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Students Press for Tighter Gun Laws; Mueller Expands Interest in Kushner; Rite Aid Being Sold; Lindsey Vonn Looks to Bounce Back. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 05:00   ET



CAMERON KASKY, SURVIVED FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL MASSACRE: Are you for taking steps to save us or are you for taking NRA blood money?


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Students from Florida and elsewhere mobilizing to bring change to the nation's gun laws. In a new poll this morning Americans think Congress is failing.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The special counsel's interests in Jared Kushner now extends beyond Russia, his business efforts with other investors, including China, are now under a microscope.

[05:00:11] BRIGGS: And business news. The rest of the drug store chain Rite Aid is being sold off. Who is buying it and why it matters to consumers in the fast evolving retail landscape.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, February 28th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Six days after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida. The nation's youth demanding changes to the gun laws. More than 100 teens and supporters staging a lie-in right outside the White House on presidents' day. An effort to pressure lawmakers to toughen gun regulations.

BRIGGS: Today, about 100 students will board buses from Parkland to the Florida state capitol. They'll speak to state lawmakers tomorrow. Last night, students in Florida were rallying and promising to take their message to Washington.


KASKY: This is simply a matter of are you with us or are you against us? Are you for taking steps to save us or are you for taking NRA blood money?

We are not letting the United States be run by that terrorist organization. My friends and I, my community and I have stared down the barrel of an AR-15 the way you have not. We have seen this weapon of war mow down people we know and love the way you have not. How dare you say we don't know what we're talking about? You have no idea what you are talking about.


ROMANS: There is support for the students' view that Washington is falling short. A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll found 77 percent of Americans believe Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, 62 percent say the same of the president.

New momentum is growing behind a bipartisan effort to improve the background check system. The president speaking with Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn about a bill he introduced with Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.

BRIGGS: Now, the measure is a modest proposal. It ensures state and federal authorities comply with the existing law to report criminal history to the national background check system. With consequences if they don't. The White House says the president supports efforts to improve the background check system, although this bill does nothing to expand that system at all.

ROMANS: It is worth noting that the president did not push for the Cornyn-Murphy bill when it was first introduce introduced. The White House is calling for a listening session for the president tomorrow. He will meet with the high school teachers and students. It is unclear if Parkland students will attend that meeting.

BRIGGS: Yes, that gun legislation we're talking about there, Murphy- Cornyn really would have prevented the shooting in Sutherland Springs, would not have affected this one in Parkland. And Stoneman Douglas High School has announced that plans to gradually reopen. Staff members return to school Friday morning. A voluntary campus orientation set for Sunday. The school district says the goal is for classes to resume on a modified schedule next Tuesday.

Officials say support services will be available to students and staff during the reopening process.

ROMANS: Funerals and viewings for five of the victims set for today. They are students Peter Wang, Cara Loughran and Carmen Schentrup, along with Stoneman Douglas High's athletic director Chris Hixon and football coach Aaron Feis.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us live from Washington is Brenna Williams, multi-platform editor for CNN's "The Point" and CNN politics.

ROMANS: Good morning, Brenna.

BRIGGS: Good morning to you, Brenna.


BRIGGS: We are doing fine. Thanks. Good to have you here. Let's talk about this poll, 77 percent of the American people say

Congress is not doing enough. That is clear. Recent history, there was a time when Obama had the White House, Democrats had the House and the Senate, nothing was done. There was Sandy Hook where nothing was done. Vegas where we all agreed bump stock legislation was a slam dunk. Every agreed those will be banned.

ROMANS: Nothing done.

BRIGGS: Nothing done. Now, this current bill. The Cornyn/Murphy bill really just enforces current law. Will that at all change attitudes about whether Congress is doing much at all?

WILLIAMS: I think that's what they're trying to do is try to look like they are doing something. As you said, it really only enforces the monetary incentive to follow the laws that are in place. It is not doing anything to expand background checks or add anything to existing legislation. So, it seems like a typical Congress move. Putting forward something, but not doing anything but enforcing what is already there.

ROMANS: You know, it is interesting because the FBI had two alerts to this guy and basically dropped the ball as well. You have those who are saying, gun legislation. What good is gun legislation going to do if the FBI with a phone call with a kid's name and where he lives, can't even pick it up.

[05:05:00] Each one of these cases, Brenna, is just so different.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I mean, even President Trump was tweeting about how the FBI dropped the ball and, of course, tying it to the Russia investigation this weekend. Yes, I mean, I think one of the things that is interesting is the idea of what mental health problems and what the threshold for being considered mentally unfit in places.

You have to have been institutionalized or deemed unfit by the state? As you and I and all of us know, there are other signs and there are other problems that people can have and in this case, the shooter was not institutionalized. He was not deemed mentally unfit. But there were a lot of signs. People called them in to the FBI, but that did not necessarily keep him from getting a gun.

BRIGGS: As you see it, what is the reality and what are the politics of something getting done beyond the current background check legislation? Whether it'd be bump stocks, whether it'd be addressing the AR-15 style rifle and its ability to be purchased by 18-year-olds in 27 states.

ROMANS: I know. You can't buy a beer, can't rent a car, but can buy an AR-15.

WILLIAMS: Unfortunately, politics and history says that not a lot could be done. I mean, we saw Sandy Hook with small children and those images and those grieving parents and those grieving parents in Florida, people in Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas. We have seen people grieving these horrible attacks and it hasn't done anything. But I think something that was different this time and something that

has been powerful has been the high school students speaking out. They have the power of social media on their side in a way the Columbine students did not have. And they have a voice that they are using. They have been on TV and you showed that clip of the high schooler speaking for themselves, having their own voices.

It is not parents speaking in their memory. It is them speaking for themselves. I would love to believe that would do something. If nothing else, it continues the dialogue.

BRIGGS: Maybe make it national, not just Florida students.

ROMANS: It is the mass shooter generation. These kids have grown up hiding in closets from someone coming with a big gun to kill them.

BRIGGS: And they are angry. They are not scared. Yes.

ROMANS: They are angry.

And I think that what my generation, our generation and my parents generation failed to do, maybe these young people will.


ROMANS: Let's talk quickly about Mitt Romney getting congratulations from the president for his efforts to be the next senator replacing Orrin Hatch from Utah. Let's just remind viewers the not so bromance between the President Trump or candidate Trump and Mitt Romney. Let's listen of montage we have for you.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as the degree from Trump University. He is playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat. He inherited his business. He didn't create it. A business genius he is not.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitt is a big, big joke. Mitt is a failed candidate. He failed. He failed horribly.

He let us down. He let us down. Mitt ran, probably the worst run that most people see.

He doesn't have what it takes to be president, that I can tell you. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees, he would drop to his knees. He was begging. He was begging me.


BRIGGS: God, I forgotten how nasty he was.

ROMANS: And now, the president is endorsing Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney says he hopes he gets the endorsement of the people of Utah. What kind of partnership could this be.

WILLIAMS: Man, this is fascinating. What a time to be alive.

This relationship is so -- it's like I think something that we didn't get to is their relationship spans -- and Trump alluded to it. He endorsed Romney in 2012 when Romney was running for president. And then they have had a very complicated history in the past few years.

And I think it's really interesting because Romney doesn't need Trump's endorsement. You know, he is in Utah. I think he is in a pretty supportive state, right? He's running what essentially his hometown, his home state.

And my question when I saw that endorsement after I spit water all over myself was why is Trump doing this? I mean, is he trying to avoid having another enemy in Congress should Romney get elected? Should Romney get elected, is Trump going to come back and say, well, my endorsement, that's what got you here. So, now, let's work together. You should support my legislation.

I mean, what is behind this? Trump has nothing to lose. It is not a competitive state. So, endorsing the Republican candidate in Utah? I cannot think of a more safe place to be doing that, especially with Romney being as popular as he is in the state.

BRIGGS: Not many come to mind.

WILLIAMS: What's behind that?

[05:10:00] I think seeing this play out and you have a while before the election. I'm curious to see if they keep nice.

BRIGGS: I give it time as the Hollywood marriage. This is not built to last, maybe a couple of weeks.

WILLIAMS: It will still be pretty interesting, I'm sure.

BRIGGS: All right. Brenna Williams, thank you. We'll see you in just about 20 minutes.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation moving further into the Trump inner circle. CNN has learned exclusively that Mueller's interests in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia. The probe now includes the first son-in-law's efforts to secure financing for the real estate company from foreign investors during, during the transition.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has the latest from Washington.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Good morning, Dave and Christine. CNN has learned that the special counsel Robert Mueller is now asking

questions about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the presidential transition. We are told by people who are familiar with the investigation, then Mueller's lawyers are asking about discussions Kushner had with potential Chinese and Qatari investors.

Now, this is the first indication that Mueller wants to know about contacts the president's son-in-law had with foreigners outside of Russia. The discussions revolved around this building in Manhattan. At 666 Fifth Avenue, which Kushner's company owns. The financing on the building is in debt by over $1 billion.

Now, it's not clear what is behind the Mueller's specific interest in the financing, but we're told that the special counsel hasn't asked the Kushner companies for information. He also has not asked for interviews with other executives from the Kushner companies.

A spokesman for the special counsel has declined to comment. But we do have a statement from Jared Kushner's attorney, Abbe Lowell, responding to our story.

And Lowell had this to say. Quote: Another anonymous source with questionable motives now contradicts the facts -- in all of Mr. Kushner's extensive cooperation with all inquiries, there has not been a single question asked nor document sought on the 666 building or Kushner Company deals. Nor any reason to question the regular business transactions.

And it's important to note that while his attorney seems to think the story was based on one anonymous source. We can tell you that we spoke to several sources for the story who explain to us that these inquiries and this line of questioning has been under way by the special counsel team for several months -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: Thank you for that.

New congressional lines for Pennsylvania is out. It could play a big role which party controls the House of Representatives next year.


[05:16:47] ROMANS: All right. Albertsons and Rite Aid plan to merge in a $24 billion deal as increasing threat of both Amazon and Walmart forced bi retailers to combine. Rite Aid is currently selling a swath of its stores to Walgreens. This morning, "The Wall Street Journal" the Albertsons, the grocery store chain, will buy the rest of the Rite Aid, creating a new company of 4,900 stores, 4,300 pharmacies across 38 states.

The heads of both Albertsons and Rite Aid telling "The Journal" scale matters. And this deal is the best way to take on the online retailers lie Amazon and Walmart. Amazon is expanding into groceries possibly in pharmacy business. Wal-Mart's digital offerings have exploded in recent years. Now, the merger is not a done deal yet. It still needs government


BRIGGS: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposing a new congressional map to give Democrats a boost ahead of the midterm elections. The new boundaries following a ruling that Republicans unlawfully redrew the state's districts to maximize GOP gains. The biggest change has come in the Philadelphia, where three Republican-held seats were already Democratic targets. Republicans in the state legislature say they will challenge the new maps in court.

Ahead, Lindsey Vonn fending off injuries and Twitter trolls, as she looks to bounce back in the downhill competition.

Coy Wire is live in Pyeongchang when we come back.


[05:22:29] BRIGGS: All right, 5:22 Eastern Time.

A brother and sister ice dancers become Team USA's first double medal winners of the Winter Olympics.

ROMANS: Coy Wire is there. He has more from Pyeongchang.

Hi, Coy.

BRIGGS: Hey, buddy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Maia and Alex Shibutani or the Shib sibs, as they've been trending on Twitter, they kind of become like the sweetheart of this Pyeongchang Games. They started skating together when Maia was 4 and Alex was 7. And they came from these games with two medals, two bronze they're taking home.

Afterwards, Maia was crying. Alex, they talked about their parents who sacrificed so much for them on their journey. They wanted them to be musicians, like them, but then they realized their passion was on the ice and they allowed them and supported them to follow their dreams.

Let's talk about skiing. The GOAT of the slopes, the greatest of all time in women's alpine skiing, Lindsey Vonn, skies downhill, her best event today on the East Coast. She waited eight years to compete on the Olympic stage, missing Sochi due to injury.

After failing to medal here in Pyeongchang debut in the super g, she was trolled on Twitter because of her earlier comments that she won't visit the White House if she were invited as a medalist. The 33-year- old could become the oldest woman ever to win Olympic alpine medal. She is battling not just trolls but the toll the sport is taking on her body.

We asked her ahead of the games what keeps her going. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDSEY VONN, AMERICAN SKIER: I think it's stubbornness. You know, I never want to wave the white flag. I always want to continue to try and work hard and to be physically as strong as I was before takes a lot more work and a lot of more maintenance. You know, I have to get up earlier and warm my knee up. You know, my knee takes some tender loving care.


WIRE: All right. Women's figure skating on the East Coast later tonight. At this hour, we highlight a 24-year-old that is already a seasoned pro, Mirai Nagasu. She competed in the 2010 games in Vancouver as a 16-year-old finishing fourth. She was controversially not selected for the last Olympic team. Well, she's out for redemption this time earlier in Pyeongchang. She made history you may remember, becoming the first American woman to ever land the daunting triple axel in Olympic competition.

We asked her about that special move that sets her apart from the rest.


MIRAI NAGASU, FIGURE SKATER: I love the triple axel. I did not nail it at the U.S. championships, but I was saving it for the Olympics.

[05:25:03] And to be part of the exclusive club is awesome. It is a jump that takes a lot of height and spinning and, you know, I go, here we go and hope for the best.


WIRE: EARLY START on your medal count, Christine Romans.

Norway is now at 28 medals overall, Germany is in second with 20, Canada has 19, Netherlands is in fourth with 13. And the USA rounding out the top five along with France with 12 medals overall.

One more note on figure skating, Dave and Christine, can one of the team USA's three hopefuls actually medal? If so, the first American woman to medal in figure skating in over a decade.


BRIGGS: We usually have a late push in the Winter Games. It looks like since 1998, hopefully, we get it going.

Thank you, Coy.

ROMANS: All right. Can motivated teenagers dent the power of the NRA? Florida shooting survivors and their friends and allies are taking their gun violence message to the halls of government.