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Trump Speaks on School Shooting, Offering Condolences; Paul Ryan Talks School Shooting; YouTube Account Holder Alerted FBI to School Shooter. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 15, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: But it was clear that his remarks were much more focused on the consoler-in-chief role than the action role. That was a choice he had to make in this leadership moment of which way to go. It didn't seem he wanted to do too much of both. He really wanted to focus on just expressing his condolences. That doesn't sound to me that that's a sort of real plan to go forward. I don't know, you know, what that means in terms of action, that could have prevented future moments like this. It did not seem to be that the president chose this moment to rally the country behind a path forward of how to prevent this from happening in the future.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I agree with your general observation that it was similar to what the governor of Florida Rick Scott said, except with one difference. Governor Scott said in addition to school safety, that there needs to be a way to keep guns out of the hands of people who have mental health issues. President Trump did not say anything about guns. Just talked about tackling the difficult issue of mental health.

Let me read the president's tweet from this morning that Dana Bash you alluded to earlier today. He said, "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again."

Let me bring in David Axelrod.

The president in that tweet seemed to be suggesting that the school neighbors and friends of the shooter could have or should have done more. But as far as I know, right now, I don't know anything that the shooter did before the shooting that would have required any sort of adjudication as to his mental health status.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, THE AXE FILES: That's true, Jake. We don't know all the details of what it was that got him transferred out of that school. The school superintendent there was unable to -- was bound not to reveal all of those details and the press conference today. We don't know the answer to that.

Let me make a few general points. One is I think that part of the job of the president is to console the country. And I think that the president did a pretty good job there of saying the things that one would want a president to say. But it is what he didn't say that is going to raise questions again. We have experienced three of the greatest mass murders in modern history in the last five months. We had 18 school shootings just since the first of the year. This is an epidemic. And it is not enough to say we are going to focus on the issue of mental health. This is a common link between a lot of these crimes. But the other link are weapons of mass destruction, assault weapons, weapons that allow people to kill massive numbers of people in an instant. And the ready availability of these weapons is an issue for this country. If the president of the United States wants to address the children of this country and say we will do anything -- we will do anything and everything to protect you, as he just did, then he has to address this issue, and he hasn't yet, and he hasn't shown any inclination to do that.

And we go through this pattern where people say -- where we hear, we don't want to talk about that now because people are grieving, and then time passes. And nothing happens. And then we go through the whole exercise again. At some point, at some point, people have to say, enough, we really do need to address this issue. We can't turn away. The question is, does the president have the courage to break with the gun lobby core constituency of his on this issue.

TAPPER: I want to bring in Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, there is an obvious nexus here of people with serious mental health issues. And their ability to purchase weapons that allow somebody to kill the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. The Governor of Florida Rick Scott seemed to be suggesting that that's an area that they need to look at. But we didn't hear that from President Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We did not hear that from President Trump or the word gun or gun policy at all. I think that's not a surprise. He's not made this a priority. He was not talking about this at all since he's come into office.

But, Jake, it is interesting, as we have been talking about, as Dana and David and David have been talking about this, this is a familiar pattern here. A shooting and the American president addresses the country. One thing is different. President Trump has been on both sides of this issue. Before he became the president of the United States, he actually called the NRA out for saying they have too much control over Republicans in Washington, in Congress. And when he was running for president, he received the most money than any candidate from the NRA.

He has changed positions. He is the different quotient, if you will. He's the different person in this very familiar gun debate. Will he step up and take a stand and encourage a conversation on this? Based on his speech here and the diplomatic reception room, I think the answer is probably not or no. He did not address that. And there is no White House official that I have talked to since this tragedy happened on Wednesday afternoon who wants to talk about gun policy. It is always never the right moment. There is not a White House briefing today, but if there was, I suspect the answers would be it is not the right moment to talk about this. We will see if anything comes of this, probably not from the White House -- Jake? [11:35:38] TAPPER: And the question, Dana, is, if we followed the

Governor Scott's lead on this and try to figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental health issues, how does one go about doing that? This shooter had not been adjudicated to have any mental health issues. He was displaying some, and he had been kicked out of the school. He had depression since his mother died according to the family that had taken him in. He had been seeing mental health experts, according to the Broward County -- but there was nothing there to put him on a list that says you can't have a gun. Nineteen years old, not allowed to buy a drink, not allowed to have a beer, but able to buy a gun.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a great point. You're right. The question is, how does one define mental health issues. You talked about some of the red flags. I'm looking at a story here that says his mother, before she passed away in November, would resort to calling the police to have them come to their house to try to talk some sense into him. We obviously have now heard the story, according to "Buzzfeed," that he in fact put a post, a comment on a YouTube video saying he wants to be a professional school shooter. I mean, if somebody does that, why on earth is that not a -- a giant red flag or an absolutely, you know, big X on the ability to get a gun.

TAPPER: And the YouTube account holder actually reported that to the FBI. The FBI special agent in charge in Miami saying that they could not identify the person, even though the shooter had posted that on YouTube under his exact name.

The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, just moments ago, talked about this school shooting. Here is what he had to say.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We also just thank god for law enforcement, the heroes of the school. I just want to offer this, there are a lot of worries that come with being a parent of teenagers. We got three of them. But this is -- this is the nightmare. This is pure evil. For these kids, yesterday should have just been typical high school day. In an instant, this became the worst day of their lives.

You know, I was looking at this, this morning, I go back to this message that one of the students sent to her mom. She said, "If I don't make it, I love you, and I appreciate everything you did for me." Amid all that fear, that terror, for her to think of love and even gratitude for her parents. We can learn a lot from our kids. One of those moments we need to step back and count our blessings. We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically and just pulling together. This House, the whole country, stands with the Parkland community. I'm going to take some questions, but we started late here, I'll be a little brief, I got to get upstairs to the chair.

So, Chad? UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When you talk about not taking sides, minority

leader a few moments ago, and was critical of their demands, their requests to have a select committee on gun violence, action on background checks, criticized your leadership for saying they -- the response to their sit-in 2016 was to investigate who was Periscoping. What use is that for taking the side you're referring to?

RYAN: As you know, mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies. That may be the case here today based on earlier reporting. We passed legislation on mental health. We want to make sure that if someone is in the mental health system that they don't get a gun, they're not supposed to get a gun. We'll find out as facts come out if there was a breakdown in the system here today. As you also know, we passed legislation cleaning up the instant check background check system. That bill with others is sitting over the United States Senate.

So if there is someone who is not supposed to get a gun, getting a gun, we have to figure out why that is happening and fix that. That's a legislation that's a piece of legislation we passed that's sitting in the Senate. One thing we know is there are early indications for mental illness. I think we probably have to do a better job of trying to make sure that people don't get -- slip through the cracks.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, should law enforcement be able to confiscate a weapon from someone who has limited signs of mental illness?

[11:40:02] RYAN: Like I said before, this is not the time to jump to some conclusion not knowing the full facts. We have a lot more information we need to know. But if someone who is mentally ill is slipping through the cracking and getting a gun because we have laws on the books -- we have a system to prevent people who aren't supposed to get guns from getting guns, and if there are gaps there, we need to look at those gaps. That's like the legislation we passed fixing the NICS system.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, why won't you support or allow hearings to move forward on background checks? What is your resistance to that?

RYAN: The Fix NICS bill, which is part of our broader bill, does fix the background checks system. Remember the shooting in Texas. There was a man who had been convicted in the Air Force of domestic violence, he wasn't supposed to get a gun, yet the Air Force didn't give the records to the instant check system and he got a gun.

That's one of the reasons why we passed legislation plugging that loophole, making sure that was the case. So that came from hearings. We had hearings on the gaps in the instant check system, and those hearings led to a conclusion that there were gaps that need to be fixed, and that led to legislation that has been passed by the House.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, the question I think is, so you're saying that obviously we need to look into if there are gaps. The attorney general said there is problems we got to address. Something is not right. Something has got to be fixed.

RYAN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you consider a select committee, whatever you call it, on this issue?

RYAN: I think Congress should do its job. And that's what we -- look, we passed mental health legislation two years ago because of the underlying mental health problems that were behind these shootings. That legislation is now just taking place. That legislation is now being implemented. We, from earlier reportings, understand there may be some mental health issues with this shooting.

So the question is, are those laws, where they need to be, is it being implemented properly, are they being enforced correctly. Remember, we do have law on the books, designed to prevent people with mental illnesses from getting firearms. The question is, just like the Texas instance, are those laws working the right way, are their loopholes that need to be plugged. We found some loopholes that need to be plugged. We passed some bills to plug those loopholes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you consider moving legislation, a stand-alone bill or --

RYAN: Our bills --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- are you insisting on preventions that were sought by the --


RYAN: Our bill is in the Senate, and hopefully, the Senate can pass something, we'll meet them in conference like the regular legislative process.


RYAN: I think that's a good self-defense bill. So that's something that is in the Senate. We'll see if the Senate can get to conference and then we'll figure out what we can do from there.



TAPPER: That was House Speaker Paul Ryan talking just moments ago about the horrific shooting in Florida.

You might recall about 130 days or so ago, after the Las Vegas shooting, where 58 innocent people were mowed down, there was a lot of debate about a bump stock, a tool that somebody could purchase, allowing them to turn a semi-automatic gun, which requires, every time you want to fire a bullet to pull the trigger each time, turning it from that into an automatic gun, so you can hold it down and it would do rapid fire. Paul Ryan, who is an avid hunter and sportsman, said he hadn't even heard of a bump stock and talked about the need for Congress to do away with the fact that these are legally sold.

Dana Bash, you cover Congress quite a bit. That was more than 130 days ago, that Las Vegas shooting, one of the deadliest in American history. Parkland also one of the deadliest in American history. Where are we on this closing this loophole that Speaker Ryan said at the time he was in favor of closing?

BASH: Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. Despite the fact that there was very widespread bipartisan support for closing the loophole on the bump stocks. Even the NRA, which opposes pretty much anything with -- that would suggest tightening the grip on allowing people to get guns, they put out a statement insisting they would be OK with closing that loophole. But it hasn't gone anywhere.


TAPPER: They said they supported it, but they didn't.

BASH: Exactly. That's what I was just going to say. They said they did, it was the -- in terms of P.R., the right thing to do. But at the end -- because there was so much pressure at that time. But I think it goes back to what David Axelrod was saying, that in the moments and days and maybe even the weeks after these tragedies, there is so much sunshine on this issue, there is so much pressure on these lawmakers to do something, and unfortunately, in the world in which we live, there is so much news, so much -- so many other things on their plate, that they have the ability to brush it aside and not deal with it if that pressure is not on them. And that, I really fundamentally believe is what happened. And maybe also some public support from places like the NRA and some private, you know, you don't really have to do this right now. I will say you pointed out, there was a story in the "L.A. Times" that said even though federally Congress hasn't acted, there has been some states around the country that have acted on something like bump stocks.

[11:45:22] CHALIAN: What is just made clear here, guys, Washington has proven time and time again to be totally incapable of doing something on this issue significantly to actually prevent it from happening, obviously, because it continues to happen in all sorts of different ways. Bump stocks not part of this scenario.

TAPPER: Not that we know of.

CHALIAN: Until -- so hearing Paul Ryan's words, hearing the president's words, I agree with David, those are necessary words for the country to hear from our leaders. No doubt about it. They're not sufficient. They're necessary and not sufficient. And so what -- until and unless there is a leader moment, I believe it has to come from the president, any president, but right now this president, President Trump, who is willing to break free of the, as you're saying, the interest groups or where a political base may be, this is a really polarizing issue in America. The parties are largely quite split over gun ownership rights versus gun control. This requires a certain level of leadership from the top that breaks all of that politics and actually leads --


BASH: And it has to be a leader who is a Republican.


BASH: As you know, you covered Barack Obama, and he did try. After ignoring it for a while, he did try and was not successful.

TAPPER: Dana Bash, David Chalian, Jeff Zeleny, David Axelrod, thanks so much.

Still ahead, I'm going to speak with the man who says he alerted the FBI as to the suspected high school shooter last year, posting something horrific on a YouTube account.

Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Our next guest says he contacted the FBI last fall after seeing a disturbing comment left on one of his YouTube videos. The comment said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The user's name, Nikolas Cruz, the same name and same unique spelling as the school shooting suspect.

Ben Bennight is here to share his story. He joins us by phone.

Ben, walk us through what you first did when you saw the comment on the video that you posted?

BEN BENNIGHT, YOUTUBE ACCOUNT HOLDER ALERT FBI (via telephone): When I saw the comment come through my push notifications and YouTube studio, it caught my attention. So I screen-shotted it so I can share it with FBI. I reported it to YouTube as spam. And, of course, when you do that, they take the comment down. And then I contacted the FBI.

TAPPER: And how did the FBI respond?

BENNIGHT: They responded pretty immediately. They -- I had a field agent contact me and meet me at my office the next morning. He sent down the information. And I hope initiated an investigation.

[11:50:11] TAPPER: So we just heard from the FBI special agent in charge, I think, in Miami, talking about this report and the fact that you had reported it to the FBI. This FBI Special Agent Rob Lasky at that press conference in Broward County -- actually, we have that sound bite. We're going to play that for you. Let's listen.


ROB LASKY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: In 2017, the FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel. The comment simply said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." No other information was included with that comment, which would indicate a time, location or the true identity of the person who made the comment. The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.


TAPPER: Ben, your response to the FBI there today talking about how they were not able to identify the person who posted that.

BENNIGHT: Well, I think in today's online world it is very difficult to narrow down who does what without more information and, unfortunately, I wasn't able to provide them with much.

TAPPER: You gave them the user's name, right, which is the same exact name as the shooter?

BENNIGHT: I did. I did. And I don't know what the process is to go through these companies to get specific user information.

TAPPER: I have to say, though, the FBI is saying they were not able to ascertain who this was when there is an individual, obviously, with the exact same name. And if they had done any searching, they would have likely been able to find out that the person had been kicked out of the school. It does seem to beg -- it does seem to prompt more questions than answers.

BENNIGHT: Well, that's true. I'm sure that -- I'm sure had more time and effort been put into finding out who the user name belongs to, if that's even possible, I don't know how many Nikolas Cruzes there are on YouTube, but they may have been able to find out who this person was and put him on the radar.

TAPPER: It doesn't seem like they conducted an exhaustive search. But, Ben Bennight, you absolutely did the responsible thing. You saw something that was alarming, and you reported it, and the FBI field office in your neck of the woods seemed to take it seriously. Sadly, it doesn't appear it went much farther than that.

Thank you for your time today.

BENNIGHT: Thank you.

TAPPER: I want to bring in a panel of law enforcement experts. We have with us, Michael Balboni, the former New York State Homeland Security director, Jonathan Wackrow, CNN law enforcement analyst and former Secret Service agent, and John Campbell, CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI special agent.

Josh, I want to start with you.

This doesn't look particularly good for the FBI.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Jake, this is the nightmare scenario as an investigator. When you're conducting an investigation, you're asking themselves, is there something in our holding, something that we collected that could have saved lives? I know the FBI will do an exhaustive review and go back and look after the act and see what was the process, is there something we could have done differently. Here's the truth about investigations in the United States of America.

The FBI is precluded from using certain investigative techniques. There is sort of a sliding scale. They have to start with the least intrusive method possible to conduct an investigation, which it sounds like they did here doing database searches. As trouble as it is -- the gentleman you were just speaking with did exactly the right thing.

That's what we want people to do. But in the United States we can't go straight to electronic surveillance of a YouTube account, for example, absent some kind of significant or credible information, some more we could do. There is a method the FBI uses, and I've used in my investigations on the terrorism side, where you can go to a provider and serve them with an emergency disclosure letter where if you have some type of credible information that could stop a threat and save lives, sometimes -- and again, it's up to the individual company, it's not actual legal process -- but they can decide whether or not to provide that information to you. I know from experience it is an extremely high bar. And something like this that we saw, someone saying I want to be a school shooter I don't think would pass that threshold in order to get the information without some type of court order.

TAPPER: Mr. Balboni, am I engaging in 20/20 hindsight here? Is it unfair to expect that the FBI, when seeing a YouTube post about somebody wanting to be a school shooter, posting under his actual name, that there would be a more exhaustive search as to who posted it?

[11:55:03] MICHAEL BALBONI, FORMER NEW YORK STATE HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Jake, if that was the only threat they had that day, that month, of course, you should be able to get it. It's a question of resources. How much manpower do you have to be able to chase down on all these threats. I assure you there are threats around the country on various topics, whether it's airport security or schools or any other thing you can imagine. But the question really then becomes, suppose they did everything right. Suppose they identified this individual and they had an agent go and conduct a field interview. What if the guy said, I was just kidding. You know, I didn't really mean that. Or if he said, yes, you know, I'm kind of -- I'm worried about a lot of things. What would the next steps be? We do not have a preventive detention law in the United States. He has not done anything wrong, even by posting that kind of hard sentiment. So the question really becomes, what should be the law enforcement response? And the question is so frustrating for everybody. It comes down to the school, to the community. What happens there is the only place you're really going to effectuate a prevention of this type of an attack.

TAPPER: So, Jonathan, what should the school have done, if anything?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Listen, Jake, just take a step back for one second. You're highlighting an issue that's very difficult for law enforcement, is how do you ascertain from an online threat or threatening statements, the means, opportunity and intent for somebody to cause harm, and then really try to predict the future? Are they going to act upon this? What are the next steps? Looking at this situation today, you know, what we need to do as a society is not look at this from one optic. It can't be a law enforcement optic or a health provider optic or an education optic. We need to start looking at this, all these data points, and start synergizing them together to try to ascertain what the threat really is.

To Michael's point, though, in this instance, so this was an online post. Law enforcement, let's say, in a perfect scenario, they go to the house, they confront the individual and he says, yes, you know what, I did make those statements. What are they going to do now? Are they going to take his guns? All of a sudden, you start infringing on First and Second Amendment rights here. Again, this is a complex problem but, collectively, the community has to come together to solve for it.

TAPPER: All right, Michael, Jonathan and Josh, thank you so much. Appreciate your time. Thanks for joining me.

We have much more on breaking news. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after a quick break. And I'll be back at 4:30 eastern on "The Lead." Thanks for watching.