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Dick's Sporting Goods Makes a Stand; Students Return to Douglas High School; A.G. Sessions Fires Back at Trump over I.G. FISA Abuse Investigation; Jared Kushner Stripped of Top-Secret Clearance; Daughter, Wife of John McCain Hit Back at Trump. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 28, 2018 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:00] ED STACK, CEO, DICK'S SPORTING GOODS: We actually sold the shooter a shotgun in November of last year. We looked at that, found out that we did this, we had a pit in our stomach, and said we need to -- we don't want to be part of this story. We need a responsibility to these kids. And we decided we are not going to sell these any longer.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Joining me now, CNN's Alison Kosik.

Alison, you've been covering this story. To be clear, Dick's had already made changes after the Sandy Hook shooting. So what's the difference here?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. To be clear here, after the mas massacre at Sandy Hook, Dick's stopped selling assault-style rifles at Dick's. But Field and Stream, a subsidiary of Dick's -- Field and Stream, which has 35 locations across the country, those stores continued to sell those assault-style rifles. As of today, according to CEO Ed Stack, all stores under Dick's will no longer carry those assault-style rifles and high capacity magazines that make it easier for shooters to shoot round after round after round without having to reload and all of the Dick's will no longer sell any guns to anybody under the age of 21.

You said it, this is a situation where we're seeing corporate America, stepping up and listening to those kids in Parkland and actually doing something, where Congress is not doing something.

Why is Ed Stack doing this? He spoke to Chris Cuomo earlier today. Listen.

OK. We do not have that sound byte.

But basically, Ed Stack is saying, look, we are doing this for the kids, despite the pressure from possibly shareholders, despite pressures politically, and also possibly losing part of their consumer base, Brianna. Ed Stack felt this was necessary to take these messages where Congress won't and take these messages for those kids.

KEILAR: Very interesting interview.

Alison Kosik, thank you so much, in New Jersey for us.

KOSIK: Sure.

KEILAR: This announcement comes as students return to class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This is the first time they've been back since 17 of their classmates and teachers were killed in their mass shooting weeks ago. Photos from inside the school obtained by CNN show a makeshift memorial. There have been a number of these. Makeshift memorials on desks. Support dogs in the hallways with the students.

And CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live outside the high school.

Kaylee, I understand students didn't go to their typical first-period class this morning but re-entered their same classes they were in when the shooting started. Tell us about this.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. A half-day schedule where they met with all eight of their classes. But the morning started out of order, with their fourth-block class, the class they were in the end of the day on February 14th when that gunman attacked. As students gathered together with that group, a moment of silence, 17 seconds long, a second for each of the victims. That moment of silence was followed by a singing of the school's alma mater. One student told me he didn't think anybody even knew the words to that song, but today he heard that song sung louder than ever before. The pride that these students and teachers feel to be part of this community now undeniable.

The principal of Stoneman Douglas told us the focus was on comfort not curriculum. Students weren't even allowed to bring backpacks to school.

The freshman building where the attack occurred, that building still stands, though it will eventually be torn down. It's a reminder of the tragedy that occurred on February 14th. So, too, are the empty desks in many classrooms where the 14 students who were killed once sat.

As students and teachers told me, they're not trying to forget what happened that day.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: For the past two weeks, we've just been working hard and trying to make change happen. We haven't stopped to think. We've been doing interviews, talking to the media. So there's no media in school today. It was just us. I think it started to hit us more. We started to go back into those same places and think that we were here, this happened, and this is something that happened to us. It's just a whole range of emotions. I was sad. I was angry that this happened. But now that we're out of school, we're just ready to get back at it and keep working, even when we're in school. We're not ashamed of our school or afraid of our school. We're proud we go here.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: My last class, ninth period, they were being analytical, Mr. Pittman, what would you do here? Would you let them in? What would you do here in what would you do there? How would we get out of the room? They were analyzing, trying to find solutions. What if there's a fire? And we can't get out of the room. They're trying to -- they're trying to problem solve and trying to figure out for that type or any other situation. They're beginning to think about their environment around them.


[14:35:04] HARTUNG: A heightened awareness of all students and teachers from Stoneman Douglas of their surroundings now. This morning, one female student told us she was anxious going to class and seeing the many law enforcement who came out here today to show their support, seeing so many of them made her more anxious. But at the end of the school day, she told us she had no reason to be anxious.

All these people coming together back on this campus today for the first time in this capacity uplifting for so many, Brianna. The superintendent tells us attendance was tremendously good, 95 percent of the school's students were in classes today.

KEILAR: Tough day for so many of them, Kaylee, but also comforting. It's very interesting to hear them talk about it.

We appreciate the report, Kaylee Hartung, in Parkland, Florida.

We do have breaking news to tell you about. That is Jeff Sessions, striking back. The attorney general, just moments ago, defending himself after President Trump attacked him this morning on Twitter. His response and the future of his relationship with the president, next.


[14:40:12] KEILAR: Attorney general Jeff Sessions is firing back at President Trump. Earlier, the president tweeted: "Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the inspector general to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse? Will take forever. Has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey, et cetera. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!"

With me here now to talk about this, CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

We now have this response from Jeff Sessions. Tell us.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Brianna, a rare statement from the attorney general after tweets from the president, and the president saying that he regrets hiring him. Today, the attorney general finally pushing back.

Here's what he says in a statement, Brianna: "We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary."

Of course, he's referring to the referral to the inspector general's office, which he talked about those so-called FISA abuses, stemming from what's outlined in Devin Nunes' memo on the FBI's surveillance of Trump associates.

Then the attorney general goes on, Brianna. This is truly extraordinary. He says, "As long as I am attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution."

So you might wonder why today, after the president has called for an investigation of Hillary Clinton and other political rivals, why today is the day. It clearly was a bridge too far for the Attorney General Sessions. He's coming to the defense of Michael Horowitz in many ways, who is the inspector general, who is a career official, a straight shooter by any account. The president says, yes, he was appointed by President Obama to be inspector general, but also served under the Bush administration on the sentencing commission, Brianna. Clearly, enough was enough for Jeff Sessions today.

KEILAR: As you said, Obama appointee. When you look at all the characters and what the president calls a witch hunt, very few of them are, or at least when you're looking at their political leanings, their self-identification is Republican.

I wonder, Jennifer Taub, as you're looking at this play out, first off, this is extraordinary, but it's not unusual for this president with the way he has related to the attorney general. He has been upset with Jeff Sessions since he decided to recuse himself from all things Russia. What's your reaction to this back and forth today?

JENNIFER TAUB, WHITE COLLAR CRIME ATTORNEY & AUTHOR: I think that two things. First, we should be worried. Even though this president does act impulsively and when he thinks the walls are closing in on him, he tends to act out through this stress tweeting. We saw that yesterday with that two-word tweet, "witch hunt." Here once again, he's attacking Jeff Sessions again. I'm wondering whether he has in his mind that if he would just fire Jeff Sessions, then he could somehow, you know, get rid of Mueller and get rid of this investigation, which is now moving closer to his own possible misdeeds.

KEILAR: He is the one who put A.G. Sessions in his position. He is looking at the I.G. and saying, oh, he's an Obama appointee. When you look at all the players and what the president is calling this witch hunt, they're almost entirely Republicans, right, the key players?

TAUB: Yes. There are so many layers to this. If you step back, he is claiming that there was some FISA abuses. But if you look at the Schiff response to the Nunes memo, there clearly were not any abuse of the FISA process. The four judges were Republican appointees. Jeff Sessions himself is a Republican. The head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, is a Republican. We have Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is a Republican. The whole House of Representatives, and they obviously have control over the committee looking into this, as well as the Senate are dominated by Republican majority. So this idea that he's trying to put -- point to someone he claims as an Obama person is now going to be looking into something that's even kind of a wild-goose chase, you know, is intended as a distraction, I think.

KEILAR: Laura, real quickly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, how secure is he in his position right now?

JARRETT: Well, you know, of course, we can't predict what the president will do. But you remember that whole tweet storm back in July when he was going after him, it seemed almost like every morning for a period of weeks there, and he didn't fire him then. So, if he doesn't fire him now, it almost seems as if Jeff Sessions has called his bluff.

[14:45:13] KEILAR: Interesting.

Laura Jarrett, at the Justice Department, thank you so much.

And Jennifer Taub, joining us as well, we really appreciate it

Moments from now, we will hear from the president at the White House, meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss school safety. They're really going to pull back the curtain, hopefully, on this. They'll let the cameras into the room and we'll be watching this live as they do so.

Also, battle lines being drawn in the West Wing after Chief of Staff John Kelly downgraded Jared Kushner's security clearance. We'll take a closer look at what kind of information Kushner now is allowed to see and what that means for his job.


[14:50:20] KEILAR: Now that Jared Kushner's top-secret security clearance has been revoked, the big question is, what's the president's son-in-law, also a key White House adviser, allowed to know?

I want to bring in CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, a former spokesman for the Pentagon as well as the State Department.

Tell us, because, Rear Admiral, you've had a top security clearance, top-secret security clearance, we should say, also with being able to see additional secure and sensitive information. Walk us through the difference between what Kushner did have and what he is going to have now.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALLYST: Glad to do that. We're talking about top-secret and secret. As you know, Brianna, there are three levels of clearance, confidential, secret and top-secret. Our focus is on those top two.

It's important to remember that the clearance level itself is not enough. You also have a need to know. Can you have a top-secret clearance, but if you don't have a need to know a certain bit of information or material, you won't have access to that. That's important as we get a little later on.

Let's start with top secret. The highest level of sensitive information in the United States government. If it's disclosed without authorization, it can cause exceptionally grave damage to national security. Very, very strong language there. And so the -- it's the most rigid storage and handling and access protocol. So we treat this material very, very carefully. And if you have a top- secret clearance it's going to have to get relitigated every five years, owing to the sensitivity of the information.

On the secret side, if that information is a little less sensitive, if it's disclosed without authorization it could cause serious damage to national security. Not quite exceptionally great, but still serious. That information on the secret side is a little less detailed. Doesn't have quite the same nuance. Doesn't get into sources or methods and doesn't provide the reader a sense of where that information came from, what sources and how we got it.

There will be no access, if you only have a secret clearance, to the full president's daily briefing. That said, there are articles and material in the president's daily briefing which are not classified at the top-secret level. So, ostensibly, Mr. Kushner could have access to some of the secret-level stuff in that. But again, and here's an important caveat, need to know.

The president, as commander-in-chief, can decide to declassify certain material for Mr. Kushner as the president feels needed for Mr. Kushner to do his job. Even on a daily basis, he won't get access to everything in that briefing, he could still get access to things above what could be considered secret if the president deems it required. And then again, on the secret level, your clearance must be relitigated, reinvestigated every 10 years, because, again, it's not quite as sensitive.

KEILAR: So how many people have that higher-level access, that top- secret access to sensitive information?

KIRBY: Lot of people in town still have a high top-secret level clearance because it's determined by the agency about whether they can do their job. There's a tendency in government lately, Brianna, to overclassify. In D.C. today, it's very difficult to do basic jobs if you don't have a top-secret clearance. Because we tend to want to preserve the sanctity of this information and we tend to overclassify it and raise it up a higher level than it probably needs to be.

KEILAR: Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

KIRBY: You're welcome.

KEILAR: The wife and daughter of John McCain are hitting back at President Trump today for disparaging remarks he made about the Senator who is fighting cancer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Except for one Senator, who came into a room at 3:00 in the morning and went like that, we would have had health care, too.


TRUMP: We would have had health care, too.



KEILAR: President Trump was referring to the Arizona Republican's vote against the skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act last July. Since the vote, Meghan McCain says she has had a cordial conversation with the president and the first lady, so last week's remarks caught her off guard.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I really was under the impression this sort of fight between our families and between him and my father, especially at this particular moment, would end. I understand the argument as he is talking about policy and that's the attack. But it still is incredibly hurtful especially after I had this conversation with him on the phone, to have this moment of boo'ing at CPAC supposed to be the mothership of conservatism of the Republican Party. And to see boo'ing at this specific moment in time is incredibly hurtful and I feel, quite frankly, very naive to have believed this would be any different.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: We have much bigger things to worry about right now than to worry about what the president says. But more importantly, the things that have happened since that vote that he took, his defense bill was passed. Just yesterday, a human trafficking bill to help stop human trafficking online, the sale of children, was passed. It was the McCain bill. I think the president failed to understand this. But more importantly, in my own -- for my own family, we need more compassion. We need more empathy. We need more togetherness in terms of working together. We don't need more bullying. And I'm tired of it.



[14:55:32] KEILAR: Of course, Cindy and Meghan McCain there.

Just ahead, the same day that the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas returned to campus, the president is inviting a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House to discuss gun and school safety. We'll take you there live the moment that it starts.