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Democratic Rebuttal Memo Is Out; Democratic Memo Counters GOP Claims of Spying Abuse; FBI Never Acted on Tips about Gunman; Delta, United Join List of Companies Cutting Ties with NRA. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 24, 2018 - 20:00   ET



[20:00:18] RYAN NOBLES, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ryan Nobles in tonight for Ana Cabrera.

The breaking news tonight, another secret memo revealed despite objections from the FBI. This time it is the Democrats on the House intelligence committee led by ranking member Adam Schiff publishing their retort to the memo released by Republican intel chair, Devin Nunes.

First a reminder about what this is all about. The Nunes memo alleged that the Obama justice department used information from the controversial Steele dossier as a primary basis for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page.

Now the President held that memo up as proof the FBI was biased against him in their Russia probe. But Democrats cried foul saying the memo was an incomplete picture of what really happened.

They have been fighting for weeks to get their own memo released. That included negotiations with the FBI over what needed to be redacted out of national security concerns. I want to get right now to CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.

And Evan, we know the FBI was uncomfortable with the release of both of these memos. Walk us through the highlights of the one that was released today.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the focus of both of these memos really is the controversy over that dossier put together by Christopher Steele, the former British spy and it was paid for by the Democrats, by the Hillary Clinton campaign. And according to the Democratic memo that was released today, they say that the Steele dossier really played only a small role in the surveillance application that was done to spy on Carter Page, who if you remember was a former national security adviser to the Trump campaign. They say that the court was told that the Steele dossier funders, the people who paid for the Steele dossier were politically motivated to discredit the Trump campaign.

Now we should note that the application doesn't make any reference, it appears. And then according to the Democratic memo, it doesn't make any explicit declaration that this was paid for by the Clinton campaign. But it does say that they were there to discredit the Trump campaign.

We also learned, according to this memo today, Ryan, that the Carter Page surveillance began in October of 2016 and apparently goes through September of 2017. So almost a year of surveillance of Carter Page during the time -- during the time of the transition and after the inauguration looking at all his contacts with Russia.

And finally, we also learned from this memo today that the justice department told the FISA court, told the secret surveillance court that there was additional info, information, that the FBI had obtained that quote "had multiple independent sources that corroborated the information in the Steele memos. Again, this is the first time we have heard that from anybody in the government. We have reported that previously here at CNN that the FBI did do additional work. They had independent information to corroborate some of the information from Christopher Steele. But now this memo makes that clear, Ryan.

NOBLES: All right. Well, Evan, we knew the President initially was opposed to the release of this memo. Then they went back and forth. The justice department worked to have some redactions put in there.

And the President is responding to the release of the memo tonight. He tweeted this. Quote "Russians had no compromising information on Donald Trump." He is citing FOX News as his source for this information. Of course, not because there is none and never was, this whole witch hunt is an illegal disgrace and Obama did nothing about Russia.

And Evan, if you could fact check a little bit of this for us, that accusation specifically that President Obama did nothing about Russia, is that true?

PEREZ: Well, look, I mean, I think there is a fair criticism of what the Obama administration did when they learned about the Russian meddling, when they knew of the Russian involvement in the hacking of the DNC servers and so on.

What I think the President is getting mixed up here is the idea that the Obama administration didn't do anything. I think there was a lot that was going on behind the scenes. The criticism I think is fair, that perhaps they didn't do enough. But it is not true they didn't do anything. After all, the Obama administration called out the Russians. They -- President Obama himself confronted Vladimir Putin about it and said he needed to cut it out before the election. And if you remember after the election, the Obama administration kicked out some Russian diplomats, people they said were spies and added some sanctions after the election to punish Russia for what happened in the election.

So it's not true that the Obama administration didn't do anything. I think it is fair. And I think a lot of people have said this, including Democrats, that they thought the Obama administration didn't act early enough and didn't act strongly enough at the time that it was seeing what was happening.

[20:05:10] NOBLES: All right. Evan Perez, thank you for breaking that down for us. Our justice correspondent in Washington.

And joining me now, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, CNN legal analyst Michael Moore, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings and former CIA office Evan McMullin. Thank you all for being with me tonight to breakdown this important news development.

And Scott, I want to start with you. And the President said that the Nunes memo vindicated him from the Russia probe. Today, he said the Schiff memo was quote "a bust." And that the entire Russia investigation is a quote "illegal disgrace." Interpret that for me. How is the special counsel probe an illegal disgrace?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, look. There is valid reason to be investigating Russian meddling in the election. That's the President's position. He has been very upset about the Russian investigation from the get-go because he thinks it calls into question the legitimacy of his victory and the legitimacy of his presidency.

I don't think that's true. I think the Russians clearly tried to meddle in the election and they did meddle in the election in different ways, but we have yet to see actual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

So that's going to be the President's position. The Democrats of course have a different position. They traded memos. I think most of the American people are going to wake up in the morning and say I don't even read the memos that people send me at work. I am not going to read these. I just need tonight being between the two parties. And the only thing that matters here is what Robert Mueller comes up with as his investigation rolls on.

NOBLES: But isn't that part of the problem, Scott, for the President, that he is not allowing the investigation to go forward? If he has done nothing wrong, why accuse the special counsel of acting illegally? What benefit is that to him?

JENNINGS: Well, look. I mean, he is trying to position his PR response to this for his people. I mean, that's clearly what he wants people to believe. And so that's what he is going to say. The President has done nothing to stifle this investigation. The special counsel has acted unimpeded. And in fact, I was on TV on CNN the night that this Democratic memo was initially delayed. And every Democrat was really sure that the President was ultimately going to block this. And here it is coming out tonight. He said he was inclined to release it. The FBI worked on it with congressman Schiff. And here we have it. So I don't think the President is doing anything to block the investigation. He could be mad about it, but there is no blockage here.

NOBLES: Evan McMullin, you are a former CIA. Do you agree with Scott's assessment here that the President going on twitter, accusing the special counsel of acting illegally does nothing to interrupt the investigation?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA AGENT: No, I don't. I mean, look. I agree with Scott, though, that the President is feeding a PR message to his base. That's for sure. And that's why you see his commentary being so divorced from the reality. It really doesn't matter. I mean, that's been his strategy all along. That's the strategy of his surrogates, of his allies, to feed a message to the base that this investigation is illegal, unwarranted, a witch hunt, whatever. And that's why you have his base still believing that. And, so, he will continue to do that. But again I do think that the President is trying to obstruct the investigation, at least in the sense in making it politically very difficult for the President to be held accountable under certain political circumstances.

Namely, if his base continues to believe he's done nothing wrong and I think it is very clear that he has done something wrong because he openly played a role. He played an open role in Russia's attack on our Democracy, which is what happens in other countries when Russia attacks their Democracies. They pick a candidate. That candidate spews the Russian talking point. That candidate divides the populous of that country. It is part of it. And that's what Trump did. But his base will go on believing that he has done nothing wrong. And if Mueller brings some kind of findings while the House is under Republican control, if the base is still with Trump, they may not do anything to hold Trump accountable.

NOBLES: All right. Obviously, the politics are a big part of this. But there is actually quite a big substance that came out of this as memo.

And Juliette, I want to turn to you. Specifically, this one nugget that we learned from the memo that the FBI interviewed Carter Page in March of 2016 about his contest with the Russians. And that same month, the Trump campaign listed Page as one of the candidate's foreign policy advisers in a full-page ad in the "Washington Post."

You know, Republicans even tonight, congressman Peter King was on with me a couple of hours ago, and he was trying to make the argument that Carter Page played no role. It was an a bit player in a Trump campaign. Does this memo refute that to a certain extent?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It does. I mean, you know, the memo -- I just want to say from the out -- how much I hate this conversation because of what Devin Nunes did. I think Republicans and Democrats should agree that these counterintelligence investigations should not be as public as he did. I think it was important that Adam Schiff got the other -- not the other side, actually got the complete story out.

But nonetheless, Devin Nunes, while sort of undermining himself in this process is also sort of undermining the basic tool of our counterintelligence efforts, which is of course the FISA wiretap and in particular this one against Carter Page.

What is so I think damning is the extent to which the Carter Page or application, the FISA application, was started not based on the dossier. We now know and that's proved in the memo today, was confirmed by other activities by Carter Page and was reaffirmed by four Republican judges on the FISA court. So the idea that this is some, you know, Clinton motivated thing is

just ridiculous at this stage. They were looking at not just what started the FISA application because it is sunseted. They are continually sort of upping it because they are getting enough information through this surveillance. So much so that the line is they had credibly suspected that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power.

[20:11:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

KAYYEM: I mean, and this is the President's foreign policy adviser. So that's - I mean, these are the facts. A tweet is not going to undermine the facts at this stage.

NOBLES: And, Michael, from your perspective, if you are seeking the court's approval for a warrant, and this has been a big talking point for the Republicans today, do you think that disclosing Christopher Steele was working for a political opponent of the candidate is enough? Because the Democrats seem to think that's sufficient, but the President and Republicans are arguing that specifically the warrant application should have said that he was working for the DNC or Hillary Clinton. Is that enough legally to grant this application?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think it is especially when you have other information and another corroborating information. What Nunes and the President seem to be saying is that they hope the judge is somehow a Hillary Clinton hater and that they want to throw her name into the mix somehow in the application and that is going to be enough to make him to sway his decision one way or another.

That's not irrelevant. I mean, that is irrelevant. We want our judges and our justice system to be nonpartisan. We want them to be impartial. And so, the very fact that they put the information in the application and in fact this was a political opponent, I think that's sufficient.

You know, I think we keep missing the point, too, we keep forgetting that the dossier was not initially paid for by the Democrats. This was paid for and initiated during the Republican primary. That seems to get lost somewhere from chairman Nunes. I mean, I think he drops out his pocket on his job. He got a little white hat so he has ran down to tell the President, you know, what was going on. He forgets that. And that's a real problem.

It is ironic to me, too, when you think about it from a law and order perspective. The Democratic memo came out in support of the activity of the FBI and said look, there was no wrongdoing. There was nothing improper. They followed policy. They did everything they were supposed to do. There is no reason to cast doubt or dispersion on the FBI.

What a change. The Republican party has for years claimed to be the party of law and order and support law enforcement. And here it is now, the Republican -- I mean the Democratic remembers like Schiff and others coming forward and saying we are backing up and supporting what the FBI did. NOBLES: Yes.

And Scott, to that point, I would like you to respond to that because Devin Nunes today happened to be speaking at CPAC when this memo was released. And he said that the Democratic memo shows a clear effort by Democrats to essentially collude with the FBI and the justice department to cover up this application process. I mean, is that appropriate for the chairman of the House intelligence committee to make an accusation like that against not only his fellow Democrats on the committee but this important arm of the American law enforcement?

JENNINGS: I don't know whether it's appropriate or not. I mean, I guess he has every right no speak, just like Schiff has ever right to speak. I mean, I see congressman Schiff on TV on a nightly basis calling Donald Trump everything but a good milk cow.

And so, these guys have gotten into a real war on this committee. I'm not sure if it serve a public interest. For them to be in a wat, but that's where we are. Regarding Republican support for law enforcement, I think Republicans broadly support the law enforcement community. I certainly support the FBI.

One thing though that's been said and I agreed with this, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said in an interview a couple of weeks ago that the Republicans aren't upset with everybody in the FBI. There is four or five people that they want to take a look at and analyze their activities and make sure that they were fair and impartial in carrying out their duties. That's it. That's the oversight role of the Congress.

Republicans aren't trying to impugn the integrity of the FBI. I think they want to make sure that certain small numbers of individuals that were not doing things that would impair their judgment.

MOORE: Let me -- I think when the President who tweets out after a mass shooting, when the first coming out of his mouth is basically pin down and tell the FBI to get back to work and do get things. I don't live with that builds the kind of confidence in the men and women that serve in law enforcement every day. I had the great pleasure to serve with many of them. And I tell you, it knocks their moral down. And it is a red herring, this President is throwing out. So when they have to listen to that from the commander in-chief, I don't think they feel support often in the administration.

NOBLES: And that would be a good opportunity to turn the conversation to Evan because you were a rank and file CIA officer at one time. It is not the same, exact thing as being an FBI agent. But if the commander in-chief was coming out and attacking the organization the way this President has, how would that make you feel when you were out there doing the work of this department?

[20:15:18] MCMULLIN: Yes. You know, I have to say, Ryan, when I hear people say that, look, the President and Devin Nunes are attacking the leadership of law enforcement organizations, not the rank and file, therefore it is OK. No, it is definitely not OK. Of course they are attacking the leadership because they are acting in

a very partisan way. They are not acting in the best interest of the country. They are trying to attack the legitimacy of those organizations. All the power of those organizations resides in the hands ultimately of those organizations leader. So it is sort of this silly rhetorical game they play.

When you attack a senior official of an intelligence organization or a law enforcement organization or any other agency and accuse them of wrongdoing, it is an attack on that agency. That's what it is. And the purpose of this is to erode Americans confidence in their law enforcement organizations so that whatever findings they ultimately come out with they don't carry weight with the American people and therefore again, as I said earlier, make it more difficult for the President to be held accountable in Congress.

NOBLES: Juliette, if you were at the Kremlin today as this conversation was taking place here in the United States, I mean, what could Putin and his allies be thinking about the way that the Congress has handled this investigation? Is this part of what their goal was when they decided to intervene in the 2016 election?

KAYYEM: Well, yes, it was, to create this kind of unstableness. But what I think they are probably prefer more than Congress is the fact that President Trump to this day just - he has been President over a year, has not done a number of things. He has not condemned Russia and their involvement with 2016. He has not condemned or warned them about potential involvement in 2018. He has undermined the very federal agencies that are in a position to stop the Russians from doing it. Mainly, the FBI, the CIA and even the state department.

And President Trump has made this issue, as we saw last week with the indictments and then the sweets today, has made this issue about him. I mean, look. His tweet today is about they didn't find anything untoward about what I did. They didn't do anything that was, you know, untoward. We know what he is talking about.

How do you go from a FISA warrant and information that shows that one of your foreign policy aids may have been an agent of a foreign power and you have a couple dozen indictments now with the Mueller campaign. So I think they are thrilled by Donald Trump. Literally, I think they could not imagine that a year into his presidency as the intelligence agencies testified this week or last week about he has never told his government to stop the Russians, use every tool possible, name and shame them, do the sanctions, everything that we can do. He has not picked up a finger, let's just put it that way, to stop the Russians.

NOBLES: All right. Great conversations start, everyone. Please stay with me. There is a lot more to discuss with our breaking news tonight, including as Juliette just alluded to, President Trump wasting no time responding to the comments of this memo. Well now Adam Schiff has just responded. This is taking place, where else, their favorite medium twitter. We will share that with you when we come back.


[20:22:47] NOBLES: And one of the breaking news tonight, the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo which alleged surveillance abuses at the FBI. The Democrat Adam Schiff says that his Republican counterpart misled the American people in his memo, which was made public three weeks ago.

President Trump tweeting tonight about the memo calling it a quote "total political and legal bust." And now Schiff is responding directly to the President. This is what he had to tweet. Wrong again, Mr. President. It confirms the FBI acted appropriately and that Russian agents exposed two of your advisers and informed your campaign that Russia was prepared to help you by disseminating stolen Clinton emails.

And we are back with our panel, very distinguished panel.

And Scott Jennings, I'm going to go to you. First, Republicans like Devin Nunes argue that the dossier drove the counterintelligence probe into links between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But according to this memo, we are learning today that the memo that the FBI had opened several sub inquiries into multiple Trump link individuals by September of 2016. And this is before the FISA application that Nunes said was relied on by the dossier.

I mean, doesn't it seem to you, you waited both of these memos and put them side to side that the investigation in totality is on solid footing.

JENNINGS: Yes. There is no question that it is on solid footing. I mean, the President's campaign unfortunately, and I don't mean the President, but I mean, the President's campaign was orbited by some complete idiots.

I mean, this Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, I mean, these guys should not have been anywhere near a Presidential campaign. Yet, they were and they are a huge problem right now and a huge headache for this White House.

So, yes, the investigation is on solid footing. And I'm glad Robert Mueller is there because I want to know exactly down to the later what the Russians did to meddle in our Democracy. Again, we have not seen proof or evidence of collusion yet. But clearly the Russians were trying to interfere with our fabric of our Democracy. It makes me angry as an American. I wish the President frankly would convene a presidential task force of people who are experts from in and out of the government to put a stop to it before they hit the midterms and hit the Presidential campaign. So yes, it is on solid footing.

NOBLES: I mean, Scott, to that point, I mean, if the President did something like that, wouldn't that perhaps erase some of the concerns that people have about the way that he is pushing so hard against the investigation that perhaps if you were open, you know, impaneling a 9/11 panel, a 9/11 commission, that that would perhaps show he's got nothing to hide? [20:25:17] JENNINGS: Absolutely. I have an arguing this since last

summer that the President ought to just say look, I want to get to the bottom of what the Russians did. I had nothing to do with it. That is a legitimate position. But I want to get to the bottom of what they did. And I'm going to put a panel of experts together to make sure they don't do it again. And we are going to tale actions against the Russian to punish them for what they did. That's the clear correct policy and PR answer. Good policy is good politics. That would certainly be both.

NOBLES: Juliette, I want to ask you specifically about a big point of contention from Republicans today. And that is, you know, this differentiation between specifically saying that the Steele dossier was funded by Hillary Clinton and the DNC. But instead just clearly stating that there was some sort of partisan influence in the funding of this document. Do you think from what you can tell from these two memos that they properly adhere to the rules when it comes to unmasking or should they have been more specific about the partisan funding of the dossier?

KAYYEM: I think as a footnote as everyone is reading the footnotes made clear that the FBI clearly stated that there was the desire for the dossier, both as it initiated and then as it continued on with the Hillary Clinton campaign, that both were politically motivated to get, you know, get dirt essentially on Donald Trump.

Whether it's a Democrat or Republican doesn't matter for the FISA court because, one, all the matters is what's in the dossier legitimate and provable. And, two, the dossier as we now know was not the animating factor for not just the original surveillance but the consistent. It is important to keep saying this. The consistent are renewal through different judges, all of them Republicans over the course of a year against Carter Page.

And I just - I want to pick up one thing on what Scott said. Scott says all this riffraff were hanging around the campaign. And he wishes that Donald Trump would, you know, say something about the Russians. Like, is there a reason why that's not happening? Or is there a reason why that riffraff, those people with the Russian ties, are with Trump?

I mean, at some stage, it is like you have to think there is no coincidences, right. And so, the reason why Donald Trump is not going after the Russians and all these people, and we are not even talking about the people that Mueller is getting who have all these Russian ties, is that something else is going on and as we all know we are waiting, right, what does Mueller have.

NOBLES: Right. Well, at the very least it seems the President wants to cast no dispersions on the legitimacy of his election. But it leads people to conclude things beyond that when he seems to find ways to get in the way of this investigation repeatedly.

Now, Evan, you know, Democrats are not without blame in this issue. They have taken some partisan tactics. One thing that Republicans have been very critical of, they have been publicly talking about evidence that they have seen behind closed doors since the Russia investigation began. There is also a lot of criticism about the leaks that are coming out of the House intelligence committee. I mean, do you think that that wounds their credibility a little bit when they present a document such as this one?

MCMULLIN: Well, I don't think they wanted to have to present this document, frankly. They didn't want the Nunes memo to go out. And it was so misleading. It was intended to mislead. It accomplished that for the President's base. But in that -- in those circumstances, I don't think they had much of a choice. This minority memo had to come out because it had to clarify very key facts for the American people. And that's what it's done. And so, I think it's -- you know, it is unfair to criticize them for this.

But I also say in terms of leaks coming from the committee, the entire Republican staff of the House intel committee is under investigation right now and ethics investigation for leaking according to one of the members of that committee. So to blame the Democrats for the leaks coming from the committee I think is again unjustified. Look, we have an effort by the Republican --

NOBLES: Whoa, whoa. You don't think Adam Schiff and his staff is leaking to news outlets? It is how a routine basis - I mean, there they are.


MCMULLIN: I'm not saying they aren't. But to accuse them of leaking while failing to mention that you have got Republican staffers, the entire Republican staff according to one of the members of the committee is under investigation, an ethics investigation for leaking, Nunes is the one who pushed the release of this initial memo in the first place, which by the way did reveal sources and methods.

People say it didn't. Well, tell that to Christopher Steele. It did. And it did compromise information that should have ideally been held private. So I mean I just don't see this. I don't see that. I think the Democrats were put in a place where they needed to clarify very misleading document that Nunes put out and they did that. And it is unfortunate, as Juliette said, that we had to be in the circumstances in the first place.

[20:30:11] NOBLES: I would just say spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill, though, the difference between the amount of information that comes out from the House side, Republican and Democrat and the Senate side, that you can't even put them in the same conversation. There are very few leaks on the Senate side. But back to the substance of the memo itself, Michael, and I think this is an interesting point. The FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page was reauthorized three separate times. And I'm wondering from a legal perspective, is a judge looking to determine whether or not the warrant is bearing fruit and the memo asserts that Page and that wiretap was providing valuable intelligence? I mean, is this a pretty critical detail in terms of the substance of this investigation?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The judge is not going to have the full return of the information brought to them each time there's a renewal. But they may be given some information from law enforcement that are bringing it there. You asked a question a little bit ago about whether or not the president would convene a blue ribbon commission or a panel to look into the Russian investigation.

Let me tell you something. What's interesting to me about that thought is that we now know that the Russians met with Donald Trump, Jr. at Trump Tower apparently to talk about things they could do against Hillary Clinton or to share information in the secret meeting. We also know that the president apparently was involved in crafting some type of excuse about what that meeting was about. There's not a chance under the sun that he is now going to convene a panel to investigate both himself and his son and I just don't think he's going to put little Don out there and leave him swinging in that case. There is no question at this point I think amongst reasonable people that they knew what was going on at that time of the meeting. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had a president that felt like he need to cover it up. So I think the likelihood of that is just not plausible and certainly not probable.

NOBLES: OK. Michael Moore, Juliette Kayyem, Scott Jennings, Evan McMullin, great perspective from all four of you. We appreciate you being here on a Saturday night. Thank you for sticking with us. Thank you.

New tonight, tentative plans for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to visit the White House have been scrapped after a testy phone call with President Trump. A White House official tells CNN that Pena Nieto was eyeing an official trip to Washington early next month, but that fell apart after he spoke to the president by phone about his proposed border wall.

Now, the two men have quarreled before over who would pay for it, but a source telling CNN that this latest call was less hostile than a year ago, but no more productive and that meeting is off.

Coming up as more details emerge about the red flags missed by the FBI about the gunman who open fired on a Florida school. There are now a growing list of companies that are severing ties with the NRA in the wake of the Florida shooting. How the gun rights group is responding, next.



NOBLES: Now to the picture of getting clear this weekend of what happened 10 days ago when a killer started shooting people inside a high school in Parkland, Florida. What we're finding out looks very bad for the officers who raced to the school but did not go in.

Police officers from neighboring Coral Springs arrived to find four Broward County Sheriff's deputies who were first on the scene still outside the school. Police sources tell CNN that those four deputies did not go inside to face the shooter while 17 kids and school staff were either dead or dying. The Coral Springs police report about the response is due out in a few days.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association feeling tremendous heat in the wake of the Florida school massacre. The group's position in the debate over who was responsible for the shooting is costing the NRA several major corporate sponsorships. CNN's Polo Sandoval has the details.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ryan. The National Rifle Association dealing with this massive corporate backlash here as a list of companies that are severing ties with the organization seems to be growing. Some major airlines including United taking to Twitter this morning typing, quote, "United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking the NRA remove our information from their website." You look at the competition's website over at Delta, also a very similar message posted there. The airline writing, "Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We'll be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website." These are just two of several large U.S. companies when you look at the list ready for the last 24 hours, either some of the organizations and some of the companies that have severed ties with the NRA, including First National Bank of Omaha. They said that customer feedback has now prompted them to not renew its contract with the NRA and they also no longer offering the NRA visa card.

Several rental car companies, car sales sale companies as well and hotel chains also severing their ties with the organization. What's interesting though, Ryan, so far no real details from these companies as to when and why they decided this. But of course if you read between the lines, they certainly have been under tremendous pressure there from some of these gun safety advocates to turn away from the National Rifle Association. Ryan.

[20:40:12] NOBLES: Polo, thank you.

The NRA today also lashed out at those companies that decided to cut ties with them, calling them, quote, cowards who are putting on a political display. This is part of the NRA statement released today. "The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world."

And gun rights are taking center stage in a tight congressional race in Pennsylvania. It is a special election that could flip a House seat from Republican to Democrat for the first time in 15 years. Now, President Trump won it by nearly 20 points, but the latest polls have the candidates neck and neck.

CNN's Jason Carroll reports from Western Pennsylvania.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a debate playing out across the country.

T.R. MAHLE, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I'm kind of against any kind of gun control.

CARROLL: Including here in Western Pennsylvania.

CORINNE VOLOSKY, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Time to be a little less forward with guns.

CARROLL: But those divisions aren't shared by the top candidates running in next month's closely watched special election in the state. In fact, Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb sound strikingly similar when it comes to gun control policy.

RICK SACCONE, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: I've always been for sensible regulations and laws and enforcing the laws we have on the books right now.

CONOR LAMB, DEMOCRAT CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: I will do whatever it takes to make sure that our background check system has the information it needs, whether about people with mental health conditions or people who have convicted crimes.

CARROLL: The plan like Saccone opposes banning assault style weapons. Surprising for a Democrat? Not in this district which stretches from the suburbs south of Pittsburgh to rural Green County where Lamb must appeal to voters like sports store owners.

MAHLE: I think a lot of emphasis is put on the gun and I'm not sure it should be put there. People are the ones that do it.

CARROLL: And voters like Eric Moore.

ERIC MOORE, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I'm more on the mental legislation on it.

CARROLL: Have you decided who you will support?

MOORE: I haven't.

CARROLL: Saccone who has said he was Trump before Trump received the endorsement of the NRA and holds an A plus rating from the gun rights group. While Lamb released a campaign ad with a not so subtle nod to gun owners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Served four years in the Marines, still loves to shoot.

CARROLL: There's also this image of Lamb. He met with members of the gun reformed group moms demand action in the wake of the Florida shooting. It's a move that reflects the political balancing act lamb is facing here, trying to win over independent voters like Jill Martin of Mt. Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb.

CARROLL: I guess not surprising to you that you've got a Democrat who is in some ways more moderate.

JILL MARTIN, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Uh-hmm. Absolutely. He's trying to appeal to a broad base of voters here. And Mt. Lebanon is a very different community than some of the other parts of his district. And so I think he is trying to appeal to the most voters possible.

CARROLL: Do you think it is working?

MARTIN: I don't know. We will see in a couple weeks.

CARROLL: A recent poll shows Lamb trailing Saccone by some three percentage points. That's much tighter than Republicans would like in a district that Trump carried by some 20 points. If Lamb does manage to pull off an upset here, that could spell trouble ahead for Republicans come November. Jason Carol, CNN, Pittsburgh.


NOBLES: Residents of Eastern Ghouta in Syria are calling it hell on earth. And despite an hour old U.N. Security Council humanitarian cease fire, there are reports of new Syrian government air strikes on an already battered town. A firsthand look at the dire situation on the ground is next.



NOBLES: Breaking news. More planes have struck the rebel held eastern area of Ghouta just a few short hours after the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on a 30-day cease fire. That's according to UK-based Syrian observatory for human rights. Now, this is the same area where more than 400 people, mostly civilians have been killed since Sunday. Arwa Damon, CNN's senior international correspondent has this report on the horrors unfolding there.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's known as the double tap, a deliberate heartless exercise. The dust from the first bomb had barely settled before the second one landed. Children panicked, cry out to their father. But there's no time to wait, no time to look. Only time to run and try and stay alive. With the intensity of the recent bombing, most spend their time underground in makeshift shelters. It's disgusting, suffocating. Children get sick, but the hospitals are all getting bombed. Childhood is not even a reflection of what it should be. And yet these kids' giggles reverberate almost surreally. The tunnels carved out in the ground. Play games familiar to most of us under circumstances we cannot even pretend to imagine.

We wish, we wish for aid, for help here in Ghouta. We're hungry. Let them understand this. This little girl pleads.

In another reality in what may as well be a world away, the powers that control Syria's fate finally found mercy. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 30-day cease fire for humanitarian aid to be allowed in. And while perhaps it might allow these children to breathe fresh air, it's hardly a lasting solution more if it guaranteed. [20:50:08]This is Syria story, one that is on a grizzly repeat. A mother bids her son good-bye. She's already been through this. Say hi to your brother (INAUDIBLE), she tells his bloodied corpse. Tell him you died the same way he did. The civil defense team posted this video to Twitter, begging people to try to put themselves in the shoes of the father whose son they are looking for. You hear sort of an anguished low cry and the question, is he alive? Miraculously, the child is. There are no words for this or perhaps new ones will need to be created that can describe the magnitude of the death, despair, heartbreak and how we allowed Syria to reach this stage. Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.



NOBLES: A massive international drug trafficking operation was busted open in Argentina this week. And the amount of cocaine seized by police is enormous. They were tipped off to the stash of cocaine weighing 850 pounds. That's approximately worth $60 million. And the story gets even more strange, the cocaine was packed in suitcases found inside the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires. Six people were arrested, one of them a former embassy official charged with arranging drug shipments through diplomatic channels.

And finally, I can't let you go tonight without showing you a giant accomplishment in the world of sports. Just take a moment to absorb this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, and maybe gold for the U.S.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can he get it? He can. Five is on the board for team USA.

NOBLES: And the crowd goes wild after the USA experiences another -- I'm just going to go ahead and say it, a mira-curl on ice. Sorry. This was the first gold medal ever in curling for the U.S. The U.S. men's team did it by knocking off the curling power House of Sweden 10-7. If you've ever tried curling, and I did it once in Utica Curling Club in Upstate, New York. It is not easy. Very difficult job. So congratulations to our gold medal winners.

Well, thank you so much for joining me tonight. I'll be back here tomorrow night at 5:00 Eastern Time. Meanwhile, "The Radical story of Patty Hearst is coming up next." Have a great night.