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Trump Blames FBI, Russia Probe For School Massacre; Trump Stews Over Russia Probe, Unleashes Tweetstorm; CNN Source: Shooter Had Obtained At Least 10 Rifles. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired February 19, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Kate Bolduan. President Trump out of sight but on the attack. He spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort and instead of his usual golf outings, he spent his time teeing off on a wide range of targets, Democrats, Oprah, the FBI, even his own national security adviser.
It was an epic explosion of angry tweets, even by the president's robust standards. Nearly half focused on the Russia investigation, and come on the heels of Friday's indictment of 13 Russian nationals, accused of meddling in the 2016 election.
That fueled his weekend tirade and a jaw dropping tweet that seems to blame the FBI and the Russia probe for last week's school massacre, just 40 miles away from where he was. 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!" exclamation point.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in West Palm Beach. Kaitlan, really an epic tweet storm, but the president here echoing a point that you heard from many on the right in the wake of the school shooting, trying to draw a tie between the Russia probe and missed signals there.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. That's right, Jim. We almost saw that tweet coming from a mile away. But the president spent a considerable amount of time indoors this weekend after aides determined that it would be in poor optics if he was out golfing in such a close proximity to that shooting and so shortly after it happened.
So, the president spent most of his indoors watching cable news television, and growing angrier over this intensifying Russia probe. And as far as that tweet about the FBI specifically, we are told by my CNN colleagues that the president made that -- wrote that tweet after he spent time with his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and they encouraged him to take a tougher stance against the FBI.
But the president was really all across the board this weekend, Jim, going not only going after not only the FBI, but Democrats, his own national security adviser, and even Oprah Winfrey. So quite a tweet storm from the president.
Today is the first day that the president has traveled to his golf course on his last day here in Florida before he heads back to Washington this afternoon. And the White House did announce, Jim, yesterday, that the president is going to hold two listening sessions this week at the White House on Wednesday and Thursday, one with high school students and teachers and another with school officials in the area.
So, we'll be waiting to see what the president has to say about what his administration is going to do in response to school shootings like the one we saw last week then.
SCIUTTO: So, to be clear, his team determined it was insensitive to golf yesterday and the day before, but he's going to be golfing today?
COLLINS: Yes, that's right. They have not confirmed that he's actually golfing today, but he did leave with a small group of reporters that follow him around and he did go to the Trump International golf course this morning, where you can presume it is 75 degrees and sunny here in West Palm Beach. It's a perfect day for golfing -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: And now on the president's steps or possible steps or comments on tougher gun laws. He made a comment today about background checks.
COLLINS: Yes. That's right. The White House actually issued a statement about a call that the president had with Senator Cornyn on Friday. We just got essentially a readout of that call today from the Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, who said that the president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about a bill.
A bipartisan bill, he and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation. Shah goes on to say that while discussions are still ongoing, and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.
So, there the White House is saying that the president is open to improvements in the background check system, but they do say that there could be some tweaks to the language. That was a bill introduced after that deadly church shooting in Texas late last year.
But we have not heard from the president himself on this. We often see his press secretaries or spokesman issue a statement and the president later contradicts him and though as we have shown he was tweeting multiple times this weekend, we did not hear from him once about background checks, Jim.
So, we'll still be waiting to see if this is something that really is something that the president is truly behind or if it is just something that they're discussing that always comes up after shootings like the one that we had last week -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, the difference would be follow through and in the past there never has been follow through. Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our panel, CNN security analyst, Shawn Turner, and CNN political director, David Chalian. David, just on the point of golf, the White House determined insensitive to golf for a day or two afterwards, but he's out golfing again today.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right, I guess, there is a 48- hour window of when they think the optics are bad. I don't -- listen, the president is entitled to golf, I don't know when you know after a tragedy like this would be the appropriate time to do it.
[11:05:10] But what is interesting and worth noting is as you point out, our reporting is that the aides were worried about the optics in the last two days. What is different about today that they're not worried about.
SCIUTTO: And there are funerals today of the young victims of the shooting. Shawn Turner, I want to get to this point, which has become really not just a presidential mean, but his supporters, others in the GOP making a connection between the Russia probe and the shooting.
Had the FBI been not looking into Russia and ties and so on, they might have prevented this shooting. Explain to me how you understand the FBI is set up to see if that's a credible argument.
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, unfortunately, it is not. Robert Mueller has a dedicated team of people who are working on this investigation. They've been working on the investigation from the beginning.
He also has a wide degree of latitude with his ability to reach in divisions at the FBI, if there is something that that division is working on where he -- that he thinks will help inform his investigation.
That's the kind of thing that happens on an occasional basis. It is -- it is simply not the case that the Miami -- that the field office in Miami where FBI agents are working and they're primarily focused on things that would be in their area of responsibility.
It is just not the case that they would be too consumed with the Russia investigation for them to be able to focus on, you know, the issues there in Florida. So, this tweet is really just -- it is another attack on the FBI and this one really just doesn't make any sense.
The FBI is a large law enforcement agency and they prioritize the risks of the threats that face us today. This is an investigation that really looks back on what happened previously. And so, the idea that they would -- that they would prioritize this just doesn't make a lot of sense.
SCIUTTO: The idea that Robert Mueller would reach out to the Miami field office as part of his Russia probe, the Miami field office being the one that would be responsible for following up on a tip like this.
TURNER: There is just simply no scenario in which that would make sense.
SCIUTTO: And yet, David Chalian, it is a point that the president is sticking with. Oftentimes in our experience whether there is substance or facts to a claim doesn't mean that holds the president back. Is that argument, that line, gaining some traction among the president and his allies?
CHALIAN: Well, certainly among his core supporters including his son and a lot of Fox News hosts out there sort of putting this out there. Listen, Jim, you have observed the president.
You understand, his entire career, back in business, in the business world, as a candidate, as president, has been to try and create some other reality that allows him to function in a way where he's somewhat delusional about what is really going on.
And that's the case here with this Russia probe. He is trying, not only to undermine no doubt, he's doing that, to try to soften the Mueller team and make them susceptible to political attack.
But he's completely trying to just alter reality and shape a series of events that make sense in his mind to convince his folks on his arguments on this that just don't match up with any of the facts that we learned, and we learned a lot of facts last week with this indictment, none of it comports with what the president is trying to shape. That is what's going on here.
SCIUTTO: You say the president is being delusional on this?
CHALIAN: Well, he clearly is if -- he saw the indictment, the 13 Russians and the Russian organizations on Friday, as some sort of vindication for him. I would call that pretty delusional.
SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, years in the intelligence community and also, I know at times you work very closely with the FBI. I imagine you're still in touch with a lot of folks from the FBI. From their perspective, how substantially damaging is it to have a sitting president, commander-in-chief to repeatedly attack the FBI like this.
TURNER: What people in the FBI know to David's point, they know with regard to the president's saying these things and tweeting these things, all he has to do is say it, it doesn't have to be true.
They understand that as soon as he says it, then that causes people who are inclined to believe the president to think that the FBI is after the president. But I can tell you that, I said this before, when people talk about the FBI, particularly people in the administration, they often say that they're concerned about people at the top, concerns about leadership, and where their loyalties lie and things along those lines.
But it is impossible to separate the leadership at the FBI from the rank and file who do the work that is being attacked on a day to day basis. If you look at the tweet that the president put out this weekend, he said they at the FBI. They are too focused on the Russia investigation. The people that he's talking about are the people who do the hard work every day. So, when I talk to people in the FBI, look, they are continuing to focus on their mission and continuing to focus on their role and responsibility to keep us safe, but it is difficult.
[11:10:01] When you know that the things are being said about you and your organization are not true, and you know that just because they're being said that a significant portion of the American people out there are believing it.
SCIUTTO: Another target, David Chalian, beyond the FBI, was the president's own national security adviser, H.R McMaster this week because McMaster following these indictments on Friday, he said it is clear that Russian meddling in the election is incontrovertible.
Something that the president has never been clear about. The president took aim at him saying General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only collusion was between Russian and Crooked H. and the DNC and the Dems.
When in fact there is no discussion in these indictments of collusion between Hillary Clinton and the Dems, but the other thing is it's back to this impact on the election point, which we're not touched on by the indictments.
I mean, to be clear, AG Rosenstein said we're not alleging that there was influence here, but he didn't say we have looked at this and concluded there is no influence.
CHALIAN: Right. It might lead us to believe that that may be still part of the ongoing investigation or not. We don't know, but there was no definitive case closed on that matter. But again, this gets to the president's inability to separate the two things.
That the legitimacy of his own election as president, astounding everyone watching his rise in 2016 from actually punishing the bad actors here, preventing anything like this from happening again, which his own intelligence community says is happening again right now as the 2018 midterms are approaching.
So, he sorts of abdicates his leadership role on protecting future election meddling because he is so consumed with the notion that somebody is calling the legitimacy into question. This McMaster tweet, Jim, first of all, I don't know how the national security adviser goes to work every day now inside this White House.
That to me shows very little respect or camaraderie between the president and his national security adviser, never mind the complete different world view and interpretation of what Friday's facts were.
SCIUTTO: One thing is clear from this president that no one is invulnerable. If you get in his way or make a point inconvenient for him, he won't shy away from taking a shot at you. David Chalian, Shawn Turner, thanks very much. Coming up, I wanted to strangle him, that's what the couple who took in the confessed Florida high school killer said this morning. This on the reaction to the massacre, they also revealed what they knew about his guns in advance.
Plus, the growing outrage over the killing sparking new cries for gun safety laws from a new generation of young activists. Could this be a tipping point or will their voices be ignored once again? Stay with us.
SCIUTTO: For the first time since the Florida high school shooting, we're hearing directly from the couple who took in the confessed killer last November, this after his mother died. In an interview with ABC, James and Kimberly Snead described a moment at the police station when they crossed paths with the shooter, Nikolas Cruz.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIMBERLY SNEAD, HOUSED ALLEGED SHOOTER: I basically -- I went after him. I wanted to strangle him more than anything. And everything I wanted to say just didn't -- I tried to reserve myself. Really, Nik, really, yelled at him. He mumbled something, but I didn't hear, he said he was sorry.
JAMES SNEAD, HOUSED ALLEGED SHOOTER: Said he was sorry.
KIMBERLY SNEAD: But I didn't hear that, I was just furious and heart broken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: He said he was sorry. CNN's Rosa Flores joins us from Parkland, Florida. We're learning more about the shooter's arsenal of guns -- Rosa.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, this is really surprising, Jim, especially because as you mentioned we've heard from his host parents. We have also heard from police about the type and style of weapon that was used for this massacre. And now authorities telling my colleague, Evan Perez, that they believe that the suspect had ten firearms, all of them rifles.
Right now, they're doing a lot of police work trying to figure out where he purchased them, where they were hidden, if they were hidden somewhere because according to this family, he had that one AR-15 weapon at home. And so, a lot of questions, Jim, today, as we're learning more about his arsenal of weapons.
SCIUTTO: And what else did this couple say about the guns that Cruz had?
FLORES: You know, this couple said they never saw the aggression that we have now seen from his social media and other acts. They just thought he was a little weird and they did know that he had an AR-15 style rifle and they had a conversation about guns. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES SNEAD: Before he moved in, one of the stipulations is he had to get a gun safe, and we got a gun safe on the way back from Lantana, from moving his stuff to our house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't have free access to this gun?
JAMES SNEAD: No, no. I thought I had the only key to the gun safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had no problem with him having a weapon.
JAMES SNEAD: No. Not at all. He followed the rules.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Followed the rules.
JAMES SNEAD: Followed the rules.
KIMBERLY SNEAD: They weren't allowed to be out if we weren't home or one of us wasn't home, and he knew that. And so, to our knowledge he never had them out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: And now we know that that AR-15 style rifle was used to massacre 17 people in the school that you see behind me. And, Jim, we've also learned from authorities that he fired 150 rounds -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: And he was 19 and he had 10 rifles, just incredible. Rosa Flores, thanks very much.
I want to bring in CNN senior law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director at the FBI. Tom, I have to ask you this, let's ask someone in law enforcement, a number of years in there, is there any reason why a 19-year-old kid needs 10 rifles?
And how does that make you feel about your current and former colleagues in the FBI who are on the front lines of law enforcement when it is possible for a kid that young, with problems, to get so many weapons?
[11:20:10] TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You're absolutely right, Jim. It is a terrible, dangerous situation. I'd like to start by saying, again, my condolences go out to all of the victims of this, including the family that took this kid in. You know, as Good Samaritans, let's say.
But the FBI has apologized for the catastrophic failure that occurred in the call center, not forwarding the information to the Miami division so that we know. But we have a series of societal failures that go way back with him and with many others that have been involved in these shootings where, you know, that the mental health professionals knew there was a problem. The school administrators knew, the police in Broward County had responded to 39 calls at that residence where he was accused of beating up his adopted mother, and other violence in that home. And, you know, yet that doesn't send any flags.
There is nothing being put into any formal system that would alert the authorities or the gun shop owners do in the sell a gun to this individual. When I was a police officer, we worried about this. I was a cop for six years on the street.
You worried about the people running around with guns who are mentally disturbed, and the comment was, when I went through the academy, you weren't worried about the bullet with your name on it you were worried about the thousands that were addressed to whom it may concern.
And that's what we have here, except he went to that school, he had a grievance against either the school itself, that kicked him out, expelled him, or other students that he may have known or a teacher that he may have not liked, and wanted to attack, we don't know that, we may never know all of that.
But, you know, this is a really terrible situation because at so many levels, warnings were missed. And even if they weren't missed, what could the authorities in these different specialties, school administrators, mental health professionals, law enforcement professionals, in South Florida, what could they do with the information in.
SCIUTTO: Well, that's a fair question. First, I want to ask you, many years in the FBI, a call comes into the call center, very specifically warning about a kid, troubled kid, even concerns he might carry out a school shooting.
How, to your understanding, could that message not get relayed to local office? Is it a matter of volume? Do a lot of calls like that come in? Is it the judgment of the person on the phone line? How could that not get communicated?
FUENTES: Well, first of all, when I was in the bureau, we didn't have this call center. Each field office had people answer the phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week and took the complaints and it was their responsibility to forward it either to the appropriate division of the FBI, program managers of the FBI, or state or local authorities if it was warranted.
So, we didn't have that. This call center was established about seven years ago because of the high volume and actually to achieve a higher degree of centralized training over the people who operated this center. So, the center gets about 2,000 calls a day.
And it is their responsibility to take these calls that come in from all over the world and have it sent to the appropriate authorities, which in this case would have been the Miami Division of the FBI, which never did get notified by that call center about that specific call. SCIUTTO: Let's say the message did get to the Miami field office, so folks at home understand, could they have picked him up? Could they have picked this kid up based on what they knew? He hadn't committed a crime. What options were available to them, greater surveillance?
FUENTES: Absolutely. What the bureau would have done, and they have done this with complaints of someone wanting to join ISIS and travel to Syria, they go contact that person, and interview them, and tell them, basically, you know, we're aware of these complaints against you.
They would notify the local police, and the police would say, oh, yes, we know all about them, been there so many times with this kid. But beyond that, even if they knew he had half a dozen guns, it wouldn't have the authority to take the guns away.
SCIUTTO: That's just incredible. That's incredible. Tom Fuentes, thanks very much for clearing things up for us.
FUENTES: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, two more victims are being laid to rest this morning. Funeral services under way now for 14-year-old Alaina Petty, 15-year- old Luke Hoyer. They were both freshmen at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Coral Springs, Florida, where the ceremony for Alaina is taking place. Dianne, stay with us there. We'll be right back.
SCIUTTO: As we mentioned, just moments ago, two more victims are being laid to rest this morning. Our Dianne Gallagher is in Coral Springs, Florida, where one of those ceremonies is taking place. Diana, difficult environment there. Tell us how it is going.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Jim. We're talking two high school freshmen being laid to rest, just miles apart from each other today. Behind me, the services for Alaina Petty, 14 years old, going on right now.
They're broadcasting some of the sound out into the parking lot because it is a small church, not everybody can fit, so the front of the area they have people outside so they can also listen into that.
Her parents said even though she was just 14, she dedicated her short life to service to others. She was a member of JROTC, very involved with her LDS Church family and after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, she went, and she went to those places that were most greatly impacted and helped rebuild.
Just a few miles away from me in Coral Springs, Luke Hoyer, 15-years- old is being laid to rest as we speak. His family at that service, his aunt spoke to "People" magazine. Jim, this really stuck with me. She said, you know, he was 15 years old. He didn't know what he wanted --