Return to Transcripts main page


Shooting at Maryland High School; Tension Mounting inside FaceBook; Undercover Video of Cambridge Analytica; Trump Hires Conspiracy Theorist. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired March 20, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:50] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, more on that breaking news out of Maryland. There has been a shooting at Great Mills High School in the city of Great Mills, Maryland.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: That's in St. Mary's County, about an hour and a half outside D.C.

Jean Casarez is standing by with the breaking details.

Jean, good morning.

What are we learning?


There are a lot of questions because emergency responders are at the scene now, the FBI is there, ATF Baltimore is on its way. But we do not know how many were shot. We know there was a shooting, but how many were shot, were there injuries? There's an immense amount of law enforcement at the scene right now. And it is the St. Mary County Public Schools, specifically Great Mills High School in Maryland, they are telling parents to not come to the school. There is a lockdown at that school. It does continue at this time. They're telling parents to go to another location and that ultimately they will be reunified with their children.

But at this point, all of the students remain in the high school, in that lockdown at -- as an immense amount of law enforcement, including the FBI, responds to this scene, Dave.

ROMANS: School shooting event this year before this morning and a big march this weekend for school safety for these students.

BRIGGS: Just about five weeks from Parkland.

ROMANS: Jean Casarez, thank you.

BRIGGS: All right, a bombshell report. The data firm with ties to the Trump campaign caught on camera bragging about using dirty tricks to get political info. We'll break this down and why it matters to you, next.


[09:38:21] BRIGGS: Sex workers, bribery and entrapment. This is all part of a new bombshell report on Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data firm hired by the Trump campaign in an undercover expose by Britain's Channel 4. Senior executives at Cambridge are caught on video bragging about using dirty tactics to dig up compromising material on their clients' political opponents.

ROMANS: This as we get new details about the fallout at FaceBook.

Lots to sift through here.

Joining us to discuss, Laurie Segall and Brian Stelter.

Let's start with FaceBook here because we're hearing that there's sort of a meeting today with FaceBook staffers about this controversy. FaceBook under fire.

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN SENIOR TECH CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're going to have a company-wide meeting. You know, I'm told, don't overblow this. This it's a huge all hands. But it is a really important topic. They have these once a week. But Mark Zuckerberg, let me say, is not leading this meeting. He --

ROMANS: Where is Mark Zuckerberg, by the way?

SEGALL: Great question. You know, he normally doesn't lead these weekly meetings, but he's not leading it. Their general counsel will be leading it. But you can imagine, a lot of employees behind the scenes probably have a lot of questions, as we have a lot of questions. And I think it goes back to this point that you just asked of, where is Mark Zuckerberg during all of this. They know he's involved behind the scenes, but a lot of folks are wondering where he is publicly, where is his voice, where is his face, as this company is reaching a moment of crisis.

ROMANS: He lost $5 billion yesterday.


ROMANS: The company lost $37 billion, at least on paper in market cap, because Wall Street is concerned that there will need to be regulation of FaceBook and it's --

BRIGGS: Oh, finally some movement on Congress. At least Amy Klobuchar and John Kennedy, two senators, a bipartisan agreement that we need to hear from Congress.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're fed up with lawyers and lobbyists coming to Capitol Hill but not the CEOs.



STELTER: And that doesn't just stand for FaceBook as well. Other tech companies as well. They're saying, we need to hear from the bosses.

[09:40:04] BRIGGS: And let's talk about this Channel 4 video we just mentioned there. What did they dig up and why does it matter?

STELTER: Yes, it's really -- this is a FaceBook scandal and a Cambridge Analytica scandal and it comes together in the center of that Venn diagram affecting both companies.

But about Cambridge Analytica, this shadowy consulting firm, we're learning more about what they say they will do for clients. Whether they do it or not is questionable. But here's some of what Channel 4 found in an undercover investigation in the U.K. They sat down with CEO Alexander Nix, tried to talk to him about what services Cambridge Analytica could provide. And Nix suggested they could even employ honey pots, sex workers to trick people. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Send girls around to (INAUDIBLE) house (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For example, you're saying when you're using the girls to introduce to the (INAUDIBLE) -- to the (INAUDIBLE) and you're using the girls to just like seduction? They're not local girls? Not Sri Lanka girls?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't have thought so. No. We'll bring you some of (INAUDIBLE). Understand (ph) that's just an idea we're saying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can bring some Ukrainians in on holiday (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't say (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are very beautiful, Ukrainian girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are very beautiful.




STELTER: So you see there that the CEO is saying, yes, we can arrange this. We will figure out ways to get at your political rivals using sex workers.

And then later on in this undercover video, you hear from another Cambridge Analytica staffer, a managing director, who talks about trying to use data and target voters on an emotional level, not about facts, but about emotion. Here's what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our job is to get -- is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep seed, underlying fears, concerns. It is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually it's all about emotion.


STELTER: I think he's on to something there.

But with regards to the undercover video, the allegations of these companies, that this particular company would employ sex workers, would entrap opponents. Here's what Cambridge Analytica says. It says it's been taken out of context in this undercover video. That it's been edited to grossly misrepresent the nature of these conversations.

The bottom line here, though, we're talking about two different scandals.

ROMANS: Right.

STELTER: FaceBook's problem. Cambridge Analytica's problem. Cambridge Analytica is facing questions about whether it misled parliament in the U.K. There are going to be legal issues for this company. And for FaceBook, this is a reputational issue. We're talking about the core of the company's business, using data to target us for advisers and by campaigns. Let's be honest, guys, every campaign wants to do that.

ROMANS: Oh, and they have.

STELTER: Obama was going this eight years ago.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: Right. They were.

ROMANS: Trump did this two years ago. Campaigns are going to keep doing this.

ROMANS: It doesn't mean it's good for democracy.

STELTER: So we all need to think about whether it's good for democracy.

BRIGGS: FaceBook execs are at the White House today as part of Melania's push to combat cyber bullying. Maybe somebody could co-opt their time at the White House.

Laurie, Brian, thank you both. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Yes. All right.

STELTER: Thanks. ROMANS: All right, we are continuing to follow our breaking news of the Maryland. A school shooting there. Details are coming in now. Stay with us.


[09:47:36] ROMANS: OK. We are following two very big stories this morning. First, the FBI and the ATF are on the scene of a school shooting in Maryland.

BRIGGS: Plus, Austin police are responding to a suspicious package at a FedEx facility. The call came in just after 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time. That could potentially be a sixth package in the Austin area. We'll keep you up to date as we get new details on both breakings stories.

ROMANS: That's right. That is a new incident in Austin, separate from the one overnight.

All right, President Trump shaking up his legal team by adding an attorney who's been pushing conspiracy theories that the Justice Department framed the president.

BRIGGS: All right, for more on this, let's go to CNN political analysts Ron Brownstein and Molly Ball, and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

Good morning to all of you.

Let's give people a little bit of sense on who this attorney he. He nailed his audition on Fox News. And here's what he said about framing the president, exonerating Hillary Clinton.


JOSEPH DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton. And if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely-created crime.

It wasn't the Russians who corrupted the presidential election, it was the American officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI.


BRIGGS: Molly Ball, we know this, if you perform well on television, the president will bring you inside his administration. But what is adding this lawyer, this flame thrower, if you will, to this legal team? What does that tell you about the direction?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, the president likes a fighter, whether that's on the White House staff or on his legal team, he wants someone who's going to be out there in public, who's going to take a very, very aggressive tack, who he can see on television and feel like that person is fighting for me. And so since his legal team has mainly pursued a strategy of sort of strategic cooperation, I think you can tell that the president feels like that's not quite enough. And it also -- you know, there are reports that he did this without

telling other members of the team or other members of the White House staff. And that that came as a surprise and may throw a wrench in the previous strategy reminds me very much of the White House staff where he's always creating competing power centers, putting people in who will be in competition with each other, pitting people against each other. Now, having that on a legal team is a very unusual way to go about it. But that seems to be his M.O.

ROMANS: And, Errol Louis, this legal team of the presidents is going to be in negotiations with Bob Mueller, and Bob Mueller's investigators and attorneys about how to sit down, how to talk about, how to answer questions in this investigation. A source is saying that the president is wavering over whether to meet with Mueller's investigators. Should he do it? And does this addition show any kind of a change in the -- in the -- in the calculus there?

[09:50:24] ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know if he has any choice about whether or not to at least negotiate with Mueller's investigators. I mean it's a -- it's a valid, legal inquiry that the president himself called for, by the way. So it's not as if he can just sort of flip the switch and tell them all to go home.

What the latest addition to the team, though, and this aggressive strategy that Molly described, suggests to me is that he wants to try at least part of this case in the court of public opinion.


LOUIS: He wants people out there just defending him, even if it makes no sense whatsoever, and that's a political strategy. He knows that for his base, if you accuse Hillary Clinton of anything, literally anything, they will applaud. And they will believe it. And they will give him a little bit of room to maneuver politically. That's really all this is. The notion that, you know, I mean, look, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. There's absolutely no proof that has been put forward that there's this massive conspiracy at the top level of the FBI.

BRIGGS: And many feel this change of direction from the president and the change of tone in particular, naming Bob Mueller, going after him on Twitter, tells you that he's looking to at least soften the earth, if not looking to fire the special counsel, which would not be easy. Have to get rid of Rosenstein first.

But, Ron Brownstein, several Republicans have stood up and draw the line, said we can't do that. It wouldn't happen. But only one really who's not up for re-election, and that's Lindsey Graham. Do you think we'll hear more from leadership? Paul Ryan speaks in the 10:00 a.m. hour. Mitch McConnell later about 2:00. Will they draw the line?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, watch the actions, not only the words. I think you'll hear a muted, you know, the minimal that they can do.

Look, and no action on legislation that is, you know, floating out there to actually protect the counsel, which they continue to insist is -- is not needed. This -- this appointment to me is a reminder of the old saying, that, you know, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks look a nail. I mean the president's consistent response to any political challenge from Russia to policy is to double down on trying to energize and mobilize his base with very little concern for how those arguments play and kind of the broader electorate.

Appointing -- this -- bringing someone into the team who is going to be out making the argument that the entire Russia concern is a fabrication based on a conspiracy at the highest level of government is going to put every Republican on the ballot in 2018 in the position of answering whether they agree that in fact the U.S. government is now filled with, you know, conspirators trying to undermine the president. And, if not, what they are going to do to constrain a president who does believe that, or at least allows his lawyers to assert that.

So this is -- this is the way the president operates on really any challenge, which is to try to mobilize the base. But as we saw in -- even in Pennsylvania 18, a district he won by 20 points, last week, that is not enough if you're driving away as much of the persuadable middle as he seems to be doing.

ROMANS: Well, you know, Molly Ball, it's interesting because he mentions Pennsylvania 18, because, you know, the Republicans in that district, the Republicans were talking an awful lot about tax cuts and how that was so good, that was the economic message of the president. And you had the Democrat there talking about corporate welfare. And I don't hear the president very much talking about tax cuts and some of the wins on the economy, Molly Ball. I hear him fuming -- fuming about this Russia investigation and talking about big tariffs on China. Is he off message here?

BALL: Well, sure. He's always off message. Trump doesn't stick to a message. That's not what he does. He create his own message and he believes very strongly, deep in his gut. You know, and he's not particularly strategic. He's not looking out for his party. He doesn't, I don't think, really care about the fortunes of the Republican Party and Republican elected officials. He's interested in defending himself and expressing himself. And he is obsessed, probably rightly so since it hits quite close to home, he is obsessed with this investigation and he's going to go out there and defend himself and get people who will defend him.

I mean one thing I think is interesting in light of what Errol was saying is, this case was already being tried in the public opinion -- in the court of public opinion. And the lawyer that Trump just brought in was already doing that, was already defending him in the court of public opinion. So what then does he gain by bringing that person inside the team to also bring that kind of fighting strategy to a legal strategy, because he already had that on the public opinion front.

BRIGGS: Well, there's the impact on the message that Christine mentioned there in the 2018 midterms. What about the agenda. No movement on DACA. No movement on a spending bill. Very little, if anything, happening at the moment, though maybe a decent day on opioid crisis.

Errol, what is happening with the agenda? Where is it?

[09:55:02] LOUIS: Well, the agenda's all over the place. Look, there are two agendas at least. One is that the Republican Party, the office holders who are seeking re-election, they're going to try and run on tax cuts and whatever other piece of good news they can put in front of their electorate in their various districts. The president has an entirely different agenda and it seems to be a matter of not getting out of his own way. I mean, you know, if we -- I think we'd all be grateful, everybody on this panel and probably half the people watching, if we could talk about the details of opioid abuse and other topics. The president can't let himself and let us get to those topics.

ROMANS: All right, Errol Louis, Molly Ball, Ron Brownstein --

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick --

ROMANS: Go ahead, Ron, quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: I was going to --

ROMANS: Button it real quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: I going to say real quick. Real quick. I don't think it is -- I don't think he is getting in his own way. I think this is what he believes, that mobilizing his base is the key to success. And the way to do that is to constantly say there are powerful institutions trying to silence them by destroying him.

ROMANS: That's right.

BROWNSTEIN: I think this is -- this is -- this is the -- this is the method, not the -- not the exception.

ROMANS: And we've seen that with this president many times as a candidate too and as a reality show host --


ROMANS: Just say it over and over again because people will think it's true.

BRIGGS: Floating the death penalty for drug dealers is one heck of a way to keep your eye off the ball.

ROMANS: That's true.

Thanks, guys.

BRIGGS: All right, guys, thanks to all of you.

ROMANS: We are following a lot of breaking news this morning. A school shooting in Maryland. The FBI and the ATF are on the scene right now.

BRIGGS: Plus, Austin police responding to a suspicious package at a FedEx facility. The latest for you on that straight ahead.