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Trump On NRA; Trump On Shooting; Trump And Inslee; Trump Wants Armed Teachers; Trump on Police Response in Florida; Calls for Broward Sheriff's Resignation. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 13:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Damascus, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

A ban on bump stocks with or without Congress' help. President Trump promises action on gun control as he unleashes fresh attacks on the officers first on the scene in Parkland, Florida.

Back in session and under pressure. Congress returns as a new CNN poll reveals 70 percent of Americans want stricter gun laws.

Avoiding a perjury trap. The president's lawyers are considering all the ways that President Trump could successfully testify before the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

All of that coming up.

But first, stronger background checks, more mental institutions across the United States and arming some teachers. Those are the ideas proposed by President Trump just a little while ago in response to the Florida school massacre.

The president also says he met leaders of the National Rifle Association over the weekend and, quote, "They're on our side."

The president also told a meeting of the nation's governors there's one area where he's ready to take action.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bump stocks. We're writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself.

You put it into the machine gun category which is what it is. It becomes, essentially, a machine gun. And nobody's going to be able to -- it's going to be very hard to get them.

So, we're writing out bump stocks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's bring in Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what does the president mean when he says he's, quote, "writing out bump stocks?"

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what the president means by that is that he intends to take some type of executive action, either through an executive order or, perhaps, ordering his Justice Department to do that, to disallow bump stocks.

Now, there are existing laws on the books here, that it seems that he is, you know, essentially going to take matters into his own hands here, Wolf.

But it's important to point out, this -- of course, the bump stocks were used and discussed after that Las Vegas shooting on October 1st nearly four months ago. It's something that the White House has not talked about much at all until that shooting in Florida.

So, it's something that the president does believe that he can act on alone. We're told he's been frustrated by the workings of the government here, by the Justice Department, for not taking action on this.

So, it seems that he wants to, sort of, take matters into his own hands on this alone, Wolf.

But a fascinating conversation with most of the nation's governors here. A long interaction with them, questions and answers. Talking about the NRA as well.

He said he had a private lunch with executives at the NRA over the weekend. He said that they are committed to doing something on guns. Of course, a lot of skepticism about that.

But then, the president also talked about mental health institutions. How he says government should actually fund more of them.

Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But in the old days, you'd put them into a mental institution. And we had them in New York. And our government started closing them because of cost.

Now, we're going to have to start talking about mental institutions, because a lot of the folks in this room closed their mental institutions also.

So, we have no halfway. We have nothing between a prison and leaving him at his house which we can't do anymore.


So, there, we are hearing the president talk directly about mental institutions.

But, Wolf, it's important to point out, his own budget has not proposed any more money for mental-type institutions. In fact, it has stripped away some funding for this.

But it is just a sign, Wolf, that the president, clearly, is reviewing a bunch of different options, throwing out a bunch of different ideas. Even saying that he would have rushed into a school without being armed himself.

That, of course, raises the question of if schoolteachers actually should be armed. Wolf, a few moments ago, I caught up with a Florida governor who is in the meeting there with the other governors.

He opposes the president's plan to arm schoolteachers. He says more money should be spent on school safety and security, not arming teachers.

So, clearly, there's not a consensus here. But Wolf, there is definitely a discussion as Congress comes back into town this week about gun policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What, if anything, did he say about raising the age limit from 18 to 21 to purchase certain guns?

ZELENY: Well, that, of course, has been something the president talked about last week, and then he dialed it back again. He does still support that proposal.

But does not seem to be drawing as much attention onto that as arming schoolteachers. That has become one of the president's predominant talking points about this.

But he does still support that and that is something that the Florida governor is pushing in Florida, raising that age limit for buying weapons, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and that is something the National Rifle Association strongly opposes.

ZELENY: Opposes.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

And members of Congress return here to Washington, facing growing calls for tougher gun control laws.

In a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, 70 percent of Americans now say they favor stricter gun laws here in the United States. That's up from 52 percent back in October, not long after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

[13:05:10] Our Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly, he's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, what are the chances these members will move the needle here in Washington?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, you dig into those numbers and it's not just an uptick for support for more gun restrictions, it's also an uptick in the intensity of that support.

But to your point, the big question now is, what kind of impact will that actually have on Capitol Hill? And that's where the reality of where the support and where the numbers lies, runs headlong into the reality of who controls Congress right now.

Wolf, throughout the course of the last couple of days, I've been talking to Republican sources and leadership in the House and the Senate, and lawmakers as well. And there's a hearty dose of skepticism about how much can actually get done.

Basically, what I'm being told right now is if something at all gets done, it will be more minimal than some type of maximum gun debate that deals with major significant changes to current gun laws.

What they're looking at right now is some type of small-bore fixes to the current background check system. Maybe a few other items. Spending as well, to deal with mental health. Perhaps school safety.

But, Wolf, the key question right now is, can the president, who seems to be the wild card in all of this, push Congressional leaders on the Republican side to have a more wholesome debate? As it currently stands, I'm told that's very unlikely.

But, Wolf, we haven't seen the president as focused on one particular item as we have seen him on this over the course of the last couple of days. If that sticks, that could change the dynamic up here on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much.

The president says the NRA wants to do something in the wake of the Florida school massacre. He told the nation's governor. He met with NRA officials over the weekend.

I want to discuss that and more with our panel. Joining us, CNN Political Analyst Karoun Demirjian, our - Congressional Reporter for "The Washington Post," Rachael Bade. Oh, excuse me, Karoun is a Congressional Reporter for "The Washington Post." Rachael Bade is Congressional Reporter for Politico. And our CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

So, what do you make of the president's comments just now? That don't worry so much about the NRA. They're with us.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's easy for him to say. I think that members of Congress do worry about the NRA. They worry about the money that they have in supporting people who will primary them on the right. And I think, you know, one of the only ways for members of Congress to beat the NRA is if anti-gun people decide to become single-issue voters, period.

And that hasn't been the case. The poll you just showed, 70 percent of people think something ought to be done.

Maybe things are changing. But I hesitate to say that because we said that after Newtown and multiple other times in the past and things didn't change.

What was interesting to me, specifically about the president, was that he didn't talk about raising the age limit for buying an AR-15 say (ph), which is something he talked about in the early days.

Now, it's clear the NRA has pushed back on that. You have Governor Scott talking about raising the age limit. We'll have to see where that goes or did the president buckle to the pressure from the NRA on that?

BLITZER: That's a good question. Go ahead, Rachael.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, I was -- totally agree with you, Gloria.

I think that this push, this clamoring for gun control changes, that's just only going to happen when a Republican loses his or her seat, because they opposed a gun control measure or voted to loosen gun laws.

And show me a single Republican that has ever lost his or her race because of a gun issue.


BADE: That doesn't exist. Never.

So, this change isn't going to happen until, you know, that actually - if it becomes a campaign issue in the mid-terms.

I do think -- you know, Phil was talking about smaller measures. We could potentially see some funding for school safety. We could see some funding for mental health.

But definitely don't expect anything like an increase in the age to buy an assault weapon or any kind of assault weapons' ban. It's just not going to happen in Congress.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's interesting, though, that the president is speaking to the governors when he talking about this. Because the one place where you maybe have some more hope of seeing something change is at the state level.

And it's not that the government - excuse me. Governors are not just going to sit back and, kind of, wait for Congress on this one. When you have people like Rick Scott coming out already and saying, no, I do want to see the age raise. I do want to see some of these changes made, even if they are not endorsed by the NRA.

And so, you're going to have -- at least that being out there in the GOP. It's not clear that can actually pass state legislatures which are also, you know, that a very high bar to clear.

But in some of these states, maybe they're a little bit closer, where this stuff hits a little bit closer to home, maybe you'll see some changes happen there.

But, yes, I mean, the more things change, Gloria, the more they seem to stay the same on this issue in Congress, just because there is a - there's -- even when you have individual people, like Marco Rubio, in this role, saying, we need to do more. I'm ready to do a little bit more here.

It's really, really hard to build that all the way up to leadership and have that stuff get to the floor.

BADE: And just to illustrate how incredibly difficult this is going to be in Congress. The president, last week, was talking about a background checks' bill by John Cornyn in the Senate, that he wants to pass Congress.

[13:10:03] This is legislation that doesn't expand background checks at all. It just reinforces existing law.

The Senate is probably going to take it up and pass, so we're hearing. It's probably going to come to the House floor and pass.

But, even then, conservatives -

BORGER: It doesn't do anything.

BADE: It doesn't do anything, number one. And number two, conservatives are going to go crazy on Paul Ryan on this because they wanted this to be paired with conceal carry which actually loosens gun laws. So, it's going to be an issue there.

BLITZER: Gloria, listen to what the -- how the president mentioned his meeting that he had with NRA leaders over the weekend. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had lunch with Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox and David Lehman of the NRA. And I want to tell you, they want to do something. I said, fellows, we've got to do something. It's too long now. We've got to do something.

We're going to do very strong background checks. Very strong. We've got to do background checks. If we see a sicko, I don't want him having a gun. And, you know, I know there was a time when anybody could have one. I mean, even if they were sick, they were fighting. And I said, fellows, we can't do it anymore.

And there's no bigger fan of the second amendment than me. And there's no bigger fan of the NRA. And these guys are great patriots. They're great people. And they want to do something. They're going to do something. And they're going to do it, I think, quickly. I think they want to see it.


BLITZER: He's pretty upbeat about that. Go ahead.

BORGER: Well, first of all, isn't it amazing that they had lunch with the president? Talk about access to the president of the United States.

I mean, I think lots of lobbyists would, kind of, like to have that access to get in and say, oh, I'm going to have lunch with the president over this issue.

You know, second point is, they want to do something. What? Do they want to do the Cornyn bill that you were just talking about that really doesn't close gun show loopholes? The Cornyn bill says, you know, you've got to make the states have -- report mental health issues, et cetera, et cetera.

So, what does they want to do a lot mean? They don't want to ban assault weapons. We know that. So, we have to see what the president's talking about here. It's completely vague.

DEMIRJIAN: It's also interesting optics to see the NRA in - you know, at a lunch with the president, as various members of Congress are trying to say, oh, no, I'm not bought and paid for by the NRA. The NRA isn't controlling this discussion.

So, the fact that you have just -- kind of, have this happening right now. OK.

It's also interesting that you would have -- to say, put your faith in gun control, in the hands of the NRA, even though they're pushing back against proposals that Republicans have already endorsed.

So, it's certainly a step to say the, you know, president and the NRA are talking. That means that the president decides if it's going to go further. Maybe he can take the heat from the NRA. A few weeks, months ago he said that he would.

But it suggests they're going to control more of this discussion and that's not going to lead you to a place where you can actually get coalitions in Congress.

BLITZER: The NRA did endorse him early. And they did, what, provide about $30 million to his presidential campaign. And he's pretty grateful to the NRA for that early and very substantive support.

BADE: Yes, the NRA has backed the John Cornyn bill. They're fine with that. They're going to have an issue, obviously, with increasing the age to buy an assault weapon across the country from 18 to 21. That's not something they're going to get behind.

I think that's wishful thinking on the part of the president, if he thinks they're going to back something like that.

I think it's interesting. He's also talking about mental health institutions. And he said that they were closed decades ago because of lack of funding. No, they were closed because it was a civil liberties' issue and people having mental health issues, getting - keeping - getting help but also keeping their civil liberties.

I think that mental health is going to be a continuation - this conversation is going to continue on this issue, in particularly. I don't know that opening mental health institutes, more of those, is going to be something lawmakers are going to back.

But we should see more discussion about that in Congress, I think.

BLITZER: He is very forceful, the president, in saying at least some teachers should be armed, should have concealed weapons in the classroom. And he got some serious pushback from Governor Inslee, Gloria, of Washington State.

Listen to this.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: You have suggested arming our teachers. And I just --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no. No, no, not your teachers.

INSLEE: I just - I just - not -

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Arming a small portion that are very gun adept that truly know how to handle it.

Because I do feel, Governor, it's very important that gun free zones - you have a gun-free zone, it's like an invitation for these very sick people to go there.

I do think that there has to be some form of major retaliation, if they're able to enter a school. And if that happens, you're not going to have any problems anymore, because they're never going to the school. You're never going to have a problem.

So, it would just be a very small group of people that are very gun adept.

Anyway, go ahead, Governor.

INSLEE: If I may respond to that, let me just suggest whatever percentage it is -- I heard at one time, you might have suggested 20 percent. Whatever percentage it is, speaking as a grandfather, --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right. INSLEE: -- speaking as the governor of the state of Washington. I have listened to the people who would be affected by that. I have listened to the biology teachers. And they don't want to do that, at any percentage. I have listened to first grade teachers who don't want to be pistol attacking first grade teachers.

[13:15:00] I have listened to law enforcement who have said they don't want to have to train teachers as law enforcement agencies which takes about six months.

Now I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen that educators should educate and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes. Now, I understand you have suggested this, and we suggest things and sometimes then we listen to people about it and maybe they don't look so good a little later. So I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here, a little more listening, and let's just take that off the table and move forward.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right, thank you very much.

You know, we have a number of states right now that do that, and I think with that in mind, I'll call on Greg Abbott, the great governor --





BORGER: Yes. Well, didn't -- didn't take that advice to heart, it would seem to me, and then going to the state of Texas, right?

So, look, I think this is something the president clearly wants to do. You've heard him say it, since the day of the shooting, that if we had more people packing heat in the schools, that this wouldn't have happened and that the deputies did not do what they should have done, and that if there was some great teachers in there, if that coach had had a gun, that things would have been different.

And, you know, you have the teachers unions coming out very strongly saying that they oppose this. They don't want their teachers to do this. And so, you know, I think this may end up being a state-by-state issue.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's definitely going to end up being state-by-state.


DEMIRJIAN: And each state is going to also have to grapple with really more detailed issues. What kind of gun? I mean and exactly how far apart do you space these teachers? Because any teacher could run into the same situation where the deputy did, which is that you have a less powerful firearm. You're not in the exact right place at the right time and you freeze and you don't run in. And then, you know, we're talking about this again but at another level.

BLITZER: Rachael, very quickly, the president says he wants better background checks, including at gun shows where the background checks are not very significant at all.

BADE: Yes, that's a very popular idea. Most Americans, I would say, support that. That's, again, it's just going to be really tough to do that. They tried to do this in the Senate a few years ago after Newtown when a bunch of, you know, young toddlers were killed -- shot and killed. But they're not even talking about that on The Hill right now. They're talking about a background bill that, again, just reinforces existing laws, doesn't even go that far. So even though it's popular, it faces an enormous uphill battle.

BLITZER: All right, ladies, thank you very, very much, Gloria, Rachael and Karoun.

Coming up, the president condemns the officers first on the scene after the school shooting.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I got to watch some deputy sheriffs performing this weekend. They weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners.


BLITZER: Much more on his comments coming up.

Also prepping for a battle. The president's lawyers want to set the terms for his testimony before the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. New details. That's coming up as well.


[13:21:56] BLITZER: The school resource officer blamed for not entering the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to confront the shooter is now defending himself. Scott Peter's lawyer says reports that he acted inappropriately are, quote, patently untrue and said in a statement once again, let me quote, let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need.

And after calling Peterson a coward last week, President Trump once again today attacked him and other deputies who responded to the shooting and may have entered the building right away -- and may not have entered the building right away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I got to watch some deputy sheriffs performing this weekend. They weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners. All right? The way they performed was, frankly, disgusting. You know, I really believe you don't know until you're tested. But I think I -- I really believe I'd run in, even if I didn't have a weapon. And I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too, because I know most of you. But the way they performed was really a disgrace.


BLITZER: CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Parkland, Florida, for us.

Kaylee, Scott Peterson is offering his version of events on that day. So what exactly is he saying?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. We're just receiving this statement from his lawyer that they say is in response to, quote, unfounded criticism of Peterson's actions on February 14th, an uncalled for attacks on his character, like the one you just heard from the president, though they mention Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel by name here.

The claim here is that the sheriff's statement at best was a gross oversimplification of the events that transpired and so they outline the events by remember by Peterson. His explanation of why he remained outside that building, saying he received a call of firecrackers, not gunshots. Then when he heard the gunshot, he believed they were coming from outside. And so he followed protocol. He sought cover and assessed the situation.

Then further radio transmission alerted him of a gunshot victim near the football field, so that was confirmation of his belief that the shooter was outside that school building as opposed to inside.

Peterson further defended his actions by saying he was the first officer to advise he heard shots fired. He then initiated a code red, which allowed the schools to be locked down. He instructed administrators to review security cameras to help locate the shooter and provided the SWAT team with his keys to the building so that they could go inside.

He says he also provided the SWAT team with hand-drawn diagrams of the campus for them to evacuate students.

A review is underway of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement of all officers who responded that day. But until that review is completed, a lot of the frustration of this community will be directed at the Broward County Sheriff's Department.

Over the weekend, Jake Tapper questioned Sheriff Israel as to the responsibility he bears.


SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence. I've given amazing leadership to this agency. I've worked --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": Amazing leadership?

[13:25:10] ISRAEL: Yes, Jake. This -- there's a lot of things we've done throughout this. This is a -- you don't measure a person's leadership by a deputy not going into a -- these deputies received the training they needed.


HARTUNG: And yet Peterson says he's confident his actions were appropriate given the circumstances and says video and eyewitness testimony will exonerate him, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kaylee, thank you very much.

Kaylee Hartung reporting for us.

Also in Florida, there was a rally at the Florida state house this morning where students showed up to demanded changes to the state's gun laws and the Broward County sheriff is facing, as you just heard, serious criticism for his department's handling of the attack. Dozens of Republican lawmakers are calling for Scott Israel to be suspended or resign following reports that four of his deputies arrived during the shooting but did not enter the school to actually confront the shooter. The Florida governor, Rick Scott, says there will be a full scale investigation into the Parkland shooting response.

Let's bring in two guests right now. Linda Stewart is joining us. She's a Democratic state senator from Florida. Also, Chris Latvala. He's a Republican representative in the Florida State House.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Representative Latvala, first to you.

Almost all of those calling for the sheriff's suspension or resignation are Republican, only two are actually from Broward County. Where do you stand on this? Because he claimed it's political since he's a Democrat.

CHRIS LATVALA (R), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: Yes, sir. Their -- the Broward County Sheriff's Office had 23 interactions with either the shooter or his family. In 2016, there was an Instagram post where Nikolas Cruz threatened to shoot up the school. The school resource officer was made aware of that threat.

On November 30, 2017, there was a call into the Broward County Sheriff's Office that said that Nikolas Cruz could be a school shooter. Two and a half months later, after that, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 individuals at Stoneman Douglas High School. And since then there's been reports that not only the school resource officer waited outside, but three other Broward County deputies.

I think that it's -- I think the sheriff should acknowledge what he knows and when he knew it. I find it highly ironic that he went on CNN last week at your town hall meeting and didn't say a word about the school resource officer standing out -- staying outside. And that was information that he knew at the time.

BLITZER: So you think he should resign?

LATVALA: I think that the letter that I signed was for the governor to suspend him. Whether or not he resigns, I think, is up to he and his community. But I think ultimately the buck stops with the sheriff.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Stewart, what do you say?

LINDA STEWART (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: Frankly, I think that this FDLE investigation is something that we should follow through with, and I don't want this to become a distraction to what we really need to do, which is to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, particularly the AR-15 and the bump stock. There's a lot that needs to be done. It was only the sheriff that we're talking about now, but DCF had been called in, the shooter had been seeing a mental health counselor and then quit, and nobody followed up on that.

There is a lot of blame that could be made out there, but all this is, is distracting us from what we actually need to be doing, and that is to ban these assault weapons. You cannot have an increase in nine -- in three years that that's going to stop anything because every shooting that has occurred has the AR-15 involved. And if we don't get rid of that, we're not going to be able to impact what we're trying to do here, and that's make the kids safe. The shooting in Pulse. I represent Pulse. The guy was 29 years old. The shooting in Las Vegas, he was 64. You know, we're ignoring the gun factor. That has to be brought into play.

BLITZER: All right, well let me let -- Representative Latvala, where do you stand on banning these assault type weapons?

LATVALA: Wolf, there's a bill that's going to be introduced this week to raise the age limit to 21 to buy a firearm in Florida, to ban bump stocks, to extend the waiting period for all guns in Florida and also to expand the background checks.

As for the assault weapons ban, frankly, Wolf, I'm undecided on that. I'm gathering input from my constituents and others. And, ultimately, I will make that decision. I suspect there's going to be an amendment filed -- attempted to be filed onto that bill. And as of right now, I'm undecided how I'll be voting on an assault weapons ban.

[13:30:12] BLITZER: And your governor -- your governor wants to raise the age --

STEWART: And I'm not undecided.