursday sitting right here good on the president for canceling his trip, look like we were giving him too much credit. And lastly, Wolf, it makes it seem like the president doesn't understand that he signed up for a 24-hour day, 7-day a week, 365-day a year job. I will note, this is the same criticism I gave to President Obama in his first term when he would vacation on Martha's Vineyard at the height of the recession rather than staying in Washington and trying to work on economic issues. It's a criticism that goes both ways. When are you the president, you have the fate of the people to a certain extent in your hands, and people want to see their president out front.
BLITZER: They do. Jeffrey Toobin, what does it tell you that the vice president on a visit to Ireland over the past few days decided to stay at one of the president's golf resorts instead of staying in the city there?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president is much more comfortable in his job now after two and a half years years. And so he can grift, that is make money off the presidency in an even more open way. That's why he's advertising, doing an infomercial, to have the G7 come to his struggling resort in South Florida.
His subordinates know that the way to please him is to spend money in his resorts as the vice president took the president's suggestion and stayed in his resort in Ireland, traveling all the way the width of Ireland to go there. It's why the attorney general is holding a $30,000 party at the Trump Hotel.
I mean, this is the M.O. of the president. This is how he's always operated. And I think now he is comfortable in the job, he is more comfortable making money off the presidency.
BLITZER: Sabrina, you covered the White House for us. Pence and his spokesman, they point out, he does have some family in Doonbeg, where the golf resort is, in Ireland. But it was an inconvenience. It's a long drive to his official meeting.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And they gave many different explanations for why Vice President Mike Pence chose to stay at a Trump property. They also said that while security is more familiar with the protocol and the logistics there, as if hotels in Dublin haven't hosted presidents before, and especially when you point out the meetings were, of course, more than 100 miles away, it didn't really make much sense.
I think you have seen this pattern where the president has continued to profit off of his companies while in office and there have been administration officials who've certainly been at the Trump International Hotel here in Washington as well as foreign governments who have made -- who have stayed there -- members of foreign government was stayed there.
There was just a report last week that Attorney General William Barr intends to host a holiday party at the Trump Hotel in Washington that could total about $30,000.
Now, the Justice Department is saying that he's going to pay for that out of his pocket. But, again, this is just another example of Trump being able to enrich himself because he is currently the sitting president. He has not divested himself from his business. He handed over the day-to-day operations to his sons. So, clearly, this is something that not only raises legal questions, but really is happening off of taxpayer dollars.
BLITZER: An interesting development. The vice president, Susan, he has been meeting with Irish officials while he is in Ireland. The deputy White House press secretary tweeted this. For all of you who still think our vice president is anti-gay, I point you to his and the second lady's schedule tomorrow [18:45:00] where they will join the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and his partner, Doctor Matthew Barrett, for lunch in Ireland.
What do you make of that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Mike Pence has opposed marriage equality laws. He has opposed gay people serving in the United States military, the Trump administration has sought to ban transgender service in my military, roll back Obama-era transgender protections in schools. Mike Pence supports laws, religious liberty laws designed to allow employers to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Karen Pence as the second lady of the United States has chosen to teach at a school that doesn't allow LBGT teachers. The idea that their willingness to be in the same room and have lunch with a foreign leader and his male partners so as they are not anti-gay is absurd. And the fact the fact that his task has to point to this as evidence that the Pences not being anti-gay stands as a testament to the fact that the Pences are people who have dedicated substantial portions of their lives promoting policies and beliefs and legislation that actively harm gay people. And that is just a fact.
And being in the same room and having lunch with somebody, it does not do anything to mitigate that.
BLITZER: Thank you very much for that. Everybody, stand by.
I want to alert our viewers to stay with CNN tomorrow for an unprecedented Democratic presidential town hall event on the climate crisis. Ten presidential candidates will take the stage to address one of the most critical issues confronting the world right now. That's tomorrow, afternoon and evening starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
There's more breaking news next. New video of that deadly dive boat fire off the California coast. Tonight, the search for survivors is over.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. Dramatic new video of that dive boat fire off southern California and growing questions about how the dozens of victims were apparently trapped below deck.
CNN's Nick Watt has the latest for us.
Nick, 34 people are now presumed dead.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. And 20 of those bodies have been recovered.
Right now, dive teams are out at the wreck trying to recover the others. We're told that they have seen some bodies on the ocean floor. And others are believed to still be trapped inside the hull of that boat which is right now upside down on the ocean floor.
WATT (voice-over): Newly released video shows the coast guard trying, failing to fight the flames.
At 09:40 this morning hope officially died. There will be no more survivors. The mission switched from rescue to recovery.
CAPTAIN MONICA ROCHESTER, U.S. COAST GUARD: It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts.
CONCEPTION: Mayday! Mayday! Mayday. Conception. On fire. Platts Harbor. Santa Cruz.
WATT: Captain Paul Amaral heard that call raced to the scene shot this video. To know these people were trapped on the boat, he told CNN, it's horrific. He saw bodies float to the surface.
All 34 people now confirmed dead or missing were likely asleep in bunks on the bottom deck when the fire broke out.
SHERIFF BOB BROWN, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: There was a stairwell to get down the main entry way up and down. There was an escape hatch. And it would appear as though both of those were blocked by fire.
BOB HANSEN, WITNESS: It was fully engulfed from bow to stern, I mean, in flames probably 30 feet high.
WATT: Bob and Shirley Hansen were anchored close by, heard a banging on their boat around 3:30 a.m. It was the five crew on the top deck managed to escape.
HANSEN: Two of the crew members that were in pretty good shape, I gave them a flashlight and they went out to try and find anybody that might have gotten off.
WATT: The two crew members found no one. And the Hansens brought a handful of survivors to the shore.
HANSEN: I got the space. They could have all just gotten in the water and I could have gotten them out of there.
WATT: Listen to these frantic questions asked by a dispatcher as the boat burned.
DISPATCHER: Can you get back onboard and unlock the boat? You don't have any firefighting gear at all? No fire extinguishers or anything?
WATT: The coast guard now telling us the boat was in full compliance. Clues to the cause of the catastrophe, apparently not.
ROCHESTER: A lot of adrenalin, a lot of confusion. And I think my best deduction is the member -- the radio communicator was trying to ask for information. There are no locked doors.
WATT: And, we are getting no clues whatsoever from authorities as to what they believe started the fire. The investigation is under way. They are interviewing those five crew members. But it could be more than a year before we get a final report.
Remember, the little that's left of the boat, Wolf, is right now 60 feet under water.
BLITZER: All right. Nick, thank you very much. It's really horrific, horrific. A good development.
Just ahead, CNN has learned how the West Texas shooter who killed seven people got his gun.
BLITZER: New details tonight about the shooting rampage in West Texas this weekend that left seven dead. A law enforcement official tells CNN that the gunman bought his weapon, an AR-type assault rifle in a private sale which didn't require a background check.
Walmart is announcing major changes in its gun policies a month after 22 people were killed in a shooting rampage in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The company says it will stop selling handguns in Alaska, the only state it still sells the weapons. And it will limit ammunition sales nationwide, while also asking customers to stop openly carrying guns in Walmart stores in states where so-called open carry is legal.
The NRA calls the move by Walmart shameful.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CNN's special breaking news coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".