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White House: Trump Backs Changes to Gun Background Checks; Parkland Survivors Rip Politicians "Pathetic" Responses; Unleashed: Trump Goes After Everyone Except for Russia. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:15] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. And thank you so much for being with me on this Monday. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

On this Presidents' Day, we are seeing the very first signs of what the president may or may not do about gun violence in this country six days now after the Florida school shooting that killed 17 people.

The White House says, quote, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system. And as student-led protests continue all around the country today, a source tells CNN that the president has seen the pleas from the survivors of that Parkland shooting and he wants to do something. But we just actually don't know what "something" may look like.

Background checks is just one key piece of this ongoing investigation into the Parkland gunman. Authorities tell CNN the 19-year-old had obtained at least 10 firearms, all in the past year, all of them some type of rifle. As funerals and memorial services for the victims continue at places of worship across Broward County today, the president, a mere 50 miles away at Trump International Golf Club.

Avoiding the links all weekend, President Trump visited first responders in local hospitals. But he also went and spent the weekend airing grievances on Twitter, a barrage of tweets, everything targeting Hillary Clinton to the FBI to Oprah.

So, let's start from nearby Mar-a-Lago. CNN politics reporter Dan Merica.

And, Dan, just looking ahead now, we know the president has a listening session with students and teachers from the Florida high school this upcoming Wednesday. Who exactly will he be listening to? How is he preparing for that?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Hey, Brooke. It seems this statement from Raj Shah where it expresses the president's openness with strengthening the background checks systems in the United States is really the first step and something you'll hear a lot about during these listening sessions. It gives him something to back in these listening sessions.

I want to read to you what Raj Shah said this morning: 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. While discussions are ongoing, the revisions are being considered. The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.

You were exactly right though. We don't know exactly what that looks like. And President Trump has been all over the map on guns for the better part of two decades. He, in a book in the early 2000s, he backed the ban on assault weapons. He supported a 72-hour waiting period for guns. He then disavowed the comments during his 2016 campaign. Then the NRA then backed Republican candidates with some $30 million during the 2016 campaign.

It is also important to note, however, that President Trump has been receiving a lot of incoming on the topic for his three days in Florida. Not only from the students who have eloquently spoken their minds, not only from members of Congress on Capitol Hill but also from people inside Mar-a-Lago. We are told, according to sources with knowledge of the situation that President Trump has been talking to people in the club about guns and about gun control and has expressed an openness to doing something on background checks and possibly on mental illness.

He had dinner with his two sons, Eric and Don, as well as Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News personality, on Saturday at Mar-a-Lago. And we are told that Rivera pushed the president to possibly support raising the age that people would be allowed to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21. All of this kind of leads to the listening session you talked about at the White House on Wednesday. All of this would seem will come up during that listening session and gives President Trump something to talk to the students and education officials about.

BALDWIN: Well, this president may have been all over the map on guns for the last two decades. But having spoken to the students, I have a feeling they'll try to pin him down.

Dan Merica, thank you so much.


BALDWIN: Let me also just show you some pictures here.

Appearing in a red jumpsuit today with his wrists shackled to his waist, we did see the shooter make his first appearance in a courtroom, looking down there. His only words were to answer the public defender's questions.

All those red flags missed by the FBI are not only warning signs now. Getting another look in the aftermath of the shooting. We are also now hearing from the family who is providing a home for the shooter after his mother had passed away just a couple of months ago from the flu. They say that they were stunned when they learned that they were living under the same roof as -- they referred to him as a monster.

Here they were just today on "Good Morning America".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES SNEAD, TOOK IN SHOOTER AFTER HIS MOM DIED: Everything everybody seems to know, we didn't know. We had rules. And he followed every rule to the T.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And before he moved into your home, how well did you know him?

[14:05:00] J. SNEAD: I had met him a couple times before. He had spent the night at the house. And he was very polite. He didn't -- he seemed normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when did you realize what he had done?

J. SNEAD: After the SWAT team called me and asked if I knew where my son Nikolas was. And I said he's not my son but I don't know where he's at. And at that point, I got in touch with my son who was fleeing the scene at that point. And a description came out. And we put two and two together, me and my son, we figured out what was happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you were aware he had weapons when he moved into your home?

J. SNEAD: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And where were they kept?

J. SNEAD: Before he moved in, one of the stipulations is he had to get a gun safe. And we got a gun safe on the way back from Montana from moving his stuff to our house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he have -- he didn't have free access to this gun safe?

J. SNEAD: No, no, I thought I had the only key to the gun safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And after all this happened, at one point, you did get a chance to see Nikolas. And what did you say to him? Did he speak back to you? Did he say anything back?

KIMBERLY SNEAD, TOOK IN SHOOTER AFTER HIS MOM DIED: It was at the police station when they were going past us. I basically -- I went after him. I wanted to strangle him more than anything.

Everything I wanted to say -- I tried to reserve myself. I was just, really, Nick? Really? You know, I yelled at him. He mumbled something but I didn't hear him. He said he was sorry.

J. SNEAD: He said he was sorry.

K. SNEAD: Right, I didn't hear that. I was just furious and heartbroken. Absolutely just heartbroken. Devastated. I still can't process it -- what he's done, because this wasn't the person that we knew.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Well, the survivors of the Parkland school shooting did not hold back. These students sat down with CNN with a message to their elected leaders -- you are either with us or you are against us.


CAMERON KASKY, JUNIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: This is about us begging for our lives. This isn't about the GOP, the Democrats. This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral.

DAVID HOGG, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: We have sat around for too long being inactive in our political climate. And as a result, children have died. It's time for us to stand up, take action and hold our elected officials responsible. If our elected officials are not willing to stand up and say, I'm not going to continue to take money from the NRA because children are dying, they shouldn't be in office and they won't be in office because this is a midterm year. And this is the change that we need.

EMMA GONZALEZ, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: We're going to be facing this with trepidation and determination. And we have an incredible support system around us. And we are going to be the difference.


BALDWIN: How about that?

Here he is. Richard Martinez's whose son Christopher was one of six killed in 2014 near the campus of U.C.-Santa Barbara. Rich now works as a senior associate at U.C.-Santa Barbara.

Rich Martinez, thank you so much for coming on. It means so much.

RICHARD MARTINEZ, FATHER OF CHRISTOPHER, 2014 MASS SHOOTING VICTIM: Brooke, I work as on associate with Everytown for Gun Safety.

BALDWIN: Yes, you do.

MARTINEZ: We are a bipartisan organization committed to reducing gun violence in America. When I see these -- I've seen -- I saw Emma Gonzales and the speech that she gave there at Parkland.


MARTINEZ: And I'm inspired and hopeful from what I'm hearing from these students. But I also know what they are going to face, you know? People are going to tell them that there is no problem with guns in America. And they are going to tell them that even if there is a problem with guns in America that more guns is the solution to gun violence.

BALDWIN: I mean, you have handed out thousands of, you know, "never again" postcards. You have been in Tallahassee. You've been to the offices of the governor and the senators. I mean, they are taking buses, Rich, you know, this week to go talk to those lawmakers in the state capitol.

Let me just say having covered a number of these shootings, I thought it was stunning and incredible to see these young people use their voices in a way I hadn't seen.

That said, what would you say to them, having lost your son and having seen only so much change?

MARTINEZ: I would say to them that when they meet with these legislators that they should tell these legislators that they know more about mass shooting drills than the legislators they are talking to.

These kids are the first generation, maybe the first generation in America who have had mass shooting drills since they were in kindergarten, you know? And the legislators that they're going to be talking to in Tallahassee, when they were -- when I was growing up, we didn't have mass shooter drills in school. When I was growing up, no little kid in America thought about being shot and killed in their school.

Today, little kids are doing mass shooting drills and they know why. They know other little kids have been shot and killed in our country. Last week on your program, you had little Ava Olsen.

[14:10:02] I believe she was 7 years old. She had written a letter to President Trump asking him what he was going to do about gun safety. And the reason she wrote that letter is because one of her classmates, Jacob, had been shot and killed in their school.

BALDWIN: Who was 6.

MARTINEZ: It's outrageous. It's --

BALDWIN: Who was 6.

MARTINEZ: Yes, it's absolutely outrageous. The next -- the gun lobby is going to tell us that the solution to gun violence is more guns. It's ridiculous.

We are Americans in the 21st century of the United States of America. We can do better than that. More guns is not the answer to gun violence. I'll tell those kids in California after my son was killed in 2014, the state legislature here in California introduced new gun legislation which allowed immediate family members or law enforcement to get an order from a court after due process to remove guns from the person who posed a substantial threat to themselves or others.

That bill was introduced after Isla Vista -- the shootings in Isla Vista. And it was signed into law --

BALDWIN: Thanks to you.

MARTINEZ: And it was signed into law -- well, there were a lot of people who worked on that, Brooke. But it was signed in to law in September of 2014.

In a matter of months, committed -- legislators who were concerned about the problem and were willing to work were able to put something -- enact a new law within a matter of months. So, when these kids go to Tallahassee, tell them to look at California and the state of Washington, because in the situation in Parkland, there were red flags. These kids knew about the bad behavior of this kid.

BALDWIN: No, your point being, as you wrote about, and as I know we have talked about. These red flag laws and had this happen with the gunman who killed your son or with the red flags in Parkland, then perhaps someone could have called the authorities and they could have taken away this man's guns.

I want to actually, Rich, go back to two points you made a second ago. We actually have some sound. In case people didn't hear, this is how we started the week last week listening to this 7-year-old, and then I want to talk to you about what the president is proposing. Here is Ava Olsen.


BALDWIN: I lived through the school shooting that happened. My little brother Cameron also lived through it. I heard and saw it all happen and I was very scared. My best friend Jacob was shot and died. That made me very sad. I loved him and was going to marry him one day. I hate guns.

Ava, the president wrote you back. Did it answer the questions you have for the president?


BALDWIN: No? What questions did you still have for him?

OLSEN: How that he can help keep kids safe?


BALDWIN: So, let's talk about that, Rich. I mean, here's what we have so far from the president who as you all well know has been in Florida, not even 40 miles away from where the school shooting happened. We have heard that according to the White House, he's supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system for gun purchases. It's my understanding that it doesn't necessarily expand background checks but it would fix the current system.

He was listening to his friends over the weekend, looking in his steps might make it harder for young people or mentally ill people to obtain firearms. And one more point, apparently, his friend Geraldo Rivera was talking to him about raising the age of military-style rifles like the AR-15 from 18 to 21 which could have prevented 17 lives who have been lost this past week.

What is your response to that, to the president? MARTINEZ: I will believe it when I see it. I mean, track record is

not good on this issue. Although, you know, I have been working in states across the country, and the momentum is with gun safety.

There was an election for governor in Florida in January of this year. The home state of the NRA's headquarters in Virginia. And the gun sense champion candidate for governor in that state Jeremy Northam won.

You know, across the country -- there's a consensus. Americans want something done about gun violence in our country.


MARTINEZ: And it's easy to talk about -- I think -- my understanding currently is about the measure that Trump -- President Trump is referring to. It's a really limited measure and doesn't address the more comprehensive changes that we need to the background check system in order to make it effective across the country.

[14:15:07] BALDWIN: Is it a step in the right direction? Is it a step in the right direction?

MARTINEZ: It's in the right direction. But we've -- what I have learned from my experience in working on this issue and what these kids need to know is doing nothing doesn't work. That's all we have seen from Congress and this president. I mean, we had the largest mass shooting in the history of this country.

BALDWIN: Las Vegas.

MARTINEZ: In Las Vegas. And what did they do? Prayers and condolences.

Now, prayers and condolences are important. But when that's all you do, it's a disgrace.

BALDWIN: Rich Martinez, you know this is personal for you. I really appreciate you taking the time. We are going to talk to some of these young people next hour, these students in Douglas. And I will relay some of your thoughts to them. I promise you that. Thank you so much.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

The president unleashing against everyone over the Russia investigation except for Russia, the ones who attacked American elections. We'll get into that.

Also ahead, one of the president's former advisers reportedly set to plea guilty and testify against the campaign's former chairman. What will Rick Gates give to Robert Mueller?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:20:50] BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

When the president travels to Mar-a-Lago, the press has come to expect an uptick in tweeting. But after last week's mass shooting in Florida and major developments in the Russia investigation, President Trump sent out an extraordinary barrage of especially inflammatory tweets, even for the president's standards. In one tweet, the president blames the FBI for missing tips about the shooter, suggesting they were focusing too much attention on the Russia investigation.

So, we are going to start there.

CNN political commentator Peter Beinart is with me. He's a contributing editor to "The Atlantic". And CNN political analyst Amy Parnes, she is a senior political correspondent for "The Hill".

And so, my first question just off of that, Amy Parnes, is does the president not understand how the FBI works?


BALDWIN: The whole, you know, Miami field office and Russia -- two separate, right?

PARNES: Also how a presidency works. I mean, you are still kind of supposed to be the consoler in chief. You're not supposed to kind of pit yourself against a federal agency again.

BALDWIN: Making about yourself.

PARNES: Right, and making it about yourself. You need to kind of, you know, talk about what happened there. And he did an OK job of doing that this week. But I think he -- people still expect him to do more. There is an outcry now there for him to do more and across the country.


PARNES: And so, kind of doing that again and repeating that and making these same mistakes that he tends to make in those moments I don't think was helpful. And I think a lot of Republicans will concede that as well.

BALDWIN: On the bombshell news from Friday, though, right? All these different indictments from Bob Mueller, the big news for election meddling and in the wake of that, not once after learning about those facts, right, from this special counsel office did he talk about any sort of retribution, punishment, acknowledgment of any of that. He seems to conflate the collusion with becoming president, and another investigation. What is that about?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The problem is this unbelievable narcissism, which is Donald Trump can only see this as a reflection of himself. He can't respond as president of the United States defending the country. He can -- look at those tweets one after another, he says, maybe they meddled or something, but I'm innocent. I won legitimately.

It's not about him. He's the president of the United States. He's supposed to defend the country from an ongoing attack. And the irony is what was Russia trying to do in 2016? To divide Americans and you see it's gift -- Trump is the gift that keeps on giving because each one of these tweets whether talking to the FBI or Hillary Clinton is furthering that division at a time when Americans should be able to at least unify around the idea that we should choose our own presidents.

BALDWIN: Shows his narcissism purely and simply.

One of the tweets, he wrote, I never said Russia did not meddle in the election. Well, yes, he did. Roll the tape.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I notice any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians, she doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.

And I know a lot about hacking and hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So, it could be somebody else.

What I said there is that I believe he believes that. And that's very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels he and Russia did not meddle in the election.


BALDWIN: And there are tweets as well as recently as November. He said he believes Putin on this.


BALDWIN: I mean, will anyone ever convince him that the meddling and the collusion or allegations of collusion are two entirely separate things.

PARNES: Right. And that's the difference here. That's why there is such an outcry right now. And they are saying, yes, a lot of people are saying how could he say this? And, you know, actually defending the Russian president and defending Russia and not really wanting to, as Peter said, kind of, you know, play the role of the president and not the campaigner in chief right now and say this is what we need to do.

I mean, the midterm elections are coming up. A lot of people are scared. A lot of states are turning to paper ballots right now because of the fear that Russians are going to --

BALDWIN: We are currently under attack if you listen to the intel chiefs. It wasn't just them. It's now, which makes what he said or has not said sort of appalling.

[14:25:00] PARNES: Right. BALDWIN: And then knowing he's in Mar-a-Lago over the weekend and

apparently he was fired up -- he's not golfing this weekend, because there was a shooting 40 miles down the road. He's getting riled up reportedly by his sons, Eric and Don Jr. He's talking to his buddy Geraldo Rivera who is giving him advice on what he should do, you know, on guns in this country.

What do you make of that?

BEINART: You know, I mean, this is just a man who is so temperamentally unfit for this job that the higher the stakes become, right, when we have some kind of really serious national tragedy or some really serious foreign policy attack, the gap between this man's emotional, mental kind of capacities, moral capacities, and what we need from a president just becomes put into such stark relief. And it's just -- it's horrifying for these kids and their families that at a moment like this, that they don't have a president who can rise to meet the challenge.

But at this point, are any of us really surprised?

BALDWIN: It's stunning. You know, the beacon of hope from being down in Florida was these young people and the fact they say they are getting in these buses this week to Tallahassee. And, you know, one day after this tragedy, they are speaking up, and calling out Congress. We are going to follow them.

Peter and Amy, thank you so very much for all of that.

Ahead here, former Trump aide Rick Gates reportedly close to cutting a deal with Robert Mueller to plead guilty and testify against Trump's former campaign chairman. What might he have to say to Robert Mueller?

We'll be right back.