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Man Shoots Himself in Front of White House; Relentless Chaos Grips White House; College Student Kills Parents, Sparks Manhunt; Bomb Cyclone Hits Northeast; Porn Star Threatened to Cancel Non-Disclosure Agreement on Alleged Trump Affair; Delta Stands by NRA Decision Amid Georgia Payback. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired March 3, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:07] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hello again. And welcome everyone this saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We have breaking news outside of the White House. Just in the past hour, the White House has been on lockdown after reports of shots fired near the North Lawn. People on the White House grounds are sheltering in place. The U.S. Secret Service says a man shot himself on the north fence line.
CNN's producer, Liz Landers, is on the phone.
Liz, what more can you tell us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Ryan.
WHITFIELD: Liz, are you with us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear me?
WHITFIELD: OK. We're going to have to try and re-establish our connection.
Meantime, CNN's Boris Sanchez is with us. He's traveling with the president, as we look at live pictures outside of the White House, in addition to some taped images as well.
Boris, what are you learning about the circumstances of this shooting, how it's being responded to, the president's response has been after being told?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. Yes, this all unfolded about an hour ago. Apparently, a man walked up to the gate of the North Lawn of the White House just across from Lafayette Park, a very secured police presence there, and apparently, took a gun to himself and shot himself outside of the White House.
The response from the Secret Service and from D.C. police was, as you might imagine, immediate. There were a parentally no shots fired by the Secret Service. That person has been treated or transported, I should say, from there. We don't have an update on that person's status yet. We asked the White House if the president was aware of this. They told us that he had been briefed but they would not go further. They referred all of our questions back to the Secret Service.
We should note that President Trump was not at the White House. He was, obviously, here spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago. None of the main principal, the first lady, the Vice President Pence, and further, were at the White House, so there was no immediate danger to them.
The president has been tweeting in the past few minutes. He sent out two tweets on Europe and trade. One tweet about the media. No mention yet of the incident outside the White House. We're going to keep monitoring this and bring you updates as we get it -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: As far as you know, the president is still planning to make his way back to Washington for the gridiron dinner this evening where the president has met with humor, with top journalists out of the Washington, D.C., area?
SANCHEZ: That's right. As you noted, Fred, the president making an unusual short trip here to Mar-a-Lago, only spending the night yesterday. He came here for a fundraiser last night. Right now, he's actually getting set for a victory reception to talk to some of his supporters and fellow Republican lawmakers. And then he is scheduled to go back to Washington, D.C., to take part in that roast-type dinner.
No indication from the White House so far that the incident that took place on the North Lawn may affect the president's travel -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: OK. Thank you so much, Boris, there, traveling with the president.
Meantime, let's go to the nation's capital, right outside the White House there. Our Ryan Nobles is there.
Ryan, describe the scene. What are you learning?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. As you can see, a pretty heavy law enforcement presence where I'm standing right now. This is the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th, just outside the White House North Lawn. So right behind this gate here is where this incident took place. You can see this whole area on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is normally open to pedestrian traffic, has been completely shut down. As is this section of 17th Street. They've shut off this section to traffic. They're not allowing any cars to go up and down. This normally pretty busy stretch here in Washington, D.C. And from what we're being told, this incident took place right there
along the fence line on the North Lawn, which is probably a couple of hundred yards away from the front door of the White House. Obviously, not very close to the White House. This person would have no way to gain access to the White House grounds. But according to the Secret Service, a single person died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No other people were injured as a result of this incident.
At the time, as I think you probably already mentioned, there were no, as they call them, protectees in the White House. These are members of the first family that the Secret Service is responsible for taking care of and protecting. Of course, the president and the first lady in Florida right now. So none of those people under the charge of Secret Service were in the White House at the time.
Regardless, Fred, not very far from the White House front gates at all. To have someone with a gun and then discharge that weapon is something that immediately springs law enforcement into action. There were all kinds of activity here in this section of Washington. The streets were shut down right away. The White House went into lockdown. As it stands right now, the White House remains in lockdown. Journalists, people that work at the White House, cannot come in or out of the grounds as this incident continues to be investigated.
[13:05:21] In terms of injuries, the only injury that took place was the person who took his or her own life. We don't know the identity of that person right now. We don't know exactly the manner or fashion it took place other than a gunshot was involved. No one else was injured. None of the Secret Service agents that responded to the scene were injured. Nonetheless, this investigation is continuing. That's why all this area is shut down.
You know, Fred, obviously, metropolitan police here in Washington respond to gunshot victims on a pretty regular basis. The reason you see such a heightened response is because of its proximity to the White House. They don't mess around with that. They are going to take every possible precaution.
The other thing I point out, too, this particular area, without any doubt, is under heightened security, but you can imagine that there are now security increases across the entire perimeter of the White House, the entire campus. You know, they want to make sure that this is not a distraction of any kind and prevent any other future attacks from happening. While they feel pretty confident that it was -- this incident was isolated unto itself, the Secret Service just did a bit of heightened awareness because of what took place in Washington -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: That's the area that traditionally experiences the most foot traffic of tourists, of people who feel like this is the closest they could get, you know, to the White House. It's a busy spot.
All right, Ryan Nobles, we'll check back with you. Thank you so much.
Let's get straight to our CNN law enforcement analysts, Tom Fuentes, and Jonathan Wackrow.
Jonathan, to you first.
There's the response to the actual shooting and then, of course, they're taking all the other precautions in the perimeter just in case.
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: To Ryan's point, that was made a moment ago, the Secret Service has to maintain a security posture that's 360 degrees around the White House complex in all directions, regardless of the incident. So while they do have to address the immediate threat, they also have to be mindful of, you know, is there a secondary attack. First of all, is this an attack? If it is, is there a secondary attack? Is this a diversionary tactic? Again, 360-degrees of coverage needs to be made at all times. While at the exact same time, initiating the emergency preparedness response program that the White House complex has, which is a very well- coordinated series of action steps that are taken to, one, respond to the direct threat and then, two, protect the property and people of the White House complex.
WHITFIELD: And then, Tom, the president was not at the White House, is not at the White House right now. Does the protocol change at all when the president is not on the premises in terms of how that building, the property, is secured?
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the only thing that would change, Fred, is to get the president to, you know, say, safer in an interior region below ground. And if he's up in the residence two or three stories above ground, get him down and the family down to a more secure location. So I think, from that standpoint, you know, the protocols would change if he and the first family are actually in the building to get them to a safer part of the building.
WHITFIELD: And, Jonathan, we're told this shooting happened along the north fence line. Not inside the property on the lawn, but outside. Close by, a few dozen feet. But then, you know, what kind of vantage does Secret Service have? Is that an area they would be looking at, keeping a close watch on, under ordinary circumstances anyway?
WACKROW: Yes, so even though it was outside of the north fence line of the White House, it's still considered part of the White House complex. Remember, the Secret Service still maintains security posts that are beyond Pennsylvania Avenue. Stretching all the way up to H Street. You know, again, this is about concentric rings of protection. Once you get out of the 18 acres of the White House, the fenced-in area, there are multiple jurisdictions. It's United States Park Police, the metro police and the United States Secret Service, really the three lead entities that are working if close coordination. As you see the images, you see all of those law enforcement agencies represented. They work in a very coordinated, you know, response to any type of incident that happens outside of the White House gate. Now, again, broadly, you think of everything from the gate all the way up to H Street, including the Blair House, the Treasury, and et cetera, are all considered part of the White House complex. [13:10:22] WHITFIELD: And then, Tom, this coordination between, you
know, park police, metro police and Secret Service, I mean, that -- that is a cooperation that happens all of the time. This would not be difficult or unusual to work together under circumstances like this, correct?
FUENTES: Correct. They drill through this all the time, working together on what might happen, how to prevent it, how to react to an event if it does happen.
And I would add if there's an attack on the president, the first family, a member of Congress, even the Secret Service police guarding the perimeter of that building, if there's an attack on them, then the FBI is responsible for investigating that attack. So in this case, if it's a lone individual committing suicide, it may or may not, you know, the FBI would assist as far as searching databases and trying to determine who knows this person.
I think one of the first things that's going to occur in an event like this, besides the immediate lockdown, is going to be trying to identify who was this person. Is the person known to the police, to the FBI, to the Secret Service? Has that person tried to get through the gate before? And then try to identify friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, anybody else who may know this person and try and determine is it only one person mentally disturbed with a gun causing a self-inflicted wound that's going to be broadcast all over the world. Or is it part of a greater group of individuals that may have supported this person. So that investigation is ongoing right now.
WHITFIELD: All right, Tom Fuentes, Jonathan Wackrow, thank you so much.
All right, coming up, chaos at the White House on a very different level. The president loses one of his closest confidants, sends Republicans reeling after his comments on guns, and then reportedly floats the idea of firing his kids. More on this wild week that was, next.
[13:16:28] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We continue this hour with the White House in the midst of relentless chaos. President Trump is spending the day away from Washington at his Florida golf course today. Close friends describe him overall as unraveled and unglued after the Trump administration stirred up an epic week of disarray at home and overseas.
Let's discuss the turbulent week for the president and his administration with my panel. Joining me is CNN political analysts, Karoun Demirjian and Amie Parnes.
Thanks to both of you ladies for joining me.
Karoun, you first. This administration has had a lot of turbulent weeks since the president took office. But is there something different about the convergence of gun reform this week, staffing issues, and now tariffs that makes this a bit more challenging of a stew?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we've gotten used to there being multiple things happening in any given week. This week, it really is very high-level crises happening at once. You've got the palace intrigue about staffing trickling up to Trump's son-in-law, potentially his daughter. This comes after we've just gotten through the Rob Porter scandal and Hope Hicks departing now. So these are the people closest and most loyal to the president now being swept up in these questions about should they be in the White House in these roles. Are they going to be staying? And we've seen since Hicks is departing that the answer is no, they're not all sticking around.
At the same time, you're talking about gun control, which is hugely emotional debate in this country. The president breaking with his party, very, very strongly in that meeting with everybody, with all the members of Congress. And then the White House scrambling to kind of clean up after that, with the president meeting with the NRA the other night and then the communication staff saying he didn't really mean what he said, he's just talking off the cuff.
And then, you know, add to that the fact we're getting to one of the president's pet issues right now, which is trade. He campaigned hard on this. When the president is taking a line on tariffs that is breaking with his administration, it's not just the idol thing they can pull him back on because the president really did pitch himself. Though he had many different messages on the campaign trail, probably two of the most-close to heart for him were his messages on immigration and trade. We're getting into what may be a trade war now with the president announcing we should do these tariffs.
Maybe we've seen other weeks where the same number of things happen but the intensity of them, I think, is very unique than the one we've just been through.
WHITFIELD: Amie, Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, called all of this recent turmoil from the White House damaging not just here at home but he also says abroad. Listen to his conversation with our Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This is really damaging. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or conservative, if you love the country, you don't want to see a White House that seems to be so chaotic, so incompetent, and so filled with contradictory actions and opinions that people around the world wonder if there's any leadership at all coming from the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Amie, that's a Democrat's point of view, but are Republicans expressing the same concern or worry? ARMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I've been hearing from a
lot of people lately who have expressed worry. You know, it's different now. You used to hear from people like us saying that the White House is doing itself damage and it's not doing very well and now you hear from a lot of Trump allies who are privately concerned that he is kind of unhinged and not doing the things he needs to do, and he lacks self-awareness. You're hearing that from a lot of people around him, even from inside the West Wing. I think that is problematic for him when a lot of his close aides are departing, and he is dealing with people who don't trust what he's doing and don't trust his instincts and say that he lacks like a need to set the reset and restart.
[13:20:22] WHITFIELD: The president stunned many in his administration and even rattled the markets, you know, when he made that announcement about steel and aluminum tariffs. But the president's commerce secretary says the move isn't all that surprising. Listen
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Steel tariffs should not surprise anyone. Go back to the presidential campaign, look at how many times the president said he was going to do something to protect American steel. It shouldn't be a surprise that anybody in the whole wide world that he put tariffs on steel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Karoun, is it maybe not necessarily the what but the when he decided to do it and how?
DEMIRJIAN: Yes, no, Wilbur Ross is correct that the president was campaigning on this point, but the president was campaigning on a lot of points that haven't come to fruition. We have not ripped up NAFTA yet. We haven't done a lot of things on the economic front the president promised he would do because his advisers do not agree with him, fundamentally speaking. He kind of went solo on this one. His staff is not with him entirely. Even though the commerce secretary is speaking on his behalf right now. And that tells you that the president is going it alone. It means that the White House is not as cohesive as they could have been. It tells you basically that all this time there may have been efforts to restrain him from doing this, because you can't take these things in a vacuum very cleanly. Yes, the president was saying he would, you know, go to bat for American steel, but if that engenders retaliatory moves from adversary nations, maybe allies, it doesn't actually just have to stick to the realm of steel and aluminum. We could be talking about all kinds of products that get slapped with tariffs. And if that's the case, you're in a more economically difficult situation sitting in this country.
WHITFIELD: Amie, is it the president going it alone or is it that there's such a dearth within the White House of, you know, staffers, of advisers, either those who have recently departed or perhaps positions that have never really been filled? PARNES: Yes, I think at this point, it's safe to say he is going it
alone. He has been for a while. The thing about the departure of Hope Hicks, for instance, is she was the one person around him who could talk sense into him and could talk him down on a number of issues. And those dominos are falling one by one. I don't think that, you know -- I think he's going to have some trouble particularly now with all these recent departures and people don't trust him. A lot of people I've spoken to don't want to go work at the White House. We're only in year two. This is a time when he should be attracting a lot of talent. But when you look at the communication director, he's on his fourth communications director, that's troubling for him and for his policy making and for anything going forward.
WHITFIELD: All right, Amie Parnes, Karoun Demirjian, good to see you, Ladies. Thank you.
DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Coming up, a Michigan college student is accused of killing his parents. The shooting sparking a manhunt. Police providing new details just a short time ago on how they tracked him down, next.
[13:27:58] WHITFIELD: A Michigan college student accused of killing his parents is now in custody after a day-long manhunt. The shooting allegedly took place following a family-related domestic dispute. Police are now saying the student was not making a lot of sense before killing his parents.
CNN Scott McLean is live for us in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
Scott, what more can you tell us?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fredricka. We're learning that this all started Thursday night when James Davis Jr actually went to a police officer, who worked just inside of his dorm room or his residence here on campus, saying that someone was trying to attack him or someone wanted to kill him. He just had a feeling. He sounded, according to the police officer, irrational and incoherent. The police did investigate but they didn't find anything credible.
It wasn't until later that night, Thursday night, that they saw Davis inside the residence packing up suitcases and leaving. Despite the fact his parents weren't supposed to pick him up to leave for spring break until the following morning. At that point, police suspected there may be drugs involved. So they took him to a hospital to get checked out there.
His parents actually came from Illinois, where they live in suburban Chicago, to pick him up from the hospital the next morning. They came back to his residence to pack up his things to go home for the spring break, and that is when police say that Davis Jr was spotted on security footage coming from the parking lot to the building carrying his dad's handgun. His dad is a police officer in suburban Chicago. That's when police say he went upstairs, shooting and killing both of his parents. After that, the school was locked down. Students could not get in or get out any of the buildings and police scoured the area.
[13:30:00] It wasn't until almost 16 hours later, Fredricka, that actually a train conductor of a freight train rolling through campus spotted Davis Jr near the tracks and alerted police. He was arrested without incident.
Earlier today, police spoke about this tragedy. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL YEAGLEY, CHIEF, CENTRAL MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY POLICE: It's very difficult for all of us to say on our campus two people were killed. What makes this, I don't know, worse or better, I guess you have to figure out for yourself, is it was really a domestic issue. It was a mother and a father and a son involved in this initial confrontation that ended up with tragically losing two people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN: So Davis Jr was actually located just a little over half a mile from his residence building. And police at this point are not sure how they missed him. Whether or not he went further afield and then came back or whether he was in their search area the entire time.
I should also point out, Fredricka, that gun his father had on campus was actually in violation of this university's policies around guns. Police have not said yet whether they're certain he was on drugs. Those results are still pending -- Fredricka?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Gosh, how terribly sad.
All right. Thank you so much, Scott McLean. Appreciate it.
Coming up, a powerful storm slams the east coast, flooding parts of Massachusetts, and leaving nearly one million people in the region without power. We'll take you there live.
[13:35:20] WHITFIELD: Right now, the aftermath of a deadly bomb cyclone hitting parts of the northeast with brutal winds, relentless rain and surging waves. The powerful storm has killed at least five people and now the fallout, almost a million customers along east coast are still without power and there's no immediate relief in sight. Electric companies struggling to respond to the violent winds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And that's the sound and the view of strong winds, forcing many flights to be canceled or at least interrupted. You can see this plane attempting to land at Reagan International Airport and the pilot abandoned the landing at the very last minute.
Families are left with a harsh reality. Their homes destroyed, cars flooded. But many are very thankful to be alive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very grateful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very scary. It's the worst one ever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely horrific. But we're OK. We're OK and that's all that matters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been in this house for now five years and we've seen extreme winds in the wintertime, and it was scary, but this was the worst it's ever been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now live from Quincy, Massachusetts.
What are you experiencing?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, first, some good news, it's not raining right now. The winds are still high but it's still a pretty sticky situation, especially as people are getting out and looking at their homes, many destroyed.
I want to give you a look at this home. This garage just filled with debris. You can see the water pooling in front of it. It's going to be a while before that water goes down.
Some more good news, throughout this storm officials have been worrying about three tides. Now we're past that third tide, so this water is going to start going out. You can see the ocean right there.
Again, more damage right to my left here. You can see a boat was washed ashore during this storm.
Now, this particular town, Quincy, Massachusetts, we were able to walk with National Guard members and get in their trucks and help with some rescues. More than 150 homes had to be attended to when the floodwaters got up to about six feet tall, even higher than that. It was incredible for the last 24 hours.
I want you to hear from a family who was just rescued out this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRAS: Put into perspective how bad this flooding event was for you and your family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was very scary. Not like anything we had before. Very scary.
GINGRAS: So now you finally got rescued, how do you feel?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amazing. It's the best feeling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRAS: "Not like anything we've seen before," we've seen that echoed by other residents. We've seen that echoed by emergency officials. This seemed to be an unprecedented story. Those people were leaving their homes because they had no power. Power outages still a major issue. But of course, all this flooding as well. People waiting for that water to go down and really get an idea of the major damage left behind -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right, Brynn Gingras, thank you.
Up next, a new report claims porn star, Stormy Daniels, almost canceled a non-disclosure agreement about her alleged relationship with Donald Trump days before Election Day. Details on that, next.
[13:43:04] WHITFIELD: President Trump is weathering a new round of accusations about his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels. "The Washington Post" now reports that just days before the 2016 election, the adult film actress threatened to cancel a non-disclosure agreement about the alleged relationship because she hadn't yet been paid. This follows "Wall Street Journal" reporting that Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, created a limited liability company that was ultimately used to give the porn star $130,000.
I'm joined now on the phone by one of the journalists who broke the story, Francis Stead Seller, a political reporter for "The Washington Post".
All right, Francis, so tell me more about this threat to cancel the agreement. Stormy Daniels saying if she didn't get paid, she was going to tell the world about it.
FRANCIS STEAD SELLER, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): I think this is evidence of the sort of tension going on right before the election, 2016. And of course, we're gradually beginning to figure out what was going on. Hush money is known as hush money for a reason. The who knew what and when and when things happened are emerging gradually. Not only about 2016, but also about 2011, when according to "In Touch" magazine, Daniels gave an interview about this alleged relationship.
So what's happening now, I think, is that scandals can take on, whether they're true or false, they can take on a life of their own particularly in the blogosphere and the Twitter-verse, things can be hard to control. But what's going on now is you're seeing, you know, the results of good old-fashioned reporting that's been going on in many outlets. The "Wall Street Journal" you mentioned, the "New York Times," the "New Yorker" and "The Washington Post," of course, have been coming up with documentation, fact-based reporting, which is beginning to reveal exactly what was going on in those last few weeks before the election when there seems to be an incredible tension. And of course, this was going on, the dates we're talking about are very soon after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. And --
[13:45:08] WHITFIELD: Yes. And your reporting, the timing of this was October 2017 payment, 13 days after the initial deadline, and just 12 days before the actual election. That's very significant but --
SELLER: "Access Hollywood" was the 7th, of course, so for people who don't remember --
WHITFIELD: Near simultaneous.
SELLER: -- which Trump brags about grabbing women. It prompted many people to come out, several women to come out and talk about nonconsensual approaches by Trump, touching, that they allege he touched them in ways they did not wish. And so this is a very, very heated atmosphere in those last few days before the election.
WHITFIELD: And then, Francis, isn't it very peculiar there would be this, you know, lawyer-to-lawyer non-disclosure agreement, and Donald Trump himself has denied this relationship? So there's this --
SELLER: He said it was -- the White House has brushed it away as old recycled news, fake news. That's another case. And then, you know, the really interesting thing was, of course, "The New York Times" reporting that Cohen had facilitated payment out of his own accounts. We'll learn more as we go ahead.
The other things we will learn more about gradually is whether the complaints that these alleged payments may have violated campaign finance laws, again --
WHITFIELD: Right, so at least two --
SELLER: It will be very interesting.
WHITFIELD: So two representatives are, you know, claiming that there may be some real evidence of moral failings by the president and that they may believe --
SELLER: -- an FBI investigation, this was a move yesterday by two House Democrats who asked the FBI to investigate by sending a letter to the FBI Director Christopher Wray. But behind that, there are two groups, American Bridge and Common Cause, which have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commissions. Again, claiming that the timing of these -- this payment suggests -- and I'm using their words - "that it was done to influence the election." So that could be an investigate that would go forward.
An FCC investigation can only go forward if all commissioners agree to do so, and they don't comment on the status of their investigation until it's resolved, so that will take time.
WHITFIELD: All right. It is all pretty extraordinary.
Thanks so much for joining us about your reporting. Frances Stead Sellers, from "The Washington Post," appreciate it.
Meantime, Delta is not backing down from its decision to end an NRA discount, even though it is paying the price now in the state of Georgia. Hear what Delta's CEO is saying about the state's retribution against the airline and the legal questions surrounding Georgia's payback, next.
[13:52:15] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in Atlanta.
Delta is standing by its decision to end a discount for NRA members, despite losing a $50 million tax break in Georgia for cutting that NRA benefits. But Delta is clarifying why it is no longer going to offer lower-priced tickets for NRA members flying to their annual convention in May. The airline says it wants to remain neutral in the gun debate. And in a memo to employees, Delta's CEO said, "Our people and our customers have a wide range of views on how to increase safety in our public schools and public places, and we are not taking sides. We are supporters of the Second Amendment, just as we embrace the entire Constitution of the United States.
George Governor Nathan Deal has signed the GOP bill that removed the tax break on Delta's jet fuel. But he's bound to restore the tax cut in the future.
Criminal attorney, Richard Herman, joins us from Los Vegas. And Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor in Cleveland.
And good to see you both.
Avery, you first.
Is it legal for a government to publish a private entity for taking a stance?
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Absolutely not. They violated the First Amendment. This is the history of the Georgia legislature. For 50 years, Fredricka, they do things like this. They are not allowed to do it.
And let me read the statement that Delta confirmed the NRA made, and this is an official representative that the media was, quote, "Gleeful in profiteering off of the death of the students." I mean, that's outrageous. Frankly, the NRA had an opportunity to get this straightened out. And bottom line, so Delta has cut the discount going to the NRA convention, they've sold 13 tickets since then. And in response to that, the Georgia legislature knocks off $50 million in tax fuel credits, which is really outrageous. I don't know if Delta is going the go to federal district court to use the First Amendment, but I think they should.
WHITFIELD: And, Richard, how is it that the state legislature could do that. How is it that the state could go after a private company, such as Delta, and say we will punish you for changing benefits or a discount, which is a privilege that we were extending to people who happened to be members the National Rifle Association or any other organization?
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: So misguided, Fred. And so stupid on behalf of the governing body in the state of Georgia.
You know, here you have the Republicans controlling everything in Georgia. Everything. And so, when the lieutenant governor feels that a corporation is attacking conservatives, because this is what he said, we are not going to stand for it.
FRIEDMAN: That's right.
HERMAN: We are going to fight back. Listen, Fred, this is one convention --
[13:55:13] WHITFIELD: But legally, can you do this?
HERMAN: Well, they can do it. And there is a lawsuit they can file --
FRIEDMAN: No, they can't.
WHITFIELD: Meaning Delta?
HERMAN: And they will bear the burden of what they have done, because your cities like New York and other cities that are beckoning Delta to come, the single largest employer in the state of Georgia, they're going to leave. Delta should pack up and leave.
HERMAN: That is what they should do. That is their response. WHITFIELD: And, Avery, so there is no legal recourse that Delta would
be able to take, and say, wait a minute, we are being singled out, and the state of Georgia is trying to punish us financially, they don't have any legal recourse to challenge that?
FRIEDMAN: No, it is the opposite. They absolutely have legal recourse, and that is what the First Amendment is all about. But if you are an employer with 33,000 employees, something tells me that there has to be a deal brokered. There has to be communication between Delta. But I will have to tell you, Fredricka, this is a go. I would be at the courthouse steps on Monday morning in Atlanta to proceed with it. Delta should, but the question is will they?
HERMAN: You will lose, Avery, because this was a bill --
FRIEDMAN: I don't agree with that.
HERMAN: -- that was put forth. The bill was not voted on yet, and not put in place yet. There was a provision in the bill to provide the tax break for Delta. Then that provision was struck from the bill. So it was not even voted on yet.
FRIEDMAN: That's right.
HERMAN: And now it was just signed. And so, Fred, I don't believe there is any viable legal recourse for Delta, except to respond and get the hell out. And the state of the Georgia is going to bear the brunt of this, because other companies --
HERMAN: -- like Amazon, who wanted to maybe go to Georgia, say, we won't go to a state that is run by a bunch of nuts. It won't happen. They're going to pay the price for this.
FRIEDMAN: You know what --
WHITFIELD: OK, so as far as Amazon, and other companies, that may be an argument made of, wait a minute, I don't know if we to go down the same path as Delta. It would seem like so much has been invested --
FRIEDMAN: Delta is not going anywhere, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: It doesn't seem like they would.
This is what the lieutenant governor, Casey Kagel, said, a Republican who is running for governor, tweeted this out earlier in the week: "I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us to not fight back."
This is extraordinary because they're threatening, Richard.
HERMAN: It was a one-time convention with a one-time discount for NRA members.
FRIEDMAN: That's right. That's it.
HERMAN: After the shooting in Parkland, Delta and 12 other major companies stood back, took away these discounts to NRA members because they did want to seem like they were supporting an agency like the NRA, and that is what they did, they remained neutral on gun control. And yet, this lunatic lieutenant governor has interpreted this action as --
FRIEDMAN: That is legal.
HERMAN: And it is ridiculous, Fred. It is stupid.
HERMAN: And that is why the government is so insane right now.
WHITFIELD: Avery, last word, yes?
FRIEDMAN: The line was, the line was from the governor of Georgia saying that Virginia is for lovers, and it is also for airline hogs. Think about that. Beautiful.
WHITFIELD: OK. We will see what happens. See if it takes flight.
All right. Avery and Richard --
HERMAN: Yes. Good one, Fred.
WHITFIELD: -- thank you so much. Good to see you guys.
And we have so much more in the NEWSROOM, and it all starts right now.
All right. Hello again, everyone. And thank you for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
And we are following developments on the shooting near the White House. The U.S. Secret Service is saying that a man shot himself just outside of the north fence line. People on the White House grounds sheltered in place, and the White House went into lockdown.
And CNN's Ryan Nobles is just outside of the White House.
Ryan, what is the latest from there?
All right. We will try the re-establish our connection with Ryan.
Instead, let's go very far south from there. Traveling with the president is our Boris Sanchez. And, Boris, we know from your vantage point you have heard information about how the president has responded after being briefed on the shooting taking place, but the president still has plans to return to Washington later on today?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far, that is the plan, Fred. We were told just a short while ago that the president was briefed on the situation at the White House, where apparently a man walked up to the north lawn and to the gate there, took a gun to himself. The Secret Service responded immediately, attending to the man. No shots, no other shots, I should say, were fired. Here in Mar-a-Lago, the president was scheduled to leave roughly about 10 minutes --