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New Details Emerging on the Florida School Massacre; Rick Gates Close to Plea Deal with Mueller; Interview with Senator Bill Nelson; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We don't want to, you know, make them scared to seek some sort of treatment if they feel like they're going to be reported to the state in some way.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think about the time this kid's expelled from school. He's pretty well aware that if he's going to be stigmatized, it ought to be from that or the dozens of times the police had to respond to domestic disturbances at the home he was living in, that should have been enough to stigmatize them. So, you know, the other side of it is, we're so cautious we don't want to violate anybody's rights, OK, but just imagine how many hundreds of people with his mental condition are walking among us right now, and they not only shoot up schools, they shoot shopping malls, movie theaters, outdoors at the exits of concerts.

Anywhere people gather they're a threat or even one person gathers, they're a threat. So that's the problem here is that we really -- we walk on eggshells, and not wanting to stigmatize them or something that might cause them to not seek treatment, and there is enough reasons why they don't seek treatment or stay on the treatment or stay on their medication and another thing, the laws in this country, even if it is natural parents were still alive and he was living at home, they would not have access to his medical records because he had turned adult.

So they no longer are allowed to know how his treatment is going, if he's on medication, if he's taking his medication, nothing. And so there is not a lot of help that can come from the parents in that situation, they're helpless victims also.

COOPER: Steve, though, I mean, it's not just an issue of political correctness. Most people who have some sort of mental health disability, you know, depression, they're not necessarily a risk -- you know, the vast majority are not a risk to other people.

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: And, Anderson, what we're talking about is not saying that when somebody displays some type of emotional disorder or some type of psychological issue and it is visible online or visible to friends, that you immediately start treating them as a pariah in society.

What we are saying is that that is one brick in this wall. If another brick is access to high powered weapons, and AR-15s, things like this, and combine that with threats, now you have -- now you have fission, now you have critical mass, and so we're not saying that some kind of -- that gun ownership alone or psychological issues alone are things that should make authorities start looking at somebody.

But when you combine two or three, I mean, that's how the threat matrix works. You look for two or three or four large characteristics that are combined, and then if you add to that a declining life or a failure in life, boom, that's like lighting the fuse on the bomb you already have.

COOPER: Yes, especially when you see that video of this shooter in his backyard, just randomly shooting with a handgun, a BB type handgun, but still a neighbor was concerned enough to videotape it and obviously knowing that the police had been there so much.

Tom Fuentes, Steve Moore, appreciate your perspective.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson is going to be joining me shortly, says he's talked to a lot of senators and he believes change can happen. We'll talk to him next.


[10:37:29] COOPER: Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates may be ready to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sources telling CNN that Gates is now finalizing a plea agreement with Mueller. That means the Russia probe could be one step closer to building a case either against President Trump or former member of his team, like Paul Manafort.

Sara Murray broke the story, she joins us live from Washington.

So just talk about the significance of that, if in fact he is making a plea deal with Mueller.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure. It's potentially very significant. What we have is, you know, a former Trump campaign adviser, Rick Gates, who appeared to be finalizing this plea deal with the Special Counselor Robert Mueller. He's already been in for an interview where he essentially lays his cards on the table, you can think of it as an off-the-record interview and then Mueller's team decides, OK, how important is this information to us, how valuable is this information to us, and sort of can we cut a deal going from here?

So obviously if you are Paul Manafort, who is the former Trump campaign chairman, and named a co-defendant in this criminal case, this is potentially worrisome for you that your co-defendant is going in, talking to Mueller, telling Mueller's team everything you know, it could put some more pressure on Paul Manafort potentially to cooperate with Mueller's team.

And that's kind of what we expect Mueller's team to be building at here, to try to bring more witnesses inside, to flip more witnesses and ultimately to build up a potential case maybe against Donald Trump, maybe against one of Donald Trump's associates. That part is still not clear at this point. And it is worth remembering that both Rick Gates and both Paul

Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges they're facing. They are financial crimes that happened before the presidential campaign, and this is what the White House is pointing to as an indication that they don't think that this is going to come anywhere near the president. They're saying, look, we believe that Mueller is interested in activities that are unrelated to the campaign, that are unrelated to the transition when it comes to both Rick Gates and Paul Manafort.

They're saying it's no big deal to us if Rick Gates cuts a plea deal with Mueller and wants to talk about Paul Manafort. That's not going to impact the president, that's not going to impact the West wing, although sources that have spoken to the president about this say he does feel some sympathy for the fact that both Gates and Paul Manafort have been dragged into this sort of legal mess as a result of the Russia investigation, which, of course, we've seen the president call time and time again a witch hunt.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, one doesn't need to be an attorney to know that Mueller would not be cutting a plea deal with Gates unless there was somebody higher up the food chain who Gates could give him information on, obviously Paul Manafort is the next person higher up on the food chain. The question is, does that investigation stop with Manafort, or do they believe that Manafort then has some information and they want leverage on him to make him cooperate.

[10:40:04] MURRAY: Right, and that's a key question we don't know the answer to. But what we do know, what sources have told us is there are additional charges that investigators have been preparing against Rick Gates as well as against Paul Manafort.

Now this could be a little bit of leverage, a little bit of pressure to try to get them to both cooperate. We have not seen what those new charges are going to be yet. But so you can see sort of Mueller's team trying to build more treasure, trying to convince more people to cooperate and, of course, as you know, Anderson, they do have a couple of people who are already cooperating. Michael Flynn, the ousted national security adviser, is one of the big names on that list.

COOPER: Sara Murray, with the breaking news. Sara, thanks very much. Appreciate that.

In minutes, President Trump will get a briefing in the Oval Office on the school shooting here in Florida. Later this afternoon, he will leave for Florida, he's expected to meet with the victims and first responders, not clear if that's today or sometime this weekend. We'll talk to Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

Our special coverage continues after this.


[10:45:23] COOPER: Well, later today, President Trump will leave for Florida. He's expected to visit this high school at some point during the weekend. Tweeting just moments ago. Florida Senator Bill Nelson met with first responders as well. Senator Nelson joins me now.

Thanks so much for being with us. You know, we hear from so many politicians at this time, you know, about thoughts and prayers, which are obviously always welcome, but that this is not the time to talk about gun regulation.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: And it's -- you know, thoughts and prayers are good, and I have certainly said my prayers, and it is good to talk about mental health and it's good to talk about school security. But the elephant in the room is the assault rifle because put that in the hands of a 19-year-old, and crowded school classrooms, and a crowded hallway when the fire alarm goes off, and that is -- that is slaughter. That is massacre.

COOPER: According to FBI statistics, most active shooter situations, most of the fatalities are in the first six minutes. This shooter was firing for seven minutes while he was inside the school, 150 rounds.

What can actually be done? Because so many students who've been on our air saying, something's got to change, something's got change, they seem highly mobilized, which is kind of rare to see in students so quickly after a school shooting, at least in my experience in other school shootings. How does anything change, though?

NELSON: I'm so grateful for the boldness with which the students are speaking out. And if they'll continue, maybe, just maybe this might be a turning point. But what do you do? How about common sense for starters? Criminal background checks on the purchase of a gun. Maybe when he bought that at age 18, this assault rifle, maybe it would have caught some of his mental health problems. Or, how about doing another commonsense thing, banning assault weapons?

Anderson, I grew up on a ranch. I've always had guns. I've hunted all my life. I hunt today with my son. But an AR-15 is not for hunting. It's for killing. And we've seen it much too much graphically here, in Las Vegas and Pulse and Sandy Hook, Columbine. I mean, just keep going on and on.

COOPER: As you know, though, the NRA and others who are, you know, obviously supportive of the Second Amendment, concerned about the Second Amendment rights and that is, you know, an important amendment in this country, believe that this is a slippery slope. You start with one thing, and then it's another thing, and then it's -- you know, they don't know where it ends up.

NELSON: Well, the alternative is to do nothing. And if you do nothing, these kind of things are going to continue. The alternative is to do something else.

Anderson, we can't even get passed in the Senate if you're on the terrorist watch list and you can't fly on an airplane, but you can go out and purchase an assault weapon.

COOPER: Well, even the bump stock thing.

NELSON: There you go. COOPER: Which in the wake of Las Vegas seemed to be kind of


NELSON: There you go.

COOPER: That went nowhere.

NELSON: Went nowhere. And the administration has administratively the ability to enforce this, but they haven't.

COOPER: So what does it take? I mean, there is a lot of money on one side of the issue, obviously from the NRA, and traditionally, you know, for Democrats and those who want some sort of gun control legislation, it hasn't necessarily been enough of a mobilizing issue at the polls for them. It doesn't ring top in what actually gets them out to vote.

NELSON: What it will take is the American people saying we've had enough. And forcing it in the next election, and the following election. And, you know, the fact that these students are speaking so boldly, and so consistently now, maybe that will penetrate the American electorate as they approach the November election.

COOPER: Do you think signs were missed in this case in particular that could have been caught earlier?

NELSON: Everything that we're reading now in the newspaper, the answer is yes.

COOPER: How does that change? I mean, is there any answer at this point or is it something that you can only learn once all the information is in and to figure out exactly what fell through the cracks?

[10:50:04] NELSON: Well, I think it's going to be -- there were a whole lot of causes. But if you get to the root cause that certain folks in the political spectrum don't want to talk about, and that is should these guns be available and should there be a criminal background check before you purchase the gun, you get to those two root situations. That would start to take care of a lot of this.

COOPER: All right, well, Senator Nelson, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

NELSON: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: We're going to have more from the scene. Up next a mom who survived last year's shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, now helping her son cope with surviving the shooting at the school. We'll talk to her next.


[10:55:16] COOPER: Well, a little over a year ago my next guest was at a Ft. Lauderdale airport just a few miles from here when a passenger pulled a handgun out of a checked bag and started shooting. Five people were killed, dozens hurt in the chaos.

Annika Dean was spared thanks in part to a stranger who shielded her. And on Wednesday, her Annika's 14-year-old son Austin texted her from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he's a freshman there.

When he texted you, what did he say?

ANNIKA DEAN, MOTHER OF STONEMAN DOUGLASS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Initially he told me that there was a drill going on at his school. An active shooter drill. And I was very much taken aback by that because we had drills as teachers, but I was not aware that the district implements them with students. And so --

COOPER: You're a teacher.

DEAN: Yes. So I was confused that Stoneman Douglas would have an active shooter drill with students. But I actually -- that's something that I would support, but I was still kind of confused. A minute later, he texted me and said, it's not a drill. This is real. And my heart just sank because I knew immediately that he was possibly in harm's way. And I was grateful he was texting me.


DEAN: That he told me he was on lockdown. I found later that he had evacuated his biology classroom when a fire alarm went off. And he was outside, he heard gunshots, people began running and screaming. He ran into his JROTC classroom and he was there -- they announced a code red and he was there with about 30 other students.

COOPER: How is he doing now? He's in ninth grade.

DEAN: He's -- well, he's been through this with me last year.

COOPER: Right.

DEAN: He saw all the emotion of these situations. But then this year it was much more personal to us because we do know some of the victims. Two of the girls that were shot are from my church community. Their mothers are two of my closest friends. And one of them passed away. And the other is stable after being shot multiple times.

COOPER: And, for you, I mean, to have been through what happened at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, to experience that firsthand and know what that situation is like, and then to think about your son going through that, it is -- I can't imagine what that's like.

DEAN: Well, you know, just walking around going, I love this community, I love Parkland, and I go on a lot of walks, bike rides and after the airport incident, you know, I was going through some internal struggles with what happened, and with how it's changed me. And I felt kind of alone in that, I felt like people don't understand how stressful these things can be. And now I don't feel alone. And I wish I did. Unfortunately my entire community is so affected by this and we all, we all know now. COOPER: Has -- obviously when kids have to go back to school, that's

going to be -- that's going to be tough. And I know I've talked to a lot of kids, some who are, you know, want to go back and don't want their school and their community to be defined by this.

I'm wondering if your son is -- have you talked to him about going back or is that something at this point you're not even broaching?

DEAN: We haven't talked about it. But he has seen me go on with my life. And we love going to concerts in spite of what has happened at some concerts.

COOPER: Right.

DEAN: We love going to concerts. We grocery shop, we go to church, we go to movies, we love movies, so in that regard we will continue to do those things, continue -- I'm a teacher, I'll continue to show up and teach my students. The way that it is really changed us is just the heightened sense of security. I've taught my kids, if you see something, say something. Anything. Anything that you see that is suspicious, you need to call. Doesn't need to be 911. It can be a nonemergency but you need to report things that you see.

COOPER: Do you think more schools should be doing more drills? Is there more you think schools could be doing?

DEAN: I do think that this should be a much more important thing for students. I recognize the drills themselves are a bit traumatizing. Simulated drills. Maybe there is a way to tone it down for children. But I think that this is just -- it's more important than fire alarms. We don't have a lot of fires. This is -- this is a bigger issue.

COOPER: Yes. Well, I hope, you know, you are able to spend a lot of time with your son in these days and I know there is going to be a lot of funerals in the days ahead, the first funeral is today, and it just -- it is unimaginable, but I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, Annika.

DEAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Yes. Thank you very much. Stay strong. Annika Dean.

That's it for our reporting from today. I'll be back at 8:00 p.m. tonight for two hours from 8:00 to 10:00. I'm Anderson Cooper. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.