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Family Who Took In Shooter: He Said He Was Sorry; White House: Trump Supports Improving Gun Background Checks. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CAMEROTA: For being here.

BRIGGS: Great to be here on Presidents Day, my friend.

CAMEROTA: Thanks much. Great to work with you.

All right. Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" now with John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

This morning President Trump has a message for Jack Nicholson, no, he can't handle the truth. At least not the truth as determined by the intelligence agencies, the special counsel and his own National Security adviser. The truth that Russia meddled and attempted to disrupt the 2016 election.

The evidence that the president can handle it, an extraordinary string of official statements lashing out at just about any one and anything after Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed up indictments for 13 Russian individuals and three companies for ultimately trying to help Donald Trump win the White House.

The president is now at his Florida estate holed up apparently with his outrage and a cell phone.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there.

Kaitlan, before we get to the Russia outrage, the president, the White House, in fact, making some news this morning on possible gun control actions.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. We just got a statement from the Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah and I'm going to read it to you. He said that the president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill that Cornyn and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation.

Now Shah went on to say, "While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system."

Now to give you a little context there, John, this conversation supposedly happened on Friday but we're just now getting this statement from the White House on the president supporting these measures today. And we certainly have not heard this from the president himself in these conversations that he's had in his statement about the gun -- about the shooting on Friday or any of his tweets over the weekend because instead as the president spent the weekend indoors because aides advised him that it would be in poor optics to go out on the golf course we saw the president attacking pretty much everyone ranging from the FBI, the Democrats, his National Security adviser, and even Oprah.

But we'll be waiting to see if the president has anything to say about this because as the White House announced yesterday he is scheduled to hold a listening session with students at the White House in Washington on Wednesday -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins for us in Florida -- Kaitlan, thanks so much.

There is other potentially major news in the Russia investigation. A former senior Trump campaign aide is preparing to plead guilty. "The Los Angeles Times" reports that Rick Gates will plead to fraud related charges -- unrelated to the election -- within the next few days.

Now CNN reported last week that Gates had been in talks with the special counsel for about a month.

Joining me now is CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

Laura, Rick Gates, if he pleads guilty that would make four guilty pleas for the special counsel, three of them would be for either senior or significant figures within the Trump campaign. What's the significance of this?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you'd also have at least four now known cooperators who are buttress the credibility of every other argument that can be raised by Mueller and his team. The significance of this is that you've got a lot of pressure by the Mueller team that's largely stoked by this idea of chaos. No one knows what's going on, no one knows what Mueller's team is investigating, having everything held very close to the vest has proved very critical to Mueller's team securing these sorts of guilty pleas.

But it also means, it's very foreboding for people in the Trump inner circle and people who may be down the line of lists of people that Mueller's team is trying to check out and through because it's saying that they're going to get information that the investigative team would otherwise not be privy to and when you have that access you can have future indictments coming.

BERMAN: Now the White House, from inside the White House, they're trying to send the message, you know, this might be bad for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, because Rick Gates of course worked with Paul Manafort. The charges have to do usually, mostly with time from before Manafort was anywhere near the Trump campaign.

You know, is this bad for Manafort? Can this be bad for Manafort but not bad for the president?

COATES: It's bad for Manafort, absolutely. But it could also be bad for the president and anybody else in the inner circle on the Trump campaign. Remember, Gates outlasted Manafort in the Trump campaign. He worked on the inauguration as well. The inaugural committee. And so he has some longevity and legs that even Paul Manafort did not have and so as he was closer and closer linked to the people as a part of the Trump inaugural committee, people -- inner circle, it does look worse for the Trump campaign.

However, I think ultimately they're going to have most of the tension on Manafort because that is who Gates was most closely aligned with but it does tell and speak volumes about the fact that Mueller's team is interested in people who do not register as a foreign agent. Money laundering is still one of the top priorities of the Mueller investigation. So if that's issue for other people, they can also have their knee shaking together.

BERMAN: What you have some people saying, Laura, is that you flip Rick Gates maybe you can flip Paul Manafort and then maybe it does get close to the Trump campaign and the White House.

[09:05:05] Who knows? I mean, is that something that they could be trying to do?

COATES: It could. But remember, you're flipping people with the intent of catching the biggest fish and in certain areas the ceiling may have been reached by somebody like Paul Manafort in the area of the Registration Act, in the area of money laundering. There may be other people that he could be a conduit in helping buttress their claims against them. But it may be that there are different ceilings here, different levels of the building. And for Manafort we may have reached it. For people who are closer to Trump we may not yet be there.

BERMAN: Let me read you one graph that was in the "L.A. Times" piece to see if I can get your take to interpret it for me. "The delicate terms reached by the opposing lawyers," he said, "will not be specified in writing. Gates understands that the government may move to reduce his sentence if he substantially cooperates but it won't be spelled out."

So they have an agreement but it's not in writing. You know, why not? What does that mean?

COATES: Well, allocution is the term you use to say that you are going to tell the judge what you'd like the sentence to be. You're going to recommend certain things. It's the judge's prerogative ultimately to decide what they want to hand down. But you wouldn't put it in writing because there may be an open ended need to say, if your information pans out, if you remain cooperative, if you continue to help the investigation, maybe at the end of that road we'll spell out the terms.

But right now what would be the incentive of Mueller's team? He's already got him on a 12-page indictment. It's almost a gift if anything to Gates to have him be able to plea without adding to the full charges. And so Mueller is still in position of power over Gates and he can't dictate the terms even in the spelling out of everything he will get in return, but ultimately, John, it's the judge's call regardless.

BERMAN: All right. Laura Coates for us, thank you very, very much.

Here now, CNN political analyst Molly Ball and CNN political commentators Matt Lewis and Errol Louis.

Molly, I want to start with you about the president's activities over the last 30 hours or so. I'm going to read the list here. He's bashed the FBI, his National Security adviser, Adam Schiff, CNN and Oprah. I feel like he needs to apologize to Chad Lowe for not mentioning him outright in this all.

But what do you make of this? This is a president clearly lashing out, clearly reacting to these indictments in a very volatile way.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, I think first of all this is a pattern that we've seen many times before when the president is by himself, when he's without his handlers, when there's no one around him who can sort of talk him down from stuff, he vents on Twitter and so it is often on the weekends, it is often when he is relatively unsupervised at Mar-a-Lago that he gets swirly and he decides to tell us what he thinks about a variety of things.

He's someone who, you know, reacts very instinctively and who clearly has been bothered by the developments of the last few days. However, I think that the most interesting tweets from the president have been the ones about the Russian investigation contending that he's vindicated by the indictments of the Russians on Friday. That to me it's almost as if Mueller has laid a clever trap that he's now gotten the president to validate the Russia investigation.

He's gotten the president's buy-in in a way to say, you know, now I approve of this investigation because I've decided that it actually vindicates me, I can blame it on Obama, I can say that I'm not involved in it, whatever may be coming down the pike and we have no idea because, you know, the indictments on Friday also showed us by the virtue of the fact that they were so unexpected that Mueller is playing this very close to the vest and no one really does know what's going on inside there. But -- so that means that whatever may come out down the road the president now has bought into it in some way.

BERMAN: Let me read one of the tweets that I think Molly is talking about here, Errol Louis. And this is the one that jumped out to me as being sort of the most stark here. It's about his National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who said now there is incontrovertible evidence that Russia meddled in the election.

The president decides to write, "General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only collusion between Russia and the Crooked Hillary campaign, DNC," yada, yada, yada. He's basically saying, you know, General McMaster didn't point out that Rod Rosenstein in the indictment said there is no -- there are allegations in this indictment.


BERMAN: That there was collusion there but the attack on his own National Security adviser for saying, hey, look, there's evidence Russia meddled here.

LOUIS: Yes. It's extraordinary. I mean, one thing that we here over and over again is that one of the surest ways to annoy Donald Trump if you're part of his team is to not defend him, to not spout the talking points and this was really -- the tweet is really just listing the talking points which if you followed any social media over the weekend Trump followers immediately began to spread all over the place.

Now General McMaster is a different kind of a guy. I mean, he's still an active duty official in the military and he's not a politician and he's not going to act like a politician and so he is really just kind of -- you know, sort of saying what the rest of us would accept as simple truth. You've got this big extensive indictment. The special counsel backed by the Justice Department has found that a whole lot of stuff went on that we now have to sort of unwind through the court system.

[09:10:10] He's just acknowledging reality. Donald Trump is trying to create his own reality. That's what politicians do. That's what he's trying to do. It doesn't seem to be working all that well because even his top aides are just looking at the facts and saying, well, yes, we seem to have a problem here.

Everybody it seems in the country is concerned about Russian meddling in our democracy except for the commander-in-chief.

BERMAN: There doesn't seem to be any concern in this at all.

Matt Lewis, there was another statement the president made that jumped out of people. It has to do with the investigation of the school shootings in Florida, which we're going to talk about extensively and also some news on gun control extensively in a little bit. But let's stick on Russia for a moment here. I want to read this to you.

"Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They're spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with Trump campaign. There is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud."

You know, so the critics over the last several hours, Matt, has been saying, he's even going to make a school shooting about him, about Russia and the Russia investigation as it pertains to him.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, there's no doubt that the FBI dropped the ball big time in Florida and they -- they should be embarrassed by that, but that has nothing to do with the investigation, the Mueller investigation, and I think that not only is it wrong, it's shameful for President Trump to go there, to try to politicize that huge error that the FBI made and to do it obviously for self-serving reasons. So look, this is the game that Donald Trump is playing. He is playing

this game obviously of trying to discredit the FBI and, therefore, to -- not basically nullify anything that they may find, of course, there's serious ramifications of a president doing that and I think it's unfortunate.

BERMAN: Let me read you, Matt, while I still have you the latest statement from the president to get your take on it. "Have a great but very reflective President's Day."

Matt Lewis, how do you reflect on Presidents Day generally?

LEWIS: Well, look, it is Presidents Day. I recently did a podcast with John Avlon who is my boss, a wise and brilliant man, who wrote a book about Washington's farewell, and so I'm going to re-listen to that podcast. George Washington's birthday.

BERMAN: It seems to me that President Trump suggesting that we should be reflective today, you know, is interesting, some might even note ironic, Molly. You know, Thomas Friedman of the "New York Times" is writing that this is a moment of crisis right now the way that the president is choosing to address the Russia investigation.

Friedman writes, "Our democracy is in serious danger. President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or he's a cowering fool or both but either way he's shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America."

I doubt, Molly, the president's reflecting on this column today.

BALL: Probably not. But, you know, this seems -- on the scale of Trump tweets this seems like a rather innocuous and dignified and appropriate thing to say on the Presidents Day. It is a day to reflect on the greatness of our founders and the greatness of the American presidents of the past and perhaps if the president is studying them and reflecting on them and looking at the normal ways that American presidents have behaved, perhaps he'll learn something.

BERMAN: You know, Errol Louis, I wonder if all of this now starting on Friday with these indictments reframes the politicized debate over the Russia investigation. You know, we have the Republican memo. We still haven't seen the Democratic memo. You think they'll be as much concern about memos, political memos when there is an indictment here saying that 13 Russians tried to influence the election?

LOUIS: I would not underestimate the ability or the propensity of Trump supporters to simply deny reality, to simply shut it out. I mean, I got into some exchanges with some viewers over the weekend where they just -- you know, there's no collusion. There's no evidence here. You know, and there's abundant evidence. There's guilty pleas, there's indictments, there's a lot of troubling information that we already know.

I mean, just to read what's in that indictment, to go back as some people have done over the weekend, Brian Stelter and others, and say people that we were engaged with as journalists over the last year or during the campaign it turns out that they were Russians, that it was all sort of fake, that they're holding rallies in the middle of the street and so forth.

Very, very troubling stuff. Those who want to deny it will continue to deny it. I will only point out that during Watergate there were people who thought it was a communist plot right up until the moment that Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

BERMAN: Errol, Molly and Matt, thank you for reflecting with me on this Presidents Day. We'll have more reflection with the three of you in just a little bit.

In the meantime, we had a monster living under our roof. The family who took in the Florida shooter before the killing is speaking out this morning. Did they see any clues?

And this morning, the first reaction from the Kremlin after the FBI indictments of the 13 Russians in the Mueller probe. We're there live, plus fight club cruise ship edition, this is outrageous. A series of brawls break out on a Carnival ship. What went wrong here. The obvious answer is a lot.


BERMAN: For the first time this morning we're hearing from the family that was providing a home to the Florida school shooter. They say they were stunned when they learned that he was the gunman who killed 17 people, and this is how they described seeing him at the police station.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I basically -- I went after him. I really wanted to strangle him more than anything and I just -- everything I wanted to say -- it's hard to reserve myself. I was really -- yelled at him and he mumbled something, but I didn't hear, and he said he was sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he was sorry.


BERMAN: CNN's Rosa Flores in Parkland, Florida for us this morning -- Rosa.

[09:20:07] ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're also learning more not just from the GMA interview with his host family, but also from Florida "Sun-Sentinel," and they say that they lived with the suspect for a few months and they never saw his aggression.

They knew he was depressed. They knew that he had trouble doing some basic tasks that adults do, so they taught him how to use a microwave and laundry. They also say that they didn't have a clue about his aggression against animals.

This family says that they have two dogs and six cats and that they would've never allowed him in their home had he been aggressive towards those animals. They also say that they knew about his AR-15 style rifle.

However, they say that it was in a gun lock and that the host father was the only one with the key, he thought, of course. Now we know otherwise. They say that they were completely taken off guard.

Now they also revealed details about the day of the shooting. Take a listen.


JAMES SNEAD, TOOK IN SHOOTER AFTER HIS ADOPTIVE MOTHER DIED: 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 and he goes he nothing bad, bro and that was it. He said he was going to the movies and then the last text my son got was, yo, and that was it and that was about 2:18, I believe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any idea why you think he texted your son?

SNEAD: No idea. No idea.


FLORES: We are also learning more about the timeline where the suspect was when the day of the shooting. Take a look at your screen. This is new surveillance video showing the suspect near the McDonald's.

In the time that they we received from police, this is about 30 minutes after he dropped the gun and then fled with other students. That's how he was able to get away from the scene. So, what this shows us is where he was at that particular time.

Now, John, he didn't get apprehended until about 40 minutes after that video that you're looking at, but before that he stopped by a Walmart and grabbed a soft drink, went to the McDonald's, hung out there until a police officer saw him in a residential area and apprehended him without incident -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Rosa Flores for us in Parkland, Florida. Rosa, thanks so much.

Joining me now Jonathan Wackrow, CNN law enforcement analyst, former Secret Service officer during the Obama administration. Jonathan, let me start with the news today from the White House. I'm going to read this so we get it exactly right.

The president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill he and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation. Discussions are ongoing, and revisions are being considered. The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system. An important step? JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Very important. Listen, anything that moves the needle to ensure that this type of tragedy doesn't happen again, I will accept. It's not enough. I want more. I want, you know -- I want a full dissection of what happened with the background checks, with everything, but, you know, listen, people are going to say it's not enough. It's a step. It's a step forward. Let's take it.

BERMAN: It's something. This happens to be something that is in response to the shooting in Sutherland Springs, you know, last year. It has to do with reporting to the background system things like domestic abuse, military compliance and what not if you've been discharged. Things of that nature that did not happen there.

WACKROW: Correct.

BERMAN: Right.

WACKROW: But let's see if we can introduce pathways for mental health care providers to talk to law enforcement without violating any compliance HIPAA regulations in the background check process. So, let's see how we can shape and mold this to be a positive.

BERMAN: Right. Again, that's not part of this legislation.


BERMAN: That's not part of this legislation that was introduced by John Cornyn, the senator from Texas, this is something specific, but it's not nothing. If it passed maybe it will help somewhere going forward.

You brought up the issue of mental health, which gets to the idea that so much was reported by different groups over the years what it has to do with the Florida shooter. The school was obviously concerned.

His parents before, his mother was obviously concerned. There were calls to his house constantly about that, yet, none of that was part of the background check.

WACKROW: Listen, the reporting we just heard from the family, they didn't know. They knew he had depression. It just speaks to how difficult this topic is, how hidden and suppressed these emotions and feelings can be. There are signs.

We know that there were missed signs, but hindsight is 20/20. When you're living in the moment, sometimes it's very hard. But what we need to do is bring all of these different groups together to understand how did we miss these red flags? How did this kid for years -- remember, behaviors a continuum and we have to see where did we miss it?

[09:25:08] BERMAN: I keep on hearing where did we miss these red flags. There were many people that did not miss these red flags with this kid. The idea was that when they raised the flags they were not picked up by authority that can make a difference. Now, the president himself is writing about this. The FBI dropped the ball here in a major way. Someone called the tip line on January 25th when a detailed account of what was going to happen.

The fact they didn't act on that is a shame and the FBI admits to that, but the president suggesting it's because the FBI was too wrapped up in the Russia investigation.

WACKROW: Listen, that's just -- it's nonsensical. It's doesn't make any sense. The FBI has, you know, tens of thousands of agents that work different types of cases. The president is, you know, in the Russia investigation, that is counterintelligence case. This is a criminal matter. The two are not connected. Agents don't, you know, cross work, those types of cases. It's just not a viable excuse right now.

BERMAN: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has not been investigating gun incidents in Florida for the last several months. He's the one who's been running the Russia investigation.

WACKROW: Exactly.

BERMAN: Jonathan, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

There will be two more funerals today for the victims of the Parkland shooting. Alaina Petty was 14 years old. Her family says she volunteered to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma and brought peace and joy to everyone she met.

And 15-year-old Luke Hoyer will also be laid to rest today. His family says he was a happy-go-lucky kid who loved basketballs and video games. They will be missed.

Survivors of the Florida school shooting, they are not staying silent. Their message for the president next.