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Code Red to America; Trump's Moves on Gun Control; Winter Olympic Update; Trump Jr. Likes Conspiracy Theory Posts; Florida Survivors Attacked. Aired 6:30-7:00a ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:33:10] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The worst days of our lives. That's how a hospital director in a suburb of Damascus describes the scene after government air strikes and shelling killed at least 260 civilians. That's just in the past two days.

A warning about these images, obviously some of them are very hard to look at on your screen right now.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the death toll includes 58 children and 42 women. The Syrian American Medical Society says that 13 medical facilities have been targeted and three of its health workers killed there. Oh, my gosh.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think you should look at the images because I think that when that reality really hits you because so many of you have children, and even if you don't you have hearts with compassion filling them up, something has to happen. And the images tell you the reason why.

All right, another story for you this morning. The State Department says Vice President Mike Pence was set to meet secretly with North Korean officials at the winter Olympics, but North Korea backed out at the last minute. The Pyongyang delegation included the sister of Kim Jong-un. U.S. officials contend the abrupt cancellation was a sign that attempts to exert pressure on the regime to abandon its ballistic missile and nuclear programs were working.

CAMEROTA: A Democrat in Kentucky has won a statehouse seat in a district where President Trump won 72 percent of the vote in 2016. This Democrat, Linda Belcher, she lost her seat in a close race in 2016 but now she's defeated her GOP opponent, Rebecca Johnson, by a 68-32 margin.

Now, this is a bit of an unusual election. It was a special election. And it was held to replace Johnson's husband, the former State Representative Dan Johnson. He's a former pastor. He killed himself in December after being accused of sexually abusing a member of his congregation. He denied those charges.

[06:35:00] CUOMO: President Trump's failure to condemn Russia led "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman to issue a code red for America. What does that mean? Why does Tom feel it so necessary? He makes the case, next.

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CUOMO: The White House says President Trump has had a tougher response to Russian meddling than President Obama did in his entire eight years in office. But "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman says he was appalled by the president's reaction to indictments against 13 Russian nationals, writing in a new op-ed, quote, this is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.

Tom Friedman joins us now, author of the best seller "Thank You for Being Late." Ironic because he is always on time.

Tom, make the case, code red, why?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, AUTHOR, "THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE": Well, Chris, we just experienced, I would say, the biggest threat or challenge to the integrity of our democratic system with the Russian interference in our elections. We now go -- know going back to 2014. And the president's response to this has been basically appalling. Appallingly inept and appallingly, basically, inactive.

[06:40:16] We have to step back, Chris, and say, what would a real president be doing in the face of two things. One, our three intelligence chiefs testifying in the last two weeks that not only were the Russians hacking our election, both trying to poison realizes between different Americans and tilt the election toward Trump, but they're still doing it, our intelligence chiefs told us, the FBI, CIA and NSA, and they plan to do it in the next election. Following that, Mueller issues a report indicting 13 Russians for that kind of activity and several Russian companies.

Now, what would a real president do in the face of those two things? He'd do three things. One is he'd give a speech to the country educating every America on what has happened here and what is at stake. Second, he would call together all the stakeholders in the country around our election issues, state and local election officials, the leaders of our two parties, a police and, you know, election authorities, and basically come up with a plan, a defensive plan, to make sure this doesn't continue to happen. Or if it does, we can insulate our elections from this kind of hacking.

And, lastly, call together his national security adviser and national security team and say, develop for me an offensive plan. That -- we've been sitting here while Putin, for the last four years, basically, has been trying to spread lies that poison our politics and undermine our democracy. And I, as president, want a plan to spread truth about Putin, all the money he's stolen, all the Russians he's made disappear in order to undermine his autocracy. That is what a real president would do. And Donald Trump has done none of them. It is appalling.

CUOMO: He questions the premise. He says, Russia does this all the time. We do the same thing. He says that the left is just using this to delegitimize his election and that's why he won't give it his attention. Do you accept that? FRIEDMAN: Look, you know, in the Cold War, there's no question, we,

the Russians, the Chinese, everyone meddled in everyone else's elections. That was really a world that was a chess board divided between sort of red and red white and blue. And these are -- we're in elections really half the time they're about keeping our guys in or their guys in. I think this is a qualitatively different moment. We never intervened in Russia's elections because Russia didn't have elections. So we have a real asymmetry here.

CUOMO: Now, the question is why? Why the president is doing this. You have a theory in there, basically a bifurcated theory, right? It's one of two reasons. Either it's just ineptitude or he's hiding something. I want you to explain that. But put some context into it about why it can't be as simple as his just saying, Russian interference is bad for my legitimacy, for my win, so I'm going to be against it. Why don't you think it's that? Why do you think it could be something else?

FRIEDMAN: Well, Chris, let's start at 30,000 feet. You know, for the last year, for the first year plus of Trump's presidency, we've seen him violate the norms of what we think of proper conduct for a president. Massive amounts of lying and misleading statements. Endless tweeting. Ridiculous, childish behavior. We've seen him violate norms of a president.

When the president of the United States, in the face of public warnings by his three intelligence chiefs, tell us our democratic system is being attacked by a foreign power, when he doesn't respond to that, that is not violating norms anymore. That's violating his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. And that's why I call it code red.

CUOMO: So, Tom, you know, just to have people understand what's going on here, you wrote this and put it out online. This wasn't one of the, you know, the typical things that you were putting out in the newspaper and you thought would be getting wide distribution. How surprised were you that something you put out as a post online went so viral and why do you think that is?

FRIEDMAN: Well, yes, my unusual days for my column is -- today it's Wednesday. I wrote that on Monday. I got up in the morning. I read the paper. I saw what was going on. I felt really strongly about it. I asked my editors if I could write a column just online, not in the newspaper. And they encouraged me immediately to do it.

And the reaction has been, for me, you know, overwhelming. And it simply tells me that many, many Americans have been feeling the same thing. Chris, people are worried about our country. This is America. Our country is at stake. Our president is a disturbed person. And he's behaving in ways that are simply inexplicable that tell you that he is either compromised because the Russians have been funding his company in ways that he would find embarrassing if publicly disclosed. That's why he hasn't shown us his tax returns. Or he's compromised because of maybe behavior he engaged in while in Moscow. Or he is simply a towering fool who is ignoring the advice of his intelligence chiefs being made in public. And when his national security adviser is over in Germany at a conference, rather than summoning him home to lead a response to Russia, he rebukes him for not properly, you know, supporting the fact that these things didn't tip the election. I'm not saying they did tip the election. I have no idea what the impact is one way or another.

[06:45:34] What is unacceptable is that this behavior continues and he is not responding. He is not leading a response. That is not presidential. That's deeply disturbing behavior.

Chris, we are the world, OK. And I say it with no arrogance. That is -- you know, we have been the foundation of the global liberal order. If America doesn't lead, I promise you, your kids won't grow up in a world where China will lead, where Russia will lead. They'll grow up in a world where nobody will lead. So this is really dangerous.

Our president is a disturbed person. And I don't know what we do about it. Again, when he was violating the norms of the office. We all found it entertaining to some degree or whatever. We were ready to tolerate it. But when he violates the actual, you know, strictures of the office, that's deeply troubling. And what magnifies it is that his party is complicit as well. They're completely silent in the face of this aberrant behavior. And you know that if Hillary Clinton had done one of the things Donald Trump has done --

CUOMO: Oh, that's for sure.

FRIEDMAN: Let alone the whole totality of them --

CUOMO: That's for sure.

FRIEDMAN: We'd be in impeachment hearings right -- we would be in impeachment hearings right now.

CUOMO: There is a toxic partisanship at play. There's no question about that. Whether it's Ryan or McConnell, men who always were supposedly men of conscious, who had to speak out against power. That's seemingly gone.

Let me ask you something else that confuses the picture here. If -- because on the one hand you're seeing the president as, you know, a voice of inaction. Then we have the gun situation where he has done nothing up until now. But now he's the only and, of course, biggest voice in his party, saying we've got to look at background checks. Maybe bump stocks. You know, they -- they should be illegal. But background checks, we have to look at something better. Maybe we should look at raising the age of who can buy an assault weapon. How do you square that with your finding of what he's been doing on Russia?

FRIEDMAN: That's great, if he follows through. We've seen this before on different policies where something big happens and he raises, you know, a contrary position. We've seen it on tax issues. We've seen it on trade. I've seen it in the Israel-Palestinian thing. He said some things. He said, wow.

But where is the follow through, Chris? Where is the policy? Not just floating balloons out there. You know, we have a terrible gun problem here. We have a complete vacuum of political leadership with the ruling party. The Democrats, obviously, are for gun control. And, you know, you've got to -- you actually don't just raise things. You have to go out and create a constituency in the country for changing the laws in meaningful way. Is President Trump ready to do that? That's what leadership is about. It's not just floating ideas and then getting talked out of them, you know, when some pollster tells him it's going to offend his base.

CUOMO: Well, on that level, maybe there is a ray of sunshine here because 97 -- I've never heard -- I mean, you know, you've been following this longer than I have. I've never heard of anything over about 95 percent policy related, where you see consensus in this country. Ninety-seven percent say they want something done on guns.

Tom Friedman, always appreciate your perspective on the things that matter to us. Thanks for being on the show.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks for having me, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, to the Olympics. American skier Lindsey Vonn going for gold in what is likely the final downhill race of her Olympic career. How did she do? The "Bleacher Report" is next.

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[06:51:59] CAMEROTA: Skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn brings home the bronze in what will likely be her final Olympic downhill run.

Coy Wire has more in the "Bleacher Report" live in South Korea.

Tell us everything, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alisyn.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by the new 2018 Ford F-150.

As you mentioned, last Olympic run in the downhill for Vonn. And she cried afterwards but she can keep her head up. She made history with that bronze. At 33, she's the oldest woman to ever medal in Olympic Alpine skiing. And she does have another shot at a medal later tonight in her last event as an Olympian, the Alpine Combined.

And what in the world happened to Team USA's women in figure skating? Mirai Nagasu and Bradie Tennell both fell. Karen Chen had to put a hand down to keep herself from falling in her skate. Americans are sitting at 9th, 10th, and 11th place after the short program heading into free skate. The worst top placing American in women's Olympic figure skating since World War II in sixth place. Got some making up to do.

Here's a look at your medal count this new day.

Norway still crushing it. But finally some good news for Team USA. A first ever gold medal in women's cross country skiing just moments ago from Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall. Some much needed positivity for Team USA. They jump to fourth in the medal count.

Chris.

CUOMO: All right, stay positive, my brother, stay positive.

All right, back here. Baseless conspiracy theories spreading about the survivors of the Florida massacre who are speaking out. Yes, people are attacking the kids. Now, the president, what does he think of this? Someone who has his ear is giving credence to the lies. Who? Why? Next.

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[06:56:16] CAMEROTA: As sure as the sun will rise, crazy conspiracy theories will crop up after tragedies. And that's what's happening today in the wake of the Parkland school massacre. Some of these conspiracies even make it to the statehouse and some to the White House.

Let's discuss with CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter.

So, Brian, conspiracy trolls are already in overdrive talking about this tragedy. They -- I'll just put up some examples. These are all from the usual suspects --

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

CAMEROTA: That you would imagine to, you know, just peddle this conspiracy nonsense. I'll just read a couple. They say that the school shooting survivors are activists. They appear to have been coached on anti-Trump lines because one of their fathers is in the FBI or was. There are questions around these teen activists. One of them says, are they actors? Are some of these crisis actors?

And now here's the point. Don Jr., the president's son, liked some of these on Twitter. How gullible is this guy? He's falling for these conspiracy theories that these kids who watched their friends be slaughtered and escaped with their lives are actors?

STELTER: These people will do anything to avoid addressing the real issues here and avoid talking about guns and about mental health and other issues.

Alisyn, what you just heard on screen, I think it's a form of pollution. I think about it as a form of pollution, just like the kind of smoke that comes out of a factory. And it poisons the environment for all of us. The people that live closest to the factory and consume all the pollution, they suffer the most. But our society, as a whole, suffers when these kinds of outlandish, sick theories are spread.

And -- and this raises a question for the press about what to do. Do we ignore it? I know a lot of people say, we shouldn't even talk about these theories. We should just let them live over on YouTube, where they are.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

STELTER: I don't think that's the right answer anymore because if you ignore the pollution that's up in the atmosphere, you're not helping to make it any better. You may not be making it worse, but you're not helping to make it any better. I think all of us, as news consumers, as journalists, politicians, technology companies, everybody has a role to play to try to solve this pollution problem.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's interesting. I mean I'm very torn about whether to do -- and the only reason that I think that there is news value in talking about these is because it is making it to the White House in the form of Don Jr. and it's making it to the Florida statehouse.

So there was this aide --

STELTER: Yes, this is really disturbing.

CAMEROTA: To the state rep -- a state rep in Florida who sent this e- mail, OK, to a reporter. He sends a picture of our interview with David Hogg, one of the students, and Emma, another one of the students, and he says, oh, basically, like, by the way, both kids in this picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen. Oh, my gosh!

STELTER: This is something that started happening after Sandy Hook, this idea that it was a hoax and that all the people, all the children, they were all actors that were hired as part of a plot to take away people's guns. And this idea spreads on YouTube, on Twitter, on FaceBook, on all of these social platforms. And when it's not met with the truth, then it spread even more widely. It spreads even more -- more quickly.

CAMEROTA: And the next thing you know somebody's showing up with a gun at a pizza joint in, you know, Washington, D.C., and trying to shoot up the place because of some alleged conspiracy -- well, because of a real conspiracy theory --

STELTER: Right. And this is psychological. This is cultural. And it's why people want to believe these kinds of lies. It's about making sure they have access to the right information as well.

I got into a lot of fights yesterday over e-mail with people who believed this stuff, who believe that David Hogg is an actor or something.

CAMEROTA: And what is that? Is that just people who --

STELTER: And I don't think I was able to change their minds. So I'm not sure what the right answer is about this pollution.

CAMEROTA: Well, stop engaging in those fights. That's one of the -- that's one of the answers.

STELTER: But I was trying to say, here -- here are the -- here are the facts. Here are the facts about this kid. Some people don't want to hear it. [07:00:00] So the question is, that maybe I'm not the right messenger.

Maybe Fox News will be the right messenger for certain people. Maybe Alex Jones at Infowars. But we all have a role to play to stop some of this pollution because it is making our society sick.