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Working Around Kushner's Clearance Issues; Trump on Arming Teachers; Trump Vows to Strengthen Background Checks; Trump Jr's in India; Ivanka Trump in South Korea. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired February 23, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:31:01] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And breaking news about Jared Kushner and how the White House is trying to work around his security clearance issues.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins for more on this.

So what have we learned, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, today is the day, Pam, that that memo that John Kelly wrote last Friday goes into effect. Now, to bring everyone up to speed, this is a memo that John Kelly wrote in the wake of him coming under fire for the resignation of Rob Porter, that staff secretary accused of domestic abuse. And essentially this memo said that if you're a White House aide and you are operating under an interim security clearance and your background check had been going on since June 1st or earlier, that you are going to lose access to that highly classified information starting today.

Now, that, obviously, raised questions about the president's son-in- law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, because we have all reported that he is still operating under an interim clearance. Now today is the day that that goes into effect. So many people were wondering how this is going to affect Jared Kushner's ability to do his job in the West Wing because his portfolio largely deals with foreign policy.

And we have some new reporting from the CNN White House team, from my colleague Kevin Liptak (ph), that aides have been hurriedly trying to develop a plan that would allow Jared Kushner to still work in the West Wing without having to have President Trump intervene because, as you see here, the president has given his chief of staff the full authority to overhaul the clearance process in the White House. And if he intervened to give Jared Kushner, to allow him to continue to have that access, it would be seen as him undermining his own chief of staff.

So we're told there are several things they've done to allow Jared Kushner to continue to work. And that includes allowing him to continue to work on his issues and not be seen as violating John Kelly's mandate here, Pam. But it's still to be determined what this will look like going forward for Jared Kushner in the West Wing.

BROWN: And perhaps others who are in the West Wing still operating with an interim clearance.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

And we have just learned that the president has taken questions from reporters on the South Lawn as he departs for CPAC. Let's take a listen to what he had to say about guns.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what do you say to teachers and students who say they do not want to see guns in American schools?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's a very big subject. It's a subject that everybody's talking about, obviously, for all the wrong reasons. And we're going to do something about it. We're going to make changes.

I see Congress wanting to act now for the first time. So we certainly have to strengthen background checks. Everybody agrees with that. And we're going to make background checks very, very strong. I'll be speaking about that at CPAC. Very, very important is to do that.

And also the mentally ill, people that are mentally -- they have mental problems, we cannot allow them to have guns. So we're going to be very strong on that. That's going to go a long way.

I also believe that schools have to have some form of protection. They can't just be open-ended gun-free. Gun-free is an invitation for these crazy people to just come in and shoot. If they're not gun-free, if there are guns inside held by the right people, by highly trained professionals, you're going to see this end. It won't be happening anymore. Our schools are essentially gun-free zones and that makes them very dangerous places.

QUESTION: A Parkland sheriff -- the Parkland sheriff was armed and he didn't go in. Does that give you any pause?

TRUMP: They -- what?

QUESTION: The Parkland sheriff was armed and he didn't go in. Does that give you any pause?

TRUMP: Deputy Sheriff Peterson, I guess his name is. I mean they brought it out. I was surprised. But it deserves to be brought out. What he did -- he's trained his whole life. There's an example. But when it came time to get in there and do something, he didn't have the courage or something happened. But he certainly did a poor job. There's no question about that. He was there for five minutes. For five minutes. That was during the entire shooting. He heard it right at the beginning. So he certainly did a poor job.

But that's a case where somebody was outside. They're trained. They didn't react properly under pressure or they were a coward. It was a real shock to the police department.

[09:35:12] QUESTION: Would a teacher be any different? Would an armed teacher be any different? TRUMP: Well, I think we really have a group of people that want to do the right thing. The NRA is composed of people that I know very well. These are people. In many cases, great people. They're patriots. That love our country. The NRA wants to do the right thing. I've been speaking to them and they do want to do the right thing.

Look, I haven't been here that long. This has been going on for a long time, many years, decades. And we're going to get it fixed. But the only way you're going to get it fixed is you have to have a certain degree of offensive power within the school. It can't only be defense. You have to have protection within the school. And we're going to work it out. But we are going to be very, very powerful, strong on background checks, especially having to do with people with mental problems.

This person that did this horrible act, he was mentally deranged and everybody knew it for a long period of time. I guess they had 38 red flags, 39 red flags. You can't do any better than that. Unfortunately, they didn't catch him. They should have caught him. This could have been prevented.

So the whole mental situation is very big. But background checks to me are very important. And we have to strengthen up our schools.

I'm going over to CPAC. I'll be talking about it. Thank you all very much.


BROWN: All right. There is the president speaking on the South Lawn about guns as he heads to CPAC.

I want to bring in Abby Phillip, Kaitlan Collins as well.

Abby, first to you. You were there with the other reporters asking questions. The president seemed eager to answer reporters' questions on this issue. He doesn't always answer reporters' questions. But on this, he wanted to. And he stands behind what he has been saying, the idea of arming highly adept -- as he says, highly adept teachers with guns in schools to protect -- better protect schools, in his view, and harden schools. He hasn't backed away from that.

When he was asked, though, about the example of the deputy staying outside of the school, the deputy with the gun, Scott Peterson, he said that he did a poor job. Then he was asked, well, will teachers be any different, and he didn't really answer that.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president certainly didn't have to stop, especially since he's about to go address this at CPAC in a few minutes. But he clearly wanted to double down on this subject matter. But as you just pointed out, Pam, no additional, real concrete details about how this is going to work and what the consequences of it might be.

I also just want to highlight something that he did not talk about. Despite tweeting a couple of days ago about raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy rifles, the president didn't talk about that today. He kept emphasizing that the NRA wants to do something about background checks, wants to do something about, you know, hardening schools, making them a place where teachers can be on the offense rather than the defense.

But he's not talking about some of the stuff that the NRA is definitely opposed to, which is raising the age to buy a rifle like an AR-15 from 18 to 21. So the president here clearly wants to make it very apparent that he wants to get out in front of this issue.

But the thorny details are still there, Pam. We don't know how far he's going to go to push the NRA on some of these changes. And what exactly does he mean when he says strengthening background checks for people with mental illnesses. Does he mean rescinding -- you know, bringing back those changes that he rescinded earlier this year that would have made it easier for people with mental illnesses to get their hands on guns. The president isn't talking about those details very much right now, Pam.

BROWN: Interesting. You know, at the White House yesterday, reporters were pressing on more specifics for some of these ideas that he has floated and was unable to say and it was still in the listening face. We'll have to see what happens from here.

Abby Phillip, thank you so much. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


[09:43:40] BROWN: Well, Donald Trump Jr. just finished speaking in New Delhi. And he's wrapping up a four-day tour in India where he is selling Trump-branded condos. He's faced days of controversy there as critics worry he is mixing policy with business. Today's foreign policy speech even had a title change to a, quote, fireside chat with Donald Trump Jr., complete there with that graphic you see in the background of a fire. Sounds a lot less political from the original title, reshaping indo Pacific ties, the new era of cooperation.

Joining us live, CNN Money correspondent Cristina Alesci.

Cristina, just changing the name of this doesn't change those original concerns that some had.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Pam. And as I heard those comments, not only did the title of his remarks change, but his tone also. Don Junior's tone also changed from what we heard earlier this week when he was on this four-city tour of the country promoting his condos. He seemed to distance himself from politics, always repeating -- repeating that he is there as a businessman and not talking about politics.

But make no mistake about it, Pam, the tone and the title changed because of the fierce backlash from government watch dog groups who say that this trip is a perfect example of how the Trump Organization may be putting a for sale sign on American foreign policy.

[09:45:05] Look, the larger picture here is the Trump Organization has five projects in India. It is the biggest market for the Trump Org outside of the United States. And Trump Junior is there to sell Trump- branded condos. And just before he arrived, you had these big ads run in local papers that basically said, buy a condo or promise to buy a condo and you'll get a chance to have dinner with the U.S. president's son.

So that presented a lot of problems early in the trip, followed by comments by Don Jr. about potential -- that waded into politics. For example, he said that India was a better place to do business than potentially China. And he said other things along the way to raise ethical questions.

In his defense, he says, look, the Trump Organization has stopped doing new deals to prevent conflicts, but this is a perfect example of how old deals present the same problems.


BROWN: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

The president is set to announce new sanctions on North Korea. We are live in Seoul with reaction.


[09:51:54] BROWN: Well, President Trump is set to speak any minute now at the Conservative Political Action Conference there. And he is expected to announce new sanctions against North Korea. This as his daughter Ivanka Trump is in South Korea as part of a diplomatic charm offensive at the winter Olympics. Wasting no time, Ivanka echoing the administration's denuclearization stance on North Korea, calling for, quote, maximum pressure.

Joining me now from Seoul, CNN correspondent Will Ripley with the latest.



Ivanka Trump just wrapped up her dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. They talked a lot about North Korea. Didn't mention those sanctions specifically that the president is expected to announce, targeting shipping and vessels, according to CNN sources speaking with Kaitlan Collins.

But what they did talk about is the maximum pressure campaign, saying that it is working. In fact, President Moon said that the last 25 years of U.S./South Korea policy has been a failure and he credits President Trump's tough stance with the revival of inter-Korean talks, the possibility of an inter-Korean summit at some point later this year, and also saying that South Korea stands with the United States firmly in their pledge to denuclearize North Korea.

North Korean state media putting out a very strongly worded article just in the last few hours ahead of the sanctions, an announcements saying that waiting for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons is about as stupid as waiting for the ocean to dry up. So we know where North Korea stands on that. No surprise on that issue.

But what we do know also is that Ivanka Trump will leave here in the coming hours. She'll spend the night in Seoul and then head to Pyeongchang for the winter Olympics where she could potentially run into the North Korean delegation led by North Korea's former spy master, Kim Yong-chol, a very controversial choice here in South Korea because he is believed to be the mastermind of a 2010 attack on a South Korean naval ship that killed 46 sailors, South Korean sailors, who died. He's believed to be the mastermind. He might be sitting in the same VIP box with the South Korean president and Ivanka Trump. Could we have a repeat of the awkward moments that we saw during the opening ceremonies when Vice President Pence and Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-Jong were obviously trying to ignore each other? Will there be some sort of interaction between the two? We just don't know. But all eyes will be on Pyeongchang this weekend for the sports, but also for the potential politics.


BROWN: Yes, you can bet on that.

All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much.

And moments from now, President Trump addresses one of the biggest conservative political conferences of the year. We will bring it to you live.

And we'll be right back.


[09:58:53] BROWN: Well, good morning to you and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Pamela Brown, in today for John and Poppy.

And we are just moments away from President Trump's appearance at CPAC, the nation's premiere gathering of conservative activists. They are anxious to hear whether and how he talks about gun rights in light of his new found support for, among other things, raising the age requirements for buying rifles.

The NRA opposes virtually any new gun limitations as its leader made very clear on that stage 24 hours ago.

But leaving the White House a short time ago, the president said he's not expecting pushback.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The NRA is composed of people that I know very well. These are good people. In many cases great people. They're patriots. They love our country.

The NRA wants to do the right thing. I've been speaking to them. And they do want to do the right thing.


BROWN: What that means, we will have to see.

At the bottom of this hour, the Florida governor is due to unveil his plan to increase school security.

But we begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

And we're hearing, Kaitlan, that the president's allies are urging him not to push the gun issue much further.

[10:00:03] COLLINS: Yes, that's right, Pamela. The president's aides, some of his allies, are actually encouraging him that he's gone far enough with the gun safety measures that he's already proposed in the wake of that tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida.