Return to Transcripts main page
Trump Calls for Criminal Investigation of Obama for Russian Election Meddling; Poll: Majority of Americans Believe Russia Meddled in Election; Tensions Rise Between Kelly & Kushner; Rallies, Protests, Walkouts as Students Meet with Lawmakers about Guns. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired February 21, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: In the meantime, President Trump is now calling for an investigation, a criminal investigation into the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, over Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Here's the amazing tweet from the president earlier today: "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."
Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States.
By the way, in the original tweet, the president misspelled the name of his attorney general. He left out the "S" at the end, simply calling him Jeff Session.
David Gregory and Gloria Borger are still with me.
It's pretty amazing, Gloria, the president is recommending that his attorney general, who he clearly doesn't like because he recused himself from the Russia investigation, go ahead and start a criminal investigation of the former president.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you hit the nail right on the head. First of all, it all goes back to Jeff Sessions not recusing himself from Russia. The president's anger is just smoldering over that. He gets angrier and angrier every time something happens in the Russia investigation. Which has occurred. So he also believes, I'm told, according to a source with knowledge this morning, that he believes that Sessions' Justice Department is not aggressive enough on lots of things, and that would be investigating Democrats, uranium one, Obama, Hillary Clinton, whatever it is. He also was surprised to learn, I was told, that the bump stock rule was sort of languishing there and that still had not been done yet. And that's why he ordered Jeff Sessions to get it done. You know, as you know, these rules go through public comment, and they do take some time, but the president wanted to see it done sooner. I think this relationship in any other world, except the one in which we live, would be completely untenable. But right now, we're told the president is not going to fire Jeff Sessions.
BLITZER: And here's the very strange situation. The president wants the Justice Department, the attorney general, David, to investigate the Democrats and the former president because they didn't do enough as far as Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election is concerned. But over these past 13 months, he's been the president of the United States, and he has suggested on several occasions this whole issue of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections was a witch hunt, a hoax, a ruse. He hasn't taken it seriously at all. He hasn't launched any serious investigations into this.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. If he would listen to his own arguments, which I think are fair. I think it's fair to hold the Obama administration to task for not doing enough because they were trying to thread the needle and didn't want to seem to be putting their thumb on the scale of the election. They were too sensitive about it. Great. Then you're the president, do it now. If there's ample evidence, if you feel vindicated that in fact this meddling and this effort by Russia to sow confusion and chaos within the electoral system and it wasn't specific to you, Donald Trump, all the more reason for you to have a strong, robust response as the president to protect the presidency, to protect our elections. Instead, this president is attacking institutions of government, the Justice Department, the FBI, after he has his own people in there, Chris Wray at the FBI and Jeff Sessions. So that part of it is simply unforgivable. You can disagree with Democrats, disagree with the investigation, point out that they found no collusion. That's what we know so far. There's no excuse for the president not having a more robust response. If he would put any effort into that as opposed to distracting from the Mueller investigation, we might be getting somewhere.
BLITZER: It's interesting. This new Quinnipiac poll, Gloria, on Russia, 76 percent of those who responded think the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election. It was 68 percent, the same question, back in January. So the overwhelming majority of the American people agree with the president's own national security advisers, the president's own director of the FBI, director of National Intelligence, that the Russians were involved in, this even though the president really remains skeptical.
BORGER: Well, and the entire intelligence community. This is a president who said that Putin said to me, we didn't do it, and you know, I tend to believe the guy.
BLITZER: He said he seems sincere.
BORGER: He seems sincere. Right. Whereas -- and again, I'm not saying Obama didn't make some mistakes here because, in hindsight, there are lots of people I talked to from the Obama administration who wish they had pushed harder to reveal what they knew. But you know, I do believe that at least Obama, you know, said that to Putin and pulled him aside and said, you better stop messing around and did other things. I think that, you know, this obsession with Obama as a target to him -- you know, Obama's not president anymore. You're the president now, as David is saying. Get with it. If there is a problem, get on it. Yesterday, Sarah Sanders kind of said, well, the president was very tough on Russia in a recent incident, and we'll let you know about that soon. I don't know what that is.
[13:35:28] BLITZER: We haven't heard about that yet.
Also, another question that came up in this Quinnipiac university poll involving the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. And 62 percent now say it's inappropriate for Jared Kushner to play a significant role in the White House, 24 percent say that it is appropriate. That's the smallest share to say so since Quinnipiac first asked this question back in April of last year.
He doesn't have permanent security clearances. He has interim security clearances. Seems to be a little fight going on between John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and Kushner. Kelly doesn't want Kushner to have access to top-secret, classified information because he doesn't have permanent security clearances yet.
GREGORY: Right. And anybody, you know, who's worked in the White House will tell you it's crazy that he should have that access with only temporary security clearance. This just shows what a knife fight the West Wing is and has been since day one. And it's a problem with hiring your son-in-law and your daughter. You throw them into the mix, it's not right. And it hasn't been right since day one. Now that there's a fight over this, yes, I mean, the whole thing -- it's one thing to have people you trust. You cross the line when you start hiring your children. Now he gets all mixed up because they had a horrible policy on vetting people, as we saw with Rob Porter. Now they've got to bring some order to it. Now it just creates a whole new fight over this with Kushner.
BLITZER: The fighting is going to continue clearly.
All right, guys, thank you very much.
We have more on our breaking news. Rallies, protests, school walkouts, they're breaking out across Florida and, indeed, large parts of the United States as student survivors and lawmakers meet over demands on guns. I'll be joined by one of those student survivors and a U.S. congressman who represents that district when we come back.
[13:41:37] BLITZER: Students are taking action today, dramatic action. They're demanding reaction to the tragic shooting, the massacre in Florida last week. They walked out of schools. They marched on the state capitol in Florida and on the capitol here in Washington, ending up over at the White House. They're demonstrating in an effort to spark serious change in the nation's gun laws.
Let's bring in Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, whose district includes Parkland, Florida. He's a Democrat. And Cameron Kasky is a Stoneman Douglas High School junior who survived the shooting last week.
Cameron, can you tell us about what's going on behind you right now at your school?
CAMERON KASKY, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Well, today, we have people from Coral Springs High, coral Glades High, Coral Springs Charter, North Broward. Everybody's walking out of school, and everybody is coming to Stoneman Douglas to demand change together, and it's amazing.
BLITZER: Are you optimistic that something will actually happen?
KASKY: Oh, absolutely. People keep asking me, what do you have to keep you going? Why do you think this is going to change? Look at everything right now. Look at what's already happened. We've already made a difference. It's just a matter of when.
BLITZER: You certainly have.
Congressman, the Florida Governor Rick Scott says he will introduce new legislation, a new legislative plan as early as Friday. Have you talked with him about what needs to be done? Do you know what he's actually going to introduce in Florida?
REP. TED DEUTCH, (D), FLORIDA: Wolf, I don't know what the governor is going to introduce. I know that he knows what needs to be done because he's heard it from the residents of my district. He's heard it from student survivors. But this is a governor who's had the most radical gun agenda throughout his entire tenure in Tallahassee. There have been so many opportunities to take meaningful steps, and instead what he's done over and over has been to try to pour more guns into the street, make it harder for local governments to regulate, make it harder for those of us who want to fight gun violence, to do what needs to be done. I hope that it's positive. And I'm glad that he's now focused on the issue. But I suspect that what Cameron knows has to get done may not be in there. We'll have to wait to see.
BLITZER: Cameron, if the governor is watching us right now, what would you like to say to him?
KASKY: I'd like to say, Governor, it was you who did this. We owe all of this to you. And it's you who's going to change it. If you don't, that's fine. But expect to feel it in the polls and expect to get out of there.
BLITZER: You think he's going to respond to this? I spoke with him the other day, and he said everything was on the table as far as he's concerned.
KASKY: Yes, well, you got to remember who we're working with here. Rick Scott is not somebody who listens to anything but money. I can only hope that he'll step in and do what he needs to do here. Again, we're teenagers, and we got to remember they're acting like them.
BLITZER: Cameron, as you know, President Trump is hosting what he's calling a listening session over at the White House today on guns and school safety. Students, some at least from Stoneman Douglas, will be there later this afternoon. Were you personally asked to take part in the president's event?
[13:45:59] KASKY: You know, I believe my invitation must have been lost in the mail. The only person who's publicly part of the never again movement who was invited was David, who instantly said no because, unfortunately, we have better things to do with our time than waste it. But there are students from Stoneman Douglas who are going. I have a feeling they were invited because people thought they weren't part of our movement. They have no idea. We're unified. We're together. Everybody's here to represent us.
BLITZER: Congressman, as you know --
KASKY: As much as people think they can hide from the --
BLITZER: Go ahead. Finish your thought, Cameron.
KASKY: I was just going to say, as much as people think they can hide from truth, they can hide from us, they can host a listening session and decline the invitation to the CNN town hall, we're not going anywhere, with or without your help.
BLITZER: Congressman, I know you're going to be at the CNN town hall later tonight. As you also know, the president is now signaling that he might be ready to come up with some changes in the nation's gun laws, possibly including a ban on what are called bump stocks that could make rifles effectively become machine guns. Talk about some of the steps you'd like to see the president take. He may be open to tighter background checks. He may be open to a national age restriction as far as purchasing weapons are concerned from 18, let's say, to 21. Are you encouraged by those initial indications, those signals he's sending?
DEUTCH: Wolf, I don't know what those -- I don't know what the signals are, and frankly, I don't much care for signals or discussion. We need action. I don't understand why President Trump isn't coming to speak to the entire student body of Douglas tonight along with the families. I don't understand why Governor Scott isn't coming tonight to speak to the entire student body. What I know is this. The president says he wants to outlaw bump stocks. We should do that through legislation next week on the floor of the House. He says he's open to expanded background checks. That's not just providing more information into the database. That's ensuring that everyone who buys a gun gets a background check. He says he's thinking about maybe accepting an increase in the age. Well, everyone in America should have to be 21 to buy a gun, and that should be on the House floor and the Senate floor next week. We should do all of those now. We should then engage in the important debate that starts with asking why is it that assault weapons, which were illegal until 2004, are now flooding our streets and resulting in the kinds of carnage that we saw in the school just behind Cameron. That's the discussion that we have to have. But first, we have to pass these important measures on the floor next week. No, I don't want signals. We don't want to have a broad discussion. Let's get things done. That's what these students deserve.
BLITZER: Cameron, what do you say to those folks out there, some conspiracy theorists, who are alleging that students like you are being hijacked by left-wing activists, that some of these students who have appeared on television aren't even students from your high school, they're actors, that your anti-gun message really isn't your own but is part of some left-wing conspiracy? What do you say to those folks?
KASKY: Well, if you had seen me in our school's production of "Fiddler on the Roof," you would know that nobody would pay me to act for anything.
BLITZER: "Fiddler on the Roof" is a great one. Who did you play, by the way in "Fiddler on the Roof?"
KASKY: I was Motel. And I have to tell you, what we've seen so far has been a miracle of miracles.
BLITZER: Miracle of miracles, a great play.
Cameron, thank you so much. Thanks to what you and your fellow students are doing. You're really -- you're really energizing so much of this debate.
Congressman Deutch, I know you're going to be participating in the CNN town hall later tonight. Thanks to you for joining us as well.
Good luck to both of you.
DEUTCH: Thanks, Wolf.
KASKY: Thank you.
[13:49:04] BLITZER: And students who survived the shooting of Parkland, they're declaring, we will not be silenced. The emotional press conference they just held at the Florida state capitol and their message to lawmakers who refuse to even consider debating a ban on assault rifles.
Stay with us. Much more after this.
BLITZER: "Never again" -- those are the two words that have become a rallying cry for survivors of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Just a little while ago, some of those students spoke during a truly extraordinary news conference inside Florida's state capitol. Their message? We may be young, but we're old enough to know something needs to be done to stop the violence in the United States. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORENZO PASSO (ph), HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We lose confidence in our government because we're told that nothing can be done time and time again. We're tired of hearing that. Because we know there can be change in this country. Never again should a tragedy of this caliber happen in this country.
UNIDENTIFIED HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: And I will say that I am a high school senior. I don't know the exact course of action to take. I don't know exactly what needs to be done. I just know what we're doing now is nowhere near enough. If I have to keep seeing neighbors die, if I have to keep seeing friends die, other people on the news deal with the same tragedy. They don't deserve that. Humanity does not deserve this.
ALONSO CALDEMAN (ph), HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We haven't been taken seriously enough. Now, I personally don't know the steps that we're going to have to take, but once we figure that out, we're going to take them, and you better believe we're going to take them as soon as possible. Because, all though we're just kids, we understand. We know. We're old enough to understand financial responsibilities. We're old enough to understand the way a Senator cares about re- election or not. We're old enough to understand why someone might want to discredit us for their own political purposes. We won't be silenced. It has gone on long enough. Trust me, I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it's like to text my parents "goodbye, I might never get to see you again. I love you." I understand what it's like to fear for your life. And I don't think we should ever be discredited because of that. I don't think we should ever be silenced because we're just children.
[13:56:07] SARAH CHADWICK (ph), HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Never again should students have to protest for their lives. Never again should an innocent life be taken while trying to gain an education. Never again should I feel guilty to be alive because Peter, Carmen, Scott, Meadow, Jamie, Alissa, Nick, Alana, Kara, Martin, and Luke, Gina, and Alex are not. That's why we have organized this revolution. For them. A revolution created by students. For students. Because at the end of the day, we're all positive. We're all passionate. We're all proud to be an equal.
SALLIE WHITNEY (ph), HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: For the rest of history, we'll be known as "that high school" we're the biggest high school mass shooting occurred. While other shootings by this point most people might have forgotten about us. But not this time. My classmates and I are probably the most determined group of people you'll ever meet. People are talking about how we aren't serious because we're children, but have you heard my friends talk?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Amazing young people. Very, very powerful words. Their theme, once again, never again.
Be sure to watch later tonight for the CNN town hall "Stand Up, the Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action." It airs later tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Our own Jake Tapper will moderate. Thousands of Floridians, students, survivors, others will be there. We'll watch it tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.
Take a look at this. These are live pictures coming in from Parkland, Florida. That's where the high school is. Students there and students from several area schools are meeting in front of Stoneman Douglas High School. They are meeting in solidarity with the shooting victims who are petitioning lawmakers to change gun laws.
Our special coverage continues after this.