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EARLY START

Trump Suggests Hardening of Schools by Arming Teachers; Key Russian Oligarch in Touch with Kremlin, Assad; New Airstrikes Hit Syria's Eastern Ghouta; Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00] REUBEN ABRAHAM, CEO AND SENIOR FELLOW, IDFC INSTITUTE: I suddenly am uncomfortable with, but clearly there is a very large number of people who are perfectly comfortable with that blurring of lines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN DEFTERIOS, EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR AND CORRESPONDENT, "CNNMONEY": Reuben Abraham. Once again, Emerging Market Strategy here based in India. Back to you.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. John Defterious for us in New Delhi. Thanks. And keep us up to speed on the contents of that fireside chat. Thank you, sir.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: And EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: The deputy arrived to take up a position and he never went in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Outrage in Florida as officials reveal an armed guard on campus did not try to stop the Florida school shooting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people that do carry, we give them a bonus. We give them a little bit of a bonus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: He is talking about teachers. President Trump looking far and wide for solutions to curb gun violence in schools. Expecting to play with his base, though, today when he speaks to a conservative political action group.

MARQUARDT: And was a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin getting direction from the Kremlin to attack American forces in Syria? A damning new report this morning suggests just that.

We have reports this morning from the White House, from Moscow, Jordan, New Delhi, Seoul and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

ROMANS: Nice to have you here this morning, this Friday morning.

MARQUARDT: Thank you so much.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is February 23rd. It is exactly 5:01 a.m. in the East.

This, this morning. The armed deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has resigned. An investigation found Scott Peterson failed to enter the building during last week's massacre in Parkland, Florida. The school resource officer retired Thursday after he was suspended without pay.

Peterson was armed. He was in uniform when the shooting began but Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says video, witness statements, and an interview with Peterson himself all show the deputy did not engage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISRAEL: I'm devastated, sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean, these families lost their children. We lost coaches. I've been to the funerals. I've been to the homes where they sit and shiver. I've been to the vigils. It's just -- there are no words.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now words or any explanation. There hasn't been a comment so far from Peterson who had garnered two Deputy of the Year nominations in recent years. The sheriff also put two other deputies on restricted duty while his office investigates their actions during calls to the gunman's home before the shooting.

Today Governor Rick Scott of Florida set to announce his plan to keep Florida students safe, including improvements to school security and ways to keep guns away from the mentally ill. Also today, teachers and staff begin returning to Stoneman Douglas High with a variety of support services available to them. Students return to classes next Wednesday on what's being called a modified schedule.

Now President Trump is flushing out his suggestion on arming teachers in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. The president now proposing extra pay for teachers who undergo firearms training.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think a concealed permit for having teachers and letting people know that there are people in the building with a gun. You won't have -- in my opinion, you won't have these shootings because these people are cowards. They're not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns. The people that do carry, we give them a bonus. We give them a little bit of a bonus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: He wants to give them a -- he wants to give them a bonus. So the White House says that the proposal has not reached the policy or legislative stage yet. A spokesperson was unable to say where the money for training or those bonuses would come from.

ROMANS: Overnight "The New York Times" is reporting that the Justice Department plans to crack down on prospective gun buyers who lie on background check forms. Prioritizing those prosecutions a way to enforce existing federal laws without angering gun rights advocates.

For more on the president's search for a solution to school shootings, let's bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Alex, President Trump said he wants to do what his predecessors have been unable to do. And that is get some type of action on guns. He held the second listening session with state and local officials on Thursday one day after of course he met with students and family members from that Parkland, Florida, shooting as well as other shootings from Columbine and Sandy Hook.

Now the president delivered tough talk specifically aimed at would-be school shooters. He said more guns in schools would prevent more shootings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have to harden our schools. Not soften them up. A gun- free zone to a killer or somebody that wants to be a killer, that's like going in for the ice cream. That's like here I am. Take me. They see that as such a beautiful target. They live for gun-free zones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:05:05] ZELENY: Now on top of arming teachers or other school officials, the president also proposed raising the age limit to purchase some type of weapons, from 18 to 21 years of age. Now that is opposed by the National Rifle Association.

But White House press secretary Raj Shah said on Thursday the president is not entirely concerned about being specifically aligned with the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: In dealing with school safety issues, we don't expect to agree with the NRA on every single issue.

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ZELENY: Overall, the president says he believes the NRA wants to work toward limiting school shootings. It seems as each day goes on here there may be less impetus to do something dramatic, but all this comes as the president today is scheduled to hold his press conference with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball here at the White House -- Christine and Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Our thanks to Jeff Zeleny there at the White House.

Now the president is also set to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, also known as CPAC, later this morning.

Let's bring in Erin Delmore, she's senior political correspondent for Bustle.com.

ROMANS: Good morning, Erin.

MARQUARDT: Good morning, Erin.

ROMANS: Good to see you again.

DELMORE: You too.

MARQUARDT: Now kicking off the first day of CPAC, we heard from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA. It was the first we heard from him since the Parkland school shooting. He gave a very fiery and divisive speech. Let's just play some of that quickly.

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WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The elites don't care not one wit about America's school system and schoolchildren. If they truly cared what they would do is they would protect them. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: So, Erin -- Erin, he didn't give an inch there. It was really pitting us against them. He wasn't proposing any solutions. Right? It was just doubling down and digging in?

DELMORE: Yes. Alex and Christine, when you talk about whether anything has changed after the Parkland shooting, you look at the students, you look at their activism, and you think perhaps it could be a turning point. You see Wayne LaPierre going back to his original talking points. Same things we heard after the Newtown shooting. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

They're using this idea now that law enforcement have failures when it came to the phone calls they received about Nikolas Cruz.

ROMANS: Sure.

DELMORE: And some of the tips that came into the FBI. But they're using that to frame their argument. They're saying that we should not be held responsible for the failures of law enforcement. Good law- abiding citizens shouldn't have the right -- you see him teeing this political fight. ROMANS: Ironically there was a good guy with a gun there. There was

a good guy with a gun who sought cover when the firing started. You have the president who is talking about arming some teachers and giving them bonuses. And yet the president I guess sort of finally seeing this school shooter generation. He talked a little bit yesterday about, you know, these drills and the idea that we have active shooter drills. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Active shooter drills is a very negative thing. I'll be honest with you. I mean, if I'm a child and I'm 10 years old and they say we're going to have an active shooter drill, I'll say, what's that? People may come in and shoot you, I think that's a very negative thing to be talking about. I wouldn't want to tell my son that you're going to participate in an active shooter drill. And I know some of them actually call it that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: He is talking about the branding, not the drills themselves. Public schools across the country do these drills. There is a generation now. 20 years of kids since Columbine who are the mass shooter generation of these drills. But is he proposing specific things to end the need for these drills?

DELMORE: We're covering a lot there. This president is a father. And one of the best ways that advocates and people who are in this gun control movement can get to him is by using his experience as a father.

Nicole Hockley the mother of Dylan Hockley, the 6-year-old who was shot in Newtown, has said -- and said to the president you don't want to be me. You see it resonating with the president. Now to that end, he has proposed a couple of different things. He's always wanted to up mental health protections. He's wanted to cast a better safety net over these individuals who could commit such horrendous crimes.

You see him talking about making the age to buy a rifle 21 instead of 18. You see him talking about strengthening background checks. That's important. It's not expanding background checks. It's strengthening the existing system. So he's put a couple of solutions on the table. Some of them have NRA backing. But I have to remind you that these are much smaller in scope and breadth than the solutions we saw proposed after Newtown.

ROMANS: And we see Wayne LaPierre yesterday didn't sound -- I mean, the president said I'll talk to the NRA, and they're open to things, but it did not sound like they're open to anything.

DELMORE: No daylight -- no daylight between them.

ROMANS: Yes.

DELMORE: He says there is a cooperation between us. We're on the same page. It matters. MARQUARDT: And the president often throws something out and then the

NRA responds and then the president adopted some of the NRA's language about hardening --

ROMANS: Security.

MARQUARDT: Security in schools. But let's talk about this in concrete terms. I mean, you've got all these different voices whether it's on the local level in Florida, you have the groups like the NRA, you've got the president. but this is about Capitol Hill. We haven't heard from Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan.

ROMANS: True.

MARQUARDT: So how does this play out in the place that really matters?

[05:10:02] DELMORE: You're making a great point. Right? If you think that there is a majority of the American public who wants to see gun control change or something that will help harden these security targets, you know, make schools a safer place for kids, however you want to phrase it, you do see support there.

There is even bipartisan support in Congress. But it's a minority amount of support when it comes to Republicans who control Congress and President Trump who controls the White House and that's the group you need to move to see change.

You're right, we're waiting on Paul Ryan, we're waiting on Mitch McConnell. But we have heard from Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake. And we see some ideas here either to change the age in buying a rifle to think about high capacity magazines. That is different than what we have seen in the past.

MARQUARDT: All right. Erin Delmore, thanks very much.

ROMANS: Come back in a few minutes.

MARQUARDT: We'll see you again in the next half hour.

ROMANS: It's nice to see you.

Missouri's Republican governor Eric Greitens denying he committed any crime after the St. Louis prosecutor announced his indictment for felony invasion of privacy.

CNN affiliate KMOV reported last month Greitens was accused of trying to blackmail another man's wife in 2015. Greitens allegedly took a photo during a sexual encounter with her. Greitens admitted the affair, but denied resorted to blackmail. The governor calls the charges political and called the situation, quote, "personal mistake from before he took office."

MARQUARDT: Personal mistake. Now a potentially gigantic twist in a recent attack on U.S. personnel inside Syria. Was a top Putin ally calling the shots there with help from the Kremlin? We are live in Moscow next.

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[05:15:28] ROMANS: Breaking overnight. A potentially major escalation between the U.S. and Russia. It follows an attack this month by Russian mercenaries on American and Allied forces in Syria. Now the "Washington Post" reports the Russian oligarch believed to control those mercenaries was in close touch with Russian and Syrian officials. Intercepted communications reportedly showed the oligarch told a Syrian official he had, quote, "secured permission from the Russians for what he termed a, quote, "fast and strong initiative."

CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Moscow with the latest. What a story.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly. What a story, Christine. And it doesn't even stop there. The interesting thing about this oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin is that he's also the main guy who was indicted last Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly running a troll factory that meddled in the U.S. election in 2016. And then you have those attacks on the pro-U.S. forces.

Now we've also found out that he is apparently in charge of this Russian mercenary group called Wagner that's operating in that part of Syria. And you know the area that those mercenary forces tried to take away from the pro-U.S. forces was very rich in oilfields. And guess who's the head of the oil company that would have benefited had they gotten those oilfields? It's the same guy. It's also Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Now the Russian government for its part says it has no influence over mercenaries, over people from Russia who go to fight in Syria. And this company that's run by Yevgeny Prigozhin so far has not commented on this matter -- Christine.

ROMANS: Frederik Pleitgen for us in Moscow. Thanks, Fred.

MARQUARDT: Staying overseas, the United Nations Security Council is meeting again this morning to vote on a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. On Thursday, an emergency session of the Security Council failed to even vote on a cease-fire to end the Assad regime bombardment of eastern Ghouta just outside the capital of Damascus.

The U.S. accuses Russia of blocking efforts to halt the bloodshed. A State Department spokeswoman pressed on what the U.S. is doing to help stop the violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We will continue to have our people there on the ground, frankly. We have Americans who are there who are assisting Syrians to try to get back to a normal life. I don't know what more you expect us to do.

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MARQUARDT: CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live with us in Amman, Jordan.

Jomana, hundreds have been killed so far. Any sign that the violence is letting up?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. Not according to activists on the ground, Alex, the situation is getting worse. For the sixth consecutive day, they say that different parts of eastern Ghouta are being pounded by air strikes and artillery fire. And as you mentioned between Sunday and Thursday, the reports we're getting that at least 400 people have been killed.

More than 1,000 others have been wounded in what is described as an unprecedented bombing campaign and of course that catastrophic humanitarian situation there with the siege and shortages in just about everything.

Hospitals are being bombed one after the other and even operational hospital are struggling to provide care for the wounded. People are describing this nightmare, horrific situation where some of the wounded are dying a slow and painful death. And many fear that the worst is yet to come -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Hard to believe things could get any worse and then it always does.

Our thanks to Jomana Karadsheh in Amman, Jordan.

ROMANS: All right, 19 minutes past the hour. U.S. figure skaters with their worst Olympic finish in a long time. We're going to go live to Pyeongchang.

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[05:23:26] MARQUARDT: Welcome back. It is 23 minutes past the hour. First daughter Ivanka Trump has landed in Seoul, South Korea this morning. She just touched down a few ago to lead the U.S. delegation at the Olympics closing ceremony.

CNN's Will Ripley is live in Seoul.

Will, what can we expect?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expect Ivanka Trump to be having dinner at the Blue House with South Korea's president Moon Jae-in and if my timing estimate serves me correctly she might be sitting down right about now after leaving Incheon Airport to really a rock star welcome. Her picture was plastered over all of the South Korean TV networks.

She'll be heading to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics tomorrow. She'll be watching U.S. athletes compete. But really all eyes are going to be on the closer ceremony on Sunday. And everybody wondering if Ivanka will be sitting in the same VIP box with the North Korean delegation much like Vice President Pence who of course had some awkward and heavily photographed moments basically ignoring the North Koreans and they ignoring him.

North Korea is sending somebody, a very controversial choice here in South Korea. Their former spy master Kim Yong Chol. He's the vice chair of the Workers Party of Korea Central Committee. But he was believed to be the mastermind of an attack on a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, back in 2010 that killed 46 South Korean sailors. A lot of people in this country asking why Kim Jong-un would send someone like that to an Olympic closing ceremony which is supposed to be a symbol of peace -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. A new set of tea leaves to read. Thanks very much, Will Ripley, in Seoul.

Now American figure skaters stumble again to their worst Olympic showing ever.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more from Pyeongchang. Hey, Coy.

MARQUARDT: Hey, Coy.

[05:25:01] COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alex and Christine. And Team USA's three skaters finished 9th, 10th and 11th. Some serious soul searching perhaps in order after their performances here in Pyeongchang.

Reigning U.S. champ Bradie Tennell known for her consistency failed in the short program, then failed to execute on two jumps last night. She hasn't fallen all season.

Two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu said afterwards she was upset by coach in the Olympic Village, and that she was looking at this as an audition for "Dancing With the stars." 18-year-old Karen Chen said the toughest thing for her was being separated from her mom 24/7.

The Olympic athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova wasn't missing a thing. And her level of focus and execution were on another level. And she's just 15 years old. Landing her jumps, crushing the tricks seemingly with ease. She broke a world record in the short program and in the free skate, shocked a two-time world champion and her own teammate 18- year-old Evgenia Medvedeva to take the gold.

Now earlier I caught up with the most dominant alpine skier on the planet right now, Team USA's Mikaela Shiffrin. She took gold and silver here in Pyeongchang to add to the gold took back in Sochi. And as a top flight athlete, we all have those triggers to get you in that mental space. I found out from Mikaela it's rapping to Eminem. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKAELA SHIFFRIN, TWO-TIME OLYMPIAN: I'm not particularly good at rapping. But there is a song --

WIRE: I mean, you wore a big chains and everything so.

SHIFFRIN: Yes. I just wear these around. I know I have one of my go-to songs this year to get pumped up was an Eminem song "Guts Over Fear." I started listening to the lyrics and like this needs to be something that gets me psyched up. And it totally worked. I started like mouthing the words and now in all of my races I'm listening to that song, mouthing the words. And I probably look insane because I just look like I'm talking to myself. And I'm singing that song. That's what I'm doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Fascinating to get inside the mind of an Olympic champ.

Later tonight, one big thing to watch, Alex and Christine, snowboard. Big air men's 17-year-old Red Gerard looking to take home a second gold medal for Team USA.

ROMANS: Yes, that is one cool kid. All right. We'll watch that. Thank you, Coy.

MARQUARDT: You know, Michael Phelps also used to get amped up to Eminem.

ROMANS: Did he?

MARQUARDT: And he's the winniest American Olympian.

ROMANS: There you go. Doing something right.

All right. 27 minutes past the hour. The Broward County sheriff says he is devastated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Scott Peterson was there when the shooter was still inside the building ?

ISRAEL: Yes, he was.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what should he have done?

ISRAEL: Went in. Address the killer. Killed the killer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Why didn't his armed school deputy on the scene act when shots rang out at Stoneman Douglas?

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