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White House Daily Briefing; Trump Still Supports Raising Gun- Buying Age Limit; White House to Put Out Gun Policy/School Safety Policy Proposals; NSA: Trump Hasn't Directed Us to "Disrupt" Russian Threats; New Details in School Shooting Investigation; Neighbor Says School Shooter "Pure Evil". Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired February 27, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] QUESTION: Reverend Billy Graham's funeral is this Friday. We know the president will attend. Has it been determined whether he'll make any remarks, any of the eulogies, or will he be just there as a mourner and family friend?
SANDERS: I'm not sure on the specifics. I do know he plans to attend there, as well as head to the Capitol tomorrow for that stop.
But in terms of specific remarks, I don't have any comment on that at this point.
My other question is that the president's two immediate predecessors did a lot to build and expand the faith-based programs within the White House and throughout the executive branch and government. Many governors followed that example, among them your father.
It has been said that this president has not followed through on that; that there is no faith-based office within the White House now. Your reaction?
SANDERS: Look, I don't think an office is what determines the faith of the administration. I think that we have a number of people...
QUESTION: (inaudible) program.
SANDERS: Right. I think that's something that the president has a faith council and an advisory council that regularly come to the White House and meet with.
SANDERS: But I think in terms of whether or not you have an office doesn't determine the faith of the administration. I think we probably have, actually, more people front and center speaking openly about their faith and advocating and helping build on that foundation than probably any previous administration has.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
You've mentioned several times that you expect to have some policy announcements later this week. Just want to follow up on that and clarify.
Are you saying that this week, the White House will have a specific list that would be detailed, or an outline of the specific policies that he -- the president would like to see in legislation on gun control, gun violence prevention? Is that what you're saying?
SANDERS: Specific to school safety, yes, we expect that there will be some policy proposals that will be out by the end of the week.
As I've noted a couple yesterday that the president has already voiced, and the administration have voiced support for: both the Cornyn legislation as well as the Stop Gun Violence Act. Both are pieces of legislation that the administration supports.
QUESTION: ... following up on that, though, you've also said that before the president can support some of those things, he'd like to see what's in the legislative text of those bills.
We've talked about universal background checks in here before. But one of the two senators of this bipartisan bill who would be putting this forward, says that they're not going to put that (inaudible) forward until they're certain that they have the president's support for something like that.
So does -- conceptually, does the president support the idea of universal background checks? And would he be willing to support Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey's legislation on that?
SANDERS: At this time, the president -- the only two specific pieces of legislation that we are announcing support for are the two that I just mentioned. Anything further will come later this week.
The president, as I've said, expects to meet with a number of lawmakers tomorrow from both sides of the aisle, and we'll have some more information about specifics after that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
I want to ask you what's happening in Georgia, as it relates to Delta Airlines.
The background: As I'm sure you know, they withdrew benefits for NRA members, and now the lieutenant governor there is saying that maybe there shouldn't be a tax break for Delta. The lieutenant governor said, quote, "Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."
On the narrow front, does the White House believe that conservatives are under attack in the state of Georgia?
And more broadly, does the president think it's a good idea for a state government to target a business for retribution for decisions that the business decides that it wants to make?
SANDERS: The administration is focused, when it comes to this conversation, on what we can do to help the safety and security of America's children. That's our focus. We're not wading into other sidebar conversations right now.
QUESTION: Sarah, thanks.
I have -- I want to ask you about Syria and some developments there. But just two quick clarifications.
To Justin's point when he asked about whether the White House will meet the deadline tomorrow from House Oversight, it sounded like you said you'd let us know when you review it (ph). But Trey Gowdy made that request two weeks ago. Have you guys not been...
SANDERS: I said I would let you know and get back to you; that we don't have any announcement on that at this time.
QUESTION: And then on Jonathan -- just to clarify, on Jonathan's question here, just simply yes or no: Will the president give the authority to Mike Rogers to seek additional authorities to go after Russia?
SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of any specific direction by the president.
But I can tell you that we are looking at a number of different things that we can do to prevent this from happening. And we're going to continue to be tough on Russia moving forward, just as we have been in this first year.
QUESTION: ... Sarah, and so (ph) -- you're open to doing that, then? The president's open to those additional authorities?
SANDERS: Open to -- I'm sorry. What did you say?
QUESTION: To additional authorities...
SANDERS: The president is open to looking at a number of different ways of making sure that Russia doesn't meddle in our elections.
QUESTION: Speaking of international relations, does the United States have reason to believe that North Korea is linked to Syria's chemical weapons program?
SANDERS: I don't have any comment on that at this point.
SANDERS: I'll take one last question, (inaudible)?
QUESTION: One quick one. First I want to just button up Steve's (ph) question about Liu He. You said he's meeting with some administration officials. Do you know who he's meeting with?
SANDERS: We'll get back to you on the specifics of who he's meeting with.
QUESTION: Just the president mentioned last week that -- that...
SANDERS: But I know it's not the president. I can tell you that.
The president mentioned last week that John Kelly has a decision to make about Jared Kushner's security clearance, but you -- I know your policy on not talking about security clearances, except, really, in the case of Kushner, you -- you guys have talked about him quite a bit. Has the chief of staff made a decision on John Kelly (sic) and -- and can you say what it -- what it is?
SANDERS: As I said earlier, we do not comment on individual security clearances.
We actually haven't commented on Jared's as you indicated, but we have commented on his ability to do his job, which he's a valued member of the team and he will continue to do the important work that he's been doing since he started in the administration.
SANDERS: Thanks so much, guys. Have a great afternoon.
[14:36:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN: All right. Wrapping up at the White House briefing there. And some interesting headlines coming out of here as I bring my panel into this.
Let's talk about guns on this. Sarah Sanders was asked about the president seeming to back off a provision or proposal that he had previously supported, which was increasing the age limit to buy the kinds of weapons that we saw the shooter use in Parkland, Florida. And now here she's saying he still supports raising the gun-buying age limit. And also, we're expecting to get some specific gun policy or school safety policy proposals coming out at the end of the week.
Do you take that to the bank when she says that he still supports this?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I guess have you to. The fact that he didn't reiterate it when he spoke for, you know, sort of extemporaneously about this issue yesterday was kind of odd. The White House is sort of trying to clean it up and there must be a reason for t you have to take her at her word on that. Of course, the other piece of legislation they say they support is something that has been kind of hovering over Congress now for the past month or two, which is fixing the NICS system where the information goes in for the background checks to work properly.
What you said about the sort of announcement that there will be other policy proposals later this week, that's when we all went oh, OK. We're actually going to hear specifics. Again, we have been saying this, but it bears repeating. Paul Ryan, the House speaker and other Republicans made very clear not to come back to town, they don't want to deal with this. If you have the president putting out specific proposals and following up in a specific way -- that's a big if -- maybe things could change. He has to use his muscle.
KEILAR: Juana, is it possible that with the president seeming to back off this age limit increase, maybe actually as part of this package of proposals that's in there, but that's stolen the headlines today and become sort of the singular headline, but it is something he may back off of when we see the more broad proposals coming from the White House.
And, as you said, Dana, trying to clean up this perception he's back on this. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's dead?
JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: That's certainly possible. We don't have a lot of details and didn't hear a lot of detail about what's in this package coming from Sarah Sanders. This is an issue that ten days since the Parkland Florida shooting, the president has came out and has a lot to say about how he wants to strengthen American schools, he wants to harden them, he says. Engaged time and time again. Even bringing survivors in and experts to hear from gun violence. We haven't had a lot of clarity. We haven't seen a lot of legislative path toward something he says he can support that will actually pass in Congress, as Dana just noted.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I was going to add, Brianna, this new CNN poll was out a couple of days ago looking at the gun issue. That age limit, massive, 71 percent of Americans favor that across all partisan groups, majority of Republicans, majority of Democrats, majority of Independents. Perhaps they had lunch with the NRA and sort of rolled him on this issue. That news coverage, Donald Trump wanted to stop. He wanted to go back to his words yesterday when he was talking about this, that he's willing to fight the NRA on certain things if he wants to. This seems to be a clear difference with the NRA. He wanted to assert that difference still exists. You are right to be skeptical that this will be in some sort of legislation to Congress and then on the president's desk for his signature.
[14:40:10] KEILAR: Dana, when you look at where things are with Congress, with the president, are you at all of the mind that something could change on the federal level with guns or does it just seem there's no appetite for that? BASH: It seems there's very, very little appetite. Extremely little.
It's possible because of the fact that the president isn't letting it go and is continuing to talk about it. He has his press secretary continuing to lean in to the idea that he has specific policy proposals but that's the only reason -- Brianna?
KEILAR: NSA director on Capitol Hill today, Juana, and it was pretty extraordinary what he said, basically that he has not been directed by President Trump -- which is a necessary thing in order for him to sort of really combat Russian meddling. And I paraphrase here. but I think this is pretty much what he said. Russia hasn't paid for what it did in 2016 enough or sufficient to deter it from continuing to act like this. Sarah Sanders asked about that. Her answer was, well, you know, the president is not denying him, Mike Rogers, the NSA director, from dealing with the issue. That isn't entirely true.
SUMMERS: It isn't. This president is flouting everything that has been said by all members of the intelligence community that have been on Capitol Hill talking about this. This president still fails to publicly acknowledge them in the way we hear them say it cripples their ability to fight these threats. You heard Admiral Rogers say how he doesn't feel like he has the authority to do that. If I heard Sarah Sanders correctly, she said she didn't have anything to announce on whether or not the president would give any more authority.
KEILAR: She said she didn't want to get ahead of that, which seems, quite frankly, nuts. The president already basically -- Congress passes sanctions, right? Overwhelmingly passes sanctions that the administration chooses not to implement. They're very behind from what they say Congress in a bipartisan way has wanted to do.
CHALIAN: His own CIA director has said this is happening now. The 2018 elections are already under attack. So, get ahead of the president. We are behind as a country on this issue. It is no surprise to me in our brand-new poll that 60 percent of Americans say they're not confident that Donald Trump is doing enough to prevent foreign interference in our elections and, you know why they're not confident? Answers like that. Not denying Mike Rogers from doing -- they're not proactive. This president cannot separate out some sort of questioning of his personal legitimacy as president in this Russia investigation as far as the actual investigation and details we are learning about Russia's meddling in our core principle of free and fair elections.
KEILAR: When you look at Democrats versus Republicans and Independents, it's clear this is becoming political issue, right? His supporters also believe that when you talk about Russian meddling, this is an attack on his legitimacy.
CHALIAN: That goes back to the witch hunt. The majority of Americans believe this is a legitimate inquiry. You are absolutely right, Brianna. The partisanship, this has become another piece of polarized political discourse in America. The Russia investigation a part of that now. Donald Trump is out there tweeting to make sure he is fortifying, rallying his troops for what he knows is a long period of ahead. BASH: But again, take a step back. He is doing this while his own NSA director, a member of his own intelligence staff --
KEILAR: A straight shooter.
BASH: A straight shooter -- is telling Congress he needs help. Sanctions is one thing, but to stop cyber warfare, going on as we speak in this election year, and it's not happening.
KEILAR: It's a really important point.
Dana Bash, David Chalian, Juana Summers, thank you so much.
Still ahead, several states are now openly wooing Delta, saying, let's chat, as the airline finds itself in a feud with Georgia Republicans over the NRA. I'll be talking to one of those Georgia lawmakers coming up.
Also, pure evil. A former neighbor who raised red flags to police describes to CNN what it was like living near the Parkland gunman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:44:46] JOELLE GUARINO, FORMER NEIGHBOR OF FLORIDA GUNMAN: He was pure evil that I had to keep my kids away from him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: We have some breaking news into the investigation into the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty were killed.
I want to go live to CNN's Kaylee Hartung.
Kaylee, update us. Tell us what you have just learned.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, investigators are telling CNN this massacre could have been much worse. The shooter fired off about 150 rounds inside Stoneman Douglas. Now, our Evan Perez is learning through a law enforcement official briefed on this investigation that 180 rounds remained in the rifle that the killer dropped. Still no understanding or explanation for why the killer dropped that rifle and the rounds he had in it before trying to escape the school and blend in with other students.
But we're also now learning that investigators believe he tried, at one point, to break a window, leading them to believe he wanted to use that as a sniper's nest. It's unclear who his target would have been in that case. But, Brianna, incredibly disturbing to learn more details of what the shooter had planned that day.
[14:50:28] KEILAR: What is this we're learning about something carved into the magazines that remained?
HARTUNG: Yes. Investigators telling us that swastikas were etched into the magazine that was in the rifle and those that remained. We had heard of anti-Semitic sentiments that the student had. His mother had told police that she had been in contact with, that he had drawn swastikas and other Nazi symbols on his backpacks. Here, those swastikas etched into the magazines loaded in the rifle and others he was carrying with him.
KEILAR: New details about the gunman in Parkland, Florida.
Kaylee Hartung, thank you for that report.
She'll stand by for us and we'll have more on that in just a moment.
But first, more red flags about the Florida school shooter are being revealed, among the outrage that the law enforcement didn't do enough to prevent the massacre.
The gunman's former neighbor tells CNN that she knew he was going to shoot up the school. She describes Nikolas Cruz as pure evil, consistently showing a dark side over many years. She says he brought his violent behavior to her doorstep.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUARINO: When he turned 12, everything started to change. He became more violent. He destroyed my property. He stole from me. He stole from my kids. But it was really the violence and the killing that got to me. He loved to kill toads. And I thought he was trying to kill my dog. And I knew he was dangerous at that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Kaylee, back with us.
That neighbor, Kaylee, echoing concerns and accounts we've heard from others. What else did she say?
HARTUNG: That's right, Brianna. She told our Rosa Flores that her worst fear became a reality on February 14th because she said, "I knew in my heart he was going to do it." One day in February of 2016, her son showed her an Instagram post that the killer had put up. It was a photo of an A.R.-15-style rifle and a caption about how he couldn't wait to buy one when he turned 18. Soon after, there was another post where he said, quote, "He would shoot up a school." With that information, she called 911. With that information, with warning of the threat she felt he posed, here is what officials then told her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUARINO: I begged him, and he basically told me that it was not an immediate threat. He couldn't do anything, is what he told me. I remember him leaving and me thinking, my god, he is going to kill someone, and I can do nothing about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: After that moment, when officials told her they would do nothing, and she recognized she couldn't do anything more, she said she felt defeated. She was scared. She was afraid for her children. She did not want them spending any time around Nikolas Cruz.
Brianna, that call she made, one of the two being investigated for being improperly handled among the 23 that the Broward County sheriff says were the calls they received in relation to the killer. But we now know that number in discrepancy with the 49 official records show.
[14:54:04] KEILAR: Now there will be this question with that information she presented, something could have been done, and yet it wasn't.
Kaylee Hartung, thank you for that report in Florida for us. We have much more on this breaking news.
Also, the White House, moments ago, saying whether the president still supports raising the age limit on rifles, like the one used in Florida. Stand by.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KEILAR: Top of the hour. I'm Brianna Keilar.
We have breaking news in the Florida school shooting investigation. A law enforcement source tells CNN the shooting could have been much worse. After firing nearly 150 rounds, the shooter dropped his rifle, leaving behind what we learned was now 180 additional rounds of ammunition. He then escaped by blending in with students.
We also now know that the magazines he carried had swastikas etched into them. That included the magazine that was in the rifle when he left it.
It also appears the plot was much more calculated than first understood to be. Investigators think he may have tried to break a window from inside the school in order to use it as a sniper's perch to shoot outside. But authorities say the gunman couldn't break the window because it is hurricane proof. Officials say it is not clear who he wanted to shoot at, but from a window, he could have fired at first responders and students trying to escape. So far, there's no explanation as to why he stopped shooting when he did.
I want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell.
Josh, a lot of new details to start dissecting here. I want to start with the number of rounds that were remaining when the shooter left, 180 additional rounds of --