Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Uses Florida Massacre to Attack Mueller Probe; CNN Exclusive: Mueller's Interest in Jared Kushner Expands to Include Foreign Financing Efforts; CNN Exclusive: Mueller Inquiring About Jared Kushner's Talks With Potential Chinese Investor; WH: Pres. Trump Supports Background Check Improvement; Students Put Pressure on Lawmakers to Act; Protests Activism after Florida School Shooting; School Shooter in Court More Signs of Missed Warnings; Florida Student Speak Out for Gun Control; Presidential Tweetstorm. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired February 19, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
President Trump went on a Twitter rampage over the weekend and it continued today. He said a lot of things that simply are not true and we'll talk about that. We do it because, obviously, he is the president of the United States, because what a president says matters still and whether those statements can be trusted -- well, that certainly matters.
But keeping them honest, beyond just their raw factuality or the lack of it is what all these tweets reveal about the thinking of the most powerful man on the world and his priorities and some would argue his humanity. You can certainly draw your own conclusions about that.
Not far from Mar-a-Lago, there were funerals today for Luke Hoyer and Alaina Petty. He was 15. She was just 14. Both students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Two classmates will be laid to rest tomorrow and funerals continue throughout the week.
The president tweeted and played golf today, a day that saw two families buried their children, he did not mention them in his tweets.
He tweeted yesterday. Teacher Scott Beigel's funeral was yesterday. The president did not mention him either. Nor did he mention the funeral for Alyssa Alhadeff, 14 years old, when he tweeted on Friday.
He tweeted Saturday and did mention the shooting, but not as you'll see in the kind of way that might be even remotely comforting to anyone, which is odd because if you listen to his words in the immediate wake of the killings, words prepared for him and read off a teleprompter, he made the following promise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To every parent, teacher and child, who is hurting so badly, we are here for you. Whatever you need, whatever we can do to ease your pain.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: We are here for you he said, whatever you can do -- whatever we can do to ease your pain.
Teleprompter Trump certainly sounds like someone attempting to be what all presidents ultimately are in difficult times, a consoler-in-chief.
Contrast that with Twitter Trump Saturday night, quote: very sad that the FBI missed all the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud.
Now, for anyone still waiting for the president to pivot, that's a pivot away from the murder of 17 people to himself. We talked on Friday about how the president's response the indictment of Russian nationals and three Russian organizations had nothing to do with defending the country from a hostile act and everything to do with defending himself.
Saturday night, he enlisted 17 murder victims in that cause. He made that tweet everything about himself and nothing about those lives. And on top of that, he's factually off-base, about 35,000 people work for the FBI, only a relative handful of bureau personnel or assisting special counsel Mueller's Russia probe.
This was not his only factually challenged tweet. It wasn't his only tweet that was centered on himself at the cost of others, even his own senior advisors. I want to just quickly take them in order.
Saturday afternoon, talking about the indictments, quote: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated at the news conference there is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.
Well, keeping him honest, the deputy attorney general did take great care several times during his Friday press conference to use the words in this indictment, which also as you'll recall named, quote, persons known and unknown to the grand jury. Both suggest more to come. And Rosenstein himself made it clear the probe is ongoing.
As for proving there was no collusion with Russians, which the president has also been denying online, the indictment says nothing one way or another about that. Also, Saturday afternoon, there was this, quote: Funny how the fake news media doesn't want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014 long before my run for president. Maybe they knew I was going to run even though I didn't know.
Well, it is true the indictment's timeline does begin before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy in 2014, but keeping them honest, that was widely reported. It wasn't ignored at all. Furthermore, the document also clearly states that by the time candidate Trump was the nominee, the Russian effort was to hurt Hillary Clinton and help him online and on the ground. By Saturday night, he was tweeting again. There was as you saw the
tweet using the 17 Parkland victims to make his point about Russia and then he lashed out at his own national security advisor for saying this at the Munich Security Conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain. Whereas in the past, it was -- it was difficult to attribute for a couple of reasons, first, technically, it was difficult but then also you didn't want to divulge your intelligence capabilities. But now that this is in the -- in the in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it's going to be very apparent to everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, apparent except to the president who tweeted this out: General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only collusion was between Russia and crooked Hillary, the DNC, and the Dems.
[20:05:11] Remember the dirty dossier, uranium, speeches, emails in the Podesta company.
And that's far from true as well. We do not know whether the Russian effort affected the outcome. What we do know is the indictment lays out a clear intent to and a large, diversified and remarkably sophisticated effort to -- including helping third party candidates trying to suppress the minority vote, fake rallies, the works.
Yesterday, the president was falsely suggesting the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee was blaming it all on the last president. His tweet: Liddle Adam Schiff, the leakin monster of no control is now blaming the Obama administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He's finally right about something. Obama was president, knew the threat and did nothing. Thank you, Adam.
Well, keeping them honest, yet again, here's what Congressman Schiff actually said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We should have called them out much earlier while I respect the motive in terms of the Obama administration, they didn't want to be seen as meddling. The American people had a right to know what was going on and could be trust to do the right thing with it and they should have defended being more public and aggressive at the time, at least in my view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, it's a completely fair point to debate whether the Obama administration did enough or not, but it's simply untrue to say they did nothing as the president has. The intelligence community weighed the evidence, came to a consensus. The president ordered the closing of two Russian facilities in this country and the expulsion of Russian personnel. He also tried to get Congress to act but was blocked. He confronted Vladimir Putin face to face, and President-elect Trump was briefed on all of this, all those things were reported at the time on cable news which the president watches obsessively even though he pretends he doesn't.
Also, the president tried to suggest he never really downplayed the Russian threat.
Quote: I never said Russia did not meddle in the election. I said it may be Russia or China or another country or group or it may be a 400- pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer. The Russian hoax was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. It never did.
Well, here's what he actually said aboard Air Force One last fall recounting a conversation with Vladimir Putin: Every time he sees me, he says I didn't do that, and I believe -- I really believe that when he tells me that he means it. But he says I didn't do that.
And then you hear it's 17 agencies, meaning the intelligence community, well, it's three and one is Brennan and one is whatever -- I mean, give me a break. They're political hacks.
And you can decide for yourself if he downplayed the threat there, the president continued to tweet about Russia throughout the day yesterday. He also tweeted about NASCAR, new polling he liked, the interview he watched of Oprah when into though he supposedly doesn't watch much TV, he called her insecure, by the way.
This morning, he tweeted, quote, have a great but very reflective president's day and then he went to play golf, while they held funerals for two teenagers nearby.
Let's bring in the panel. Phil Mudd, Josh Campbell, Kirsten Powers and Matt Lewis.
Josh, is it any in any way fair for the president to suggest that if FBI resources were not attached to the special counsels Russia probe, the bureau could have stopped the Florida school shooter?
JOSH CAMPBELL, FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: So, I think what that does is inject politics in the equation and distract us from actually doing what is most important and that's getting to the bottom of what happened. But I think that's one of many instances of the FBI being unfairly targeted for political reasons, and let me just say at the outset, Anderson, FBI agents, similar to journalists are trained to question every thing, in order to identify undertones and identify intent, to determine if we know we're being told the truth.
And fortunately for the American people, you know, with information more at our fingertips now more than ever before, they can follow along as well and really read into what our politicians say. Let me if I can't tick through a couple of these attacks. The first one being when the FBI hears that the attack in Florida, you know, could have been stopped if resources were not diverted to the Russian investigation, they asked themselves, is this really a concern that the FBI could be better or is this some type of obfuscation of the Russian investigation?
Similarly when the FBI hears that the organization is in tatters and that there's political manipulation going on at the top of the organization, the question they ask themselves is, is this really a genuine concern by our leaders to make the FBI better or is this an attempt again to obfuscate for political reasons?
And lastly, if I could say, by the way, this is not a uniquely Republican issue, because if you remember back in July of when the FBI director called out a lot of the bad judgment by Secretary Clinton at that time, Democrats slammed the FBI for violating institutional processes. So, the question was: were they concerned about the sanctity of DOJ guidelines?
CAMPBELL: Or were they concerned about the election?
So, you see my point -- when we hear one thing, a lot -- I mean most of us can look at it and say, well, there's clearly something else at play here.
COOPER: Yes. Phil, I mean the idea that the president would find a way to connect and conflate in his mind the Florida massacre with the Russia probe, does that shock you?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It doesn't shock me. It leads me to a conclusion that nobody has mentioned that I do not believe the Congress of the United States will be able to investigate this because some congressmen, some senators will see a parachute out.
[20:10:03] There's a variety of actors here. It's almost as complex as the variety I saw after 9/11. Those actors include state mental health officials, police, the school that expelled him and obviously the FBI, social media organizations.
I would argue given the political commentary including from the president trying to pin this on the FBI tells me there should be an independent group like the independent group we looked at after 9/11, and that somebody outside the Congress should look at this and tell us how to get all those agencies to work together because the president and the Congress are going to tell us, we don't have to do that, we don't have to work about improving mental health and gun control. We can blame Christopher Wray and the FBI, that can't be where we end up in 90 days or 120 days, Anderson.
COOPER: It's also fascinating, Kirsten. I mean, that the president going after McMaster undermining him because he didn't go far enough in clearing the president and kind of harping on the president's line about no collusion, nothing to do with Trump.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, I mean, it's the problem of the president doesn't have any sort of genuine interest in in this investigation except for constantly talking about how it relates to him. So, we have all this treasure trove of new information that most people would be really interested in you would think -- frankly would have been asking for an investigation into this and all this comes out.
And instead, he it said all he can think about is himself and we, you know, you have to just keep saying my sort of talking points on this even though what came out had nothing to do with collision.
COOPER: Right. And, Matt, I mean, do you find it odd the President Trump's trying to blame Russian interference on President Obama because -- I mean, again, you can argue the point of we know did President Obama do much did, his administration do enough, but the idea that there was nothing. I mean, did impose sanctions, expel Russian diplomats, whether you know that was effective or not.
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean, I think -- I think president Obama made a big mistake and we deserve he deserves I think to take some blame for that. I think the FBI made a colossal error and that's fair to point out and that out and I hope that that is investigated. The problem though, of course, is that what Donald Trump is actually trying to do is to -- is to change the subject.
And so, yes, we should look in, you know, President Obama I think made an error in judgment. Yes, the FBI made a colossal error, but that's not really the topic right now. He's changing the subject, he's diverting attention, and I think it's really shameful that the president would basically go after the FBI and try to politicize that in a way -- to politicize the death of school kids. I think it's really shameful and there's no doubt in my mind that that's what he's doing.
COOPER: Yes, we're going to continue --
CAMPBELL: Can I add --
COOPER: Yes, I'm sorry. Go head.
CAMPBELL: I just say, you know, on that on the topic as well. I think it does a disservice to the men and women of the FBI if you make the claim that their first primary mission is not the protection of life. That is it.
But they can simultaneously protect the United States from, you know, the efforts of intelligence services while they're doing that. To conflate the two is pure politics.
We're going to continue the conversation. We're going to take a quick break. A lot of tweets, a lot to talk about.
And later, our CNN exclusive, new reporting a special counsel Mueller's interest in Jared Kushner going beyond his role in the Russia story. That and more when we continue.
[20:16:55] COOPER: We're talking about the president's tweets this weekend and today, everything to do about Russia as it relates to him. He tweeted he never downplayed the Russia threat. We showed you this from the president last fall, seeming to trust Vladimir Putin more than the U.S. intelligence community.
Every time he sees me, he says I didn't do that and I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says I didn't do that and then you hear 17 agencies, meaning the intelligence community, well, it's three and one is Brennan and one is whatever. I mean, give me a break. They are political hacks.
Back with the panel.
Matt, one of the things that's amazing to me is given the informational warfare, to use the Russian's term in the term the Department of Justice also used in their indictments on Friday, that the Russians have successfully operated and will continue to against the United States electoral process, we still have not heard anything from the president about manning the ramparts and what his administration is going to do about this.
I mean, we didn't hear it Friday. His statement was all about himself. We certainly haven't heard it Saturday and Sunday. He's watching Oprah. He's playing golf. He's not talking about the funerals that are going on he's tweeting about just about everything other than what he wants this country to do to defend itself.
LEWIS: Well, look, I guess it's within the realm of possibility and I don't want you to laugh at this but it's within the realm of possibility that Donald Trump is doing something covertly, that they're not signaling that the -- I would love to believe that's the administration is working very hard on this problem, to make sure it doesn't happen in the midterms, to make sure it doesn't happen in 2020. But that sounds pretty naive, right?
I mean, there's really no reason for us to believe that Donald Trump is taking this seriously. He's -- I don't think he's ever really said anything bad about Vladimir Putin or Russia. And, look, initially, I think early on, you know, I didn't agree with that but there was an argument to be made that Donald Trump believed that the world had changed and that the existential threat he was now, you know, the global war on terror and that Russia and America could somehow partner against terrorism. I thought that was misguided but that was at least a rationale.
But now, with very clear evidence that Russia sought -- there's really no dispute that they sought to interfere in our elections, if he can't muster the moral courage and the rhetoric to stand up against it, I'd be really surprised if we're doing anything on the ground to stop it.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, Phil, Chris Wray testified, I think it was a week or two ago in front of -- on Capitol Hill saying that the president while the FBI is doing stuff to try to prevent it, the president has not actually directed them specifically to do anything. I think we're quoting the reporting by "The New York Times" or "Washington Post" a while back when they were reporting, there hadn't been a cabinet-level meeting about Russian interference and Russian meddling and how to fight back against it.
MUDD: Let me tell you why this is significant and I'll take you inside the sort of guts of government for a moment. The Department of Homeland Security ought to be talking, I assume they are, to election officials about how to secure elections. The FBI ought to be collecting the kind of information you saw that came out and that indictment that was issued by the special counsel on Friday.
[20:20:03] The CIA ought to be conducting covert action, along with the national security agency against the Russians. The Department of State ought to be having some very difficult conversations in Moscow.
You see those inner working parts, there's one place that comes together. That's in the Situation Room in the White House when H.R. McMaster, the vice president, the president sit down --I mean, this is sort of common government 101, sit down and say there's a lot of moving parts here, we got to make sure the messaging is right. If we're going to cut covert action behind the scenes in Moscow, we got to make sure that that corresponds with what the department of state is saying overtly to the Russians.
I can't have any confidence that the president has directed his National Security Council and vice president to participate in those conversations. There is no evidence of that.
COOPER: And, Kirsten, I mean, for, you know, Donald Trump supporters, and the president likes to portray himself as strong -- he's a tough guy, he's a strong man -- and yet, his greatest weakness is that he cannot separate his own, you know, phobias and insecurities and doubts from the good of the country. I mean, he can't focus on Russia because anytime Russia has talked about, he believes it weakens him as a president because it's taking away from the legitimacy of his election. That's a huge weakness.
POWERS: Yes, I mean -- I don't and there's nothing about this tweet storm, right? I think that over the weekend that projects any kind of strength either. I think it actually is it's very concerning when you're considering also all of the things that have been going on the news with Russia and then, of course, the horrific shooting in Florida.
I mean, especially in light of that, it's even more concerning that he has nothing really to add to the conversation except for to name-call, to say things that are even more upsetting to the children who are down in Florida, who've just lost their schoolmates and then to sort of concoct this other narrative about Russia that's just as you went through in the beginning of the show just completely false, it just isn't even connected to reality.
COOPER: And -- yes, I mean, Josh, the irony is in we've said this before, the president could call up his Director of National Intelligence any time he wants and say tell me everything we have on Russian interference. There's no indication that's happened in fact, you know, again we're reporting from "The Washington Post" is that the president CIA briefers have to avoid mentioning Russia in order to avoid upsetting him.
CAMPBELL: And you compare that within 2016 when you have a whole-of- government approach, agencies coming together trying to determine what do we do about this case? Even in that robust process, there was a lot of disagreement, but it showed that the process was working and you had, you know, smart people trying to come up with good ideas.
I think in this instance, what I fear is that we may be so much more focused on looking back retrospectively and, you know, retroactively what happened in the last election that our government isn't really equipped to look forward. I know the men and women in intelligence agencies will be doing so, but they need the leadership doing so as well.
COOPER: Yes. Thanks, everybody.
Just ahead, a CNN exclusive: special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner for his relationship with foreign investors during the presidential transition. The probe, though, goes beyond Russia, includes investors from China. Details when we continue.
[20:26:23] COOPER: A CNN exclusive: we're learning the special counsel Robert Mueller is taking a deeper look at President Trump's son in law, Jared Kushner, and his efforts to secure financing for his family's company from foreign investors during the presidential transition.
Now, these potential investors CNN is reporting include some from China, and it's the first indication that Mueller is looking beyond Kushner's contacts with Russia.
With the details, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now.
So, what did you learn?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Anderson.
We've learned that the special counsel Robert Mueller is now asking questions about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the transition. We're told by people; who are familiar with the investigation that Mueller's lawyers are asking about discussions Kushner had with potential Chinese and Qatari investors.
Now, this is the first indication that Mueller wants to know about contacts the president's son-in-law had with foreigners outside of Russia. The discussions revolved around the building in Manhattan at 666 Fifth Avenue, which Kushner's company owns, and it's financing, the financing on the building. It's over a billion dollars in debt.
Now, it's not clear what is behind Mueller's specific interest in the financing, but we're told that the special counsel hasn't asked the Kushner companies for information. He also hasn't asked to interview any of the people with the Kushner company, the executives.
A spokesperson for the special counsel declined to comment for this story, but we did get a statement from Jared Kushner's attorney Abbe Lowell. And he told us, quote: Another anonymous source with questionable note motives now contradicts the facts -- in all of Mr. Kushner's extensive cooperation with all the inquiries that has not been a -- there has not been a single question asked, nor documents saw it on the 666 building or Kushner company deals, nor would there be any reason to question these regular business transactions.
Now, Anderson, while you know the attorney wants to say the story is based on one source, we have multiple sources for the stories with those that these questions were being asked. Kushner himself may not have been asked about these, but there's really no way for his attorney to know what others are being asked.
COOPER: What do we know about the meetings that took place?
PROKUPECZ: Well, the meetings from our understanding and discussions is that the, you know, these are meetings that have that have to do with Chinese investors Anbang, a Chinese insurance company that also owns the Waldorf Astoria. The meeting happened during the transition. And as the company was looking to invest in the 666 5th Avenue property, there were some talks between the Kushner Company and this Chinese investor and for some reason during this transition when they were close to getting a deal done, it somehow fell through.
Now, there's also a Qatari investor. We're told that deal also fell through. All of these happening some in -- during the transition and we're told this is why Mueller is asking questions about it.
COOPER: And do we know what Mueller might be focusing in on based on the types of questions he's asking?
PROKUPECZ: Well, it's generally we're told that they were sort of it was explained to us as Mueller is exploring. And really, the idea is to see if there was any promises made to any of the companies any of the investors once a Kushner got into the White House. Keep in mind, this was during the transition as Kushner was getting ready to come into the into the administration where obviously he's had a pretty prominent role, especially dealing with foreign nations and foreign contacts.
COOPER: Yes. Particularly, China.
Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate.
A reporter who's written extensively about Jared Kushner and his business connections in China is Adam Entous of "The New Yorker". He writes in a recent piece about how Kushner despite a lack of experience and diplomacy became Beijing's primary point of interest in the White House.
Adam Entous joins me.
Adam, in your piece, you write that Jared Kushner is China's dream come true, as well as their lucky charm. Can you explain what you meant by that?
ADAM ENTOUS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean that -- the -- what happened was is the Chinese were trying to find ways to influence the Trump during the campaign and later during the transition and later as a President and they used an entry point through Kissinger -- Henry Kissinger who made the introduction to Jared Kushner. And, you know, they wanted to get the Chinese to the front of the queue of countries that would get a leadership meeting with Trump after the election. And Jared was facilitated in that. And the Chinese reported to Beijing, the Chinese that met with Jared reported back to Beijing and this was -- some of this was intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. Found that the Chinese felt as go they were getting everything and more than they expected in terms of access and toning down some of the more hostile rhetoric that they saw during the campaign where Trump was accusing China for example of raping the United States and using rhetoric like that.
COOPER: And also according to your reporting, Kushner has repeatedly chosen to disregard the guidance of career foreign intelligence and policy advisers doing things like meeting one-on-one with the Chinese diplomats or the Chinese ambassadors, it certainly seems like he's pretty confident that his way is the best way of doing things despite having pretty limited world experience.
ENTOUS: Yes. I mean certainly, you know, from Jared's perspective, he feels as though the world of real estate was a good primer preparing him for the role that he has played, now as a diplomat and as a policy maker. But obviously, professionals who have done this for their careers have a different view. What was happening in Kushner's case because he was having these meetings either by himself or with an aide in his office was that other diplomats were relying on intercepts of Chinese communications in order to find out what Jared was discussing with his Chinese counter parts and not just the Chinese in this case, but other countries as well. I mean he tended to have these meetings, you know, by himself, he thought he was capable of doing that and frankly, we have no information that suggests that he did anything inappropriate in these meetings. We're referring to what other countries are reporting about these engagements.
COOPER: You also write that one question about his judgment Kushner said either I'm qualified to handle state secrets or not qualified to handle state secret, I think I understand my responsibilities. The fact though, he doesn't have a permanent security clearance, hasn't been able to get one. And had to amend his application numerous times, that -- that I think he doesn't one at this point, which seemed to indicate that he may not be qualified.
ENTOUS: Yes. Well, I mean the adjudication process that's done by the FBI is very opaque. It's hard to really know what the issues are that might be impeding his getting this permanent clearance. According to the officials we spoke to, it is a combination of things. In to addition to him misreporting he says by accident his foreign contacts when he was submitting his initial disclosure forms, there are also is the issue of these intercepts where he is having these meetings including with the Chinese ambassador in which he is discussing according again, according to the intelligence, that -- he is discussing not only policy matters but also his personal business matters.
Now, Jared through a spokesperson told husband that that was not true. That he did not discuss mix business with policy. But you know, it is the kind of thing that frankly when the FBI agents who are doing these investigations, when they see something like this, it is a red flag and they're not going to sign off on giving a permanent clearance until they figure out what's actually happening behind the scenes.
COOPER: Adam Entous, thanks for your reporting.
ENTOUS: Thank you.
COOPER: Well coming up, in the middle of the grief in Parkland, Florida there is activism, now there's word that the President maybe willing to consider at least one gun control issue, we'll take a look at that next.
[20:37:52] COOPER: Well the funerals continue in Parkland, Florida. But sometimes multiple funerals a day after the school shooting, that left 17 people dead. In the aftermath, the White House says the President supports efforts to improve the federal background check system. Now this is base on a conversation the President have with the GOP law maker last week. Our Pamela Brown joins us with the latest.
So what more do we know these alleged improvements the background checks as in the President might support?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, under this bill Anderson, the goal would be to strengthen the background check system by holding local and federal law enforcement authorities accountable, if they fail to upload criminal history records into the background check system. So it wouldn't change the current system, but the aim would be to strengthen it by creating these incentives for law enforcement authorities to comply. But its worth noting here that even if this bill was passed and became law, it would not have prevented what we saw happened in Parkland, Florida with the school shooting may or because in that case, the gunman had a clean criminal history and had not been declared mentally defective by a judge which was the standard to prevent someone with mental health issues from buying a gun, Anderson.
COOPER: I understand the President was discussing gun control at Mar- a-Lago this weekend.
BROWN: Yes, that's right Anderson. We were told from sources that Mar-a-Lago over the weekend that the gun issue was on top of the President's mind among other things according to his Twitter account. And he was talking to his friends, his family, his sons, Don Jr. and Eric about what to do about the issue and how you could make it harder for young people and those with mental health issues, from buying a gun. He said that he did see the protest from the students at the school down in Florida, and that he wanted to do something but it's unclear what exact steps should be taken here. We should know that here at the White House, the President will be meeting with high school students and teachers here on Wednesday and what the White House is dubbing a listening session. So we'll see what happens, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Pam Brown, thanks very much.
And students at the school are turning their grief into activism on the gun control issue. In doing so, they're following some big footsteps including those who retired astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, his obviously former Representative Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded in shooting in Arizona in 2011. They started an organization to fight the gun epidemic, that group is named Giffords after its co- founder, Captain Kelly joins me now from Tucson.
[20:40:11] Captain, first of all I'm wondering you make of this -- this news that the President is or maybe support of some efforts to improve the background check system.
MARK KELLY, CO-FOUNDER, GIFFORDS: Well, it's a step in the right direction Anderson, we just haven't seen that much from Republican members of the House and Senate or from this President. So I would say, you know, anything like support for background check bill would be great. It would be important that he actually follows that up and convinces Republican members of the House and Senate and even sometimes some Democrats too to support the bill to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, the floor of the House so we could eventually see it on his desk. So I think it's a positive thing.
COOPER: Yes, Senator Blumenthal, Democrat senator said about this idea, and they seem to many like a baby step and a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and this one could well be important in breaking the ice of complicity that has paralyzed Congress. Is that something though that we be fought -- I mean it seems like the NRA other gun control groups fight any -- any effort that they deem, you know, the first step in the slippery slope.
KELLY: So if he was really interested in passing a piece of legislation like the mention to me background check bill that failed in April of 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, unfortunately because of the money in politics specifically corporate money like money from the National Rifle Association and the support, you know, that he got, I would think, you know, you know one step for him is going to be to try to convince the National Rifle Association to not to go after members of Congress that would support a piece of legislation like this.
COOPER: A hundred students from Stoneman Douglas High School are preparing to head to Tallahassee this week to put pressure on lawmakers there invade (ph) it's obviously not just helping the federal level and this is something you and I have talked about, where you've been focusing your efforts at the state level. What state legislation in your opinion needs to change most? KELLY: Well, Florida because of the Florida legislation and this governor Rick Scott has some of the weakest gun laws in our country. He assign some pretty, pretty heinous legislation that has made communities a lot less safe. You know, one thing that could be done in Florida that would address what happened in Parkland would be something like an extreme risk protection order or what's called a gun violence restraining order. We've helped pass these things in California, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut one existed Indiana as well. And this gives the ability of law enforcement when they find somebody who clearly is dangerous for some mental health issues very abbreviated process to be able to, you know, make sure that they can't buy a gun or don't own a gun at least temporarily. It would be a great step for Florida and in this situation, it could have changed things. It really could have.
COOPER: Are those the kind of the so-called red flag laws that some states have?
KELLY: Yes, similar, I mean I don't know if red flag is the best term for it. That's not what it's called in other states. But that -- yes that's the concept it gives law enforcement -- law enforcement the tools. For the FBI they have that tool, we would need a federal -- federal law to do that. And we're constantly pushing for these things. We're having a lot of success in the states, the politics on this issue is changing. But we've got to get people, we've got to convince people to vote on this issue and hold their state members of Congress, their state legislatures accountable for the decisions they're making on this issue, because I mean, 15 to 25 the death -- times the death rate of gun violence in other countries and 38,000 people dying every year is just completely unacceptable.
COOPER: That does -- you're talking about making this a voting issue, that is one of the things we have seen in past elections and polls on a national level that -- even people who oppose, who want some sort of gun regulation or more gun control, it's not necessarily one of the top issues that actually that they are voting on.
KELLY: That has been the case for decades I would say. It's not one of the top issues, but we're changing that. In 2017, and in the election, the House of Delegates, the elections in Virginia, yes we poll, we did some exit polling but we also did some real polling after that election to see what was the number one issue driving people to the polls. And I think, I have to say, I think it was 40% of the people put gun violence at the top or the second position.
So we're changing the politics. It's a lot of hard work. Our organization Giffords is working incredibly hard and we're up against an opponent that just has a lot of financial resources and that's got us in this position.
[20:45:05] COOPER: Yes, Captain Kelly, appreciate your time. Thank you. Coming up --
KELLY: Thanks for having me on.
COOPER: -- students protest across the nation in the wake of those shootings. This is a lie and across the street from the White House. We're going to hear from a Stoneman Douglas student who's help found a group he calls never again.
COOPER: Well, as two more students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were buried today. The couple who took in the shoot or after his adoptive mother died in November, spoke out for the first time about their reaction.
KIMBERLY SNEAD, TOOK IN SHOOTER: It was at the police station when they were going past us, and I basically -- I went after him. I really wanted to strangle him more than anything, and I just -- everything I wanted to say just didn't -- I tried to reserve myself. I said, is really, Nik? Really, you know, I yelled at him. And he mumbled something but I didn't hear and he said he was sorry.
[20:50:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he was sorry.
SNEAD: But I didn't hear that. I was just furious and heartbroken. Actually just heartbroken, devastated. And I still can't process at what he's done because this wasn't the person that we knew. Not at all.
COOPER: Well CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Parkland, Florida tonight. What more are we learning about the investigation Kaylee?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, another day were we're learning of more red flags missed. A law enforcement source who's been brief on the investigation tells CNN the shooter purchase at least 10 rifles in the last year. And this buying spree didn't set off any warning signs for authorities or those who knew and including the Snead family. And interview with CNN Alisyn Camerota asked this family, how many guns they knew the shooter to own and they said, quote, a few.
Today we also learned more about the shooter's history of disturbing behavior through the release of a report from the Florida Department of Children and Families. Specifically, there was an incident in September of 2016 where investigators went to the shooter's home, spoke with him, and his adopted mother. There they learned that he'd been cutting himself on Snapchat. That he stated, he plan to buy a gun and that draw Nazi symbols and written racial phrases on his backpack. His adoptive mother said that behavior began after a breakup with his girlfriend. And that report we also learned the shooter suffered from depression, ADHD and autism. And yet despite the erratic behavior, investigators learned up there, they declared his risk level low, that he wasn't a danger to himself or others.
COOPER: What about this so-called listening session the President is going to be holding? HARTUNG: We don't know much, Anderson. The White House has announce that President Trump will be hold what they're call a listening session at the White House on Wednesday. But beyond that, we have very little detail, it's unclear to us who will be participating. Emma Gonzalez, a student at Stoneman Douglas says that, we're not going to come to him, he is going to need to come to us. And that invitation has been put on the table to him Anderson. Previously announced town hall that CNN will be holding on Wednesday night, but the President has declined to attend. It will be held in an arena nearby the high school.
COOPER: All right, Kaylee, thanks.
In Washington today, 17 people took part in a lie-in representing the 17 killed in Parkland. They were quickly joined by a pretty big crows and demonstrations was directly across the street from the White House. Joining me now from Parkland, is Alex Wind, the 17-year-old junior at the high school during the shooting to keep themselves, he helped push his classmates back into their room and along with two other two students, he founded a group called Never Again, group of kids who were demanding action on gun control by adults.
Alex, I appreciate you being with us. First of all this -- the so- called listening session of the President scheduled with students, teachers, survivors, of the shooting, you said you wouldn't attend the listening session. Why?
ALEX WIND, STUDENT, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: You know, he was given the opportunity to come speak to us with CNN in the town hall and he declined that opportunity. I personally have not been invited to the White House, and if I am invited, I will not be in attendance. I will be speaking at the town hall this Wednesday.
COOPER: I want to read one of the President's tweets over the weekend. He wrote, very sad that the FBI missed all the signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They're spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. There is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud. I know you -- definitely feel some anger understandably the FBI. I'm wondering what do you think of this tweet and others from the President this week?
WIND: You know, the first half of that tweet is semi-fine. The FBI did make a mistake in not investigating Nikolas Cruz further. However, it's insane that he went into detail about Russia, this is not about him, this is about us, this is about the residents of Parkland. Children are dying and the FBI didn't do anything about it. The President should have said there need to be changes in the FBI, instead he started talking about Russia and collusion and his campaign.
COOPER: The fact that the White House are saying that the President is support of now of efforts to strengthen parts of the federal background check system. Again, this is base in the one conversation with the GOP lawmaker last week. Does that give you any hope that he is listening? WIND: I know he's listening. And the fact that he said that does give me hope. However, I want to see action. I don't want to see talk. I want him to put a bill out. I want Congress to put a bill out saying we need stricter background checks. Here's how we're going to do it. A 19-year-old who can't purchase an alcoholic beverage should not be allowed to purchase an AR-15, a weapon of war, a weapon of destruction. It's absolutely absurd.
COOPER: I know you and other students have started this group called Never Again MSD. What do you hope to accomplish with it and what do you plan to do?
WIND: When we started Never Again MSD, it started as this central space where people could talk and people could share their feelings. And now it's turned into a movement. It's turned into an absolutely insane phenomenon where people are coming to us offering us help, and we're trying to demand action, and we are going to demand action.
[20:55:07] on March 24th, when we march on Washington, D.C. with the march for our lives. We're not only marching for our lives like we say, we're marching for our children's lives, we're marching for our children's, children's lives. We don't want this to happen every again in this country or in any country. No child should have to feel the way myself felt and everyone else felt on Wednesday when the shooting happened.
COOPER: I understand that you and others from this group say that you'll not return to school until laws have actually been changed.
WIND: You know, I would like to say that I don't want to return to school. However, I know that day is going to have to come where I will eventually have to. And that day is going to be terrifying me, to be completely honest. And I'm terrified to go back to school. I want change to happen so badly. I don't want to feel unsafe in my own school. A school is supposed to be a place where we learn, where we gain knowledge, and that's how we've all been able to be speaking with you today, because of the knowledge we've gained from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This is why we're doing the movement. We don't want to feel unsafe in school.
COOPER: Alex, I'm sorry we're talking under these circumstances and I appreciate you talking to us. Thank you.
WIND: Thank you.
COOPER: Stay with us. We have a lot more ahead.
President Trump is back at the White House after his three-day Florida trip where he spent a great deal of time tweeting, we'll look at that. And we also have breaking news from CNN on special counsel digging even deeper into business activities of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.