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Trump asks why his AG isn't Investigating Obama; Shooting Survivors take Gun Control Fight to State Capitol; Tonight: CNN Town Hall with Students and Politicians. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 10:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone, John Berman here.

We're following some major breaking news stories this morning. The first Evangelist Billy Graham has passed away at the age of 99. The man known as America's pastor, he died this morning at his home in North Carolina. We will have much more on that remarkable life in just a moment.

Plus, the president takes on his own attorney general again, asking why his Justice Department is not investigating the Obama administration over Russia meddling. Also, happening now, Florida shooting survivors rallying at the State Capitol for gun reform.


STUDENTS: Never again! Never again! Never again! Never again!


BERMAN: As they chant never again, dozens of their classmates are inside pushing lawmakers for tighter gun control laws. Tonight some of those students will join CNN's Jake Tapper for a live town hall on gun laws and school safety.

We're going to start with CNN's Dianne Gallagher who has been traveling with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Tallahassee right now. Diane?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, they are inside meeting with lawmakers at this moment. I've been texting with some of those students that I rode up here with on the bus. So far so good they say. They feel like they are experiencing some positive dialogue. They've been confronting lawmakers on that vote yesterday not to take up discussion on the bill that would propose to ban assault weapons in the state of Florida. They say that they are getting some good reasoning and this is why they came here. They wanted to show and express their ideas but they also wanted that two-way discussion so they could understand lawmakers and lawmakers could understand them. Now that is not to say that they do not have a long list of very firm demands. They want some form of gun control at the state level enacted and then they are moving on to the national level, they say. It's been one week since a shooter came into their school, massacred 17 of their classmates and their teachers and on this day they say they are using the memory of them and those students of their classmates were still in the hospital to sort of light that fire underneath them. They stayed up last night, John. They wrote speeches. They did their talking points. A lot of them got an hour, two hours of sleep on a floor at the Civic Center here in Tallahassee.

Now not too long from now there's going to be a bit of a rally in this area. There's going to be students from FSU high school students and many of them were able to take the day off today as an excused absence that they wanted to come support the other students in Leon County here.

So, we're expecting a lot of other young people to be here supporting them. We've seen some of them already this morning. And the mayor of Tallahassee, we're told, is going to lead a march from sort of a fountain area in the middle to the steps of the Capitol Building. This is a community trying to show again, John, that they support these Stoneman Douglas students and what they are trying to do here.

BERMAN: Dianne Gallagher for us in Tallahassee. Dianne thanks so much.

As you can see the students, survivors were rallying right now at the Florida State Capitol trying to pressure lawmakers. Tonight, Florida politicians will meet face to face with these survivors at CNN's town hall. Stand up, the students of Stoneman Douglas demand action. CNN's Kaylee Hartung outside the town hall in Sunrise, Florida. Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, more than 5,000 people are expected to come here, to the BB&T Center tonight for that town hall just 15 miles away from the high school. The students, the survivors of Stoneman Douglas along with their parents, teachers and administrators will have the opportunity to confront elected officials even a spokesperson from the NRA and begin a conversation that they hope will affect change. Among those on the stage you'll see tonight, Congressman Ted Deutch, the Democratic representative for the district that includes Parkland. Many students telling me, this week he's been a tremendous resource to them.

Also, the state's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson, as well as Republican Marco Rubio, a man who comes with a very bright spotlight on him, John, because these students, teenagers have not been shy about calling him out for millions of dollars that he's accepted from the NRA.

[10:05:12] I wouldn't expect students to take it easy on him tonight with their questions and I don't think they will either on the NRA national spokeswoman who will be here as well. We should mention, President Trump as well as Florida's governor Rick Scott also extended invitations. They both declined the opportunity to come here to speak with those students or to appear via satellite. We expect tonight John to be a powerful and emotional event. BERMAN: All right, Kaylee Hartung for us in Sunrise. Florida. I have some live pictures I want to show you right now which get to just this issue. These are live pictures, we've seen pictures from Broward County and Miami-Dade County of student walkouts, students have walked out of their high schools in both of these counties. I think to show solidarity with the students of Stoneman Douglas high school, to stand up and call for action, hundreds of students walking out of these high schools right now to demonstrate and have their voice heard. We're going to keep our eye on these demonstrations throughout the morning, perhaps even as they grow.

Look at that. As far as the eye can see there, students walking out of these high schools. This is from our affiliate WSVN, these walk outs happening in both Miami-Dade and Broward County as well. We want to go back to Tallahassee, if I can. Joining me is Rachel Catania. She's a sophomore at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Rachel, you can't see these pictures that I'm looking at right now but what's happening is that students -- in high schools from high schools across Florida are walking out right now. I think to show their solidarity with you. How does that make you feel?

RACHEL CATANIA, STUDENT WHO SURVIVED FLORIDA SCHOOL MASSACRE: That makes me feel great. I mean, just knowing that not only -- my friends but the whole entire state and really the whole world is with us makes me feel so amazing and that just drives me more to know that things are going to change.

BERMAN: You've been in Tallahassee since yesterday, meeting with lawmakers. Do you feel you're making a difference?

CATANIA: Oh, yes, definitely, for sure. We woke up early yesterday and spent all day meeting with legislators and everything and talking to them and really getting our point across that there needs to be change and to make America safer.

BERMAN: What are you pushing them on specifically? I understand that you've been challenging lawmakers on AR-15s. What questions have you been asking?

CATANIA: Yes, well, see my thing is I don't -- there's a toy in America that's banned throughout America, I forgot what it's called but it's banned because it's a choking hazard for little children. And I don't understand why that's banned but the AR-15, something that's literally been involved in every single mass shooting is not banned. So I think that we've really been pushing on banning the AR-15.

BERMAN: Again, you know that's a tall order for some lawmakers. We just spoke to our Republican lawmaker Matt Caldwell, a representative who is in that statehouse right there who says in his mind that would never happen, that should never happen. If it doesn't get as far as you want, do you feel there are other measures that you can all agree on that would be at least somewhat satisfying to you?

CATANIA: As long as there's somewhat of change, I just don't want any more innocent people to die because of this firearm situation. So as long as there's a change and as long as people are genuinely safer, then I would be satisfied.

BERMAN: How is this shooting changed you? How has it made you look at life differently, Rachel?

CATANIA: OK, so this is a story that I've been telling a lot. The day of the shooting I sat - I sit in lunch with my teacher's classroom and I was sitting there studying for a test I had later in the day. And I looked up and I saw all of my friends having fun and drawing on the board and just having fun and being with each other. I was like, wow, I really should be with them right now. I really should be having fun. But instead I'm sitting here doing my test.

And from here, now I know that tomorrow is never guaranteed. The next five minutes is never guaranteed. So from here now I would rather get straight F's in school and go live my life and go be with my friends than get straight A's and this is just really taught me to eat the cake and buy the shoes and just to make the most of life because tomorrow is never guaranteed. It's been a huge impact on me.

BERMAN: As a parent I can tell you, you should always eat the cake and you should always buy the shoes. I wouldn't stop studying all together. I wouldn't settle for straight F's. Rachel, I'm going to describe the pictures I'm seeing on my screen right now because I want you to know about them. I'm looking at the sea of people from Broward County in Florida right now, a sea of students who have walked out of their high schools. They're holding signs right now in part of a giant demonstration, again, supporting you, supporting your efforts in Tallahassee right now.

[10:10:09] I guess my question to you, is one of the things we've heard from cynics, including reporters, people who have covered school shootings before, is that this moment won't last. You know, yes students are speaking out right now but will you be out there one month from now, two months from now, two years from now fighting this fight? What's your message?

CATANIA: Yes. I mean, I know that for example my Instagram feed, the day of the shooting was all Douglas. It was all dedicated to Douglas. And since then it's faded away back to the traditional selfies and pictures of your friends and stuff. I definitely have seen it fade on the social media and stuff, but like everyone from Douglas, we're all saying, this is not going to fade, not this time. We're not letting this fade. A change will happen. That's why we have a march -- I believe it's the end of March and no matter how long it takes, something will happen. We're not going to let it fade.

BERMAN: Rachel, what do you say to those people, those conspiracy theorists out there who say you're an actor or say that you're being put up to this by you know liberal lawmakers. Is anyone forcing you to come on TV and talk right now?

CATANIA: No, not at all. I'm not getting paid for this. I want to come out here on behalf of my city and my town and just spread the message on behalf of those who can't. I'm going to make sure that those 17 innocent people who had their lives taken from them did not die for no reason. No one is paying me to do this. I'm not a crisis actor. I'm not even sure those are real. No, they are not real.

BERMAN: Rachel, I know you are real. I know what you've been through is much too real. And I'm deeply sorry that you've had to go through this but I have to say I think the whole country is proud of the spirit you're all showing right now. Rachel Catania thanks so much for being with us. Again, I want to show --

CATANIA: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Thank you. I want to show our viewers again these pictures. This is Broward County right here where hundreds, maybe thousands of students have walked out. On the left hand side of your screen is Miami-Dade, that's from WPLG right there, a number of students if the helicopter can find them also walked out of their high schools, demonstrations across the state of Florida and thoughts I think across the United States as these students speak up and speak out.

Other news this morning, President Trump, taking a swipe, a new one at his own attorney general this morning asking why Jeff Session, no s at the end there is not investigating the Obama administration for Russian meddling? Stay with us.


[10:16:54] BERMAN: We have some new reporting from the White House this morning, this after the president called out his own attorney general anew asking why -- the president's Justice Department is not investigating the Obama White House.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House, again with some new insight about what's going on in the president's head. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. The president is channeling his latest frustration over the Russia investigation. And this time he's focusing his ire on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again after he tweeted this morning, "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 Democratic crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!"

Now if you cover this White House, John, we saw this coming from a mile away. It was simply a matter of time before the president re- voices frustration with his attorney general. So when he's in pressure with for months, he just hasn't said so publicly as of late because his attention has been focused elsewhere but he has been frustrated with Jeff Sessions and this all stems from Sessions recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, something he did last March and something that has continued to antagonize the president in the recent months since then.

But now with this flurry of headlines over the Russia investigation and the indictment of those 13 Russians on Friday, it is something that has resurfaced. And we're told that as the president watched the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein's press conference on Friday, he voiced his anger at this once again and someone who spoke with the president said quote, "He'll never get over Sessions recusing himself." John?

BERMAN: Jeff Sessions, attorney general appointed, nominated by the president of the United States who serves at the president's discretion. Kaitlan Collins at the White House thanks so much.

Joining me right now is U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro from the state of Texas. He's on the Foreign Affairs Committee also and Intelligence Committee. Congressman thanks so much for being with us. If I can, your reaction to this latest statement from the president if all of this meddling happened under the Obama administration, why isn't it the Obama administration under investigation the president says, your reaction?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You see the president do this over and over again. He tries to distract from the attention that's being focused upon he and his campaign and his associates. He does it by diverting attention to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or somebody else. The fact is that President Obama ultimately kicked Russians out of compounds in the United States and also personally confronted Vladimir Putin on the meddling.

Now the president and administration basically said that they made a decision. They didn't want to be seen as trying to place a finger on the scale so close to an election. That may not have been the best call but there's a logic and rationale for that. And so this is just President Trump already having been in office over a year again trying to distract from getting to the truth about whether he or his associates colluded with the Russians who interfered with the 2016 elections.

BERMAN: Days after indictments against 13 Russians, three companies, for meddling in the U.S. election for ultimately trying to help elect Donald Trump.

[10:20:06] You yourself have suggested that the battle against these cyber threats, also these information threats, you call it the new 9/11. You know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions he beleaguered attorney general, just announced that he wants a task force to look into this. Is that enough to allay your concerns?

CASTRO: It's an important first step. And don't get me wrong, look, there's only one Pearl Harbor. There's only one tragedy of 9/11. But we have to make sure that the vulnerabilities that exist in our national security protocols in this cyber age are not exploited. In my work on the Intelligence Committee and on Foreign Affairs, I have not seen an adequate response by this administration or really this Congress in terms of protecting against that. So not only myself and not only liberal or Democrats but also Republicans and conservatives are very concerned that in the cyber age, many of basically just about everything that runs on a computer and everything that's networked is vulnerable to sabotage.

BERMAN: You said it's a good first step. Interesting that this first step as you put it, you know is taking place 14 months in to the administration, you know two years after in some cases Russia meddled in the election. Congressman Castro, if I can, I want to get you on the news of the day on guns. The president asking for measures from the ATF to ban bump stocks, the president saying he wants stricter background checks. The White House making it clear that the president is open to the notion of raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles which would include AR-15s from 18 to 21. This may not be everything you want. I'm sure it's not everything you want. But are these positive steps -- could you support these measures?

CASTRO: John, they are positive steps if the administration and the Republican led Congress actually take those steps. In other words, if it becomes more than just talk and on so many issues, it really is just talk and nothing ever happens, just like DACA and immigration. So if they actually do something, then yes, it's a positive step but I also think we do more than that. You know, often times for example, the issue of guns is pitted against the issue of mental health. I don't think that we have to play those two things against each other. We should spend more money and dedicate more resources to mental health issues and also be able to say that we ought to ban high capacity magazines for example, make sure we have universal background checks, ban bump stocks so you can't turn a semiautomatic weapon into a fully automatic weapon the way that Las Vegas shooter did. So there's a lot more work that needs to be done.

BERMAN: Finally, the curious case of Jared Kushner, if we can right now, "New York Times" is reporting that Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president, son-in-law, pushing back on restrictions on security clearance that might be imposed by the chief of staff. The chief of staff says the new measures won't impact Jared Kushner's ability to work for peace but those two things can't be true - both be true. Can they? I mean, if he's coming back on access to classified materials, how could Kushner plausibly still lead Middle East peace efforts?

CASTRO: That's the thing. Jared Kushner, with no permanent security clearance with interim security clearance, has been able, had access to the nations and really the world's top secrets. There's even been reporting that perhaps Jared Kushner is reading the president's daily briefing to him, the most sensitive of information. He should not be in that position. Either he is able to qualify for a permanent clearance or he's not. And right now it looks like he can't so he shouldn't be in that job.

BERMAN: Congressman Joaquin Castro thanks so much for being with us. If you have access to a monitor right now, Congressman, I'm going to put up pictures then we go to break. That I know you'll be interested in. These are student walkouts all over the state of Florida right now, high schools all over Florida, students leaving their buildings today walking in support of the students from the Stoneman Douglas High School those students in Tallahassee today, rallying lawmakers for change. We'll be right back.


[10:28:37] BERMAN: This morning, Russia says it will not rule out retaliation against the U.S. if it imposes new sanctions over the 13 Russians indicted for meddling in the U.S. elections, meanwhile, a key part of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment is the fact that Russian trolls duped on Americans and they're spreading Russian messages during the election.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin reports.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She may well be one of the unwitting Americans Trump supporters who helped the Russian Internet trolls infiltrate U.S. communities by spreading Russian-made messages without knowing it. Lauren Goldfarb who still runs the team Trump Broward Facebook page thinks that's all BS, right down to the timing of when Robert Mueller decided to release his indictments.


FLORINE GOLDFARO, TRUMP TEAM BROWARD: Think it's a cover-up, that's my opinion, covering up the blunder on the shooting that was done at the high school. One group the Russians operated under was called being patriotic, Thank you.