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Man Shoots Self On White House Lawn; Many Trump Aides May be Leaving White House; Flooding Hits Parts of Massachusetts; Housing and Urban Development Cancels Order for $31,000 Dining Set; President Trump Gets in Twitter Feud with Actor Alec Baldwin. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 3, 2018 - 14:00   ET


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- and took to a gun to himself. The Secret Service responded immediately, tending to the man. No shots, or other shots I should say, were fired. Here in Mar-a-Lago, the president was scheduled to the leave roughly 10 minutes ago. He is still apparently still at the estate, but so far from what we understand the plan is for him to continue on to Palm Beach airport and then to fly back to Washington, D.C. He is set to the attend a gridiron dinner tonight, this roast type dinner where journalists dress up and they sing songs lampooning politicians, and then politicians get their change to do that. Obviously a somber moment at the White House after this self-inflicted gunshot wound there not apparently going to detour the president's plans for the rest of the day.

One last note, President Trump has been tweeting since this took place, though his focus is on trade, on the media, not on the incident just outside of the White House, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. We're going to try again to go outside of the White House where out Ryan Nobles is now. So, Ryan, give us an idea of what is happening there.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. The law enforcement presence continues here outside of the White House after that person, the victim of the self-inflicted gunshot wound on the north lawn of the White House, we are on Pennsylvania Avenue behind me, and you can see this area in front to White House, Pennsylvania Avenue which is normally open to pedestrian traffic, and this is usually a busy thoroughfare, especially a sunny Saturday in Washington. This is usually filled with tourists. It's all completely shut down right now.

And we are on the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania. And 17th street is shut down right here before we get to the intersection of Pennsylvania right now as they continue to investigate the incident. It happened sometime this morning, we are told, a single individual with a gun shot themselves. They were the only person involved in the incident. The Secret Service responded quickly. No Secret Service personnel discharged their weapons while dealing with this particular incident, and at this point, the status of the victim is unknown.

While this seems to be contained to this particular incident, obviously Fred, as you can see behind me, this is something that the Secret Service takes very seriously. The White House, the front door essentially of the White House is only a few hundred yards away from where this person would have been standing.

This is of course, all fenced off. You can't walk up to the front door of the White House, and in fact they have increased the barrier between normal pedestrian traffic and the White House grounds because of the recent spat of fence-jumpers. So in addition to the fencing that lines the entire perimeter of the White House, there is an additional line of bike racks, similar to those bike racks you can see set up here behind me.

So there is a pretty good distance between where the average person can go and the White House itself. Yet nonetheless, when someone has a firearm that close to the White House and uses that firearm, that is something that quickly requires a major law enforcement presence.

Now, we should point out that the Secret Service made it clear that none of the protectees were at the White House at the time. That means no one from the first family was there. We know that the president and the first lady are in Florida right now back en route to Washington, D.C., so at no time were they in any danger.

Regardless, this investigation continues. The White House is lockdown and you can't get in and out of this section of Washington as the Secret Service and the metropolitan police department here in Washington continue their investigation. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, all very unnerving. Meantime, Ryan, let's take a look at Air Force One there in West Palm, and we know that at some point the first lady and the president will be boarding Air Force One and making their way back to Washington this evening where they will be attending the gridiron dinner, a longstanding tradition where the president and Washington-based mostly journalists kind of poke fun at one another. And we will see how that goes later on this evening. Thanks so much. Ryan Nobles there outside of the White House with that very frightening moment there outside the White House.

Meanwhile, President Trump and his family and closest advisers are facing questions now amid a slew of turmoil and turnover. The FBI is now looking into daughter Ivanka Trump's business dealings. White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is on her way out after resigning, and senior adviser Jared Kushner loses his top security clearance. The president is facing fallout over comments about guns and his surprise tariff announcements, and the list goes on.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Nathan Gonzales. He is also the editor and publisher of "Inside Politics." Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: All right, so a lot to chip away at here. Let's begin with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner both facing scrutiny over their business dealings, the "New York Times" reporting that Trump even asked his chief of staff to remove them from the administration. So what does this tell you about the potential state of affairs there at the White House where it is about politics, it's also about family ties here right now?

GONZALES: Well, I think it tells us things are getting more serious. The investigation or at least the concern is getting more serious because you are talking about the president's daughter and her husband. And there is some of the advisers, whether it is on the campaign or the administration are, I think, are on the sort of the periphery or the outer layers of the Trump circle. But we're talking about two of the people that he loves and trusts the most. So if they are on the way out, I think that that is saying something.

On one level, I think there are a group of people who voted for President Trump because they liked the chaos, they liked that he's going to shake things up and you just never know what you are going to get.

WHITFIELD: Is this what people had in mind?

GONZALES: Well, no. What I was just saying, the president can't do this job alone. Any person can't do this job alone. I think you are only as strong as your staff and your advisers, and if you are constantly churning and losing people, I think it is tough to get your footing and get something done.

WHITFIELD: And almost like family is Hope Hicks, the communications director, and now she is on her way out. Apparently she has been like a confidante of the president, and she helped to put out fires, she's helped in certain statements and even reportedly on some of the tweets. So that she would be heading out and that it has been in the works possibly weeks if not even months, how is the president going to -- what are the predictions of how the president might be able to manage without her, without this close confidante right there with him?

GONZALES: Well, I think it depends on who the replacement it. It is tough to judge with Hope Hicks out, judge who that might be. But if you were placing money on who is most -- amid all of the churning who is the most likely the stick around the president, Hope Hicks was one of them. But over the last few days, weeks, particularly with the incident with Rob Porter, things got a little bit murky and it was clear that it wasn't going to be sustainable over the long run.

WHITFIELD: And then of course there's also talk about the national security adviser H.R. McMaster possibly on his way out, the president being very openly and publicly critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Is this back to the going it alone mentality of not really needing people?

GONZALES: Well, I mean, I think that it is probably part of the president who he is. But this is a very different job and a role that he has ever played are before, so he has going to have to get people around him. And the question is who is it, and from a policy perspective, where do they try to lead him? I think the president does have an open ear to some of the people that are closest around him, and so I think he can be influenced. And that is why the replacements to any of these people is would be, is going to be a factor in where he is going to be take the country going forward. WHITFIELD: Some advisers or staffers were caught flatfooted, not

knowing that the president was going to be make announcements of these aluminum and steel tariffs. And now the European Union now also offering its threats on taxes on American products as a result of this announcement. Where does this put the U.S. on the global picture in terms of working together, having each other's backs when it comes down to the allied nations, how does this make things more tenuous?

GONZALES: Well, I think it is difficult to enter into an agreement or a discussion with a country or a person if you don't know where they stand at any particular moment. It is one thing to hold your cards close to the vest and have a poker face and not reveal too much. But if you can't be trusted or there is a feeling that you can't be trusted, then that negotiations break down, whether it is between the allies overseas or just the relationship between the White House and Congress, when Congress does not know what he is going to do or say on a particular policy at any given moment, it just makes it tough to get anything done.

WHITFIELD: Nathan Gonzales, I have a quick question. For that gridiron dinner this evening, it is supposed to be in fun. Their motto is something like singe, but never really burn. Is it likely that the president will come with a sense of humor and vice versa?

GONZALES: Well, he will probably come more with a sense of humor about other people rather than about himself. But I don't know, when the president, there was a little bit of self-deprecating humor at his CPAC speech recently where he joked about the losing hair. But I don't know. I will be at my kid's school fundraising auction tonight, but we will see what happens afterwards.

WHITFIELD: All right, very good. Nathan Gonzales, appreciate it. Thank you.

GONZALES: No problem.

WHITFIELD: A powerful nor'easter is bearing down on the east coast right now, claiming at least five lives and leaving nearly a million customers without power. We are live on the ground after this.


WHITFIELD: All right, right now millions are dealing with the aftermath of a deadly bomb cyclone. The powerful storm has killed at least five people and nearly 1 million people are without power as strong gusts of wind continue this afternoon. In fact, that is the sound and the sight of strong wind gusts that are forcing many flights to be canceled. You can see in this case, the plane attempted to land at Reagan National Airport, but the pilot aborted that landing at the last minute.

Meanwhile, some families are left with a harsh reality. Their homes are destroyed, cars flooded, but at least they are alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, very grateful. Very scary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the worst one ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely horrific. But we are OK. We are OK. That is all that matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been in this house now for five year, and we have seen extreme winds in the wintertime. And it was scary, but this was the worst that it has ever been.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now from Quincy, Massachusetts. So what are you experiencing there?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, here's the thing with this storm. Official are worried about three tides that began yesterday afternoon, and now we're past those three tides. The water is now receding back into the ocean, so that is some good news. Obviously you see we still have some wind out here.

But the problem was that with the three tides homes got flooded three times over, so that is what has causing so much damage. It has been a long, widespread storm. Look at this storm right behind me. You can see this is someone's backyard here in Quincy Massachusetts. It's flooded. The garages are flooded. There are little playsets that are flooded as well for this particular family. And then as we sort of circle back to the ocean, you can see the type of damage that the storm caused. Look at that boat, washed ashore from the storm surge in one of these high tide moments. We are hearing that the floodwaters reached in some neighborhoods up to six feet.

There was a 24-hour operation that was going on since Friday trying to help people get out of their homes because many people lost power in addition to all of the flooding. And we talked to a police captain who kind of gave us an idea of what they were seeing during those rescue operations. Take a listen.


JOHN DOUGAN, CAPTAIN, QUINCY POLICE DEPARTMENT: We are seeing the homes underwater, their basements were flooded out. Their electricity was off. The area, the electricity is off completely as a result of that. People called, that's why we're doing evacuations all through the night today.


GINGRAS: Yes, unprecedented flooding according to that official, according to residents who are now having to clean up, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Brynn Gingras, thank you so much from Quincey, Massachusetts, appreciate it.

Real quick, some live pictures out of south border right here, Air Force One, the president and first lady soon to arrive, to depart West Palm Beach back to the nation's capital. And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Senior White House aides are furious after a series of stories exposed frivolous spending at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sources tell CNN it all stemmed from furniture purchases made for Secretary Ben Carson's office. Here is CNN's Rene Marsh.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A mahogany table and chairs, just some of the items in the $31,000 dining set HUD purchased for Secretary Ben Carson's office suite. But following the public outrage, HUD canceled the order.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They are looking for another option that is much more responsible with taxpayer dollars.

MARSH: The set HUD picked out with input from Candy Carson includes a table and two base pedestals adorned with a hand applied bellflower pattern. It costs more than $4,000. Ten stately dining chairs with rich exposed wood and sculpted legs cost more than $10,000. The mahogany side board and brake front cost more than $13,000. Throw in shipping and delivery for a total of $31,000 taxpayer dollars.

HELEN FOSTER, HUD WHISTLEBLOWER: And $31,000 in my mind for a dining table for an agency that is cutting billions away from poor people is poor judgment no matter who made it.

MARSH: The agency's spending on decor and furniture came to light after HUD employee Helen Foster filed a sworn complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. Long before the dining set debacle, Foster says she was demoted when she told the bosses the law limits Carson's redecorating budget.

FOSTER: My sense is that it was coming from Mrs. Carson's desire to have the ability to are redecorate the suite.

MARSH: In a new statement Thursday, Carson called the decades' old furniture worn and unsafe, but he said that he was, quote, "As surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered." Carson reveals his wife, quote, "Asked if used furniture was an option," and that she wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decor.

When the story first broke, a HUD spokesman told CNN Mrs. Carson knew nothing about a dining table being purchased.

In Carson's statement, he mentions that the existing furniture is so old it is actually unsafe. CNN spoke with former HUD secretary under Obama Julian Castro who said, and I'm quoting, "The furniture was perfectly fine and had an antique charm to it." He said he hosted several senators and representatives there for breakfast.

So CNN asked HUD what happens now that the order was canceled? Will they keep that older furniture that they say is unsafe? HUD did not respond.

Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: Coming up, the real Trump versus the man impersonating Trump, the latest war of words brewing between the president and actor Alec Baldwin. Stay with us.


WHITFIELD: All right, it's the real Trump versus the fake Trump. We're talking about President Trump's latest Twitter war with his "SNL" impersonator Alec Baldwin. Here now is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alec Baldwin has relentlessly mocked President Trump on "SNL" from the kiddie desk to a shower scene. And now these two are showering each other with tweeted insults.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Trump, everyone can see your tweets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? And I'm still in this thing?

MOOS: Their latest blowup started when Baldwin described playing Trump to "The Hollywood Reporter," every time I do it now, it is like agony, to which Trump tweeted, Alec, it was agony for those who were forced to watch. Actually in his original the tweet, the president got a few things --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wrong, wrong, wrong.

MOOS: Calling Alec "Alex" and killing the English language with the spelling of "dying." That tweet was soon deleted and replaced with a corrected one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump is going on the tirade against Alec Baldwin, but he has nothing about Vladimir Putin threatening the United States.

MOOS: In response to the president's tweet about Baldwin being agony to watch, the actor fired back four times, agony though it may be, I'd like to hang in there for the impeachment hearings, the resignation speech, the farewell helicopter ride to Mar-a-Lago, you know, the good stuff. These two treat each other like --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad hombres, bad boys, bad boys, what you going to do.

MOOS: Baldwin then imagined what would be in the Trump presidential library -- a putting green, a little black book with the phone numbers of porn stars. In his tweet, the president said, bring back Darrell Hammond. But Baldwin brought in Melania Trump. Mr. President, please ask your wife to stop calling me for "SNL" tickets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald, have you been working out? (LAUGHTER)

MOOS: Don't expect these two to work this out. No kissing and making up, not even a remote chance of this --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I deeply apologize.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you trying to say apologize?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I would never do that.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The news continues at the top of the hour with Ana Cabrera. Up next, "Vital Signs" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.