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NEW DAY SATURDAY
Mueller Indicts 13 Russians For Election Meddling; Trump Says "No Collusion" Despite Russian Indictments; FBI Admits It Didn't Act On Tip About Florida Shooter; Trump and Melania Visit Shooting Victims at Hospital; Stoneman Douglas High School Students Speak Out After Shooting Massacre; John Kelly Orders Security Clearance Overhaul. Aired 6-7a ET
Aired February 17, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Russia story is a total fabrication. This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Thirteen Russians indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The goal here was simple -- damage Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We truly regret any additional pain that that has caused. The FBI has determined that protocol was not followed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this situation, the system clearly failed us.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The doctors did a great job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I sent her to school yesterday. She was supposed to be safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't really care what people who defend the Second Amendment have to say. Their arguments are invalid unless they've experienced this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Rene Marsh in for Christi Paul.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. We are live in Washington this morning where we are following major developments on our top two stories.
Up first, President Trump, you know, spent more than a year calling it a hoax and a witch hunt and a total scam, but now Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 election.
Now in documents, the Department of Justice claims the Russian effort involved unwitting Americans, including Trump campaign officials, and despite any concrete proof, the president says these charges have vindicated him in the Russia investigation.
MARSH: Our other top story, a stunning admission from the FBI. The bureau says it failed to act on a tip about the Florida school shooter. Now some are asking could that tip have prevented the massacre that killed 17 students and teachers.
BLACKWELL: More on the latest in the Florida investigation in a moment. But we'll start with CNN's Jeff Zeleny and new details on how Russians allegedly worked to influence the 2016 election -- Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump spending the weekend at his presidential retreat in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. Of course, in the wake of the indictments back in Washington, certainly hanging over the Trump administration once again.
For more than a year, the president has been saying the Russia meddling investigation is a hoax, a witch hunt. That was proven to be not true, at least in the view of the Department of Justice. Handing down 13 indictments, the most sweeping case yet of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Of course, the president has said that simply nothing happened. He's recounted the fact that when he talked to Vladimir Putin last November in Vietnam during the APEC Summit that he believed Vladimir Putin's denials of any Russian meddling.
The Department of Justice today said that was simply not the case. They went song and verse in a 37-page sweeping indictment about how the St. Petersburg internet factory simply meddled in the election, in this U.S. election here.
The president, though, had this to say on Twitter in response. He said this, "Russia started their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."
Certainly, President Trump seizing on the fact that he said there was no suggestion there was collusion. He did not talk about the fact that Russia, indeed, meddled in the election at least in the view of the Justice Department that follows in line with all of the thinking of the top U.S. intelligence chiefs here in the United States.
So, as this goes forward, of course, this is the beginning, not the end of the findings of the Mueller investigation. Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist at the White House, spent more than 20 hours this week alone before Robert Mueller's team.
What was he asked, what did he tell, that, of course, will come in the days, weeks, and months to come perhaps. The president for now spending the weekend here at his retreat in Florida. Perhaps playing some golf. But, clearly, the Russia investigation still weighing on the Trump presidency. Jeff Zeleny, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.
MARSH: Well, for more on how Russia is reacting to this latest news, we're going to go to CNN international correspondent, Matthew Chance, who is live for us this morning in Moscow. Matthew, what sort of reaction are you hearing from the kremlin this morning?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rene, as soon as any suggestion is made to Kremlin officials about these allegations of meddling in the U.S. election, the traditional response is being one of denial. It's been no different this time.
[06:05:01] As soon as these 13 indictments were put out there by the U.S. Justice Department, there were more denials coming from the Kremlin. The most recent one from the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. He said this, "If there was any fire there, the smoke would be immediately visible. We could not and did not interfere.
They are still talking about state interference in the pre-election process, but I have not seen a single fact." He said that speaking at the Munich Security Conference just a few hours.
There have been similar rejections as well from other Russian officials. Basically, we're seeing the Russians retreat back to their traditional position of denial, even confronted with these latest indictments by the U.S. Justice Department.
MARSH: All right. And Matthew, there is -- there was one Russian who was actually named in the indictment. Tell us a little bit more about him as well as this Internet Research Agency also named in the indictment.
CHANCE: Well, there were 13 Russians in that indictment, but you're right, there was one man there, a billionaire oligarch from Russia, known to be very close to Vladimir Putin, who was basically said to be the person who bankrolled this whole Internet Research Agency, the notorious kremlin troll farm, which originally had its offices in St. Petersburg, the Russian city there in the north of European Russia.
This is an agency, which according to the indictment, had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system. For instance, they organized anti-Muslim rallies in various cities. One in particular, a rally took place in May 2016, in Houston, Texas.
They intervened in blogs and chat rooms, trying to sort of turn opinion against Hillary Clinton and towards Donald Trump. It's this troll factory that set out basically to try and distort the process in the United States and of course, to sow discord.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is the man who is indicted for bankrolling that organization. He's a deeply controversial figure in this country. He owns a network of businesses. He is a billionaire. Again, he's known locally as Putin's chef because one of his businesses has a catering contract for the kremlin.
MARSH: All right. Matthew Chance live for us this morning in Moscow. Thank you.
BLACKWELL: All right. Let's bring in now Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent, Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia.
Good morning, everyone. And Abby, I want to start with you with the list that we have collected from the president over the years -- a hoax, it's a witch hunt, it's fake, it's totally made up. I'd imagine that high note is harder to hit after we're getting the indictment from the Department of Justice?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Definitely. And as he's gone on, it shifted to no collusion, but you saw from the White House yesterday a shift in tone about this and also from Republicans more generally. Now they're acknowledging that Russia interfered and that is a serious problem --
BLACKWELL: Calling them a bad actor.
PHILLIP: Calling them a bad actor and now they're blaming the Obama administration, of course, for not acting sooner. But clearly, the White House understands that they can't go on repeating the president's comments that it's a hoax.
We saw hints at this earlier this week when Mike Pence was speaking in an interview. He talked about it in a way that was far different from the way that the president did. But the White House and the president are also jumping to a certain conclusion here, which is that these particular indictments, these 13 Russians that were indicted, point to the fact that there is no collusion.
I think that the indictments actually make no judgment on that at all. In these particular indictments, they say no one was wittingly involved, but we also know that the Mueller investigation is still ongoing.
The conclusions haven't been fully reached, and there is a degree to which there are unanswered questions still out there. The White House wants to say this is case closed.
MARSH: And you speak about the president saying that, look, this clears me, no collusion. We have that tweet. Let's put that up for a second there. This was the first reaction we got from the White House was the tweet from the president essentially saying, "All that you see in this indictment shows that we did not collude with the Russians."
I want to ask you, Sarah, this very question. You know, we're not long away from the midterm elections. You have the president saying, look, this frees me, but we have not heard him say what he plans to do as far as actions to prevent this sort of thing from happening again as we approach the midterms. How prepared do you think that we are?
SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I think that because a lot of Democrats have conflated the certainty with which we know Russia interfered in the election with the certainty with which we know that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, we're not at all certain that that
[06:10:13] And because of that, President Trump has tried to shy away from talking about Russian interference at all. We know that Russia interfered in the election. We knew that before the indictment. We knew that because of the report that the intelligence community put out under President Obama.
And just from a strictly political standpoint, these indictments weren't really a clean development for either narrative because it did give Republicans, Trump's allies, the ammunition to say there was no collusion named in these indictments.
That Russians organized against Trump as well as for him. For Democrats, this is more irrefutable proof that Russia did meddle in the election in a really significant way.
BLACKWELL: Michael, I want everybody to listen to Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, as the intelligence heads were on Capitol Hill at the Senate hearing this week. Here's what he said about direction from the president on what to do now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt Russian --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been directed by the president?
WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: No specific directions from the president. I'd imagine that's even more consequential in the context of what we've learned from this indictment.
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: That's absolutely true, Victor. When the leader of the country has been so hesitant to actually acknowledge the fact that Russia meddled in the election despite the intelligence agencies for many months saying that that was a fact, I think that's put us behind the curve a little bit.
Let me say this -- I think that for Trump to come out and say that there's no election meddling or collusion at this point is like the rooster crowing too early before dawn. I mean, there -- this is just an indictment. This is an indictment against 13 Russians. An indictment is just a document that lays out the facts relative and relevant to the accused defendants. So, the indictment is not intended to be a blanket document that tells everything the administration found out.
In fact, I think it's interesting at this point when we're talking about some of the people charged here, we're not sure -- you know, Trump wants to say, look, I hadn't even announced that I was going to run for president back in 2014.
That's what makes the financial documents, the tax returns, and the business transactions so important that we haven't seen yet. We don't know exactly what financial arrangements the Trump team or Trump himself had with Russia.
So, those things may play in to why Russia got involved. They didn't do it for fun. There was a reason that they got involved and stayed involved and tried to get Donald Trump elected president. We may see that now that we don't have sanctions in place despite the fact that Congress passed them.
MARSH: To that point, Abby, I mean, last month the president kind of passed up an opportunity to add sanctions to Russia for their Russian meddling. What is your sense, you cover the White House, what's your sense as far as what is the administration doing to protect our elections from this point on?
PHILLIP: Well, I think the president is hesitant as you heard from Christopher Wray. The intelligence community is not getting their direction on this from the president and Mike Pence indicated when he was also talking about it this week.
He said, he is helping to lead the call of government response to the threat of Russian meddling in the midterms. So, if this is going to happen, it's going to be because the president's deputy maybe empowered by him, is leading the response, is helping the Department of Justice work with states in order to prevent this kind of meddling from happening.
I think it's been reluctant and perhaps a little bit slow. I mean, we are in 2018 right at this moment. Everybody has been saying in the intelligence community for months and months that this meddling is going to happen. It's already happening and needs to be acted on immediately.
I also think it's interesting, you know, based on what Michael was just saying about the financial transactions here. What's interesting about these indictments is that they do kind of suggest that these Russians were trying to get Americans to work with them unwittingly.
If in fact, the White House is happy with the indictments because they've shown no collusion, it would really make you wonders why did the president go to such great lengths to try to step in the street of this investigation. If the investigation was going in a direction that didn't lead to him, it probably would have been better for him to let it go. BLACKWELL: All right, a lot to unpack in these 37 pages, including the persons known and unknown to the grand jury, which we want to talk about. We will have this conversation later this morning. Abby, Michael, and Sarah, thank you all.
MARSH: Coming up, a stunning admission from the FBI about a missed opportunity to prevent the Florida school massacre. The latest on that is coming up next.
BLACKWELL: Also, students from Marjory Stoneham Douglas High are grappling with how to deal with losing their friends in the school shooting.
[06:15:05] I sat down with five of them to get an idea of how they're coping. Where they are in their own words, that's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you not be scared after something like that happens? People I know, people I pass in the hall every day, just gone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Well, now to the latest developments in the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. This morning, six patients are still in the hospital recovering from their injuries. The president and first lady visited them last night.
The funeral for the 17 people who lost their lives have begun. Mourners are saying goodbye to 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff and 18- year-old Meadow Polluck that happened Friday.
MARSH: Meantime, the gunman, Nikolas Cruz is back in court Monday. The public defender says Cruz is willing to plead guilty so the community won't have to relive the nightmare.
We're learning about multiple warning signs and missed opportunities to prevent the massacre including a tip just weeks ago to the FBI, but the bureau admits it failed to act.
[06:20:12] CNN's Brian Todd has the latest.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate not far from here after a dramatic couple of days following the horrific school shooting on Wednesday afternoon. The president came to South Florida on Friday and spent time with some victims of the shooting at a hospital in Broward County.
He then came here to the Broward County Sheriff's Office to get an extensive briefing from first responders and the sheriff's office on the shooting on Wednesday and the response to it. This comes as we're getting disturbing and chilling new information about warning signs, clues that were missed, and some information that was mishandled about the shooter, specifically a crucial tip given to the FBI.
TODD (voice-over): New and alarming details of missed and mishandled warning signs. The FBI says it was given information on January 5th on a tip line. The caller provided information that Nikolas Cruz was erratic, armed, had a desire to kill people, and showed the potential of conducting a school shooting. This information was never passed on to the Miami Field Office.
ROBERT LASKY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: The potential of FBI to miss something is always there. We do our best. We have protocols to prevent these things. We will be looking into where and how if something -- the protocol broke down.
TODD: This in addition to a separate notice given to the FBI regarding disturbing social media posts predicting a massacre including these saying, "I want to shoot people with my AR-15. I want to die fighting, killing s-ton of people."
Jim Guard, a former teacher of the shooter tells CNN the faculty received an e-mail in late 2016 prompting them to be on the lookout for Cruz and to let administrators know if he was seen with a backpack.
(on camera): Describe that e-mail and what it said.
JIM GUARD, FLORIDA SHOOTER'S FORMER TEACHER: It was simple, said if he comes on campus with a backpack, let me know.
TODD (voice-over): CNN affiliate, WPLG is reporting on a school document recommending in January 2017, that a threat assessment be conducted to determine if Cruz was a threat to the school after he was involved in an assault. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the document.
It's not clear if the threat assessment was ever done. The Broward School Board hasn't commented. Signs at every turn that the 19-year- old shooter was troubled and violent. Police records show 39 calls to the shooter's home over the past seven years for various reasons, including reports of, quote, "mentally ill person," child or elderly abuse, and domestic disturbance. Not all of the calls referred to the shooter.
SHELBY SPINO, NEIGHBOR OF FLORIDA SHOOTER: I don't know how often, but there was definitely police cars in the driveway.
TODD: Shelby Spino's home is just two doors down. She said they and the other neighbors had many encounters with Cruz over the years. On one occasion, her daughter said she saw Cruz shooting toward a neighbor's yard with a gun.
SPINO: She just said, Mom, that red-headed kid's shooting chickens -- the people behind us had chickens, and I looked out the window and I saw him with, you know, it was a long -- I don't know anything about guns. I saw him -- it was a long gun. TODD: Cruz lived there with his adoptive mother until she passed away last fall. He was then taken in by the residents of this Pompano Beach home. A neighbor captured this video of what he says was a regular and frightening occurrence. The shooter wearing a "Make America great again" hat firing a weapon in his back yard.
He lived at this home until Wednesday's deadly rampage. Police say he fired more than 100 rounds during his rampage. They've detailed the moves the shooter made. Some of them seem calculated. Others haphazard.
After being dropped off by an Uber, he entered the school building and began firing into rooms on the first floor before moving to the second and third floors. Police say he finally exited the building and blended in with fleeing students. He then made stops at this nearby Walmart, then this McDonald's.
After leaving the area, he was apprehended in nearby Coral Springs. As the investigation moves forward and the Parkland community searches for solace, many here are asking with so many warning signs, why wasn't he stopped.
TODD: A question that is now placing serious pressure on the FBI director. Florida Governor Rick Scott in a scathing statement said the FBI's failure to take action against the killer was unacceptable, and Governor Scott is calling for the FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign. Brian Todd, CNN, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
MARSH: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review at the FBI and Justice Department after the bureau's stunning admission that it failed to act on a tip. I want to bring in senior law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, also former assistant director of the FBI.
Tom, this tip which had a whole lot of information came in in January. It seems that people did what they were supposed to do. Did this blunder by the FBI essentially cost these 17 people their lives?
[06:25:07] TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, certainly, Rene, could have contributed to it. There's no question that this is probably one of the most catastrophic failures to occur in the FBI ever that I can ever recall. I've wanted to be an FBI agent since I was a little kid, 30 years in the bureau, couple of years since then consulting back, and then also for CNN.
I've never heard of an issue like this that could have and probably did lead to this level of failure. You know, and there's a lot of occupations and a lot of industries where you can have a single person have a failure that results -- captain of an airline, for instance.
We hear pilot error. Hundreds of people die. This is the first time I know of an incident with the FBI and the system it created to prevent this actually breaking down.
BLACKWELL: So, a single person acting here. Does this lead to calls for potential redundancies that need to be in the system so that something like this doesn't happen again?
FUENTES: No, exactly, Victor. This system was created about seven years ago where individual offices with individual employees receiving various calls which they get thousands a day, you know, to create a system where it was more standardized, where you had trained operators in the call center which this case was located in West Virginia.
So, all of these thousands of calls come in almost every day to that center, and then they're trained to know is this one of the 450 investigative classifications responsible for the FBI, is this a state and local matter, where is it, who would have jurisdiction, and then they're supposed to have the training, knowledge, and system to be able to direct the complaint to the right office.
In this case, the Miami office and it wasn't done. And they're looking at now is this a single person that took that call that failed. Is it a system of management, is it a system of the way the system operates, that will be looked into?
Interestingly, this system has gotten high praise from a wide range of inspections that it's gone through and all of that for actually being a much more efficient and effective system than just every one of the 56 domestic offices receiving calls themselves.
MARSH: And I mean, you hear the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, already calling for the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, to resign over this. As someone who work the for the agency, do you agree that this is sort of a scenario in which that would be appropriate?
FUENTES: I don't agree that it's time for politicians to throw rocks at each other. We could say we have a catastrophic failure at the state and local level when the school expels this kid for violence, when fellow students say he's bringing guns and ammunition in a backpack.
The faculty was given an e-mail a year ago warning them to notify the front office if he shows up because he could be dangerous. That's just in the school. Then you have the police responding 39 times to the house. Neighbors see him in the yard and video him shooting guns and acting mentally disturbed at that time.
You have failure at a variety of levels. I don't think that's appropriate for a politician who may not have his own house in order to be throwing rocks at the FBI director.
BLACKWELL: Yes. Plenty of signs for some time with this shooter. Tom Fuentes, we've got another topic to discuss with you. Stick around with us for a moment.
MARSH: And coming up next, the students from that Florida school shooting are grappling with how to cope and gain back some sense of normalcy. Why they say change is necessary for them to feel safe again.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:32:59] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, President Trump and the first lady visited a hospital in Broward County, Florida, last night where many victims of Wednesday's high school shooting are being treated. They also dropped by the sheriff's office to praise the law enforcement officials who responded to the incident.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: CNN correspondent Dianne Gallagher is in Deerfield Beach, Florida, there.
Dianne, good morning to you. And how are those victims who are still in the hospitals?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Victor, Rene, the good news is that we've seen improvements and discharges every day since the shooting of those who have been wounded. There are currently six patients still in the hospital, three of them here at Broward North. One does remain in critical condition.
But the president and first lady chose to come to Broward North because this is where the majority of the patients were brought to begin with. This is a trauma center. They acted quickly. And that's something that the president commented on when speaking to the doctors and first responders about just how quickly that response time was.
I talked to some of those doctors yesterday -- the day before, and they said about 15 minutes is the heads up that they got. They went into that code green.
The president and first lady visited with one of the patients here, Maddie Wilford, she's an 18-year-old. She's a basketball player at Stoneman Douglas. She was shot multiple times. And you can see the pictures that were posted by social media manager there, Dan Scavino, lots of pictures with his family smiling. This was good news to a lot of people in this community, seeing Maddie there at least smiling and seeing her face since the shooting happened.
The president and first lady also visited with a male patient while they were here at Broward North. They spent about 20 minutes total at the hospital before going to the sheriff's office and congratulating those first responders on the way that they handled the situation and how quickly they were able to do so -- Victor, Rene.
MARSH: And of course our thoughts are with those students who remain in the hospital this morning.
Dianne Gallagher, live for us this morning. Thank you.
BLACKWELL: I spoke with a group of students from Stoneman Douglas High School and listened to their stories about what they saw on Wednesday and how they feel about it now.
[06:35:06] And they talked about the shock and the anger, numbness. But one thing they feel is fear. Fear that their school is no longer safe. Here's part of our conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CAMERON KASKY, STONEMAN DOUGLAS JUNIOR: It's a slew of emotions, and one of the most daunting things is that they all kind of neutralize each other to the point where I feel desensitized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You asked how we're feeling, but I feel like a better question is what we're not feeling. I catch myself almost being mad at myself for not feeling more. I feel almost numb.
KASKY: There's been a lot of survivor guilt. There have been a lot of people saying, why wasn't it me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we can't take life for granted anymore because every single day you just don't know what's going to happen and we don't feel secure and safe in our own school, like a police may call home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only thing that separates us from them is just luck. There are freshmen, there are little girls but didn't come home because of what happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had so many friends in the school that I wasn't in the room with that I wanted to make sure were safe. And I -- it was hard to reach everyone. It was just such a -- such a scary feeling of helplessness.
BLACKWELL: Let me ask about, you know, the category now that this echelon that your school is in unfortunately. I can say Pulse Nightclub, and you all know what I'm talking about. Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech. I can now say Stoneman Douglas. What does that feel like now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we were in that closet all together, I was just thinking we're going to be that school. We're going to be the ones that everyone talks about. We're going to be the school that got shot up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With this title now that everyone knows the name of the school, we can use that and use it to make change.
KASKY: And one way we could do that is by being unapologetic and not by sugarcoating it.
BLACKWELL: Have you prepared yourself for what it will be like to walk back into the building?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a class with one of the girls that passed away, unfortunately. I don't know how I'm going to step foot back in that class.
KASKY: I'm excited to go back to school. It's going to be hard. I have a class in the building where everything happened. But I want to be with everybody. And everybody's been so strong together. And I want to see everybody. If we didn't have the leadership at our school that we did, there's a very good chance that this could be abysmal, more so than it already is. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you not be scared after something like
that happens? People I know, people I pass in the hall every day, just gone. And yes, I'm scared.
BLACKWELL: The eloquence from these students so soon after this tragedy is remarkable. Now we talked about gun control, we talked about the issues of mental health, their message for the president, for the governor, for Senator Rubio. And for those who say this is not the time to talk about these issues.
You're going to hear more of our conversation now with the students there from Stoneman Douglas High School later in the show.
MARSH: And so insightful. Really good interview. And it's just so clear that even once those students are laid to rest, the problems are just going to continue for these students emotionally, as well.
BLACKWELL: Yes. Absolutely.
MARSH: And coming up after -- in just a moment, after a top aide is forced to resign over domestic abuse allegations, Chief of Staff John Kelly is overhauling security clearance procedures. But will the changes work?
[06:42:44] BLACKWELL: Well, the security clearance process for top officials is now getting an overhaul.
MARSH: Right. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is ordering the changes after mishandling allegations of domestic abuse by senior aide Rob Porter. Among the changes outlined in a five-page memo, background checks should go straight from the FBI to the White House counsel's office, and the FBI should share any derogatory information with the White House within 48 hours of uncovering this.
So will this all work?
Joining me now, Tom Fuentes, CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former assistant FBI director, and Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney for Middle District of Georgia.
I guess the first question goes to you, Tom. I mean, he's making this announcement. I mean, do you get any indication based on these changes and the changes outlined in the memo that this really would have made a difference prior to all of this, prior to the revelations concerning Rob Porter?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the White House was definitely notified on at least three occasions by the FBI of the status of their investigation on Porter. So the statements by Wray when he testified were that, you know, in March they issued the first interim report. This would have been after they received derogatory information from the ex-wives. Then in July, the -- what would then be the completed report, but it would just be, you know, more things that might not have been included in the March summary. And then the end in November, as new things came up, they added to it. So the idea --
MARSH: They knew. Right.
FUENTES: The idea is controlled actually government-wide by a system of security clearances and how they go. The White House control who they're going to issue the security clearance to based on these government-wide set of rules. The FBI's part of this is just to give them the results of the information and then they decide whether to issue or not to issue a clearance and how long it takes them to figure it out.
BLACKWELL: Michael, you remember that as this Rob Porter scandal was unfolding, John Kelly said that everything was done right. This is clearly an admission that it indeed was not.
I want to read you one portion of this five-page memo from Kelly that all background investigations of potential commissioned officers should be flagged for the FBI at the outset and then hand-delivered to the White House counsel personally upon completion.
[06:45:04] This is the most important part here of this passage. "The FBI official who delivers these files should verbally brief the White House counsel on any information in those files they deem to be significantly derogatory."
If memory serves me, that's exactly what acting AG Sally Yates did in the case of General Flynn, and the White House still didn't do anything about it.
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: I think that's true. And I think he's sending out a memo that looks to pass the buck down the road in case they have another snafu like this. You can have all the memos and all the policies and all the regulations that you want to have, but if you don't have a chief of staff or a president or an administration that has the fortitude and the strength to make decisions on those things, then they don't matter.
The background process is a long and tedious process. It's uncomfortable for the people who go through it oftentimes. And this information that comes out is something that would have been known relatively early on as we now know. And so this was a case I think of just having people in the administration who were unwilling to act. Maybe they had a fondness for Mr. Porter. Maybe they just didn't want to recognize the fact that they had a problem there.
Who knows what the internal machinations and goings-on were. But in this case, I don't know that a memo would have made a difference because it's pretty clear at this time that they had the information.
MARSH: So, Tom, to you. I mean, this change could potentially impact Jared Kushner. I mean, he's still operating under this temporary security clearance. I guess my question to you is, does it alarm you at all that his background check still is ongoing and for whatever reason --
FUENTES: We actually don't know, Rene, if it's ongoing. We don't know if everything was completed and submitted to the White House, could be months ago. We just don't know.
MARSH: So what do you make of the fact that --
FUENTES: The White House --
MARSH: That --
FUENTES: What I make of it is that somebody that -- you know, the president and senior officials at the White House vouched for or have a relationship with, they're not in a hurry to receive derogatory information about them. They're not in a hurry to fire them based on what they received. So you know, we just don't know.
Now in the case of Jared Kushner being an international businessman, his could be ongoing. There could be additional financial leads coming from banks and other institutions around the world that it does take time to get that kind of information. But we don't know --
MARSH: But is this timeline normal of more than a year?
FUENTES: For someone -- for someone that's an international businessman or has traveled all around the world and would have contacts everywhere, it could be. It could take many months up to a year, yes.
BLACKWELL: Michael, out to you, does this, from your perspective, end the Rob Porter scandal? I mean, the White House knew, John Kelly, Don McGhan knew that they had a man working in the White House who was credibly accused of domestic abuse. Put aside the moral question, the national security challenges? As you said, easy to put out a memo, but there's been no overhaul of accountability.
MOORE: I used to think, Victor, that, you know, when somebody stood up and would have the administration and told them an outright untruth that that was probably the end of their time in the White House. I'm not convinced of that anymore after this last year. So it seems to me that there should be some head to roll at least over this. But as I say, I mean, this is a pretty clear case where it seems they knew that Mr. Porter had problems, they just didn't want to act or failed to act.
And I think somebody is responsible for that. I can tell you having had an office full of people with security clearances, that if I'd seen this, this is the kind of thing that would have taken about a day to resolve. And we would have been helping the gentleman pack up his office and look for -- you know, look for the exit door. So this wasn't a tough decision based on the allegations in my mind.
MOORE: He wouldn't have qualified to be a postal carrier in Ludowici, Georgia, based on that. BLACKWELL: All right -- where in Georgia?
MOORE: Ludowici, Georgia.
MOORE: I got nothing against my friends in Ludowici. But this is a pretty clear case. You wouldn't want the man who sits right outside the president handling secret documents having this kind of stuff on his background check.
BLACKWELL: Well, I've never been to that post office, but as I'm passing through next time, I certainly will stop.
Michael Moore and Tom Fuentes, thank you both.
MOORE: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: All right.
MARSH: All right. Well, despite it still being very cold at the Winter Olympics, the competition is certainly heating up after a full week.
Our Coy Wire is there in the heart of it all.
Coy, how are the Americans doing?
COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rene. Good morning, Victor. Coming up, not one but two American Olympians both favored for gold here in Pyeongchang, each with results almost no one saw coming. We'll tell you who, what, and how coming up right here on NEW DAY.
[06:53:56] BLACKWELL: Week one done. And some of the biggest names in the Olympic Games representing the United States were in action earlier including Lindsey Vonn and Nathan Chen.
MARSH: And that's where we find our very own Coy Wire.
Coy, you were at the men's figure skating competition where Nathan Chen was very impressive but missed out on a medal. So what happened?
WIRE: It was a surreal, unreal scene there, Rene, Victor, to good morning. This was a shining example of a fierce human spirit getting knocked down but refusing to stay down from 18-year-old Nathan Chen. The only undefeated figure skater in the world coming into the season -- in this season, rather. But he fell in his first two competitions in Pyeongchang. The weight of the world on his shoulders heading into that final portion of the program.
Many saying he was crumbling under pressure. But Chen said he wanted redemption and he got it. He tuned out all the noise. He hit six quad jumps, that's a first in Olympic history. Four rotations each. He captured a catapult from 17th place to finish fifth.
Now I witnessed the surreal scene after Japanese legend Yuzuru Hanyu defended his Olympic figure skating gold.
[06:55:04] Fans wearing their Winnie the Pooh outfits crying, young and old stormed in to throw stuffed Pooh bears on to the ice. They're Hanyu's favorite. He bedazzles with his performances. Some call him the Michael Jackson on ice, a figure of inspiration for his fans. Ever since that devastating tsunami of 2011, and the nation was reeling after that, but eight mounds of those stuffed Pooh bears were gathered after his win. Yuzuru, by the way, donates all of those to local charities in the towns in which he performs.
We'll have more coming up for you later throughout the morning about what else happened here in Pyeongchang. A lot of exciting stuff -- Victor and Rene.
BLACKWELL: All right. All right, Coy. Thank you so much.
The next hour of your NEW DAY starts after a quick break.