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Dozens of White House Officials Without Full Security Clearances; Mixed Signals from Trump Administration on North Korean Talks; Trump Responds to Girls' Letter on Guns. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] NADA BAKOS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There is usually not precedent for that many people at that level to go this long with interim clearance. To be clear, it doesn't cover you to read things like compartmentalized information like in a presidential daily brief. To have 30 to 40 people lingering and not having clearances and the FBI hasn't signed off on background checks is a problem. We all know there is a backlog at various levels for security clearances. These are people in the White House. We are talking about suitability really for the position. That's what the clearance determines. So the fact that there are this many people and you see -- we are seeing issues play out in press of things like omissions on Jared Kushner's security clearance application, things from Rob Porter, his background and those accusations. Really, we are talking about the suitability of the people that they have put into these positions. That's what's at question.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But, you know, once someone of these people who hasn't received this clearance but is able to see classified information. You can't unsee classified information, right? The toothpaste is out of the tube. Garrett -- or Nada, isn't part of the point to get the clearance before you see secrets?

BAKOS: Absolutely. I had to jump through many hoops to get my top- secret clearance and see compartmentalized information. You can't contain classified information in a manner without being able to make sure that people who are handling the information can be trusted and understand what to do with the information. Because they are also vulnerable to being recruited by a foreign intelligence service because they haven't cleared the background check.

BALDWIN: What about Jared Kushner, Garrett? He's more than just a staffer. He's a key player in the investigation. He's the son-in- law. Washington Post reports he's the one who's reading the president's daily briefings. Not the president. It's Kushner.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think that's where you get into the doubts about whether this is truly procedural red tape that's holding up the clearances. Certainly, someone like Jared Kushner you could expect to have an extra-long security clearance process due to the complexity of his business arrangements. One way, by the way, previous people have dealt with that is by getting rid of their businesses when they come into government, which helps speed the clearance process. I might just add as a total random aside there. But sort of one of the challenges in this is, you know, this is the president's son-in-law. It's not like this is an application that's just sort of buried on someone's desk waiting to be shuffled off to another office.


BALDWIN: Like it would be top of the pile.

GRAFF: This is the top of the pile. You can be sure that the FBI and the office of security have dedicated resources to thoroughly investigate this as quickly as possible. So when you begin to see these stories about, oh, it's procedural red tape, nothing to worry about, I'm not sure I buy that. It does seem like if these had been clearances that had been easy to give that had passed with flying colors they would have gotten them by now.

BALDWIN: That's where we end.

Garrett and Nada, thank you very much.

Ahead on CNN, President Trump has called Kim Jong-Un a "madman." Vice President Pence ignored the North Korean delegation at the Olympics. But could it change? Why the White House might be open to talks with North Korea.


[14:37:41] BALDWIN: A seismic shift from North Korea. Kim Jong-Un is open to diplomatic talks with South Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear program. His sister invited the South Korean president to a meeting of the minds. It is a move that's unsettling South Korea's allies.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration appears divided on what to do about North Korea. Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. is ready for diplomatic talks and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is downplaying that suggestion.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's too early to judge. As we have said for some time, it's really up to the North Koreans to decide when they are ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way. They know what has to be on the table for conversations.


BALDWIN: With me now, Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation and a former FBI deputy division chief for Korea.

Bruce, welcome back.


BALDWIN: What do you think is behind this hot-cold strategy with North Korea?

KLINGNER: Well, it's really a charm offensive by North Korea and South Korea is really grasping at the olive branch that's been extended. They were very worried there would be a provocation during the Olympics. When Kim Jong-Un offered to have his team attend, South Korea saw it as a great opportunity preventing provocation.

BALDWIN: President Trump is touting the U.S. nuclear force and says the only way we'll get rid of ours is if other countries get rid of theirs. Here he was.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Modernizing and creating a brand new nuclear force and frankly we have to do it because others are doing it. If they stop, we'll stop. But they are not stopping. If they're not going to stop, we'll be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you have never seen before. I hope they stop. If they do, we'll stop in two minutes.


BALDWIN: How do you think that message will sit with Pyongyang?

KLINGNER: Well, they'll see it as no indication that they are going to change their plan and continue building nuclear weapons. Looking at the situation on the peninsula, as you pointed out, such a big shift in the tone. It's like watching a Korean version of "Game of Thrones." Just when you thought you were moving to the inevitable battle scene and the season ends and everybody is puzzled because two kings are talking and the third king wonders what his ally king is doing.

[14:40:06] BALDWIN: I'm the only person on the planet who has not seen "Game of Thrones." I need to get up on that.


BALDWIN: I know. I know.

Back to Kim Jong-Un and the invitation from the sister to go to Pyongyang. Can you just game plan this for me, Bruce? What's the best-case scenario to come of that and what's the worst-case scenario to come of that?

KLINGNER: Well, South Korea is concerned about a crisis on the peninsula, whether it's because of growing North Korean military capabilities including the near completion of the ability to hit the U.S. With nuclear weapons. So South Korea is even more nervous with the usual fear of both entanglement and abandonment. So they would be looking to engage with North Korea, particularly with a progressive South Korean president. The U.S. is looking at the South and wondering if they will go a bit rogue, whether they will downplay the pressure policy in the interest of trying to get engagement. But up to date, the two allies have been in close coordination. They both insist there is no daylight between the two. Vice President Pence said that President Moon is fully on board with the pressure campaign. So I think the first big metric will be whether South Korea asks the U.S. to again postpone the annual military exercises. That wouldn't go over well in Washington.

BALDWIN: Just lastly, you know, looking at the news over the weekend and Kim's sister being at the Winter Olympics, if you look at the headlines -- we have ripped a couple: "The Ivanka Trump of North Korea captivates people in the South at the Olympics." Is the world ignoring North Korea, the brutality, the horrors, the torture? We look at this coverage of the sister?

KLINGNER: Right. I think people have been wrapped up in the celebrity aspect of it. Also she's the first member of the Kim family to go to South Korea. There would be an interest. It's been a little bit too much on the entertainment side. But I think Vice President Pence's mission and message was to remind people about the true nature of the regime and not get wrapped up in the Olympics or the entertainment aspect of Kim's sister visiting.

BALDWIN: Bruce Klingner, thank you very much as always. See you again.

KLINGNER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Ahead on CNN, a horror no one, much less a little girl, should ever experience. Her best friend was shot right in front of her. She picked up a pencil and wrote a letter to President Trump. What would he do about guns? The president responded. I will talk to her next.


[14:47:07] BALDWIN: CNN learned the U.S. military rushed to add more than 4,000 names to a list of dishonorably discharged military personnel banned from owning firearms. It happened after the massacre of more than two dozen people at the church in Texas last November. The horror was carried out by a gunman who was kicked out of the military. The U.S. Air Force leader admitted it failed to submit the shooter's records to the FBI for a background check. The latest additions raise questions concerning whether there is a backlog of people kicked out of the military who have been allowed to buy weapons, buy guns.

And an elementary school student's plea for help in the face of gun violence is getting the attention of the president. Ava Olsson was 6 when she lost her friend, Jacob. She says this little boy was the love of her life, the only boy she ever kissed, and he was the boy she said she planned to marry. But their future together was cut short all because of a teenager with a gun.

In September of 2016, police say a 14-year-old boy drove up to Ava's school playground, jumped out of a pickup truck, pointed his pistol at a group of laughing, smiling children enjoying recess and then fired. His pistol jammed after about 12 seconds. But in those mere moments that 14-year-old shot three people. One bullet hit Ava's first-grade teacher in the shoulder. Another hit a classmate in the foot. And the last bullet hit 6-year-old Jacob, who died three days later.

Ava was so distraught, so tormented over the loss of her best friend and the horror of that shooting that a doctor diagnosed her with post traumatic stress disorder and recommended she be homeschooled.

In the following months of the shooting according to these reports Ava started yanking out her eyelashes. She would use stickers to cover up scary words like "gun" and "fire," "blood," and "kill" when she was reading. And she would agonize over the survival of her younger brother and students who still went to school.

So she picked up a pencil and wrote this letter. This is dated August 23, 2017. I want to read this for you.

She wrote this, "Dear Mr. President, my name is Ava Olsen. I am 7 years old. I am in second grade. Last year, I went to Townville Elementary School and I was in the first grade. I lived through the school shooting that happened. My little brother, Cameron, also lived through it. I heard and saw it all happen, and I was very scared. My best friend, Jacob, was shot and died. That made me very sad. I loved him and was going to marry him one day. I hate guns. One ruined my life and took my best friend. I don't want that to ever happen again. Are you going to keep kids safe? How can you keep us safe? Please don't let any more bad people get guns and hurt kids. My brother goes to school and I don't want anything bad like that to happen to him again. Please keep kids safe from guns. Thank you." And it's signed, "Ava Rose Olsen."

[14:50:32] I talked just a little while ago to Ava and her mom, Mary, about what life has been like since that tragedy and what specifically they're asking of from the president.


BALDWIN: Ladies, thank you so much for being with me.

And, Ava, before we get to your letter to the president, I just want to talk about how you're doing.

Starting with you, Mary. It's been 18 months since that horrible day. How has your daughter been doing ever since then?

MARY OLSEN, MOTHER OF AVA OLSEN: She's still really struggling a lot emotionally. She's still very sad, very angry. Still just really upset.

BALDWIN: I have to imagine there are better days and then worse days. What do -- how tough are the worst days?

MARY OLSEN: The worst days are pretty tough. It's -- it's so hard to describe it, but it's just such a low -- such a sadness, such anger on the worst days. It's difficult.

BALDWIN: Ava, let's talk about you and this letter you wrote to the president of the United States. Tell me why you wanted to write it. AVA OLSEN, WITNESS SCHOOL SHOOTING: Because I was mad, and I wanted

more people -- some people to keep kids safe because my brother was at school and I was afraid that something was going to happen to him.

BALDWIN: So, Ava, the president wrote you back.

"Dear Ava, thank you for your letter. It is very brave of you to share your story with me. Mrs. Trump and I are so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend, Jacob. It is my goal as president to make sure that children in America grow up in safe environments, giving them the best opportunity to realize their full potential."

Now, I understand, Ava, you thought it was pretty cool, but was it -- did it answer all the questions you have for the president?


BALDWIN: No. What questions did you still have for him?

AVA OLSEN: How that he can help keep kids safe.

BALDWIN: You, Ava, wanted specifics from the president and you're right to ask.

So, Mary, let me pivot back to you.

I couldn't have asked any better questions from your daughter. All it takes, quoting Ava, if I may, she wrote to the president, "Are you going to keep kids safe? How are you going to keep us safe?"

Mary, there have been at least three shootings at a middle or high school since the start of the year. Do you feel like you've got an answer to your daughter's question, how the president will keep kids in this country safe?

MARY OLSEN: No, I don't feel like we've gotten that answer.

BALDWIN: And how does that make you feel?

MARY OLSEN: I guess concerned because I guess I'm not quite sure where -- when or what the timeline is, rather, for doing something about these school violence incidents.

BALDWIN: There was another incident in the state of Kentucky and this came up at the White House briefing. The spokeswoman said this, Sarah Sanders: "Students fearing for their lives while they're attempting to get an education is unacceptable. The president believes that all Americans deserve to be safe in their schools and in their communities."

I mean, Mary, the president watches a lot of TV. And in the case he is watching, what would you like to tell him? What specifically are you imploring him to do?

MARY OLSEN: I ask that he take a stand now and end this now, because we as a nation, this is to me ridiculous that kids are going to school and worrying about their safety and that we're having this happen at schools. As his own words say schools are supposed to be places of learning and free of fear, and it's not like that.

BALDWIN: Ava, I know you're listening. You're trying to listen very carefully. Here's my last question to you. It's my understanding you are meeting with the governor of South Carolina coming up. At your age of 7, I hear they are taking your meeting very seriously. What are you going to tell the governor?

[14:55:06] AVA OLSEN: My ideas on how to keep kids safe.

BALDWIN: Can you tell me what's your number-one idea?

AVA OLSEN: Move schools to a safer area.

BALDWIN: Ava, I want -- we all want all kids just like you in our country to be safe and to never have to go through what you did.

Thank you so much for using your strong young voice. Keep at it.

Mary Olsen, thank you.

MARY OLSEN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: She is 7.

Stay with me here. You're watching CNN.

Coming up, we are waiting for that White House briefing to begin. Sarah Sanders likely to face more questions about the administration's handling of Rob Porter's firing after allegations surfaced that he had abused two of his ex-wives. We'll take that live, coming up.

Also ahead, another wild swing on Wall Street. The Dow up nearly 500 points after last week's massive drop. Hear what's going on, ahead.