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Battle with Sessions a Focus of Russia Probe; White House Communications Director Resigning; U.S. Gun Lobby Calls Proposals Bad Policy; Fighting Rages Inside Syria Despite Cease-Fire Calls; Silvio Berlusconi Back in Italy's Political Spotlight; Trump Signals Support for a Variety of Gun Reforms; Retailers Take Action to Restrict Firearms; Ryan Seacrest Still Hosting Oscar Coverage for E!. Aired 1- 2a ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 01:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour: a White House in turmoil. The president publicly attacking his attorney general again, another senior aide walks and many ask when will -- when not if but will son- in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, leave as well?

Plus principle or deadly good PR? Two big retailers in the U.S. are the latest companies tightening their own rules on who gets to buy a gun.

And Ryan Seacrest is in, not out, hosting the Oscar red carpet, this despite renewed accusations of sexual misconduct.

Hello, everybody, thank you for joining us. I'm John Vause. This is NEWSROOM L.A.


VAUSE: Donald Trump's long-running feud with his attorney general is reportedly becoming a bigger focus of the Russia investigation. "The Washington Post" is reporting special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at a period last year when the present tried to force Jeff Sessions from his job and whether that was an attempt to obstruct justice.

This all comes as Mr. Trump leveled another stinging attack on Sessions.

He tweeted this, "Why is AG 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 IG an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!"

And in a rare move, Sessions actually responded. "As long as I'm the 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."

Well, for more, joining me now, Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman and Republican strategist Charles Moran.

OK, thank you guys for coming back.

This hate-hate relationship between the president and the attorney general, it is just going from bad to worse and it now looks as if it could be a real problem for Donald Trump as far as the special counsel Robert Mueller is concerned.

He's looking at not just the public comments that Donald Trump has made about Jeff Sessions but according to "The Post," comments made in private as well.

In recent months, Mueller's team has questioned witnesses in detail about Trump's private comments and state of mind in late July and early August of last year. Around the time he issued a series of tweets belittling his beleaguered attorney general, these people said.

Now, Charles, essentially Mueller is trying to the president's motives for piling on to Jeff Sessions, whether that was obstruction of justice. So tell me, how else could you interpret these tweets, this public humiliation and shaming that the president has piled onto Jeff Sessions for almost a year now?

CHARLES MORAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the Department of Justice is one of the missing usually singularly focused-on departments in the federal government at this point. So many of these investigations are occurring underneath the DOJ with the FBI.

There has been constant conversation about the interpersonal relationships between the president and Jeff Sessions. At one point Jeff Sessions even reportedly had issued or given the president his letter of resignation. The president did not take it last year and during this time that special counsel Mueller is looking at.

So there is a situation here where, again, I think the president is expressing his frustration through his tweets and through his public comments about the speed to which these investigations are going and the meandering nature of it --


CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: -- Jeff Sessions won't shut down the Mueller investigation.


MORAN: -- the administration has said day after day that they are going to continue to work with the Mueller investigation and with all sort of angles and they have -- they have done that up to this point. VAUSE: I just wonder, Caroline, if -- what is stopping Trump right now from firing Sessions?

Is it the fact the political fallout, if does in fact fire Sessions and your all -- everything that comes with regards to the Russia investigation?

Or is it simply that he can't get another attorney general confirmed in the Senate?

HELDMAN: Well, I think it's both. Right. He is worried about the political fallout of firing Jeff Sessions because he is being investigated for trying to shut down an investigation, including looking into threats last summer, right, of his threat to fire Jeff Sessions.

So if he were to actually fire him, I think it would give more fuel to Mueller's investigation although frankly the man admitted to firing Comey for reasons having to do with the investigation on national television. So he's really just piling on himself with these self- inflicted wounds.

VAUSE: And Charles, according to Axios, sources say that Trump is fed up with Sessions. But this time, it's different; the rage is different. So if the president was in fact to go down that road, if he was going to fire Jeff Sessions --


VAUSE: -- then maybe he needs to take a closer look at this video, which we got on Wednesday. It's the attorney general; his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, the solicitor general, all seen walking together, heading out for dinner.

And then it does beg the question, if he fires Sessions and then Rosenstein becomes attorney general, does he fire Rosenstein?

And he just keeps going down the line and you have a decent style Saturday night massacre.

MORAN: Well, I don't think that we can make any conclusions about four men who all work in the same department together, who were charged with advancing all of these investigations to try to come to some sort of resolution about the major problems that plagued the 2016 election, Russian interference, the investigation in a way that there may or may not have been collusion.

I don't think that we can necessarily read into four men walking together. But at the same time I think that Jeff Sessions absolutely understands the frustration of the president but also is following his constitutional requirement here, to be the head, to be the attorney general and to conduct these investigations in the way and the format.

The president's tweets, first things out the gate were frustration with the -- with the speed and also with the prosecutorial abilities of the I.G. The president is a results oriented leader. He wants to see this turn into something and his frustration -- he is venting his frustration about the way that the A.G. is laying out and assigning these different things within his department.

VAUSE: OK, I want to bring in Steve Moore because Steve is a CNN contributor. He's also a retired FBI special agent.

So, Steve, explain the process here, if in fact there are allegations of employee misconduct, which is what this FISA investigation is all about.

It is all referred to the inspector general. This is how it's meant to happen. So explain to us the process.

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, if there is a discipline problem, if there is a malfeasance problem in the FBI of a normal or even slightly serious matter, the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility or OPR takes the investigation. If it is egregious, if it is serious, if it is felonious even in the in the accusation, OIG comes in and the FBI is loath to see OIG come into the building because they are kind of scorched Earth.

So the FBI is always concerned about OIG. Now if the OIG finds a felony has occurred, they are going to -- I mean, here in the Department of Justice, what -- they are going to refer that for prosecution.

Just because they themselves cant prosecute it doesn't -- I mean, imagine they found out in the course of an investigation that somebody been murdered.

Well, we can't touch it. They'll refer for investigation and prosecution.

VAUSE: So what we're actually talking about here, the actions of FBI agents and prosecutors and whether there was wrongdoing in obtaining a FISA warrant.

So just explain exactly, Steve, what we're talking about here, what is a FISA warrant and what may have gone wrong?

MOORE: A FISA warrant is basically an intelligence or a counterterrorism -- it is a classified warrant process, whereby you go before court on -- in Washington --


MOORE: -- it was always on a Thursday, if I remember correctly. You go before them but the requirements, the probable cause is very similar. You have to go before these judges and show the reasons that you believe that this warrant is appropriate.

Now when you do that, you are not saying that I can prove a case here but I've got probable cause to believe. The allegation that they used bad information in the FISA warrant is very serious.

But there are times when you use information in a warrant that you later find out is bad. That's not malfeasance.

VAUSE: OK, Steve, thank you.

Despite all this constant humiliation of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general is insisting he will not resign, at least not yet.

By the way, Steve, we want you to hang around for a little bit longer.

VAUSE: But we know that the communications director, Hope Hicks, she is leaving the White House in a couple of weeks.

Caroline, she made a number of missteps in recent weeks. She was helpful with Rob Porter, who she was having -- in a relationship with. Rob Porter, a senior White House aide, was forced to resign after allegations from his former two ex-wives of domestic abuse.

And then we heard on Tuesday there was that reporting in "The New York Times" that she told the House Intelligence Committee that sometimes she tells white lies for the president.

She had been questioned by Robert Mueller but we're being told that's got nothing to do with it.

HELDMAN: Of course it has something to do with it, right, obviously we saw all these reports coming out from the White House that the president was really upset, that she acknowledged that she told white lies for him.

Apparently she didn't tell -- she told one too few because it's pretty clear that he's pushed her out. The timing of this, whatever her excuse for leaving, doesn't hold water, it does not make sense.

Sure, she was planning it for a long time but leaving right now in the midst of everything, the day after she does nine hours of testimony before Congress, where she's admonished by the president for saying that she tells white lies for him, it is really clear that --


HELDMAN: -- she was pushed out, which is, I think, unfortunate for him because Hope Hicks -- this is his fifth communications director. He's had incredible turnover in his inner circle. And from inside sources, apparently she was someone who really offered him some emotional stability when he was having a crisis.

VAUSE: He often described he saw her as a daughter, not Tiffany (ph).

Steve, back to you, if Hicks has already been questioned by Robert Mueller, what would he be making of that statement that we heard on Tuesday from Hicks, that she tells white lies on behalf of the president?

MOORE: Well, there's no such thing. There's no definition in Black's Law Dictionary about white lies versus other lies. A lie is a lie and so Mueller is certainly going to want to know all about that. And I'm not sure whether Mueller's going to find anything, any fields

that are really fertile here and he may not. But it is certainly his responsibility to look at that, as it is the OIG's responsibility to look at FISA.

And one thing about the FISA system is because it's secret, the obligation to do things on the up and up is much -- is held to a much higher standard. So I think it's appropriate that OIG looks at it and I think it's appropriate that Mueller looks at this.

VAUSE: Charles, Caroline touched on this (INAUDIBLE) turnover at the White House. There has been a higher churn rate of staff leaving this White House over the past 12 months just three long-serving aides remain. And by long-serving, we mean about a year.

And if you look at that, you have to just wonder, how much longer will Jared Kushner actually be there?

He's been downgraded from his security clearance, all that kind of stuff. But with such a high turnover rate, higher than previous administration by a big margin, is that a sign of turmoil and crisis?

MORAN: Well, Hope Hicks had been talking about leaving the White House for several months now. It was reported by Maggie Halberman (sic) this morning in "The New York Times."

This is the time she chose to do it. Clearly, I think, you know, the stress levels -- and remember it's not just when Donald Trump was sworn into office; we're talking about the year-long --


MORAN: -- her and Ivanka's PR agent going in.

So it's been multiple years that she's been in this very high-profile --

VAUSE: The overall churn rate, though, is much higher than Obama; much higher than Bush, much higher than Reagan, much higher than Clinton --

MORAN: I think a part of this is the fact that so many of these people who have come in as part of President Trump's inner circle are not typical Washington, D.C., or political players.

HELDMAN: You can say that again. They don't have the experience --


MORAN: -- well, that type of attitude is why people voted for Donald Trump and throughout the Clinton --

HELDMAN: -- but that's why they're leaving because they are not doing their job --

(CROSSTALK) HELDMAN: -- professional muster.

MORAN: It is a different standard and it is a different --

HELDMAN: -- it's a much lower standard than we've ever seen in the White House.

MORAN: This is totally different than anything running the White House --

HELDMAN: This is amateur hour, Charles.

Can we acknowledge that?

HELDMAN: -- situation -- Donald Trump was elected president because he was totally different from the Washington Beltway insiders. And this is something where now there is going to be a continued shift. There are going to be people who are going to stay and there are people who are going to go. And Hope Hicks has been with the president for many years. It's totally understandable that with over five years of service to Mr. Trump, now President Trump, that she would be ready to take a step out.

VAUSE: OK. So with that in mind, here's Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal on Hope Hicks leaving the administration.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CONN.), MEMBER, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Hope Hicks stepping down is only one step in what needs to be a complete review of national security practices and protocols.

There is no way that Jared Kushner can continue doing his job. If she stepped down it should be only a short time before he does as well.


VAUSE: So, Caroline, how long before Kushner's packing his bags?

HELDMAN: Well, probably pretty soon because he can't do his job right so he's been assigned as a liaison to various countries. Now he can't see the information, top security information coming from those countries.

It's also been revealed later or earlier this afternoon that nearly half a billion dollars in loans came in from companies that had meetings with him in the White House. So there's not only the appearance of direct corruption from Kushner, he can't do his job without top security clearance.

VAUSE: Yes. And with that in mind, we have a former Obama Middle East peace negotiator who was talking about Kushner's downgraded security clearance and what it actually means. This is what he says.

"I would have had to quit. You can't even go into meetings in the Sit Room with a secret clearance. They literally give that to anyone without a criminal record on day one. He is basically flying blind in a snowstorm."

Steve, can you talk to us about the various levels of security clearance and where Kushner now fits into all of that?

MOORE: Well, the secret clearance, as this person said, is -- he's correct. This is a national agency check. This just make sure you're not a felon. And they'll give you access to your run-of-the-mill secret information.

But when --


MOORE: -- you get into information that we have on what other governments are thinking, what other governments are doing and their policies that they haven't let out to the public, it gives away our sources.

So it's top secret and you can't even go in the room where top secret is going to be discussed. It is not like you can come in and go out when the bad thing's going to be said.

So it's tough. And another thing -- and this is just Steve Moore's opinion -- but in politics, I have seen these clearances been given after we've done a background investigation and said this guy couldn't or gal couldn't be an FBI agent.

But now we're supposed to give then top secret?

But because it's political. I remember somebody saying the public didn't elect you. You don't get to choose whether they can do their job. For somebody to have had an interim clearance removed is, I think, extraordinary.

VAUSE: Yes. OK, well, we'll finish here with the guns and there was an incredible moment at the White House with the president and this bipartisan group of lawmakers.


TRUMP: It doesn't make sense to have to wait. I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don't know.

So I was just curious as to what you did in your bill.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We didn't -- we didn't address, it, Mr. President. But I think we --


TRUMP: You know why?

Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?


VAUSE: Caroline, that was a moment that I think few people ever really expected to see.

Do you give the president some credit?

HELDMAN: Absolutely if he follows through on his word. He's proposing outlawing bump stocks with an executive order and then going through Congress, to have the national registry and doing all of these things that Democrats and common sense gun advocates have been advocating for decades.

So you see in that, later in the clip, Dianne Feinstein is giddy about this, right downright giddy. The question is whether or not he will actually follow through on this and it's surprising that he's going after the NRA, given the fact that his campaign got about $30 million from the NRA.

VAUSE: I think it was $33 million.

Charles, (INAUDIBLE) your reaction but this is the statement from the NRA as expected they're not pleased.

"Today's meeting made for great TV. The gun control proposals discussed would make for bad policy. That would not keep our children safe. Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic, our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies."

VAUSE: Do you actually see this head-on collision between the president and the NRA at this point?

MORAN: No, I don't. And --


MORAN: -- the end of that flippant comment that President Trump made to Senator Toomey, the bill that Senator Toomey and Senator Manchin are proposing actually call for a total reform and overhaul of the NICS system, which is the federal background system that is really going to enforce cooperation between federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that that no-buy list is actually intact and it's something that is easily accessible to gun shop owners, to people who sell guns off the record.

So it's a real reform of that area. That's what the Manchin-Toomey bill is really pushing for. That's what the president agreed upon and you saw in the extended part of that conversation, the president is really trying to forge alliances here to come up with some sort of -- to make a deal.

VAUSE: But calling our lawmakers, saying you are afraid of the NRA, was a pretty big deal.

MORAN: I think that that was a flippant comment. I think that it is being tossed around so much, almost jokingly, because I just, again, the NRA only represents a fraction of the actual gun owners in this country.

And we're seeing in a lot of cases that even private businesses are starting to step up and take responsibility, where it's not a for changing their own sales practices. So it's not necessarily being --


HELDMAN: Because of a massive consumer boycott, Charles --


MORAN: Looking at Dick's Sporting Goods, half of the things they pledge not to do are things they don't already do.


VAUSE: -- do have more on that later this hour. But thank you for the promo.

Charles and Caroline, also Steve Moore, thank you all so much for being with us.

Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., warplanes and explosions, this is what a cease-fire looks like in Syria.

Plus the bunga bunga parties, well, they may be a thing of the past but Silvio Berlusconi, well, he could be the future. He's everywhere in Italy's elections.





VAUSE: Right now there is supposed to be a U.N. mandated cease-fire in place in Syria but it is not working. Even with the Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering a five-hour a day humanitarian pause, the bombing and the shelling of rebel-held areas continues.

We get more now from senior international correspondent Sam Kiley.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's been another round of tit-for-tat artillery exchanges, mortar exchanges and continued bombing of Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian air force if not the Russian air force on day three of what was supposed to be a United Nations Security Council cease-fire for 30 days.

The Russians have, in part, tried to honor this, at least appear to be honoring it, with the gesture of a five-hour cessation or what they're calling a pause in hostilities, between 9 o'clock in the morning and 1400 hours. That's 2 o'clock in the afternoon local time. On none of the occasions -- and they have been three days now when

that humanitarian pause was supposed to come in -- has there been an observation of that. Not by the Syrians and the Syrians would say -- the Syrian government would say not by the rebels inside Eastern Ghouta.

Mutual blame for the closing of what the Russians are claiming is a humanitarian corridor intended to evacuate badly hurt civilians in the first instance, and that perhaps could provide a route out for other civilians in this area that is home to some 400,000 people who have been besieged and bombarded now for many years.

Very, very few people in that enclave would want to go into safety in -- if it was in a government-held area because they fear arrest or they fear being forced into being recruited into the Syrian government army.

And there is no route for them out into rebel-held areas. Most experts looking at this see it very much as part of a Russian and Syrian campaign, the sort of campaign we saw in Eastern Aleppo to grind down the rebel capacity to defend themselves, to hold this ground until the point at which they either negotiate a surrender or they try to evacuate completely.

That's what we're seeing in Eastern Aleppo and that is likely what we're seeing in Eastern Ghouta -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Istanbul.


VAUSE: Afghanistan wants to end the war it's been fighting for nearly 17 years. So this sudden and generous offer. The government is willing to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political party.

Who came at an international conference in Kabul. The Afghan president says there are no preconditions like a renunciation of violence. Instead he says a cease-fire with the Islamic militant group will start a new chapter.


ASHRAF GHANI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN (through translator): We are making this offer without any preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement.

We're calling on Taliban and their leadership. Today the decision is in your hands. Accept peace, a dignified peace. Come together to safeguard this country, which has been the result of our sacrifices and struggle.


VAUSE: The Taliban are yet to respond. Last month, the White House said it's not ready to meet with the Taliban because of ongoing violence and recent intelligence, which shows the militants are increasing the territory under their control.

For Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, best known for bunga bunga sex scandals and corruption allegations --


VAUSE: -- is back in the political spotlight as Italians go to the polls on Sunday. He can't actually run, at least for now. But as Ben Wedeman reports, love Berlusconi or hate him, he might just be laying the groundwork for a comeback.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rested, tanned and ready to get back in the fray, thrice prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is back. An octogenarian with an advancing hairline, a weakness for beautiful women and a checkered political past.

WEDEMAN: At 81, Silvio Berlusconi, you might think, would be ready to withdraw from public life but even though he's barred by law, because of a previous tax conviction, from running for office, he's very much part of this election.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): He is still the undisputed leader of his party, the center-right Forza Italia, which has formed a campaign coalition with the rabidly anti-migrant Lega or the League and the neofascist Fratelli d'Italia, the Brothers of Italy.

It now represents the largest political bloc in the general election due to take place on March 4th.

ALAN FRIEDMAN (PH), BIOGRAPHER: Berlusconi will make a deal with the devil as long as he gets to make -- stage his comeback, look on the economy out --

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Berlusconi's American biographer, Alan Friedman (ph), recalls an Italian leader pursued by scandal.

FRIEDMAN (PH): During all his years in government, Silvio Berlusconi was always distracted by 65 lawsuits and trials against him, criminal trials, accusations of corruption, accusations of money laundering, accusations of tax fraud. And so he spent more time worrying about his own future than about the future of his country.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Yet he commands a loyal base with an approval rating of almost 25 percent. In Italy's fractured political landscape, that's considered high.

"He's an entrepreneur," says Hossam (ph), an Italian citizen originally from Lebanon.

"He wants to cut taxes for businesses. I'd vote for him."

One-fourth of Italians may support him; the other three-fourths despise him.

"Berlusconi's really a thief," says Laura, studying to become an aerospace engineer. "He says one thing and does the opposite."

The ban on Berlusconi holding public office expires next year, which means if his coalition wins in next Sunday's vote, he could be Italy's once and future prime minister -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


VAUSE: Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., some very big retailers in the U.S. are making it harder to buy guns and some major companies are severing ties with the NRA. Details in a moment.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

A U.N. mandated ceasefire is heading now back in Syria. Fighting in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta has not let up despite the U.N.'s resolution as well as the Russian president's call for a daily five-hour humanitarian calls. The U.N. says trucks are loaded with relief supplies ready to get into the area but right now it is just too dangerous.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is in another confrontation with the European Union over planning to pull U.K. out of the E.U. The European Union wants to keep Northern Ireland in a trade union but Mrs. May says that would undermine the U.K.'s own trade arrangements.

In an hour long meeting with lawmakers, Donald Trump expressed support for a number of gun reforms which are opposed by the National Rifle Association (INAUDIBLE) party. He urge them not to fear the powerful (INAUDIBLE) NRA will call (INAUDIBLE) struggle background checks and raising the age limits to buy rifles.

Well Congress and the White House continue to struggle on -- to agree on what to do about gun violence. Said there's a whole lot of confusion right now in parts of corporate America. One of the largest retailers in the world, Wal-Mart is not waiting to see what the federal government will do. On Wednesday, the company issued this statement, "We are raising the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age. We are also removing items from our website resembling assault-style rifles."

Goes on to say, "Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsman and hunters and we will continue to do so in a responsible way." It's not just Wal-Mart, Dick's Sporting Goods, another huge retailer is also taking action, no longer selling semi-automatic rifles, period. CNN's Alison Kosik has details.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a prime example of how corporate America is stepping in to make change happen in the gun debate where Congress isn't taking any action. I'm talking specifically about Dick Sporting Goods, one of the biggest sporting retailer in the U.S.

In fact, it's also a prominent national gun seller as well and making some significant moves telling Parkland students, "We have heard you, the nation has heard you and it's time to do something about it." Well Dick's says it is doing something about it, it says immediately it will not be selling assault-style rifles at any of its stores. It will no longer sell high capacity magazines, those make it easier for the shooter to fire round after round after round without having to reload.

And Dick's says it won't sell any gun to anyone under the age of 21 regardless of the law. These are huge moves being made by Dick's Sporting Goods, why? Ed Stack, the CEO of Dick's spoke to CNN's Chris Cuomo earlier.


EDWARD STACK, CEO, DICK'S SPORTING GOODS: We are so disturbed and saddened by what happened in Parkland that we said, "We need to do something." And we talked about what we needed to do and we felt that we needed to make a statement that we will no longer sell assault-type rifles, high capacity magazines, and a few other things.

And what -- our hearts went out to those kids and to their parents and everybody talks about thoughts and prayers going out to them and that's great. That doesn't really do anything and we felt that we need to take a stand and do this.

KOSIK: After the shooting, CEO of Dick's, Ed Stack said that they went through their purchase records to see if Nikolas Cruz, the shooter in the Stoneman Douglas massacre, if the shooter had purchased any weapons from Dick's and they found out that he had.

He had legally purchased a shotgun in November. Now, it was not the gun used in the massacre and it wasn't like the gun used in the massacre but Ed Stack made it clear that he doesn't want to be part of the story. Alison Kosik, CNN Paramus, New Jersey.

VAUSE: OK, more on this now. Eric Schiffer is with us. He is Chairman of Reputation Management Consultant, also a Chairman and CEO of the Patriarch Group. And Eric, you've sort of looked into this a little bit. So you have a bit of understanding of exactly what's going on here.

But let's just start with Edward Stack, the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods. If you listen to what he said in that report and what he's also said during the day, this may be naive but the decision that he's made to currently end sales of assault-style rifles, it seems to be based personally on principle rather than profit or business decision, right?

ERIC SCHIFFER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, THE PATRIARCH GROUP: Well, I think he's positioning it that way. And I think that many brands are doing that and It's interesting because look, a brand is defined by its choices. And at the core, a brand is really about trust. So, what can a consumer expect? What does it really stand for? [01:35:18]

And so when CEOs and when companies make these principle decisions, it resonates and they will pick up a lot of customers because of it. And look, it's a popular issue right now. Anything that is going to prevent these types of instances like what happened in Florida, extremely popular. So he's playing with the odds doing this. And look, this happened five years ago, John.


SCHIFFER: They had rejected these type of assault-style weapons before but then they opened this field and stream and they were selling it again.

VAUSE: That was on the Sandy Cook and then --

SCHIFFER : Correct.

VAUSE: And I know it lasted a couple of months before field and stream took off.

SCHIFFER: Right. Right.

VAUSE: You know, Wal-Mart's decision is an interesting one because it's the old saying, "Progressive or liberals shop at Costco, Conservatives shop at Wal-Mart." So this would seem to be almost not necessarily in Wal-Mart's best interest if you make equation that conservatives are the ones who most likely (INAUDIBLE)

SCHIFFER: Sure. And I think it's a good point. And I think what they're also looking at doing is trying to balance, come with some kind of a balance. There are many people that shop there that are not conservative but it's a riskier move for them, much riskier than the fact that the NRA is largely conservative and there will be many conservatives that will look at that that love the NRIA and will push back.

They're not going to be kind toward Wal-Mart, but they're making of that too and you know what they're making, is that people are going to forget about this. And that' the sad thing is that this is typically what occurs, is that two, three weeks go by and the media moves on, they move on to other stories and it's not in the consciousness. And so these moves are forgotten about.

VAUSE: What is interesting though, in the past two weeks, that one -- more than a dozen companies have severed their relationship or marketing deals they had with the NRA. The problem for many of these companies and there they are up on the screen, Public Treasure which they, I guess, in some ways have given into by severing the arrangement with NRA but it's a two-way street. NRA supporters are now calling for a boycott of these companies. So, when does this end?

SCHIFFER: Well, I don't think it ends. I think we are now in an age where as a CEO, as a company, you almost have to have a political advisor with you because everything can be addressed from partisan angles and every move you make or the moves you don't make are also going to potentially puts you in harm's way.

And so, it is a far different landscape and brands that are authentic that really know who they are, they're going to do fine because they know their customer and if you know your customer, you're going to be able to make moves that are consistent with what your customer likes and also what you stand for. And you don't have a word, it's the brands that are so profit-driven that really don't understand that the customer or don't have principles and they're the ones that are going to struggle in these environments.

VAUSE: I don't know if you ever listen to (INAUDIBLE) or if you ever catch "Fox News" or some of these conservative outlets, a lot of them have sort of latched on to this one survey which has come out from -- was one group which basically says that there has been this huge public backlash against these companies which have severed their relationship with the NRA.

We don't know if this survey is critical, it's called the Morning Consultant Group or something like that. But there does seem to be this real desire from the conservative groups, from the right wing media outlets to convince this country that there is no public pressure, that in fact, these companies have been suckered if you like by liberals and by the mainstream media. Why is that narrative so important?

SCHIFFER: Well, I think that look, there is a desire behind people that want to support the NRA to stand up for the NRA and I think what you're seeing are different perspectives where there are stats that you could argue many different ways, OK?

The reality is, what does it really end up meaning to the business from a profit standpoint. There's no mystery about this. I mean, these are public companies, many of them, they have the history of this.

VAUSE: Right. So the loopholes will come in when we see their profit of all statement.

SCHIFFER: That's where you tell how you tell how this is affected and ultimately every -- the polls don't really matter. What are the -- what does it mean to the bottom line? And the truth is in a lot of cases, it doesn't really matter because people forget.

And hopefully in this situation, they're not going to -- hopefully this will be a case where policy gets affected in a way that protects children. I don't want to see it happen anymore.

VAUSE: Sure, absolutely. But look, this has taken a whole new life for it and one of the sort of biggest headlines has been around Delta which ended special fare deals for NRA members, that resulted in a threat from the Georgia State government where Delta is based that they would end this fuel subsidy, it was a $40 million tax break for Georgia.

We heard on Wednesday evening from Georgia's governor, he basically says that there has now been -- all of these offers from other states, New York and Virginia for Delta to relocate.


He says this argument between the state legislature and the Delta Airlines, it's all Delta's fault, here's what he said.


GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: We didn't start this. Delta made a statement or an action that cause this dispute to erupt. I've tried my best to resolve it within the timeframe we had available to us, I am still hopeful that some of those feelings and positions can be rectified.


VAUSE: You know, if you take a look at this logical conclusion, this country could end up with a fact that you will have pro gun businesses based in conservative states like Georgia and anti-gun businesses based in states, liberal say to a democrat states like New York and Virginia.

SCHIFFER: Well, I think that we will see that occur in certain situations, no question. And you're going to see it occur in pockets of the United States based on just buying patterns and how people may move around and the fact that people are scattered.

But I think what -- when you boil all this down, what really matters is what does the brand really stand for at the end of the day. And in Delta's case, they made a bet that is consistent with their values, that they were going to try to do something about -- and make a stand and frankly, yes, they're going to get hit short-term but I think actually will benefit Delta in a bigger picture.

Other brands are going to get hammered like Delta has by the conservatives and we'll have to see. We're going to really see. We'll see in the next quarter or two what really happens and in most cases, they don't get hit as bad as you would think.

VAUSE: Right. Yes, you're right. And then people forget and all moves on. This time though, it does feel like if nothing else is going to last a little longer.

SCHIFFER: Well we hope so for our kid's sake. We really do.

VAUSE: Eric, thanks so much for coming. Good to see you.

SCHIFFER: Good to see you John.

VAUSE: Thank you. Well they're calling the winter storm battering Britain the Beast from the East, the brutal weather has come in Britain in so much snow. It has shutdown hundreds of schools, its disrupted travel, couldn't get that out. Forecasters expect more snow in the coming hours as some at zero temperatures are also chilling much of Europe.

Let's go now to Derek Van Dam. Do we say the big chill across Europe?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN INTERNATIONAL WEATHER ANCHOR: Well interestingly John, The Beast from THe East actually referenced the cold air brought in from Siberia, north of Europe and that has allowed for the big chill as you mentioned that has impacted places as far south as the south of France for instance.

We've seen some snowfall pictures from Rome into Nice and now coming out of London, you can also see this is Abbey Road, just northwestern London and some of the snow on the ground there. All part of the beast of the east and a one, two punch because the system is not yet done. It's actually going to combine with another storm and named by Trump, Storm Emma from the U.K. Met Service, that's going to provide the potential for heavier snowfall.

Look at the radar, just lighting up across this region, kind of a banding nature in this snowfall across northern sections of the U.K. In fact, the first time ever from the U.K. Met Office issuing an amber or red alert for Scotland for high impacts from snowfall but also look at northern -- or southern island I should say. This particular region I'm focusing in on because we're anticipating heavy amounts of snow in excess of 30, 40, even 50 centimeters over the next two to three days.

This is all thanks to what is Storm Emma that is developing across the Iberian Peninsula. So here is The Beast from The East, the cold air coming in from Siberia, that is going to help produce some of that precipitation from the North Sea as it creates that warm air over relatively cold lake water. Just look at the general flow of the wind. But what I don't like to see with that particular map is that wind gust will exceed 70, 80, 90 kilometers per hour.

That means the potential for blizzard conditions exists and with temperatures here nearing -12 degrees for let's say Berlin, -4 in London, certainly cold enough for the snowfall to continue and the potential for major disruptions to travel exist today and trough the early parts of the weekend especially for Ireland and into Scotland, and portions of Wales as well. So storm that we will monitor for the weekend to come, John.

VAUSE: Derek, thank you very much. We appreciate the update.

VAN DAM: All right.

VAUSE: Next here on NEWSROOM LA, despite allegations of sexual harassment, Ryan Seacrest will still be on the Oscars red carpet. We'll tell you why the "E Network" says he is still their guy hosting their show.



VAUSE: Well TV personality and producer, Ryan Seacrest will still host the "E Network's" Oscars show on Sunday despite the sexual harassment allegations from his former stylist. The news surfaced in November when Seacrest released a statement about the investigation.

In an interview with "Variety" this week, the stylist said Seacrest groped her. He denies that. This month, the "E Network" dropped the investigation because of insufficient evidence. Let's go now Scott Nevins he's a TV Host and Pop Culture Expert. Scott, thank you for coming in. Welcome. First time here with us in NEWSROOM LA.


VAUSE: This is a big night. OK. Well the allegations of sexual misconduct, they ramped up on Wednesday. "NBC's Today Show" reported a former coworker of Suzie Hardy, the stylist backed up her claim of inappropriate behavior.

They didn't actually named him, they only spoke to by phone but this is what he said, "She would go to tie his shoe and Ryan would shove her head toward her crutch. I saw that more than once." He also went to talk about -- and this is before the Oscars in 2008 in a hotel room, Seacrest having her in a bear hug, she was yelling "Get off me, leave me alone." That -- there was more details but we'll leave that alone.

OK. So the lawyers from Seacrest have responded to "Variety" saying this, "The alleged witness who spoke with "The Today Show" participated in the third party -- in the investigation. He was interviewed and his claims were fully evaluated as were the claims of everyone else involved in this matter." And his conclusion, the investigation cleared Ryan's name.

OK. So that's the legal stuff out of the way. Other celebrities have been in a similar situation as Ryan Seacrest, they've even been stood out or made to sit down, or they're gone off quietly on their own. Seacrest is a big name for "E!" he does a lot of work behind the scenes from them in his production company, so is he being treated differently?

NEVINS: Absolutely. I mean, Ryan Seacrest is a titan in the community especially amongst hosts. Like I do a lot of red carpet work and every day I hear, maybe you could be the next Ryan Seacrest. And --

VAUSE: One day.

NEVINS: Yes. Well I just -- I got to frost the tips on my hair. But I -- to me, it's interesting because I think "E!" did the right thing initially, right? They did an internal investigation to look into this because I come from the school of, you always believe the victims.

BARTIROMO: And so, this was an investigation by third party, by a lawyer who had 20 years' experience, who was completely separate to the company.

NEVINS: Yes. Yes. And I think that because the woman was also fired when she came out with these allegations by "E!" and that happens so often. And that's part of the problem is that we aren't listening to these women.

And when it's somebody who's in power, right, because all of this is about power. Ryan Seacrest has power and this woman did not. And so she tried to tell her story and maybe "E!" was just -- "E!" was just going through the motions and doing this investigation, maybe they took it very seriously, I can't make that claim. But what I think is, Ryan's with "E!," "ABC," "Radio Show" "Macy's" --

VAUSE: He's everywhere.

NEVINS: He's everywhere, we can't get rid of him. And good for him but I think if something -- if there's smoke, there's fire, right? I've always said that and this woman has come out, she's now given her name publicly which nowadays is so dangerous.

VAUSE: OK. So this is shaping out to be a very awkward preshow Academy Awards because agents reportedly telling that their clients actually avoid Ryan Seacrest, don't be seen with him. Go to his co- host or avoid them all together.


Even though the guy has been cleared, there's no criminal charges, there's no criminal case, there's no civil case, the guy is still toxic in a PR sense.

NEVINS: Absolutely. Listen, red carpet hosting is all about your connections not just on camera but who you know off camera and Ryan knows everybody and "E!" knows that. And I think "E!" and the whole team there sat down an thought, "Could we lose Ryan and still do the show?"

And they took a gamble. They say, "We're going to stand by him because of this investigation." And unfortunately, I think they could have said, "Listen, we have a whole stable of talent. Ryan, why don't you sit this year out?" This is the year of #MeToo, the MeToo Movement.

VAUSE: Yes. That's the problem, isn't it?

NEVINS: And here you have a guy who's been accused now interviewing women who are the figure heads of the #MeToo Movement, it's very ironic.

VAUSE: You mentioned Seacrest is a big name with "ABC" he is fronting the revamped "American Idol" which premieres in what, just over a week. He also co-host the morning talk show "Live" with Kelly Ripa and Seacrest.

There was this very awkward moment on the show on Wednesday morning between Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, have a look.


KELLY RIPA, MORNING TALK SHOW HOST: Sweetie, do you want me to bring your shoes back on for you? RYAN SEACREST, MORNING TALK SHOW HOST: Let's do it in the break. You don't mind, do you? No, we can -- no, I just -- I just --

RIPA: I'm a mom, I can do that.

SEACREST: No, but --

RIPA: No, no. It's OK.

SEACREST: Listen, somehow I have shoes that are too small and so, here's what has to happen.

RIPA: OK. You need a shoe horn?

SEACREST: You need any shoe horn? No, that's not good for the back.

RIPA: Don't you have a shoe horn?


VAUSE: OK, it was all very odd. But it's very hard to believe that Kelly Ripa was not making a reference to the allegations which is former stylist has made.

NEVINS: Kelly Ripa is a very smart woman. And she's also very funny and she knew exactly what she was doing and I think Ryan was trying to deflect from the joke and said, "Oh, I got to fix my" -- made a big thing out of it. But I think she's a sassy girl, she knows what she's doing.

VAUSE: Just seems like this sort of thing may just dog him for a long time to come?

NEVINS: Sure. But also like, I think there's a moment to talk about, "Kelly Ripa, why are you making jokes about this?"


NEVINS: I think there's a moment there too where women are saying, "Wait a second, Kelly."

VAUSE: Yes, I couldn't make up whether it was a (INAUDIBLE) or whether it was a joke or whether it was like -- it was --

NEVINS: It was perfectly ambiguity.

VAUSE: Yes. OK. Scott, thank so much, good to see you.

NEVINS: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: OK. And we'll be back with more news in just a moment.


VAUSE: Well, the movie "Get Out" is nominated for four Academy Awards this weekend, it's a horror film, it was a 2017 breakthrough in a very unlikely one bringing $250 million globally. It also received a lot of praise for thought-provoking take on race in America. CNN's Stephanie Elam shows us how the film beat the odds to become an Oscar dark horse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see another brother around here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. OF course, it is.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A thriller that caused only $4.5 million to make.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you feel now?


ELAM: "Get Out" has grossed more than $250 million worldwide and is now a best picture contender at the Academy Awards.

REBECCA SUN, SENIOR REPORTER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: People are still mostly going to put their money on either "Three Billboards" and "The Shape of Water" which comes in with the most nominations. However, second to those two movies, I would say "Get Out" is right there.

ELAM: Oscar front runners normally consist of period dramas like "The Darkest Hour" and "Dunkirk" or big name projects like Stephen Spielberg's "The Post."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the goods, we don't have any competition.

ELAM: "Get Out" might be this award season's most unlikely success story. No one is more surprised than the film's nominated star, Daniel Kaluuya.

DANIEL KALUUYA, ACTOR: I thought it would be coat, I thought (INAUDIBLE) and it do what it needs to do but for it to transcend and do (INAUDIBLE) fact that I'm here talking to you is (INAUDIBLE)


ELAM: Without a big star attached, the contemporary film from Jordan Peele, a first time director known more for his comedy, "Get Out" had an uphill battle awards attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how long has this been going on, this thing? How long?

ELAM: But "Get Out" went on to score a rare 99 percent approval rating on the movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes.

SUN: It got a lot of people who are not horror fans at all like myself into the movie theater to see what this thing is that has really tapped into the real world (INAUDIBLE) ELAM: The horror genre is often ignored by major award shows. In fact, the last scary film to nab a best picture trophy was "The Silence of the Lambs" in 1992.

JORDAN PEELE, DIRECTOR: Besides wanting to make a horror film that brought something new to the genre, I wanted to call out racism in America. It's a true horror and it deserves -- it's turning the genre.

ELMA: The question is, will that be enough for "Get Out" to pull off another thriller and take the best picture win at the Academy Awards. Stephanie Elam, CNN Hollywood.

VAUSE: Please join Isha and me for a special coverage of the Academy Awards. We'll have the winners, the losers, the scandals, the controversy, the (INAUDIBLE), the gown, every bit from tip to toe from Hollywood's biggest night, it's right after the Oscar's telecast 1:00p.m. Monday in Hong Kong, 5:00a.m. Monday in London right here on CNN, hope to see you.

OK. A member of Donald Trump's cabinet, Housing Secretary Ben Carson is under fire for that $31,000 mahogany dining set which is intended for his department office. So what does that may get you? Well, according to the company which sold the furniture, the break front of it from the James River collection, it comes in at more than $7,000, that's just the table. Ten chairs all cost around $1,000 each, all ordered in blue velvet, not what you see here.

But then, don't forget there is the side board, table top, and (INAUDIBLE) which comes in at $13,000. Shipping and handling, tax, tip, all that, total $31,651. The Housing Department says the old furniture was just in a state of disrepair. In his part, Secretary Carson says there's been no dishonesty or wrongdoing and a full disclosure is forthcoming. We will watch for that.

And you've been watching NEWSROOM LA, I'm John Vause. Back with more news after a short break.


VAUSE: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, chaos at the White --