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FBI Admits It Failed to Act on Tip in January on Killer; Heroic Teacher Unlocked Classroom to Shield Students During Shooting; Mueller Indicts 13 Russian Nationals for Election Meddling; Florida Governor Calls for FBI Director's Resignation. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired February 16, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:42] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. You're watching CNN special coverage here live in Parkland, Florida. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
We'll get you back, I promise, to the very latest on U.S. indictment of Russians in election meddling.
Let's get you this bombshell piece of information involving the mass shooting in Douglas High School in Florida that claimed the lives of 17 and wounded at least 14 others. The FBI is now reporting that it's tip line, it's 1-800 tip line received a call of concern from a person close to the shooter on January 5th. That was 42 days before the shooting happened. The FBI understands the gravity of its oversight, with the FBI Director Christopher Wray issuing a statement himself.
Let's go to Brian Todd and Evan Perez.
Brian, first to you.
You're in the gunman's previous neighborhood here in Parkland. We're talking about a tipster calling in this line on January 5th. What exactly was he or she warning the FBI of?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this tip had horrible and very chilling detail. It almost seems to predict what the shooter was going to do. As you mentioned, the tip got to the FBI on January 5th of this year, 42 days before the shooting. According to the bureau, the tip spoke of the shooter's gun ownership, his desire to kill people, his erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting. The information should have been assessed as a potential threat to life, according to the FBI, but the FBI now admitting that information was never passed on to its Miami field office, Brooke. That is the horribly disturbing part of all of this.
Here is a statement from FBI Director Christopher Wray today. Quote, we are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public. It's up to all Americans to be vigilant. And when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly. We have spoken with victims and families and deeply regret the additional pain this causes, all those affected by this horrific tragedy. All the men and women of the FBI are dedicated to keeping American people safe and are relentlessly committed to improving all that we do and how we do it."
That is a dramatic admission, a horrible admission for the FBI to have to make, Brooke, less than -- only about 48 hours after this shooting occurred. It is really a stunning development today.
BALDWIN: How -- Evan Perez -- you're our justice correspondent -- you have all these great law enforcement sources. How did they explain -- I'm just thinking of the parents I've talked to here, you know, in Parkland. When they hear that protocol just wasn't followed, when someone was ringing the alarm bells really loudly on January 5th, how was protocol not followed?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Brooke, it's inexplicable. There's no explanation from the FBI at this point. It's a massive, massive screw-up. This the very nature of what we've been told by the FBI since 9/11, really, is 'see something, say something.' And in this case, you know, the FBI just simply dropped the ball.
The fact is that this was enough information -- the person who received this tip, who processed this tip from the public, could have simply entered in the computer system the name that was provided, and they would have been able to see the previous tip that had been received by someone who said that he had left a disturbing message on a YouTube video. They would have been able to see that there had been a record, perhaps, and then they would have been able to go find this person and go talk to him. They might have been able to see that in the past year he has purchased as many as five firearms. Up to five firearms have now been tracked to this one person. They might have been able to at least make contact with him and see what he was -- what he looked like and how he behaved. They would have been able, perhaps, to see that there were 39 police calls to the home of this individual. All of those things, they didn't do, simply because someone did not pass this information to the right place, to the Miami field office. They never had a chance to investigate this. And this is a devastating thing.
Brooke, we've been covering the best of the FBI. The FBI was able to infiltrate this Internet research agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, that carried out the interference in the 2016 election. That's the best of the FBI. This is the worst, unfortunately, for them.
[14:35:28] BALDWIN: I know. I know.
PEREZ: This is devastating. And the explanation that the FBI director has to give to these grieving families, I can't even begin to explain that.
BALDWIN: Nor can I. Nor can I.
Evan, thank you so much, and Brian Todd. My next guest is a teacher here at Douglas who is being called a hero.
Quickly unlocking her classroom to shield a group of students as the shots rang out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID HIGGS: STUDENT: As we were running, we were actually running toward the freshman building, and thank god for a janitor that stopped us.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What did the janitor say?
HIGGS: The janitor said, guys, you can't go this way. Go this way. They funneled us into Ms. Kurth's culinary cooking classroom, 40 students, if not more. Because of the heroic actions, a split-second decision, 30 seconds, she saved my life and easily 40 others there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Ashley Kurth, thank you so much for being with me.
That was one of your students talking about how you helped save his and so many others' lives.
I know everyone here is heartbroken. Take me to that day.
ASHLEY KURTH, TEACHER, MAJORIE STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: It was the end of any other normal day. I was closing up my door and as I was moving the doorstop out from my door I heard two pops and two senior boys started running at me with white faces screaming there's a shooter, there's a shooter. After that I heard a multitude of other pops. We had just gone through a drill training and everything to go along with that. After previously being through a live action shooter my previous school I immediately went to the first door that I went to, my first point of entry, which was the door that faces the freshman building and as I opened it and stuck half my body out to lock and make sure the door was secure, I just saw so many terrified children screaming and running from the building. And that's not what's in the drills. And I immediately just -- I said OK, this is not a joke. Then it came over the loud speaker code red, code red. I secured that door, ran back to the other side and any student I saw running in that direction I grabbed them and started screaming, get in here, get in here. Any student running the opposite direction I was yelling at them, keep running. Don't stop. Keep running.
BALDWIN: Thank you, by the way, for even being a teacher. My mom was a teacher. I'm still cognizant that so many people don't have the resources. But you had run through the drills, code red and code yellow. You had run through the piece, and you get political. I want to ask you about that. We were standing here. You said I've been a registered Republican since I was 16 years of age. Don't take away my guns.
KURTH: Pretty much. I spent the majority of yesterday listening to a lot of my liberal friends. As a teacher, I have a lot of liberal friends. You know, I've always been a registered Republican, since I was 16. That's my family background. I have a lot of conservative views because I'm a Christian. In going through that and just living through everything that I went there, I used to have the standpoints of, yes, it's OK, we need to get these people help, focus on mental health and make the gun laws maybe a little stricter and vet these people out and --
BALDWIN: What's changed?
KURTH: After what I experienced and just hearing the rounds go off in such succession and watching those terrified cases come at me and knowing you're the adult am charge and not only are you dealing with your life but, as a mother, these are all my kids.
BALDWIN: Of course.
KURTH: I just -- for me it's not enough. Something has to be done. You have to have laws that take the catalyst out of the equation. Assault rifles and semi-assaults --
KURTH: They should not be allowed to be purchased.
BALDWIN: Your mind has been changed.
KURTH: There's no need for them.
BALDWIN: You told me you voted for Trump.
KURTH: I did.
BALDWIN: The president is coming down to Palm Beach, not far from where we're standing, and talks about how he wants to visit with folks down here. What do you want to hear from him? What do you want him to do?
KURTH: I want him to put into place and get these legislators to start working together to fix the problem. Take the catalyst out of the equation. It's not enough to say --
BALDWIN: What's the catalyst?
KURTH: The assault rifle.
BALDWIN: Semi-automatic weapons?
KURTH: Semi-automatic and assault rifles. Nobody needs to own one. When they say they're using it for target practice, what are you targeting? There's no need. It's a power struggle for them to fire it off. It is everybody's God-given right to defend themselves and have weapons but there are some weapons in this world that our children do not need access to.
[14:40:11] BALDWIN: Thank you for everything you did in helping those kids, Ashley. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I appreciate you standing next to me and using your voice. Thank you so much.
KURTH: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
Next, back to our other breaking story this afternoon, this huge development in the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russians for meddling in the presidential election. Stay with me.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Back to our breaking news in the Russian investigation. A huge development unfolding as we speak. Thirteen Russian nationals indicted a short time ago by the U.S. Justice Department. Three Russian companies also under indictment. The charges? Meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to, quote, "help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton."
Here is deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, as he laid out part of what the DOJ believes happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:45:06] ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Joining us is journalist, Carl Bernstein, who is, of course, part of "The Washington Post" team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate coverage, and he's also a CNN political analyst and author.
Carl, how big a deal is this news?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is huge in several ways. First of all, the substance of the indictment, sweeping and goes to the case of what the Russians did. It's very specific, very granular and very convincing, in a way that Donald Trump cannot dismiss this, nor can his acolytes. Trump has been looking, even in the past week, I'm told by people in the White House, for ways to fire Mueller, bury this investigation and certainly as a first act to get rid of Rosenstein, which he has been complaining about for months and months. Here we have Rod Rosenstein going on national TV with perhaps the most significant announcement of the investigation yet. And being a very responsible, convincing face, he's just himself an insurance policy in that job, one would think, as has the continuation of the Mueller investigation. It is very hard for these Republicans who have gone along with this business of witch hunt to continue to do so after this.
SCIUTTO: You say witch hunt. The Russian government used exactly that phrase as well, responding to this. That's been a consistent response. Can the president, still, I'm going to say not credibly dismiss this as a hoax, but can he walk out there, tweet and say to his supporters and others that the whole Russian investigation is an excuse by Democrats to make up for their loss?
BERNSTEIN: He probably will. He has done in consistently. Remember, he is also playing to his base. His base is his insurance against something awful happening to him in the way of impeachment. Let's be clear about this. Republicans who have gone along with him on the Hill are afraid of that base. They now have to start rethinking as a result of this, how long can they go along blindly with Donald Trump saying, oh, this is all a rouse? This is not important. Denying the Russians really did anything. The indictment is very specific in its language to the instant case. It does not preclude more indictments. It talks about, yes, unwitting association in this instance. It does not preclude anything further. And what we are seeing, as Mueller continues to build cases, is that, incrementally, he is making a picture that we can see suggests an awful lot of interface between people in the Trump campaign and Russians beginning with the Trump Tower meeting that his son is at.
SCIUTTO: Right. And that was a witting --
BERNSTEIN: That was witting.
SCIUTTO: It strikes me as you read this indictment and listen to Rod Rosenstein, just the political savvy that these Russian operatives showed. They turned up and focused their efforts on purple states, on Colorado, Virginia, Florida, swing states. They used issues which they knew, it seems, and we know, had political effect, depressed minority voting, alleged voter fraud by the Democratic Party.
BERNSTEIN: There's a long history with this type of activity, including what the United States did in the Cold War. During the Cold War, both the United States and Russia became adept at throwing elections in foreign countries. In Italy, we propped up the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats for years and years against the Communists. This is an old Cold War technique. And, indeed, the same old Cold Warriors, Putin and company, are in charge in Russia today. It's not surprising they're so good at this. We would be good at this, too, if we still did it. I'm convinced, and I think most people who cover the national security bureaucracies, think we went out of this business a number of years ago.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, because there have been other developments in this Russian investigation. CNN reported yesterday that Rick Gates, former deputy campaign manager, no coffee boy for the Trump campaign, appears to be moving toward a plea deal, which would mean pleading guilty to a crime and cooperating with investigators. There is a narrative, perhaps live for by the president and his allies, that this Russia probe is coming to an end, petering out, going nowhere. Yet, in the last two days, you have a third Trump adviser, in effect, giving states evidence and you have these indictments now.
[14:50:23] BERNSTEIN: I don't think petering out is at all the situation. It might be hurdling down the tracks in a way that it could conclude with a date final perhaps that's in sight down the road, after trials.
SCIUTTO: Do you sense that from any of your reporting?
BERNSTEIN: No, no. No, no.
SCIUTTO: Do you see light at the end of the tunnel?
BERNSTEIN: No, I don't. But in terms of, will Mueller bring a series of more indictments that are somewhat inconclusive? We don't know. Mueller's shop is so tight. They're not leaking. Most of what we know are from lawyers, among those who are possibly facing Mueller's guns. But you also can't underestimate the importance of Rick Gates, and the fact that if he pleads -- Gates was with Donald Trump through much of the campaign. He and Trump spoke consistently, frequently. He was Paul Manafort's partner, both in what the special prosecutor says is a long time of crime, as well as his partner in the campaign. So his degree of knowledge -- incidentally, Mueller is a straight shooter. If -- I think we see from what Rosenstein said today. If there is exculpatory evidence about the president of the United States, and he did not collude, I think Mueller is going to give it to us straight up and say it up front, and so will Rosenstein. But the way this investigation is going, the idea of saying, quote, "There is no collusion here" -- look, we are seeing evidence of a conspiracy. Who was witting, unwitting in that conspiracy, we don't know yet. But Mueller's indictments are pointing in a certain direction around people in the Trump orbit and family.
SCIUTTO: Carl Bernstein, thank you very much.
We've been covering this story, really, since it started.
SCIUTTO: Imagine we have some more work to do.
Another major breaking news story right now, of course, the school massacre in Florida. We're now learning that the FBI failed to act on a recent tip that warned of this shooter's threats in advance.
[14:56:58] BALDWIN: I'm Brooke Baldwin. We're here live in Parkland, Florida.
We're getting breaking news in the wake of the shooting, where we've been reporting that protocol was not followed. We know someone close to the shooter called in to this 800-FBI tip line on January 5th, warned them that this shooter -- I say shooter because he has admitted to doing this -- warned of his behavior, erratic behavior, wanted to -- his desire to kill, worried that he could be capable and wanted to commit mass murder like at Douglas High School behind me.
And now the news is that from the governor of Florida, Governor Rick Scott, he wants the director of the FBI to resign because all of that information was not relayed to the Miami FBI field office.
Let me read the last paragraph for you from the governor of Florida: "We constantly promote 'see something, say something.' And a courageous person did just that to the FBI and the FBI failed to act. 'See something, say something' is an incredibly important tool and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI director needs to resign."
Two voices I want to bring in, former FBI supervisory special agent, Josh Campbell, and CNN legal analyst, Page Pate.
Josh, first to you.
It's significant we got that acknowledgement of the screw-up from the FBI director, but now the governor wanting Christopher Wray to resign. What do you make of that?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Two things. With respect to the statement and the review under way right now by the FBI, obviously, it's heartbreaking. It's tragic. It's something they're going to look back and do an after-action of what happened, how did we miss this? The FBI knows -- it has a long story, even proud history. But they know in order to maintain credibility as an institution, they not only have to announce successes, but they also have to step up whenever mistakes are made and say we have something that, you know, we did wrong, we need to be held accountable. I think that's what we saw today with the statement.
With respect to the director resigning, I understand right now, in Florida, hearts are broken. Hearts are broken inside the FBI. I can only imagine what the governor is going through right now. I don't think this is a time for anyone to be thinking about resignation or stepping down. I think the focus should be on doing a review, an investigation, find out what happened, what was missed.
BALDWIN: Clearly, what was missed, significant information wasn't relayed to this FBI Miami field office.
Page Pate, if you are a parent of a child here that died at Douglas High School, is there any fallout of a mistake made like this?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There may be. It's difficult to sue anybody in the federal government. They have official immunity. Generally, you can't file a lawsuit because someone failed to do their job. But if there's a protocol in place and there was someone employed with the FBI who did not follow that protocol, they may individually be liable for what happened.
But I agree it's premature to call for the director's resignation at this point. I understand the governor is having to deal with a lot of pain, but also a lot of political fallout, perhaps, for his support or the opposition, the gun-control issue, and he's trying to point the finger at someone else.