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High School Shooting Survivors Lead Push for Gun Control; Mueller Investigating Kushner's Foreign Business Dealings. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAMERON KASKY, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I have stared down the barrel of an AR-15 the way you have not. How dare you tell us we don't know what we're talking about?

[05:59:26] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to look at John Cornyn's bill in the Senate to improve national background checks. That's a good step.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unstable, dangerous people should never have access to a deadly weapon.

ALEX WIND, STUDENT SCHOOL SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I want to see action. I don't want to see talk.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Did it worry you that here's a depressed 19-year-old with an AR-15?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never again should a student be silenced by gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Mueller has been asking about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the presidential transition.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The potential for conflict of interest is so enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president appears to be lashing out at everyone but Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must defend our democracy. And that is not happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, February 20, 6 a.m. here in New York. And here's our starting line. Survivors of the Florida school massacre are taking their fight to the

state's capital. Busloads of kids are heading to Tallahassee today to demand a change to gun control laws.

In Washington, dozens of the teens demonstrating. Seventeen of them. Of course, that's the number of lives lost in that shooting. They laid on the ground in silence symbolizing those lives in that attack.

It comes as the White House signals that President Trump is open to improving the nation's background checks for gun buyers. A new national poll finds that a majority of you think the president and Congress are not doing enough to stop mass shootings.

CAMEROTA: OK. Excuse me. In other news, there are several developments in the Russia investigation to tell you about. First, a CNN exclusive.

Special counsel Robert Mueller expanding his interest in Jared Kushner beyond Kushner's contacts with Russia. Mueller now interested in Kushner's efforts to get financing for his real-estate ventures from foreign investors during the presidential transition.

Meanwhile, President Trump is once again blaming President Obama for not preventing Russian meddling in the U.S. election. So why, then, has Mr. Trump still not imposed those sanctions on the Kremlin that Congress passed nearly unanimously months ago?

We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Rosa Flores. She's live in Parkland, Florida, with our top story.

What's the latest there, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, good morning. Excuse me.

Student survivors are not taking "no" for an answer. They are hopping on buses today at 1 p.m. They're heading to the state capital, demanding, insisting that state lawmakers listen to their voices. And they plan to challenge any state lawmaker who thinks, who believes that they might not know more about gun control than a student survivor who came face to face with death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KASKY: 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 tell us we don't know what we're talking about?

FLORES (voice-over): Survivors of the high school massacre in Florida demanding that lawmakers make changes to America's gun laws after the horror they lived to tell about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never again should a student be silenced by gunshots. Never again should anyone fear going to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time for change wasn't now. The time for change was years ago.

KASKY: 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.

FLORES: In Washington, D.C., a group of teenagers staged a protest outside the White House, lying on the ground for three minutes to symbolize how long it took the killer to gun down 17 students and teachers last week.

WIND: I want to see action. I don't want to see talk. A 19-year-old who can't purchase an alcoholic beverage should not be allowed to purchase an AR-15, a weapon of war, a weapon of destruction. It's absolutely absurd.

FLORES: A new national poll shows that 77 percent of Americans do not think that Congress is doing enough to prevent mass shootings, with 62 percent saying President Trump could do more.

As for how to solve the problem, the majority of Americans think that more effective mental health screenings and treatment could have prevented the massacre, while 58 percent think that stricter gun control laws could have had an impact.

The White House announcing that President Trump supports efforts to improve the federal background check system. That after speaking with Senator John Cornyn Friday about the bipartisan bill he's introduced that would strengthen how state and federal government report offenses that could prohibit people from buying a gun.

But President Trump's only action on guns since taking office undid restrictions aimed at mental illness. And the president's proposed budget would cut millions from existing background check systems.

All this as CNN is learning more about the confessed killer. A law enforcement source says he purchased at least ten rifles in the last year. But the buying spree did not set off any red flags with authorities.

The killer appearing in court Monday for the second time. He kept his head down and said nothing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLORES: Three more funerals and two visitations are scheduled for today, for the victims of this senseless act of violence.

Meanwhile, in the school that you see behind me, the district planning its reopening in phases. First, staff are expected to return on Friday with an orientation scheduled for Sunday. And the goal, an emphasis here on the word "goal," is for students to be back on Tuesday.

[06:05:07] CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

FLORES: Chris, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: That will be hard, Rosa. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon, and senior Washington correspondent for Politico, Anna Palmer.

So, John Avlon, do you think the kids can create the momentum that nothing else has to date? Do you think that we may see in Washington -- I know they're starting at the state, but you see the kids at the nation's capital, as well, get the leaders out there saying, "We need to figure out what we can do to stop the school shootings"?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think these students are speaking with such moral clarity, in such a pointed manner, that it's going to ratchet up the political pressure in a way that we didn't, we couldn't have seen after Sandy Hook. These kids are being amazing advocates for their own experience, and they're putting the pressure on politicians in a way that's going to be difficult for them to ignore. That's a positive thing for the country, just at least in terms of congressman confronting the fact that we've had 180 districts that have seen a mass shooting in the last several years.

So you know, if you've got to think that 77 percent of Americans agree on, 91 percent in the wake of Sandy Hook, how long can that be ignored? Can these kids force the issue? I think they may be able to.

CAMEROTA: So a hundred of them are taking a bus 400 miles today, Anna, to go to talk to these lawmakers. And heaven help the lawmaker that looks them in the eye and tries to tell them this isn't about guns. That was the talking point up until -- as you know, up until Parkland, where they used to say, you know, it's not about guns. The only way...

CUOMO: They're still saying it. A little bit.

CAMEROTA: But I hear -- I do sense something changed that day. And they are saying, "How dare you tell us that it's not about guns?"

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, I mean, they are a face of this issue in a way that we've never seen before. I definitely agree with you.

But I am much more pessimistic, as somebody who spends their time in the halls of Congress, talking to members of Congress. We have been here before. This is a political wedge issue. Until the gun-control movement wins some big races, potentially in the midterms, and there is some real movement saying, "If you don't vote with us, you're going to lose your seat," I am very skeptical that Washington actually does anything.

CUOMO: Well, look, Anna's got a good point. I mean, there's a misconception about the NRA that it's their money that changes the game. It's the votes. People come out and vote on this issue for them the way the gun control people and the people who want sensible reform don't. But...

AVLON: But the money helps.

CUOMO: There's a -- what?

AVLON: The money helps.

CUOMO: The money always helps. I'm saying there's a lot of money in the game. So it's not just the money.

But there is some progress here that I didn't see coming. In the Florida state legislature, OK? Florida is not known for being ahead of the curve when it comes to gun laws. But this is what's being put out by the Republican head of the Senate there. William Saint Galvano, goes by Bill. Raise the age of purchasing firearms to 21. Waiting period to purchase any type of gun, banning bump stocks. Remember that from Las Vegas, the president saying we'll talk about it at some point, never did? Create gun-violence restraining orders.

Now, John, domestic violence, you get hooked with an order of protection, it's supposed to be registered and filed into the gun -- happens sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. This would allow family and others to go to a judge and say, "This kid should not have a gun right now" and get a delay.

CAMEROTA: It could have stopped this one.

AVLON: It could have stopped this one. And the Cornyn-Murphy bill is motivated by the Texas shooting. You know, there are things we can do.

And this bill is a good example of kind of reasonable gun reform that should be able to get bipartisan support. This should not be about -- forget all the fearmongering about the federal government coming to take your guns. There are things that reasonable people can agree upon that we can do to make it a little bit more difficult for weapons of war to fall into the hands of people who are mentally unstable. They're not going to support it. Explain why.

CAMEROTA: One of the things they did that I think was very effective is that some lawmakers had to tour the school right after the carnage. They saw what the inside of that school looked like.

If Wayne LaPierre of the NRA had to tour that school, maybe he would feel differently, too. Again, these kids have seen it with their own eyes. That's why they can speak with the moral clarity that you're talking about. Whereas, in your air-conditioned office, hundreds of miles away or in Washington, D.C., you don't have to confront those things.

PALMER: Yes. I mean, I think this is going to be the first generation that our teens that are going through this, you know, month after month, and this could be kind of that turning point, where you look at Republicans in particular, who are going to need to find these kids who are going to be 18-, 19-, 20-year-old voters in the midterms, in 2020, that you could see this kind of be that galvanizing issue, when if they have to go down in the school and say, "Wow, this happened here." CUOMO: Right. And look, this is -- it's going to get frustrating for

people, assuming that the energy stays. And that's the problem. Other things are going to get in the way. Even the Mueller indictments. They matter. We'll talk about them this morning. But things take energy about this.

But you have a couple of things. One, you have low fruit. You have something like bump stocks. You have a background check system, which anybody who knows anything about policy or regulation knows is incomplete. All right? So you have that going.

But you have another wild card. You have President Trump. President Trump has zero time-tested principle when it comes to guns, OK? I know they got the pictures of his sons holding up the -- you know, the animals in Africa. That's not a good look. But him saying through the White House or whatever, "I'll look at this," that could be a difference for his Republicans.

[06:10:07] AVLON: It could be a difference. And here you've got another case of Trump versus Trump. You know, before Trump ran for president, he was actually a New Yorker concerned about guns and the impact on our society when we were having 2,000 murders a year in New York City.

And then, of course, he ran for president, and he got the NRA endorsement early. So the question is, yes, he was apparently canvassing people at Mar-a-Lago about what he should do about guns. His son is apparently advising him.

CUOMO: No better way to keep in touch with the base than that, huh?

AVLON: That's actually one of the aphorisms of politics: Forget Peoria, it's Mar-a-Lago.

CUOMO: Yes.

AVLON: That's exactly right.

But this is -- so there may be an opportunity for him to do something unexpected. Because this is an issue, look, 88 percent of gun-owning families support universal background checks. So this does not need to be as polarizing or as paralyzed as it seems to be in the hall of Congress, but it takes leadership.

CAMEROTA: So just to challenge your pessimism, because I'm on an optimism roll...

AVLON: Good for you.

CAMEROTA: ... here's the bipartisan Cornyn-Chris Murphy bill, OK? So they have already tried to do something in a bipartisan way. Here are the elements of it.

Insure federal and state authorities comply with the existing law. That seems like a no-brainer.

Require them to report criminal history records to the background check. Yes. Who could argue with that?

Block bonus pay for failing to upload records to background check systems. Yes, of course. There has to be some accountability, some punishment if you don't do that.

But it would not strengthen background checks themselves. OK.

CUOMO: Doesn't close the gun show loophole and things like that. So it really just makes you follow the law as it is.

CAMEROTA: OK. I mean, so can this one pass?

PALMER: To me, the question is really carrot and stick. Do they try to have a bogeyman? Is there the assault ban weapon (ph), that's never going to happen? But does that become more real and then you have Congress, "OK, well, we're not going to do that, but we can do these maybe more common things."

CUOMO: Right. And it will be frustrating to people. But there's going to be a dimension of how to deal with mental health, which is a conversation we've had to have for a long time. There are ways to identify people who are at risk for suicide. People will think, "Well, that's not what this is." It is. And you will see in the research -- I'm trying to get one of the founders of a program that makes a big difference in the military and states all over, just by asking the right questions to people. There are changes you can have. The gun control people have to be open to talking about something else, and the people who are intractable are going to be open to talking, or nothing will get done.

CAMEROTA: Anna Palmer, John Avlon, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. This matters. It has to be discussed. It cannot go away. And that's why tomorrow night, CNN is hosting a live town hall with students and parents from Parkland, Florida. And there are going to be some -- several key lawmakers there, as well. Jake Tapper is going to host it. It's called "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action Now." All right. Tomorrow, 9 p.m. Eastern, please watch.

CAMEROTA: OK. Up next, we have a CNN exclusive for you. Special Counsel Robert Mueller expanding his interest in Jared Kushner beyond just contacts with Russians. What Mueller is looking at now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:16:38] CUOMO: A CNN exclusive. Special Counsel Bob Mueller investigating contacts between the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and foreign business investors during the presidential transition period. We've got Abby Phillip live at the White House with more.

What do we know?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. Sources tell CNN that this new interest by Special Counsel Robert

Mueller centers around Jared Kushner's activities during the presidential transition, when he was also apparently seeking financing for a troubled debt-ridden property in New York City, 666 Fifth Avenue.

Now, these meetings include meetings with Chinese and Qatari investors, including one Chinese meeting that happened about a week after the election. Now, both deals apparently fell through, but this new interest indicates that the special counsel is veering beyond Kushner's potential interest in meetings with Russian investors during that time. And perhaps veering into President Trump's red line.

Listen to what President Trump told "The New York Times" last year about whether he felt that the special counsel talking about his family's businesses or his businesses would cross he has red line. Listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances, unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Reporter: Well, we also know that the special counsel has not yet requested documents from the Kushner companies or interviews with other executives from the Kushner businesses.

And we have this statement from Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for Jared Kushner, in response to the story. He said, "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 documents sought on the 666 building or Kushner Company deals, nor there would be -- nor would there be any reason to question these regular business deals."

Now, with those -- this Russia probe has been advancing. There were some major developments last week with the indictment of 13 Russian officials. And President Trump has, of course, been tweeting about it relentlessly over the past weekend, including last night, when he blamed President Obama, his predecessor, for failing to do enough to stop Russian interference, Chris.

CAMEROTA: We will get into all of that, Abby, including what he is doing to stop Russian interference. Thank you very much for that reporting.

Joining us now, our CNN political analyst, John Avlon, and CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero.

So just on the politics of it we'll start, John. Jared Kushner, according to our reporting, tried to secure financing for his real- estate ventures from foreign investors during a presidential transition. Talk about drain the swamp. How is that working for the American people?

AVLON: Look, it's just your typical $1.8 billion mortgage with $1.4 in debt.

CAMEROTA: That's what he has.

AVLON: And look, to be fair, that's going to create a lot of pressure.

But, yes, during the transition, apparently, Jared Kushner, who has now divested himself of this property, was meeting with high-level foreign business leaders, some of whom were connected to governments: Russia, China. And that's going to attract some attention.

Now Abbe Lowell says, Kushner's lawyer says they've requested no documents. But that float, that anxiety, and meeting with high-level foreign officials connected to governments under the auspices of business. That's going to be a problem.

[06:20:05] CUOMO: And the fact that there are no documents yet. Reviewing finances would be somewhat fundamental to this. No? What are we missing?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It could be -- I mean, Abbe Lowell's statement sort of is an invitation for subpoena in some respects to the special counsel's office.

But they can -- at this stage, they can still obtain information through other sources. They can obtain information through witnesses. They can request documents from third parties. That is, other companies that might hold documents about the transaction or about his companies. And you know, in the Gates and Manafort case, the special counsel's office actually pierced some privilege issues with respect to accountants.

So there are other avenues where they can get some of this information.

CAMEROTA: John, what does all of this mean for Jared Kushner's security clearance? He does not have a full security clearance. We stumbled upon this with the rob Porter case, with the domestic violence allegations. So he has an interim security clearance. So, how long can he handle classified information?

AVLON: Well, the interim -- you know, the utility of the interim clearance expires after a while. Allegedly John Kelly, in the wake of Porter is saying, look, we've got to reassess this. If you're still working at the White House over a year later and don't have a permanent security clearance, we've got a problem, people.

The news that the Mueller investigation is looking at Kushner isn't going to help his case, because this is something that even nepotism can't solve. This is about national security... CUOMO: Right.

CUOMO: ... on a deep level.

CUOMO: But at the end of the day, though, Carrie, I mean, you tell us. You're the expert on this stuff, but they may -- they may have questions with the process of how this got vetted and how it is ongoing, but if the White House wants him to see things. They're going to be able to make it happen, just through executive privilege, no?

CORDERO: Well, I wouldn't quite put it in the context of executive privilege, but basically, the revised rules that John Kelly announced last week included a caveat, which is that if he wants to extend somebody's temporary interim clearance, than he can go ahead and do so.

But it really is counter to the way that the regulations are supposed to work. And what's interesting is, there's actually an existing executive order that says that a person cannot be granted a clearance solely based on their title or their affiliation or their rank.

So -- so being the president -- by the president just saying, "Well, this is who I want to be my adviser." Or, "This is my family member, so I want them to have a security clearance." Under the way that things have normally worked, that's not the way it's supposed to happen.

CAMEROTA: Remember when Donald Trump really cared about classified information slipping into the wrong hands.

AVLON: Oh, that was then. This is now.

CAMEROTA: I mean, honestly, that's the explanation.

AVLON: Lock her up!

CAMEROTA: Yes. Though she was sending e-mails to people with security clearances.

AVLON: Yes. These are tsunamis of situational ethics. I mean, this is -- this is, unfortunately, the new normal in Washington. And sane is the new normal, people.

CUOMO: Well, look, it takes us back to that whole discussion, which begins with -- well, what did we know and when did we know when it came to this? And there's no question that the Obama administration had what they would call a tough choice. And you could argue, John, that they made the wrong choice.

Their take is this. When we found out -- and we had the information, one, we didn't know what we know now. But when we knew...

CAMEROTA: About possible connections with Russia.

CUOMO: Right. We first of all put out notice. Now arguably... AVLON: Belatedly.

CUOMO: They did it belatedly. They did it pretty quiet. They said that they then went to Mitch McConnell to do it in a big way. He didn't want to. He denies that.

Now President Trump is saying, if you want to point the finger, point it at Obama. His problem is that he has been anything but out front in dealing with the Russian threat.

AVLON: Absolutely. But this is a new narrative you're seeing, coming from the White House and its surrogates. And I think, look, you can fault the Obama administration for being too passive on this issue. You know, the intelligence agencies put out a report in October, but you know, Obama met with Mitch McConnell, you know, and McConnell may dispute some details, but the reporting all says that McConnell said, "Look, let's not go public with Russians trying to interfere in the election on Trump's behalf."

And the Obama people, I think naively, obviously, believing Hillary was going to win, said, "That may look like like we're trying to put our finger on the scales." So they backed off. And they therefore deprived the American people of a crucial bit of information. That may be a failure on Obama's part, but after the election, he did -- he yanked a couple of properties from the Russians.

CUOMO: Kicked out a bunch of Russian operatives.

AVLON: The sanctions that -- the context that we're discussing a lot right now get implemented. Allegedly, what led to Michael Flynn getting into trouble because he's back-channeling saying, "Don't worry about this." But so the attempt to deflect the issue doesn't quite fit the circumstance, at all.

CAMEROTA: Not only that, Carrie, I mean, the president, President Trump is not fully implementing the sanctions that Congress passed nearly unanimously. So if he -- how can he blame President Obama for not doing enough when those sanctions have not been implemented?

CORDERO: Well, beyond just the sanctions, I mean, this administration has no strategy, no policy that they have articulated the for countering what has been identified as this Russian intelligence operation, targeting the U.S.

But I would break the criticism into the Obama administration into two parts. What did they do before the election and what do they do during the transition from November to January?

[06:25:06] And before the election, I understand why they were concerned about not politicizing intelligence information, although having worked on transparency issues for a long time, I think that they could have been more forward leaning in terms of the information that they released in the October 2016 statement was just too little, too late.

On the other hand, from once he won the election, from November to January, I think they missed an opportunity there. Now, maybe they were just so busy with figuring out what to do and how to hand things off in a way that they didn't expect, but they could have done more during that period.

CUOMO: Fair criticism. Carrie, thank you very much. John, as well.

Mitt Romney getting a surprise boost in his run for a Senate seat. Which former political foe is now giving his full support? Next.

CAMEROTA: I like a riddle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Surprise, surprise! President Trump endorsing Mitt Romney to replace retiring Utah senator, Orrin Hatch.