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Growing Calls for Action after Massacre; Gates Close to Plea Deal; Bannon Questioned this Week; Immigration Looking Doubtful; Parkland Going Forward; Shooter Fired Almost 150 Shots. Aired 9:30- 10a

Aired February 16, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Unfortunate. It's sad. And the country's noticing.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it -- there's -- the sides on gun control, the issue -- the sides are so polarized and people are speaking past each other and vilifying one another, which is, obviously, you know, there's -- most people who own guns are decent people and they want them for protection and they want them for hunting and tradition, and, you know, it's easy for people on the other side to vilify gun owners and it's easy for gun owners to believe that people who want some sort of gun control want to take away their guns.

There is this feeling among many -- around some gun owners, and certainly among the NRA, that any kind of increased gun legislation, that it's just a slippery slope. That's it's just one step closer to, you know, the government knocking on your door and trying to take away your guns.

DENT: Well, I agree with you, Anderson. I don't -- I don't abide by, you know, the camel's nose under the tent theory on all of this.

Back in 1995, when Tom Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania and I served in the general assembly, at that time with a Republican legislature and Republican governor, we passed legislation to require background checks for private sales of pistols. We did that. And we brought together, you know, the NRA and gun control advocates, law enforcement, and we came to a consensus.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that we have that ability these days to bring these people together.

Look, I own firearms, too. A lot of people own firearms. They are good -- they are good citizens. But we can certainly pass some reasonable, incremental common sense measures on bump stocks, background checks, the no-fly list. We can do this. But, at times, you know, we just can't get a vote on these types of issues on the floor.

COOPER: The issue, obviously, of mental health is something that a number of Republican legislators have brought up, obviously the president has brought it up as well. Where are you on that? Obviously there's mental -- a lot of mental health advocates who worry about stigmatizing people who have mental health. There was that Obama-era regulation that was repealed by President Trump, and I know you voted to repeal it as well, about getting people who receive complete disability from the Social Security Administration and can't work and also can't even manage their own disability, they have to have somebody else do it, under the Obama regulation, their names, about 75,000 to 80,000 of them, would have been given over to the firearms database in order to prevent them from getting a weapon.

What's interesting, not only did the NRA oppose that, so did the ACLU and so did a lot of disability groups because they felt it denied those people due process, not based on anything they had done, just because of the class of disability that they had. So while you don't want to stigmatize people with mental illness, is there something more that can be done to prevent people who shouldn't have weapons from getting them?

DENT: Yes, we can do more on the mental health side, clearly. In fact, the Toomey-Manchin bill that I mentioned earlier, that had a provision that would basically protect health care providers from any liability when they transmit mental health information to the instant check system. Quite often that information hadn't been transmitted. And so I think we need to provide protections to the health care providers so -- from lawsuits under HIPAA. That's something that we should do.

And, by the way, in the last Congress, we passed a law, it was the Tim Murphy legislation that made comprehensive changes to our mental health systems. But, yes, mental health is an enormous part of this. But I don't think that the mental health issue should stop us from taking on some of the common sense gun measures that I -- that I mentioned a few moments ago.

COOPER: You're obviously -- you're going to be leaving Congress. I mean do you really believe change is possible? I mean there's so many students here who I've talked to, you know, who seem mobilized, who seem to, you know, be angry, who seem to think it is, that this time something can be done. But, you know, after Newtown, there -- a lot of folks thought, you know, the deaths of toddlers and little kids would mobilize change and it didn't.

DENT: Well, I think that's what we've seen after these shootings, that there's an initial surge of energy to act and then that seems to dissipate. But I hope this time we do take on some of those bills. Like I said, on the enhanced background checks, the bump stocks, the no-fly list. I think those are things that we can do now. I hope this energizes us to act on more than just mental health because the country is clearly beyond disturbed by what's happened.

And, like I said, my -- this hurts -- this situation is very painful. As I think I mentioned to you earlier, my daughter's boyfriend went to this high school, knows families that have been impacted by this horrible tragedy. And so I think it's time that we do something. Incremental, bipartisan approaches can be accomplished. It's just a matter of whether there's the political will to take them up on the House floor and the Senate floor.

[09:35:01] COOPER: Yes. Congressman Charlie Dent, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

DENT: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: President Trump will get an Oval Office briefing this morning, we're told, on the school shooting investigation. Later today he and First Lady Melania Trump will leave for Florida. Still unclear if he's going to visit the high school this weekend.

We have more news ahead. We'll be right back.


COOPER: The president has sent out a tweet saying I'll be leaving for Florida today to meet with some of the bravest people on earth, but people whose lives have been totally shattered. I'm also working with Congress on many fronts. That, the latest tweet from President Trump. Not clear if he will be coming here and exactly when he will be coming here.

Also some news you'll only see here on CNN. Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is now finalizing a plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sources say that could mean he's ready to cooperate with Mueller, which would bring the probe one step closer to a possible case against President Trump or members of his team, people like Paul Manafort.

[09:40:05] Sara Murray broke this story. She joins us live from Washington.

So, Sara, explain what's going on.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this could be a potentially significant development in the Russia probe, the notion that Rick Gates seems to be finalizing a plea deal with Robert Mueller. He does appear poised to cooperate. He's already spoken with Mueller's team.

Now, we know plenty of Trump associates, of course, have met with Mueller's team, have spoken with them through the course of the investigation. This meeting is a little bit different. It's what's known as a queen for a day interview, which is essentially where, you know, Gates goes in, he puts his cards on the table. Think of it as kind of an off-the-record interview. And then prosecutors decide, OK, what is this information worth to us, what kind of deal are we willing to strike? And then you sort of move forward from there.

So this is a situation that's still very much in flux. But it's interesting for a couple of reasons. I mean, one, Rick Gates is a co- defendant with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, in this criminal case. So, obviously, this is potentially troubling you if you're Paul Manafort. Both of these men pleaded not guilty. But, obviously, if Gates is inching toward a plea deal, that could change the calculation here. It could put a little bit more pressure on Paul Manafort. And if you are Bob Mueller, if you are the special counsel, Gates' cooperation could be sort of a building block for you as you try to build a potential case either against President Donald Trump or against any number of his associates.

Now, when we talked to the White House about this, they certainly downplayed any notion of a plea agreement. They say basically, look, if there's a plea agreement where Rick Gates is going to flip on Paul Manafort, that doesn't really make a difference to us. The White House firmly believes that the only thing that Mueller is interested in with these guys has to do with their financial activities, their business activities before they were even working with Donald Trump's presidential campaign or before they had anything to do with the transition or anything after that fact. So they certainly are projecting an air of confidence when it comes to that.

Although a source in the White House did tell me that the president does feel some sympathy for both Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, that they've been stuck in these legal proceedings. He feels like the only reason that they're stuck in this mess is because of the Russia probes, which, of course, we've seen the president call on Twitter time and time again a witch hunt.


COOPER: It's not really true for the White House to say that what, you know, Paul Manafort is accused of was all before he was involved with the Trump campaign. Some of it did carry over.

It's also interesting that the White House is saying this has nothing to do with us. That this is just about building a case against Paul Manafort. That very well may be true, but it could also be an effort to build up a case against Paul Manafort and then get a deal from Paul Manafort to build up a case against somebody else, if, in fact, there is a case against somebody else and he has information.

MURRAY: Well, right, Anderson. And that's what we know about how these cases tend to work when you talk to people who are involved. In this case, people who have been involved in previous cases like this. You know, we saw, obviously, that Flynn is cooperating with Robert Mueller. Now we know there's that chance that Gates will be cooperating with Mueller. And so you sort of try to flip people along the way to build more information, to build more sources to what your ultimate target is.

Obviously, when it comes to the special counsel, we don't know exactly what case he's building or against who. But that's why everyone is kind of watching this a little bit wearily to figure out where it's going.

And, you're right, of course the White House is going to downplay this, of course the White House is going to insist that this is not going to come anywhere near the president or anywhere near the West Wing. But the reality is, we just don't know enough about that right now. We will not know until Robert Mueller comes out and tells us what he has or has not found.

COOPER: And, Sara, just briefly, how much do we know about what Steve Bannon has communicated or how much he has talked to Robert Mueller? MURRAY: Well, we know that Steve Bannon spent two days and many hours

basically getting grilled by Robert Mueller's team over the course of the week. This was a no holds barred interviewed. There were no subjects that were off the table. He was expected, sources told us, to be questioned about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, as well as the decision to fire Michael Flynn, who was the ousted national security adviser.

And that's a very different setting than what we saw from Steve Bannon when he has been up on The Hill. Remember, he was in front of the House Intelligence Committee just yesterday and he, once again, refused to talk about anything that happened in the White House, refused to talk about anything that happened during the presidential transition because he said the White House asked him to invoke executive privilege. That doesn't happen in a Mueller interview.


Sara Murray, appreciate that. We'll continue to check in with you.

A deal on immigration looking doubtful this morning. A bipartisan bill failing in the Senate, along with another more conservative White House backed plan.

Suzanne Malveaux joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

So where does this stand, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it really is in limbo. A lot of people saying they don't know where they're going to go from here. And, as you said, it really was a crushing blow, not only to nearly 2 million folks, undocumented immigrants here, whose fate is in the balance, but also to many members of Congress who were visibly disappointed, angry, resigned, emotions all over the place. Those four different plans, none of them hitting the 60-vote threshold that was needed.

The bipartisan plan that most likely would have passed, that $25 billion border security, as well as a path for citizenship for the DACA recipients, dreamers, was just six votes shy of actually getting to that 60. And then also the president's plan, a very crushing blow there. Only 39 votes for that particular plan. It would have limited legal immigration.

[09:45:21] And so it's all over the map. The blame game has started. Democrats very much unified, blaming this on Trump. And then a wide variety of Republican responses from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who feels like he's done his job by putting it to the Senate floor, to also other Republicans like Susan Collins, who feel like there's got to be another way, something else.

So you do have plans that are much more limited in scope, that are being bandied about, introduced, talked about behind the scenes. But so far, Anderson, it does not really look like there is anything that is coming together or coalescing that would be put forth that would get the kind of support needed for these dreamers. Anderson.

COOPER: Suzanne Malveaux, appreciate that. More to come on that, no doubt.

More from Parkland, Florida, coming up as well. A community still obviously reeling, searching for answers. And the first funeral since the massacre is today, just moments away.

We'll be right back.


[09:50:49] COOPER: Well, it's hard to imagine, but sickening to say, just minutes from now the first funeral begins here in Parkland, Florida. It's for 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, a daughter, friend, a respected young woman in this community. A community once called the safest in all of Florida, and probably still is the safest in all of Florida. A place where people specifically move to raise their families.

Joining me now is Michael Udine, former Parkland mayor and currently Broward County commissioner.

Thanks so much for being with and sorry for being under these circumstances.

You have a daughter who was at this school. Can this school -- so many people here do not want this school and this community to be defined by this.

MICHAEL UDINE, BROWARD COUNTY COMMISSIONER: I think that, at this point, after getting over the shock and disbelief, that's the key thing that I'm hearing and that I'm pushing for people.

Parkland's an amazing city. This school is an amazing school. You're seeing the kids that are going on TV. These are kids that are achievers, be it in drama, in business, in school and academics. We're going to rebound because this is an amazing school and an amazing setting.

COOPER: You know, I talked to the football coach yesterday, and, I mean, he was obviously heartbroken. One of the thing he said -- he used to teach in West Virginia. He said in his 28 years in schools, he had never been to a school that was as well prepared, that had done as many drills for active shooters, for fire drills, for anything, and even the fire drill they had in the morning, the teachers were on point, everybody was in line.

UDINE: We -- one of the thing that we did as the city is we made sure, through the school board, that this school has an armed police officer. Every school in Parkland has a school resource deputy that's armed --

COOPER: And there's a single point of entry which -- as well.


Now, can a kid get in another way? I mean they try. These kids, this is a big school. But the goal is, single point of entry. We have a school resource deputy and we try to make this school as safe as possible. And we're going to look at what happened and we're going to see if there's ways to improve, where there's ways to improve and how to make things better.

COOPER: How does a community bounce back from something like this?

UDINE: I think if you saw last night at the vigil we had, which was almost 15,000 strong, our community -- if there's any community that can come back, Parkland will come back. We are a tight knit, neighbor with neighbor community. We're the type of community where we can -- like a family, we can squabble among ourselves internally, but we'll come together when there's outside sources.

COOPER: It's also -- I'm seeing a lot of people come from all over the country to live here. I mean you're from New York, I think, originally.

UDINE: I'm from New Jersey, yes.

COOPER: From New Jersey. The -- as I said, the football coach was from West Virginia.

UDINE: People come here specifically, they want Parkland, they want the lifestyle that Parkland is. We're the typical suburban community. And they want this school. People are moving here specifically to get their kid in this school. They want to be in the boundary for Douglas High School and we're going to make sure that that continues. We are going to do whatever that we can so that this event doesn't define Douglas High School, and doesn't define Parkland.

COOPER: It's interesting because, I mean, sadly I've been on a number of communities that have experience a school shooting and I've never met kids who so quickly in the wake of a shooting are talking about issues of gun control. Obviously a lot of politicians are focusing on mental health. But does it surprise you to hear the kids, you know, saying, thoughts and prayers are great, but we need to do more?

UDINE: It doesn't surprise me at all. I've -- I know these kids personally. I'm at this school once every other week. My kids all graduated here. My daughter's a senior here. These are kids that are active, that are engaged. Almost any discipline in this school, we have leaders. Number one baseball team in the state. When we do our business events through DECA (ph), number one teams in the state. Whatever discipline you can think of, the leadership is right here.

COOPER: Well, again, I'm sorry that we're under these circumstances, but I appreciate you coming and talking with us about the community.

UDINE: Thank you. Thank you.

COOPER: Moments from now, the long process of saying good-bye gets underway. The first funeral begins. This one for 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff.

Our special coverage continues after this.


[09:59:18] COOPER: Good morning. I'm Anderson Cooper.

A somber morning here in Florida. As we speak, the first of 17 funerals is getting underway for a victim of Wednesday's atrocity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Right now friends and family and community gathering for Alyssa Alhadeff, just 14 years old.

Also this morning, President Trump appears to confirm he will heading to Parkland, Florida. He just said he'll be meeting, quote, some of the bravest people on earth. People whose lives have been totally shattered and also working with Congress on many fronts.

We're also waiting for another briefing from investigators this morning, trying to learn as much as we can about exactly what took place here. We now know the shooter fired almost 150 rounds from a semi-automatic rifle in the seven minutes that he was inside the school.

[10:00:02] We've also learned he bought at least three other guns in just the past year.

CNN's Rosa Flores joins me now with much more.

Rosa, what are you learning?