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Failures, Missed Signals and Politics in the Florida School Shooting; Kelly to Decide on Kushner Security Clearance; Thousands of Civilians Trapped in Eastern Ghouta; Second Russian Athlete Found Guilty of Doping. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2018 - 00:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Authorities knew the shooter in the high school in Florida was a threat before the massacre but they did not act.

As pressure increases on the U.S. president to move on gun control, a former aide pleads guilty. Another faces new charges in the Mueller probe.

And deaths are mounting in Syria's Eastern Ghouta region as the U.N. again delays a ceasefire vote.

All these stories are ahead here. Hello, everyone, I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Failures, missed signals and politics. The Florida school massacre is sadly becoming a deadly combination of all three. The politics were on display Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump attacked Democrats, saying they want to do away with Americans' right to own guns and touted his call for more adept teachers to be armed.

We learned of more failures in Florida, word that not only one but possibly four law enforcement officers waited outside as the gunman inside mowed down high school students and teachers in cold blood. And there are more details on the missed signals that, if acted upon, could have kept a weapon of mass murder out of the hands of a disturbed teenager.

We begin with CNN's Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The call to FBI tipline about Nikolas Cruz could not have been more clear, warning that Cruz is, quote, "going to explode."

CNN reviewed the transcript of the January 5th, 2018, call, informing the agency about the Parkland, Florida, shooter.

The unidentified women spoke of Cruz's Instagram feed. She talked of his posts about guns and was, quote, "afraid something is going to happen."

The caller also talked about Cruz's history of violence in school and said she worried about him, quote, "getting into a school and just shooting the place up."

Forty days later, Cruz did just that. The FBI admits it failed to follow up on the tip.

The missed call is just one of a growing list of failures by authorities that could have prevented tragedy if only they had been handled differently. They include the case of school resource officer Scot Peterson seen here in 2015 speaking about his job.

DEP. SCOT PETERSON, SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER: We are all here for the same goal, to protect our kids.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Peterson resigned and retired rather than face suspension without pay and a pending internal investigation into what he did or did not do at the time of the high school shooting.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says, for at least four minutes, as the attack was going on, school surveillance video shows Peterson just standing beside the building rather than entering to engage the gunman.

Some angry parents have suggested Peterson was more worried about retirement than protecting students, something the officer seem to joke about it 2015.

PETERSON: I'm almost on my way out. I'm 30 years.

SAVIDGE: But Peterson is not the only shows deputy accused of not reacting properly. Sources telling CNN say some Coral Springs officers were shocked to see deputies standing outside the school shooting site, even as they rushed in.

But at a news conference today, the Coral Springs Police Department refused to talk about those accusations. Instead, first responders talked about what they did.

OFFICER TIM BURTON, CORAL SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Immediately I grab my rifle. And I start running.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Officer Tim Burton is believed to be the first Coral Springs officer to arrive on scene, charging alone toward the building.

BURTON: I thought I was going to encounter the shooter as soon as I made that left-hand turn in the parking lot, if he was trying to escape or get away.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Instead, Burton found only silence. The first Coral Springs officer to arrive heard no gunfire.

But Officer Jeff Heinrich did hear gunfire. In fact he heard it all, recounting the moment the shooting began.

SGT. JEFF HEINRICH, CORAL SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I hear what I now know to be five or six gunshots. At first, I honestly thought they were fireworks.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Heinrich was off duty and without his weapon, volunteering at the high school, watering the baseball field. Moments later, more gunfire. He knew it was real. He also knew his wife, a teacher, and his son, a student, were both inside.

HEINRICH: Kids started to run, kids started to scream. At that time I heard a round of probably about another five or six shots.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Wearing just shorts and a T-shirt, Heinrich ran in the direction of gunfire, first tending to a gravely wounded student then, as other officers arrived grabbing a spare vest and gun.

HEINRICH: He got his gun, his secondary weapon and we systematically cleared back toward the 12 building.


ALLEN: Since the Florida shooting, President Trump has signaled a willingness to raise the legal age of owning some weapons to 21 and he reiterated his wish to ban bump stocks, the device that can turn semiautomatic weapons into machine guns. But, on Friday --


ALLEN: -- he attacked Democrats, saying they want to take away Americans' right to own guns and said this to justify arming more teachers.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn't love the children, probably doesn't know the children. The teachers love their children. They love their pupils, they love their students.


ALLEN: Back in Washington, prosecutors have filed new charges against former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort. They say he secretly paid former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine, who Manafort was allegedly representing.

This came just hours after Manafort's former long-time aide Rick Gates pled guilty Friday to criminal charges of his own. He also began collaborating with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Manafort insists he's not guilty, saying, "I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface, he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue, piled-up charges contained in the indictments against me."

In his guilty plea Friday, Rick Gates admitted that he and Paul Manafort lied and hid millions of dollars they made during their pro- Ukrainian lobbying work. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow following Ukraine's response to all of this.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The new developments in Washington, D.C., regarding Paul Manafort and his associate, Rick Gates, obviously also have large reverberations in Ukraine.

We managed to get in touch with the Ukrainian prosecutor general and he says looking at some of the things in those charges, for instance, acting as an unregistered foreign agent and engaging in a scheme to hide money from tax authorities in the U.S., the Ukrainians are saying that's Ukrainian taxpayer money and they also have a very large interest in this as well.

The Ukrainians want to charge some of their own former political officials, many of them affiliated with the former government of Viktor Yanukovych, who was the pro-Russian government, the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, for whom the firm of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates did a lot of work.

They say some of the contracts that were in place between Manafort's firm and the Yanukovych government did not go through proper processes that needed to be in place and therefore, may have been illegal.

One of those contracts that was facilitated by Paul Manafort was a report that was done trying to essentially justify the arrest of the former pro-Western prime minister of the country, Yulia Tymoshenko. That's one of the things that the Ukrainian authorities are looking into.

So there's a lot of interest that's coming from the Ukrainians. And they say they've actually given information to the U.S. authorities but they're also saying that they would like more information to come back from the U.S. authorities to the Ukrainian authorities.

Of course, all of this could come full circle right back here to Moscow as well. If indeed this plea agreement means that Rick Gates is going to provide information to the U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, there certainly will be questions about some of the contact between Paul Manafort when he was the chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016 and very powerful Russians, including potentially Oleg Deripaska, who's very close to Vladimir Putin -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


ALLEN: The White House was alerted two weeks ago that significant new information would be needed in the security clearance process for Jared Kushner, that according to "The Washington Post." President Trump says the decision on whether his son-in-law and senior adviser keeps his temporary security clearance will be made by chief of staff John Kelly.

Questions have been raised about Kushner having access to classified materials with only a temporary clearance. He has not been granted a permanent clearance because of questions about his background check.

Kushner, Mueller, guns in America, there's a lot to talk about. Let's turn to political analyst Michael Genovese, president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University and author of "How Trump Governs."

Michael, thank you for joining us.


ALLEN: What does it say, first of all, let's start with the president's son-in-law, that Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, cannot get a permanent security clearance to work in the White House?

GENOVESE: Well, he shouldn't be there in the first place. He has a job description that far exceeds his experience and his talents. And the fact that he cannot get a clearance speaks volumes to the entire absurdity of him being this close to power.

The president clearly trusts him; loyalty is big to the president. But you also have to have talent. You also have to have experience. You also have to have some people in place, in important positions, who know how to --


GENOVESE: -- do the job. And so over a year and no security clearance, maybe you ought to cut bait.

ALLEN: We'll wait and see because this very serious issue also pits the embattled White House chief of staff, General Kelly, against Kushner. And Kelly apparently, according to reports, not a huge fan of both the president's daughter and son-in-law having such access to the West Wing.

Do you expect the president will sit on the sidelines and let this play out?

GENOVESE: Well, I think he'd prefer doing that. I think he wants to make General Kelly the heavy. The president doesn't want to do anything to harm in any way his relationship to his family. He really does take great pride in his family and brings them close. They've been advisers for a long time.

But this is not a case where you want his family to advise, you want experts to advise. So I think in one sense, General Kelly is being asked to nudge Kushner away. And in another sense, the president still wants to keep him close to the vest.

ALLEN: We'll wait and see how that plays out.

This week, the special counsel on Russia, Mr. Mueller, seemed to tighten the screws as far as the investigation, filing new charges against former Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

Mueller certainly seems interested in the activities of Manafort.

But the question is, does it lead back to the president's campaign?

Should the White House be worried?

GENOVESE: Well, let's start with what happened today when Gates basically said he's going to cooperate. Gates was an ultimate insider in the campaign and in the transition. And so he's someone who knows a lot about what went on and a lot about where the bodies are buried.

He also works so closely with Paul Manafort. He's basically caved in, because I think the Mueller team said, look, you can either go through this process and spend maybe years and millions of dollars and end up in prison anyway or you can cop a deal with us and turn over some information that we need.

And so the question then becomes, does Manafort follow?

Right now, I think Paul Manafort wants to try to hold out in hopes of getting a pardon. But I think Mueller's information, with the help of Gates, is going to be so much and it will squeeze Manafort so much, that he may have to just cave in as well. If that's the case, then the president should start sweating.

ALLEN: Michael Genovese, as always, thank you for your comments.

GENOVESE: Thank you, Natalie.

ALLEN: Coming up here, bombs rain down on Syrian civilians as a U.N. ceasefire vote gets delayed again. We'll talk about that with journalist David Rohde.

Plus, she's called the U.S. charmer in chief and she's in South Korea. How Ivanka Trump is practicing diplomacy at the Winter Games.




ALLEN: At the United Nations, there is still no real action on demands for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. A Security Council vote was set for Friday but now it's set for Saturday. The U.S. accuses --


ALLEN: -- Russia of blocking the truce while the Kremlin says the U.S. and its allies cannot guarantee militants will observe it. Areas like Eastern Ghouta remain under intense bombardment. Here's why one U.N. official says the ceasefire is so desperately needed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, reiterates that the humanitarian situation of the civilians in Eastern Ghouta is appalling and, therefore, we are in urgent need for a cease- fire that stops both the horrific heavy bombardment of Eastern Ghouta and the indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus.


ALLEN: Without the ceasefire, there's no way to get critical medical supplies into this devastated region. Close to 400,000 people are trapped there in deteriorating conditions, with shells and mortars dropping on them nonstop.

CNN's Arwa Damon reports for us. And we warn you, her report contains images you may find disturbing.


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 for 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 through 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, it's not that no one heard her cry or any of the others, it's that, once again, the powers that control Syria's fate betrayed it.

This is Syria's story, one that is on a grisly repeat. A mother bids her son goodbye. She's already been through this.

"Say hi to your brother, Talal," she tells his bloody 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 and heartbreak and how we utterly failed Syria -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


ALLEN: Joining us now to discuss a deepening crisis in Eastern Ghouta there in Syria, CNN global affairs analyst and online news director at "The New Yorker," David Rohde.

David, we thank you for your time. First of all, despite the deaths of civilians and children, 462 killed this week, 99 children among them, bombs keep raining down and yet the U.N. Security Council can't unite to stop it.

Why not?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: This is the division, you know, over Syria. This is -- essentially Russia is now the dominant outside player in Syria. At the same time, the U.S. isn't really willing to intervene decisively in that. And that's the division you have. You have all these outside powers still backing the different factions inside Syria.

ALLEN: Let's break that down. First of all, Russia.

What does Russia want from this?

ROHDE: Primarily, it wants to maintain access to a warm water port that it's had a naval base in Syria. But this is a huge power play for Vladimir Putin. He intervened decisively and really saved the Assad regime. But the regime now is having trouble controlling all of Syria.

They don't have enough troops to take all these areas and they are resorting to bombardments as we see happening in Eastern Ghouta.

ALLEN: Does the United States not have any more leverage?

ROHDE: It doesn't. Yes, it has very limited leverage. This is true of both President Obama and President Trump. President Obama said the U.S. was not going to intervene militarily in Syria. He made that very clear.

Trump talked a tough game but he's basically followed the same policy of hanging back. There was one airstrike in response to a chemical attack early in the Trump administration.

But since then, it's basically the U.S. stepping back and allowing Russia primarily but Iran --


ROHDE: -- Turkey and other countries to act more aggressively in Syria than the U.S. ALLEN: While the U.N. Security Council has tried to figure out a way

to call for cessation and Russia deeps stalling, France said that if the Security Council can't figure this out, it could spell the end of it, could lose all credibility.

Does that assessment have merit?

ROHDE: It does. I mean, we saw this before in the conflict in Bosnia and in many other conflicts where the U.N. Security Council isn't united and it really doesn't have credibility. And I think it's correct. I think these are empty statements by the U.N. It has very little influence.

And as long as Russia wants to back the Assad regime and the U.S. isn't willing to aggressively counter Russia, the bloodshed will continue.

ALLEN: So seven years in, the Syrian war goes on. Turkey is fighting the Kurds. Iran and Israel are threatening each other over Syria. Russia supports the regime.

So it's not just a horrific, deadly situation for these citizens that we're seeing in Ghouta; it continues to flare in all kinds of dangerous directions as many predicted long ago.

Doesn't this make it almost impossible to imagine the outcome for this region?

ROHDE: It is difficult. And it's also very dangerous. One of the most extraordinary incidents recently was the first lethal clash between Russian nationals and American forces.

They were Russian security contractors who tried to take a compound in Deir ez-Zor, Syria. Dozens of Russians died when American airstrikes were called in. So it's an amazing and tragic scenario, half a dozen countries involved.

But again, it's civilians who are paying the most. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Syria. And I would blame the Assad regime most of all. The brutal attacks on Eastern Ghouta has been by the government. Russia is backing them but it's really the Assad regime that just continues to slaughter people who oppose it.

ALLEN: Is there any other country or world leader that can have an impact when it comes to Russia in all this?

ROHDE: No. I think that this is very critical for Putin. He has a presidential election coming up and he needs this appear to be a successful Russian intervention in Syria.

Again, the problem is that the Syrian government, most of the country, most of them are Sunnis. They oppose the Assad regime. And the Assad regime does not have enough troops to control the country. So this stalemate grinds on.

ALLEN: It certainly does. And such brutality on the ground with civilians. David Rohde, we thank you for joining us.

ROHDE: Thank you.

ALLEN: We'll turn to the Olympics next. Ivanka Trump is in South Korea for the close. But her main task is more than cheering on Team USA. We'll have a live report for you from South Korea.




ALLEN: Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is cheering on Team USA at the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. She attended the men's snowboard big air final with the South Korean first lady.

Ivanka is a senior adviser to her father and a leading U.S. -- leading the U.S. Delegation in the closing ceremony. Our Paula Hancocks joins us now from PyeongChang.

What has been the reception to Ivanka Trump in the mix?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, it's certainly interesting to see the world's media follow her around, just like they did with Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, just a couple of weeks ago.

So she certainly is causing a bit of a stir here on the final weekend at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. But as you say, she's not just here to cheer on Team USA. She's not just here to represent her father, the U.S. president, Donald Trump, at the closing ceremony. She's also here to bring a message --


HANCOCKS: -- to the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. They had a dinner Friday night and she delivered the message of sanctions that the U.S. Treasury Department has just passed on Friday, the ones that the U.S. president Donald Trump say are the heaviest sanctions ever on shipping companies, on vessels.

There are 27 entities, 28 vessels which have been sanctioned and also a warning to anyone who is going to be dealing with North Korea, that it's not just North Korean companies and officials that will be sanctioned but they will also punish those trying to evade sanctions as well.

So this is the message that Ivanka Trump brought to President Moon on Friday night. It was welcomed by the South Korean president. He said that he welcomed the fact that maximum pressure was still being put on but also welcomed the fact that North Korean engagement in the Winter Olympics has allowed the inter-Korean relationship to improve -- Natalie.

ALLEN: We thank you, Paula Hancocks, for us there in South Korea. You may remember Pita Taufatofua as the oiled-up, shirtless flag bearer at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Well in PyeongChang, he again carried Tonga's flag and competed as a cross country skier. Ahead of My Freedom Day on March 14th that we're sponsoring here at CNN, we asked Pita what freedom means to him.


PITA TAUFATOFUA, OLYMPIAN: Freedom means the ability to have choices in your life that can, you know, influence you in I guess whichever way, positive or negative, and not to have those choices impact other people's own freedom or their own choices.

So I think it's really important with freedom that people have the -- have this ability.


ALLEN: What does freedom mean to you?

Share your story using the #MyFreedomDay, a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. That happens on March 14th.

And that is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. Thanks for watching. I'll be right back with our top stories.