Return to Transcripts main page


Dayton Police Reveal New Video And Timeline Of Mass Shooting; Hong Kong Protesters Clash With Riot Police; Trump Cites Intelligence Report Saying Chinese Troops Moving To Hong Kong Borders; Interview with Representative Don Beyer (D-VA); Immigration Official Rewrites Statue Of Liberty Poem To Defend New Regulations Limiting Legal Immigration; Russians Track CNN Crew Exposing Putin's Private Army; Prison Warden Reassigned, Two Staffers on Leave Amid Probe of Jeffrey Epstein's Apparent Suicide. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 13, 2019 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, killing spree. Just released video shows police in Dayton with the Dayton gunman has authorities reveal new information about his movements and communications in the hours and minutes before the slaughter.

Violent clashes. Riot police confront protesters at one of the world's busiest airports. As the unrest in Hong Kong intensifies, will Chinese troops intervene?

Trump blinks. The president steps back from his trade war with China, delaying tariffs a day after stock prices plunge. Is he simply putting off the economic pain?

And Putin's secret force. CNN goes exclusively inside a boot camp of the Kremlin leader's army-for-hire. Why were the Russians spying on our CNN crew along the way?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Dayton shooting massacre. Police revealing new details on the shooter's movements that night. Just released video shows how officers confronted him less than 20 seconds after he fired his first shot, before killing him seconds later.

Also breaking, China may be closer to intervening against pro- democracy protesters in Hong Kong. President Trump says U.S. intelligence officials told him that Chinese troops are moving to the Hong Kong border. This, after thousands of demonstrators paralyzed Hong Kong's international airport, clashing with riot police.

This hour, I'll talk with Democratic Congressman Don Beyer, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our National Correspondent Gary Tuchman. He's in Dayton, Ohio, for us.

Gary, police gave us the most detailed timeline yet of the leadup to the mass shooting.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This killer killed nine people, including his own sister. He wounded 17 people, including a friend of his. And now we know conclusively it was all planned, it was all deliberate, because of video we've seen for the very first time.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): It is a picture played out in grainy surveillance video of the methodical plans of a mass murderer.

LT. PAUL SAUNDERS, DAYTON, OHIO POLICE: Now he's traveling eastbound and you'll see that he has the backpack and he's in long sleeves and the backpack is weighted down, it's not empty.

TUCHMAN: Tonight, police are laying out the timeline of last Saturday night's mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, for the first time. Showing video, they say, shows Connor Betts was acting alone. Betts' night begins, police say, without his weapon, as he enters Blind Bob's Bar with his sister and her friend at 11:04 p.m. He then leaves the two of them and goes to Ned Pepper's Bar at 12:14 a.m. Police say it's crowded. He stays there for 30 minutes. When he leaves, he walks right past a police car.

SAUNDERS: He's aware of where they were. (INAUDIBLE) hadn't seen him.

TUCHMAN: At this point the shooter heads back to his car where police say he changes his clothes and grabs a backpack filled with his weapon.

SAUNDERS: Now he's wearing a backpack, he's wearing long sleeves shirt. The path on the right-hand side shows how he went. He's going to cut back over to the alley. This is from the record store so we can catch him cutting that same path right here.

TUCHMAN: Investigators say Betts is alone and they don't believe his sister or friend, who would both be shot, knew he was carrying his assault style rifle and body armor in his trunk.

CHIEF RICHARD BIEHL, DAYTON, OHIO POLICE: We don't see anyone assisting him in committing this horrendous crime. It also seems to strongly suggest that his companion had no idea what he was going to do, nor did he have any knowledge of the weapons that were in the trunk of that vehicle.

TUCHMAN: Moments later the 24-year-old opens fire. Police say they can tell he's firing because the crowd reacts.

SAUNDERS: Now this is the patio from Blind Bob's. Now they're moving. They've just heard shots. And we know that he's been firing because just past this umbrella is the taco stand on Fifth Street. That's where our first three fatalities occur. And one of them his sister.

TUCHMAN: Police as Betts crosses Fifth Street he is still shooting. This, they say, is when officers react.

SAUNDERS: You're going to see Officer (INAUDIBLE) come up here, so he's engaging right now, that was the shooter that just went by.

TUCHMAN: Investigators say Betts was shooting for 32 seconds.

SAUNDERS: So you're going to see the shooter continue to run right here, and he's going to end right here.

TUCHMAN: Before police take him down.


TUCHMAN: And once again in the awful parts of this video the shooter is all by himself which is convincing evidence he did not have an accomplice while he's carrying out these murders. In regards to his sister and his friend, police say they still don't know and may never know if he purposely tried to shoot them or if they just got caught up in all this. We still don't know a motivation.

[18:05:01] We've asked the police, they don't know. Police do say they know his mindset, that he was obsessed with violence.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Gary Tuchman, at Dayton, thanks for that update.

Now, to the breaking news on the unrest and chaos in Hong Kong. CNN's Paula Hancocks is joining us live from the Hong Kong International Airport.

Paula, you've been covering the clashes between the protesters and riot police. Give us the latest.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this point you can see it's early in the morning and people are coming to try and get their flights. It looks like an ordinary airport but just hours ago there were those clashes between riot police and the protesters. Riot police at the entrance of one of the world's busiest airports, not something you would expect.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Chaos at one of the world's busiest airports. Protesters barricading themselves behind a wall of luggage carts and chairs as they clash with riot police at the Hong Kong International terminal entrance with batons and pepper spray. One officer appears to pull out his pistol, after protesters overpowered him, grabbing his baton and using it against him. After several minutes police start retreating.

Their arrival by the bus load created a window for paramedics to rescue a man who had passed out after protesters accused him of being an undercover cop.

It's the second consecutive day thousands of Hong Kong activists have forced this massive international hub to cancel all outbound flights. Sparking anger and frustration from stranded travelers, the scenes at the airport highlighting the intensity of the moment for the people of Hong Kong.

Today President Trump reacting to the powerful images.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Hong Kong thing is very tough situation, very tough. We'll see what happens. But I'm sure it will work out. I hope it works out for everybody, including China.

HANCOCKS: This is the 10th straight week of protests, which have brought this region with its two starkly different political systems to a screeching halt. It all started because of a proposed law that would allow accused criminals to be extradited to mainland China which activists say would let the Chinese government target political enemies. But now that bill is being suspended, but not formerly withdrawn, and protesters' anger has spread to the perceived excessive violence by police.

China has taken the demonstrations as a direct challenge to its rule, sending tanks to the border, and demanding protesters back down. Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam who backs the bill says Hong Kong is no longer safe due to the mass protests.

CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE (through translator): The rioters have pushed Hong Kong to the brink of no return.


HANCOCKS: We're also hearing some stronger words from Beijing. A top official saying that these protests are now showing some signs of terrorism and also, you know that there are some images of Chinese military moving military vehicles on the other side of the border, heavily edited, with music as well, obviously images that Beijing wants these protesters to see but of course it does raise questions as to what comes next -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very dangerous moment indeed. All right, Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks in Hong Kong.

Now to President Trump, he's monitoring China's response to the Hong Kong protest while taking a step back from his own trade war with Beijing.

CNN's Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta is with the president in New Jersey right now.

Jim, the president publicly disclosed information from his private intelligence briefings. Give us the latest.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Wolf. President Trump is adding more drama to the unfolding volatile situation in China. At one point tweeting that U.S. intelligence has information that the Chinese are moving troops toward Hong Kong.

The president has also temporarily backed down in his trade war with China, delaying a new round of tariffs on Chinese products coming into the U.S.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Revealing what may be sensitive national security information in a tweet, President Trump inserted himself into the growing crisis in Hong Kong. As the protests there were becoming more violent the president hinted China may be about to take action, tweeting, "Our intelligence has informed us that the Chinese government is moving troops to the border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe."

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy criticized the president's tweet saying, "This is not foreign policy." The president hardly sounded fazed by it all.

TRUMP: We'll see what happens but I'm sure it will work out. I hope it works out for everybody, including China, by the way.

ACOSTA: The president is backing off his trade war with China, delaying a new round of tariffs on Chinese products until December. The president said his administration is doing that to spare shoppers during the holidays, even though he's repeatedly said that tariffs aren't hurting consumers.

TRUMP: We're doing this for Christmas season just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.

ACOSTA: On the domestic front the president continued to express confidence that new gun control legislation could make its way through Congress despite stout GOP opposition.

[18:10:07] TRUMP: Look, it's very difficult. There's nobody more pro-Second Amendment than Donald Trump, but I don't want guns in the hands of a lunatic or a maniac. And I think if we do proper background checks we can prevent that.

ACOSTA: The president also defended top immigration official Ken Cuccinelli who told NPR that the poem on the Statue of Liberty should be changed to reflect new administration policy to punish legal immigrants who receive government assistance.

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet.

TRUMP: I don't think it's fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States.

ACOSTA: Cuccinelli was echoing top White House official Stephen Miller who downplayed the importance of the poem two years ago. STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The poem that

you're referring to was added later. It's not actually part of the original Statue of a Liberty.

ACOSTA: The president also resumed his war of words with former communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

TRUMP: He wanted to come back into the administration for the last five months, begging me to come back in. I said, Anthony, I can't take you in, I'm sorry. He's called so much. He's a nervous, neurotic wreck.

ACOSTA: Scaramucci fired back tweeting, "President Trump isn't a fan of anyone willing to tell him the truth. The emperor has no clothes."

The president then turned an official White House speech into what sounded like a campaign rally.

TRUMP: In 2020 we're running so you better get out there and make sure we win.

ACOSTA: As he complained that just being president has cost him billions, a claim that came with zero supporting evidence.

TRUMP: It's probably going to cost me, including upside, downside lawyers, it's probably costing me from $3 billion to $5 billion for the privilege.


ACOSTA: Now for the moment the White House is offering at least the appearance of taking the gun issue seriously, a White House official said daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump is sounding out lawmakers on the phone. It is unclear how much pull Ivanka Trump has up on Capitol Hill, Wolf. As you know, Democrats and Republicans, they are still miles apart on this very critical issue of gun control -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they are. Jim Acosta, thank you for that report.

Let's turn back to shooting massacres in Dayton and El Paso. Joining us now Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia. He joined top House Democrats in speaking out today about the push for gun control.

You've been a leader on these issues, Congressman. Thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA): Thank you, Wolf, very much.

BLITZER: So you've heard of the aftermath of these two mass shootings. The president says Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and other Republicans want to do background checks. Do you buy that?

BEYER: I'd love to buy that because this is something -- we passed HR-8 in the House, which has universal background checks. Has the support, I read today, of 95 percent of Americans. And I think we have a good chance of passing it in the Senate if Mitch McConnell will allow it to come to the floor.

What we fear is that they will do some watered-down version or something that doesn't make a real difference. But this is something that the American people should embrace. And, you know, I don't agree with President Trump on much but if he's willing to embrace universal background checks we should celebrate that.

BLITZER: Let me show you a clip, a picture of the gun and the clip that killed all these people. There you see it right there, 100 rounds potentially within 32 seconds, kills nine people that quickly. That kind of gun, should it be available legally to be purchased in the United States?

BEYER: Absolutely not. And it was illegal for about 10 years. That law unfortunately had a sunset clause on it but one of the things we'll have to do between now and the end of the year is ban assault weapons. You know, somebody said today well, we give them to young men in the military but they're under very close supervision with lots of training and regulated ammunition. We don't give them to kids in their neighborhoods in the streets.

BLITZER: But you say the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, you need -- probably you're going to need 60 votes in the Senate to get anything through. He's just waiting, you say, for the outrage to die down as it always does after every one of these mass shootings.

BEYER: Well, going all the way back, as far back as I can remember, but at least to the Connecticut shootings, we always thought well, now is the time, the fierce urgency of now, and yet McConnell has been able to postpone, postpone, and then people focus on something else, on Hong Kong, or on immigration, on the Statue of Liberty, you know.

BLITZER: The House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler's committee, they're all coming back to work on gun control. But what's the point if it's not going anywhere in the Senate?

BEYER: You know, we've been in this -- I think we've passed 400 bills in the House this year that are sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk. It's the great frustration for us. One man has basically stopped our democracy from working. And I guess the best thing we can do right now is keep fighting, keep pushing it forward, keep describing to the American public what America could look like if we would get a Republican leader in the Senate that would allow us to have debate and votes on these bills.

BLITZER: Let's go to the protest in Hong Kong. You saw the video. Very dramatic what's going on right. Very significant. You said this, your message to the protesters earlier, "To those standing up for freedom and human rights in Hong Kong we are with you in the fight against oppression."

[18:15:06] Are you satisfied with what you're hearing from President Trump?

BEYER: Not at all. I was very disappointed by Trump's comments. That he said, I hope they can work it out. I hope it's good for China, too. You know, this is a really interesting experiment where we have one country in two different forms of government. People in Hong Kong have been a democracy for a long time. They obviously are very reluctant to give up the extradition rights. People tried back in mainland China. And to give up their democracy. These are not domestic terrorists. These are people fighting for freedom. Now we should be standing with them.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, immigration, right now. I want to get your reaction to the comments from Ken Cuccinelli, who's the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, a man you know. He updated the very famous Emma Lazarus quote on the Statue of Liberty, and he said it should read like this, "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and it will not become a public charge."

What's your reaction to that?

BEYER: I mean, it's just horror struck. There's a reason we didn't elect Ken Cuccinelli governor of Virginia. We went to the same Jesuit high school and I just can't imagine our Christian Jesuit background saying this is what you do to the poor. We're supposed to be lifting people up.

And this notion that if a person is just deemed to be possibly on food stamps or Medicaid they're no longer eligible for a green card or for a visa, you know, you look at so many Americans across, the thing they're going to have a bad spate in their life for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, and here you deny them citizenship. It's the opposite of what -- of the strong country we've become.

BLITZER: Because we're talking about people who are working and living here with their families legally right now.

BEYER: Legally. Exactly.

BLITZER: We're not talking about undocumented immigrants, we're talking about legal immigrants, so what's the potential impact of this new regulation that the Trump administration wants to put forward?

BEYER: You know, Wolf, one of the things we've seen the last couple of years is the people coming to domestic violence shelters and emergency rooms has been way down because they're afraid they're going to get turned in. Those are people without papers.

This just extends it to people that are here legally. They're going to be afraid to access the services of government, including legal services, for fear that they would no longer be able to become a citizen.

BLITZER: I want to get your reaction, your thoughts, yesterday we marked the two-year anniversary of Heather Heyer's death in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her mother is now pushing for legislation that you have introduced to improve federal hate crime statistics. Explain what your No Hate Act would actually do.

BEYER: Well, as Heather Heyer, and then same anniversary, Khalid Jabara, who was shot to death on his doorstep in Oklahoma, both were clearly hate crimes, neither were rated hate crimes by their local police department nor in the FBI records. I believe there's 3300 police departments around the country that don't report any hate crimes at all.

So, I'm a businessman, you can't manage what you don't measure. So the No Hate Crimes bill puts really strong incentives for every police department to keep good records on the hate crimes so that we know the challenge that we have before us.

BLITZER: It's important legislation. Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.

BEYER: Thanks, Wolf, very much.

BLITZER: Don Beyer of Virginia.

There's more breaking news just ahead on the Dayton mass shooting timeline and the chilling new video of police engaging with the shooter. And we'll also take you inside the boot camp of Vladimir Putin's secret private army. The Russians apparently growing so anxious about our exclusive CNN reporting that they kept tabs on our crew.


[18:23:04] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories including the new timeline of the Dayton shooting massacre and the video of the gunman in his final hours. This as President Trump claims Republicans are behind the push for new gun control legislation. But CNN has spoken with multiple sources who say otherwise.

Let's bring in our analysts. And David Swerdlick, is there real progress being made on the issue of gun control legislation as the president insists?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Never say never, Wolf, but I don't think so. And there's two reasons why. One is because the president, when he gaggled with reporters at the end of last week on the White House lawn used the word meaningful background checks. The word meaningful in front is Republican code for, well, if these weapons were purchased legally what would background checks have really done anyway? And so it suggests to me that there are enough Republicans in his ear saying why should we do this, we don't really have to do this.

And the second thing is that Senator McConnell has not called the Senate back into session. I think Republicans are playing a waiting game where they want to see if this issue sort of fades from public view by the time Congress comes back.

BLITZER: The Senate is supposed to come back in mid -- by mid- September. So that's a while.

You know, Jackie Kucinich, the Judiciary Committee, they're coming back to deal with this but are they going to be able to create some political pressure on the Senate to do something?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I don't think that's likely. They sort of need to work out what they're going to back. I heard Congressman Beyer talk about an assault weapons ban. That's not something that all Democrats back or are ready to back.

They're more kind of in the background check, high capacity magazine backing, red flag laws family. There seems to be more consensus around those. So once they get their house in order, so to speak, then perhaps they can go a little bit more forward.

But to your point, I think the other thing that is a huge factor here is President Trump himself. If he is going to really put pressure on Republicans. Because they'll follow his lead in a lot of ways so he keeps that pressure up perhaps something can get done, we just don't know that.

[18:25:01] BLITZER: You know, Bianna Golodryga, the White House is confirming that Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, senior adviser, she's in talks with lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, to try to work out some sort of deal on this.

What do you think, is she going to be qualified, is she going to be able to do something?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I don't know how much depth was put into these calls. It has been reported that she spoke with Senator Manchin about the possibility or the appetite for reviving the Toomey-Manchin bill. That's what's been reported. From the skeptical eye one could say that Ivanka Trump's name always gets thrown out there through sources in these kinds of situations where the -- I guess from a palatable standpoint it looks like her remaining silent is not something that's optimal for her profile.

On the other hand, she is a person that has, apparently, the president's ear so if this is something that she could really expand upon and come up with more voices to get to the president and as was mentioned earlier on the panel to really get him to do something and to push for some legislation, maybe this could lead to something. But as of now this is just one report and it's better than nothing but I don't see how tangible it is for moving this forward.

BLITZER: Jackie Alemany, how were the Democratic presidential candidates working right now to keep this gun control issue on the agenda?

JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST'S "POWER UP": Well, it's interesting because we've seen Democrats more united on this issue than ever before. Complete reversal from what you saw in the wake of 1994 Republican electoral victory after the assault weapons ban was passed.

And I think this is for good reason. I mean, this is a -- you know, a good electoral strategy. If you look at midterms, if you look at -- I think something -- a group of voters that we haven't really been speaking about a lot is this mass shooting generation which really, these activists, these young Parkland kids, did a lot of get out the vote turnout and actually increased turnout in 2018.

And I think that's why you see people like Joe Biden and other candidates, you know, putting out these op-eds and making these strong calls for an assault weapons ban, to ignite the same sort of -- these same activists again to get people to turn out.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens.

Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss, and we will right after a quick break.



BLITZER: We're back with our analysts. As the president and his team are going to new lengths to defend just enough (ph) regulations that may drastically limit legal immigration here in the United States. And, Bianna, let's talk about what Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is saying, he's amending the iconic poem that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Listen to this exchange he had earlier in the day with NPR.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you also agree Emma Lazarus's words etched on the Statue of Liberty, give me your tired, your poor are also part of the American ethos?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: They certainly are, give me your tired and your poor who can stand on your own two feet and who will not become a public charge.


BLITZER: Those are very, very tough words that he adds to Emma Lazarus' poem, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge. For a lot of us, including you and me, this is very personal.

GOLOGDRYGA: It is, Wolf, and it doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Emma Lazarus' words do. Look, as you know, and I've talked about this before, I came here as a political refugee at 18 months.

My parents and I were allowed to leave the Soviet Union with just $75 a piece, so $225 in hand, we left the life we knew, not because we had a good life back in the Soviet Union, people moved to this country for the most part not with a lot of wealth.

They leave their country and that they're familiar with because they're able to make the risk, they're wanting to make the risk in a country that forever has been welcoming to immigrants and been given the opportunity.

You hear about the American dream, the American dream doesn't start with somebody who comes here with $200,000. The American dream comes with people who come to this country with the incentive to become American citizens and contribute back to this beautiful country.

But with that comes, sometimes, some aid and financial aid that will come in the shape of private donations or from the government. We were fortunate enough to be welcomed to Galveston, Texas, the Jewish community and private donors helped my parents get on their feet and land jobs. But for others they rely on government subsidies.

And so for the president and the government and the administration would be making this new -- first of all, moving the goal post, we're talking about those who were here undocumented, now we're talking about those who are here legally, it just sends this message that you're not welcome to this country and that's always what's differentiated us from the rest of the world, is that this is a country where people from all different backgrounds can come and contribute. And that seems to change the narrative, that the Statue of Liberty stands for, et cetera.

And then if you want to get down to just semantics, I mean, as we know, white Americans are the largest recipients of government subsidies, food stamps, Medicaid. I don't know why we have to have this conversation now. If you want to clean up some of the bureaucracy in government subsidies, sure there's abuse in the system. You can talk about that. You can say that we're going to offer limitations for the amount of time and years people can spend on government programs.

But to just eliminate this right now sends a terrible message, terrible.


BLITZER: Yes. And the president today was defending what Ken Cuccinelli was saying, we should only let those come in who will never be a burden.

SWERDLICK: Yes. This whole line of thinking is a cheap line, and I echo everything that Bianna said. I would just simply add, the president said that, it's similar to what White House Adviser Stephen Miller said to our colleague, Jim Acosta, two years ago in the White House briefing room.

Republicans have trotted this out every now and then during the Trump administration to try and undercut this broad idea that we wave shared for so long that America is a nation of immigrants and it shows how far, Wolf, Republicans have started moving away from the idea that President Reagan once stated that this is a shining city on a hill and that we're sending out a beacon that the best and brightest from the world are coming here.

KUCINICH: But it also stokes resentment. And to be Bianna's point, 6.5 percent are on Medicaid, 4 percent --

BLITZER: 6.5 percent of what?

KUCINICH: Immigrants, excuse me.

BLITZER: Legal immigrants.

KUCINICH: Legal immigrants are on Medicaid, 4 percent use snaps. So this isn't -- these aren't --

BLITZER: Food stamps.

KUCINICH: Food stamps. These aren't large numbers of people. They're kind of just making up a problem in order to create another, which is what this administration does when you talk about immigration. We've seen it over and over and over again.

ALEMANY: I also think we should just note another pretty notable descendant of immigrant, which is, you know, all, really, Ken Cuccinelli's mockery served to remind me of today, which was that Stephen Miller, as written by his uncle actually, his grandfather immigrated to -- came to Ellis Island after fleeing Belarus from violent anti-Jewish problems. He came here with $8 in his pocket.

So the sheer hypocrisy, and I think Cuccinelli's comment, I think, just underscored the lack of introspection that I think the White House has had for what a lot of these policies are doing.

And they're currently wreaking havoc on a lot of the communities that are currently already here. The Washington Post, we reported yesterday, that actually 20 percent of legal immigrants living in New York City have already withdrawn from a lot of the benefits that they are recipients of because they're living in fear. So between changing these asylum laws, deporting -- these mass deportations, there are tons of Americans living in fear at the moment.

BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And if I could just bet (ph) this on a positive note, there are so many charitable organizations in this country that I would expect would stand up. We are the most charitable country in the world. That's not taking away from the obligation that the government should hold but notwithstanding, a lot of private charities, religious, what have you, are going to step up and help refugees and immigrants come to this country if the government doesn't follow through.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more news we need to cover.

Just ahead, CNN gets exclusive access to take you inside the boot camp of a secret army that's doing Vladimir Putin's bidding and expanding his influence around the world. We're going to show you how the Russians reacted, followed our CNN crew and turned their own camera on our correspondent.


[18:40:00] BLITZER: Tonight, we have more of CNN's exclusive reporting on a secret private army that does whatever Vladimir Putin wants. Russia's fears about our investigation became evident as a CNN crew was ominously followed.

Our Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward is joining us once again. Clarissa, you traveled to Africa to get the story and the Russians were tracking you and the crew.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. We went to the Central African Republic, because one year ago, three Russian journalists traveled there to do a story on the growing presence of Russian mercenaries. They found themselves ambushed and brutally murdered, no proper investigation has been conducted into their deaths.

We went there to learn more about the broader push that we see Russia making across Africa. Initially, the Russians were fairly welcoming. But as our reporting got deeper, we found ourselves being constantly harassed and followed.


WARD: This is boot camp for recruits to a new army in the war-torn Central African Republic. The troops are being taught in Russian. Weapons are Russian too. It's taken months to get access to this camp. Officially, this is a U.N.-approved training mission.

But the Russian instructors won't talk to us or even be identified because they're not actually soldiers. They're mercenaries. Sponsored by a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin, they are the sharp end of an ambitious drive in Africa stoking fears in Washington of Russian expansionism.

Valery Zakharov is the man in charge here, a former military intelligence officer. He is now the security adviser to the Central African Republic's president.

VALERY ZAKHAROV, SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OF THE CENTRAL AFRICA REPUBLIC: Russia is returning to Africa. We were already present in many countries during the time of the Soviet Union, and Russia is coming back to the same position. We still have connections, and we are trying to reestablish them.

WARD: That's not the only reason they're here. The Central African Republic is rich in natural resources, gold and diamonds, and the Russians want them.

[18:45:06] We are on our way to one of seven sites where a Russian company has been given exploration rights.

(on camera): One of the challenges of trying to nail down exactly what the Russians are doing here is that once you get outside the capital, this is still a very dangerous and chaotic country. And just last year, three Russian journalists were actually ambushed and killed while working on a story about Russian mercenaries. (voice-over): The drive is bruising and long. Along rutted tracks to

a tiny village of straw huts and then we have to cross a river and this hand pulled ferry.

Local teenager Rodriguez agrees to show us where the Russians have been active. It's another bumpy ride through the bush. The last part of the journey is on foot.

We asked the workers if they have seen any Russians.


WARD (on camera): So, he's saying that earlier this year there were a lot of Russians here, looking for diamonds.

(voice-over): Rodriguez says the Russians now employ hundreds of workers on artisanal mines like this across the area. And in the pit, a group of teenagers panned through the sand in search for a precious fragment. Whatever they find, they say, must be handed over to the Russian's agent.

(on camera): So, it's interesting. These guys are saying that the Russians who visited this spot actually came from the training camp at Borengo (ph) that we visited. It's pretty clear they're doing more than just training troops here.

(voice-over): CNN has learned that the mining exploration rights have been given to a company called Lobaye Invest. Lobaye is part of a sprawling business empire owned by this man, Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has been sanctioned by the U.S. for meddling in the 2016 election.

And a CNN investigation based on hundreds of documents has established that Prigozhin's companies are also providing the mercenary muscle. He is believed to be the man behind Wagner, Russia's most notorious private military contractor.

On our return to town from the mines, we notice we are being followed. We try to approach but the car drives off. We catch a glimpse of four white males, all but one hide their faces from our camera. There is no license plate.

Police later confirm to us that they are Russians.

Near our hotel, we spot the vehicle again. We try to get closer, but the men drive off.

(on camera): So, we're back at our hotel now, but a little bit shaken up because that car full of Russians has been following us for quite some time. We don't know why. We don't know what they want.

(voice-over): Mindful of the murder of the journalists last year, we leave town the next day.

But back in the capital Bangui, Russia's growing influence is impossible to escape. On the streets, even on the air waves. Radio Lingo Sango features African music and lessons in Russian. No surprise, perhaps, that it is funded by Prigozhin company Lobaye Invest.

The manager tells us the station wants to deepen cooperation between the two nations. And in a country where education and entertainment are in short supply, it seems that plenty of people are listening.

American officials say they are greatly concerned by Russia's actions here and that they undermine security. But with the U.S. shrinking its footprint across Africa and with minimal official Kremlin involvement, Putin has little to lose.

(on camera): The Russians see (ph) it's a straightforward bargain. They provide the weapons and the training and in return they get access to the country's natural resources, and in the process hope to reinsert themselves as a major player in this region.

(voice-over): It's a campaign for hearts and minds and hard power. And Russia is moving quickly to get a step ahead of its rivals.


WARD: Now, Yevgeny Prigozhin has repeatedly denied having any relationship to Wagner or mercenary groups before, Wolf, and we did reach out and tried to get contact from his Concord Catering Company but we did not hear anything back from them -- Wolf.

[18:50:02] BLITZER: Amazing reporting, Clarissa.

Tell us more about the people who were following you and our CNN crew.

WARD: So, we have been able to learn a little bit more about them through the dossier center here in London, which is run by exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. We were able to identify one man whose face is actually showing. We're not going to say his name on air, but suffice it to say, he is a young translator who works unsurprisingly for a Prigozhin company.

BLITZER: You also now think these are the same people who filmed you and our crew and put out a mini documentary in Russian trying to discredit you.

WARD: That's right. I mean, once you start to look at the network, you realize that all paths lead to Prigozhin. So, the company that put out this 15-minute propaganda piece, essentially trying to discredit us is also owned by Prigozhin. The mercenaries also believed to be run by Prigozhin. The business network that we were looking at, the mining rights, all of them by Prigozhin.

This was quite clearly, Wolf, a coordinated attempt to intimidate and discredit us and our work.

BLITZER: At first, you were welcomed into that Wagner training camp. Why do you think they let you film their training?

WARD: Well, Wolf, I think it's important to underscore here that there is a legal and legitimate side to what the Russians are doing in the Central African Republic. The training mission there has U.N. approval. It does have an official nod of ownership from the Kremlin as well.

But I think they quickly became uncomfortable when they saw that, OK, maybe these guys have been doing their homework. Maybe they've spent the better part of a year trying to report this out. Once they knew we were leaching the capital trying to get to the mines, that's when things got very uncomfortable.

You are only seeing half of it in that television piece. But this was non-stop harassment, being stopped at checkpoints, stopped by police, accused of having false papers, accused of trying to smuggle diamonds. Really, Wolf, it was relentless.

BLITZER: What are U.S. officials, Clarissa, saying about Putin's army of mercenaries moving into Africa?

WARD: There are real concerns. The new head of AfriCom, General Stephen Townsend, has said that he is greatly concerned. We've heard that echoed as well by national security adviser John Bolton. But the question is, how do you deal with a fighting force that has no official ownership, Wolf?

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, thanks so much for doing that really courageous, excellent reporting for all of us. We are grateful to you and the crew. Thank you so, so much.

Much more ahead right after this.


[18:56:46] BLITZER: Tonight, the Justice Department is temporarily reassigned the warden at the New York prison where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself. And two staffers have been put on administrative leave.

Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider is here.

Jessica, we are learning more about the problem, is that the prison indeed, throughout the entire prison system.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf. And tonight, the Justice Department is taking the swift action at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. But really, union heads representing thousands of workers throughout the Bureau of Prison systems say decreased staffing levels is really the root of the problem, leading to everything from contraband getting in, to concerns about the safety of correctional workers and the inmates.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Jeffrey Epstein's suicide is shining a spotlight on what employees say are widespread problems at federal prisons around the country, unions representing guards nationwide report staffing shortages, mandatory overtime and corrections officers regularly forced to work 60 to 80 hours per week.

The personnel crunch began cascading after President Trump instituted a hiring freeze across all federal agencies for days after taking office in 2017.

ERIC YOUNG, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF UNION LOCALS, METROPOLITAN CORRECTIONAL CENTER: The hiring freeze that was imposed by the Trump administration has had a significant affect on all of our facilities, particularly this facility here. So, you are talking about staff constantly working 60, 70-hour weeks.

SCHNEIDER: Even after the president ended the federal agency hiring freeze in April 2017, it remained in place for the Bureau of Prisons. According to an analysis from "The New York Times," from December 2016 to March 2018, the number of correctional officer vacancies including supervisory roles went from 1,306 to 2,137, a jump of almost 64 percent.

Attorney General William Barr finally lifted the freeze and opened hiring last April but the lasting effects are evident as the attorney general now vows to investigate Epstein's death.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.

SCHNEIDER: CNN has learned that on the night of Epstein's suicide, at least one of the two employees on duty was filling in as a guard and was not part of the regular detention workforce. It's unknown what the person's regular position is, but a measure put in place to deal with budget constraints called augmentation is all too common at the Bureau of Prison's 141 facilities where workers hired as teachers and cooks are trained to fill in at posts normally manned by trained detention officers.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Any time we cut budgets, it's corrections. Understand, there are 2.2 million people incarcerated in this country, 7.3 million under the supervision of the correction the agencies. But still for this to happen in the special housing unit, a man that had been on suicide watch for a week, it is simply unconscionable.


SCHNEIDER: And CNN has learned that Epstein was taken off suicide watch just days after his first suicide attempt in late July. He was supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes, but a person briefed on the investigation tells us there were no checks on Epstein in the hours before he was discovered early Saturday morning. And, Wolf, of course, investigations are ongoing from the FBI and the inspector general.

But the bureau of prisons has not responded to our request for comment.

BLITZER: They've got to fix this. This is an urgent problem. Jessica, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.