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First White House Briefing Since Florida Shooting Russia Indictments; Mueller Charges Lawyer Linked to Ex-Trump Aide with Lying; Busloads of Student Survivors to Rally at State Capitol. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:14] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Tuesday afternoon. You are watching CNN.

We are standing by, waiting for the first White House briefing to begin. Any moment there, live pictures. And there are a myriad of issues officials will have to answer for us since the last time someone stood at that podium.

Of course, topping them is the growing outcry for gun reform, not just from Democrats or left-wing activists from these students, these young voices who survived the terror themselves at Douglas High. Moments ago students boarded those buses, heading to Florida state capital to talk to lawmakers face to face tomorrow. Five of the 17 killed are being laid to rest or honored today.

This is also the first press briefing over at the White House since Russians were indicted for election meddling, since new White House clearance rules came out in the wake of accused wife abuser Rob Porter, since a second woman reportedly revealed she had an affair with the president before he took office and since the president's latest Twitter rant which hit on much of the above and more.

So, that's just the last couple of days. Let's get to our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown who is standing by ahead of this briefing.

So, Pamela, the president -- let's start on Russia. The president tweeting about Russia and still I'm seeing nothing on changing gun laws.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There hasn't been anything there. That will be a key question in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the call from these student activists asking for a change in gun laws. You can expect a lot of questions to the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, here, and what the president plans to do about it.

You'll recall after the Las Vegas shooting, the White House came out and said it would support a ban on stock bumps. Nothing has happened in that regard. So, the question will be, why should Americans believe that something will happen this time around? Though the White House has said that the president supports this bipartisan bill on Capitol Hill that would essentially strengthen background checks.

But you can also bet, there will be a lot of questions when it comes to Russia, because as you know, Brooke, on Friday, there were 13 Russians who were indicted. And since then, the president has gone after several people and entities except for Russia itself. He has not strongly condemned Russia. Yet, this morning he says he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor, Barack Obama.

So, of course, that leads to the question then why hasn't the White House imposed sanctions on Russia? That was overwhelmingly passed by Congress.

As you pointed out, Brooke, there are a myriad of subject matters and issues that are expected to be covered here. Last week, there was supposed to be a briefing Wednesday last night with General Kelly to address the Porter scandal. That was then canceled it's been a week since that was canceled the. So, the room is packed, I can tell you. A lot of reporters with a lot of questions.

The briefing was just moved to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We did think it was too good to be true for it to actually start on time -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: There we go, in an hour.

Pamela, while I have you, we know tomorrow is a big day here on CNN. We're hosting a town hall with Parkland students, parents, faculty, members of Congress. The president also hosting his own listening session. Do we know exactly who has he been listening to and who has he been meeting with when it can comes to guns?

BROWN: Well, I can tell you, there's a law enforcement seminar today. So, the meeting has been meeting with them. This was prescheduled, we should point out.

But the president will be meeting with high school students and teachers tomorrow, for what the White House, as you pointed out, has dubbed a listening session. Unclear sort of what is to come out that have session and when the president will meet directly or if the presidents will meet directly with the students there at the high school in Parkland, who have been very outspoken, calling for change -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right. Pam, thank you.

All right. We got it, the briefing is in an hour. Let's talk about what the White House is about to face. I have CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, "Washington Post" columnist Catherine Rampell, and CNN's political analyst Ryan Lizza.

Welcome, welcome to all of you. And surprise, surprise. It's delayed an hour.

All right. So, let's get to what I really want to be beginning just with Russia to you, please, on, you know, the president on Twitter, he has taken to task, you know, the FBI, Obama, Oprah.


BALDWIN: Who he says is insecure. Why won't he condemn Russia?

GANGEL: Donald Trump is not consistent on a lot of things but he is consistent on this one thing. And, of course, we've seen it from the beginning. I think that is the question we all keep asking as the investigation goes on. What is he so worried about?

[14:05:02] What is he so concerned about? How does this fit with his make America great and wrapping himself in the American flag?

BALDWIN: When Russia is attacking our election system.

GANGEL: With Russia, it is -- it's the one place he will not go. And so, it obviously has raised questions and it's going to continue to.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's not only that he won't condemn Russia, but he has been very secretive about his own meetings with Putin and those in his orbit, why they are meeting with Putin. You may recall, one was sometime last year when he had this sort of secret meeting where only Putin and Putin's own translator was present and why were there no other Americans present to witness that interaction.

So, there's a lot of suspicious things going on if, in fact, this relationship is innocent, it seems like he should be more willing to openly condemn --


BALDWIN: I had Mary Katharine sitting in your seat yesterday. Just because he seems nice to the president, the president doesn't need to be nice to Putin. He needs to say Russia, stop!

RAMPELL: Forget whatever dirt Russia may have on him. There are a lot of conspiracy theories about that.

BALDWIN: We don't know.

RAMPELL: Right. But he has been very consistent to be unable to criticize anyone who says nice things about him. And this is not specific to Putin, of course, right?

He had a lot of trouble. He's very mealy mouth about condemning neo Nazis, about David Duke, about all sorts of other unsavory characters that are not -- you know, did not necessarily have the best interests of Americans at heart but has said nice things about him. And he just -- he can't bring himself to say mean things back.

BALDWIN: He's criticizing the former president -- his predecessor, President Obama, tweeting today, I've been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Just look at the facts, total fake news.

On the facts, the fact is the Obama administration issued sanctions against Russia, personally warned Putin, right, at that meeting, told him to cut it out, expelled 35 Russian diplomats, closed two Russian compounds in the U.S.

Yes, perhaps, Ryan Lizza, there is some criticism that the former president could have done more, could have said more. Why do you think President Trump can't seem to quit Barack Obama?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's very driven by what -- if Obama did something, Trump often -- can be persuaded to do the reverse. It's the -- you know, advisers often argued that the easiest way to get him to pursue a policy you want is to say Obama did the reverse, right?

And, look, on Russia, there are a lots of Democrats, including Adam Schiff, leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who have complaints that the Obama administration did not do enough in 2016, knowing what they knew about Russian meddling. But what happened was Obama went to congressional leadership and he was told by Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, we don't want you pushing this any more publicly during 2016. We will consider it a sort of partisan use of your authority and putting the thumbs on the scale for Hillary.

So, he was blocked by Republicans on the Hill from making a bigger deal out of the Russian meddling. Once the election was over, during the transition, remember, the Obama administration did retaliate. They kicked Russians out of the United States.

BALDWIN: Right, 35 Russian diplomats.

LIZZA: Russian diplomats, and instituted a new set of sanctions. As soon as that happens, the Trump team, which was coming in, started talking to the Russians saying -- we don't know exactly what was said but the can conversations reportedly were, don't worry about those sanctions. A new team is coming and there will be a more conciliatory approach to this issue.

So, the idea that Trump is saying Obama didn't do enough idea just does not square with the facts, especially on meddling. And we'll see what Sarah Sanders says today about the Friday indictment, but we learned from the Justice Department on Friday -- now, an indictment is an indictment. It's not -- these guys haven't been convicted in a court of law, but it's a very detailed indictment that basically 13 spies, some of which came to the United States, ran around the country, gathered intelligence and spent three years spending millions of dollars on a propaganda and influence campaign in this country, and we have not heard a word from our political leaders in the White House about why we should be worried about this.

BALDWIN: Right, which is precisely my first question, why has he not vowed revenge -- go ahead.

GANGEL: Just one thing to remind us about, because you were talking about we don't have proof. We don't know about collusion. I will never forget the meeting when he had the meeting with the Russian ambassador at the White House after he fired Comey. What did he say? The pressure is off me.

BALDWIN: Right. GANGEL: Now it just seemed completely surreal that the president of the United States would be speaking to the Russian ambassador this way, having just fired his FBI director.

RAMPELL: This was the same meeting where he also --

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: He spilled the beans.

RAMPELL: He spilled the beans about an ally's ability to collect very sensitive information.


RAMPELL: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Let me turn the page to the conversation on guns. And just, Catherine, do you think the president -- and he has been all over the map the last couple of decades when you look at how he has been on gun activism, gun control. Do you think he will be on the side of stricter gun laws?

RAMPELL: Look, I certainly hope so. If you look at the polling out there, a majority of Republicans, a strong majority of Republicans want so-called common sense gun reforms. I think it's something like nine out of ten want universal background checks. Republicans, remember. Nine out of ten think that we should be making it harder for people who have been diagnosed with mental illness to obtain firearms, things like that. So, this should not be such a divisive issue.

Trump came into office claiming that he was going to toss aside the old partisan divisions, you know, the loyalties that Washington had. Whether he will or not, I don't know. He has accepted a lot of money from the NRA and he has been incredibly inconsistent on his own positions on gun control. But, look, if he wants to be on the side of the American people, again, including Republicans, certainly a lot of popular support for him to take what would normally be an unexpected from a Republican on this issue.

BALDWIN: Isn't part of it with the president like who is directly in front of him, giving him information?

RAMPELL: He was surveying people at Mar-a-Lago about this.

BALDWIN: That's where I wanted to go. I mean, the fact, his two sons, right, and we know where they are on guns, Don Jr. and Eric Trump, and you have this buddy, his old pal Geraldo Rivera, saying, you know what, Mr. President, maybe you should consider moving the age of buying AR-15, or similar style weapon that was used in Parkland, you know, moving the age from 18 to 21.

What do you make of who he's talking about all of this?

LIZZA: You know, he obviously is very ideologically flexible personally. If you look at his long history of discussing politics he has been all over. You know, one thing that surprised us, political reporters covering the primaries was how flexible he was on some core Republican issues. You know, what we've seen with him in office is that the Republican Party is strong enough, the congressional wing of the Republican Party has been strong enough to basically rein in all of the heterodox views that he had when it comes to things like entitlements and the size of government and tax cuts and, frankly -- and health care. That's right.

And at the end of the day, the Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, traditional conservative is the agenda that has been enacted in Washington under Trump and all of Trump's sort of nationalist policies and all these things that perhaps represented something new on the right, they just haven't been enacted, right? So, on guns, I am very skeptical that Trump is this Nixon to China figure that suddenly will convince the Republican Party to change its position.

And interestingly, it's one of the issues that he was never strayed from as a Republican candidate. He was always right in line with the NRA and was rewarded with tens of millions of dollars in donations from the NRA. That was a huge help in his victory. So, the structural factors in the Republican Party, keeping them tied to this view on gun control, I don't think Trump is going to break that.

BALDWIN: We'll be curious to hear how Sarah Sanders, you know, takes that. After Las Vegas, they were saying now is not the right time when it came to bump stocks. So, we'll see where they are on that.

Last question on one of these Trump accusers, right, we've heard her story. I'm talking about Rachel Crooks. She was working in a building where she essentially says the president grabbed her, kissed her cheek and forcibly kissed her lips, called it inappropriate. So, the president is tweeting about this today. This is why we're talking about it.

You're looking at a picture from -- this is a front page in "The Washington Post" today and we know the president picks up hard copies of newspapers and so, presumably saw this and tweeted out -- two tweets here on this story. And I guess, Jamie Gangel, you know, he is denying. He's then talking about someone getting paid for some false story.

Again, this is how many days after students were shot and not calling out Russia and this is what the president chooses to tweet about.

GANGEL: Right, no tweets on gun control. Here is something he is consistent on, correct? Deny, deny, deny.


GANGEL: And, clearly, we see gets under his skin. For better or worse, we do have some transparency. He comes right back with it.

So, I don't think he's going to change in that way. Michael Cohen, the lawyer, paying all this money to something that didn't happen. I mean, it's ridiculous on the face of it.

[14:15:03] Can we just go back to the gun control for one minute? BALDWIN: Please.

GANGEL: I am very curious to see on March 24th on Washington with all these kids coming, because I'm hearing from people not even young people, who have never marched on Washington who want to come. And we know President Trump is very sensitive about the size of crowds.

I think it will be very interesting to see if that crowd is bigger than his inauguration day crowd, how he deals with it. But just how he deals with the next couple of weeks, to your point, I'm skeptical, too. I don't think he's going to change. But I think it will be a fascinating dynamic.

BALDWIN: OK, thank you all so much. We watch and wait for this White House briefing.

And Sarah Sanders, again this is the first time she's briefed since this tragedy in Parkland, Florida. Thank you all so much.

LIZZA: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We're going to move on and coming up next, speaking of, we'll take you live on board the bus that is taking these dozens of student survivors to the capital of Florida, to Tallahassee, to meet with lawmakers. Stand by for that.

Also I'll speak with a woman who destroyed her own gun after this mass shooting. It put her, quote, over the edge. And she's grown up with guns. Why is she doing this?

And moments from now, a lawyer linked to a former Trump campaign adviser appears in court, charged with lying by Robert Mueller. Hear what this means for the rest of a campaign team.

And --


[14:20:52] BALDWIN: We're back with breaking news here.

A lawyer connected to former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is in court right now, expecting to plead guilty to lying to investigators and special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Attorney Alex van der Zwaan is the son in law of Russian billionaire German Khan, who is one of the most prominent businessman in all of Russia. He was recently named in the Treasury Department's list of Russian oligarchs. He worked for Gates, the right-hand man to Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Now, the expected guilty plea is crucial because it adds to mounting evidence about both Trump campaign officials worked with Russian allies.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is live outside of that district court there in D.C. with those breaking details.

And so, Jessica, what's the story behind the expected guilty plea and what does this mean big picture in the Russia investigation?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this hearing begins in just about ten minutes. I was inside the courthouse when Alex van der Zwaan walked in. He looked very calm and collected. He was surrounded by his attorneys.

The charges here are fairly interesting. He's actually charged with lying to the special prosecutor's investigators with conversations he had with Rick Gates. Rick Gates, of course, a deputy to Paul Manafort, he worked on the Trump campaign. It's not exactly clear what those communications were or what exactly he may have been lying about.

And interestingly, it might actually be less about the charges here, when it pertains to Alex van der Zwaan and more about who he is and what kind of information he might have. Alex van der Zwaan was an attorney with the prominent law firm Skadden, Arps up until just a few months ago. He was terminated by Skadden in September 2017. Skadden says that they have been cooperating with authorities here.

But van der Zwaan is recently married to the daughter of a very prominent Russian billionaire German Khan. He's one of the most prominent businessmen in Russia. He's the co-founder of Alfa Bank.

And in addition to that, Alex van der Zwaan has those ties and connections to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. In fact, it was Paul Manafort who commissioned a report that was drafted by van der Zwaan and other attorneys at Skadden in 2012. This report was actually used by the pro-Russian Ukrainian president's -- Viktor Yanukovych, his allies, in backing their jailing of a political opponent. So, there's that link to Paul Manafort here.

Of course, we know that Paul Manafort was indicted the end of October. He's pleaded not guilty. But the charges did stem for his work for lobbying for the pro-Russian Ukrainian government, also stemmed from money laundering charges.

So, the interesting here, Brooke, more so than maybe the minimal charges that Alex van der Zwaan is being charged with here, including lying to investigators. It might be about what other information does he have and could this put some pressure on Paul Manafort? Of course, Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty several months ago. But could this latest, you know, perhaps, guilty plea we're expecting here at 2:30, could that put the pressure on Paul Manafort?

So, we're waiting for that. The hearing does begin at 2:30. And, Brooke, yes, we are expecting a guilty plea from this lawyer who worked for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: It's a great question, as it pertains to Paul Manafort.

Jessica Schneider is on it. Thank you so much in Washington.

Right now, we will take you live aboard the bus that is taking dozens and dozens of student survivors to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers. This as the White House gets ready to hold its first briefing since that shooting.


[14:28:41] BALDWIN: Funerals and memorial services for the victims of last week's shooting are continuing today. Take a good long look at these faces.

Three of the students being laid to rest were cadets in the school's junior ROTC program. The U.S. Army announcing today it will award the Medal of Heroism to Alaina Petty, Peter Wang and Martin Duque Anguiano. And West Point Academy will offer a posthumous admission to 15-year-old Wang whose lifetime goal was to attend the military campaign.

But while this tragedy ended the lives of 17 students and teachers, it created a new core of activists. Busloads of students who survived the shooting are on their way to the capital of Florida to challenge their state lawmakers to take some sort of action on gun safety.

And CNN's Dianne Gallagher is on board one of those buses.

And, so, Dianne, tell me what these teenagers -- tell me what they want specifically.

DIANNA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, yes, we're en route right now. We've been traveling for not so long yet. We're on the Florida turnpike, heading into our seven-hour journey to Tallahassee, because these teenagers want to affect change.

This here, you're going to see there are three of us buses going up to Tallahassee here. I've got senior Sammy. He goes to MSD.

And, Sammy, talk to me a little bit about why you're going to Tallahassee.

SAMMY FEUERMAN, 17-YEAR-OLD SENIOR: We're going to Tallahassee for reform, for change. This is not going to happen again.