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Students Walk Out of School to Call for Gun Control; Comey Memos Reveal Trump's Attempts to Influence Russia Probe; Giuliani Joins Trump's Personal Legal Team. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired April 20, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, students are being led to a nearby church to meet their parents. The shooting happened just minutes before students across the country were expected to walkout of their classrooms, rally for new gun control laws. Those walkouts are beginning right now, planned in the wake, of course, of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and scheduled for today to mark the 19th anniversary of the shootings at the high school -- the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Washington, D.C. where a crowd is forming at this moment. Ryan, what are you seeing?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. We're in Lafayette Park, which is of course, right across the street from the White House. You can see the White House from where I'm standing right now. We have a pretty large contingent of high school students from Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia that have gathered here to have their voices heard on this 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.
I'm joined by Hiam and Carolina. They're both from Falls Church, Virginia. So, first tell me, you know, what is it that made you decide to come out here, leave school today and have your voice heard?
HIAM BAIDAS, STUDENT: You know I'm just very passionate about guns and gun laws. I think we need to have stronger gun laws, make it more difficult to buy guns. Because right now, I'm 18 years old, I live right across the street from Walmart and I can go buy a gun and I don't think that's OK. I think the youth are the movement that is going to change and better our country, so I think that it is very important that students get out and be active.
NOBLES: Did you feel like this was something you were always passionate about or was it the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that really got your attention and made you feel like you had to become more active?
CAROLINA MCCABE, STUDENT: I've always been passionate about it. But the shooting in Parkland really inspired me to make a change. My sister lives near there. She's a teacher at a school nearby. And I fear for not only students' lives but teachers' lives as well. I think it is something that we are the ones who are able to change it, if we stand up and stay strong.
NOBLES: And were you ever that politically active before this, or how would you describe your action in that regard?
BAIDAS: I think definitely now that I've gotten older and started high school, I've been more politically active. But I think the real time when I definitely started becoming more politically active was after the last presidential election. I think since then I've definitely come to more marches in D.C. I've voted since then obviously because I was just able to vote this past year and just encouraging more people to get out and be active as well.
NOBLES: And you know, the president isn't here today, but, you know, you're hoping he hears your message. You're going to go down to Capitol Hill as well. If you could tell lawmakers one thing you want to see changed, what would it be?
MCCABE: I think just stricter background checks, is my main -- my main effort to make a change on. And a ban on assault -- semi-automatic weapons, I think that's important for me.
NOBLES: All right. Well, thank you, guys, both for being here. Good luck today. And John, these two students are just one example of these types of walkouts happening all over the country. They expect somewhere in the range of 1,000 students to participate in this rally here today. The big question, of course, John, is will lawmakers hear what they have to say at this point, no real substantive changes as it relates to gun laws at least at the federal level. John?
BERMAN: All right. Ryan Nobles thanks very much.
Want to get back to CNN's Dianne Gallagher who is in Parkland, Florida, obviously where the shootings were back in February and where students are beginning their workouts right now. Dianne?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. And so far at least form where we are, we actually haven't seen any of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas physically leave the campus. Now, part of that may be because this time around the principal and the school district said that they're not going to be as lenient. They're not going to be in support of it like they were -- on the 14th of March. I'm getting some texts from some of the students inside who instead are showing me pictures and videos of the kids who chose to meet in the courtyard. They're there. They're signing banners they're going to send to Columbine, the students there. And some of this is out of respect as well.
A lot of the students said they have been a bit conflicted about walking out because this wasn't something that those at Columbine wanted them to do. Instead they wanted this day of service at lunch time. They're going to have voter registration that's happening.
But according to the teachers, there were a lot of students this morning who were still pretty adamant. They wanted to walkout of classes. Those teachers showed up before school today, John. They were all in orange shirts representing ending gun violence and they held up signs to show their support of their students as well.
Again, we're waiting to see if the kids actually do leave campus. I'm told that if they do, and I actually kind of starting to see heads above the cars in the parking lot come out right now, beyond that Stoneman Douglas sign. Now, if they do what they're told initially, they're going to walk out here past where we are across the street and go down to a park area that's also known as a junior parking lot where some of them park. It is not nearly as far as they walked out the last time around. It appears that what they have done according to a message I just got from another student is they held their moment of silence inside the courtyard area of the school, that 13 seconds afterwards represents those 13 who were killed at Columbine, but again, the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas beginning their walkout here on national school walkout day to remind people that they are still adamant about ending gun violence.
[10:05:08] BERMAN: All right, Dianne Gallagher in Parkland, Florida. Diane, thank you very much. We're going to keep our eye on the protests just developing now throughout the morning.
The other big news story, James Comey, his memos, they have been released. The president claiming these memos somehow vindicate him. He says they show no collusion and no obstruction.
CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in Washington. Not sure that's exactly what they show, Shimon. What's in there?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Not exactly, John. You're certainly right. Keep in mind, this goes to the issue of obstruction and this is all part of what Bob Mueller and his team are looking at. You know, these memos did reveal some new information. We have talked about this. Comey has talked about some of this stuff, but there are new pieces of information in the memo and certainly as they relate to Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. And really, Trump's issue with some of what Michael Flynn did and his judgment and here's what Comey writes about that.
He said that at one point during their conversation between Michael Flynn and Comey, he said, quote, "The president pointed his fingers at his head and said the guy has serious judgment issues," talking about Michael Flynn. And then he goes on to talk about some more information in the memo that is Comey talks about some of the other conversations he had with the president concerning Michael Flynn and this whole idea of letting the investigation go. And he writes that, he then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying that Flynn is a good guy and has been through a lot. He misled the vice president, but he didn't do anything wrong in the call. He said I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go. Comey says he then told the president I agree, he is a good guy, but said no more.
Now, much of that is not new, but there is some more contexts in terms of the conversation. Now, finally what we did learn new from the memos was that the -- that Comey did have a conversation with the former chief of staff, to the president, Reince Priebus, where they discussed Flynn and whether or not he was under secret surveillance by the FBI. And the question was posed in the meeting to Comey from Ryan asking if this was a private conversation, if he and Comey were having a private conversation. And then Comey writes, I replied that it was. And then he writes that Priebus then said he wanted me to ask me a question, and I could decide whether it was appropriate to answer.
He then asked -- do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn. Now Comey never responded to that question. Instead, he told the former chief of staff that there are proper channels that he would have to go through meaning the Department of Justice, the deputy attorney general there at the time, and he would have to ask him those questions because it would be sort of inappropriate for Comey to answer those questions. Certainly these memos as we know are part of the Bob Mueller investigation. But lots of new information here, but much of it we had already known, John.
BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz in Washington, thank you very much.
Joining me now is Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst and Josh Campbell, CNN law enforcement analyst.
Mr. Wu, I want to start with you. Again, the president in his statement overnight about these memos, now that he's had a chance to look at them, say that they show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Do they in fact show that?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They certainly do not clearly show that. I think what is interesting about the memos is for us to remember, these are not interviewed memos. Director Comey was taking notes so he could remember something very important, later put into a memo form. But they're not a traditional FBI 302 the way an agent would take notes from an interview. I think that's an important evidentiary aspect to keep in mind.
BERMAN: Sure, absolutely. But they are contemporaneous. They are real time. And they were being written by someone who at that time had no reason to expect that he won't be FBI director what -- for seven more years. So, Josh Campbell, what do you see there?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes. I mean if you go back and look at the beginning of the relationship between Director Comey and then president elect Trump, as Comey said, this is someone that he saw, at least he viewed at the time as someone he might have to document and keep track of the meetings because they might come in handy later on for some type of -- some purpose. And you know, Shan said at that point, he had no way to know he was actually going to be fired, but at least thought he was dealing with someone who may not accurately portray the nature of the meeting down the road. And I think that's what we're seeing play out in front of us.
It is also interesting that if you look at the level of detail that are in these memos, Comey goes through and talks about these conversations and what he saw, I think that level of detail is a reason why it is going to be so important if the White House is successful that they really work to discredit him. [10:10:02] And that's what we have seen because you know, if you work at discrediting his character, see him call him a liar and slime ball, then maybe by default they'll be able to, you know, say, well, everything that he wrote was also, you know, cry foul on that as well. It is the same campaign that they've used against Bob Mueller. Discredit the person and then you can hopefully discredit what they find down the road. The thing is, this isn't some secret campaign. This discrediting campaign has been done in plain sight.
BERMAN: Right. I mean, yes, in public statements by people close to and who work for the president of the United States. Shan, let's not forget that the reason that these memos have been so important over the last year is because James Comey, in his testimony, sworn testimony before Congress, said that they show that he feels as if the president was asking him to back off the investigation of Michael Flynn. And, again, is there anything in those -- these memos to dispute that notion?
WU: There is not. I think they clearly reflect that the president was asking him to back off, but the million dollar question is, does that rise to the level of obstruction of justice charge. It probably does not, at least based on these memos. I think it is important to note that it is unlikely the Justice Department would have agreed to turn these over if they felt that they were highly sensitive information that could compromise the ongoing criminal investigation.
BERMAN: Josh, so one of the areas that is getting a lot of attention certainly overnight is James Comey who, you know, in his interviews over the last several days in the book has talked about this. But we see it now in the memos as well that the president kept on going back to the salacious details inside the dossier. He was obsessed according to Comey in the interviews with the reports of what allegedly went on with the prostitutes. And James Comey writes in the memo the president said the hookers' thing is nonsense, but that Putin had told him, quote, "We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world." You know is this just, again, sensational or does this get to an important mind set of the president of the United States?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think the latter. And you know if you look at indicators, whenever you have a conversation with someone, and Shan knows this from the Department of Justice, I know this from being the FBI agent, you look for patterns and you look for things that might lead you to make different conclusions. And this case, when you have someone who is sitting before you, that constantly brings up the same topic, something that, you know, by the way, he claims is not true, that causes you to question what you're dealing with here and the fact that as Comey said, it was brought up over and over and over again, you know, may suggest that, you know, was more than just something that may not have been accurate. And then there's also, you know, to -- of interest, if you look through the president is -- has an obsession over leaks and stopping leaks and it is almost Nixonian and kind of this, you know, creating this team of plumbers, we're going to find the leaks, we're going to plug the leaks, again, something that he's obsessing over.
BERMAN: Shan, I didn't say any introduction to you, people don't know, for a period of time, you did represent Rick Gates who of course was the deputy campaign chair for a period of time and since pled guilty to various things to the special counsel. I just wanted to throw it out there when I ask you about this other piece of information we're going to talk about a little bit. Rudy Giuliani has been brought on to the president's team to negotiate with the special counsel. Based on what you've seen of how the special counsel operates, do you think this will be a helpful endeavor for the president?
WU: I think it could be. And, of course, I can't disclose anything confidential about my prior representation, but I think certainly Mr. Giuliani is the kind of experienced white collar person you would want, however it is not so clear if this particular client is going to allow him to really take charge of the defense form.
BERMAN: Do you think that Mueller in any way, Shan, would be swayed by the presence of Giuliani in the negotiations?
WU: Absolutely not. I know Bob Mueller myself. We was been office mates as prosecutors. He's not a person to be swayed by anything like that. He'll certainly be polite and greet him if they see him, but this idea that because you know somebody personally you can sway the course of the criminal investigation. I mean, Josh knows that as well as anybody, that just doesn't really happen with professionals.
BERMAN: Shan Wu, Josh Campbell, great to have you with us. I really do appreciate it, terrific discussion.
As we mentioned, the president's legal team has now grown. Rudy Giuliani will now be there and he says he can bring the Mueller probe to a quick end. Really?
Plus, a reporter says that Donald Trump lied to him to get on the Forbes 400 list and he used his alter ego. He claimed to be someone else to get it done. We have the audiotapes.
And we're following student walkouts across the country. Protesting gun violence and calling for new laws. Stay with us.
[10:18:51] BERMAN: All right. Happening now, across the country, students in different size groups, we should say, walking out of schools to protest gun violence. This is the 19th anniversary of the shooting in Columbine. The students in Parkland, Florida, have led the call for a new round of demonstrations today. These are the pictures we're looking at now. You can see Catonsville, Maryland, on the left, Washington, D.C. on your right, near the White House. We'll keep our eye on the protests throughout the morning.
The other major story, of course, is the release of the memos that fired FBI Director James Comey took after his various meetings and conversations with the president. I'm joined now by Democratic senator, Tom Udall of New Mexico, he serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thank you so much for being with us. The memos came out overnight. You either had a chance to read them or to hear about them no doubt. What is your major takeaway? SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, my major takeaway is that President Trump has been involved in a very extensive effort to influence what has been going on with the Mueller investigation. This is obviously a very important investigation to the country because of the Russian interference in our election.
[10:20:01] There is a big question as to whether or not the Trump campaign was involved in the collusion, the so-called collusion or if they were working with the Russians in terms of the election. And so, these are very serious issues that are before the country. They should be investigated. And we should allow that investigation to go forward. And I'm very disappointed that my Republican colleagues will not sign on to a bill that allows Mueller to be independent.
BERMAN: Congressman Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes over on the House side, all Republican chairs of various committees, write that the memo show that Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened. Is that fair?
UDALL: Well, I think that issue of obstruction is one that the special counsel is looking at. We ought to wait. It is premature to make a judgment on whether or not there was actually obstruction of justice. I don't think there is any doubt that the president's behavior has been very obstructing and he has been very pushy towards the special counsel as to what they're looking into, and that in many cases he has tried to get them to downplay what is happening. For example, this National Security Adviser Flynn, he asked specifically to the -- Comey, don't -- layoff of him, go easy on him. That's -- what you expect in FBI memos is not a conclusion. You expect them to put down the facts. And I think the facts are pretty strong here.
BERMAN: Senator, you're on the Foreign Relations Committee. I want to ask you a few questions having to do with U.S. role in the world, a very important way right now. The Kremlin put out some statements overnight, the National Security Adviser John Bolton did meet with the Russian ambassador. The Russian ambassador suggests that they might try to set up a meeting between President Putin and President Trump. Would you support that?
UDALL: I think always we should be meeting with our adversaries. But the important thing is laying the groundwork, making sure that all of the expertise we have in government is devoted to preparing the president to go into the meeting at the very top of his game. What worries me about President Trump is he's very impulsive. He doesn't like that kind of preparation. Apparently doesn't spend the time to prepare and that can be pretty scary if you get into a meeting and then his temperament goes off and he starts giving hostile threats to whoever he is meeting with. So, I think there should be meetings with North Korea, I think there should be meetings with the Russians. They should be completely transparent. And we should say what we're trying to achieve going into them.
BERMAN: You have come out against the nomination of Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director to be the next Secretary of State. The fact that he went and met with Kim Jong-un to lay the groundwork, what you say is important for this North Korean meeting, that doesn't influence your vote at all, doesn't make you more -
UDALL: I think that is very important and I think the fact that he was able to get in there and have the meeting and give the president some assessments is important. The thing with Director Pompeo, he's against climate change. He's against the Iran agreement. He's also, I think, very questionable on the issue of tariffs and trade. I just can't see that I can endorse him as the diplomat for the country on these issues. Let's not forget the Secretary of State is our chief diplomat. Someone who is trying to be -- trying to find ways -- trying to find ways to get us through things rather than get us in a conflict. And I don't think that's where he's coming from.
BERMAN: So your Democratic colleague, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, now says she will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo. If you count the numbers here, it really does mean he's likely to end up as Secretary of State. Are you disappointed in her ending yes vote?
UDALL: Not at all. I think every senator, whether Democrat or Republicans, must, must vote their conscience and vote their state. And so, I'm not ever critical of somebody on their particular vote.
BERMAN: Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it. Have a nice weekend.
UDALL: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
BERMAN: All right. Rudy Giuliani has joined the president's legal team with one mission to end the Mueller probe. He says he can end it quickly. Really?
[10:29:05] BERMAN: All right, a big development for the president in the Russia investigation. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, has joined his legal team.
Our Abby Phillip is in Florida, near Mar-a-Lago. Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's outside advisers and something of a friend of the president, is joining the legal team after several weeks of turmoil in that area where the president has lost some lawyers, tried to hire other lawyers and not been able to. But Giuliani is joining. He says, in a limited capacity in an effort to help bring this investigation to a close much more quickly. He says he's going to try to get whatever Mueller needs in terms of documents or information and provide it to him as quickly as possible.
Now, Giuliani is a former U.S. attorney, also former mayor of New York. But he also says he knows Robert Mueller personally. He says he believes this is probably as good as they can get in terms of a person to lead the special counsel investigation and he believes that Mueller will be fair. That being said, the president doesn't necessarily believe that. He said that Mueller is conflicted and that the investigation is a witch hunt.