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McMaster: Russia Meddling "Incontrovertible"; Students and Supporters Demand Gun Law Reform; U.S. Skier Responds to Online Haters. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired February 18, 2018 - 02:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell live at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

One day after 13 Russian operatives were charged with meddling in the U.S. presidential election, the U.S. president, Donald Trump, and his national security adviser, well, they seem to be at odds about what's going on here, what it all means.

H.R. McMaster said the evidence of the indictment proves the meddling took place. But the president has yet to acknowledge that and instead he's focused almost exclusively on the claim of no collusion.

First, listen to what McMaster said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.


LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.

Now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it's going to be very apparent to everyone. But the second reason where I think Russia may have -- may reevaluate what it's been doing is because it's just not working.


HOWELL: But McMaster's candor prompted a sharp rebuke from the president.

He said this, quote, "General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only collusion was between Russia and Crooked H., the DNC and the Dems."

Keep in mind all these assertions are unsubstantiated. The federal indictment is a thick document. It's full of rich detail about how Russians carried out such elaborate campaigns of disinformation. CNN's Polo Sandoval breaks it all down for us. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These 37 pages allege Russians went a very long way in their attempt to interfere with U.S. democracy. According to the federal indictment, Russians operating out of this St. Petersburg troll farm launched a misinformation campaign to wreck havoc on America's political system.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine ;dependence and democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.

SANDOVAL: Examples of the alleged misinformation campaign include allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party and the purchase of advertisements to further promote the allegations on Facebook.

The pages were even designed to look like they were run by real Americans and focus on issues in American life, race relations, immigration and of course, then candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Facebook estimates close to 126 million Americans may have been exposed to this and other propaganda. Federal investigators say the group behind it is the Internet Research Agency link today the Kremlin.

Russia has denied any involvement in the U.S. elections. At the security conference Saturday Russia's foreign minister again dismissed those claims.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIA'S MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): I have no response. Until we see the facts, everything else is just blather.

SANDOVAL: Then there are the rallies. In May 2016, a small group of anti-Islamic protests gathered outside a Muslim community center in Houston, Texas. Situation grew intense with counter rally.

The very month of the election, both pro and anti-Trump demonstrations were held in New York.

U.S. prosecutors say both events were organized by this same troll group half a world away in St. Petersburg. Russians traveled to the U.S. on a fact finding mission in 2014, say prosecutors. It would be the foundation of a massive operation brought to light in recent months and described in detail in these 37 pages -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


HOWELL: Polo, thank you.

President Trump also found time on Saturday to link his criticism of the Russia probe to the mass shooting at a Florida high school.

He tweeted this on Saturday, quote, "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion."

The president has been in Florida and even met with victims of that shooting. He blamed the massacre on mental health and the FBI but he's been silent on gun control. Regardless, survivors of that shooting are speaking out.

People came together for this rally that took place on Saturday. People there calling for tougher gun laws, keeping in mind 17 people were killed on Wednesday, this when a gunman opened fire with a military style rifle at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Many students there and supporters say that enough is enough.


EMMA GONZALEZ, STUDENT: If you don't do anything to prevent this from coming, from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims --


GONZALES: -- will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you.

To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you. We know that they're claiming that there are mental health issues and I am not a psychologist but we need to pay attention to the fact that this isn't just a mental health issue. He wouldn't have harmed that many students with a knife.

DELANEY TARR (PH), STUDENT: I'm a high school senior, who, three days ago, was worried about which of my friends were going to receive flowers for Valentine's Day. I was focused on what I was going to be wearing to prom one week ago. My main concerns were my grades, college acceptance and my social life.

Now I'm a high school senior who is worried about which memorials I need to place flowers at. Now I'm focused on what clothes I can wear so that I can run away from gunfire. My main concerns are funerals, gun control and whether or not I'm going to be shot wherever I go. My innocence, our innocence, has been taken from us.


HOWELL: Very sobering comments here on survivors of that school shooting. Students speaking thee was Emma Gonzales. CNN's Martin Savidge spoke with her. Listen.


GONZALES: The way that I deal with my grief is by working toward a way that I can fix what caused it. And that's what I'm doing today. I know that there's a lot of people who can't do that right now and I am proud to know them, even if they can't get their voice out there. I know that they're behind us and that they're with us all the way. And that we're not going to stop until this doesn't happen again, even

if it takes -- and it's not going to take 20 years -- it will stop

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You want this to be the last massacre, as you said?

GONZALES: Yes, yes. And even if that realistically can't happen, one of the last.


HOWELL: Many within that high school community remain in shock after what happened. Principal of the school, Ty Thompson, posted this emotional message. Listen.


TY THOMPSON, PRINCIPAL, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Eagles, I promise you, I will hug each and every one of you, as many times as you need and I will hold you as long as you need me to, for all 3,300 of you and your families. And we will get through this together.

Our community is strong, our students are strong, we will persevere in these trying times.


HOWELL: All right. And in the meantime, we're getting more details about the confessed gunman. The next court date for Nikolas Cruz, it is set for Monday. Defense attorneys say that he will plead guilty if he can avoid the death penalty.

As of now, prosecutors are not taking that off the table. Former classmates say that Cruz talked about shooting up the school. Somebody even called the FBI last month, warning that Cruz owned guns and wanted to kill people.

Now the bureau is investigating why it never followed up on that tip. CNN talked to a neighbor who saw Cruz after his mother died. Here what he had to say. Listen.


PAUL GOLD, CRUZ'S NEIGHBOR: He was emotionless. And I wasn't sure if it was shock or what was going on but he had no emotion to him. He was just -- and then I asked him, are you sad?

You know. Can I help you?

And he said I'm sad because nobody showed up.


HOWELL: One of Cruz's former teachers also told CNN that he cursed at her during exams and was suspended. Now turning to Israel, that nation's air force says that it carried out a large-scale attack on six Hamas targets in Gaza Saturday night, including a tunnel. The Israeli prime minister had vowed retaliation after an explosive device detonated along the Gaza border, wounding four of its soldiers.

The #TimesUp campaign has been a driving force at Hollywood's awards shows this year and it looks like the BAFTAs will follow suit. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards is Sunday in London.

Celebrities there plan to show solidarity with their counterparts at the Golden Globes and blackout the red carpets to stand against gender inequality and sexual harassment. Our Isa Soares sat down with the BAFTA CEO, Amanda Berry.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When this did happen, it's almost snowballed, we saw the #MeToo, the #TimesUp campaign, what has been the reaction within your industry in terms of how the momentum has grown behind the #MeToo and the #TimesUp campaign?

AMANDA BERRY, CEO, BAFTA: If you look at the wearing black at the Golden Globes, that went from being a rumor, it might happen, to happening in just a matter of weeks.

And I think what is fantastic about what is happening now is people are absolutely determined that they're going to stamp out against harassment and bullying and, should it happen, that they're going to support people to ensure that it can't happen again.


HOWELL: CNN will be live on the BAFTA red carpets in London. That starts Sunday at 5:00 pm U.K. time.

It's day nine --


HOWELL: -- of the Winter Games and Norway is leading the pack with 24 medals in total. They just added another gold to their tally after a Norwegian secured the win in the men's ski slopestyle. CNN's Paula Hancocks sat down with the Norwegian prime minister to discuss why it's so important for the games to remain fair for all athletes.


ERNA SOLBERG, NORWEGIAN PM: If people don't believe that these competitions are fair, then they won't look at them. Then they won't respect the athletes. It's fair competition, getting the best man to win, not the one with the best medical equipment. I think that's an important part for the popularity also of all of those great sports persons, personalities that we have. PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would like to ask about North Korea because obviously North Korea has been a very big part of this Winter Olympics with the delegations, the athletes here.

How do you see the North Korean engagement in this Olympics?

SOLBERG: Well, six months ago there was tension. People were saying, we're not sure we want to go to the Olympics because they were afraid of something happening. So for the Olympics, for the situation now, it's good that that tension is lower, that there are a joint Korean team, that they are sharing from North Korea, sharing group coming here.

And all of that is nice. I just think it's important to understand that if North Korea gets nuclear capacity, if they get a program of missiles that they can reach anywhere around the world, this is not about an issue about North and South Korea. It's about destabilizing the whole world.

And even if there's a sort of a charm offensive from North Korea here, it's important to not let that overshadow the fact that we need to have strong policies on pushing North Korea out of getting nuclear weapons.

HANCOCKS: Do you think it's important for the U.S. to engage with North Korea as well?

SOLBERG: It's important for the U.S. and the Chinese and the Russians and the rest of the world engage in discussion but also push for a result and not become naive.

HANCOCKS: Obviously you're here to cheer on your athletes but also here to talk about sustainable development goals.

How important is it that sports is involved in this, that something like the Olympics can help push this forward?

SOLBERG: Well, I think the Olympics idea is about peace and it's about peaceful competition between countries. And it's very linked to the fact that the world has an agenda of 17 goals that should be released by 2030. And that's why I think linking sports and linking these sustainable development goals is very good.


HOWELL: Thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is up next.