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First Lady Ends Contract of Longtime Friend; Bernie Sander's Son Running for Congress; Vegas Survivors Call for Assault Weapons Ban; Vegas Survivors Call for Assault Weapons Ban. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] MICHAEL WILLIAMS (R), GEORGIA: ...and credits their company. And I only get back $100,000, that's a loss. The state of Georgia loses, the taxpayers of Georgia lose. Before we start dealing out $7, $8, $9 billion, let's make sure that Georgia taxpayer, the citizens of Georgia, are going to get the benefit that they so desire and so need here.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: What do you think of these other states courting Delta? I mean, when you look at this -- it's not just delta, right? There are a number of companies that are not giving this NRA discount anymore or are breaking ties with the organization. Some who are doubling down on their ties with the organization. What do you think about that?

WILLIAMS: Again, every organization, every corporation has the right to set their policies and set their business practices. But whenever you decide to take this discount to NRA members in the midst of the state of Georgia, talking about a tax credit for them, I just think it was a bad decision on their part and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that the people of Georgia are represented and not special interests.

KEILAR: All right, Michael Williams, just to be clear your office is going to give us that data to back up your claim.

WILLIAMS: Yes, ma'am.

KEILAR: You believe that that's true?

WILLIAMS: I do. I do. I believe that Delta is giving discounts to left wing --

KEILAR: No, you said Planned Parenthood.

WILLIAMS: Left wing organizations that support Planned Parenthood.

KEILAR: All right, we are going to look for some information from you here shortly, so that we can update people who are watching this program. Michael Williams joining us from Atlanta, thank you very much, sir.

WILLIAMS: It was a pleasure.

KEILAR: Coming up next a whistle blower says that HUD secretary, Ben Carson, tried to spend exorbitant amounts of money on redecorate his office. And that she was retaliated against when she got in the way of thousands upon thousands of dollars to be spent, oh, I don't know, a chair. We are going to explain that. Plus, the White House parts ways with a senior advisor to the first lady. Why Melania Trump ended the contract of a woman who is also her long-time friend.


KEILAR: A whistle blower is trying to accuse another Trump cabinet member of spending excessive government money. This time it's Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. A former chief administrative officer says she was demoted, in part, for refusing to spend more than 5000, the $5000 that was legally allowed to redecorate Carson's new office.

And she said a top HUD official told her quote, find money. Because $5000 will not even buy a decent chair. A HUD official disputed Foster's account telling CNN this, quote, when it comes to decorating the secretary's office, the only money HUD spent was $3200 to put up new blinds in his office and the deputy secretary's office. The administrative officer is aware of the limit and ensured that the limit was not exceeded. The whistleblower said she was also pressured to have the government pay for a security system installed at Carson's home.

Joining me now we have CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett, and Norm Eisen, he's a CNN contributor and the former Obama White House ethics czar. OK, so Norm, do you see an ethics violation here, norm? Because HUD is insisting they didn't go over this limit, but you also have a whistleblower who is saying, I was retaliated against for sounding an alarm about this.

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brianna, thanks for having me back. I do see a serious ethics at issue here. Pay very close attention to what the HUD spokesperson said, that they didn't go over. They didn't deny that there was a request to go over that $5,000 limit. That's a statutory limit.

And, according to the whistleblower, Helen Foster, there was intense pressure put upon her to exceed that limit. She was told, she says, that they always find a way to go over it. And when she said, but it's $5,000, she was told you can't even get a decent chair for $5,000. That is squandering, an attempt to squander the taxpayer's money. That is not what public service is about and it comes on top of other allegations about Mr. Carson's family. This was supposedly involving his wife, Candy. Mr. Carson's family trying to profit off the government. So, yes, it is very troubling from an ethics perspective.

KEILAR: Can't get a decent chair. You can get many decent chairs, actually.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Did we learn from Aaron Schock too, the congressman who wanted his office to look like Downton Abbey and how those headlines rang out? So, yes, that's another.

KEILAR: No allegations of themes here.


KEILAR: Now this also comes, as we learned, Kate, that the White House has cut ties with a friend of Melania Trump's, right, who founded this firm which was paid close to $26 million to plan events around the president's inauguration. We should also note that some of that would have been passed on to contractors.


KEILAR: There was still a big chunk of change almost $2 million that went to this firm. What is the White House saying about this?

BENNETT: The first lady's office is saying the first lady had no knowledge of how the funds for the presidential inaugural committee were spent and she did not know or authorize any of that expenditure. However, this relationship did come about, the job with PIC, with the inaugural committee came about because of her relationship and tie with Melania Trump. They were friends for many, many years back in New York. She was also given the title of senior adviser in the first lady's office once the administration began, which is a pretty substantial title to have for someone who was working apparently on a voluntary basis, a special government employee.

KEILAR: They've distanced her from the decision making, which seems to be an indication it almost may be a tacit acknowledgment that this really doesn't look good.

BENNETT: Right. Exactly. Now they've severed ties with this woman completely, the first lady's office has. There's certainly implication and some fallout from this. I think mainly the issue was this was a lot of money, this was $26 million. Yes, there were subcontractors. But what was pocketed was by this woman's firm was $1.62 million. She said she divided up between her staff, but it does seem like a very large sum. and to sort of have that not be fully explained to the first lady's office, fully explained to the White House, I think, sort of caused difficulty in keeping her on staff.

KEILAR: Norm, one of the issues with a person who owned so many properties coming in to be president had to do with this constitutional clause. the foreign emoluments clause. Money coming in from foreign entities that could benefit the president. Right? That could benefit this official, not OK.

[15:40:00] So, what the Trump organization said it was going to do was that it was going to take all of the profits that came from, quote, foreign government patronage at its hotels and put it to the U.S. Treasury. OK, well, now it's said, the Trump organization has said that it has done that, but there are no details, how much money, from where, which properties. It's a take our word for it. What do you think about this?

EISEN: Well, it's outrageous. First of all, they only pledged to give the profits from their hotels. What about all the other foreign emoluments, that means any cash or benefits from other foreign governments? Why do it at the hotels?

KEILAR: We don't know it's all -- I mean as they say it is.

EISEN: Exactly. Why do it only at the hotels and not at the other properties? Secondly why not just say, OK, here is how much we gave? And third, it's related to the Carson story and all of the other scandals. There's five IG investigations open, for heaven's sake. Because if the president sends a signal, hey, I can use the power of my office to gain, even when a constitutional clause is implicated, that sends a note out to everybody in government. I can gain, too. I can have a $5,000 chair. I can use personal travel. I can benefit from government in other ways. This is a pattern. That's part of why it's so disturbing. That and the secrecy.

KEILAR: It says you, too, can press your luck. Norm Eisen, Kate Bennett, thanks so much to both of you. Really appreciate it. Next, Bernie Sanders' son is running for congress. Not as an independent but as a Democrat. And he joins me live to discuss why he thinks he can win in a very crowded field.


KEILAR: Bernie Sanders' son is entering the family biz, he just announced he is running for congress I congress. He is now the eighth Democrat to enter the race and while he was an adviser on his dad's campaign, we don't know much about his individual beliefs. Let's go ahead and ask him. Levi Sanders, thank you so much for being here with us. We really appreciate it.

LEVI SANDERS, BERNIE SANDERS' SON: Thanks for having me, Brianna.

KEILAR: So, I want to ask you because the rules certainly allow you to run. You don't have to live in the first district in New Hampshire. You're definitely allowed to do that. You have worked though for many years in Massachusetts. I just have to put this out there to you because you know you're going to get a lot of people asking this. They may say that you're just riding on your dad's coat tails. What do you think?

SANDERS: First of all, Brianna, in terms of how the whole entire race was set up. We know that ultimately Carol Shea-Porter who decided not to run. I thought about that and I talked to folks and people in New Hampshire as well as my family. I decided, I thought it was a great opportunity. The person who is currently in district two is doing a really good job. So right now, what we need to do is we need to take on the Republicans as well as talk about the real issues that face America and, most importantly, New Hampshire.

KEILAR: It is a crowded field. You have a last name that, obviously, is getting you a lot of attention. What do you say to people who say that you are capitalizing on being Bernie Sanders' son?

SANDERS: That's a great question, Brianna. I've worked in legal services for over 17 years in a variety of substantive areas of law. And here is the basic issue. People are getting beaten up by the system and we need to address those issues. I talk to people every day in my work who simply are -- their anxiety is so overwhelming they can't afford their health insurance. They have no dental care.

They're working over 40 hours a week and they still have not making ends meet. So, it is an absolutely incredible situation that we have in the United States of America, a situation where people can still be in poverty and still work 40 hours.

KEILAR: Are you channeling your father in any ways. Are you inspired by anything he said that you are running as a Democrat? He's an independent. But is there anything you're hoping that people actually do take away, that you are his son, that maybe they can entrust that you have some of his views?

SANDERS: Sure. I think it's fair to say that my father and I have a lot of similar views. That's the case in terms of throughout this country. Increasingly people understand that we need to have a living wage. That we need to have Medicare for all. That we need to have tuition-free colleges and universities. We need to address the issue in terms of pay equity for women. It's simply an outrage in this day and age that women are making 80 cents to the dollar. So, I do talk to my dad about it. I'm very proud of what, you know, he has accomplished. But I'm running on my own views.

KEILAR: All right, well so admittedly you do have some similar views there, so I wonder Especially being in New Hampshire, which is a moderate state, I wonder where you are especially as we're in the middle of a big gun debate. Where you stand on some of the issues of guns? This is going to come up. When you're looking at the age of people obtaining the kind of gun that was used in Parkland, Florida. Where do you stand on that?

[15:50:00] SANDERS: Sure. Great question. Well the first thing, it is an absolute outrage that the NRA and Donald Trump believe that we should be, quote, arming our teachers. I have talked to enough teachers --

KEILAR: No, but do you want to increase that age?

SANDERS: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Do you want to reform background checks?

SANDERS: Absolutely.

KEILAR: So, when you're looking at background checks, you said you share some of the same views as your dad. He had voted against background checks, supporting for instance, instant background checks. Something that if you look at the Charleston shooting, there would have been, we saw, there was a three-day check. The shooter got through that time period and it defaulted to an approval. I mean are you in favor of a different point of view from your father when it comes to background checks? When it comes to that?

SANDERS: Brianna, I know it is hard to believe but I'm actually not my father. I am running on different issues. Ultimately, there's been a lot of stuff. No one knows the exact answers, but the most important thing is we need to make ensure that kids are in a safe environment and don't have the profound anxiety that you currently have.

KEILAR: All right, Levi Sanders. We appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much.

SANDERS: Thank you so much, Brianna.

KEILAR: And now back to our breaking news. A law enforcement source telling CNN that the shooter in Parkland, Florida left behind hundreds of rounds of unused ammunition, and the attack could have been much worse. We'll have new details straight ahead.


KEILAR: The mass shooting at a Florida high school brought back painful memories for survivors of last October's massacre at a Las Vegas concert. CNN's Sara Sidner sat down with them to get their take on the current gun control debate.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gunfire altered all of their lives during the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Nearly five months later, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, brought their terror right back.

CHRISTINE CARIA, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I had an automatic reaction. I couldn't control it. I went in the bathroom and started vomiting, I was on the floor in a fetal position for two hours.

SIDNER: They know what these children are going through and the long road to recovery. This mother of two, Chelsea Romo still has many surgeries to get through, after shrapnel tore through both of her eyes. Initially blinding her.

CHELSEA ROMO, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I thought about as my daughter grew up and not seeing her get married, seeing her become a woman, can see her face as she matures like, oh, it's crossed my mind. That's why now I thank god every day.

SIDNER: She is now laser focused on simply seeing her children grow. Survivors Heather Gooze and Christine Caria are helping other survivors, while nursing psychological wounds. Gooze, she spent hours holding bullet riddled strangers as their lives slipped away.

HEATHER GOOZE, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: He got shot in the back of the head. So, I reached under. I was holding a jeans jacket to the back of his head. The jacket had dropped, and my finger was in the bullet hole in the back of his head.

SIDNER: Page Melanson was hit in the elbow. Her mother shot in the chest. She is still in the hospital awaiting her tenth surgery. These survivors agree. America's leaders have not done enough to tackle a uniquely American problem.

PAGE MELANSON, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I mean, after the Las Vegas shooting, they said it is not the right time to talk about guns. After the Texas shooting, they said it is not the right time talk about guns. After Parkland, oh, let them grieve. It is not the time. When is going to be the time?

CARIA: We all don't want to see babies die. We don't want to go to church or a concert and feel like we're going to get killed. We can do better than this as a nation.

SIDNER: Caria, a mother of two is convinced a ban on semi automatic assault style weapons and bump stocks is very good start. Her conviction's so strong, she became the president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Brady Campaign against gun violence.

CARIA: I am very pro second amendment. I love guns.

SIDNER: Heather Gooze never thought new gun legislation was needed until being covered in the blood of strangers. Do you have a problem with AR 15 assault style rifles?

GOOZE: Yes. I have a problem with a killing machine.

SIDNER: You have a problem with bump stocks?

GOOZE: 100 percent.

SIDNER: Why is it hard to say we need to ban AR assault-style weapons.

GOOZE: If people hear us say we need get rid of one certain type of gun, all they hear is you want to take my guns away.

SIDNER: Are you trying to take their guns away?


GOOZE: 100 percent, no. But is this a killing machine? Yes. Is it being used to commit mass murder? Yes. You know what? We need to start somewhere.


KEILAR: "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.