Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller to dig into Jared Kushner's Business Dealings; New Rules Imposed by Kelly; Golfing is Set Aside, Twitter Attack is In. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: That's it for us. Thank you for watching. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. CNN tonight starts right now.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

We're following two huge stories tonight. First breaking news and it's a CNN exclusive. Special counsel Robert Mueller asking about the president's son-in-law, and it's not just Jared Kushner's Russian contacts. Sources telling CNN while Kushner was working for the presidential transition, he was also trying to get financing for his company from foreign investors, including the Chinese.

And Mueller's investigation they've been asking questions about Kushner's conversations with those investors. We'll have more on that in just a moment.

Plus we're going to cover the Florida school shooting for you. Five days. That's how long it's been since an ex-student opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School, a gun he never should have had in the first place.

Five days since 17 students and teachers were murdered in cold blood in the middle of their school where they should have been safe.

Five days of anguish. Anguish, cries from parents and students are demanding somebody do something. And what does the president done? Well, nothing, nothing to protect Americans from their next shooter, from the next shooter and the next, and the next because this will keep happening. Innocent Americans will keep dying until we have the courage to put their lives ahead of politics.

And if you want to see what courage looks like, I want you to see the students from Stoneham Douglas High School and listen to their message for the president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Donald Trump wants us to -- wants to listen to us, he should have taken the first invitation. We are not going to come to him, he needs to come to us.


LEMON: More on that in a few minutes as well, but I want to begin with our CNN exclusive in the Mueller investigation. Jeff Zeleny is live for us at the White House. Also joining us is Shimon Prokupecz who is part of the team that broke the story. Hello to all of you, Shimon. I'm going to start with you. What is the center of the what Mueller is investigating now?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes. Don, so we learn that the special counsel Robert Mueller has been asking questions certainly in the last few months about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the presidential transition.

We're told by people who are familiar with the investigation that Mueller's lawyers are asking about discussions Kushner had with potential Chinese and Qatari investors. Now this is the first indication that Mueller wants to know about contacts the president's son-in-law had with foreigners outside of Russia.

The discussion evolved around his building in Manhattan at 666 Fifth Avenue, which Kushner's company owns, and there's been a lot of financial problem. The building is in debt by over a billion dollars. Now we don't know what is behind Mueller's specific interest in the financing and this conversation.

We're told that the special counsel hasn't asked Kushner companies for information. He also has not asked for any interviews with any of the executives from the Kushner company, and a special counsel spokesperson declined to comment for the story.

But we did get a statement from Jared Kushner's attorney earlier this evening in response to our story. And he basically said, quote -- this is from Abby Lowell, the attorney -- "that the story was based on another anonymous source with questionable motives that now contradicts the facts. In all of Mr. Kushner's extensive cooperation with all inquiries, there has not been a single question asked nor document sought on the 666 building or Kushner company deals. Nor would there be any reason to question these regular business transactions."

Now, Don, we have multiple sources for this story despite what his attorney may think, and really there will be no way for the attorney to know if someone has been ask these questions.

LEMON: Shimon, do you have any more details on what the details were of these meetings?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so what are the details, so from what we know, basically, is that this has to do with some finances and a meeting Kushner had with Chinese investigators -- Chinese investors, I should say, just a week after the election.

And also according to the New York Times, Kushner met with this Anbang Insurance Company out of China that also happens to own the Waldorf- Astoria in New York. And they were close to getting a deal, they were close to getting the company to invest in the 666 Fifth Avenue property with talks between the two collapses.

There was also a potential deal with Qataris investing in the company and that also fell through. Some of this was happening during the transition, so notably Mueller would now likely want to know what the hell like, what the hell was going on here, what kind of conversations were they having here.

LEMON: Yes. Let's talk more about Mueller, what is he seeking to figure out by asking these questions?

PROKUPECZ: So what we believe is we don't think that Kushner is a target of this investigation or perhaps, you know, is the target or is someone who is centered around.

[22:05:05] And this could be more of Mueller trying to explore what's happening here and what was happening during the transition. Investigators could be looking into whether Kushner was mixing his personal business with his work. You know, he was coming in to an administration, and officials could be questioning that, could be questioning whether or not there was any kind of quid pro quo, were there any promises made.

It's really not clear to us and certainly the people we've talked to why they would be asking these questions.

LEMON: All right. To Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, you're at the White House. Is the White House saying anything about Mueller's growing interest in Kushner?

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Don, the White House is not saying anything specifically about this story tonight. There was of course the statement that Shimon was reading from Jared Kushner's lawyer, but the White House is basically leaving it at that. Which is sort of standard practice when a family member is involved.

So Jared Kushner is playing the unusual role here, it's been unusual from the very beginning. Yes, he's the senior adviser to the president but he's also a son-in-law to the president. So it's uneasy, it's, I guess, awkward to say the least here, but every new chapter of this Mueller investigation that involves a family member, it does make some people here apprehensive in terms of what the next shoe is. But officially, Don, the White House not saying anything about this story.

LEMON: So, Jeff, the president back in Washington after throwing a late night Twitter tantrum on Saturday down in Mar-a-Lago. He even linked the Russia investigation to the shooting in Florida and today the tweets are still coming. He tweeted, "Obama was president up to and beyond the 2016 election, so why didn't he do something about the Russian meddling?" What's this latest outburst all about?

ZELENY: Don, you saw the tweets there on the screen. They barely fit on the screen. Twenty tweets in all from Palm Beach. He has just returned here in the last few hours or so here. The reality is the president was stewing over the weekend. He was sitting at his Mar-a- Lago resort unable to play golf because of the optics of that. Of course, the shooting in Parkland, Florida just about 40 miles south

of Mar-a-Lago. So he did want to be playing golf as funerals were underway, so he was watching a lot of cable television and was tweeting a lot Saturday evening into Sunday.

White House advisers did not know these were coming. They see these in real-time like everyone else sees them, but it's clear that despite the fact that there are two, you know, major challenges going on, one, the tampering of the U.S. election, and two, another school shooting, the president managed to again turn this back to himself.


ZELENY: Asking questions about himself through all of these. But Don, it's interesting that he is blaming President Obama for not doing anything, but in that course of these tweets he has acknowledged more than he ever has before over the last year-plus that there was Russian meddling.

What's striking is the commander in chief is not saying what the U.S. should do to prevent this going forward. That's been absent from all of these.

LEMON: Well, it's interesting. And as you said, if we could put the tweets back up. As you so aptly pointed out, look at that. They can barely -- I mean, who does this? Barely put that up on the screen, Jeff, you said that. But right on, nothing of them about what are we going to do about any of it to make it better.

Thank you so much. I appreciate both of you. Thank you, Shimon, thank you, Jeff.

Now I want to bring in CNN contributor John Dean who was Nixon White House counsel, Jack Quinn who was Clinton White House counsel. I just -- I have to get your response. I mean, it stunning. Put the tweets back up again.

He tweeted about all of this stuff, right, just you know, blaming everybody except for Vladimir Putin and the Russians. John, when you look at that, what in the world is going on?

JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: It's unlike any president we've ever had. First of all, no one has ever had a Twitter account before, but just in general, his reaction where he tends to personalize everything into his own point of view and world view that relates only to Donald Trump and how it affects him.

It's really quite surprising when there are serious threats in the country where all of the intelligence agencies have alerted that this is ongoing activity, and yet the president is silent. It's quite stunning, Don.

LEMON: It is, and in history it's going to be interesting to watch all of this, because this is going to be archived and I wonder how people will look back in history and about all these tweets. Do you want to say something, Jack? I see you nodding. JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: I'm just

agreeing with John. It's beyond belief how the president remains silent. We are -- we talk about what Russia did here, but there is too little attention given to the fact that this attack on our very democracy not only happened but is ongoing.


QUINN: And yet the president is not standing up. I mean, America has been spank by Vladimir Putin, and nothing is happening.

[22:09:59] There is nothing done in retaliation. There is no warning that it needs to stop. It's a very sad and embarrassing moment for our country.

LEMON: It's all about him. Everything is about him. He always brings it back to him. John, you know, when you were -- when you hear, I should say, that Mueller's team is asking questions about Jared Kushner's conversations during the transition about securing financing for his properties from Chinese and Qatari investors, what stands out to you? Does this raise quid pro crow -- quid pro quo concerns to you?

DEAN: Well, certainly the whole operation of the Trump family running the government has raised serious conflict of interest questions. The president, from his point of view, he's not subject to any of this. He doesn't accept any of the prior norms that past presidents imposed on themselves in many instances. And, for example, Nixon was a realist stickler on conflict of interest and for his staff and himself. But he really has invited the kind of inquiry that apparently Mueller is making where it's just out there, you cannot ignore it at this point.

LEMON: Jack, there is a lot we don't know, but is there any distinction -- I have to ask, is there any distinction if Jared Kushner did this as part of the transition versus after the inauguration?

QUINN: I think, as a practical matter, there's not. The law may not precisely apply to the transition. However, and let me emphasize this, the Trump transition operated pursuant to an agreement with the Obama administration that included detailed conflict of interest rules.

So, although I have not researched this, it's entirely conceivable that a prosecutor could look at that agreement and deem the commitments made by the Trump transition to have essentially bound it to the conflict of interest rules that would apply to a government employee which, of course, make it abundantly clear that no one should seek to profit from business with somebody doing business with the government.

You know, Mr. Kushner is in an unusual position. He not only holds a senior office in the government, but he has access to virtually all of the government secrets by virtue of his being the president's son-in- law.

LEMON: Yes. John, you know, what this also shows, I would say, is that this investigation goes far beyond questions over collusion. Mueller is also looking at financial ties, obstruction of justice. His investigation is wide ranging.

DEAN: It's very wide ranging, and that's in his charter. When he was granted authority, it not only included the Russia issue but anything that came up in the course of his investigation. And I think these are the things that are coming up just in the natural course of an investigation, and he has every right to follow them. So he, as I say, within his charter in looking at these issues.

LEMON: Jack, President Trump said the Mueller investigation, if it turns towards this his family's finances that that would be a red line. Does it appear we're getting close to that red line now and what can the president do about it?

QUINN: It's hard to tell. We don't know a lot about precisely what the special counsel is looking at in terms of Jared Kushner's dealings. Obviously it may implicate Kushner's finances but we don't know the precise nature of his inquiry here.

But John is precisely right. You know, there's a -- Mr. Mueller's charter is in three parts. I mean, he was told to investigate any possible connection between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and any wrongdoing that he discovered and that might arise in the course of that investigation. And lastly, he has the power to pursue any obstructions of justice.

LEMON: John, it's interesting, because, you know, we were talking a lot about Jared Kushner. Remember what happened the big story last week that we were covering was the Rob Porter's story.

You know, the White House chief of staff John Kelly sent a memo announcing a change to the security clearance process in the wake of that story, of that scandal. As the Washington Post put it, this overall put a bull's eye on Jared Kushner who has interim clearance now. Compare that with back what we are learning today about Mueller's investigation.

The question, should Jared Kushner be interacting with classified material, including the daily presidential brief?

JOHN: Well, that's really an option of the president himself. He can waive the restrictions. The power of classification emanates right from the president himself. It's not a congressional grant of power, but rather an inherent presidential power.

[22:15:01] He could theoretically grant a waiver to anybody on his staff or any circumstance, he could declassify. So there is a little flexibility here and it's going to be interesting to see if Kelly's ruling prevails in the White House or Trump does and when he want somebody to have information.

LEMON: Interesting. CNN reported last week, Jack that the former top -- top campaign aide, Rick Gates was close to a plea deal with Mueller. And now the L.A. Times is reporting that he's planning to plead guilty and testify against his former boss, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. How much pressure does this potentially put on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller's team? QUINN: Well, again, without knowing the precise facts I would imagine

it puts enormous pressure on Mr. Manafort. You know, Manafort may be the oyster that holds the precious gem of truth about...


LEMON: The pearl there.

QUINN: Yes, the pearl there. That everything that may have gone on that the special counsel might be interested in. But you know, we don't know for sure. Look, this has got to be bad news for Mr. Manafort, presumably Gates will be truthful and presumably he knows a lot.

LEMON: Thank you both. Thank you, Jack. Thank you, John. I appreciate it.

When we come back, much more on our CNN exclusive Robert Mueller's about Jared Kushner's efforts to win over foreign investors for his company.

Plus, you've seen this picture. It may be the worst heartbreaking image from the Florida school shooting. Now I'm going to talk to one woman in this picture whose son survived the rampage. She is speaking up for the very first time.


LEMON: CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller is now asking questions about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the transition.

Let's discuss now with CNN legal commentator Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservatives Fund joins us, also Evan McMullin, the former CIA officer who ran for president as an independent in 2016.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. Lots to talk about so let's get started. Evan, you first. As a former CIA agent, what is your take on CNN's exclusive reporting tonight that the special counsel is investigating Jared Kushner's meeting with foreign investors, including China.

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, you have conflict of interest first. That's an ethical question, and so that's of interest, that's important. But what's more important is whether foreign countries could have been using that opportunity to help Jared Kushner in his business dealings in a way that could be used as leverage over him down the road.

That's the more significant issue even than the ethics, although their both ethical questions because the latter becomes a national security issue. So I imagine that's part of what the special counsel might be interested in.

LEMON: Ken, let's turn now to the special counsel the indictment on Friday. Why do you say it exonerates the president and his campaign? KEN CUCCINELLI, LEGAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, implicitly because of

the fact that Mueller would not have come out and identified what cooperation these Russians who were indicted Friday had with what they called unwitting campaign officials with the Trump campaign.

If they did that, which they've done now, and came back later with a future indictment suggesting that there was something along the lines of collusion, it would be the most extraordinary head fake -- we're getting close to March madness so I use more basketball terms -- it would be the most extraordinary head fake in the history of special counsels.

And look, the confidence that America has in Robert Mueller comes from the professionalism with which he carries forward his very difficult role. And that would shake the confidence of the American people in his conclusions and his results. He doesn't want that, it isn't good for America.

I think that what we saw there on Friday is effectively not an admission, because that's not an appropriate word, but a concession on the part of the special counsel that there was no intentional working with the Russian by the Trump team.

LEMON: Well, he said in that particular indictment that involved the 13 Russians.


LEMON: He didn't say in the entire investigation. But Evan...


CUCCINELLI: That's why I said -- that's why I said that looking ahead to any future indictments that putting this indictment out now -- and there was no time pressure on him to do this. He did it now for his own reasons, but if it was going to point in one direction and then he was going to go in another direction, because they realized they have a lot of information.


CUCCINELLI: We don't know if that's involve in the indictment.


LEMON: I get your point. I want to get Evan.

CUCCINELLI: It just wouldn't happen.

LEMON: Evan, you disagree. Explain why you think that the Friday's indictment proves the president doesn't want to stop Kremlin's interference in our elections.

MCMULLIN: Look, the indictment described the activities of 13 Russians and that's what it was about. It was important because it establish that a crime was committed. Now the indictment also describes how those 13 Russians engaged with certain Americans unwittingly we're told in the indictment, but that in no way in my view says anything about what else what other information may be out there.

In fact, we know that the special counsel and that the public knows other things about the president's campaign, about their contact with Russian officials, but this indictment doesn't address any of that. We know that our intelligence services collected other information about senior Russian government officials talking about helping Trump. And this indictment doesn't address any of that. It was a very narrow, although very detailed indictment, but it's very narrow in scope.

CUCCINELLI: Don, that reinforces my point. I don't disagree that it was a targeted indictment. Of course, it was pretty broad in the sense there were 16 entities, 13 people, three businesses and a lot of detail that we learned in that indictment.

But my point is that a special counsel in the position of Robert Mueller and every special counsel is in rather touchy political sort of oversight. They're under a microscope type circumstances just like special counsel Mueller is, and yet with all the information they know beyond this indictment, if there was going to be actual collusion, first of all, he would have a hint of it already and they wouldn't have led us all to see an indictment where they say that all the cooperation that happened was unwitting.

[22:25:09] LEMON: OK. Collusion is not a legal term...


CUCCINELLI: It just wouldn't -- it just wouldn't happen.

LEMON: It wouldn't be for collusion, it would be for obstruction, it would be for something else, for money laundering.

CUCCINELLI: But all of those -- all of those don't involve cooperating with the Russians to affect the election. That's misbehavior in the course of the investigation.

LEMON: The president spent a good deal of the holiday weekend tweeting 21 tweets in total here. There's just two of them, right. He takes aim at the FBI, the former President Barack Obama but not the Russians. Is this productive, Evan?

MCMULLIN: No, it's not productive at all. I mean, of course, this is the most absurd, inexcusable behavior that you could possibly imagine from an American president. Russia has attacked our democracy. Our intelligence services warned us about this months and months ago, a year ago, and now the special counsel's office has laid down an indictment that details an excruciating detail.

And still we have a president that refuses to offer obvious criticisms of Vladimir Putin, refuses to take steps that would deter the Russians from continuing their ongoing attack against our democracy. I mean, It's absolutely bizarre. And I think for a long time we have sort of given the president an

undeserved, I think, past to a degree in saying that, this is just, you know, the allegations of Russian interference just hurt his feelings and made him feel like he didn't win fairly and that sort of thing.

I think we're being very naive when we make that argument. Look, this president has some kind of conflict that prevents him from behaving in a responsible way, living up to his commitment to defend the country. There is something there impeding that. There is something in some way the Kremlin owns him and/or he welcomes the support of the Kremlin as he did during the 2016 election.

LEMON: Hey, Ken, I got to ask you, let's put this. This is from republican Chuck Grassley tweeted this today. He said (Inaudible) Donald Trump the next time that President Trump that you talk to Putin tell him to butt out of our elections quit the cyber warfare interference in our democracy." So he still doesn't done the sanctions. Why is the president isn't fighting back harder against Russia?

CUCCINELLI: Yes, I agree with Senator Grassley. I think -- I think that statement is more than appropriate and the use of Twitter in this discussion wasn't helpful to the president by the president this weekend. So I'd like to see a lot more directed action.

I hope as the dust settles on last Friday's indictment, we start to see that going forward as facts start to be laid out for the American people, which includes, by the way, congressmen and senators who don't necessarily have access to all of this.

It starts to give us a national direction and I hope the president will pick up that cudgel and start using it in that direction.

LEMON: On February 19 at 10.27 Ken Cuccinelli actually criticized the president offered some -- that's interesting. Mark your calendars everybody. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

When we come back, the president asking his guests at Mar-a-Lago for advice about gun control. Shouldn't he have advisers for this sort of thing? I'm going to ask one of President Obama's senior advisers on what he thinks. David Axelrod joins me next.


[22:30:00] DON LEMON, HOST: Sources telling CNN that the president spent the weekend inside his Mar-a-Lago resort boiling into a rage while watching cable news and spending time with his sons Eric and Don Jr. What followed could be described as a tweet storm of epic proportion. He tweeted over 20 times.

More than a dozen of those tweets slamming the news media. And three of them the president claimed no collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. He attacked Oprah Winfrey, Congressman Adam Schiff, Hillary Clinton and former President Obama.

He undercut his own national security adviser, and he promoted a Nascar race. None of the tweets included a combination of Russia.

Joining me now to discuss this is CNN political commentator, David Axelrod. David, sometimes I read this and I cannot believe I'm actually -- when you put it up on the screen plain enough for people to see, it's just what is happening?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: That's quite a weekend's work there, isn't it?

LEMON: It is.

AXELROD: You know, this is not -- you learn to come to expect certain things, and he's very reactive to events around the Russia investigation. So, for example, after Michael Flynn was indicted a couple days later, the storm welled up and then he talked about the FBI being in tatters.

This has been true throughout. This is something that really sets him off. And, you know, after the holiday break, his lawyers right before the holidays met with Mueller, and the first thing after the holidays we had 17 tweets, I think, in the first day that were nothing short of bizarre. So this is a pattern that's developed over time. It didn't shock me. It would have been shocking, frankly, if he was quiet over the weekend given the magnitude of the indictments on Friday.

LEMON: It's really interesting because I remember, you know, when my sister was raising her kids and then someone did something like this, you would say they just want attention, ignore them, right, meaning a child. And it seems reminiscent of that. It's hard to ignore the president of the United States even when he does childless things like this. Obviously cries for attention and deflection, a combination of both, possibly.

AXELROD: Yes, I mean, he certainly likes attention. I think we all can agree on that. But I think he also sets these things off as kind of diversions from the main question at hand. The really disturbing thing has been commented on already tonight on your show is that what those indictments unfurled for all the world to see was a very elaborate plot to subvert this country and to subvert this democracy.

[22:34:59] You're the commander in chief and it's your job to responsibility to that attack and there was no hint of that in his tweets. So, you know, it was disturbing. And then to use this terrible tragedy just 40 miles away from Mar-a-Lago and use that to try and deflect blame on the FBI and to try and discredit the FBI who...


LEMON: He also tried to blame the former president saying the former president should have done -- and he said, we knew that this started in 2014 halfway through Obama's second term. Should President Obama have done more?

AXELROD: Yes. Well, look, I think if you knew now what you knew then, perhaps so. But the fact to the matter is that I was trying to think when I saw that tweet what exactly would Donald Trump have said if the president of the United States knew at that time and said the Russians are actively involved in our campaign and they're trying to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, what would Donald Trump have said?

We know that Mitch McConnell basically told the administration that if you intimate that, we will react very strongly and negatively to it, because it would be tilting the scale in this election.

But the reality is a lot of this information has come together after the election. The administration did, through the intelligence community, tell the country that Russia had been involved in trying to hack our elections.

But the degree of information that Mueller had, yes, released on Friday wasn't available at that time. So, you know, I mean, I don't take it terribly seriously. The question really isn't what Barack Obama should have done then, it's what Donald Trump should do now.

LEMON: Should do now.

AXELROD: He is the president of the United States today. He is the man who now has this information, and for whatever reason, he doesn't want to act on it.

LEMON: Yes. So here's just because Obama officials and his aides have insisted that they -- that the president had a confrontation with Vladimir Putin in...


AXELROD: In September.

LEMON: Yes, 2016, the G-20 summit in China. They're also saying that obviously the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Moscow December of 2016 for the election their efforts and expelled 35 diplomats. And then also as you said that Russian meddling they believe would appear to have overly political implications for the incumbent president to do that.

Because Donald Trump was already saying the election was rigged and that he would, you know, he wouldn't accept the results if he lost.

But let's move on. I want to talk something that as current as well. This White House -- the White House says the president is open to changes in gun background checks. Sources tell CNN it was a topic of conversation with his sons and close friends such as Geraldo Rivera were at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. As someone who has been one of the closest advisers to a president, is it troubling that President Trump takes advise on something that is so important from his children or friends when it comes to policy?

AXELROD: Well, look, I mean, I think the whole decision-making tree at the White House has been disturbing. Nothing that we see is consistent with anything that I know from the White House I served in, and I would suggest that if you talk to anybody who served in any other White House, they've never seen anything quite like this.

But you know, there's been this merger of Mar-a-Lago as part of this sort of official tableau of the government where he wanders around and talks to people about stuff like this, and you know, has high-level discussions in the dining room as patrons watch. It's a strange, strange thing.

I will say this. If the patrons of Mar-a-Lago have persuaded the President of the United States to defy the NRA from whom he took $30 million and change his position and begin to embrace some commonsense reforms, good for them. I'm all for it.

LEMON: Yes. We have to remember, though, the two sons of the trophy hunters with the pictures of, you know, that you've seen up so much on the internet with him, you know, holding...


AXELROD: Yes. but I mean, we should not -- we should not just, you know, need to separate out some of these issues. Background checks is not gun confiscation.

LEMON: Right.

AXELROD: I do think that we have to ask the question about whether weapons of war should be made available especially to 18-year-old kids as was the case here. But there are modest reforms that have been proposed by Senator Cornyn and Senator Murphy that would tighten some of the reporting provisions around the background checks. That would be a helpful step. And if the president endorses it, that would be positive. It's not nearly enough.

And the question is whether there is this sense that they have to do something now because these children down in Florida have been so compelling and this has so captured the imagination and the disgust of the country that you can't do anything.

[22:39:59] So is the question if we do this, can we sort of lance the boil here and move on? I hope that doesn't happen. I hope that there will be a serious discussion in the country about what we need to get done.

And yes, let's do this, but let's examine some of these other issues. Let's get back to the bump stock issue. Let's talk about these semiautomatic weapons and let's talk about universal background checks.

LEMON: Thank you, David Axelrod. I appreciate your time.

When we come back, new troubling information about the Florida shooter as the family who took him in is speaking out. All the details next.


LEMON: The Florida high school shooter in court today as funerals were held for two of the students he has confessed to murdering. CNN national correspondent Martin Savidge is in Florida for us

tonight. Martin, good evening to you. The Department of Children and Family -- Families just released documents from a 2016 investigation into Nikolas Cruz. How did that become public and what was in it?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, it became public because a judge ruled that that should be released to the public. There has been a great deal of debate, of course, since this whole tragedy about what has been the mental state of Nikolas Cruz.

[22:45:05] And certainly his public defender and others have indicated that he's got a history of mental illness. That's sort of what these documents kind of go at. They focus on a specific incident, and that's from September of 2016 in which Nikolas Cruz apparently posted on social media images of him cutting his arms and also talking about wanting to buy guns.

It was deemed so serious by DCF that they decided to launch an investigation. They actually went to his home. They talked to his mother, she was still alive at the time, they talked to Nikolas and they also talked to mental health workers who were overseeing his care.

And it took a while to do the study, about one to two months. Once they were done, though, DCF ruled that he was at low risk to do harm to either himself or to anyone else. And that was about 18 months, a little less than 18 months before the attack here. So it's looked upon as maybe another one of those flags that was just missed.

LEMON: Yes. You know, the couple who took him in after his adoptive mother died, Martin, talked with ABC's Good Morning America about the last time they saw him.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to go after him and strangle him more than anything. Everything I wanted to say, I tried to reserve myself. I was like, really, Nik? Really? You know, I yelled at him. And he mumbled something but I didn't hear and he said he was sorry.


LEMON: So Martin, the Sneads said that they had no idea that Cruz could be capable of something like this. What more can you tell us?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, this is a family that took this young man in after the death of his mother, and I'm talking about Nikolas Cruz in November. So you know, they really are attempting to do something good. And they acknowledge that he was odd. He had his, you know, quirks, but they also felt that he was polite. They knew he was on medication. He was getting counseling.

And they actually thought he was getting better. They say that there was nothing to give them the idea that he was going to carry out this terrible attack. Now, it should be pointed out they knew he had guns, but they had rules, and those rules were that he had to keep those guns locked in a gun vault. They thought they had the only key, but that does not appear to be the case, Don.

LEMON: Yes. Martin Savage, thank you very much.

When we come back, our exclusive interview. Two mothers embracing outside the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School right after the deadly shooting. Their picture heartbreaking. One of those mothers will speak for the first time live, next.


LEMON: It is one of the most iconic images of the Florida high school shooting. The photo which has become the human face of yet another senseless tragedy. Two mothers horrified at the violence that took the lives of 17 innocent people. One of those mothers is Cathi Rush. Her two sons survived the shooting. She's speaking out for the first time and joins me now exclusively tonight with her husband Scott.

Thank you so much for joining us this evening, we really appreciate it. Cathi, you first. How does it feel being part of an iconic photo? I'm sure it's something you would rather not be part of. What do you remember about the moment this was taken, this photo?

CATHI RUSH, MOTHER OF TWO SONS WHO SURVIVED FLORIDA SHOOTING: First of all, I just want to say I hate that photo with every core of my being. Every time I look at that picture, I relive it. And -- do you want me to tell you what led up to because there's a little bit of a story behind that.

LEMON: Go on, we have you here to share your story. Go ahead and share what you want to share.

RUSH: OK. I was at work. I'm the school nurse at Nova High School in Davey, which is south of here. I got a rob call from my youngest son Connor's middle school that they were on a lockdown. And I hung up and I went back to work. It didn't bother me that my son's middle school was on a lockdown, it didn't bother me because it's been done before, they've been on lockdown before, and everything was fine.

I'm so desensitized to the lockdowns that it didn't bother me, and that bothers me now. And then my friend Jody called me and said, "Cathi, did you hear what was happening?" I said, yes, the middle school's on lockdown, no biggie. She said, "No, no, it's the high school, Kevin is going there right now with SWAT."

And then it was serious. And I opened my phone, it was everywhere, it was on the news, it was on Facebook, everyone posting everywhere. I talked to Scott. And he had spoken to our oldest son, Adam, who apparently had evacuated to the middle school, which is right behind the high school here.

And Brandon, my ninth grader, was hiding under a table in his classroom. And I didn't know what was happening. I went to the courtyard at school and I sat on a bench and I just started crying and crying and crying. One of the ladies there came over to me and helped me up and hugged me. And then they brought me inside the building to take me away from the students at that high school so they wouldn't see me crying.

And it was on the monitor at the desk, what was on the news. And they said, oh my God, Cathi, go, just give us the keys to your clinic, go, go get your babies. I went to the parking lot. Called my son. And my oldest son, I got a hold of him. And he was in the Walmart parking lot. He made his way from the middle school over to the Walmart parking lot. And I said, stay there, stay there, I'm coming, I'm going to pick you up, it will be about 30 minutes, I'm that far away.

And I hung up with him but I hadn't heard back from my younger son, who was hiding under the table. And I still didn't think it was as bad as it was. Then I got on the highway, I was coming home on the Sawgrass Expressway. And I can't even tell you how many police cars were passing me. Literally hordes and hordes of police vehicles and ambulances and SWAT vehicles.

And they just -- they kept coming and they kept coming and they kept coming. From everywhere. From every entrance onto the Sawgrass. And I had no idea the magnitude of this. And I was crying more and more and hyperventilating. And I called my mother, screaming into the phone to my mother.

LEMON: Can I ask you something, Cathi? Is it still -- listen, I know I understand that this is, it's very upsetting.

[22:55:03] And I know it's something that most of us cannot imagine. Has it settled in to you yet? Does it still seem not real to you?

RUSH: No, it seems very real. It seems very real. It seems very real. My friends buried their daughter yesterday, it's very real and it's horrible. And I got off the expressway at that exit at Coral Ridge Drive. There was so many police and so many vehicles. They just kept coming. And I parked my car and spilled out of my car to the ground.

And my friend Michelle, that's the blond woman, picked me up and that's the picture. And I had no idea somebody snapped that picture in that moment.


RUSH: And I was literally screaming because I hadn't heard from my youngest son. And I thought it had only been a half hour. Later I looked back, it was nearly an hour that I had not heard from my son.

LEMON: Scott, your son was in class with Jamie Guttenberg. And I understand her funeral was yesterday.


LEMON: Same age.

RUSH: Guttenberg.

S. RUSH: My Brandon and Jamie are the same age. And they had been in classes as far back at least the second grade, so we knew the family. LEMON: Can you tell us about Jamie?

S. RUSH: I would defer to Cathi to tell you about Jamie. I'd met her but not enough to speak about her. I can tell you what I heard yesterday at the funeral, which was amazing. A woman -- a little girl who had her whole life planned out, knew what she wanted. But I'm going to let Cathi talk about Jamie because she knew her a little better than me.

C. RUSH: I don't want to talk about that, I want to leave that that to her family, those are her family's words to say.

S. RUSH: Fair enough. But from what he heard an amazing young girl.

LEMON: Absolutely fair enough. How is your son doing?

S. RUSH: So Brandon, you can tell it's affected him. He's going on with himself, but he certainly seems affected. Our older son doesn't seem as affected. But you never know. Obviously we're keeping close eyes on him.

Our youngest who is in middle school seems fine, but again, this is very early. And how it's going to be going forward, we don't know. But for sure our middle son, who is a freshman, who had classes in that very building normally, and if it had been the day before or the day after, he would have been in those classrooms, he just happened to have an elective that was on the other side of campus.

But had it been the day before or day after, we might be here telling you a different story.


S. RUSH: So that makes me shake just thinking about it.

LEMON: Well, listen, we're glad that your sons were OK and we're sorry for the tragedy that has, you know, befallen your community. And the children, the students there, are so amazing.

I mean, every single time I hear from one of them or see one of them on television, it's just unbelievable to hear their strength and their courage and just how bright and articulate they are. What do you want to say about those students before I let you go?

C. RUSH: I want to say those students are going to roar. You're going to hear those kids roar. They are so angry and so upset and so devastated that their classmates and their friends, their teachers, were gunned down. They weren't even just gunned down, those kids were hunted in that school.

That man that came in the school, he hunted children. And these kids at the school are going to roar. They're going to make some changes. You're going to hear from them more.


S. RUSH: And I just want to...

C. RUSH: Changes need to be made.

S. RUSH: I just want to add that the parents, Cathi, myself, the parents of the victims, other friends of ours, we're going to keep roaring as well. This is not going to go away.

C. RUSH: No.

S. RUSH: And we need to be louder and have more stamina than the people who want this to go away and we're not going to let it go away.


C. RUSH: It is -- it's not OK that a 19-year-old can walk into a shop and plop down money and walk out with that gun and come and hunt children in a school.

LEMON: Cathi and Scott Rush, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

CNN is holding a live town hall on Wednesday night, it's called stand up. The students of Stoneman Douglas demand action. And it will be hosted by CN colleague Jake Tapper. Don't miss it Wednesday night at 9 eastern.

We'll be right back.