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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Unleashed Tweets on Obama, Sessions over Russia Election Meddling; Tensions Rise Between Kelly & Kushner; Students Meet with Governor, Lawmakers in Tallahassee on Guns; Trump Orders DOJ to Ban Bump Stocks; Reverend Billy Graham Dead at 99. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:30:16] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump unleashing another shaming session on Twitter, directed at his predecessor and his own attorney general: "Question, if all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama administration, right up to January 20th, why aren't they the subject of the investigation? Why didn't Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren't Dem. crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

First, Kaitlan, we heard from the intel chiefs this is still ongoing, this didn't all just happen, although for 2016, sure. It looks like the attorney general really back in the president's bad graces here. What brought this on?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Brianna. I should note that Jeff Sessions stayed in the president's bad graces and hasn't said so public in recent months but has privately continued to fume over the tone general lately. It stems from when Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation back last March. And it's only continued to antagonize and anger the president.

But this is resurfacing because of the news and flurry of headlines regarding relating to the Russia investigation, especially the indictment of the 13 Russians on Friday, as the president watched the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and what else he's not a fan of, and his anger at Sessions continued to grow. And he was complaining about Jeff Sessions all weekend from his estate in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Those of us who cover the White House saw this coming from a mile away because the president has continued to be angry with Jeff Sessions. And one source who spoke to the president told my colleague, Jeff Sessions, quote, "he will never get over Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation."

But a word of caution here, Brianna. This does not mean Jeff Sessions is on his way out of the Justice Department. Because as we've seen, the president has been very frustrated with him since last summer and he's still in charge over at the DOJ. KEILAR: Tell us about this tension between the chief of staff and the

president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is still operating with a temporary security clearance.

COLLINS: That's right, Jared Kushner is still on an interim security clearance, something that has come under fire since that staff secretary, Rob Porter, resigned after there was spousal abuse allegations in his past, something that several White House officials knew about. And now John Kelly has decided to overhaul the way the security clearance process works here at the White House. And he sent out this five-page memo saying that if you've been operating under an interim security clearance since June 1st or prior, you will no longer be able to access highly classified information. A lot saw that as a direct dig at the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Certainly.

Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining me now is CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

Let's talk about the Jeff Sessions, shall we?

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: This tweet, it's become characteristic, but, wow, that must burn if you're Jeff Sessions. The president is never going to get over this with Jeff Sessions, is he?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: No. No. Let's remember the president of the United States told it was, I believe, the "New York Times" in an interview, I never would have hired Jeff Sessions if I knew he was going to recuse himself. He's also called Jeff Sessions beleaguered. He's done tweets like this where he wonders why the Justice Department isn't doing this and that and the other thing many times. The only thing I can think of, Jeff Sessions reached a point, probably a few months ago, in which he thought, if he wants to get rid of me, he's going to have to fire me. It's clear from Trump's side he's not happy with Jeff Sessions. And I think Jeff Sessions is sort of daring him at this point. Jeff Sessions has the job he's always wanted, right, attorney general. He's not going to walk away from it. And a tweet -- I think given their history, this tweet won't change that.

KEILAR: I wonder if that daring him to fire him is also something that we're seeing with chief of staff, John Kelly. He's clearly trying to preserve his reputation for creating order. But when he's putting out this cutoff of June for security clearances and they're going to be revoked, I mean, Jared Kushner didn't even turn in all of his updated information until after that. So he puts this statement out, Kelly does, and it's extraordinary, Chris: "As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio, including overseeing our Israeli/Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico." John Kelly versus the president's son-in-law?

CILLIZZA: Yes. The question I have, and I don't know the answer to this, is Kushner a collateral damage and John Kelly trying to save himself? All of this stems from Rob Porter, the former White House press secretary, who Kelly was defending up to the point where it became clear that Porter had -- there were very serious allegations against domestic abuse from two ex-wives, and Porter didn't have this clearance. Now Kelly trying to figure out how can I stabilize myself, had said we're going to do the security clearance thing. Did he do that with Kushner in his sights? Was Kushner just sort of there? It is candidly --

[11:35:20] KEILAR: How do you not notice if the president's son-in- law is in your sights?

CILLIZZA: Right. But it's also ridiculous, Brianna. Just take one step back from the Palestinian treaty, which is most of what this White House --

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Jared Kushner is getting -- reading the presidential daily briefing and seeing classified materials. We know these things because he wants to continue to do so. There's a reason that he didn't have a full security clearance because of, as we reported, financial dealings in the transition, and as well as what you noted, which is a number of omissions in the paperwork he filed to join the administration, and it hasn't been cleared up yet. That, to me, is the broader question is, Jared Kushner seems to be immune from this because he's represented to the president of the United States. But there is a national security concern that anyone, Democrat or Republican or Independent, Green, should have when you have someone who's been on that long a leash with no full-time security.

KEILAR: Good point.

Chris Cillizza, thank you so much for that.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

KEILAR: We're keeping a close eye, of course, on Tallahassee, Florida, where you have 100 survivors of last week's school shooting, some of them are holding a rally outside of the state capitol. Some of them are conducting meetings. They are meeting with the governor and lawmakers from both parties and they are demanding tougher gun laws.

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[11:41:06] KEILAR: All right, that signal just cut out, but that was chanting that we were listening to during the commercial break from Tallahassee. That was the scene of teenagers who survived last week's school massacre and a lot of their supporters marching there on state capitol demanding tougher gun laws.

Joining me now to talk about this is Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, from Arizona.

Sir, thanks for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: I know you've seen this announcement by the president and he ordered the Justice Department to ban bump stocks. Do you support him on that?

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO, (D), ARIZONA: I support him on that, but it's a little too late. We should have done this right after the Las Vegas shooting where the largest massacre of Americans happened. And two, if he wants true leadership, he should talk to Speaker Ryan and say we need to put this in legislation. That's the problem. It's a lot of times a lot of talk and very little action when it comes to leadership in the Republican House.

KEILAR: No offense, why would he trust Congress? I mean, Congress has shown itself to be, so in effectual in dealing with issues of gun violence.

GALLEGO: Because it's time to lead. What we see in the past it that it's not -- Republican led Congress. Let's remember, after Sandy Hook, it was essentially universal background checks were stopped by filibuster by Republican Senators.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Was that President Obama's fault for not leading on that?

GALLEGO: At some point, if you have Republican Senators filibustering, there's only so much you can do.

Now Trump, who has -- President Trump has full control of the House and Senate, should show leadership and try to push legislation, even modest legislation, such as 18-year-olds should not have access to A.R.-15s or weapons of that nature.

KEILAR: Why not have the DOJ do it then?

GALLEGO: Of course, that's a good start --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: If that's the end you want.

GALLEGO: Right, that's a good start. A bump stock would not have prevented what occurred in Florida.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Sure, we're talking Vegas, right?

GALLEGO: Right, but I'm talking about Florida right now. Vegas, it would have potentially stopped it. But in Florida we had an A.R.-15 that a young man bought legally and, in my opinion, should not have had that weapon. I've used that weapon in war. That weapon is a very effective weapon for defense in war. It's designed to kill as many people as possible and maim as many as people, but it should not be in the hands of 18-year-olds, unless that 18-year-old is serving in the military at that time in a war zone. The fact that this young man had that weapon is essentially what created this scenario where so many students died and their teachers.

KEILAR: I do want to know -- you're a veteran and served in Iraq. You're familiar with these kinds of weapons for sure. The president has called on both parties, and he is in this demand entrusting Congress, to strengthen background checks. And if we are talking about Florida, that is something that could have really important because there were so many red flags when it came to the shooter here. Do you support the president on that?

GALLEGO: Of course. The Democrats have always been supportive of universal background checks. The president needs to realize what he did earlier in the year where he signed into law a piece of legislation that actually undermined background checks, especially specifically with people that are mentally ill. So I'm glad he's come and seen, you know, seen Jesus on the road to Damascus, but his own actions earlier in the year do not match that. And also, his Republican Party does not match it. They've always been the bulwark against universal background checks. If he wants to work with us, we'll gladly do it, but he needs to follow with actions and words and not try to placate the politics of what's happening right now.

KEILAR: You know I have to ask about this, these harsh words you had for the president over the weekend when he tweeted that the FBI misleads on the Parkland shooter because of the Russia investigation. And you respond. You said, "You are such a psychopath that you have to make even the death of 17 children about you. America will regret the day that you were ever born."

Now, I've seen your other interviews about this and said this tweet to the president it's -- your tweeted response is really about the president tearing this country apart. But when you think about that, do you think your tweet is really constructive?

[11:45:33] GALLEGO: I think it's very important for us to shock the American public, especially those that aren't paying attention to what this president is doing. I think it is constructive in that sense that we're not dealing with a normal president. If any president in the past would have tweeted this out while there were still young men and women being buried in a mass shooting, the press and politicians in general would have started questioning the sanity of this president or whether even he's fit for office. Somehow, we've all gone into the norm that the president can act how he is and we're supposed to accept it's normal. It's not normal. Everything the White House is doing is not normal. And it is incumbent upon elected officials like me to try to get people to recognize that. KEILAR: You think shocking people with a shocking response to a

shocking tweet is the -- I mean, is that really your feeling that that's really the only way to kind of get attention to your issue?

GALLEGO: No, I think there's actually lots of ways to actually get attention to the issue. But at the same time, we can't treat this like normal. The president is not acting responsibly. We -- all have questions about whether or not he's fit for office. What he did was beyond the pale, to take something as disgusting that just occurred to these young kids and then turn around and make it about himself. That's not normal. We need to fight on all fronts for people to realize that.

KEILAR: Ruben Gallego, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

GALLEGO: Thank you. Have a good one.

KEILAR: Coming up, he preached to millions, he prayed with presidents on both sides of the aisle, and many are mourning the passing of Reverend Billy Graham, dead today at 99. We'll have details ahead.

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[11:51:42] REV. BILLY GRAHAM, CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST: Jesus was a man. He was human. He was not a white man. He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe, and he probably had a brown skin.

Christianity is not a white man's religion. And don't let anybody ever tell you that it's white or black. Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.

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KEILAR: Evangelist Billy Graham, who was called America's pastor, has died. He was 99. And he preached to millions across the world for more than six decades and prayed with every U.S. president since Harry Truman.

This morning, President Trump tweeting, "The great Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him. He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man."

Joining me now is Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Thanks so much for joining us.

You put out a statement after the news broke, and you said that, "Graham turned the world upside down with the Gospel". What'd you mean by that?

RUSSELL MOORE, THE PRESIDENT OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION: Well, Billy Graham preached the good news of Jesus Christ all around the world. He carried the historic Christian message that has been carried down for 2,000 years and emphasized what he constantly would say is peace with God, what it means to be brought just as we are into the presence of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. That message resonated not only with the millions who came to faith in Christ through that message but also with those who didn't believe the Gospel, but who, nonetheless, knew that Billy Graham believed it and respected him for his integrity and for his consistency in preaching that message.

KEILAR: What did Billy Graham, the person, mean to you?

MOORE: Billy Graham was a symbol and a sign for me of someone who was not trying to sell anything. He was not someone who was trying to gain personal power. There was no hidden agenda. Billy Graham was somebody who had been forgiven of his sin through the grace of Jesus Christ and who was consumed with that message so that he wanted to see others come to know the grace of God.

When I think of that North Carolinian accent of Billy Graham preaching the message, I often think of the song that would be sung as an invitation at the end of his crusades, "Just as I am, without one plea, but your blood was shed for me." That was his message wherever he was, whatever the group of people. So that kind of consistency is something that I think we should all aspire to, no matter what our callings are in life.

KEILAR: He was really the first televangelist. We see that video we played, all the people who would gather to hear him at these crusades. Millions would watch on TV. He never built a megachurch though. Why?

MOORE: No, his calling was as an evangelist, itinerant, all around the world, with whatever groups would hear him. He was also very attuned to what was going on technologically. Because he had a burden to see all people come to faith in Christ, he wanted to reach them wherever they would be listening or viewing. So he pioneered not only city by city these mass evangelistic crusades, but also television, radio, and later years, Internet. What he wanted to do was to say, where are people, and I want to be there with them, letting them know, yes, you're a sinner, but you're made in the image of God. Jesus died for you and God wants peace with you through the Gospel. So he was always saying, where can I take that message, and use whatever means necessary to do so.

[11:55:27] KEILAR: Russell Moore, thank you so much for joining us as we remember the Reverend Billy Graham.

MOORE: Thank you.

KEILAR: Now, coming up in just a few moments, the survivors of the Florida school shooting will be holding a rally for action and change to stem gun violence. This all comes ahead of tonight's special live CNN town hall event with students of Stoneman Douglas High School. That will be airing tonight at 9:00 eastern, only on CNN.

And we'll have much more after a quick break.

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