Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Florida Mass Shooting Investigation; Interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California; Orlando Mass Shooting: What Happened Inside the Club?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we have some breaking new details about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11; 49 people were slaughtered, 53 others wounded, some grievously, at a gay nightclub in Orlando yesterday morning by this terrorist, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. They are shooting back and forth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The terrorist was killed in a shoot-out with police after SWAT teams broke down the door of the nightclub to try to get in to the club to try and save hostages.

While there are no indication as of now that this attack was directed by a specific overseas terrorist group, the terrorist was known to U.S. intelligence officials and had been interviewed three times by the FBI about possible terror connections.

We are now learning that authorities continue to investigate whether others may have been involved in planning or helping to carry out this deadly carnage.

We have a team of correspondents and analysts covering every angle of the story, including honoring the lives lost, a closer look inside the law enforcement response, and questioning whether anything could have been done ahead of time to prevent the massacre.

Let's start with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown, who joins me now live from outside Pulse, the nightclub in Orlando in question.

Pamela, the terrorists spoke with police multiple times during this three-hour-long standoff. What did he say to them?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He was negotiating with the police officers in all of this. He called

911. In fact, there were three calls with the 911 operator and in those calls, he made some seemingly contradictory statements. He said he supported ISIS, but at same time supported ISIS' enemy, al-Nusra Front, even made reference to a terrorist from here in Florida that he interacted with. He went to the same mosque as him.

All of this was going on during the shoot-out. And the rapid gunfire was captured by a 25-year-old female video who was later killed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): New video posted by a victim inside the nightclub the moment the shooter opened fire.

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: I'm at the club.

BROWN: Just after 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning as Pulse nightclub readies for closing, Omar Mateen sprays a barrage of bullets into a crowd of more than 300 people. Witnesses believe the initial gunfire is part of the music.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just dancing to music and you hear bang, bang. And so you just think it's the music, so it's just the bass, but really it's just like you're not even, I don't know -- 150 feet in front of you, literally, there's people being shot down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we thought was gunshots as part of the music, four shots, bop, bop, bop, bop, but for some reason it was different.

BROWN: An off-duty police officer working at the front entrance of the club engages in a gun battle, firing several rounds at the shooter. Additional officers respond and get into another firefight with the gunman, forcing him to retreat to the bathroom, where officials say he held several hostages.

Around 2:30 a.m., the gunman calls 911 from the bathroom pledging allegiance to ISIS, support for Hezbollah and al-Nusra terror groups and solidarity with the Boston bombers and Abu-Salha, the American suicide bomber who killed himself in Syria.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: There were three different calls. He called, and he hung up. He called again, and spoke briefly with the dispatcher, and then he hung up. And then the dispatcher called him back again and they spoke briefly. So there were three total calls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cool and calm when he was making those phone calls to us.

BROWN: At 5:00 a.m., a SWAT team using an explosion and an armored vehicle to break through the wall of a different bathroom, rescuing dozens more people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a breach. That was a breach.

BROWN: The gunman emerged from the same hole in the wall firing on officers with a handgun and a long gun. He is killed in the battle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I saw was cops coming in, people rushing out and you could just hear the bullets, the guns just going off. That's all you heard was bang, bang, bang.

BROWN: Today, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI looked into his ties with the American suicide bomber, Abu-Salha, who was fighting with ISIS enemy al-Nusra Front, adding confusion to investigators about the motivation behind the attack.

COMEY: There are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and a potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations.

BROWN: Authorities continue to sift through every aspect of the shooter's life, looking for any connections he may have had to terror groups.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At this stage, we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally, and, also, at this stage, there's no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:05:05]

TAPPER: Our thanks to Pamela Brown for that report.

Now let's join a press conference in progress. This is the owner of the St. Lucie Center Shooting Center, from where the terrorist got his firearms. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ED HENSON, OWNER, ST. LUCIE CENTER SHOOTING CENTER: They did an outstanding job. And I have been following some of it on the news.

I wish them all the best. I personally worked down at the Twin Towers. I retired in March of '02. And I was also a first-responder to Flight 587, which went down in Rockaway Park.

I have an idea of what they are facing in this investigation and it's horrific. So my feelings go out to those law enforcement people as well.

I would like to avoid any political issues and stick to the facts regarding this case. An evil person came in here and they legally purchased two firearms from us. And if he hadn't purchased them from us, I'm sure he would have gotten them from another local gun store in the area.

This man held multiple security licenses. He had an armed and unarmed license. He passed the background check that every single person that purchases a firearm in the state of Florida undergoes. Let me say that again. A full background check was performed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement with the coordination and their agreement with the FBI, however they conduct the background. There is no such thing as an abbreviated background check, even though

that's what has been wrongly reported. On another note, I will tell you this for those who don't know. If a law enforcement officer walks into this gun store, full uniform with a firearm on their side, that officer cannot make a purchase on a firearm, if you can believe that.

If that officer has a conceal-carry permit in addition to his credentials, he can make a purchase. There is a full background check done on that officer at that time. Hard to believe, but that's the truth. If the officer has no conceal-carry permit, that officer has a three-day wait and that doesn't include the day he purchased the gun or any holidays and weekends.

I have no information regarding where this evil person took his security classes, so I can't really discuss that with you. I can tell you I recommend you contact the Florida Department of Agriculture Division of Licensing. They are responsible for any security licenses being issued as well as the conceal-carry permit in the state of Florida.

There have been a couple questions directed to me regarding whether this evil person bought body armor here. Number one, he's familiar to me vaguely. I don't know him personally. He's been here. Obviously, he purchased two guns legally.

I have no recollection of anybody asking for body armor, number one. Number two, we have never sold body armor, and we currently don't sell any body armor.

Any other questions, I don't know what I can tell you. I just hope that you do some truthful reporting and get to the facts and stay focused at least to be -- and say your prayers for these victims. It was horrific. And we all feel that same pain?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) long gun and a handgun at the same time?

HENSON: They didn't buy -- again, I really don't want to answer questions, but he did not buy the handgun and the long gun at the same time.

They were approximately a week apart. And a long gun is a background check, another note, in Florida. It's a quick background check with the credential, your driver's identification, if you're Florida resident. And as long as you clear that background check, you can leave with that long gun.

A handgun, as I said earlier, is a three-day wait. Palm Beach County is a five-day wait. It's called a cooling-off period. Fair enough? I don't what else. I don't know anything else on this case. Unfortunately, he's evil. We happened to be the gun store he picked. And there's nothing else I can say. We're all as -- horrible.

QUESTION: He said that he had been to your shop.

HENSON: I don't know what the -- well, obviously, he's been to the shop. And I don't want to get into too many questions and debates, but he's been here. A customer -- if a customer saw him and came in here, God bless him. I have seen him.

I can't tell you I know him. I would be lying to you. He's a customer. He made a purchase. And it's horrible. I'm just sorry he picked my place. I wish he picked no place.

(CROSSTALK)

HENSON: Huh?

QUESTION: Do you know when he bought the guns here, roughly?

HENSON: It was -- I believe it was a week or 10 days, something in that time span before this happened.

QUESTION: Do you remember if he had a cooling-off period or not?

(OFF-MIKE)

HENSON: No, he did not. No, he did not.

QUESTION: OK. But he had to wait the two weeks?

HENSON: He had -- that's why you have to wait.

And sometimes you do have a conceal-carry permit. Even though he had it, there still has to be a background check done regardless. And they can also deny you or give you a conditional hold and say, oh, well, there's an issue there.

[16:10:00]

So, and that has nothing to do with us. We follow the rules. We don't make the rules. And I'm sorry if you're frustrated. I don't have any more answers for you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HENSON: No. I don't know. That's the thing. I don't know. We do a very big business here. Like I said, we're a security training facility. We do civilian stuff and all. And that's all I can tell you.

(CROSSTALK)

HENSON: I don't know what the exact date was. I don't know it. But it was well over the three-day period or whatever.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TAPPER: All right, we're going to break away from the press conference there. That's the owner of the St. Lucie Shooting Center, Ed Henson, explaining how he complied with Florida and federal law when selling firearms to the terrorist.

Let's go now to CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin, who is outside the terrorist's home in Fort Pierce, Florida. Drew, what more are you learning about the terrorist and about his

family?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: We're digging more and more into his personal past and learning, Jake, that possible warning signs developed many years ago, as far back as 2007, when we have now learned he was trying to become a corrections officer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In 2007, the shooter here in the back row wearing a baseball cap was attending Indian River State College Law Enforcement Academy when something went wrong.

A former administrator says the suspect was removed from the course and fellow students tell CNN they were told he was expelled. At the same time, CNN has learned the shooter was fired from his job at the Florida State Department of Corrections. What took place that would cause the suspect to be expelled from school and fired from his job?

School officials refused to say, referring CNN to the FBI.

(on camera): One thing we do know, before he left this school, the shooter learned how to shoot, spending a month in both a classroom and out on the range.

(voice-over): Instead of becoming a police officer, the Orlando shooter got a security guard license which allowed him to carry a weapon. He worked security at various private and public buildings, including the St. Lucie County Courthouse, where the FBI confirmed in 2013 he suddenly target of a Homeland Security investigation.

COMEY: He made some statements that were inflammatory and contradictory that concerned his co-workers about terrorism. He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself. After 10 months of investigation, we closed the preliminary investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Just two months after that, Jake, he appeared on the radar again with the FBI, this time because of something else that happened in Syria. An American-born suicide bomber who blew himself up in Syria, CNN confirmed earlier today, had attended the same, the very same small mosque that this Orlando shooter was attending right here in this town in Fort Pierce, Florida.

The FBI investigated and, once again, cleared him, finding no real true connection that would keep that investigation open -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

We now know that the Orlando terrorist was interviewed by the FBI more than once, as you heard in Drew's report. Now the question, of course, is, was this an intelligence failure of any sort? We will ask the vice chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee coming up next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:14] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It's almost exactly a day and a half since the end of Sunday's deadly terrorist attack on a gay night club in Orlando. Let's get right to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. She's the vice chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Feinstein, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You're welcome, Jake.

TAPPER: So you have been briefed. What's the latest that you can tell us on this investigation and what we now know about this terrorist?

FEINSTEIN: Well, what I can tell you is that the FBI has been going through his cell phone, computer and has thus far found nothing that relates him to any other kind of activity or communication. So, we'll have to wait and see until that's over. I don't believe there's been any kind of an intelligence failure connected with this.

I think, in my mind, what it points out is the enormous unpredictability of exactly who is going to be stigmatized and moved to this kind of jihadism. And here's a young man who had a good job, who held it for nine years, who I gather was able to keep that job for nine years and who yet went off the track with the hostility that's really beyond anything I've seen in terms of the numbers of people he killed and shot.

TAPPER: Yes. So I hear you saying that there's not been an intelligence failure and obviously the only person responsible for this horrific act is the terrorist himself. But just asking the question, he was known to the FBI. He had been interviewed in 2013 and in 2014 about possible terror ties. He was flagged then as a possible ISIS sympathizer.

If that's not an intelligence failure, what is it? Should they have been following up more, should they have been paying closer attention? What do you think?

FEINSTEIN: Well, as you know, the FBI interviewed him on two occasions over different years and found nothing there and ended the investigation. During the investigation, he was put, as I understand it, on the terrorist watch list. When the investigation ended, he went off the list.

I think we have to take a look at that. I also believe and I happen to be the main author of a piece of legislation that was written actually by the Bush Justice Department that provides criteria for the attorney general to prohibit the transfer of a weapon to certain people and I think that that bill, it's called no guns for terrorists.

[16:20:02] It should be passed. It's just terrible that we -- terrorists could buy a gun in this country and they're not on any kind of watch list. It's easy to go through a background check, at least 91 percent of the people who have been tested by background checks have gone through them.

But I think this bill would be very, very helpful and if you want to know what it says, I'd be happy to tell you. But essentially, it gives certain criteria that the attorney general has the discretion to prohibit sale of a weapon and put that individual on a terrorist watch list.

TAPPER: But as far as we know, Senator, and obviously I wish we could go back in time and stop this man from doing what he did.

FINEMAN: Oh, so do I.

TAPPER: But as far as we know, he didn't have a criminal record. He had never committed a terrorist act. He may have been a terrorist sympathizer but the FBI ultimately decided that he wasn't enough of one to keep an eye on him.

So, would your law have even affected this case?

FINEMAN: Well, it would have certainly given the attorney general the authority to keep him on the watch list. That's all I can say, that if or she -- in this case, she -- felt that there were enough information from those two investigations to fulfill the criteria in this bill. And I believe there is a very good likelihood that she would have put him back on the watch list. And that would have prevented him from buying a gun in this country.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Dianne Feinstein, thank you so much. Appreciate your time as always.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: The Orlando terrorist told co-workers he wanted to be a martyr and his family was connected to al Qaeda -- all this before he was interviewed and actually put on that FBI watch list. Did the FBI miss red flags?

And then, does it matter if we call it radical Islam? Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump today laying out very different plans to stop future terrorist attacks like the horror we saw in Orlando.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:32] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're learning more about what happened during the three horrific hours of the standoff inside Pulse nightclub. The survivors desperately trying to escape death, hiding in bathrooms and desperately texting and phoning friends and family.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Tom Foreman to help us visualize exactly what happened at the scene of the crime.

Tom, I think a lot of us are confused about exactly what happened. First of all, how did the killer get in to the nightclub?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know that there are eight different possible entrances here. We know that his car was parked over here. There's a fence that runs all the way around here, the main entrance over here.

So, did he go around and come? We don't have that clear yet. What we know that once he went inside the club, that we believe the situation quickly started developing in the main room.

This club is essentially three different areas, dance floor and bar over here, dance floor, main stage and here, and then a patio bar over here. The shooting seems to have started in this area and then, according to authorities, at some point he tried to come back outside and there was a gun battle that broke out between an officer who was on the scene who was working security there and two others who showed up and he went back into the club. And then all indications are that he basically got pushed by the pressure of the officers up this way.

So, by 2:17 or so, we know that people were already pushed up into this area with him and we know that he seems to have hunkered down somewhere in on of these bathrooms up in this area and this little dressing room here.

A lot of people fled trying to get out these ways. But we know somewhere up in here seems to be where he was. It looks like it was probably this bathroom because we know, then, after that long standoff, those phone calls you talked about, maybe even some communication with officers inside the building at that time, according to police, they finally hit this outside wall here.

When we talk about them attacking from the outside, there were two explosives set off and then they hit that outside wall. That's what this is, where they hit the ball with this bearcat device, a large armor personnel carrier smashing holes in the wall. And that's why it looks like it was the center bathroom. If you look over here, you can see all of the bullet holes in this wall, particularly around this big hole suggesting this is where he tried to come out of the wall and was finally shot down by the police three hours into it.

So, it gives you a little lay of the land, Jake, a you can tell with all of the noise inside there, the darkness and everything else, why it was such a chaotic atmosphere and so hard for people to find the exits and get out in that chaos.

TAPPER: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks.

Let's take a deeper look into the past investigations into the terrorism in the area that involved the Orlando terrorist. Did the FBI miss any critical clues that could have possibly prevented the deaths of 49 people in the Sunday morning massacre?

Let's bring in CNN's Evan Perez.

And, Evan, as I understand it, in this 2013 investigation, the Orlando terrorist admitted to the FBI that he made several terrorists or terror-related comments to co-workers, that his family had connections to al Qaeda, that he was a member of Hezbollah, which is also considered, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, that he wanted to be a martyr. At what point does the FBI hear this and say, OK, something is wrong with this guy? We've got to keep our eye on him forever?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, you know, that's the question that everybody is asking off the FBI right now. They say, you know, there's no real textbook way to do this. The FBI says they investigated the shooter for ten months in that case, Jake. And during that time, he was added to a watchlist, which would have prompted them to ask questions if he tried to travel.