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Donald Trump Criticizes Senator McCain's War Record; Fifth Service Member Killed In Chattanooga Attack; Wind-Driven Flames Overtake Cars Stopped At I-15 In San Bernardino. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired July 18, 2015 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Greece owes more than $300 billion to its creditors. We have so much more straight ahead. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for hanging out with me today.

Ana Cabrera is up next.

[15:00:22] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Poppy Harlow.

And we begin this hour with Donald Trump. He is at the center of yet another controversy. This time, going after Senator John McCain over his record as a war hero. And the moment that's under fire came during an appearance at the family leadership summit in Iowa. Watch.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you. He's a war hero because he was captured. OK?


CABRERA: All right. After that, Trump tried to cover his tracks, saying captured or not, all our soldiers are heroes. But of course, he couldn't just leave it at that.

And joining me now live from Iowa, Mark Preston, the executive editor for CNN politics.

All right, Mark, he was speaking to a big crowd of social conservatives. We could hear some of the reaction, but you were there. What was that like? What did they say? What did they do?

MARK PRESTON, CNN EXECUTIVE POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, I've got to tell you what, Ana. I think people were surprised by that exchange with Donald Trump and the moderator from Frank Lance (ph) just a few hours ago. Now, as we heard, Lance (ph) came out and said he was a war hero, which only further fueled Trump to continue to be critical of John McCain, specifically his service and as a pilot for the U.S. Navy, and then, of course, being captured as a POW in the Vietnam war. Now, Trump, there after -- after he left the stage, he tried to clean

it up a little bit and this is what he had to say.


TRUMP: John McCain has not done enough for the veterans in this country. Let me explain something. And when John McCain called 15,000 people that showed up in Phoenix, Arizona, to talk about illegal immigration, he calls them a bunch of crazies, he's doing a great disservice to this country.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: You did not respect him because he was captured.

TRUMP: No, that's not -- excuse me. If a person is captured, they're a hero as far as I'm concerned, unless they're a traitor like Bergdahl. He was captured. He's no hero. But you have to do other things also. I don't like the job that John McCain is doing in the Senate. Because he's not taking care of our veterans.


PRESTON: So there you have Donald Trump right there trying to talk his way out of what he said about John McCain's service, specifically his time as a POW.

Now, Ana, the back story in all this is that John McCain and Donald Trump do not like each other. They have been involved in a bit of a war of words. Donald Trump does criticize him -- when I say him, criticizes Senator John McCain on the campaign trail. But I have to tell you, Donald Trump has made those comments and in just the last couple of hours he has come under withering criticism right now, not only from Democrats, but also Republicans, several of them who are challenging him for the Republican nomination. Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal. Rick Perry has said that Donald Trump should leave the race. Lindsey Graham, you see here shortly, John McCain's best friend, he too was critical. So, a lot of criticism being directed to Donald Trump - Ana.

CABRERA: Right. And I want to talk more about that specifically, Mark, because you mentioned the other candidates who are on the Republican side of all this, really attacking Trump. I want to read a couple of their comments because social media has really lit up. This coming from Rick Perry here saying quote "his attack on veterans makes him unfit to be commander in-chief from the armed forces and he should immediately withdraw from the race for president."

Now, we also heard from Ted Cruz today. I want to listen to that because, Mark, as you know, Ted Cruz has been an ally of Trump. Listen and we will get your reaction.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, John McCain is a friend of mine. I respect and admire him. He is an American war hero. In fact, a couple of years ago in what was the 40th anniversary of McCain's release (INAUDIBLE), I went to the Senate floor to give a speech about what an incredible privilege it is to serve in the United States Senate with a hero like John McCain. Not only did he sign up to defend our nation, putting his life in harm's way, but when he was a POW he was imprisoned, he was tortured, and most incredibly, John McCain was offered the opportunity for early release. He was offered the opportunity to go home. And he turned it down because he believed it would be dishonorable to accept that.

I'll tell you, it is a true and humbling privilege to serve in the Senate with an American hero like John McCain.


CRUZ: You know, I recognize that folks in the press love to see Republican on Republican arguments. And so, you want me to say something bad about Trump or bad about John McCain or bad about anyone else, I'm not going to do it. John McCain is a friend of mine. I respect and admire him. He is an American hero. And Donald Trump is a friend of mine. The rest of it, you guys can throw rocks at Republican candidates. I'm not going to engage that.


[23:05:23] CABRERA: Alright, Mark, Cruz spent a lot of time praising John McCain, but he does not denounce Trump's comments.

PRESTON: No. And in fact, very interesting, that was Ted Cruz just in the last 20-25 minutes or so. So that is very fresh. Now, Ted Cruz is trying to turn the question against the media right there as we saw, trying to say that the media is trying to create a fire storm there. But the bottom line is that Ted Cruz did not denounce Donald Trump.

Also Ben Carson who is seeking Republican nomination, he was given several opportunities today as well, Ana, to denounce Donald Trump and called John McCain a hero when he was asked. He, himself, would not do so either.

So it just show you that while most people are now denouncing Trump for those comments, there are a couple people who are walking this very delicate line.

CABRERA: Alright, Mark Preston, joining us from Iowa this afternoon. Thank you so much.

And joining me now to discuss further, Ben Domenech is the publisher of the conservative opinion website, "The Federalist."

All right, Ben, you heard those comments from Trump. Certainly, he knows what to say to stay in the limelight.

BEN DOMENECH, PUBLISHER, THE FEDERALIST: He absolutely does. Though, I think in this case, this was once again an example of Trump failing to defend the border between his brain and his mouth. He really does say these things over and over again that have no filter. That people view as being authentic in an era of political inauthenticity. But I think that this is an example where he was a little too honest about his own opinion about John McCain. And he is coming under significant fire.

But I do think it's interesting that Ted Cruz was unwilling to criticize in this situation. Everyone I think within the Republican Party wants to see Donald Trump deported from this field as soon as possible. But I also think that Cruz and Carson and several of the other candidates want to be there standing when Trump inevitably leaves the race. They want to pull his supporters into their team as being more credible candidates for the presidency.

I think Rick Perry's challenge to Trump is interesting as a veteran. Lindsey Graham's as well. But going forward, I think that we're really going to have to see these Republicans stand up and be willing to criticize Trump for what he is, which is a clown, really, an entertainer within a sea of people who are far more qualified for the presidency.

CABRERA: Well, he's definitely no stranger to controversy in to saying things that offend other people. He seems to be offending everybody these days, from individuals to groups of people, including Latinos with the comments he made about Mexican immigrants. So this comment specifically about prisoners of war, about veterans taking a step further, do you think that it's going to really change the game?

DOMENECH: When you're criticizing Mexicans and immigrants within the Republican Party, the sad state of affairs is that there's a certain pocket of the Republican Party that hears that and responds to it. That agrees with it on some level. But I think that when you start criticizing veterans, particularly people like John McCain, who whatever you think of his policies is clearly a war hero and clearly endured all sorts of horrible things suffering for his nation. And I think that's the sort of thing that for Republicans, particularly talk radio Republicans, that just goes too far even for them.

I think the scary thing would be if Donald Trump after making these remarks still stays at the level that he's at within the polls, because I think that would say something about the Republican base that would maybe be of concern for the national Republican Party in terms of what it says about what their priorities are going forward. The sooner that Donald Trump gets out of this race, the sooner we can talk about the serious candidates and not the people who are just out there being blow hards.

CABRERA: What's it going to take for him to get out of the race?

DOMENECH: I think it is going to take more than just the establishment, the moderates in the party, the people who share John McCain's views, looking at him and sort of saying he needs to get out. I think it's going to take his own supporters standing up to him and saying look, we may agree with you on these priorities. We may agree with you on these issues. But you actually would be better off outside of this field than in it. There are other candidates who can take up this message, this populous message, this anti-Washington message, and run with it and have a better chance of success. In the current polls, there's no reason that he would do that. But I think his own supporters were part of the people who were gasping when he said that line today. And that to me gives me a little hope.

CABRERA: Right. You could hear a combination of maybe some nervous laughter but also some boos, it sounded like in the crowd in his reaction.

DOMENECH: Yes. It really is. And I think it's an old joke. This joke about McCain being a war hero but not being one because he was captured. Al Franken said it when he was on "Saturday Night Live." I think Chris Rock said maybe said it at some point. And I think that that is something that, you know, that's fine for somebody who's a humorist.

CABRERA: An entertainer.

DOMENECH: Exactly to say. There's a different category for it, though, when you're rung for president and people start taking you seriously. They start actually taking you seriously when you say comments like this. And that's, I think, why Trump is experiencing the kind of backlash that he wouldn't if he was still in that entertainer category for most people.

[23:10:01] CABRERA: Is there a voice you'll be listening to hear from the Republican Party that could really take a lead in terms of sending the message that represents the party as a whole?

DOMENECH: You know, I think that it would be really interesting for me to see if Rick Perry got on the stage with Donald Trump in this first debate that's coming up. He's on the edge. He's on the bubble right now. But he is a veteran. He's someone who speaks with authority, I think, when it comes to military issues. And I think there are a lot of veterans who support him. And I think that would be an interesting scenario just to put those two opposite of each other. The obviously have their disagreements on immigration already. They've already been butting heads on that point and on the border. And I think seeing them go at it would be good for the party as a whole, frankly, in the sense that if you can't sort of beat back Donald Trump's arguments in order to win, I think that says something about you as a party and you as a leader going forward.

CABRERA: All right. Thank you so much, Ben Domenech. We'll be talking to you more throughout this hour. Thanks for your thoughts. We appreciate it.

Now, the shooting rampage in Chattanooga just today claimed yet another life. We have new developments out of Tennessee. That's coming up.


[15:14:22] CABRERA: New developments now out of Tennessee. The shooting rampage in Chattanooga just today claimed another life. A sailor who was critically wounded died early this morning, becoming the fifth service member killed in the attack. Family members have identified him as Navy petty officer Randall Smith.

Boris Sanchez is in Chattanooga this afternoon where the community has been mourning the victims.

Boris, we're hearing that petty officer Smith actually saw the shooter and he died a hero. He tried to warn people around him.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, that report coming from Randall Smith's step-grandmother. She tells CNN that he realized what was happening as the shooter broke though that fence and got ready to open fire. He tried to run away and warn others when he was shot three times in the abdomen. He went into surgery Thursday night and he passed away last night. His grandmother says the family is in shock. They never expected him to be in any danger because he wasn't deployed to combat overseas. They thought he was safe here in Chattanooga.


DARLENE PROXTTIRE, RANDALL SMITH'S STEP GRANDMOTHER: Because he was never, you know, shipped over there anywhere, you know, where the fighting and all that was at. You think it's not going to happen to your family. But by God, it can. It can happen anywhere.


SANCHEZ: We're hearing that same sentiment from veterans at the memorial who served overseas. They could not believe that something like this would happen in a quiet town like Chattanooga.

CABRERA: It is just so, so sad. Now, this attack has raised questions out, do you know Boris, about why troops at recruiting centers or these reserve offices aren't allowed to have guns. In fact, the governor of Florida just ordered all the National Guard personnel at store-front recruitment centers in his state to relocate to the nearest National Guard armory until security is improved at those centers.

We've also heard from the governors in Texas in other places ordering National Guard units to now arm themselves. Is the Pentagon taking a stance or doing anything to increase security for these members of the military?

SANCHEZ: Ana, the Pentagon deciding to close all recruitment centers within 40 miles of this one. They're also looking at steps to potentially do more to protect the men and women who work at these recruitment centers. You mentioned in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Florida, they're exploring ways to arm these men and women, because they believe had these men and women here been armed, they would have done a better job at defending themselves from this kind of attack.

CABRERA: We're going to expand on that conversation. But I also want to get to apparently another friend of the gunman speaking out, saying he was shocked by the attack, and the apparent gunman's connection to it. What is he saying? What are you hearing? SANCHEZ: He said that he had spoken to him recently and he didn't

raise any red flags here. Remember, many of his friends came out saying the shooter was an all-American guy, someone who was an athlete, an engineering student. Someone who fit in and had a good sense of hearing. Not your typical shooter in many of these cases. People who were alienated or loners. But in this case, his friend, a fellow athlete, a fellow Boxer says he didn't see any signs that something like this might happen.


SPENCER MANNING, FRIEND OF MOHAMMAD ABDULAZEEZ: There is absolutely no red flags. I wish I can give you better answer, but no. No red flags at all. Just a normal guy.


SANCHEZ: And now investigators are combing through digital evidence, looking at text messages, emails, anything he might have had on his computers that might indicate he was influenced by a terrorist organization - Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Boris Sanchez staying on top of the investigation live from Chattanooga. Thanks so much.

And the city of Chattanooga coping with the aftermath now of this deadly terror attack. Meanwhile, investigators are trying to confirm the motive behind the gunman's actions. That a lot of people are questioning how such an attack could even happen.

Let's discuss further with Rick Schwein. He is the former FBI special agent in charge. Also with us, Casey Jordan, a CNN contributor criminologist and behavior analyst.

Rick, I want to start with you. Several states, as we have mentioned, have now decided to arm their National Guard personnel. Is that going to make these places safer?

RICK SCHWEIN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN-CHARGE: Well, you would hope so. You would hope that that would serve as a deterrent. And it's long overdue. I mean, you have these men and women in uniform who are highly trained, who understand weapons safety, and yet we've left them vulnerable at these recruiting centers. Especially after the threat, ISIL has come out publicly and said if you can't come and join us in the caliphate and fight the infidel, fight them in America. Target the military personnel that live and serve our country.

CABRERA: We don't know yet whether this individual, has any connection to any particular terrorist group. He doesn't seem to have much of a digital footprint. So what does it take for someone to be on the FBI's radar?

SCHWEIN: Well, it could take a number of different things. And certainly, this path to radicalization is getting more difficult in today's environment to uncover. Primarily because of the use of the Internet. And not just the Internet that's on the surface, but the dark web that you hear so much about. The encrypted sites that are difficult to get to and very difficult for law enforcement and intelligence communities to monitor.

So people can work in an environment and go down this path to radicalization. But I know the investigation will focus on did he have a spiritual mentor, a live person that helped him justify these horrific murderous acts, or did he get that justification through the Internet, through electronic media?