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EARLY START

Trump's Weekend Tweetstorm Follows Indictments; Russia Blasts Indictments In Mueller's Probe; FBI Failed To Act On Florida Gunman Tip; Could Florida Shooting Be A Tipping Point?; Snowboard Big Air Makes Olympic Debut. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00]

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: -- Coy, see you in a little bit. EARLY START continues right now.

RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Frustration boiling over for President Trump after the latest indictment in the Russia probe. He is claiming vindication, but could trouble be brewing with the former adviser set to plead guilty?

MARQUARDT: Now anger and mounting questions after the FBI admits it failed to act on a tip about the Florida gunman. Now survivors are lashing out at the president for suggesting that the bureau was too distracted by the Russia probe.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

MARSH: I'm Rene Marsh. It is Monday, February 19th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the east. A gale force Twitterstorm this weekend even by Trump's standards, the defiant president responding harshly after the latest indictments stemming from the Russian investigation.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for meddling in the U.S. election. The indictments focused on social influence from Moscow, not collusion or obstruction, but the president tweeted the indictment proved no collusion.

MARQUARDT: The president also avoided the golf course this weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort down in Florida as a sign of respect after that Florida school shooting. Instead a source tells CNN that he watched tv and got riled up by his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., who reportedly urged him to take a harder line on the FBI, and he did.

As you can see here, the president quoted, "The deputy attorney general, a "New York Post" columnist, and a Facebook executive, all in an effort to downplay those claims of collusion with Russia."

He also tried to clarify what he meant by repeated dismissal of the Russia investigation which he has called a hoax.

MARSH: And the president finished up with this, "If it was the goal of Russia to create discord, disruption, and chaos within the United States with all of the committee hearings, investigations, and party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America."

He also took exception with this remark about Russian meddling on Saturday from his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Incontrovertible evidence, he called it. The president tweeted, "General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians." He then slammed Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.

Now a new report this morning that former campaign aide, Rick Gates, has agreed to testify against the one-time chairman of that Trump campaign, Paul Manafort. The "Los Angeles Times" reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will present a revised plea deal in federal court within the next few days. So, how are the new indictments and developments in the special counsel's investigation going over in Russia?

We have our Matthew Chance live in St. Petersburg where the Russian troll farm accused of wreaking havoc on U.S. politics is based. Matthew, it seems as the president was alluding to in that tweet there that Russians are really getting what they want, sowing that chaos.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I mean, I think there are two ways of looking at it. On the one hand, yes, I think there is a degree of satisfaction that the old cold war rival, the United States is in a point of crisis and is somewhat chaotic.

That is the view from this vantage point. There is also a lot of concern as well about what that means for the future relationship between Russia and the United States. Russia, remember, is under crippling sanctions from the European Union and the U.S.

It wants those sanctions lifted and it is, I think, you know, worried that there could be a much stronger reaction against it in the Congress and elsewhere because of the continuing allegations of U.S. election meddling.

By the way, that meddling took place allegedly according to the indictment, not just here in St. Petersburg, but actually inside that building right behind me. The Internet Research Agency known to us as the Russian troll factory here.

It is from inside that building that, you know, Russian internet provocateurs, posts as American citizens bought up advertising space to try and alter the political debate, and really just tried to sow discord in U.S. politics. Back to you.

MARQUARDT: And intelligence chiefs here in the states now saying that they expect Russia to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections. Thank you, Matthew Chance, there in St. Petersburg.

MARSH: A growing number of questions for the FBI after it acknowledged that it failed to act on a tip about the Florida gunman.

[05:05:00] The bureau says a person close to Nikolas Cruz contacted the FBI on January 5th. The caller provided information Cruz's gun ownership, his desire to kill, erratic behavior, even the potential for him to actually conduct a school shooting. But the FBI admits it did not stick to protocols for following up.

MARQUARDT: That revelation led to perhaps President Trump's most outrageous tweet of the weekend saying, "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign." We should note that the Florida tip and Russia investigation would be handled by two different parts of the FBI.

MARSH: And the president's tweet sparking outrage online including among survivors of the shooting. One tweeted, "My God, 17 of my classmates and friends are gone and you have the audacity to make this about Russia? Have a damn heart. You can keep all of your fake and meaningless thoughts and prayers."

On Wednesday, President Trump will hold what's being called a listening session with high school students and teachers.

MARQUARDT: It is not, however, known whether he will actually meet with some of those Parkland students. Some of them have told CNN that they have no interest in meeting with him and that they are focusing their anger at the president and Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID HOGG, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We have seen a government shutdown. We have seen tax reform, but nothing to save children's lives. Are you kidding me? You think we should focus on the past and not future to prevent the deaths of thousands of other children? You sicken me.

EMMA GONZALES, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Politicians who sits in (inaudible) House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing can be done to prevent this. We call b.s.!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Those students in Parkland say that they plan to organize a march in Washington for gun control next month. There are signs the shooting may finally be a tipping point for some who have influence. A top Republican donor, for example, developer, Al Hoffman, vowed to stop funding candidates and political groups that do not support an assault weapons ban. MARSH: And "Axios" is reporting that a top administration official expects Congress will take another look at a background check bill that Senator John Cornyn pushed last year after the Texas church massacre.

The funeral for 15-year-old Parkland shooting victim Luke Hoyer is today. Yesterday, 14-year-old Alex Schachter and 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg and Teacher Scott Beigel, who saved students from gunfire were all laid to rest. Four shooting victims remain in the hospital.

MARQUARDT: With all of that in mind, who should be held responsible for the FBI's failure on the Florida tip? That is coming up next.

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[05:11:53]

MARQUARDT: Welcome back to EARLY START. Now President Trump is trying to tie the ongoing Russia probe to the FBI's failure to act on a tip about the gunman in last week's Florida school shooting. The FBI has now admitted that it failed to follow through protocol. But does the president's explanation make any sense.

Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst, James Gagliano, retired supervisory special agent for the FBI. Good morning, James. Thanks so much for being with us.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Thanks for having me.

MARQUARDT: Now we saw this tweetstorm from the president over the weekend. The president has yet again attacked the FBI. This time he is linking the Florida school shooting with Russia.

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

Essentially what he's saying here is the FBI has diverted resources towards the Russia probe that he is making it sound like the FBI is a small organization. That they can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but clearly, they can handle these two big issues at the same time.

GAGLIANO: Sure, Alex. I think it is important to make a distinction between kind of what he's done in the past, which was to attack certain FBI senior leadership, which we can argue about whether or not that is appropriate or not.

But he was very clear at least to say I'm not attacking the rank and file. In this instance, it seems a little bit more unseemly because it seems clear that he is going after the FBI as an institution. Not just processes and protocols, but the people that actually do the work. And listen, I was down in Parkland, Florida. It hit us like a gut punch on Friday to learn that there might have been a mistake made. Not there might have been. The FBI director came out right away and said there was one made.

Listen, I laud his transparency. The FBI is made up of about 35,000 different employees. It is an institution that has got a proud and fierce history, but again, it is made up of human beings and human beings are the fallible.

Whether or not it was a system failure meaning human beings that program to put together the processes and protocols and we need to fix that to make sure this doesn't happen again or whether or not it was an individual failing, which I'm certain the FBI director will get to the heart of it and fix.

I just say this, leaders set the culture of an agency. The federal government and the executive branch is made up of 2 million people. So, if you want to hold somebody accountable, if any does something wrong, any of those 2 million people, the president should be held accountable.

So, I think Florida's governor, Scott's calls for the FBI director be removed, I don't think it's appropriate. I understand his visceral and palpable pain, but I think the FBI Director Wray needs to get to the bottom of this. Congress is going to be looking into it and then let's move on from there and try to make sure it doesn't happen.

MARSH: So, quickly, before we move on, we want to punctuate to be clear. People handling the tips and calls coming into the FBI is totally separate than people involved in the Russia investigation which is an independent operation. Is that right?

GAGLIANO: To your point, Rene, there are 450 some odd different federal violations the FBI works. They can walk and chew gum at the same time.

MARSH: So, now, we know in this Florida shooting case that there were multiple failures. The school was aware of the problems. We now know Florida's Children Services were aware even closed an investigation.

[05:15:12] The FBI got this tip. We know local police had been to the house more than 30 times. How do all of these people who seem to have received so many signs essentially do nothing? Is this an issue of there is no vehicle connecting all of these agencies? What do you see as to how this was able to fall through the cracks?

GAGLIANO: Well, first of all, I think we need to make sure that we don't, as some people look at it in a vacuum, because each of the things are independent. You know, the Second Amendment, First Amendment protections for free speech, HIPAA and FERPA considerations, which means, you know, the right to privacy.

So, that if you go to get mental health counselling or if you're in school and you go to a school counsellor for issues of depression that those things are protected. Sometimes FERPA you cannot even share that information with parents.

Now I respect and understand the right to privacy. Just as with the Second Amendment, I understand its utility, but I also think that we need to take a look at these things and understand that they don't operate in a vacuum and try to connect them better.

Yes, the FBI, state and local law enforcement need to do a better job of connecting the dots. We endured that after 9/11, looking back and taking some hard looks at what we need to do better to make sure we do the appropriate information sharing. But it's a very nuanced and in context type of situation here.

MARQUARDT: Turning quickly to the Russia investigation, the president has alluded to the fact that after these indictments came down that they prove that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign because this was specially about these Russians. But we don't know what else is coming. Do you have any sense of what could Mueller could be working on, what could come down the pike?

GAGLIANO: To the president, I would caution him to say that this proves anything, the indictment, and I think Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general made this very clear. He just described what was in the four corners of that document.

He didn't go outside of the four corners of that document. We do not know what the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and his team have. I will say this. I have been a cautious skeptic of the Russia collusion investigation from the beginning.

Not that it doesn't need to be there, not that we don't need to be looking into this, because if you actually go back to the 1950s, J. Edgar Hoover, who is the FBI director this time wrote a book called "Masters of Deceit" about Russian interferance in our political system.

This was in the '50s. This is under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. That's how far it goes, not 2014 under President Obama, but all the way back that far. The Russians goal and other hostile foreign state actors as well, their goal is to prove that democracy doesn't work.

It is a dysfunctional entity and I think that is what we are showing with all the fighting right now. I think that is what we are proving.

MARQUARDT: Quickly, were you surprised that none of these indictments had anything to do with the Trump campaign but were more generally about Russia specifically and the election?

GAGLIANO: No. I'll be careful (inaudible) caveat this and I'm not fence sitting, but I'll say something else could come. People are talking about another shoe to drop, but in that document, unwitting accomplices means that there was no intent there.

Because you have to prove intent for something, you know, to be part of a crime. Crime is two things. It is the act itself and the (inaudible), the mental state that you were thinking about the crime and you had intent. And this was very specific not to say it. It doesn't mean it is not coming, but where we are right now, we don't have it.

MARSH: All right. Thank you so much.

GAGLIANO: Thanks for having me.

MARQUARDT: All right. The U.S. women's hockey team has set its sights on the gold medal again. Coy Wire has all of the action from Pyeongchang coming up next.

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[15:23:10]

MARSH: The U.S. women's hockey team is heading back to the gold medal game for the third straight Winter Olympics. Coy Wire has more from Pyeongchang.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rene and Alex. The U.S. women have medaled in hockey in every Winter Olympics, but they have not been able to win gold since 1998. Can they capture it here in Pyeongchang? They didn't mess around. They put a beat down on Finland.

They jumped to an early lead. A goal from Gigi Marchand. They cruised to a 5-0 victory and (inaudible) making the University of Minnesota proud. Two goals in this one. Back-to-back gold medal round for the third straight Olympics having lost to Canada the last two games. They face Canada again or they get the Olympic athletes from Russia.

How about this story? Thirteen days after an emergency appendectomy, American Buzzlighter, Justin Olsen pushing an 800-pound bobsled down the track with his teammate. They are currently in 12th place overall.

Just three days after Justin got here to the games, he had a short pain, getting a workout. He's baffled on to the ground. He didn't know if he would be able to compete. Olsen is back. The two-man final runs are later this morning Eastern Time. Olsen's best shot at a medal in four-man competition later this week. That's the U.S.'s best event.

New sport in the Olympics making a big splash. Snowboarding big air. Riders speed down the ramp over a half a football field long to see how many tricks they can do before they land safely. Pyeongchang has the biggest ramp in the world. It should be jaw dropping moments.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist, Jamie Anderson, leads the way for the three American women who qualified for the finals, which are later this week.

[05:25:06] All right. Let's get an EARLY START on the medal count. Norway with 26 overall. Germany has 18. Canada with 16. Netherlands sitting with 13. The Olympic athletes from Russia round out the top five with 11. No golds, though. The Americans still trying to crack into the top five. Half of the medals of the ten are gold. We will see if the U.S. women can get the job done later today and round up the total count for the U.S.

MARSH: We are counting on the women. Hope so.

MARQUARDT: The U.S. trailing just behind the Russian athletes who don't even get to perform under their own flag. Thank you, Coy.

New indictments in the Russia investigation spark a Twitter tirade from the president over the weekend. Now he is getting an earful after tweeting that that the Russia probe is why the FBI missed a big tip about the Florida shooter. That's next.

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