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Omar Mateen Called 911 From Bathroom, Says House Intelligence Panel's Rep. Schiff

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's go through what we have learned this morning about the three hours between 2 and 5 a.m. on Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where a man named Omar Mateen walked in and started shooting. We are now told by law enforcement officials that Mateen engaged in gunfire with someone near the entrance. There was further shooting inside. Police responded. He ended up holed up in one of the bathrooms of that establishment with a number of people who were effectively hostages.

And we've been told this morning, that ultimately police got him out by smashing a whole in the wall of the bathroom, through which the suspect came out firing. That is the account of law enforcement officials this morning. We're going to try to put this in perspective and gain a little more information if we can from Adam Schiff. He is a U.S. Congressman from California. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and he is on the phone from here in Washington. Congressman, welcome back to the program.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you been able to learn about Omar Mateen, the suspect?

SCHIFF: Well, we had a number of briefings from the FBI over the last couple days. He was interviewed both, I guess, in 2013 and 2014 on the basis of concerning statements he made to co-workers. The FBI evidently ran down those statements and those leads - was not able to develop the evidence to bring some kind of a charge of material support for terrorism or any conspiracy case. And this is the reality, the FBI fans out across the country when people do see something and say something. But it doesn't always result in the bringing of charges. And it's simply not enough when people express even very offensive views, very radical views if there's no evidence that they're acting to effectuate them to bring about the violence.

I think the FBI director will address this probably later today. And certainly we're going to be scouring over those files again to see were there some things that were missed, some steps that could've been taken. But there's often going to be the case where people known to us...

INSKEEP: Right.

SCHIFF: ...That are a matter of concern are not apprehended - can't be apprehended and go on to commit acts of violence.

INSKEEP: OK. Two questions based on the briefings you received. This is a man who during the incident we're told - our justice correspondent Carrie Johnson who's with us in the studios confirms to us that he made a 911 call. He in some manner pledged allegiance to ISIS, we're told, during the attack. First, based on your briefings, do you know that that's actually what he did? Do you have any idea of how he worded it on that 911 call?

SCHIFF: Well, what my understanding is that he did call 911. It sounds from the press conference as well today that was during the period where he was holed up in the bathroom with hostages. And during that call, my understanding is that he pledged allegiance to Baghdadi and to ISIS.

INSKEEP: Oh, the caliph. OK.

SCHIFF: And then he terminated the call or the call was somehow terminated. The 911 switch board then called him back. And during that subsequent call he claimed to have explosives - some kind of explosive devise or vest, which did not prove to be the case but obviously caused a lot of concern for law enforcement.

INSKEEP: And in your briefings, have you heard any indication that there was actually any connection between Omar Mateen and ISIS?

SCHIFF: We haven't been able to confirm that at all. In other words, we're looking to see was this person purely self-radicalized? Did they have communications with Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate? At this point, we have not found those communications. That doesn't mean we can't find them in the future. But it may be a case, of which we have seen others as well, of someone who is radicalized online who later pledges allegiance to Baghdadi before or during the act of violence and ISIS takes credit for that, even though it wasn't something they commanded or controlled.

INSKEEP: How can we think about this threat then? Since we do have here a United States citizen, a man who was born in the U.S, who was a resident of the U.S. He was of Afghan heritage, but everyone has heritage from somewhere pretty much. How can we think about this threat if that is what we're looking at?

SCHIFF: Well, I think we have to recognize that, you know, simplistic and I think offensive calls to ban Muslims from coming in the country aren't going to be of much use of people who are born in the United States. That's not the answer. And in fact that is counterproductive because it feeds into a narrative that the West is at war with Islam, that members of the Islamic faith are not welcome in the West. So that is clearly counterproductive.

On the other hand, what is productive is to further develop the relationship between law enforcement and the Islamic community, so that more people will step forward when they see someone of concern and speak out, even though, in this case, when people did that didn't prove to be enough. Nonetheless, that's the - really the best hope apart from, you know, having good intelligence. And when people are self-radicalized, even the best of intelligence may not be enough.

INSKEEP: I'm taking that as a criticism of Donald Trump, who has called for banning Muslims. Carrie Johnson, our correspondent is here. What do you got, Carrie?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Congressman, I wonder what you're hearing in your briefings with respect to any other people under investigation, whether there were people who may have known about his plans in advance - other people inside the U.S. or out that authorities are looking at now. Any hint?

SCHIFF: Nothing yet. In other words, the FBI is certainly investigating did anyone provide support to this guy - anyone help facilitate the logistics? I don't think we have any evidence of that yet. Although, it's still very, very early in the investigation. There also isn't any indication of another shooter, another suspect, another danger to the community that's connected to this particular shooter. So we are looking. It may come to pass as it did in San Bernardino that there end up being other charges against other individuals. But we don't have evidence of that yet.

INSKEEP: Congressman, one other thing. You mentioned - you alluded to Donald Trump. Let's come back to that. Trump called for President Obama to leave office because he did not describe the threat as radical Islam. I'm assuming you don't agree with that. But let me ask the question that's raised there. The suggestion is that the administration really hasn't defined the threat, hasn't defined the enemy. What is the proper way to define the enemy and the threat here?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I find this particular debate incredibly vexing. I don't have a problem with the use of the phrase radical Islam or a perversion of Islam. But that is meaningless unless it dictates - the use of that term dictates some different kind of an approach. And here's where the Donald Trump's and all the president's critics fall short. They like to attack him and say this is political correctness run amok. But they don't say that calling it this leads to any different prescription. They don't want to admit, if indeed this is what they want, that they want to send thousands of troops into Syria and Iraq.

INSKEEP: About 10 seconds.

SCHIFF: And about all they will say is they want to kill family members of their adversaries or carpet bomb. And that isn't the strategy either.

INSKEEP: Well, Congressman Schiff, thanks very very much - really appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Adam Schiff is a Democrat from California. He is also the ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.