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Mueller Indicts 13 Russians For Election Meddling, Says They Communicated with Unwitting People Tied To Trump Campaign; Trump Headed To Florida County Where High School Massacre Occurred; FBI Admits To Mishandling Warning Signs About Florida Gunman. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 16, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Thanks, Jim.
[17:00:26] Russians charged. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicts 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the announcement, calling it information warfare against the United States.
Still a hoax? President Trump has called allegations of Russian interference a hoax and a phony Democrat excuse, even though his intelligence chiefs unanimously agree that Russia was involved. Will today's indictments change the president's mind?
And failure to act. The FBI admits it didn't investigate a detailed January tip about the young man now charged with the Florida high school massacre. It is at least the second time that the FBI was told Nikolas Cruz might attack a school. Tonight the Florida governor is calling on the FBI director to resign. Why didn't anyone heed the warnings?
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We're following two major breaking stories. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian entities for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, alleging they set up false personas using stolen identities to communicate with unwitting people tied to the Trump campaign.
Also breaking, the FBI's astonishing admission that it received a detailed warning January 5 about Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of murdering 17 people at a Florida high school. The FBI admits it never followed up on the tip.
I'll be speaking live with former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and experts are also standing by for us. We'll have more on the Florida high school shooting shortly, but we're
going to begin with today's stunning indictments in the Russia meddling investigation. Justice correspondent Evan Perez is here, along with our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Evan, you first. Take us through this announcement today.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna, his was information warfare, and it was designed to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton. That's what the indictment that was unsealed today by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
It was called Operation Lockdown, apparently named for an area in St. Petersburg, Russia, and this is where the Internet Research Agency was doing its work. People would show up to work and essentially pose as Americans to help drive conversation on social media, trying to help people drive to events in key states that ended up deciding the election.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is the name of one of the key people among the 13 that are indicted in this -- in this indictment. He is known as Putin's chef. He ran a catering company in Russia. It's tied to the Russian government. And they used sophisticated means. They even had people travel here in 2014 to purple states, states that were swing states like Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, addressed this all at a press conference today. Take a listen to what he had to say.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: In 2014, the company established a translator project focused on the United States. In July of 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project.
Two of the defendants allegedly traveled to the United States in 2014 to collect intelligence for their American influence operations. In order to hide the Russian origins of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located here in the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, making it appear that those accounts were controlled by persons located in the United States.
They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular candidates.
Count one alleges a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States by all of the defendants. The defendants allegedly conspired to defraud America by impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the United States Department of Justice, and the Department of State. Those organizations of the U.S. government are responsible for
administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.
[17:05:15] Count two charges conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud by Internet Research Agency, and to the individual defendants.
And counts three through eight charge aggravated identity theft by Internet Research Agency and four individuals.
Now there is to allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: And Brianna, there's no doubt that, obviously, right now that this investigation is not over. There is no allegation in this -- in this indictment that they changed the outcome of this election. That's something that President Trump, we know, is very, very attuned to.
And before this indictment was announced today, we know that Rod Rosenstein called the president. He briefed him on what -- exactly what was coming. And that's what you're seeing in some of his tweets today from the president.
But there's no doubt: this investigation is not over. We may yet have some answers about, you know, the hacking and other parts of this investigation that has been on everybody's mind for the past year.
KEILAR: Shimon, what does this tell us about the special counsel's investigation?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So keep in mind that this part, this indictment, this investigation stems from before Bob Mueller was involved in this case. This was started under Comey. It started as a counterintelligence investigation. A lot of things have changed since Bob Mueller came in and started this investigation.
We have not seen any of that today. This was all old stuff. We have not seen what -- why is Michael Flynn cooperating? We have not seen that today. Why is George Papadopoulos cooperating? We have not seen any of that in this indictment today. So those elements, those parts of this investigation are still ongoing.
And also, as we've done all this -- a lot of the reporting, there are different parts within the special counsel's office that are dealing with different aspects of this investigation.
There's a financial aspect. There's the obstruction aspect, which is still very much underway. We know that certain key people this week were being interviewed by Bob Mueller. Steve Bannon, as we've reported, was in to see Bob Mueller this weekend, was interviewed. So there's still a lot going on. And I think Rod Rosenstein made it clear that this investigation is still ongoing. And certainly, it's based on a lot of the reporting that we're doing. There's still a lot happening.
KEILAR: Yes, it does sound like we're midstream. All right. Shimon Prokupecz and Evan Perez, thank you so much to both of you.
President Trump, who repeatedly has dismissed the notion of Russian meddling as a hoax and a witch hunt, left the White House a short time ago without talking to reporters. And after he left, the president sent out a tweet that said, "Russia started their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."
CNN's Jeff Zeleny is waiting for the president to arrive in Florida. There's also a new statement from the White House, Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is indeed, Brianna, as President Trump will be arriving in Florida here at his Mar-a-Lago retreat within the hour.
But you are right. He has repeatedly called this Russia investigation, Russian meddling a hoax and a witch hunt again and again from the Oval Office and at rallies from the Oval Office. But today, his own Justice Department said that flatly is not the case.
This sweeping indictment has really upended everything the president has said about this. Remember last November after meeting Vladimir Putin briefly during the AIPAC summit in Vietnam, he said he believes him when he denied meddling in the election. Well, today the Justice Department filed the first indictments in this case.
But the White House still holding firm, there was no collusion. We had two statements here today, Brianna. Let's look at both of them.
First coming from the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders. She said this: "The special counsel's investigation further indicates there was NO COLLUSION" -- all caps -- "between the Trump campaign and Russia, that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected."
And then in a separate statement, the president goes on to say this. He says, "We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord and rancor to be successful. It's time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false false allegations, and farfetched theories, which only serve to further agendas of bad actors like Russia, and do nothing to further the principles of our institutions."
He goes on to say this: "We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections."
Now, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, did answer a question saying that the outcome of the election was not affected by this. But there are some questions about that.
The former CIA director, John Brennan, in fact, said it is implausible to know if it impacted the outcome of the election or not. So Brianna, this certainly speaks to bolster the president's thought that there was no collusion here.
[17:10:09] But it undermines entirely that Russian are meddling was real. And it does nothing at all to address an even bigger question: has there been obstruction of justice in the firing of the FBI director, James Comey? That was not included in any of this today. That, of course, is part of the ongoing investigation.
CAMEROTA: Jeff, it seems like it was saying it did not charge for the outcome of the election. As if saying that that's not really what this was dealing with. That it's not an issue that was either resolved or necessarily dismissed by this. But at the same time the White House is claiming victory and seizing upon that as if it's an exoneration. Right?
ZELENY: Indeed. I mean, that has been a constant concern of President Trump's, that his whole victory, really, his astonishing victory over Hillary Clinton in November of 2016 would be undermined by all this. That has sort of led to how he has treated the Russian meddling situation from the very beginning.
So they, of course, seized on it, saying it didn't affect the outcome, but again, that was not the subject of this; and many people believe that may be a question that may never be known -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.
Joining us now is the former head of both the CIA and the National Security Agency. Retired General Michael Hayden with us now. He's a CNN national security analyst.
Thank you so much...
MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Hi, Brianna.
KEILAR: ... for lending your expertise here.
KEILAR: So this is the indictment, right here. It is chock full of fascinating details about just how sophisticated this information attack was. What really stands out to you in this indictment?
HAYDEN: Maybe two things. Really surprising in its detail. Who, when, why, how much of an investment. How many people with the organizational chart and so on. Surprising there, almost breathtaking in terms of its detail.
Not surprising in terms of the broad plot line. I mean, this is what the intelligence community has been reporting for well over a year, and that's actually been enriched by news sources and think tanks around Washington who have studied this issue. So again, wonderful detail. But the basic arc here, I think, is how most people thought this was going. KEILAR: Details down to the address in St. Petersburg where they were
operating, the number of people, the different categories that they worked in, all of these actors. You can almost, as you read it, see the movie that could be made about it. That's how rich it was in detail.
HAYDEN: It does. In certain aspects, particularly the people in the United States, it looks like a modern remake of "The Americans."
KEILAR: It's -- it's amazing. OK. So there's a former CIA director, John Brennan, who you're very familiar with, who said, "DOJ statement and indictments reveal the extent and motivations of Russian interference in 2016 election. Claims of a hoax in tatters, my take: implausible that Russian actions did not influence the views and votes of at least some Americans."
Now, we heard from Rod Rosenstein. He said that this -- this document does not charge that the outcome of the election was changed. Or was changed by what we see in here. And also that it doesn't charge that actors in the Trump campaign knowingly engaged.
KEILAR: Is that an exoneration of that?
HAYDEN: No, no. It's neutral. Particularly neutral on did this affect any votes, and did it affect the outcome of the election? Now, I saw what John said. I would not want to take the brief that this Russian effort, with so much energy and so much elegance, didn't affect some votes.
But that said, we can't know how many votes that it affected. And we certainly can't determine that it affected the outcome of the election. So there's really not much purpose in discussing that aspect.
KEILAR: So does it -- does it, in that way, the fact that it could have affected votes but in immeasurable ways you describe, mean that it was actually more effective as an information attack campaign than the Russians effectively getting into voting apparatuses...
KEILAR: ... and changing votes? Because that might be verifiable. This one casts doubt. It creates what they wanted.
HAYDEN: Exactly right. When you look at the overall objective, when you read the indictment, when you read the intelligence community assessment. I mean, objective No. 1 was to mess with our heads. Objective No. 1 was to create lingering doubts about the legitimacy of American politics, policy and electoral processes. And wow! That does seem to be...
KEILAR: And does this to you (ph)? Does this, when you read this document, does it make you wonder more about the impact that might have been had by the Russians? HAYDEN: What makes me wonder about the impact is the continued debate
about what was a high-confidence judgment of the American intelligence community now for well over a year, with the president, as you've already pointed out, calling it a hoax. And now I really do want to see what the alt-right news, what the president, what the supporters of the president say about this, which lays out in great detail that this wasn't a hoax. That the Russians did it, just like the intel guys said.
KEILAR: This wasn't a hoax, as you say.
General Hayden, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
KEILAR: Next, we'll have more reaction to this breaking news about today's major indictments in the Russia meddling investigation. I'll be speaking with a Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee.
And then later, today's starting admission from the FBI that it did not follow up on a detailed January tip about the young man now charged with 17 murders at a Florida high school.
[17:19:54] KEILAR: We are following major breaking news. Just before President Trump headed to Florida, the Justice Department announced that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 election.
Now, the indictment says the Russians used stolen Social Security numbers to set up false identities and, quote, "communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and with other political activists."
I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Sir, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: So I'm sure you saw President Trump's tweet. He said this: "Russia started their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."
Is -- is he missing the point with this tweet?
BLUMENTHAL: He is missing the point, gravely and very unfortunately for the country. And he's also engaged in some magical thinking here that somehow, this indictment exonerates him. Nothing of the kind. The Russians began their plot, their informational warfare -- by the
way, that's their description of it, not only the indictment's -- back in 2014. But then they exploited his campaign and, in fact, had contacts with it.
And we need to be very clear, Brianna. The standard for all of the factual allegations here is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. These factual allegations are not something that might be proved or may be more probable than not. They are provable beyond a reasonable doubt with real evidence. It's about real people harming our country in real ways with an attack that did real harm to our democratic institutions. And that's why the president has an opportunity and an obligation not to claim exoneration but actually take action against the Russians, or they'll keep doing it again.
KEILAR: So back when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, denied meddling in the election late last year, President Trump said, you know, that he believed these denials.
Do you think that the details in this indictment should change his mind? Do you think that they will change his mind?
BLUMENTHAL: They should certainly change his mind, if he ever believed that Vladimir Putin did nothing to harm our democracy. In fact, the Russians massively attacked our democracy.
What is important about the detail here is not only the numerous facts in these page after page of details about the financing, the money laundering, fake identities, stolen identities, violations of campaign laws, but also the involvement of the Russian government plainly in those corporations that have contracts with the Russian government and are, in fact, slush funds for this massive, clandestine operation.
So whether it will change his mind, I certainly can't predict. But there was never a factual basis for him to deny that the Russians had no interference in these elections.
KEILAR: The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein today, when he said that this -- these indictments don't argue that the Russians altered the outcome of the election. I wonder how do you read that? Do you read that as him saying that that's not what this indictment is about? Is that him saying it doesn't deal with that topic?
Because the Trump administration, and President Trump, has read this very much as an exoneration, basically saying that they are made -- they are absolved of any of these accusations to the contrary. What do you think?
BLUMENTHAL: This indictment never alleges that there is collusion, but it never says there was no collusion. It leaves that question for, perhaps, the next indictment or guilty plea.
And investigations and criminal prosecutions proceed in stages. They examine different facets of criminal wrongdoing, especially when there's a conspiracy involved. And I know from my own experience as a former federal prosecutor that often there are often superseding indictments that allege new defendants with some additional theories.
So to say that it exonerates him is indeed magical thinking. And what it does show is that the special counsel investigation is proceeding methodically. This indictment is a solid step of progress. It completely rebuts the politically motivated, irresponsible claims by the Trump sycophants in Congress that somehow, it's a witch hunt or a hoax.
It states real facts about real people doing real harm to our democracy and informational warfare that is continuing now and will do more harm, according to the intelligence community in testimony just this week.
[17:25:07] KEILAR: Yes. It is continuing now, as you say. We did learn that this week.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, thank you so much.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: Coming up, what is next for President Trump and his team in the wake of today's latest indictments in the Mueller probe?
And then later, the first lady's noticeable absence as new revelations surface about a one-time "Playboy" playmate's alleged affair with Donald Trump.
[17:30:00] KEILAR: Breaking news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals for their role in U.S. election meddling. I want to get right now to our experts for more analysis on this. Sam Vinograd, to you first. I want to talk about the president's tweet, which I'm sure you saw -- there was a statement from the White House, there's also this tweet which we know certainly gives us his unvarnished opinion of these things.
It says, "Russia started their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014 long before I announced that I would run of president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion." The thing that stands out is so many people looking at this, is he doesn't condemn Russia -- that's not what he focuses on. He doesn't lay out a plan to stop this from continuing to happen, because we know it is continuing to happen. And instead, he focuses very closely on how this relates to him. What is your reaction about why, you know, that's something that is obviously concerning a lot of people.
SAM VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the tweet is characteristically very narcissistic. He makes this about himself. He doesn't make this about Russia's ongoing attack in our country. We have DHS today, briefing election officials through 50 states about the ongoing threat to our election infrastructure. And again, in his tweet, the president makes this about himself. Now, the fact of the matter is, Donald Trump is right: he's not special to Russia. Russia started their attack against our country several years ago. They prefer Donald Trump as a candidate because they thought he would
pursue policies that were more supportive of Russia's goals, and frankly, that've been proven correct. But it's inaccurate because the investigation is not order. We've seen these indictments come out today. Bob Mueller is very good at his job. I think we can probably expect more indictments down the road, and there's been no final conclusion on whether there was or wasn't collusion.
KEILAR: Well, to that point, Josh, when you listen to the Deputy A.G. today, Rod Rosenstein, really emphasizing this announcement: "There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge of Russia's activities." Is he just dispensing with the idea that it happened or do we need to read between the lines there that that's just not what is dealt with in this indictment?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, so, I think worth to remember that today's indictment shows exactly what Bob Mueller wants us to know. It does not layout everything the government knows about a particular case. So, if you look through an indictment, somewhere to a search warrant, and other legal process where the government is only going to include what it needs to meet a certain legal threshold, nothing more. So, I think we should stay tuned, because there could be more coming.
KEILAR: So, you've got the tweet for Cillizza, and then you got the statement from the White House. They're different. This one says, "It is more important than ever" -- the statement from the White House --"before, to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It's time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild, and false allegations, and farfetched theories which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors like Russia and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and elections."
KEILAR: It's what you expect the White House to say, but this does not read like anything the president would write.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, they have the most basic level you have, like teleprompter/press release Trump and Twitter Trump, right?
KEILAR: Or is this even proper, is this a bunch of --
CILLIZZA: Well, you know, it's a statement that is sort of cobbled together by his staff. All presidents have that -- staff statement.
KEILAR: Sure. Yes.
CILLIZZA: His Twitter feed is who he really is. We saw that earlier in the week the Parkland shooting -- the same thing. The Twitter feeds, much more raw, much more -- people should've seen it coming. The speech he gave yesterday, much more of what we would define as traditional presidential. The problem with that statement is, Donald Trump is the one person who is not taking the threat posed by Russia seriously. This is someone who has referred to this investigation -- and I can go through all the terms but --
KEILAR: Well we have them. We don't even have to, because we have a graphic. Oh, there you go. There you go, Chris, we just whip that up?
CILLIZZA: Well, really? Well done, Brianna. Right. So, all of these things are what Donald Trump has said about this investigation. He correlates Russia's attempted meddling in the 2016 election, acknowledging that with somehow lessening the fact that he wants to invalidate this victory. He's the only person that really does it. You can hold both of those ideas in your mind, but his refusal or inability to do is leaves us open to what we heard earlier in the week from the intelligence community. Russia believes this was a hugely successful thing in 2016; they will do it in 2018; they will do it in 20. And this president is the one who is not taking the threat seriously.
KEILAR: He seems to focus more on the idea that collusion allegations are a hoax, and then he doesn't, Jackie, seem to focus on the problem of Russia meddling, which is an ongoing problem, that's really the issue here, right. So, he's sort of, why is it important that he's not focusing on the problem at hand? That it could just -- and we expect it will come back to affect our democracy again.
[17:35:15] JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think it's exactly what Chris said. I think he's conflating these two things. And you already saw, I don't think any of this goes away. I don't think he stops calling it a hoax. I think it's now part of the, sort of, Trump -- what his supporters would do, a call received, right? When he was at a rally. It's in that family at this point. So, I don't think -- and even when you saw -- what his lawyers said today. It seems like they looked at that report, and they said, all done, great job, Mueller, now, we can all move on. It's not over. Not over.
KEILAR: Josh, you're a former FBI supervisory special agent, so, when you look with your expertise at what we saw today, you know, does this give you a sense of where the special counsel is headed next?
CAMPBELL: So, having had the pleasure of working for Bob Mueller, when I first started with the FBI, I could tell you he's strategic, he is circumspect, and he is not going to telegraph his next move unless there's an investigative purpose. So, I think the million-dollar question we're all asking ourselves is, is this it or are there more shoes to drop?
KEILAR: Were you surprised by this today, Sam?
VINOGRAD: I'm not surprised at all for two reasons. The first is, the Russians are really good at their job, right? We know --
KEILAR: But, I mean this dropping today and that the FBI knew so much? You weren't surprised?
VINOGRAD: No, I think that this is part of a process. Look, this is a sign that the process is working. We had the FBI and the DOJ do an investigation. We've had the intelligence community, at least since January point out all these ways that the Russians are infiltrating our system. And so, today, we have a signal that the process is working. And my expectation is that we'll see more indictments down the road for exactly that reason.
CILLIZZA: I think it's important to just keep reiterating -- Dick Blumenthal mentioned this. But what Donald Trump can say is, no collusion yet. That doesn't mean there will be some, but it means that you can't --
KUCINICH: It definitely caps. It's the only part of him, really, that's in that press release --
KUCINICH: -- is that it says no collusion at all.
CILLIZZA: I mean, I really do think about this way, it's like you go in to have a physical. They take your blood pressure, right? The first thing they do. And you say, I'm totally healthy, and you walk out. Now, you might be totally healthy, but, like, they have to do like a blood test, and an EKG. You know, I mean, it's not conclusive of anything. And so, the idea that in the middle of it, you can just say, like, well, we're exonerated. Maybe you eventually will be, but you're not yet.
KEILAR: All right. I'm going to have you guys stand by just for a second, because actually we have some breaking news. The president has just landed in West Palm Beach, Florida. You see Air Force One there at the airport. We're going to keep an eye on this live picture as we do expect. And we should say, we do understand that the president will be going to Broward County. That is, of course, the county where the mass shooting happened at a Florida high school. So, we're waiting to see what is going to come of that. We're going to let you know as soon as we do.
I want to bring in our White House Reporter Kate Bennett. Because, Kate, the First Lady Melania Trump also traveling to Florida, but she wasn't seen with the president when he departed the White House earlier today. What can you tell us about this?
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Correct. She was supposed to be with him. That was in the guidance from earlier today, we're used to seeing them together do the walk from the south lawn of the White House to marine one, and then going onto Andrews Air Force Base -- but she didn't. Her office told me it was because her schedule just made it easier to meet him at the plane. However, this is a first lady who's exerted some independence before in the wake of some rocky and difficult headlines with stormy Daniels scandal, and then today's issue in the New Yorker about of alleged affair with her husband in 2006 -- two years into the couple's marriage that the White House denies the president had. However, you know, it certainly makes for an interesting question as
to why Melania Trump really didn't ride with the president. All eyes are on this couple. They did not exchange mushy Valentine's on social media this week. We've watched them do things separately. She is very independent. However, Brianna, she is scheduled to go with the president to visit with the patients and victims of the horrific high school shooting on this next leg of the Florida trip and spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago.
KEILAR: And that's actually an area where we've seen the first lady excel, right? Not necessarily an area where we see the president excel, as he sometimes will try to express sympathy in hard times. We've seen that before. Speak to that. And here, we see, we actually see the president and we see Melania Trump here together with the president, Kate, and Senator Marco Rubio we should say as well, of course, senator in Florida.
BENNETT: Right. So, here we're seeing Melania Trump for the first time today. When boarded Air Force One earlier, the press was told, as usual, it's usually close press when she gets on the plane -- not to photograph her when she arrived for the plane. Yes, Brianna, you're right, she's really become the compassionate voice of this administration. She's taking on helping children as part of her platform. I was just with her covering her visit to a children's hospital in Bethesda on Valentine's Day. You know, she made cookies with seriously ill children, and she exchanged Valentine's. She's really doing some work on the side here that expresses sympathy and empathy. And again, I think her presence today going to visit those victims of the high school shooting is probably most welcome, whatever the case may be going on behind close doors in Trump's marriage.
[17:40:35] KEILAR: All right. Kate Bennett, thank you so much. We should mention we see the chief of staff very visible there -- the embattled Chief of Staff, John Kelly.
Coming up, we're going to have much more on our top stories. 13 Russian nationals indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into 2016 election meddling. But first, a stunning admission from the FBI as authorities try to figure out how they missed warning signs from the gunmen who killed 17 people at a Florida high school. We're going to bring you the latest details.
KEILAR: Breaking news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has handed down indictments to 13 Russian nationals for crimes connected to U.S. election meddling. We'll have more on that story in just a moment. But first, we're tracking some developments in the Florida high school massacre. In a stunning admission today, the FBI acknowledged it failed to follow proper protocol after a person close to the gunman called an FBI tip line to report concerns about his behavior. Brian Todd is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for us with more on this story. So, Brian, this is what we want to know, how did this report slip through the cracks?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it fell through cracks because that crucial tip was never reported by the FBI to its own field office in Miami. We've gotten disturbing new details tonight on several warning signs that were missed about this killer, including that very detailed tip to the FBI.
TODD: New and alarming details of missed and a mishandled warning signs. The FBI says it was given information on January 5th on a tip line. The caller provided information that Nikolas Cruz was erratic, armed, have a desire to kill people, and showed the potential of conducting a school shooting. This information was never passed on to the Miami field office.
ROBERT LASKY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: The potential of the FBI to miss something is always there. We do our best. We have protocols to prevent these things. We will be looking into where and how, if something, the protocol broke down.
TODD: This, in addition to a separate notice given to the FBI regarding disturbing social media posts predicting a massacre. Including these saying, I want to shoot people with my AR-15. I want to die fighting, killing a ton of people. Jim Gard, a former teacher of the shooter, tells CNN that faculty received an e-mail in late 2016 prompting to be on the lookout for Cruz, and to let administrators know if he was seen with a backpack.
Describe that e-mail, and what it said.
JIM GARD, FORMER TEACHER OF THE SHOOTER: It was very simple. Just that if he comes on campus with a backpack, let me know.
TODD: CNN affiliate, WPLG, is reporting on a school document recommending in January 2017 that a threat assessment be conducted to determine if Cruz was a danger to the school. The document issued after he was involved in an assault. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the document; it's not clear if the threat assessment was ever done. And the Broward County school board hasn't commented. Signs at every turn that the 19-year-old shooter was troubled and violent. Police record shows 39 calls to the shooter's home over the last seven years for various reasons, including reports of "mentally ill person, child or elderly abuse, and domestic disturbance." Not all of the calls referred to the shooter.
SHELBY ESPINO, NIKOLAS CRUZ'S NEIGHBOR: I don't know why but there were definitely police cars in the driveway.
TODD: Shelby Espino's home is just two doors down. She said, they and other neighbors had many encounters with Cruz over the years. On one occasion, her daughter said, she saw Cruz shooting toward a neighbor's yard with a gun.
ESPINO: She just said, mom, that redheaded is shooting chickens -- at the people behind us chickens. And I looked out the window, and I saw him with, you know, it was long -- I don't know anything about guns. So, I just saw it was a long gun. TODD: Cruz lived there with his adoptive mother until she passed away
last fall. He was then taken in by the residents of this Pompano Beach home. A neighbor captured this video of what he says was regular and frightening occurrence. The shooter wearing a make America great again hat, firing a weapon in his backyard. He lived at this home until Wednesday's deadly rampage. Police say, he fires more than 100 rounds during his rampage. They've detailed the moves, the shooter made. Some of them seemed calculated; others, haphazard. After being dropped off by an Uber, he entered the school building, began firing into rooms on the first floor before moving to the second and third floors. Police say, he finally exited the building and blended in with fleeing students. He then made stops at this nearby Walmart, then this McDonald's. After leaving the area, he was apprehended in nearby Coral Springs. As the investigation moves forward, and the Parkland Community searches for solace, many here are asking with so many warning signs, why wasn't he stopped?
TODD: A question that is placing serious pressure tonight on the FBI director. Florida Governor Rick Scott in a scathing statement said the FBI's failure to take action against this killer is "unacceptable." And Scott is calling on FBI Director, Christopher Wray, to resign. Brianna?
[17:50:08] KEILAR: Brian Todd for us in Fort Lauderdale, thank you. Now, the Florida high school massacre reignited the gun control debate here in Washington. And CNN Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, spoke with Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, about the political fallout as well as the chances for any real legislation to deal with the nation's plague of gun violence.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We obviously have heard your reaction to the tragic shooting, but you've also said that Democrats are politicizing this tragedy. Can you explain that?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, listen, what happened in Parkland was horrifying and every parent looks upon school-aged kids being targeted by a deranged madman, and that's the very definition of evil --someone that would murder children is the embodiment of evil. And I've spent a lot of years in law enforcement; I've spent a lot of years going after and seeking the strictest punishment possible for murders and then for those who commit sexual assaults and abuse kids, and this is horrifying.
But invariably, whenever there's a criminal attack, within -- it seems minutes of the attack, you get Democrats going on T.V. going, this is yet another reason to push a gun control agenda that goes after the second amendment rights of law abiding citizens. That's not the right answer here. The answer is we should be targeting violent criminals. That's what works. That's what's effective. And that's what I have been pressing to do, and I'm going to continue to pressing to do.
SERFATY: Are there any gun control measures, anything that you can accept?
CRUZ: Actually, there are quite a few. You know, back in 2013, following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, we had a robust debate here in the Senate, and I led the efforts here to defend our second amendment rights but I also introduced legislation called the Grassley-Cruz legislation and it's also called the law enforcement alternative. What it did is it targeted violent criminals rather than targeting law-abiding citizens. And actually, Grassley-Cruz got the most bipartisan votes of any of the comprehensive legislation --- we got, I think, eight or nine Democrats. A majority of senators voted for it. And this was in Harry Reid's Democratic Senate, and yet it didn't pass because Harry Reid and the Democrats filibustered it.
Now, what would Grassley-Cruz have done? Grassley-Cruz did a great deal -- relevant to Parkland. One of the things Grassley-Cruz did is substantially increase the funding for school safety to put in place things like armed police officers and security guards, to put in place things like metal detectors that might have helped prevent this crazed madman. You know, President Obama, during his administration, cut the funding for school safety and that's why Grassley-Cruz sought to restore the funding that the Obama administration had been cut. I think it was a serious mistake for senate Democrats to filibuster funding for school safety.
Another thing Grassley-Cruz did, is it directed the attorney general, the Department of Justice, to assess every federal agency that has criminal convictions and make sure they're reporting those convictions to the national background check database because a great many agencies, and for that matter, great many states have been failing to report convictions to the database. The reason that matters is the database, background checks don't work if the convictions aren't reported. And we saw this tragically in my home state where in Sutherland Springs, a deranged madman. It was illegal for him to buy a gun. He had a felony conviction, he had domestic violence conviction. Under federal law, it was illegal for him to buy a gun. But the Air Force under the Obama administration failed to report that conviction to the background check database.
Well, if Cruz-Grassley had passed, if the Democrats hadn't filibustered it, then the attorney general's review would've found that convictions and the other convictions that hadn't been reported, and it would've reported it to the database. And here's the most important point, also part of Grassley Cruz was directing the Department of Justice to create a gun violence task force so that if any felon, any fugitive tries to illegally buy a firearm, that felon or fugitive is prosecuted. And in Sutherland Springs, that madman a year earlier purchased the firearm, he lied on the form, he checked that he didn't have a felony, he didn't have a domestic violence conviction -- that was a lie.
They didn't catch it because they hadn't reported the conviction to the database. But if Grassley-Cruz had passed, the conviction would've been in the database and they would've prosecuted him and put him in prison for lying on that form. That would've meant that that shooter would've been in federal prison and not in that sanctuary murdering those people. There's a lot we can do, but what will work is targeting criminals, not law-abiding citizens.
[17:54:43] KEILAR: Coming up, more breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's latest indictments and a guilty plea associated with Russian interference in the presidential campaign.
KEILAR: Happening now, breaking news, Putin's role. Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed criminal charges against 13 Russian nationals and businesses for meddling in the 2016 election. The charges say the Russians communicating with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign. Who were they?
And warning signs. The FBI admits it didn't act on a tip about the Florida massacre shooter warning that he owned a gun and might carry out an attack at the high school. This is the second time the FBI was alerted about Nikolas Cruz, why didn't the bureau heed the warnings?