Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Tweet on Russian Meddling; Trump Tweets about Graham; Trump attends Discussion on Gun Violence in Schools; Florida Votes against Gun Debate. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired February 21, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:14] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this just in. President Trump has finally made a statement about the passing of Billy Graham, but only after a statement about Russia asking why his Justice Department is not investigating the Obama White House.

Abby Phillip for us outside the White House with the very latest.



It's a familiar tweet from the president, going after his very own attorney general in this tweet this morning. He seemed to be preoccupied with this Russia investigation. And this is what he had to say directly to Jeff Sessions, who, by the way, his name was misspelled in the tweet. He said, question, if all the Russian meddling took place during the Obama administration right up to January 20th, why aren't they subject of investigation? Why didn't Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren't Dems crimes under investigations? Ask Jeff Session.

Now, it's really still unclear what Dem crimes the president is referring to, but he has often asked his attorney general to turn the investigative powers at the Department of Justice back on to the Democratic administration that came before him and presumptively on his Democratic opponent in the 2016 election.

Now, the president clearly still very angry with Jeff Sessions here. And we know they've had a tumultuous relationship over the past year. The president was angry that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and that has clearly not gone away.

A few minutes later he went on to talk about Billy Graham's death, 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.

We will see President Trump here at the White House later today. He's going to have a listening session on the issue of gun violence in schools. And it remains to be seen what more he's going to do. By the way, John, he's going to have to work with his attorney general on that issue itself. Sao we'll see whether their relationship will be able to hold up through a lot of these crises that this White House is dealing with. BERMAN: All right, Abby Phillip for us at the White House.

Much more on this new statement from the president pressuring his own attorney general. We'll discuss, next.


[09:36:24] BERMAN: So, moments ago, President Trump asked his own attorney general why he isn't investigating President Obama for Russian meddling. And as far as we can tell, he was asking un- ironically.

Joining me now, CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga, CNN political commentator and Spectrum news anchor Errol Louis, and CNN's senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.

Errol, this follows a pattern that we have seen over the last three days or so where the president, obsessed with the Russia investigation as he has been for some time, but with this new twist that it was Obama's fault.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, this is part of a much larger pattern where at all costs there were three things that Donald Trump always does. Number one is reflectively defend himself, claim his own innocence. Number two is protect Vladimir Putin at all costs. Nothing in here about organizing an actual response to what has been described accurately as an attack on the United States and on our electoral system. And, third, is to reflexively sort of attack Barack Obama because that riles up his base. So this is Donald Trump appealing to his base.

The one thing that they all agree on is that they all hate Barack Obama and they all have to try and condemn him or make him the issue in some way. This is more of the deflection that Donald Trump needs to do rather than actually address the question on (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: You know, it comes -- it comes 24 hours after new charges in the Mueller investigation. It comes several days, Ron Brownstein, after 13 Russians indicted for meddling in the U.S. election, ultimately trying to help elect Donald Trump there.

And, again, this comes with this added dig at the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, I mean, there are, to me, two points that really stand out about this. The first is that. I mean you can get numb to the endless, unstenting (ph) violation of the traditional norms of presidential behavior from Donald Trump, in particular the tradition of presidents having a hands-off posture toward directing the investigative -- the awesome investigative capacities of the federal government. And he simply does not accept those limits.

And it does go to what I believe is the central vulnerability for Republicans in the congressional -- in the midterm elections, which is the sense that Trump is essentially untrammeled and unconstrained and they are unwilling to put any kind of oversight or restraint on him.

And the other point is the one that Errol made, it's very important, every piece of the reaction to the Mueller indictment from the administration has been what -- what does it mean for me personally, defending myself, throwing off the idea that this had anything to do with the victory in the election, which is, of course, an -- really an existentially unknowable question. None of it has been about, how do we defend the United States against this kind of meddling. And it -- it is -- it just -- it's just indicative of his inability to separate his personal interest from the national interest in responding to this ongoing challenge.

BERMAN: You know, it strikes me that this is all happening on a day when he has a very important meeting at the White House with survivors of school shootings. You might think he would wake up thinking about school shootings, thinking about how he'd want to address the gun control, the gun rights debate in this country, but instead he focuses on this.

Bianna Golodryga, though, you have been focusing on guns. You had a remarkable discussion with gun owners, many of whom had survived their own mass shootings. Let me play just a little bit of it. This aired on your -- you know, you moonlight on CBS News. This played on CBS earlier today.


AUSTIN EUBANKS, COLUMBINE SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I was the victim of a mass shooting that happened while an assault weapons ban was in place. And I'm not one of those people that believes that an assault weapon ban is going to solve our problem, but I do think that it can bring down the loss of life while we focus on the underlying issues of mental health.

[09:40:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm open to ideas to fix the problems that we have. But when people just want to ban something just because somebody did something wrong with it, I think that's not helping the issue at all.


BERMAN: What I love about this, is this is a sober, calm discussion about very complicated issues, but it's also very revealing.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It gives you a preview of what happens in Washington on a daily basis, specifically in the aftermath of a mass shooting. And you see amongst this panel even, as soon as the issue of Democrat or Republican comes in, people just want to change the subject. They don't want to talk about it. And you see the frustration with anything being done.

We wanted to have this conversation, as you mentioned, with gun owners. Many of the -- most of those panelists do own guns are in the market for one. But the debate really comes down to, where do you draw the line? Are assault weapons -- should they be legal? We have people that survived the Los Angeles massacre, like you just heard from that man, Toby, who owns many guns, wouldn't tell me the number of guns that he owns and says that he doesn't think anything should change.

BERMAN: It's fascinating to see.

It's also fascinating to see, Errol, how the president has positioned himself here. Yesterday with the announcement, I think he wanted it to be a dramatic announcement, that he would like to see bump stocks banned. He wants to see the ATF do it. It's going to take some time. Just because the president said it, it will take some time to work through the bureaucracy. It could probably happen faster if there's legislation. But he took a position on that.


BERMAN: Appears to be taking a position that he wants stricter background checks. We don't know exactly what that means. But it may mean something. Also the White House hinting that the president might be willing to raise the minimum age for purchasing a rifle, including these AR-15s, these assault weapons, raise it from 18 to 21. These would be things that have not happened before. They would be steps. Maybe not every step that gun control advocates want, but not nothing either.

LOUIS: That's right. This is a -- this is a case where some of the Republicans who are out there defending the no-change stance of the NRA, or more specifically putting more guns in more people's hands all the time, they could really learn something from Donald Trump, who, whatever other problems he may have, has a very good sort of detector when it comes to sort of sensing where the public mood is going on certain issues. If he thinks his base is ready to move with him in a particular direction and to maybe put in some of these common sense changes that you just describe, they may be able to get some cover and they may be able to push back against the NRA.

But I've got to mention, I mean, the most important -- the number one priority for the NRA, the most dangerous piece of legislation that's currently on the table has already passed the House, is this concealed carry reciprocity act, which would take the lax -- the most lax gun rules in any part of the country and make them essentially apply everywhere when it comes to carrying concealed weapons. Very dangerous, very potent, very important. If the president doesn't address that, promise to veto it, for example, a lot of these other changes won't mean very much.

GOLODRYGA: You could also make the argument, though, if the president put as much pressure, as much dedication, as much passion into this issue as he does into the Russia investigation, maybe this could actually go through.

BERMAN: Well, he can change minds. I mean he can pressure. His base seems pretty tight with him. So if he wants something to happen, he may be able to move the bar there just a little bit.

Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I was going to say, so many of the -- so many of the things we're talking about have the same foundation, which is the demographic transformation and separation of the country. I mean just think about even Billy Graham. When Billy Graham started preaching, 80 percent of the country was white Christians. Now it's around 40 percent. The Republican Party represents now primarily non-urban, non- metro America. It's the parts of America where there are still more white Christians, where there are few immigrants and where there are a lot of guns. Democrats are the party increasingly of urban America, which is more secular, where there are more immigrants and there are fewer guns. And the place where -- you know, the last 20 years, Democrats have been really routed in that kind of rural and small town America where the blue dog Democrats used to win. People like Ike Skelton (ph) and John Mertha (ph).

This election, I think, on the other hand, you're going to see the enormous pressure on the remaining Republicans in metro America, in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Denver, where Mike Kaufman (ph) was heckled about guns yesterday, and Chicago and Orange County. All of those Republicans voted with the NRA on the bill that Errol noted, about making concealed carry laws, you know, nationwide.

In the '90s, the suburban Republicans usually voted against the NRA. That's how Bill Clinton passed the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapon Ban. They have moved toward more kind of lockstep conformity with party leadership. And at a point where Donald Trump is already unpopular in those white collar suburban districts, I think it gives the opportunity for gun advocates to make this issue more salient than it has been and kind of deepen this separation. I mean we could come out of this election with the Republican Party rooted more in non- metro America, a Democrat Party that is stronger in metro America and the trench between them even more deep -- even deeper and more forbidding.

BERMAN: All right, Bianna Golodryga, Errol Louis, Ron Brownstein, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it, guys.

LOUIS: Thanks.

[09:44:56] BERMAN: Students rally in Florida's state capitol, pushing for gun control legislation. We will speak to one of those state lawmakers, next.


BERMAN: All right, happening now, student survivors from the Stoneman Douglas High School rallying at the Florida state capital. They're trying to put pressure on lawmakers to take some action on gun control.

Republican State Representative Matt Caldwell joins me right now.

Representative, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate your time.

Overnight, you voted against debating -- you voted against allowing for the debate on a bill that would ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Why did you vote against having that debate?

[09:50:02] MATT CALDWELL (R), FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, thanks for having me on.

Look, first of all, that wasn't just a ban on high capacity magazines. That was a ban on all guns. And, second of all, it was a procedural vote. We don't pull votes -- bills out of committee. We haven't the whole time I've been here. And we're not going to start doing it now.

We're going to have substantive debate. I expect that next week we're going to have a recommended package that comes as a result of the meetings the governor had yesterday, and we're going to hear that in committee and we're going to move that to the floor.

We need to be focused on real solutions. These maniacs that attack our schools, they are essentially lone wolf terrorists --


CALDWELL: And we have to have strategies to focus on that.

You've got a great example here of where the FBI had been reported to, the school had been reported to, local law enforcement had been reported to. They did not communicate effectively. They did not understand that this guy was a real threat. And if we're going to solve this problem, we're going to have to focus on that side of the equation. And taking away people's Second Amendment rights aren't going to do that.

BERMAN: So it doesn't sound like you're open to any discussion about gun legislation or gun control, is that correct? I mean I'm saying, this was a vote against even debating it. It doesn't sound like you're open to even having a discussion.

CALDWELL: Well, again, it was a procedural vote. We don't pull vote bills out of committee. I guarantee that we're going to have the debate. We're going to have a package that we're going to bring up in committee next week. We'll have it on the floor. We're going to respond to this. There's no question about it. But we need to respond with tools, I think, that are going to make a difference about this. I -- I --

BERMAN: And I have --

CALDWELL: We know for a fact that these schools get targeted because they're gun free zones.

BERMAN: Well --

CALDWELL: Ninety-five percent plus of these attacks happen in those areas.

BERMAN: Do you know for a fact that -- do you know for a fact that's what happened in this case? We don't know for a fact that's what happened in this case, just, you know, we don't.

CALDWELL: Listen, over and over again -- you look all across the country. These maniacs, they plan, they plot, they practice, they know what they want to do and what they want to achieve and they choose targets that are soft targets.

BERMAN: You just said -- you just said we -- you just said, I'm just -- and, again, we're just having this discussion here. You say we know for a fact that these schools are targeted. We don't know, in fact, that this school was targeted because it was a gun free zone. It appears it was targeted because this student went there.

These students from the Stoneman Douglas High School, you know, I'm sure you see them all around you right now. I think they're behind you as we speak. And they are passionate. They are hurting so much. I just want to play for you how they reacted -- one reacted overnight to your vote.


SHERYL ACQUAROLI, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS STUDENT: The next death 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 and that those people aren't going to go home to their families and that there's going to be an empty space in people's lives and it's going to be their fault.


BERMAN: I guess, and, again, you've -- I know where you stand on the discussion on the Second Amendment and on AR-15s and assault rifles. I'm not going to ask you to respond to that again. But just, in general, the presence of these students, what kind of an impact is it having on you?

CALDWELL: Look, there's no doubt. This is a tragedy. They're grieving. I get that. I've had friends that have been murdered. I've had friends commit suicide. I understand what that grief feels like.

What we need to be focused on are solutions that are going to make a difference. And I think the worst scenario, the absolute worst scenario, is that we go out and we ban guns and we tell everybody that we've solved this problem and we haven't. We haven't solved the problem.

BERMAN: Let me --

CALDWELL: And then you're going to have another attack and people are going to ask why? Why? I thought we solved this with this -- with this gun ban --

BERMAN: Are you --

CALDWELL: And that didn't do anything to change the circumstance.

BERMAN: Just two quick questions. Are you personally meeting with any students?

CALDWELL: We are. We've got them coming in this morning.

BERMAN: To your office personally? CALDWELL: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

BERMAN: That's terrific. And you said --

CALDWELL: And you'll see I'm wearing -- wearing the ribbon for Parkland in remembrance.

BERMAN: And I think we're all mourning right alongside you for all that was lost there.

You said you're looking for solutions here. You're also saying you do not want a gun ban. Well, there are -- you have fellow Republicans in the statehouse there who are also looking for solutions and I don't think they believe they're proposing gun bans.

There's a measure being proposed by Republican State Senator Bill Galvano (ph) down there and I understand there's going to be a version in the House that you'll get a chance to look at also. Some of the things it's calling for is raising the minimum age for buying rifles or assault rifles to 21. It's at 18 right now. Instituting waiting periods for rifle purchases, which don't exist in Florida right now. Banning bump stocks, which is something the president wants to do. And also discussing the possibility of gun violence restraining orders.

Again, I think the Republicans proposing this right now don't believe these are bans on guns. Are any of these measures something that you can personally --

CALDWELL: Well, and --

BERMAN: Could you support these?

CALDWELL: Yes, we, absolutely, as a state, get to decide what the age of maturity (ph) is and the discussion about 18 or 21 is something I'm absolutely willing to talk about and --


CALDWELL: What is the age to be responsibly owning a gun. But that's -- that's a strong contrast to where you started this discussion talking about a bill that essentially would have banned all guns. That's the totally wrong way to come at this.

[09:55:06] And that's why I say, we're going to have a real discussion. We're going to have this debate.

BERMAN: Right.

CALDWELL: We're going to bring it up in committee I expect next week and then we're going to bring it to the floor and we're going to talk about things that we think are going to actually make a difference. And part of that includes, as you said, maybe these violence restraining orders, making sure that the different law enforcement agencies are talking to each other, actually communicating about what the real threats are. And I -- truly I believe that these schools, that these areas where

these shootings happen, happen because they are soft targets. They happen because we designate them gun free zones. Everywhere else in society, concealed weapon permit holders can carry without restraint. They are statistically the safest people -- I listened to your commentator in the previous section say that that's very dangerous to have reciprocity. That's crazy.

BERMAN: Well --

CALDWELL: The stats bear this out.

BERMAN: Representative --

CALDWELL: The law enforcement officer is more likely to commit a crime than a CWP holder.

BERMAN: Point of fact I was asking you at the beginning about your vote yesterday which was about not debating the measure on AR-15s and assault weapons right there. I wasn't asking you or pressing you on that. I'm asking you about all of these proposals which I think will be discussed in the coming days and we appreciate you coming on and discussing them with us now.

Representative Matt Caldwell of Florida, thanks so much for being with us.

CALDWELL: Thanks, John, I appreciate it.

BERMAN: And we're following all -- we have a lot of breaking news this morning.

School shooting survivors rallying in Florida. The president calling out his own attorney general again, this time for not investigating former President Obama. And, of course, the loss of evangelist Billy Graham.