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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Russian Troll Farm; Students Protest for Gun Control. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:18]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In our world lead, the Kremlin claims there is no substantial evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

However, the indictment out Friday includes the Internet Research Agency, a well-known troll farm located in St. Petersburg, Russia, and backed by a close Putin ally.

CNN exposed this troll farm last fall. And in an interview, one former employer employee talked about the American nerves they were trying to strike, saying -- quote -- "There was a strategy document. It was necessary to know all of the main problems of the U.S., tax problems, the problems of gays, sexual minorities, weapons."

And that is a strategy that Mueller, you could say, laid out in great detail on Friday.

well, CNN's Matthew Chance is outside the Internet Research Agency right now.

Matthew, you had a chance to look around the building today. Tell us what you found there.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have, Jim.

In fact, we came here earlier on today in St. Petersburg expecting to see this office all closed up because it was supposed to have been moved on and shut down because of all the attention it's received. But that's not what we found at all.

There were people coming and going the whole day, office workers taking cigarette breaks and things like that. And then at one point, they started taking out packaging for what seemed to be a new batch delivery of computers.

So I went around the back of the building. We're not allowed in it. I went around the back of the building to see what they had thrown away. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: It looks like it's Polystyrene wrappers for some sort of computer or electronic stuff that's been delivered there recently. In fact, we saw them taking out from what looked like new computers that had been delivered there.

That's interesting because this place is said to have been closed down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: All right, well, I'm not above going through the trash to get to the truth, Jim.

I also spoke a bit later on, a few minutes later, in fact, to one of the people that was taking a cigarette break outside. And I said, look, is it uses the troll factory. Is it still operating as that?

He's like, no, no, no, we're journalists. We work for a company called Nevsky Novosti, Nevsky News, which we en researched. And it owned by the same man who is said bankroll the troll factory, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

SCIUTTO: And Prigozhin is someone with quite close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

CHANCE: Yes. Prigozhin is known in the local media as Putin's chef, because he's got a very lucrative catering business that has contracts with the Kremlin to provide meals for them, for the Defense Ministry and places like that.

And he's also got his fingers in all sorts of foreign affairs pies when it comes to Russia. For instance, he's a figure this that's associated very closely with Wagner, which is a private military company which provides mercenaries to Ukraine and to Syria.

This is somebody who is a key figure in this country.

SCIUTTO: Yes, indeed more than a chef.

Matthew Chance there is St. Petersburg, thanks very much.

Bringing their outrage right to the president's door, students staging a lie-in, this after an emotional weekend of funerals, vigils and rallies for the 17 innocent people who died in yet one more school massacre. Will Washington listen this time? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:48]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

This is a live look here at a memorial in Parkland, Florida. Probably looks familiar because we've seen things like this so many times before.

It's heartbreaking for all involved there as you watch it, another reminder.

Earlier today, there was a show solitary and defiance outside the White House here in Washington. Teenagers, they staged a dramatic lie-in to honor of the 17 students and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, and to demand reforms to the nation's gun laws.

It comes as the shooter made an appearance in court this afternoon.

CNN's Martin Savidge, he's been Parkland, Florida, really since the beginning.

Martin, we're now learning that this gunman had made cuts to his own arm. He planned to buy a gun after breaking up with his girlfriend in 2016, a clear profile emerging here now.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.

This is as a result of information coming from documents from the Department of Children and Families. And, again, it's 2016. They did an investigation of Nikolas Cruz.

They were alerted to potential problems with him because of something he put on social media, which was, as you just described, he was cutting his arms and he was talking about getting a gun.

So, investigator talked to him, talked to his mother, talked to others who knew Cruz, but in the end eventually ruled that he was of low risk of doing harm to himself or anyone else. And that was a little less than 18 months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Three families from Parkland, Florida, are holding memorial services for their children today, all teen victims of Wednesday's rampage at Stoneman Douglas High School.

In nearby Fort Lauderdale, this afternoon, a procedural hearing for the confesses school shooter responsible for their deaths. The students that survived say enough is enough, telling politicians you're either with us against us on gun control.

EMMA GONZALEZ, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: We can prevent some seriously nasty crimes and some seriously indescribable tragedies from occurring.

And if somebody doesn't want to do that at this point, that's pathetic.

CAMERON KASKY, JUNIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around.

SAVIDGE: President Trump saw the students protest over the weekend, but was unsure what steps to take, according to two people familiar with the matter.

In a newspaper this morning, the White House said -- quote -- "While discussions are ongoing, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system."

[16:40:05]

This as we're learning the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was able to obtain at least 10 rifles before carrying out the attack.

JAMES SNEAD, TOOK IN NIKOLAS CRUZ: Everybody seems to know. We didn't know. We had rules. And he followed every rule to the T.

SAVIDGE: Kim and James Snead brought the gunman into their home nearly four months ago, after the death of his mother.

They told ABC's "Good Morning America" Cruz was friends with their son and the two were texting until minutes before he opened fire.

SNEAD: He told my son he was going to the movies. And he said he had something to tell him. And my son pressed him, what is it? What is it? He goes, "Nothing bad, bro."

The last text my son got was, "Yo." And that was it. And that was about 2:18.

SAVIDGE: Student groups plan to discuss school safety with Florida state legislators Wednesday in Tallahassee. It's the same day the president has pledged to hold a listening session with students and teachers.

Stoneman Douglas survivors say all ideas should be on the table.

KASKY: Every answer is the solution at this point, because we haven't tried any of them. And we need a multifaceted approach to this extremely complex problem, because if we don't have that, this will never come to an end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: As you look at the memorial that continues to grow, we'll remind you there is another vigil tonight, this one in neighboring Coral Springs.

It's worth pointing out that nearly half the student body of this high school comes from Coral Springs. This is a tragedy felt across many neighborhoods -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question, Martin. Thanks so much for being there for us.

And be sure to join us Wednesday night for a special live CNN town hall, "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action," hosted by my colleague Jake Tapper. That will be Wednesday night 9:00 Eastern time right here on CNN.

Now, the White House says that President Trump is open to at least one particular change in gun laws, and you might be surprised who got in his ear about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to THE LEAD. My political panel is with me. Symone, the White House says that the President is open at least to changes in backgrounds checks. Now, that's quite a wide area. It depends on - it's all going to be on the details here. This apparently the result of a conversation with his sons and Geraldo Rivera over the weekend at Mar-a-Lago. Do you see a President here who might be moved by the tragedy we saw in Parkland to break with his party?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:: Again, Donald Trump is more in my opinion upset about the Mueller investigation than the young people who lost their lives last week. So look, I think the President can help be behind something that results in gun control, some actual codified legislation, then I'm all ear for it. But we need to know specifically what he is all here for. And his track record is that he's all over the place on some things. So when we were talking about immigration and the DREAMers, whether it was about the tax bill, Donald Trump needs to be very specific and his administration needs to be very specific about what they will back, what they like to see. But again, I think it's on these young people who are pushing the institutions to make the changes that we really want to see.

SCIUTTO: Paris, what do you believe would be an acceptable change? I mean, often the response to this is no single gun law prevent any shooting and therefore let's stop the discussion of any changes to gun laws. But do you see an openness not only from the President but other Republicans to changes?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely and I think you're right. No single gun law will deter this because if -- you can have all the gun control legislation that you want to but if you have a desire to do something really carry out something, you're going to do it. And I think the thing that I like about the President, how he's approaching this is the fact that the President and the administration did put out something very specific, that's the Republican-backed Senate bill of Senator Cornyn out of Texas that they said the President is open to being open to that piece of legislation. The President is also I give him credit for having a listening session with some of the survivors from the Parkland shooting.

That is showing the President is willing to listen and people have said, and I don't know if it is true, that he was walking around, talking and asking people for their -- getting a pulse on how they felt about gun control and what the federal response should do. But let's be clear, this is not one thing that the President himself can do alone. It's going to have to take the entire Congress the also act which they failed to do well before President Trump came into office but while President Obama was in office as well. So this is something that is going to have to be bipartisan. But I appreciate that the President is at least open and is signaling where he wants to be open and that's the point of this legislation.

SCIUTTO: The voices, Bill Kristol, that we've heard from students says survivors of this classmates, the 17 who were killed or students of some of the teachers who were killed, have been particularly powerful this time. Have a listen to one of them speaking about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMMA GONZALES, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We don't have to encourage them to get those guns. We can make it harder, absolutely make it harder and we can prevent some seriously nasty crimes and some seriously indescribable tragedies from occurring.

DAVE HOGG, FLORIDA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: Every answer is the solution at this point because we haven't tried any of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: This kid was reported to police dozens of times. There were warnings etcetera and yet he was able to buy ten weapons. Will Republican lawmakers be open to making it harder to get weapons like that particularly assault weapons like the AR-15?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I don't know. I think it is possible this time. I think both in terms of making it harder to get them and also lessen their killing power in various ways. And I'm not a gun person so I don't understand all this but there were things I remember after Vegas, there was agreement about 48 hours on the bump stocks and then what happened.

SCIUTTO: Well, you know what happened? It got punted. There were couple of Republican lawmakers I know because I follow this every week to see where it went. It got punted to ATF which is in a year-long process. It's called for sort of review, and they've gone out for comments to see if they might change the rules. But in terms of a legislative fix, that went nowhere.

[16:50:11] KRISTOL: But I mean, the killing power of some of this weapons could be reduced as to put some technical -- making it harder and you would have to make anything possible to make it as effective.

SCIUTTO: You make the point which is a frequent Republican point that people will still kill if they want to. What's wrong with making it harder?

DENNARD: There's nothing wrong with making it harder for those who are mentally unstable to get weapons.

SCIUTTO" Why do Congress pass a law and the President sign it to make it easier for people with mental health issues?

DENNARD: You got to ask Congress, you got to ask the President but I would tell you that when you look at Chicago, from Martin Luther King Day to the instance that it happened in Parkland, there were 17 murders from gun violence and over 80 that were victims --

SCIUTTO: I know Chicago is a favorite talking points.

SANDERS: All I want to say is --

DENNARD: My point is -- my point is -- hold up, hold up.

SANDERS: All I'm going to say is has the public should have been black or brown, we wouldn't be talking about the types of legislation we could and could not make happen because if he was yelling Allahu Akbar, Congress and the President would have been tweeting about it and they would have swooped in and did whatever they felt needed --

DENNARD: That's not true. They didn't change the gun laws after --

SANDERS: I think --

DENNARD: Did they change the gun laws after San Bernardino?

SANDERS: We know. We have a Muslim ban, damn it. There's a whole Muslim ban --

DENNARD: Did they change laws after San Bernardino?

SANDERS: What I am saying is this --

DENNARD: You know, you don't have to demagogue this.

SANDERS: No, I'm not demagoguing anything but what I'm saying is --

DENNARD: You don't to have make it about race.

SANDERS: OK, be clear. You all want me to be clear. White supremacist has repeatedly slipped through the fingers of the FBI, repeatedly. This is a pattern. What about --

DENNARD: Do you think the FBI doesn't care --

SANDERS: I'm not saying the FBI doesn't care but what I am saying is there's a pattern. And we cannot ignore a pattern in this country. So if -- so if a self-identified white supremacist says this young man trained with a white supremacist paramilitary in Florida, had he been training, again, in my opinion, had he been black or brown people that have been training with the paramilitary in Florida, the FBI would have done something about it.

SCIUTTO: Folks, listen, this is the reason -- thank you for your passion because it's a passionate issue for anybody who's watching this. As an American, I imagine, I know you share that as well (INAUDIBLE) bill. This is the -- this the reason we're going to have this town hall on Wednesday to talk about this deeper and it certainly a conversation we'll do our best to keep up here on CNN. Thank you very much, Symone, Paris, and to Bill Kristol. The President attacks the FBI again after the Bureau admitted a major fumble in a warning about the Parkland killer. I'm going to ask a former agent what it's like inside the ranks right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: President Trump is taking aim at the FBI again using the Parkland shooting to make the case that the agency is focusing too much on Russia. Joining me now is CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Josh Campbell. He worked at the FBI for 12 years. Josh, if I could ask you first, what's morale like at the agency now and most importantly, is it affecting the attacks or affecting the FBI's ability to do its job well?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, that's a good question. You know, I heard from some of my former colleagues over the weekend who were doing a little venting and their message was clear. And that is that the FBI's primary mission is and always will be the protection of human life. That's not to say they can't simultaneously protect the United States from foreign intelligence service who's are seeking to do harm. They can do both. I think the main message, the main takeaway here is that the FBI has to be held accountable for this issue with Florida. They have to be.

We have to get to the bottom of what happened. What I fear is when you combine that with the Russia investigation, it becomes more political. And you know, ironically, I don't know if this was the intelligence of those were criticizing the bureau but I think ironically, it actually takes the heat off the FBI a little bit because when you make it about politics, at least half the country is going to look at it and say, oh, that's just politics. We don't to have pay attention.

SCIUTTO: The A.P. reports that there were an average of 2,100 calls a day in 2017. Tips like the one they received about this shooter. Is it fair, trust me, I don't want to take any responsibility off the FBI here because they got a very specific warning about this shooter, but is volume an issue?

CAMPBELL: I think that's -- the review was going to get to the bottom of it to determine what exactly happened here. Now look, I had a very proud career with the FBI. It's an organization with a very storied history. But I'm also someone who's going to hold the FBI accountable when they make mistakes. I think they have to do that. They have a no-fail mission. And so I think that review was going to get to the bottom of that to determine what exactly happened. But again, we have to separate that from politics. We have to make our law enforcement agencies better and I think this review would probably do just that.

SCIUTTO: You know, the President's attacks on the FBI has been fairly consistent prior to the Parkland shooting and we noticed the poll, this is from Quinnipiac University, it found that just 48 percent of Americans approve of the FBI's job, 36 percent disapprove particularly when you look at Republicans. 53 percent of those polls who called themselves Republican disapprove of the job the FBI is doing. Are you concerned the President's attacks on the bureau are feeding in, you know, having some effect on the way that people look at the bureau?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think as someone no longer with the FBI, I can say it this freely. I mean, I'm not a partisan. When people go to the FBI, they check their partisanship at the door. But this is one of the most puzzling perplexing aspects of this attacks is that the you know, "party of the law enforcement" is now seeing a dwindling level of support for the agency. And you know, folks will get to the bottom of that, trying to determine well, is this a purposeful attack, is this mainly again just about politics and one investigation or is this something that's going to last awhile and something that you know, may last a generation? I think that's the big question here. And again, as I've said, it is a direct consequence of these attacks for political reasons on the organization.

SCIUTTO: Josh Campbell, thanks very much. We appreciate it. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JIMSCIUTTO or you can also tweet the show here @THE LEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over now to my colleague Wolf Blitzer, he is as always in "THE SITUATION ROOM."