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Mercenary Attack on U.S. Troops in Syria; NRA Chief on Freedom; Trump to Address CPAC; Latest Olympic Headlines; Conspiracy Theories about Parkland. Aired 6:30-7:00a ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 06:30   ET



[06:32:50] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We have some new details about an attack by mercenaries on American and allied forces this month in Syria. "The Washington Post" reports that a Russian oligarch, believed to control those mercenaries, was in close touch with the Kremlin and Syrian officials. He's also among the 13 Russians indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live in Moscow with more for us.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. Yes, it's pretty complicated. And the amount of things that this guy has allegedly done really is quite mindboggling.

First of all, he is in charge of that militia. And the area, Alisyn, that they were trying to take there in eastern Syria, controlled by U.S. and pro-U.S. forces, is one that has a lot of oil fields in it. And now the man who was set to get a lot out of this attack and controls an oil company that would have benefited a great deal if this attack had succeeded is the same guy. He is Yevgeniy Prigozhin. And we've also mentioned that he's apparently also in charge of the troll factory that meddled in a 2016 U.S. elections. The main guy indicted by Robert Mueller last Friday in that massive indictment.

Of course, the U.S. has now come forward and said that they believe the Russians are still at it. The administration says it's warned the Russians to cut it out or face some serious consequences.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Frederik Pleitgen in Moscow.

Thanks so much, Fred.

President Trump preparing to address conservatives at the CPAC conference. Will he take on the NRA? And how this might be received? We're going to have a chance to ask the CPAC chair, Matt Schlapp. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:38:18] CAMEROTA: President Trump is set to address CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in just a few hours. The president appeared to be conforming his message on guns towards the NRA's message yesterday, mirroring or parroting the NRA talking points about hardening schools.

So what will he say today?

Let's bring in CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp.

Hi, Matt.


CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

Before we get to what you expect from the president today, I just want to talk about some of the headlines that have come out of CPAC.


CAMEROTA: Let's start with Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, because he made some eyebrow-raising comments yesterday. So let's play that for our viewers.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: 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. For them, it's not a safety issue. It's a political issue. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.


CAMEROTA: Matt, do you believe that? Do you believe the people calling for expanded background checks, quote, hate freedom and want to take away all individual freedom?

SCHLAPP: No, I actually think there's a lot of people, including these victims' families, who -- their heart is in the right place. They're trying to solve a problem. They're trying to prevent the next kid from being attacked or killed at a school.

I think to Wayne's point is, is a larger point, which is, for some people the whole question of gun control feeds into this whole question of the bigger political fight the left is in versus the right. And I think that's unfortunate.

[06:40:04] I think this is the time for us to listen more, for us to try to work together. I think what the president did at the White House with these families is the right -- CAMEROTA: Yes.

SCHLAPP: Next step after a tragedy like that.


SCHLAPP: I don't know where this ends up, Alisyn.


SCHLAPP: But I think it's good that we're going to have the debate.

CAMEROTA: So why is Wayne LaPierre stoking that division?

SCHLAPP: I don't think he's stoking that division. I think he's defending the Second Amendment. People take this -- it's a cherished right chiseled in our Constitution. It's in the Bill of Rights.


SCHLAPP: The Constitution would be nothing without our Bill of Rights. And I think that's an important thing for us to remember.

CAMEROTA: I understand, but --

SCHLAPP: People think that the concept of gun rights isn't law.

CAMEROTA: I hear you, Matt, but let me just interrupt for one second. I -- I get it. Everybody knows that the Second Amendment.


CAMEROTA: Of course the Bill of Rights are cherished.

But -- so why does he say that people who want some sort of measure against gun violence, quote, hate freedom and want to take away --

SCHLAPP: He said --

CAMEROTA: All, all is his word, individual freedoms? You don't think that's divisive?

SCHLAPP: He's talk -- I think if you understand the antecedent, it makes more sense. There are people who stoke the push for gun control because they think it's good politics. And the sad thing is, it's false hope for people. Where we have the most gun control, we have the highest crime. We have -- we're not talking about the violence. We're not talking about the simple security steps that could be taken.

CAMEROTA: That's not true, Matt. It's just not true. It's not true.

SCHLAPP: But, look, Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: In Connecticut, after Newtown --

SCHLAPP: Alisyn -- CAMEROTA: They crafted -- they made all sorts of different new laws and measures and now their crime and homicide rate went down, OK?

But the point is, Matt, I'm talking about the message, OK.

SCHLAPP: Alisyn, that's -- Alisyn, I --

CAMEROTA: So Wayne LaPierre is your chosen speaker. So why did you --

SCHLAPP: Alisyn, I really -- you've got to let me respond to that.

CAMEROTA: Respond to this.

SCHLAPP: You've got to let me respond to that because I live --

CAMEROTA: Respond to this.

SCHLAPP: I live in Washington -- I live in Washington, D.C.

CAMEROTA: Why did -- Matt.

SCHLAPP: I read those statistics in Chicago and they have the highest -- they have the highest incidence of gun control and it's not controlling crime. Let's talk about the violence that's in people's hearts.

CAMEROTA: Because it's coming in from Indiana, where the gun control is lax. You know that, Matt. But, listen --

SCHLAPP: You're blaming -- you're going to blame -- you're blaming Indianans for the crime in Chicago. That's not fair.

CAMEROTA: Matt, you know where the guns in Chicago come from.

But the point --

SCHLAPP: Yes, they come from the a --


SCHLAPP: They come from a criminal element that has their guns, even though they might be illegal to obtain.

CAMEROTA: OK. The larger issue is, is this a moment of unity or is it a moment of division? And if it's a moment of unity, why do you have Wayne LaPierre saying that people who want some measure, like the kids in Parkland and their parents, some measure of expanded background checks are trying to take away all freedom and hate freedom?

SCHLAPP: Let's get to the issue. I am for expanded background checks. Even the NRA is for expanded background checks. I want to see more money appropriated by Congress and in states across this country to make sure that every gun purchase goes through a rigorous background check. Not matter how long that takes, I want to see that happen.

I think there are a lot of people, even conservatives in this room at CPAC, who are willing to have the conversation about people that are prone to violence, prone to violence maybe because there are mental issues, maybe because there are other darker issues, they want to have that conversation.


SCHLAPP: And as I said, I don't know where that ends up. But we -- we need to have it. But it's unfair -- it's also --

CAMEROTA: Yes, well, I'll tell you where it's starting. I understand. We're having this conversation.

SCHLAPP: So, let me just say -- let me just keep going --


SCHLAPP: Let me just keep going real fast. It's unfair to say that Wayne LaPierre shouldn't be a part of this conversation. If the leaders of the Second Amendment groups are cut away from this conversation, America can't get to a consensus.


SCHLAPP: He represents millions of Americans. And the people in the room at CPAC deserve to have a chair around that table too. We all deserve to have a chair.

CAMEROTA: Matt, be -- Matt, Matt, listen, nobody's saying he doesn't deserve a seat at the table. Nobody's even saying --

SCHLAPP: I think you said why would you --

CAMEROTA: Why the message?

SCHLAPP: I'm not going to let it -- I'm not going to -- I'm not going to quell his speech (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: Matt, why the message? The message is one of division where he claims that people who are trying to solve gun violence hate freedom. I mean that's what he said. I'm using his words. You just heard them. They hate freedom. They hate all freedom. They want to take away your individual freedom. That's not helpful.

SCHLAPP: I'm responsible for the words that come out of my mouth. What I try to do is explain to you --

CAMEROTA: Well, he's your guest. You invited him to CPAC and he's your guest and of course you knew his message.

SCHLAPP: Alisyn, you have a -- you have a lot of guests on your show too. And what I do is Wayne is my friend. I respect -- I respect Wayne LaPierre. I'm glad he's in this room. And I'm glad he's in this fight.

I like people who fight for the Bill of Rights. I think the Bill of Rights are central to America being this unique experience in history. And I think it's wrong for people to say there's something hateful about defending the Bill of Rights.

CAMEROTA: Yes, no not defending the Bill of Rights. The language of saying that --

SCHLAPP: The language that he uses might be troublesome. But that's what he's doing. He's --

CAMEROTA: No, Matt, you know that. He's saying that people -- I mean let me just quote it, hate freedom. People who want to protect kids from this school violence, quote, hate freedom and want to take away all individual freedom. He lumped it all together. That's -- those are his words.

SCHLAPP: Let me -- let me just (INAUDIBLE). Let me use my words.

I believe that the people in this room think it's a very legitimate thing -- first of all, they want to comfort the families. This is a terrible tragedy. Is this was one of my kids or your kids, I just don't know what I would even say or think.

[06:45:05] CAMEROTA: Of course.

SCHLAPP: So we jump right to the -- we jump right to the policy, which I understand. But, I mean, we're broken-hearted as a country. We've had too much of this. We've had too much violence.

CAMEROTA: Everybody can agree on that, Matt.

SCHLAPP: Why aren't we talking about the dark influence in the country?


SCHLAPP: And so what Wayne LaPierre is trying to say is, it's unfair and toss hope, to immediately jump to the idea that a new gun control law is going to solve this.

Alisyn, I agree, we should try to tighten some things up.


SCHLAPP: But at the central focus of this, we have people who try to blow up children and to kill children in this country. It is a -- it's a lurch towards violence.

CAMEROTA: Yes, of course.

SCHLAPP: And that is a deeper question than passing a law. There's something wrong with us. Why does this keep happening?

CAMEROTA: I understand. I'm just -- I hear you. I don't know. That's why we're having this conversation and trying to fix it. I'm just not sure that the message that some people hate freedom and want to take away all individual freedom is giving comfort to the families.

But let's move on, Matt, since you and I are going to disagree on that. Let's move on.

SCHLAPP: But, Alisyn -- OK. OK.

CAMEROTA: President Trump is going to be appearing at CPAC in just a few hours. And, you know, his message is -- it's a bit all over the place. So help us hone it. Does he agree --

SCHLAPP: You don't -- you don't like his message either. You don't seem to like the messages of my speakers.

CAMEROTA: I'm not saying -- hey, you didn't hear me say I didn't like his message.

SCHLAPP: Come on. Give us some credit, OK.

CAMEROTA: Matt, you didn't hear me say I didn't like his message.


CAMEROTA: I'm saying, help us understand --

SCHLAPP: You said it's been all over the place. OK.

CAMEROTA: Help us understand it. So does he agree with --

SCHLAPP: I'd love to. First --

CAMEROTA: Everything the NRA wants or is he breaking from the NRA in terms of the raging -- raising the age minimum, the bump stocks, more on background checks?


CAMEROTA: Explain.

SCHLAPP: Alisyn, the one thing I have to give you credit for is you ask good questions, and that is a good and fair question. And I don't know if we know the answer yet because what's happening is we've opened up a conversation about what should be done with our gun regulations. And the president is opening up the conversation, being willing to consider a lot of options. Some of those might make people in the NRA a little nervous because they might not support it.

I don't know where this ends up. All I know is I think he's of goodwill to try to get to a good solution. I think those supporters of the Second Amendment -- actually, they are as despondent as anyone over when people misuse a gun and use a gun to commit these terrible crimes.

I think this is good for the country. I think today what the president is going to do is much like what the vice president did yesterday. I don't know if you saw his remarks. But he started off his speech just saying, you know, America is hurting and we have to -- we have to look at common sense things that can be done to try to secure our kids.

I think the line in his speech that I liked the most, he said that it is just unacceptable in America that teachers and kids fear for their safety in our schools in America. We spend so much money on education in this country. It's our number one cost. Let's protect our kids. There's got to be a way to do that.

CAMEROTA: On that, we can all agree. Matt Schlapp, thank you very much.


CAMEROTA: We will -- we'll be watching.

Thanks so much.

SCHLAPP: Thank you, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Look, I agree with Matt Schlapp on two points, Alisyn. You ask very good questions and, number two, we don't know where the president stands on this. Matt admitting we don't know how far the president will go here. And that's significant. If you have a leading conservative saying, we need to figure this out.

CAMEROTA: So today maybe -- I mean in a few hours we might hear him try to hone that message.

BERMAN: Yes, indeed. You ask excellent questions.

CAMEROTA: Oh, thank you, John.

BERMAN: U.S. women figure skaters having a rough go at the Olympics. Just how bad? That's a great question, too. We'll head to South Korea for the "Bleacher Report," next.

CAMEROTA: We have a lot of great questions.


[06:51:38] BERMAN: American figure skaters stumble again to their worst Olympic showing ever.

Coy Wire live from Pyeongchang.

The air is out of the salchow, Coy.

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

Team USA's three skaters finished 9th, 10th, and 11th. Some serious soul searching, perhaps, in order after these performances. Reigning U.S. champ Bradie Tennell hadn't fallen all season, but she fell twice in the short program and didn't execute two jumps last night. Two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu said afterwards she was upset by cold showers in the Olympic village and that she was looking at this as an audition for "Dancing with the Stars.". Eighteen-year-old Karen Chen said the toughest thing for her was being separated from her mom.

Olympic athlete from Russia, Alina Zagitova, wasn't missing a thing, though, and her level of focus and execution, another level. She's just 15-years-old, executing her trick seeming with ease. She broke a world record in the short program and in the free skate took down a two-time world champ and her own teammate, Evgenia Medvedeva, to take gold.

Let's get you to your medal count this new day. Norway continuing domination with 36 medals overall. The USA raking them in, jumping up to fourth.

And this just in. Speed skater four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis, who voiced displeasure of not being selected as flag bearer for the U.S., finished seventh in the 1,000 meter moments ago and will walk away with these games without a medal.


CAMEROTA: Wow. OK, Coy, that was quite an update on all of that. Thank you very much.

So, let's talk about the disgusting conspiracy theories that crockpots are spreading about these student survivors of the school shooting in Parkland. Who's behind these conspiracy theories? We dig deeper, next.


[06:55:19] BERMAN: Conspiracy theorists wasting no time circulating lies about survivors of last week's school shooting less than an hour after the massacre. Social media accounts picked up false claims that students who saw their friends and teachers die were crisis actors.

Joining us is CNN media correspondent, host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter.

And it was one of the trending videos on YouTube --


BERMAN: This B.S. video --


BERMAN: About David Hogg, one of the most outspoken survivors from this massacre in Parkland, Florida. You know, how does YouTube explain, justify how it let this video end up on its trending list?

STELTER: The company just says, we have to do better. We will do better next time. The official explanation is that these algorithms that increasingly define our daily lives and decide what pops up in our news feeds, these algorithms are not perfect. And, in this case, an algorithm was designed to figure out if it was a real news story from a reliable source misidentified the content and sent it up to the top of the list.

You know, YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, these companies are under pressure like never before to tamp out, to stamp out, to get rid of this pollution in the environment. And I think that's what makes this week different. You know, it's not as if conspiracy theories are new. Conspiracy theories are as old as human beings. Think back to the Kennedy assassination, or Roswell UFOs.

BERMAN: I've been to Roswell.

STELTER: Have you? Did you --

BERMAN: I believe all of it. I believe all of it, by the way, but that's OK.


STELTER: People -- people are inclined to believe in some conspiracy theories. That's been as trust as all this time. The difference now is that these social media platforms help this stuff spread in a super powered, supercharged way.

CAMEROTA: Oh, absolutely. Social media is toxic when it comes to this stuff.

It -- I was just talking to the kids about this yesterday when they said, you know, the good thing about social media is it helps us spread the word about what they're trying to get out. It also spreads the weird.

STELTER: The weird, right.

CAMEROTA: And that's what's happening.

But there's another really interesting point about what's different. It's these kids and their reaction. They are -- in their grief they're laughing it off.

STELTER: And they're --

CAMEROTA: They're laughing it off when people are insulting them and calling them names and saying that they're not genuine.

STELTER: They are absolutely being proactive and hand -- and taking this on, as opposed to what we've seen in the past, for example, after Sandy Hook, after other tragedies. There's a tendency to ignore this stuff. There's a tendency to ignore this pollution (INAUDIBLE) --

CAMEROTA: Because you don't want to give it oxygen, you know?

STELTER: That's right, because you don't want to have to respond to it, give it any legitimacy. These students are doing something different. And it's a part of this broader attempt to take control of the conversation.

CAMEROTA: Let's just play a few examples of how they're doing it differently in resetting this whole script. Listen to this.


RYAN DEITSCH, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: It is absolutely ridiculous to say the least. Like, to think that I'm a good actor is just -- I mean, if anything, it's a compliment and I hope the Academy is watching

CAMERON KASKY, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: 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.

DAVID HOGG, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I would like to thank the people that are saying this about me. They've been great advertising, because it means what I'm doing is working. Without those people saying that, we would not have nearly as many people here.


CAMEROTA: God bless those kids for turning the -- turning the -- flipping the script.

STELTER: They're de-fusing it.


STELTER: You know, using comedy actually is a very smart way to try to take on something that's disgusting, that's despicable. It reminds me of -- actually like at the end of this week, we call B.S., that phrase from the beginning of the week --


STELTER: Is what stands out to me about the entire week of coverage. Well let's just call it B.S. That's what these students are doing in many different ways.

BERMAN: It proves that one kid with an iPhone is better than the social media department of any major corporation or political organization. They get it. They get it more than we do. And, you know, the people who started these conspiracy theories picked the wrong enemy.

Very quickly, Brian, we're almost out of time here. There are those in this debate who are using the media, instead of addressing the main core questions at play here are choosing just to attack the press. Why?

STELTER: They'd rather talk about us than talk about the issues on the table. We saw that at CPAC yesterday. The one thing that unites the conservative movement right now is media bashing, because otherwise it's a very fractured movement. So we saw a lot of those speakers at CPAC getting up there, attacking the media, including NRA spokespeople, in really awful ways. I think hopefully most people see through it. But it is an attempt to unite an otherwise fractured movement.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean there you go. Brian Stelter, thank you very much.

STELTER: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers as well for watching. For you, CNN "TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Somebody is yards away with a gun and won't even open the damn door to help children? That's why the guy is there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Devastated. Sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean these families lost their children.

CAMEROTA: Disturbing new details about repeated warnings to police about the killer's violent behavior.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to harden our schools, not soften them up.

[07:00:00] WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO AND EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The elites don't care, not one wit, about America's schoolchildren.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't want to talk about the blood that has spilled all over his hands because of the lax policies that he's pushing.