Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Confirms TIP on Parkland Shooter Threat Was "Explicit"; Larry Kudlow Tapped to Replace Gary Cohn; Sessions Considers Firing McCabe Days Before His Retirement; Pompeo to Replace Tillerson at State & Haspel to Replace Pompeo at CIA; Hirono Concerned about Hollowing Out of State Department Ahead of North Korea Negotiations. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You just heard the FBI confirming at this hearing on Capitol Hill that they received explicit, very detailed tips about this shooter. Those tips weren't acted on. What's your reaction when you hear that?

ROBERT RUNCIE, SUPERINTENDENT, BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: It's very disappointing. And I think this is one of the things that our students and our young people are asking for, is that there be better coordination and accountability from law enforcement as one of the many pieces they have on the table. The other is more sensible gun laws, including banning assault rifles, universal background checks, and third is better investments and mental health services and supports.

BLITZER: It's been one month exactly since the Parkland high school massacre. How are the students doing?

RUNCIE: You know, they have their ups and downs. This has been about a week since they've returned to a full schedule. We continue to provide grief counselors. We provide therapy dogs at the school. We have provided flexible schedules and supports for students and faculty. But it's still a very rough time. They have their moments.

This grieving process is going to be with us, you know, into the foreseeable future. But coming together and getting the Marjory Stoneman Douglas family together, the students and faculty, as one community, helps in accelerating their grieving process. They're having to be there with their friends, to be there with their teachers, and getting back to some sense of normalcy has been a very positive experience for our students.

BLITZER: What do you think of the nationwide walkout today by these students?

RUNCIE: You know, on one level, I certainly look at it at a number of ways. One, I view it as a positive that the students have been able to take their anger, grief, and concern into action for positive change. The other thing is that as part of the education process, we try to instill in our students' critical skills, being able to look at issues, think about them critically, take a position, being able to communicate that, and connect and have relevance to what they're actually learning. This is a great learning opportunity for them to have some relevance to what they're learning.

They read a lot about history. They're now able to certainly make history. They're able to demonstrate their First Amendment rights, and they're also able to make connections not only within their school but with students and other young people across the country. So I think it's a positive day for our young people. I'm very proud of the way they've stepped up. And again, using this tragedy as an opportunity for them to help define a better future for themselves and this country.

BLITZER: It looks like, at least in Florida, your legislators, your governor, they've been listening. They did pass legislation. Some of the legislation clearly opposed by the National Rifle Association. Are you encouraged by what you see in your state of Florida?

RUNCIE: Absolutely. I can tell you, Wolf, this would have never happened without the advocacy and push of the students and their parents in the Parkland community. They need to be applauded for their persistence. I also want to acknowledge the governor for spending so much time here. I spoke to him almost daily.

He attended many funerals, became very sensitized to the situation. I think the legislation put on the table and his proposals reflect that level of engagement and sensitivity to the issue. Hopefully other states around the country take heed and we can get better, more sensible laws in place to help protect our kids and ensure our communities are safer.

BLITZER: I know you're worried. And I've spoken with teachers, the superintendents all over the country, they're worried if you have to spend more money and you all have limited educational budgets, if you have to spend more money on security, does that take away from the teachers and the education, the funds that go for getting our kids a good education.

RUNCIE: Yes, Wolf. Unfortunately, that's what we appear to be seeing here in Florida. We have the school safety bill that was passed. Over $400 million includes opportunities for school resource officers, mental health services. On the other hand, in Broward County, we're seeing an actual almost reduction in what we call our base student allocation. We find that to be an unacceptable situation, and we're asking the governor to veto the portion of the budget that deals with the education budget, send that back to the legislature, and provide adequate funding for basic education services.

We don't believe there should be a choice between paying our teachers their salaries, investing in educational programs, and covering inflationary costs and actually keeping our schools safe. We should be able to do both. Invest in school safety as well as invest in educational services. So we need to have both in order to move this state and this country forward.

[13:35:17] BLITZER: Well, good luck to you, Superintendent Robert Runcie, of Broward County schools. Good luck to all the folks down there. We'll say in touch. Thanks so much for joining us.

RUNCIE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's breaking news involving another possible firing by the Trump administration. Get ready. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[13:40:00] BLITZER: There's breaking news. The former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, could be fired just days before he's set to retire. A source says the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is considering that recommendation, stemming from McCabe's actions in an investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

Our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is standing by. She's over at the Justice Department, has details.

Laura, explain the basis for this complaint against McCabe that could lead to his actual firing.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, after a 22-year career at the bureau, we have now learned that former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, could be fired in just days. He's set to officially retire on March 18th, this coming Sunday. As you know, he stepped down abruptly last January. And now we've learned that the Office of Professional Responsibility at the FBI has recommended his termination to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Now, Jeff Sessions has not made a determination. In fact, the spokesman, Sara Flores, says, "The department follows a prescribed process by which an employee may be terminated. That process includes recommendations from career employees. And no termination decision is final until the conclusion of that process. We have no personnel announcement at this time."

Now, Wolf, this entire situation stems from an internal forthcoming report from the inspector general's office, that internal watchdog at DOJ. That report will claim that McCabe misled investigators about his role in approving other FBI officials to talk to the media back in 2016 about an ongoing investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

Now, McCabe did not have any comment about this most recent development, Wolf. But you can be sure we will find out more as we see that report. It has not been released, that inspector general's report. And it's expected to be wide ranging and covers a multitude of issues stemming from the 2016 presidential election, including then-FBI Director Comey's decision to come out just days before the election announcing a decision on the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe -- Wolf?

BLITZER: And at issue, he's got a 22-year career over at the FBI. If he's fired, as opposed to being allowed to simply retire, he would lose his pension, is that right?

JARRETT: That's exactly right, Wolf. As I mentioned, he's been on terminal leave since January when he somewhat abruptly stepped down, and he was set to retire this Sunday. But if he's fired before, he would lose his pension.

BLITZER: All right, Laura. We'll stay on top of this story. Very interesting, indeed. Thanks very much, Laura Jarrett, at the Justice Department.

Let's bring in White House correspondent for Reuters, Ayesha Rascoe, and CNN political analyst, White House reporter for the "New York Times," Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Julie, what do you think?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, it's a stunning move if Jeff Sessions actually does opt to fire McCabe in this manner. Now, I haven't seen the details. I don't think any of us have seen the details of this investigation that is prompting this recommendation, but this is a person who President Trump took on personally, famously. He characterized him as a partisan several weeks ago now when he was going after the FBI generally as a biased organization. McCabe was sort of the poster child for that in the eyes of the president. He made it very clear that he felt that McCabe that acted inappropriately, kept talking about how his wife had gotten campaign contributions from allies of Hillary Clinton.

So his abrupt departure wasn't a surprise given those circumstances. What would be truly stunning now if he were fired before he can get his retirement. Again, we don't know the degree of wrongdoing he's alleged to have committed. Maybe this is an appropriate step. It's just in the context of the Mueller investigation and everything else and the FBI's clear role in that, it's a pretty stunning development.

BLITZER: Ayesha, you know that McCabe has been the target of the president's anger for a long time.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes, and I think that's what kind of makes this issue kind of complicated, because if it had just been based on the inspector general's report, then that could be understandable. But I think that the way President Trump, when he weighs in on these matters so personally, it does raise at least concerns about, well, how is this decision being reached and is the White House in any way involved. We don't know that, but when President Trump personally attacks people, it does, I guess, raise questions about how these decisions are being made.

BLITZER: Quickly, I want to get both of your reactions. Larry Kudlow now being tapped to replace Gary Cohn as head of the National Economic Council. Larry Kudlow, a long-time host, contributor, analyst, conservative economist over at CNBC.

[13:45:50] HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, it's interesting because, you know, Larry Kudlow has known Donald Trump for a long time. They're personally close. They have chemistry. He was involved in the campaign in the formulation of the president's tax plan during the campaign and his economic plan. It does seem like President Trump this week is moving forward installing people around him who he feels more comfortable with, who share his world view on many matters. Now, Larry Kudlow doesn't necessarily agree with his recent move on

tariffs. They have some issues where they may diverge. But clearly this is a move towards someone who he feels comfortable with and feels like has the stature to take the place of Gary Cohn. Obviously, he and Gary Cohn differed on a lot of big issues, which is why he left.

BLITZER: And, Ayesha, it's clear the president never felt very comfortable with Rex Tillerson.

RASCOE: No, no, he never felt comfortable with him. And it does seem that the president right now is feeling like he wants to get people around him who are going to carry out his, you know, demands and not feel like he's being constrained and not feel like people are kind of getting him to kind of stay in this box. He wants to be able to do these things like impose tariffs and other things that people have tried to push him back or pull him back on. He doesn't want to play that game anymore.

BLITZER: He clearly wants people around him that he likes and feels comfortable with. I assume we're going to see a lot more of that. That's coming up. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, has now been tapped to become the secretary of state. Clearly feels comfortable with him as well.

Guys, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, I'll get reaction from Democratic Senator. of Hawaii. to the big breaking news -- you see her there. She's standing by live -- the news the attorney general now considering whether to fire the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, instead of simply letting him retire in the coming days. If he's fired, he loses his 22-year pension.


[13:50:58] BLITZER: More on the breaking news right now. Attorney General Jeff Sessions contemplating firing of former deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, days before his retirement.

Joining us from Capitol Hill, Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Judiciary Committee as well.

What's your reaction to the possible decision to fire Andrew McCabe after his 22-year career over at the FBI. He would lose his pension, as opposed to, in the coming days simply, letting him retire.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D), HAWAII: Two words. The chaos continues. It's another example of impulsive behavior by the president and, this time, he's using Jeff Sessions as his tool to get rid of somebody that doesn't agree with him. And basically, the president likes to surround himself with people who will not disagree with him. You see all these people exiting the executive branch at a time, for example, in the State Department, where we need to strengthen the State Department and our ability to conduct diplomacy. He is willowing out the State Department. I could go on. BLITZER: Let's talk about that --


HIRONO: To fire somebody a few days before his retirement is sadistic, in my view, really, and uncalled for.

BLITZER: So you would oppose that. Let's see what the recommendations to the attorney general are from this committee that's been looking into some of his behavior.

Let's talk about the president's decisions to fire the secretary of state Rex Tillerson and bring over Mike Pompeo from the CIA to be nominated as the next secretary of state. What do you think?

HIRONO: I think that the firing of Secretary Tillerson at a time when we're supposed to be preparing, one hopes, for some negotiations with North Korea to ease tensions there is, in my view, bad timing. At the same time we'll have to go through a hearing process for Pompeo. I do not vote for Pompeo to be CIA director because he has some views about using torture that I -- is totally, in my view, illegal and inappropriate. There will be a lot of concerns as to whether or not Pompeo will be the kind of secretary that will stand up to the president and tell him what he needs to hear as opposed to what he wants to hear.

BLITZER: What's your impressions of Gina Haspel, the deputy CIA director, now in line to become the first female director of the CIA?

HIRONO: She also has some issues around torture and will be asked a lot of appropriate questions when her confirmation comes forward. Basically, what I ask of all the people who come before the Judiciary Committee, in particular, for confirmation is -- for example, the FBI director, what I ask them is, are you going to be able to stand up to the president when you disagree and are you willing to leave if the president asks you to do something inappropriate, illegal or immoral.

BLITZER: As you know, she's a career CIA officer. You're referring to what happened after 9/11, back in 2002, when she was involved in what was called the CIA black site in Thailand --


BLITZER: -- where they used what they called enhanced interrogation techniques, torture, if you will. You have serious questions about that.


BLITZER: But given what was going on there then, there are some, including the former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the former CIA director, he was on CNN earlier today, saying, you have to take the timing of her activities into consideration. He has high praise for her.

[13:54:34] HIRONO: I think that that will go a ways to giving her the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, she will be asked questions about, what was her role and why didn't she speak out against the use of these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, which is basically torture. She will be asked some tough questions.

At the same time, I'm really concerned about what's happening with the who will ow hollowing out of the State Department and the lack of preparation for discussions or negotiations with Kim Jong-Un. And I framed it as, you know, I would hate for what I call the Tuesday president, who likes to agree with the people in front of him, which is what I experienced when I went to the White House to talk about the DREAMers. He's very amenable. Then you get the Thursday president where everything is changed, and everything is walked back. I would hate for the Tuesday president to show up unprepared to deal with Kim Jong-Un, if these negotiations even happen. And in order for that to happen, we need to do a lot more investigation. Such as, it would be good to have an ambassador to South Korea.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's see if the meeting actually takes place --


BLITZER: -- over the next two months.

Senator Hirono, thank you so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.

BLITZER: Aloha to you, as well.

Coming up, one month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, students across the country have been walking out of their classrooms in a show of solidarity. Looking at live pictures coming in right now. Their mission, gun control. We'll have a live report on the nationwide demonstrations. That's coming up.