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President Trump Blames President Obama for Russian Interference, Tweets Out-of-Context Quote; Florida State House Rejects AR-15 Style Weapons Ban; School Shooting Survivors Demand Action On Gun Control; Searching For Americans Targeted By Russian Trolls; The Unwitting: The Trump Supporters Used By Russia; Are There Still Russian Agents Active In The US?; When In Doubt, Trump Blames Obama. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

Ever since Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians in connection with the attack on the 2016 election, President Trump has been tweeting. Tweeting about himself, tweeting about NASCAR, about Oprah Winfrey. He's been tweeting about everything but the actual threat of Russian meddling itself and what to do about it.

He's also tweeted a whole lot of lies. He's tweeted about how the indictment clears him and his campaign, it doesn't. He's tweeted about how it says that Russian meddling did not affect the election's outcome. The indictment says nothing about that.

He says about the meddling, when he's even admitting there was any, that it wasn't really about getting him elected. The intelligence community says it mostly was. And the Mueller indictments do too.

The president has even suggested that if it were not for the FBI investigating Russia, last week's school shooting might have been prevented. Four funerals were held today.

On top of that, having suggested at times that there wasn't any Russian meddling, the president has blamed former President Obama for not doing enough to stop it. In short, he's made the acts of information warfare against American democracy by this country's chief nuclear adversary about anything but that very real and still ongoing threat.

And now, after making its new revelation all about exonerating himself and blaming others, he's taken things further and his message is now being parroted by his press secretary Sarah Sanders. This is what she said this afternoon.


2SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Tougher in his first year than Obama in eight years. On Russia, her remarks echoing a presidential tweet just a few hours before. Quote, I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total fake news.

Now, it always seems to come back to his predecessors, doesn't it, or to Hillary Clinton. A bit later in the program, we'll hear what a former director of the CIA and NSA says about the president's blame. But, right now, let's do what the president suggests, let's actually look at the facts. The Obama administration began with that famous attempt to reset the U.S./Russia relationship, which quickly soured for a variety of reasons, and certainly included a number of missteps on the part of the Obama administration.

Plenty of people argue Obama underestimated Russia and didn't do enough to thwart them. It is a valid argument. The Russian efforts to interfere with the electoral process did not begin until 2014, according to Department of Justice, and increased with the run-up to the 2016 campaign.

And while the response to that was also far from perfect, and you could argue it was insufficient, President Obama did, in fact, take action. We and others have reported on this extensively. The intelligence community reaching a consensus that Russians were interfering in the election and doing it by the summer of 2016 to benefit candidate Trump.

The president confronting Vladimir Putin about it at the G-20 summit in September, letting Putin know we were aware of the attacks but not trumpeting the threat publicly because ironically enough, then- candidate Trump had begun suggesting if he lost, it was because the election was rigged against him. So, President Obama kept quieter than perhaps he should have out of concern he'd affect the outcome.

Today, President Trump returned the favor with these tweets misrepresenting something President Obama said about candidate Trump's rigging elections. Quoting President Obama, the president tweeted, there's no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America's elections, there's no evidence that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time, and so, I'd invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes.

The second tweet continues, the President Obama quote just before election, that's because he thought crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn't want to rock the boat. When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems.

Again, keeping them honest, President Obama was actually not talking about Russia at all in that statement, he was scolding candidate Trump for suggesting the Democrats or others in this country might be rigging the election against him.

Also in September of 2016, top intelligence officials briefed Republican and Democratic congressional leaders but met resistance from Senate Majority Leader McConnell, perhaps for partisan reasons, but perhaps simply because he like President Obama did not want to risk interfering with the will of the voters.

In addition, after his victory, those same officials briefed President-elect Trump on what the Russians did. And as a parting shot, perhaps, President Obama ordered the closing of two Russian diplomatic compounds and the expulsion of Russian personnel. That's what President Obama did. And you can argue it was not enough.

As for President Trump, he's spent nearly every day since his inauguration downplaying the threat. There have been to the best of our knowledge no cabinet-level meetings on Russian meddling nor any specific presidential marching orders to the people fighting the still ongoing threat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the president directed you and your agency to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Directed by the president?

[20:05:00] WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president.


COOPER: That's FBI Director Christopher Wray, President Trump's hand- picked FBI director just recently.

And here's the president a few months ago talking about his encounter with Vladimir Putin on Russian meddling. Quote: Every time he sees me, he says, I didn't do that, and I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.

The president walked that back saying he only believes that Putin believes it. Still, the instances are vanishingly rare of this president simply saying what his own intelligence community says, that Russia interfered in the last election, and is still at it now, which is strange when you consider how much weight the president, and before that candidate Trump, put on naming your adversary.


TRUMP: To solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. The name is there. It's radical Islamic terror.

We have a president that refuses to use the term.

Another event happens, I keep saying, I wonder if he's going to say it this time? And he doesn't say it. He won't say it. He won't say it.

He doesn't want to talk about it. He doesn't want to mention the term. He doesn't want to use the term. We have a leader that doesn't even want to discuss the name of the


And you can't solve a problem if you refuse to talk about what the problem is. Anyone who will not name our enemy is not fit to lead our country.


COOPER: Words to remember.

Joining me now is former Pentagon press secretary and State Department spokesman during the Obama administration, Admiral John Kirby. And David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents.

David, I mean, you see Sarah Sanders trying to clean up the president's tweet from this weekend, foremost his attempt to use the Florida massacre to degrade the FBI's participation in the Russia probe. Is there any excuse, any valid explanation for that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. None. None that we've heard of, anyway.

I thought a CNN viewer put it well this weekend, Anderson. Our high schoolers are looking like leaders, and our leaders are looking like high schoolers. We're an increasing threat to our democracy because the president, the White House, and the Congress have not tried to mobilize the forces of the U.S. government and state and local governments to stop this obvious threat to our new election, which is just seven months away.

You know, the lead story in the "New York Times" today is how bots jumped on these stories over the weekend and put out a variety of stories, you know, drawing upon extreme views and trying to pit us against each other as a people. They are succeeding at that. This is a Russian-led exercise. And there's no excuse that I can think of that -- which would discourage the U.S. government from doing more, every government I've been involved with, which goes back a long way.

This would have been a huge warning to the workings of our democracy and they would have put every resource possible to stop the Russians from dividing us as a people and essentially eroding a trust in the country and institutions.

COOPER: And, Admiral Kirby, I mean, according to all the reporting, the president, you know, his intelligence briefers, don't want to bring up Russia because they think by bringing it up, they will offend him because he takes everything related to Russia personally, he thinks it's all an attempt to raise doubts about the legitimacy of his election.

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, he's making it all about himself. That's the last thing. I defer to Mr. Gergen who's obviously has more White House experience than I do, but it's the last thing you think you want your president and your commander-in-chief to do, is to take things personally. He's got to look after the welfare of the country. I've been reading

Harry Truman's memoirs. And today, I read where he says, you can't defend the country, you can't protect American citizens, if you're disengaging and ignoring the world. And he certainly seems to be willing to ignore this aspect of the world around him, which is that Russia is an adversary.

As I watched your lead-in, which was excellent, I kept wondering, has he read his own national security strategy? Because t lays it all out there, about what Russia's really up to. Just today, the attorney general announced that he's standing up a task force to go look at cyber security for the midterm elections. I sure as hell hope that they've been doing something before today, that this -- because this seems like just a PR stunt to me.

I sure hope they've been doing a lot more work already to try to get ahead of this, because David's right, the Russians are not going to quit, they're very good at this, and we can expect them to be fully committed to it going forward.

COOPER: And, David, I mean, the idea that the Obama administration should have done more, you know, it's certainly a valid point. Former Vice President Biden said flatly it was congressional Republicans who blocked a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference before the election and that essentially, President Obama's hands were tied. But it would have looked like a partisan announcement without Republicans on board.

Yet, President Trump doesn't acknowledge that at all.

GERGEN: I agree. And I think you're absolutely right, that it's very arguable, in fact, I think in retrospect the Obama administration did not do enough to stop the Russians, starting right there when they went into Ukraine.

[20:10:03] But especially in these elections now, which has this cloud over these past elections. But that is so -- you know, there's so much looking in the rear-view mirror as opposed to looking at what's ahead. What's ahead is we have a big national election with huge stakes coming up in seven months. And if, if the Republicans carry the house, there is going to be a lot of speculation on the Democratic side that this was fake news and the Russians really determined the outcome, which is not where we want to be.

And, of course, if the Democrats win, then the Republicans are going to claim it's CNN and other fake news, mainstream organizations that have cost them the House. That is an extraordinarily divisive way to approach an election when the country just seems to be under such pressure and people are so unhappy and so disgusted with what they're seeing.

COOPER: Admiral Kirby, I mean, when the sitting president of the United States tries to blame his predecessor for something his campaign is under investigation for, when he publicly undermines via Twitter his own national security adviser on Russia and the White House brushes off the president's tweet as just an addendum, what message does that send to the world?

KIRBY: It's reinforcing to foreign leaders, Anderson, what they've already come to believe about this administration, that America does not -- is not interested in leading. Not interested in engaging. That we have a chaotic and unrealistic foreign policy agenda, if you can even call it an agenda. And that they're going to have to go on their own and not count on American leadership going forward.

And that's really a sad statement when you consider that for 70 years, we led the international world order that we have enjoyed, the multi- lateral institutions that have helped try to move progress forward. We're just pulling ourselves out of that we're abdicating our leadership. I think when he does what he's been doing the last few days, it just reinforces for foreign leaders they can't count on us.

COOPER: I mean, Admiral Kirby, you were in the Obama administration. The idea that the Trump administration has done more to confront Russia, to you, does that pass the smell test?

KIRBY: No, it doesn't.

I agree with David. Look, it's fair to do the forensics and look back and see if President Obama could have done more in those waning months. I think those are fair questions. But when you look at the whole sum of what he did, everything that Trump is doing now, and it ain't much, builds on what President Obama started.

In 2014, it was President Obama who, who at Wales pushed for 2 percent defense spending for NATO. In 2014, at the Crimea annexation and invasion, it was President Obama who put in place a series of military moves that we're still doing today. More troops on the continent, more robust training to try to pushback on President Putin. You mentioned things he did in the lead-up to the election when we found out they were election meddling, he slapped more sanctions on Russia, in addition to the sanctions he slapped on after Ukraine.

And, oh, by the way, it was the White House pushing for these sanctions, not today, which is Congress pushing for them and the White House not implementing them.


KIRBY: So, yes, he was very robust and there's very little that Trump has done that hasn't been just building on what President Obama started.

COOPER: Admiral Kirby, David Gergen, thank you.

Just ahead, the Parkland shooting, efforts to paint some of the students pushing for change as an FBI dupe and even crisis actors. It sounds like Sandy Hook conspiracy theories all over again. We're keeping them honest.

Also, the student who watched as gun control legislation she and others were pushing for was defeated in Florida.


SHERYL ACQUAROLI, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: The next death on someone with an assault rifle here in Florida, is going to be on them, it's going to be them and it's going to be their fault that those people are dead.



[20:17:15] COOPER: Even survivors of the Parkland school shooting have been standing up and speaking out and demanding action to prevent the next mass killing. They've also just gotten a bitter reminder that activism is neither easy nor simple.

Late this afternoon, in Florida's capital Tallahassee, the statehouse rejected a ban on AR-15 style weapons and large-capacity magazines.


ACQUAROLI: The next deaths of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them. It's going to be on them and it's going to be their fault that those people are dead.


COOPER: That was Sheryl Acquaroli. She joins us, along with classmate Spencer Blum.

Sheryl, I know you were in the gallery when the Florida House voted down the motion to take up the ban on assault weapons. I'm wondering what went through your mind when you heard that?

ACQUAROLI: Well -- I wasn't surprised. It wasn't -- it didn't come as a shock to me. It was just so heartbreaking to see how many names were up there, especially after it was my school, you know, and just seeing the amount of people who had no concern. It seemed almost heartless how they just immediately pushed the button to say no. And it was just -- I knew that it wasn't going to go through, but I guess I didn't expect how many people didn't want safety with guns.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Spencer, the final vote wasn't even close. It lost 36-71. I'm wondering for you, what message do you think that sends to those like yourself affected last week?

SPENCER BLUM, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: You know, personally, I think that the people who are our representatives, we elected them to represent us in this state legislature. And that's how they want to represent us, the people who just went through a school shooting and survived a school shooting? That's unacceptable. That's not representing us. We need to get new representatives who will represent us and who share the same views that we do.

COOPER: Sheryl, I mean, to those who voted against the motion, I guess, what would you want to say to them, if you could?

ACQUAROLI: The next death of someone with an AR-15 is going to be on you.

COOPER: You really believe that?

ACQUAROLI: Yes. I do believe it, because they had a chance to stop it today. If there is another mass shooting, it's going to be their fault. If there is another mass shooting here in Florida, it's going to be their fault because they had a chance today. They had a chance to stop it.

[20:20:01] And they threw that chance away.

COOPER: Spencer, I understand Florida's governor, Rick Scott, just announced at a roundtable he's holding that he plans to put forth a gun policy proposal on Friday, in his words, to move the needle forward. He did this after listening to school safety leaders, he says, and Parkland students. It's not clear what he actually means by moving the needle forward.

But I'm wondering if you trust the governor to do anything significant in addressing gun control?

BLUM: Not in the slightest. All politicians said that, we're going to do something about this. They said it after Sandy Hook. Oh, this is such a tragedy. Never again. Las Vegas, oh my god, so horrible.

But after all these tragedies that all had an AR-15, now it's our school. And if they really cared and really wanted to do something, they had their chance. And today was another chance. And their chance is gone. It shows that they don't care about us.

COOPER: Sheryl, have you thought about what you plan to do now in terms of activism? Because obviously seeing this today, seeing it up close, I know you said you didn't expect it to go through. But, you know, the sheer numbers of votes against it, if it -- does it make you less -- does it make you not want to continue activism? Does it make you more determined? What happens now?

ACQUAROLI: It made me so much more determined to become a true activist. 2I'm going to do everything in my power to get those around me to vote correctly. Vote the people who don't represent us out of office.

COOPER: It sounds like what happened at your school has sort of changed your perspective or changed perhaps the trajectory of your career what you're thinking about for your life. Do you think it's fair to say that?

ACQUAROLI: Yes, definitely. I wanted to be an artist up until now. But now, I'm thinking of going into politics, which is something I never thought I would do, up until two weeks ago.

COOPER: Sheryl and Spencer, I know it's been a long couple of days for you. I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

ACQUAROLI: Thank you.

BLUM: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead, speaking of kids at Stoneman Douglas, one of them is coming under attack from right wing Websites for criticizing President Trump in the wake of the shootings. That is only part of the story. A lot of conspiracy theories being hatched.

More when we continue.


COOPER: There were four more funerals in Florida today. Four funerals of children, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed in last week's shooting.

Cara Loughran, she was 14 years old. Gina Montalto was also 14. Carmen Schentrup, she was, 16. And Peter Wang, he was 15.

The U.S. Army is awarding heroism medals to Peter Wang and two other victims, Alaina Petty and Martin Duque Anguiano. Those three were all students in the school's junior reserve officer training corps program, ROTC.

Separately, West Point says it will posthumously offer acceptance into a future class for Peter Wang, something his family says was a lifelong dream. This while students from the school were bussing to the state capitol, Tallahassee, in Florida, for the gun control vote. The "Florida Sun Sentinel" says many of the kids went straight to the busses from the funerals.

Something else has been happening as these kids bury their friends, some sick conspiracy theories have been cropping up. This is one of them, an aide to a Florida state representative e-mailed out a picture of a CNN interview with students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez with "The Tampa Bay Times" Washington bureau chief who then tweeted it out. The aide wrote, from his state e-mail account no less, quote, both kids in the picture are not students here, but actors that travel to various crises when they happen.

The aide is named Benjamin Kelly. His boss is Republican Sean Harrison, who had Kelly fired immediately after. The right thing to do, certainly. The whole idea of crisis actors is an accusation we've seen pop-up time and time again from alt-right and far-right conservative and conspiracy Websites.

The fact that what would possess Benjamin Kelly to say that in the first place is stunning, where he would get such a ridiculous idea. And as I said, the reality is most recently from the Sandy Hook shootings. The whole sick crisis actors business came up there as well. And just as a reminder, 20 young children lost their lives there, first graders and six adults.

To be clear, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez are not actors, they are students who lived through the parkland school attack and are now empowered to fight for change.

David has been on CNN and yes, the 17-year-old has been critical of the president, but he's also said this.


DAVID HOGG, SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: My message to lawmakers in Congress is, please, take action. Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful. And they help you get reelected and everything. But what's more important is actual action and pertinent action that results in saving thousands of children's lives. Please take action.


COOPER: Well, that was way too much, it seems, for a right-wing Website called "Gateway Pundit". Its piece ended its comments with this, quote, why would the child of an FBI agent be used as a pawn for anti-Trump rhetoric and antigun legislation because the FBI is only looking to curb your constitutional rights and increase their power.

We've seen similar moves by them many times over. This is just another disgusting example of it.

Not to be outdone, another extremist Website, this one called "True Pundit" also chimed in. Quote: Outspoken Trump-hating school survivor, son of FBI agent, MSM helps prop up incompetent bureau.

MSM, obviously, is us, mainstream media. Why we'd want to, quote, prop up the FBI is not exactly clear. And for the record, I never got my mainstream media memo to do it.

Anyway, "True Pundit" also said this about 17-year-old David Hogg. If Hogg knew the shooter would snap, as he and other students have professed, perhaps he could have told his father about it, oh but wait, his father was in the FBI. It would not have mattered anyway. That's the funny thing about the limelight, kid. Often the light can come crashing down on your head.

Charming but not actually the end. Someone calling themselves Thomas Paine retweeted the whole "True Pundit" article and this part's important, because while we'd normally be reluctant to give these conspiracy theories any oxygen at all, it's what happened next that makes it newsworthy, because the person who hit the "like" button on the Thomas Paine tweet was none other than the president's son, Don Jr.

We'd love to talk to Don Jr. about why he did that, why he is by extension attacking these kids who just buried their friends. But it turns out he's in India promoting his father's real estate empire. So, no Don Jr. tonight.

But David Hogg and his father Kevin, who, by the way, actually was in the FBI, could make time to talk about it.

David, Kevin, appreciate you being with us.

David, first of all, that Donald Trump Jr. is liking tweets espousing a conspiracy theory involving you and your dad, I'm wondering what goes through your mind when you hear that?

DAVID HOGG, STUDENT, STONEMAN DOUGLAS: I'm just so sorry that these people have lost their faith in America, because I know I certainly haven't. The fact that these people refuse to believe that something like this could happen is something that all of us don't want to believe but the sad truth is that it is. These people saying this is absolutely disturbing and I'm not an actor in any sense, way, shape or form. I'm a son of a former FBI agent and that is true. But as such, it is also true that I went -- that I got Stoneman Douglas High School. And I was a witness to this, I'm not a crisis actor. I'm somebody that had to witness this and live through this. And I continue to have to do that. But I'm also that -- it just -- it's unbelievable to me that these people are even saying this. And the fact that Donald Trump Jr. liked that post is disgusting to me.

But it also false in terms of the sense that these people keep saying that I'm anti-Second Amendment, I'm not. I would love if -- I want every American to be able to own a gun that has a mentally stable mind. A person that has a credible background that doesn't have any previous like major convictions. And so many that talk and go and commit this atrocities, because those are the people that are at fault here. I do not want to take away the constitutional rights of American citizen and the same way, that with famous speech you can't say something that causes direct danger, I want that to be the same way like, you know, you can't say there is a fire in a movie -- in a credit movie theater. I want us to be the same way the Second Amendment. People can still use the Second Amendment. We just want to have more safety checks in place to make sure this insane people don't get these guns.

COOPER: David, I get my -- hesitate to do this, but I want you to be able to respond, I want just read you part of another tweet that Donald Trump Jr. like. It read, "Could it be that this student is running cover for his dad who works as an FBI agent at the Miami field office which box the -- tracking down the man behind the Valentine Day massacre. Just wondering just connecting some dots". Again, the President's son tweeted that out or liked that. I just want to again give you a chance to respond to that sort of thing.

D. HOGG: The fact that these people are being criticize -- critical of me as a witness and personally as a victim to this incident and having to witness this and live through it again and again, it's unbelievable. And the fact that some of the students at Stoneman Douglas High School, are showing more maturity and political action than many of our like did officials and testament to how disgusting and broken our political system is right now and America, but we're trying to fix that. Because, unlike those people that are tweeting that stuff about me and unlike the people that are tweeting stuff about my dad, I haven't lost hope in America and my dad certainly hasn't either, because I know that we are all -- that the people they are hard workers and I acknowledge that my dad was a former agent. I'm not acting on anybody's behalf, I think it's hilarious that people think that my dad literally walks a dog every day. And just talks about that. Half the time I come home finding him fallen like his on asleep and he's snuggling with my dog watching Netflix. KEVIN HOGG, FATHER, SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: There's no way, I don't know how they believe that there is such a thing. My career has been perfect I've gone it through. I was a navy pilot before, then I was an elementary school teacher, I have a California credential. I move down I got to the FBI and I was very proud of it and I still am. The FBI has invited me a chance to go Southeast Asia, with these trips were would teach these other countries, Dhaka, Bangladesh, all over Southeast Asia and the Philippines, the Cambodia. These crime scene management courses, come back at work and these major cases, one of the tweets or something that went through here, I saw it claimed that -- sorry, I don't know. It claimed that I was involved with something. And there is no way. I don't know why they would say that.

COOPER: Yes. Kevin, I'm wondering what you think of your son's activism. I mean he's incredibly well-spoken. I know he is a student journalist at the school. He actually recorded interviews with some of his fellow students with the girl named Isabelle during -- or while they were in hiding which I saw, which I thought it showed incredible presence of mind and as somebody who, you know, is always looking for future journalist, he seem certainly to have that as a possible career ahead of him. I'm wondering what you think of your -- of your son getting involved in this way?

K. HOGG: Well, David has always been someone to learn at his own time pace and it take over the situation and move out and move with the things with it. For example, I bought him a Nikon camera when he was younger, hoping he wouldn't break it and he never did break it. But to him, that's a piece of responsibility, he's learning how to do with responsibility. He's carried that through, he is very successful with anything he's chose to do. And he's very driven. He is much more well-spoken than I am. But, you know, there is nothing significant than us ribbing each other all the time, you know, how you doing or.

[20:35:04] D. HOGG: I -- yes, I just think that I have to take this to him, because our politicians won't. It's disgusting the fact that so many people think that this is true and it's honestly pretty sad that people lost so much faith in America. I support the Second Amendment but in the same way that I support the freedom of speech. I don't want people putting in a clear and present danger involving the Second Amendment. Because we have a right to live just like we have a right to bare arms.

COOPER: Well David Hogg, Kevin Hogg, I appreciate your time tonight, I'm sorry your coming or tackling in this way. And I wish you the best both of you, thank you.

K. HOGG: I'm not worried about it. They can bring it on. It's a joke.


K. HOGG: They want to ask questions, I hope they do.

COOPER: Yes, well --

K. HOGG: Thank you, sir.

COOPER: Gentleman, thank you both. I appreciate it.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow night when the students of Stoneman Douglas speak out in a live CNN town hall called Stand Up, hosted by Jake Tapper, it airs tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. eastern.

Just ahead now, there have been multiple indictment, just who are the so-called unwitting Americans whom Russian trolls allegedly targeted during the 2016 presidential election campaign? CNN's Drew Griffin went looking for answers.



GOLDFARB: The end. And please, please report that I don't believe that that's bull (INAUDIBLE).



COOPER: When the Mueller indictments came down last Friday, a key element was that Russian trolls allegedly succeeded and enticing unwilling Americans to take part on election hearing including supporting candidacy of Donald Trump.

[20:40:00] CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin went looking for some for some those Americans and here's what he found.



GRIFFIN (voice-over): She may well be one of the unwitting Americans, Trump supporters who help the Russian internet trolls infiltrate U.S. communities by spreading Russian made messages without knowing it. Then Florine Goldfarb who still runs that team Trump Broward Facebook page, thinks that's all BS, right now at the timing of when Robert Mueller decided to release his indictment.

GOLDFARB: I think it's a cover up, that's my opinion --

GRIFFIN (on-camera): What?

GOLDFARB: -- what they have blundered on the shooting that was done at the high school.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): One group the Russians operated under was called Being Patriotic. Calling themselves an online community. They were actually Russian internet trolls according to the FBI, trying to direct unwitting Americans to holding rallies, posting Russian made anti-Hillary Clinton messages, even telling them what to print on their homemade signs. According to the indictment, the Russians under the online name Being Patriotic encouraging Trump supporters to stage a flash mob on august 20th. And the Team Trump Broward group responded, on Goldfarb posted the information for the Fort Lauderdale flash mob on the Facebook page she still runs. Co-chair of the Team Trump Broward, Dolly Ramp (ph) was there, holding a crooked Hillary sign. Dolly Ramp (ph) wouldn't talk to CNN, he husband told us by phone, we are disgusting and not to bother them.

Florine Goldfarb told us we are fake news part of the cover.

(on-camera): But what part of it in instance that coverup? What -- are you saying that's not true or what?

GOLDFARB: The Russians, I don't care if they were involved or not. That to me is the least important thing.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): But they were involved with you, did you guys know that?

GOLDFARB: They weren't involved with us. Just you know, just make sure that you report it correctly that, you know --

GRIFFIN (on-camera): But you guys were involved with Being Patriotic, right?

GOLDFARB: Very, very patriotic, but not --

GRIFFIN (on-camera): Being Patriotic was the group that contacted and helped organize somebody's activities that you posted on your own Facebook account.

GOLDFARB: Those were legitimate.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): Those were Russians.

GOLDFARB: They were not Russians, I don't go with the Russians. Come on.


GRIFFIN (on-camera): That group was Russian.

GOLDFARB: I having nothing to do with the Russians.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): Well apparently you did.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Even though the indictment says the Russians organized the rally, Ms. Goldfarb say she never communicated with any Russians and no one at any of her events were anything but Americans for Trump. The Russians pretending to be Trump organizers also reached out to Harry Miller at (INAUDIBLE) Beach, Florida, paying him to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in prison uniform, he did just that, appearing at rallies. On Friday, Miller who now lives in Pennsylvania tweeted, this is the cage the Russians paid for. By phone, he says he learned about his unwitting involvement from the FBI and now believes it was Russians who called him on the phone and paid him between 500 to $1,000 to build this cage.

HARRY MILLER, TRUMP SUPPORTER (via telephone): That could be embarrassing had that beautiful website, they very supportive of the candidate and there was nothing, nothing at all to lend you to think that it was anything other than people trying to support a candidate.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The Russians weren't just recruiting unwitting Trump supporters. As CNN reported last October, a group calling itself Black Fist turned out to be Russians trying to infiltrate black communities and seed social unrest. Other groups were encourage by Russian internet trolls, the holding protest against police for and against immigrants, sometimes encouraging both at the same location to increase the possibility of violence. The indictment also reveals this post election protest outside New York's Trump Tower was organized by Russians on Facebook, it grew so large even CNN covered it.

Micah White one of the original Occupy Wall Street organizers says, he believes he was contacted by Russian trolls in May of 2016. He worries about the long-term effects.

MICAH WHITE, CO-CREATOR, OCCUPY WALL STREET: If it was true that a Russian created activist group is indistinguishable from an American created activist group, that will make -- that will have negative impacts on abilities to create social movements, that are positive, that actually benefit ourselves and that some sort of foreign power. So that --

GRIFFIN (on-camera): People will always be wondering, well is -- is this a real event?

WHITE: Right. And I think that may have been part of the goal of the Russian thing.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ms. Florine Goldfarb, there is no Russian thing, it is all as she repeatedly told us BS.

GOLDFARB: BS, and please report that I don't believe that, that's bullshit. I know all the people that with me, OK. They were at my meetings, they're all Trump supporters, OK?

GRIFFIN (on-camera): But did you realize that you guys were in communication electronically with Russians?

GOLDFARB: Not me, not me. I don know.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): You were posting stuff on Facebook.

GOLDFARB: Hillary Clinton was and so was all her bandits.

[20:45:10] GRIFFIN (on-camera): But you were in-charge with the Facebook, right. You were posting and reposting almost word for word the information that was coming out of this internet research agency --

GOLDFARB: No, bye -bye.

GRIFFIN (on-camera): -- in st. Petersburg. You don't believe that?

GOLDFARB: No. It's bullshit. Thank you.


COOPER: So clearly, she does not believe the Russians were involved, thus the Department of Justices they were. The guy who built the Hillary Clinton cage, he does.

GRIFFIN: Absolutely. He spend five to six hours with the FBI, he told us. He's convinced it was Russians now that he was talking on the phone, not Trump people. He actually told me though the accent sounded Muslim to him whatever that is. That's what he said. And he applauded what he believed at first were these first generation immigrants supporting Trump. He was fooled Anderson, no doubt about it.

COOPER: And he still supports the President obviously?

GRIFFIN: He does, but not as enthusiastic as you might assumed. He tempered his comments on the phone saying, he likes how Trump has restructure the economy. He struggled to support some of the hostile comments the President keeps making but explained to me, that he says, that's how blue-collar America talks and Anderson, you and I don't understand that.

COOPER: That's what he's saying. All right, Drew, thanks very much.

With me now, retired CI chief of Russia operations and CNN national security analyst Steve Hall.

Steve, I mean these Russian individuals may have been named in the Department of Justice's indictment. But we know which Russian interference doesn't end with them. And there's Russian bots still pushing device of hashtags, apparently account on social media even now.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Anderson, I mean it's -- as it's always has been a multiprong attack. And now that we're learning more, thanks to the work that's being done by DOJ and Mueller's team and other. We're seeing exactly how deep this goes. 13 people actually dispatched to come to the United States. This is not a virtual thing that's done online. I mean for context, you know, imagine that we're -- and this is pre World War II. and the President of the United States finds out that a bunch of Germans came to, you now, the United States to try to find out information about what was going on here, our infrastructure, how to make us face (ph) with each other.

I mean what FDR have said, he'll said, well, you know, what was my predecessor doing about this. A lot of people say, active wars is too strong and it's too hyperbolic, I'm not sure that it is. This is foreign agents dispatch to this country to try to in act -- I think an act to at least hostility if not war. Weaken our democracy and that's really serious stuff that needs to be done, more needs to be done and I'm not sure a whole lot is being done and so I fully anticipate it, you know, in the future, the election is later this year, we're going to see more of it.

COOPER: That -- I mean that's obviously in the criticism of President Trump that he has not sort of spearheading the efforts, the FBI says they're doing stuff, but they have not been directed by the President specifically. The reporting is that there has been no cabinet level meeting about this. Some Trump supporters says well look, that doesn't matter as long as Mike Pompeo the CIA is focusing on this and the FBI is focusing on this. Do you believe that, you know, while individual efforts from the CIA or the FBI that there does need to be coordination from the top, from the President?

HALL: Sure. I mean, you know, if for no other reason, then symbolically to the men and women who are working at CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security, you know, they need to know that there is not, you know, any wishy washiness at the top. Look, folks at CIA are going to continue to collect and analyze of the intelligence that is -- that is obtained with regard to Russia. The FBI in-depth (ph) his law enforcement role as well as its intelligence role will continue do their thing. Because these people are professionals.

But you have to have again basic leadership. This comes close to being a time of war. I mean this is -- we know that a hostile nation is now engaging in asymmetric warfare by using their own phraseology. These are things they know they can't go against this conventionally, you NATO was too strong, nobody wants to get into a nuclear war. This is Russia's new version of a war against the United States and western democracy writ large. And to have the leader of the free world, President Trump sort to seat back and take it all personally because, oh my god, we don't want to talk about something that might imply that I wasn't legitimately elected, I can't risk that. I can't risk the rest of the country, but I can't risk that, it's outrageous.

COOPER: It is amazing how personally he takes it. I mean he portrays himself as a leader of strength but it is a sign of weakness that frankly can be exploited by others that he can't separate himself from you know, what should be done for the country. He can't separate it as being criticism of himself and delegitimizing his election, which no one seems to be saying it is.

HALL: Look, in my assessment, Anderson, this President is an opportunist. He doesn't care about the Republican Party, he doesn't really care about the Democratic Party, and I don't think he really cares about Putin or the Russians. I mean it's all what's it -- you know, what is it for me, how can I keep the questions going away from the legitimacy of my election. And, you know, if we have to sacrifice national security, so be it

[20:50:11] COOPER: Steve Hall, thank you very much.

Coming up, it seems to be the President's default move when in doubt blame Obama. He's doing it again on Russia. We'll speak with presidential historian Douglas Brinkley to see if the attacks on his predecessor are unprecedented and unpresidential. That's next.


COOPER: President Trump keeps punching back on the notion he's not tough on Russia. Much tougher than President Obama, he tweeted about today, saying quote, "I've been much tougher than President Obama, just look at the facts, total fake news". This of course is Perative (ph) by Sarah Sanders today as well the briefing. The truth is not so much, let's look at the actions taken by both presidents over the recent years. The scales, such as they are, come down on the side of the former president. Obsessed, if you will, by comparisons, presidential historian Doug Brinkley joins me now.

Is it clear to you why the President focuses so much on and whether to Obama or even Hillary Clinton?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well Trump think he scores political points with it. I mean he really began his political career saying Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, the original scene the whole birther story. And he got a lot of fuel from that. He was able to differentiate himself in the Pepublican presidential bid by taking tacky kind of hard right an anti-Obama. And he feels he just scores points with his base. I've never seen a president that just so routinely, it has to say I'm better than my predecessor, and we saw it on the first major, you know, thing with the inaugural --

COOPER: Right.

BRINKLEY: -- with the crowd size, and all that.

[20:55:14] COOPER: It is interesting, because I mean President Obama got a lot of criticism early on in his administration when he would talk about the economy and point to what happened under President Bush, and people have certain time and look, at a certain point, you own it, you know, stop talking about it. I'm wondering -- I mean how common is it for presidents to criticize a former president this long -- after a year in office?

BRINKLEY: It happens. I mean Franklin Roosevelt ran on -- you know, Herbert Hoover got, you know, the Great Depression, Hoover bills. FDR even took the name off -- it was called the Hoover Dam and he stripped Hoover's name off it and called it the Boulder Dam for a while. You had, you know, Ronald Reagan win in the White House and stripped off the solar panels that Jimmy Carter put in. But after about a year, it doesn't play anymore, and Donald Trump is staying on this theme too long. It seems like what Trumpism is, is anti-Obamaism. Any executive border, anything Barack Obama did he's trying to unravel.

COOPER: The tweet, you know, about that he's done more, he's been tougher on Russia then gets, you know, (INAUDIBLE) by Sarah Sanders, I mean it is interesting how the spokespeople from the podium kind of have to go into verbal gymnastics to follow up on Presidential tweets that are often either just flat out incorrect, or, you know, like the tweet he said about the FBI has been -- they're spending so much time on the Russia investigation, that's why they, you know -- basically intimating that's why they dropped the ball on the school shooter.

BRINKLEY: Well, exactly. You know, Obama administration was tough on Russia. Vladimir Putin despised Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state because she was pushing the economic embargoes. Putin has had a honeymoon with Donald Trump. But I think what really happen is any time Trump is backed into a corner he has two boogie man to strike that, the fake news, the mainstream media and Barack Obama. How much of this is, is racial, it's hard to divide the quote up, but it's the idea of taking the first African-American president in constantly saying, you failed, you didn't do anything. Unfortunately, yesterday was President's day. New polls come out and show Barack Obama is up by, you know, 10 points where Donald Trump is lying at the bottom of the heap with James Buchan.

COOPER: Douglas Brinkley, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the President tweets about background checks for guns and also makes the statement on bum stocks, we'll have the latest from the White House on that.