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Funeral Services Underway for Shooting Victims; School Shooting Survivors Demand Tougher Gun Laws; Gates to Testify Against Manafort in Plea Deal; Russia Responds to Indictment of 13 Russian Nationals. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, she went and she went to those places that were most greatly impacted and helped rebuild.

Just a few miles away, Luke Hoyer being laid to rest as we speak. His family at that service, his aunt spoke to "People" magazine. And, Jim, this stuck with me. She said, you know, he was 15 years old. He didn't know what he wanted to do. He was just excited about being in high school. He loved the former Miami Heat star, Lebron James. He loved basketball, hanging out with his friends, chicken nuggets. It kind of just resonates with you how young these kids are, 14 and 15 years old.

And we have funerals for the rest of the week still. JROTC, Peter Wang will be laid to rest tomorrow. He was in JROTC with Alaina here. He's credited by classmates with holding that door so they could get out. He died as a hero, they say, sacrificing himself. They put a petition together, Jim, with the White House hoping they can get enough signatures to be addressed. They want him to be buried with full military honors in his JROTC uniform.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Look at the faces there. Heartbreaking for the victims and families.

Dianne, thanks for being there for us.

President Trump says he's preparing a listening session with students and teachers to discuss the Florida school shooting. But over the weekend, inflammatory tweets pointing the finger at the FBI, blaming the bureau for missing tips about the shooter, suggesting that they were focusing too much attention on the Russia investigation.

Students who survived the tragedy now calling out the president, speaking to CNN just this morning.


DAVID HOGG, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I think it is disgusting personally. My father is a retired FBI agent and the FBI are some of the hardest working individuals I ever seen in my life. They work every day, 24/7, to ensure the lives of every single American in this country. It is wrong that the president is blaming them for this. After all, he is in charge of the FBI. He can't put that off on them. EMMA GONZALEZ, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: The FBI were some of the

amazing first responders who were helping us get to safety. And the fact that he wants to discredit them in any way and trying to shift our focus on to them is --


HOGG: Disgusting.

GONZALEZ: It is not acceptable.


SCIUTTO: Here with me now, CNN political commentator, former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, Robby Mook, and the CEO for American Majority, former writer for George W. Bush, Ned Ryan.

Ned, if I can begin with you. How do the president and the supporters answer the criticism you heard just there from kids like that?

NED RYAN, CEO, AMERICAN MAJORITY: I wouldn't have gone there. I would have called into question, why was the FBI warned twice, especially with the January call directly to them warning specifically about this, and not passed on to the field office in Miami. I would not have gone to the correlation between the FBI, other difficulties and this. I would have focused on their failure to respond to a very direct threat in regards to the shooting.

SCIUTTO: So are you saying the connection being made by the president, many of his allies, that somehow because the FBI, a number of agents have been asked by Robert Mueller to do particular things for the Russia investigation, you're saying the argument that somehow them doing that --

RYAN: Let this issue -- let this issue be the issue of, why did the FBI fail to respond to this call directly, deal with the other issues in regards. Many conservatives have issue with the FBI and some of the other behavior. Maybe their focus was in the wrong place. To correlate that with the school shooting, I think it is a little far. Right now, it is a very sensitive subject of people that have lost their lives, a lot going on. Let's not go there. Let's deal with why the FBI failed on this specific instance.

SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, if I could ask you, this is sadly by no means the first or the last school shooting that this country experienced. There was Sandy Hook during the Obama administration. An effort was made to improve gun laws afterwards. Didn't happen. Do you see something fundamentally different this time as you hear younger voices like we heard there, just then?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I think this is different because the audience here, or rather the victims of this incident, are teenagers. You know, these young kids at Sandy Hook probably couldn't speak out the way that these teenagers can. I think it is incredible that they're getting out there and pushing this message. And honestly, they're our best hope right now. We tried everything else. We had a president of the United States in Barack Obama who is out there advocating on this issue. You know, I'm just doing everything I can to cheer these young people on from the sidelines. I think what gets hard is, as the things go, once the funerals are over, people move on. And they have to keep on the pressure and keep pushing.

SCIUTTO: Ned, your response.

RYAN: No, I think we need to have a debate. I think Trump, we mentioned earlier, going and doing -- figuring out how background checks are done better. There is a lot of failures in how that system has gone. I want to know why this young man was visited 39 times by the police in a period of seven, eight years, and it wasn't flagged and stopped him from being able to purchase a gun.

The other conversation I want to have, Jim, I four kids in public school, three in grade school, one in middle school, how do we keep our children safe moving forward? We need an honest debate about how effective, or ineffective, the Gun-Free School Zone Act is and have a conversation about how we move forward. I trust these teachers eight hours a day to protect my kids and keep them safe. We should move toward do we allow them in a very responsible way to be able to get security guard training, and even potentially have concealed carry. I want that conversation.

[11:35:18] SCIUTTO: You want teachers OK requiring concealed weapons --


SCIUTTO: -- in kids' classrooms?

RYAN: If they have the right to carry a concealed weapon in malls, restaurants, sporting events, and they have --


SCIUTTO: In some states.

RYAN: In some states. My children in that school for eight hours -- we are advertising right now with gun-free school zones. We are putting up signage saying for insane people with guns they can show up to shoot at unprotected, unarmed people. I think we have to have that conversation moving forward.

SCIUTTO: Robby, your response.

MOOK: Yes, this is classic, right? Let's not talk about the problem. Let's talk about the response to a crisis. Could the FBI have done more? Absolutely. Do we always need to analyze how our first responders come into the situations? Sure, we do. But the problem is the guns. We have seen, for example, in Connecticut, where they passed strong gun laws, the rate of gun violence went down. People don't need these guns to go about their everyday lives. We're back into this cycle, again, let's distract, put the focus on the FBI. The FBI is there to investigate. Our first responders are there to respond. The guns are causing these problems.

By the way, I find the irony here incredible that the only time Republicans care about mental health or mental health care is when somebody goes and shoots a bunch of people. So they don't even have credibility on that right now. So if you want to talk about a comprehensive mental health system, let's fund Obamacare, let's go there.

But we also have to get these guns off the street. There is absolutely no reason an 18-year-old should have military-style weapons. We're talking about a military burial for a high school student because they're in JROTC. A military burial for a high school student. That is outrageous.


MOOK: And I think he deserves it, by the way, but the fact that that's even a thing that could happen in this country is outrageous.


RYAN: No. We can have this debate about mental health issues and making sure those people aren't -- don't have the ability --


SCIUTTO: Let him finish, Robby.

RYAN: There should be a real conversation about how, if people have been flagged from mental health issues, again, if you've been visited 39 times by the police, if there are mental health issues, these should be flagged before you're able to buy a gun. No disagreement on that issue. I would think -- I think I saw a statistic, 90 percent of gun owners and non-gun owners agree on that issue.


MOOK: Would you support universal background checks?

RYAN: I believe that we have a lot of closing of the loops in regards to background checks and how we move forward on that and allowing federal, state and local to go through and have the same information to approve a background check, I totally agree with that. Where we draw the line, that's the debate.

SCIUTTO: We have to leave it there. I appreciate the debate, a debate, god help us, I hope our country continues on this issue.

Robby Mook, Ned Ryan, thank you very much.


SCIUTTO: Don't miss a very special town hall this Wednesday. Survivors of the Florida school shooting will be joining CNN to talk about the tragedy and the action that they're demanding out of Washington right now. What we're talking about, continuing this debate. That is going to be this Wednesday night, 9:00 eastern time, only here on CNN.

Still ahead today, Rick Gates makes three. Another former top Trump aide set to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel's investigation. We'll tell you who he will testify against, that's next.


[11:43:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. There is yet another twist in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The "L.A. Times" reporting that former Trump campaign aide, his deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, will plead guilty on fraud-related charges. That plea expected within the next few days. He and his co-defendant, Paul Manafort, both pleaded not guilty back in October, but now "The Times" reporting that Gates will testify against his former boss.

I'm joined now by CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, do we know why this sudden reversal?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we first reported last week that Rick Gates was finalizing this plea deal with Robert Mueller. He appeared poised to cooperate. The "L.A. Times" is flushing that out with new details. They say Gates is likely to serve 18 months in prison. Remember, this is a guy who was under a lot of pressure, not just financially, but also personally. He has four young children. He has loved ones pressing him to kind of wrap this up.

And so the big question, of course, what does this mean in the scheme of Bob Mueller's investigation, the Russia probe more broadly. Gates' cooperation will put more pressure on Paul Manafort, his co-defendant, to cooperate. But it could be building further than that. We don't know exactly where this special counsel is going with this. So Gates' cooperation could be a building block and a potential case against President Donald Trump or against other Trump associates.

But from the White House's perspective, they have downplayed any potential news about a plea deal. They're saying, look, this has to deal with their own financial activities before they were involved in the campaign, before they were involved with the president. The White House does not believe that this will ultimately impact the West Wing -- Jim?

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, thank you very much.

Let's dissect the legal developments now. Joining me now is criminal defense attorney, Seth Waxman.

So if I remember correctly, when Gates and Manafort were first charged, Gates was facing something like 10 to 12 years, now it is down to 18 months. Typically, if you're a prosecutor, to get that sentence down, that defendant has to be offering a fair amount.

SETH WAXMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No question. The way you get individuals to flip is to put charges in front of them that are significant, whether that's in the eight to 10 to 20-year range. And then, you know, to cut them a deal, to get information from them that helps you advance your case up the chain to the bigger fish. And in exchange, you get something in return and, in this case, potentially, a sentence around 18 months.

[11:45:17] SCIUTTO: Do we know, from looking at this deal, the reporting about the deal so far, whether it is solely confined to business dealings pre-election. Manafort, Gates, we know they were into a lot of dodgy business stuff in Ukraine, et cetera, possible money laundering. Can we tell for sure where the focus is?

WAXMAN: I can almost assure you we won't be able to tell for sure when we see the paperwork. But what I can also tell you for sure, it is everything. So when you cut a deal with the government, they're going to get whatever they can out of you. And in my mind, this may be the most significant event in a week of significant events. Bob Mueller is focused in on three main people, Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, to roll them up on the president eventually. He's now set his sights squarely on Paul Manafort. And getting Rick Gates to cooperate and give all the information he has about Paul Manafort is significant. What I think Bob Mueller has are e-mails, text messages, bank records, but those are cold, hard documents. You need someone on the inside, a cooperator, to walk you through, breathe life into those documents, and tell you where the bodies are buried. I can tell you that Paul Manafort right now is not sitting comfortably and don't think people in the White House should be either.

SCIUTTO: Right. Paul Manafort was facing something in the similar range, 10 to 15 years. So you got your deputy now going states evidence to some degree. If you're his lawyer, advising Paul Manafort, what are you telling him now?

WAXMAN: There is an X factor with Paul Manafort that is different than any other criminal defendant in the country. Is President Trump going to pardon him? Has that been conveyed to Paul Manafort in words or substance? That's an X factor I can't answer, I don't think anyone can answer. In the normal scheme of things, given what I know is probably behind Bob Mueller's investigation, bank records, text messages, e-mails, they have 10 years of a relationship, and now Paul -- Rick Gates has flipped? That is a very difficult situation. So under normal circumstances, I would say the other shoe is about to drop very quickly. The X factor, of course, being a pardon.

SCIUTTO: That's remarkable that, from a lawyer's perspective, that that is a possibility. Right now, you're getting to a fairly long list of folks you have to pardon. You know, Michael Flynn, who pled guilty, George Papadopoulos, he pled guilty. He's been states evidence for a number of months, right, cooperating. Rick Gates, Paul Manafort. Is this something the president could get away with?

WAXMAN: I think Paul Manafort is something -- and Rick Gates are something different. If you talk about that key Trump Tower meeting in 2016 with the Russians, three main people were there. So I don't know that Trump has to go out and pardon everyone. Whether Rick Gates had contact with the president and knew the inner workings, he seems a little further removed, but if we're talking about Paul Manafort or his son or Jared Kushner, he wants to play that pardon card maybe once or twice, the political ramifications of that would be serious. But if it comes down to having someone in that Trump Tower meeting, cooperating with the government and talking about what those conversations were like with the president before, during and after, that's very troubling. So it could be the pardon card. Other than that, if I was just a white-collar defense lawyer, like I am, or a former prosecutor, I would say the other shoe is about to fall with Paul Manafort because, under these circumstances, you got to think a plea is the way he would go.

SCIUTTO: The remarkably senior people with respect to the president, campaign manager, deputy campaign manager and former national security adviser.

Thanks so much

WAXMAN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: -- for helping us understand.

Still ahead, sowing division among Americans from thousands of miles away. These opposing protests from 2016 were ginned up from Russian trolls online. We're live outside the building in Russia where they operate. That's next.


[11:53:16] SCIUTTO: Russia is responding to the Mueller investigation's indictments of 13 Russian nationals. The Kremlin claims there is no proof that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. During a call with journalists, a spokesman denied there is any evidence the Russia government is involved in the meddling, pointing to the fact that Russian citizens were targeted in the indictment.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, joins me live outside St. Petersburg.

Matthew, you're outside this Russian troll farm that's named specifically in this indictment. What do we know about this company and the man who is behind it financially?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's called the Internet Research Agency. That's its formal title. We all, of course, know it as the Russian troll farm or troll factory. It's inside that building there where you can see there are lights still on here in St. Petersburg. This U.S. indictment said that Russian nationals, some of whom have been indicted, posed as American citizens. They organized rallies on the streets of the United States on very controversial, divisive political issues. They bought political adverts that supported one candidate over another in the election campaign. So basically, this is the place, this is the office in which that atmosphere of chaos was stoked from the Russian side. That's why 13 Russian individuals, including the financial benefactor, the person who bankrolls that organization, have now been indicted in the United States. His name is Yevgeny Prigozhin. He is a figure very close to Vladimir Putin. He is dubbed Putin's chef because he has a very lucrative catering contract with the Kremlin. But he's also got his fingers in all sorts of other foreign policy pies in this country as well. He's linked with the private military contractors called Wagner who operated in Ukraine and Syria as well. And of course, there is this troll farm link as well where the indictment says he is the person who bankrolls it -- Jim?

[11:55:31] SCIUTTO: Finally, just quickly, you looked through the trash there? What did you find?

CHANCE: Yes, we did. Well, we came here expecting this office to be empty, but, in fact, all day here -- we've been here throughout the course of the day -- people have been going in and out. We went to the trash can to see what we could find because we saw people dumping rubbish there. New computers are being delivered here and they throw it away with the rubbish.

SCIUTTO: Well, they exist. Some want to say it's just a dream. They're there and still operating. Matthew Chance standing right in front of it. Thanks very much.

Coming up, in the aftermath of one of the deadliest school shootings in years, the White House revealing the president says he's supportive in checking on the gun background check mission. The question is, how much of a presidential push will we actually see? Please stay with us.