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Trump Focuses on Mental Health; Congressional Action on Weapons; Immigration Bills Failing; Playmate Sold Story to National Enquirer; Romney Announces Senate Run. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] DR. DEAN WINSLOW, FORMER NOMINEE FOR ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEPARTMENT FOR HEALTH AFFAIRS: A fully -- well, a semi-automatic assault rifle, like an AR-15.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. Dean Winslow was the president's pick for the Pentagon's top health official, but that comment ultimately derailed his confirmation. He withdrew his nomination.

Dr. Dean Winslow joins us now.

Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

First, I just want to get your reaction to this school shooting in Florida, which was carried out using an AR-15-style weapon.

DR. DEAN L. WINSLOW, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Yes. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on your show.

As a parent and as a teacher, obviously this is an incredibly sad day. But, unfortunately, it's also sadly predictable.

BERMAN: Predictable because?

WINSLOW: Well, because we have unrestricted access to assault weapons and other very lethal semi-automatic weapons in the U.S. And, again, as your previous guests have pointed out, that there really seems to be no national will to make the types of changes that are needed in order to reduce or hopefully eliminate some day these types of terrible tragedies.

BERMAN: And you know how popular AR-15s are, right? They're the most popular semi-automatic rifle in the United States today. Sixty-one percent of all U.S. civilian rifle sales in 2016. You know, it doesn't seem that you can just erase their existence by snapping your fingers.

WINSLOW: No, it certain would be difficult. But, again, I think there are ways that the problem could be tackled. But, again, I think the most important thing for people to remember is that these rifles were designed specifically as military weapons. Eugene Stoner, I believe, was the name of the Colt engineer who designed this weapon. And he has always been very clear that these are battlefield weapons. These should never have been put in the hands of civilians.

BERMAN: The ArmaLite 15. That's what the AR stands for, just in case people were watching before. Lisa Monaco said it was assault rifle. It is not assault rifle. It's ArmaLite. Still, that was how they were designed to be sure way back when.

Doctor, you've heard Republicans -- Democrats too. I mean I think there is wide agreement that there needs to be some focus on the issue of mental health, and the connections to guns and who should be able to buy a gun and under what standards. However, you say that the Republicans focus purely on mental illness is something of a canard.

WINSLOW: Well, I do, for several reasons. You know, first of all, there are comparable rates of mental illness in other developed countries, yet I believe that our gun death rate is something like 25 times higher than this -- that's a per capita figure -- than the next largest developed country, you know, where any gun violence occurs at all. So, again, you can't just say, well, it's because we have more mentally ill people. It's just absolutely not true. It's the availability of these extremely lethal weapons and the fact that we really have not done anything meaningful to control the access, just -- or the widespread availability of these weapons to our civilian population.

BERMAN: So you're raising questions about guns and gun control, which is something that people are calling for right now, a national dialogue. But you also have firsthand experience about how toxic trying to have a dialogue can be. What happened to you after you said what we just showed you saying inside that hearing?

WINSLOW: Well, you know, first of all, you know, I've said I -- when I went into that hearing, I had absolutely no idea that I was going to become a poster boy for gun control. Again, the job that I was essentially interviewing to do has nothing to do with gun control. And so it was a little surprising that I was asked about basically the availability of assault weapons to the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooter, which, again, that terrible incident happened just a day and a half or so before my hearing.

I was, though, frankly, very surprised that -- just at the extreme reaction by Senator McCain and apparently the other Republican senators that were very offended by my remarks, which, again, if you talk to people around the world, what I said about the availability of assault weapons being insane, I think 99 percent of people would agree with, at least outside of the United States.

BERMAN: Dr. Dean Winslow out of Stanford, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We do appreciate your time.

WINSLOW: Thanks for having me on your show.

BERMAN: You know, Alisyn, you're looking at proof right there of how toxic this discussion is. One 15-second answer to a question that had nothing to do with his job, he says that he doesn't believe the AR-15 weapon should be so readily available, that was enough to keep him from serving in a Republican administration. They would no longer have him there.

Again, you know, you want to have that debate, have the debate over AR-15s. But there should be no debate about where politically people stand right now.

[08:35:10] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's really telling, John. That was a really telling illustration. You can just see why it's perilous, some politicians think, to talk about it.

But that's not how the kids down here feel. They think that we need to talk about it. So will the outcry down here in Parkland, Florida, lead to any action whatsoever. We're going to speak to Democratic Senator Chris Coons about what his thoughts are, what happens next.


CAMEROTA: I am here in Parkland, Florida, the scene of the latest horrific school shooting. And there is one striking difference. At this school, from the other mass shootings, the students here who've survived and their families have been speaking out already. They are turning their grief and anger into action. They've been very vocal. They are calling on Congress to do something. We hear it time and again from every guest that we have had here.

So joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

And we want to just put the question to him about what Congress can do.

Senator, thank you so much for being here.

People are fed up. People are fed up. The idea that parents have to endure school shooting after school shooting, not knowing if their kids are going to be safe when they send them off to school. So what can Congress do?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Alisyn, thank you for your coverage. It's been riveting and heartbreaking. And I'm grateful for the young people who have spoken up so forcefully.

This has been a very hard week for me in the Senate. I am angry and I am disappointed in the Senate, in our president, and in our refusal to step forward and act in the response to very real and heart-wrenching pleas from high school students in Parkland and their families and from dreamers across the country.

First to the Parkland shooting.

You know, going back to the Vegas shooting on October 1st, I thought we would promptly move to ban bump stocks. That's what made it possible for the shooter in Vegas to massacre more than 50 people in a few minutes was this illegal appendage that takes a semi-automatic and it makes it fully automatic. I was hopeful we'd take action against that. I co-sponsored legislation. It was never brought up for a vote.

[08:40:12] After we've seen previous school shootings, I thought Sandy Hook would be the moment --

CAMEROTA: How is that possible, senator? Just -- just let me stop you right there, and I'm sorry to stop you --

COONS: Right.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, how is it -- just because we remember the bump stock, everybody after that incident said that's just one small, incremental step --

COONS: Right.

CAMEROTA: That we can take. Obviously we should ban --

COONS: That's right.

CAMEROTA: This little device that you can get on the Internet that allows you to turn your semi-automatic gun --

COONS: Right.

CAMEROTA: Into a killing machine that mows down people at -- even more quickly.

COONS: Right.

CAMEROTA: So what went wrong? Who didn't -- why didn't the leader bring that up for a vote?

COONS: Alisyn, I'll be blunt, the power of the NRA in the United States Congress is -- it's very, very strong. And I heard lots of speeches about how we should do more to address mental health. I agree with that. And yet we have not come forward with stronger background check bills, mental health funding and programming for schools and communities.

This individual in Parkland who carried out this just horrible mass shooting, there were lots of signs and warnings, just like there were lots of signs and warnings with the -- with the Sandy Hook shooter. And we have not fully funded the support that local law enforcement needs, that mental health agencies need, that school districts need to take action --


COONS: When someone posts and publicizes such clear signs, torturing animals, threatening neighbors, buying an AR-15 --


COONS: And then doing things on social media that make it clear they intend to carry out a mass shooting.

We should do right by our children. I have three teenagers myself. It is just heartbreaking watching parents talk about their dead children and challenging us in Congress to take action. We have filed bills. We have held hearings. Yet the Republican

majority refuses to move forward in any meaningful way on background checks. There are a few Republicans who are willing to take action on background checks and bump stocks. But the majority leader has not brought them to the floor and we have not been able to get a vote.

CAMEROTA: You know, senator, one of the most maddening things about hearing that is that all of the public polling suggests that if there's one thing, one consensus that Americans feel, it's to have stricter background checks. Everybody can get their arms around it.


CAMEROTA: I think the polling is something like 85 percent of the country would go along with that.


CAMEROTA: So the idea that politicians can't even do that one is what, you know, just scrambles the brain of so many people.

COONS: It's hard to accept, Alisyn, that we are this frozen. Let me move to one other thing that happened on the floor of the Senate yesterday.

President Trump said that he wanted to address dreamers. He created this crisis in September by taking away their legal protection and setting a deadline of March 5th. He said he would welcome a pathway to citizenship for dreamers. And I worked hard to get a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate with my friend John McCain, a Republican who represents a border state.

We introduced a bipartisan bill written by a Republican from Texas and a Democrat from California that has 54 co-sponsored in the House, but can't get a vote in the House. We got 52 votes, but because of the president's active lobbying against our bipartisan bill, we did not get 60.

The only thing that got 60 votes in the Senate yesterday, Alisyn, was the rejection of the president's endorsed bill by Senators Grassley and Cotton. It only got 39 votes. Sixty senators including -- and only one of the eight border state senators, 60 senators voted against it. Only 39 supported it. Of the four states on the Mexico border, only one of those eight senators supported that bill, where six of them supported my bill.

Just like with background checks and guns, the overwhelming majority of Americans want us to invest in border security and provide a pathway to citizenship for dreamers who were brought here by no fault of their own by their parents and who are in school, serving in the military or currently employed. Why we can't get this done is clear, it was active lobbying by the president and the Department of Homeland Security that spread falsehoods and misleading statements against the compromise bill that two dozen of us worked very hard to get to the floor yesterday. That compromise bill which gave the president what he wanted on border security got 54 votes. Without his active opposition, it would have gotten 60 yesterday.

CAMEROTA: Senator, that is really stunning. I mean just to underscore it, the president who has always said that he wants to protect dreamers, you're saying that he was the impediment, not even the impediment, I mean the active sort of foil against getting the bipartisan agreement that you were a part of. That is important to know for all of our viewers and, obviously, we will follow up on reporting everything that's happening on Capitol Hill.

[08:45:13] Senator, thank you very much for being here to talk with us about guns and the general paralysis in Washington.

So, John, listen, I mean you just heard it spelled out there, they are completely riddled with paralysis. But it feels, at least in Parkland, that it is time to break some of that and rely on action now.

BERMAN: That's how they feel in Parkland. We'll see if they feel that way inside the halls of Capitol Hill.

All right, Alisyn, thanks so much.

We do have breaking news.

"The New Yorker" detailing newly discovered evidence of an extramarital affair between Donald Trump and a former Playboy playmate. But what's really important here, they detail a payoff scheme to keep the story from going public just before the 2016 election.

I want to discuss this and more with CNN political analyst and "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman.

So, Maggie, you know, I say this, which is stunning that I'm saying this, the story here isn't an extramarital affair between Donald Trump and someone else.


BERMAN: I mean it is --

HABERMAN: But it's not the big takeaway, yes.

BERMAN: The takeaway here is "The National Enquirer," and the owner of the group that owns "The National Enquirer," the publisher, David Pecker, who's a close friend of the president, paying to keep this quiet. And what we now have here is a pattern. Because, you know, Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, paid Stormy Daniels to keep quiet an alleged affair that she had with the president as well.

HABERMAN: Right. So we don't -- we -- Stormy Daniels has been coy about what exactly happened. She gave an interview to "In Touch" in 2011. Michael Cohen said when he told me that he had done this, and he had said it to other reporters, and he said it, you know, during the campaign repeatedly, he insisted it was false, that, you know, the president says this didn't happen, but false information doesn't mean that it's not damaging. This story in "The New Yorker" is really detailed. It lays out some I

think real-time notes or letter that Ms. McDougal had written about her relationship with Trump. I think it was 2007 when that relationship took place.

But the key is that there was an effort to squash this put forward by AMI, which, you know, is very friendly toward President Trump. It's going to raise a lot of questions about, in addition to the campaign finance questions that came up around Michael Cohen, which, you know, he has rejected that there's an issue. You're going to see the same questions come up here and you're also going to see the question of, were there others? How many others could there have been? How did this take place? What was the methodology? That, I think, is where this goes.

BERMAN: Because these two cases are strikingly similar when you read "The New Yorker" article. Not just in the payoffs, but also in the type of relationship that then Donald Trump, then candidate Donald Trump had, or I guess then private citizen Trump had.


BERMAN: And then the way they were paid off as well.

And the way the White House is addressing this --

HABERMAN: It's really interesting.

BERMAN: Let me read this to you --


BERMAN: Because this jumped out to anyone who has been issued a denial on anything before.

HABERMAN: Yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: A White House spokesperson said in a statement that Trump denies having an affair with McDougal. This is an old story that is just more fake news. The president says he never had a relationship with McDougal. Why, Maggie, does this language jump out to you?

HABERMAN: For a variety of reasons, but let me give you a comparison. In 2011, when Anthony Weiner's, you know, Twitter scandal first erupted, there was a day when the denials from his spokeswoman went from, the congressman did not do this, to, the congressman says he did not do this. And it was incredibly notable. And it was right before he ended up saying that he was going to step out of his seat.

That indicates to anybody, as you know, any reporter, that indicates -- and any political observer, that the people who are speaking for the president are not certain they can trust his word anymore, and so they are caveating it with, he says, not, I'm saying.

BERMAN: Right. The White House --

HABERMAN: There's also no name attached to the statement.

BERMAN: No, they're not categorically denying it happened there, saying the president denies it happened.

HABERMAN: Yes. Correct. And you are hearing increasingly from people at the White House who I speak with and other reporters who speak with him as well, particularly after this Rob Porter issue in terms of domestic violence allegations, they are all caveating things now with, you know, what I'm told is --

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: Because there is a real recognition that the information -- many of them now believe they -- and I'm not naming names, but many of them now believe they may not be being told the truth. Not just from the president, let me be clear, from like lots of --

BERMAN: No, it's an extraordinary caveat for a White House, but it is extraordinary for people --


BERMAN: For White House officials to have to say, what I'm telling you might not be true.

HABERMAN: Correct.

Well, especially for a White House that has so adamantly dug a line in the sand about fake news, this is pretty striking.

BERMAN: Let me just put up a couple pictures here that are, in fact, pictures of Donald Trump with Karen McDougal, the woman in question here. There's no denying that they knew each other here.

And as we said, again, the issue for the presidency might be the pattern here of payoffs. But there is an issue now with the president, you know, two alleged extramarital affairs that happened around the same time after the birth of, you know, of Barron. And, you know, what does this mean? You know, we've been watching this marriage inside the White House right now. There were those days when Melania was in Florida here or there. Do we know how she feels about all this?

[08:50:16] HABERMAN: No. I mean, look, she's incredibly -- she's incredibly private, the first lady. People who know her all say that she really does not enjoy being sort of treated as a victim. And I think that we don't actually know what goes on inside their marriage.

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: So I understand -- I mean she is now the first lady and so that's what changes it. We don't know what could have gone on around, you know, these declared affairs. We have no idea. It's also not a surprise -- I think it's sort of baked in for people who either like or don't like Donald Trump, it's baked into the stock price that he has been married three times. That he had a very, very public affair with the woman who became his second wife. So, sure, there is that. But I think the larger issue is the AMI


BERMAN: So the evangelical support has called that a mulligan for the president --

HABERMAN: Well, and I suspect they will say the same thing about this. I think the payoff --

BERMAN: Well, it will be interesting. But, again, but the payoff issue -- just to put a button on this, the payoff aspect of it, again, so you think this had legs.

HABERMAN: That's different.

BERMAN: Where does this go next then?

HABERMAN: That's where it goes. Look, I don't know if it has leg, but it could have legs. And the question will be, were there others? How did this work? You know, how much did the president know is, I think, going to be an ongoing question. And that was a question around the Stormy Daniels money as well.

BERMAN: All right. And what could not be a bigger contrast, I want to bring up the last Republican nominee for president, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts --


BERMAN: Who as of just a few minutes ago is --

HABERMAN: Running.

BERMAN: The current Republican Senate candidate from the state of Utah. Listen to part of the announcement here.


MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington. Utah has balanced its budgets. Washington is buried in debt. Utah exports more abroad than it imports. Washington has that backwards. Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world. Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion. And on Utah's Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect.


BERMAN: All right. So within the span of ten seconds there, there were two not so settle messages of how Governor Romney is distancing himself from the White House.


BERMAN: One on immigration. But, number two, you know, in Utah we treat people with respect there.

How do you think that Romney will sort of deal with the White House going forward?

HABERMAN: Look, I think you saw two versions of Mitt Romney in the past, right, long before this Senate race came up.

BERMAN: We saw more than two, but -- yes.

HABERMAN: We saw more than two. I saw a few also in 2012.

But when -- in terms of the 2016 campaign as it relates to Trump, you saw him both be a huge critic. He set himself as sort of the moral exemplar, trying to be a beacon for the party, you know, go with me on saying this is enough and drawing a bright line in terms of the president's rhetoric and behavior and so forth.

And then you saw him very publicly entertain the idea of being secretary of state. So, you know, he dined with the president. There was that incredibly uncomfortable looking picture of them at one of Trump's restaurants. And then ultimately Trump didn't choose him, which a lot of Romney supporters felt like was a needless humiliation that Romney put himself through.

I think you will see a similar sort of dance here. He's going to have to be mindful that there are going to be voters in Utah who are supportive of some of the president's policies. But I think that he is walking a pretty --

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: Smart line on disavowing the behavior.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, thanks so much for being here with me.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Want to bring back in Alisyn, who has been doing remarkable work down in Florida.


CAMEROTA: So, John, listen, you were down here with me yesterday. You were reporting from here. You spoke to the kids who survived. You spoke to their families. We just keep hearing the same message over and over again. It's a passionate appeal from these parents, from these kids. They want something to be done. They want some action to be taken so no other school district ever has to deal with this again.

This is Parkland, Florida. They were voted the safest place in Florida to live last year. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. And it will. It will happen again unless something changes.

So, we want to close our show now by honoring the 17 students and the teachers who were killed at this massacre here at the school behind me. We want to pay tribute to them by showing you their names, their ages and their faces and how they will never be forgotten by all of their loved ones here.


ON SCREEN TEXT: Alyssa Aldadeff, 14-years-old.

Scott Beigel, 35-years-old.

Martin Duque Anguano, 14-years-old.

Nicholas Dworet, 17-years-old.

Aaron Feis, 37-years-old.

Jaime Guttenberg, 14-years-old.

Christopher Hixon, 49-years-old.

[08:55:00] Luke Hoyer, 15-years-old.

Cara Loughran, 14-years-old.

Gina Montalto, 14-years-old.

Joaquin Oliver, 17-years-old.

Alaina Petty, 14-years-old.

Meadow Pollack, 18-years-old.

Helena Ramsay, 17-years-old.

Alexander Schachter, 14-years-old.

Carmen Schentrup, 16-years-old.

Peter Wang, 15-years-old.


[09:00:06] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Florida school massacre. I'm Anderson Cooper, in Parkland.