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White House Releases Proposal to Reduce School Shootings; President Trump to Appoint Commission on School Safety Headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; President Trump Reportedly Meeting with Lawyer That was part of Bill Clinton's Impeachment Legal Team; DeVos Struggles To Explain Policies In Series Of Interviews; Trump Tweets About His Controversial Tariffs Plan. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 8:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think you're right on that. It's interesting how this divergence of opinion or diversity of opinion on the president, but they're all for Saccone that you were talking to in that diner. We'll see how it comes out tomorrow. Alex, thank you very much.

We're following a lot of news. What do you say, it's Monday morning, let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to go very strong into age, age of purchase.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump backtracking on his support to raise the minimum age to buy some firearms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have asked to head up a task force. There is a sense of urgency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember I grabbed the knife. After that I don't remember. It's all kind of blood and stuff around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: O.J. Simpson giving a hypothetical confession in an explosive interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He may try to describe it as a hypothetical but, of course, it becomes odd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five passengers killed in a helicopter crash in New York city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just going straight down like he was coming in for a landing but it was really fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, March 12th, 8:00 in the east. So the White House officially putting out their thoughts on gun

violence and school shootings. But there's a notable omission in their plan. President Trump's idea to raise the minimum age to buy certain guns is not included. The Trump administration says they will help states pay to arm teachers and improve the nation's background check system. The plan also calls for a federal commission on school safety headed by education secretary Betsy DeVos, though hours after setting that up, the president mocked the idea of commissions, basically saying they do not accomplish anything.

CUOMO: One way to look at it is pretty simple. The president said, hey, sometimes you got to fight the NRA. Every proposal in this plan is backed by the NRA. Now the president has some other political concerns, namely that the Republicans can hold on to a seat in the Pennsylvania representative there, special election. The president won by 20 points, maybe even more than that, actually. So he was there campaigning for Republican Rick Saccone over the weekend, but the rally became all about the president's peeves, attacking his perceived opponents and rallying his base. He even renewed calls to execute drug dealers. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Overnight the White House unveiling the president's school safety proposals away from the cameras and three weeks of after that shooting in Florida, and though they are pushing forward with one of the president's more contentious proposals, which is to provide school employees with firearms training, there is no denying that the president is shifting his stance on one key issue after multiple conversations with the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: President Trump backing down from increasing the minimum age for purchasing certain firearms, an idea strongly opposed by the NRA that the president repeatedly pushed for.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't make since that I have to wait until 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18.

COLLINS: The shift coming after Mr. Trump publicly shamed Senators Toomey and Manchin for not including the measure in their gun control bill.

TRUMP: So I'm just curious as to what you did in your bill?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: We didn't address it, Mr. President.

TRUMP: You know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA.

COLLINS: Instead raising the age on gun purchases will be one of a range of issues studied by a new federal school safety commission chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel a sense of urgency? BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because this sounds like talking.

DEVOS: No. There is a sense of urgency, indeed.

COLLINS: But on Saturday President Trump mocked the concept of these types of commissions to solve problems like the opioid epidemic.

TRUMP: We can't just keep setting up blue ribbon committees. They talk, talk, talk, two hours later, then they write a report.

COLLINS: The White House's proposal includes providing rigorous firearms training for specially qualified school personnel on a voluntary basis.

DEVOS: This is one solution that can and should be considered, but no one size fits all. Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way.

COLLINS: The administration also sports transitioning veterans and retired law enforcement to work in schools, adopting measures to allow law enforcement to remove firearms from threatening individuals, overhauling and reforming mental health programs, and the Cornyn- Murphy bill improved reporting to the federal background check system. The White House rolling out the gun proposal one day after the president's rambling and at times vulgar speech in Pennsylvania that was supposed to focus on Republican Congressional candidate Rick Saccone. Instead the event felt more like a campaign rally for the president where he attacked potential 2020 challengers.

TRUMP: Can you imagine covering Bernie or Pocahontas? Pocahontas, how about that? I'd love Oprah to win. I'd love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness.

COLLINS: And debuted this new campaign slogan.

TRUMP: Keep America great! exclamation point. Keep America great!

COLLINS: The president touting the steep tariffs he imposed last week on steel and aluminum imports and his potential summit with North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: Who knows what's going to happen? I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these countries.

COLLINS: President Trump surprising aides by suggesting that drug dealers should be executed.

TRUMP: I think it's a discussion we have to start thinking about.

COLLINS: And raising eyebrows with what some Democrats call a racially charged attack on Congresswoman Maxime Waters who has called for his impeachment.

TRUMP: She's a low I.Q. individual. You can't help it. She really is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Chris and Alisyn, the president is hoping to chalk up another Republican victory in Pennsylvania tomorrow night during that closely watched special election. It's a district the president won handedly in 2016, but to give you a sense of how concerned the White House is about this race, the president is sending his son Donald Trump Jr. to campaign for Rick Saccone today.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Now to this story -- President Trump slamming a report in the "The New York Times" that said he is in talks with a veteran D.C. attorney who happens to be former president Bill Clinton's lawyer that he used during his impeachment hearing. The president tweeted this yesterday, "The failing "New York Times" purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and I'm going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong! I'm very happy with my lawyers John Dowd, Ty Cobb, and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and have shown conclusively that there was not collusion with Russia, just excuse for losing. The only collusion that was done was by the DNC, the Democrats, and crooked Hillary. They writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access."

CNN political analyst and "The New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman joins us now. Hi, Maggie.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So that was an exciting weekend that you've had.

HABERMAN: It was exciting for other reasons. That was a fluke.

CAMEROTA: So what's your response to the president's criticism?

HABERMAN: I think the basic concept is actually the most problematic which is that he believes that people need quote/unquote, access to report on the president of the United States. We report on him regardless, but he also has no idea who our sources are or how many people around him are talking to us.

CAMEROTA: Which by the way, the idea that he also says you have no access. You've interviewed him 12 times at least.

HABERMAN: We saw during the campaign that he has this habit of pointing to a table like this and saying this is a sofa, and this is no exception. We do not need his permission to cover him. This is something he has continued to think that people need. This is his idea of journalism that was cultivated over many decades dealing with New York City tabloids. That's not how the White House works, that's not how government works.

And it's also just a weird thing for him to have this reaction to, among other things, he's saying that the story said things he didn't say. We didn't say he's unhappy with his legal team. We did say he's meeting with a lawyer who specializes in that "I" word, impeachment, and I suspect that is something --

CUOMO: You know that for a fact?

HABERMAN: We know that for a fact. Emmet Flood was in the Oval Office that that is what they were talking about. Now, they were not discussing necessarily impeachment. They were discussing adding him to the team. Among the things that Trump needs that has not really happened with his either legal White House team or the White House counsel is somebody who can serve as an intermediary for him with the Department of Justice. As we know he gets himself in a thorny position with this repeatedly with the deputy attorney general as he is constantly attacking Sessions.

He has all kinds of questions about the FISA process. Ty Cobb has not played that role is my understanding, the person who has been the point person dealing with the Mueller investigation, and Don McGahn can't because he is a witness in that investigation that despite what the president claims has not been privy --

CUOMO: And the president is not his client.

HABERMAN: Correct.

CUOMO: The White House is and it's a meaningful distinction here, and somebody didn't serve him well because the idea of letting it come out that you're trying to negotiate that the president will sit down with investigators if you negotiate a hard end date to the investigation had to do a lot of damage to the relationship because that would be a death sentence for Mueller's guys if they cut a deal like that.

HABERMAN: It's never going to happen.

CUOMO: So somebody did him a disservice, and it would suggest that they're going to have to add somebody who can make it better.

HABERMAN: So here's the problem with that, right, because we have been saying that for some period of time. There are various people who have done him a disservice, but none more so than himself. And the main way that he does that is he refuses to fall the Clinton model, which for all of the criticism of Marc Kasowitz who was Trump's original lead lawyer, his personal lawyer for a long time, Kasowitz wanted to follow the Clinton model, which is you set up, when Clinton was dealing with the Ken Starr investigation -- here's a separate team legal that is going to deal with the investigation and then press around the investigation, and then here's our government team, and they are dealing with all matters of the government, the presidency, the White House. Bifurcate, keep them separate. This president will not allow that. He doesn't want that. And so you end up in this situation where everybody is a cross purposes and tiptoeing around, and then he just weighs in with a tweet that doesn't help anybody.

CAMEROTA: About your -- back to your reporting on Emmet Flood who is this veteran attorney who happened dealt with Bill Clinton's impeachment, it was pretty innocuous. It was just that they were in talks. But it really arouses his ire. So either it got him at cross purposes with --

HABERMAN: That is part of what I assume it is. I think his own lawyers did not know that he was doing this, and I think he is worried about inflaming them or having them leave or think that he is angry at them, and so he puts out this attack messenger thing which we've also seen him do over and over.

CUOMO: It suggests a respect for potential consequence that he doesn't like either. Obviously they don't want to follow the Clinton model --

HABERMAN: An awareness, certainly.

CUOMO: You don't want to follow the Clinton plan when it comes to being in front of a grand jury and lying. But short of that the idea that he'd even be considering it, that he's even thinking about how to prepare for that is inimical to his entire narrative about this which he then dumped in those tweets.

HABERMAN: Correct, but it's reality. It also raises the possibility, and again, I don't know, but it raises the possibility that Flood turned him down, and he's spinning it forward as, this wasn't even real. We've seen him do all of this. None of this is particularly a surprise. It's not productive and his amazing fixation with minutia in coverage remains astonishing.

CUOMO: Flood could have come out and said, yes, I was there, but that's not why I was there. I have a client, I have this, I have this other thing. He could have cleared it up right away if it was so off base.

HABERMAN: It was not off base. The reason why -- and you didn't see anybody from the White House say a thing about it for 24 hours until the president decided to spend Sunday morning doing this.

CAMEROTA: OK, so now on to policy. The White House has put out their thoughts on stopping school shootings and gun safety, and as we pointed out this morning, it could read like a checklist, an NRA approved checklist. That doesn't mean these things, such as, you know, transitioning former veterans and police officers into the schools to help out, that these things won't effective, but there's nothing that pushes the boundaries of what the NRA would have been comfortable with.

HABERMAN: No, and there's certainly nothing that matches the thunderous rhetoric that we heard from the president at that very theatrical gun White House summit that a lot of people thought was actually a really good event. This just suggests no follow through, and it suggests that the follow-up meeting that the NRA officials had with them at the Oval Office, they were the last voice on this in his ear, had some effect.

What is missing from this plan is the study -- anything related to upping the age requirement in terms of the type of weapons that were used in the Parkland, Florida, shooting. What was said on this call with reporters last night was that this commission that is going to be chaired by Betsy DeVos is going to study this. And this is as you played earlier in sound exactly the kind of thing that the president denounced the evening before. His whole brand is action on doing something. People are not going to not notice that the age range doesn't change and the age minimum doesn't change, and that is something the NRA was against.

CUOMO: Let's just remind people where the president was on this idea over time. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In addition to everything else, in addition to what we're going to do about background checks, we're going to go very strong into age, age of purchase.

You can't buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20. You have to wait till your 21, but you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting at 18. You are going to decide. The people in this room pretty much are going to decide, but I would get very serious thought to it.

Perhaps, we'll do something having, you know, on age, because, it doesn't seem to make sense that you have to wait till you're 21 years old to get a pistol, but to get a gun like this that this maniac used in the school you can get that at 18.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president still supports raising the age limit to 21 for the purchase of certain firearms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: So why wasn't it in the proposal?

HABERMAN: Because it was controversial and because I think his advisers told him it was a political problem. I don't think we've heard the last of it, especially knowing him. We'll see a tweet today as he's sitting and watching all of his headlines and coverage and he'll say I never backed off of it, and it's going to be something to that.

At the end of the day we have had years of this now with him of I'm going to take various sides of the same issue and then you can all guess and hear what you want to hear. There will either be a raise in the age minimum or there won't. And if there isn't it is going to be met with a lot of frustration from people -- look, background checks are more politically popular, I think, that is certainly true.

CUOMO: They don't cover all sales.

HABERMAN: They do not, and he is trying to -- Cornyn-Murphy is not the same at Manchin-Toomey.

[08:15:03]

Manchin-Toomey is not a bill that his White House is ever going to support because they see it at tethered to President Obama and that's just reality. But it is hard for him to escape the criticism that he is catering to the NRA with this proposal.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Maggie, stick around. We have many questions for you including that of Betsy DeVos, as you know, President Trump's education secretary. Betsy DeVos has just been grilled in a series of new interviews including some this morning. So, her answers have proven puzzling. We'll show you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, will head up the president's new Federal Commission on School Safety. In the last 24 hours, she has been grilled in a series of interviews including this exchange from the NBC "Today Show" this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think they should be able -- teachers should be able to carry assault weapons since presumably they may face assault weapons, do you have an opinion on that?

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I don't think assault weapons in schools carried by any school personnel is the appropriate thing, but again, this is an issue that I think is best decided at the local level by communities and by states.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But a student could legally carry an assault weapon, a student over 18?

DEVOS: Not in schools, they can't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So, you still want the schools to be gun- free zones except for the teachers?

DEVOS: I think schools have to be protected like every other large gathering place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:20:06] CUOMO: All right. Let's bring back Maggie Haberman. DeVos has got problems in terms of acumen and expertise in the only area that she's controlling. Guns are just dumped on her plate and there's going to be struggle because there's not a lot of common sense flow to the restriction.

HABERMAN: Right.

CUOMO: But this is what happens. You know, someone is going to have to be in charge of how to put guns in the schools and teachers hands and it's going to come down on her in large amounts.

HABERMAN: I think so -- what they said last night on this call with reporters is that the Justice Department is actually going to be the agency that's going to be working with schools with local officials. She is chairing this commission. I can't get a sense of whether there's a direction they want to take. It basically sounds like a punt.

They formed this commission. Justice Department is going to work with local officials on this rigorous firearm training was their description of it. Does not sound like there is a new funding flow, doesn't make clear what we're talking about in terms of what type of firearms and so forth.

Other than it's not appropriate to have an assault style rifle in schools or assault weapons in schools. I think that this is not going to satisfy a lot of people who thought that there was actually going to be a different type of conversation after this particular shooting, to your point, some of this is not her fault.

I mean, this is essentially this football that she was told to go carry, but in general there is a sense of sort of a lack of preparedness, not just by her but by every official who has had to contend with this issue because they don't really have answers. And essentially, they're laying out this commission as a form of delaying questions.

CAMEROTA: You know, people are obviously worried about arming teachers. Some people really support it and think it would be helpful. Some people are very nervous to think that there would be guns in kids' classrooms.

And so, Savannah Guthrie was asking specific questions about how many and where will the gun be on the person? Will it be locked in a door? It sounds as though the education secretary hasn't necessarily thought these things through. Here's another portion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What percentage of teachers at schools would need to be armed in your mind to be effective?

DEVOS: I don't have a percentage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would there be an armed teacher in every classroom?

DEVOS: I don't think that would be appropriate and I don't think anybody would agree that would be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about in every grade?

DEVOS: I don't think that would be either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should the teachers wear their weapons outside so everybody can see it including little kids presumably or should they conceal them so that there's that element of surprise?

DEVOS: Look, this is an issue that is best decided by local communities and by states. It is not going to be appropriate in every location -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: And the problem is that this follows on the heels of last night's "60 Minutes" where she was asked about her home state, Michigan, and we actually have that as well. Let's play this for a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don't know. Overall, I can't say overall that they have all gotten better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where the students are doing well --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe tried to figure out what they're doing?

DEVOS: I have not -- I've not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe you should?

DEVOS: Maybe I should, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: So, this left the impression that perhaps she's not equipped to answer some of these basic questions.

HABERMAN: This is different than the guns issue. The guns issue just seems like something's that's more holistic in terms of interagency or involving several agencies and the White House and they all don't seem to know what they want to do. That's her area. She is the education secretary.

She's billed herself as an expert in terms of specific educational plans, in terms of school choice and so forth. Being unable to answer questions about bad schools in your home state for any parent of a school aged child but especially kids in the public school system, especially kids in the public system in Michigan, that's a pretty disturbing answer and it's one of the things we have seen over and over with this president's cabinet picks.

When you do not pick subject matter experts, they are not necessarily going to know what they are talking about, but you would expect those kinds of answers maybe two months into the administration. We're 14 months in now.

CUOMO: And look, just from a perimeter on political playbook. You go to the places that are negatively impacted within your purview just to show that you care. It actually gives you cover to not have to do as much about it if you don't want to. I mean, just to be cynical about it.

That's what you usually see. They haven't gotten that right. The gun stuff matters because Savannah was doing something that was very plain. She was asking basic common-sense questions to expose that they don't know what they're going to do except, and the truth matters on this, make the NRA and its constituency happy.

They like the idea of more guns, good guy with a gun beats bad guy with a gun. Why wouldn't you want it with every teacher? Why wouldn't it be in every classroom? If that's your logical continuum, more guns equals more safe, why not? It shows that they aren't even comfortable with it a hundred percent.

[08:25:06] HABERMAN: I think that's right. I also just think that look, I think that this is not just about making the NRA comfortable. I think it's about the staff in the White House showing a president who doesn't really seem to know exactly what he wants to do that they're doing something and being able to show reporters that they are doing something and have something that you can put on tv and something that you can have written up in news accounts.

Beyond that I don't think it does a whole lot and again I'm harking back to what I said before. I expect we'll see a tweet from the president saying fake news says I'm not focused on the age minimum any more. Wrong. Blah, blah, blah.

CUOMO: Not yet. He just tweeted and he's on to a different topic, "Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is going to be speaking with representative of the European Union about eliminating the large tariffs and barriers they use against the U.S.A. Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers."

It's a little clever what he's doing there in the last line. His tariffs are a problem for farmers. You can just go research it online. Maggie's outlet and many others have reported about this in the next few days, his tariffs are a problem for an overwhelming number of workers in this country.

But it's clever what he's trying to do there. He's trying to make the problem somebody else's tariffs not his own. So, he's not talking about this stuff yet.

HABERMAN: But, I mean, again, this is all coming back to some kind of branding sales job, which is generally speaking what he specializes in and what he turns everything into. It's amazing to watch Wilbur Ross, who is not exactly known as a populist for those of us who have dealt with him in New York over many decades.

Watch and seen him in action suddenly becoming this embracer of tariffs in large measure because the president has been frustrated with him and his job for a variety of reasons and this is a way to please the president, so it is striking to see that.

CUOMO: Just to put some meat on the bones with what with you're talking about with Ross. He came into national purview with a disaster in one of his minds and he was called out because of how restrictive the funding he was going to give the families that were affected by it and that's how he came on to the national stage the first time and again, it didn't reflect well on him then. We'll see how he does now.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So, there are new details coming out about this helicopter crash in New York. Five people died. The pilot survived. What is he telling investigators about why this happened what you're seeing on your screen next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)