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Another Former Trump Adviser Flips; Students Protest for Gun Control. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:04]

BENJAMIN WATSON, BALTIMORE RAVENS: But when you say those sorts of things, especially because of our history as a country, we can't say those things in a vacuum.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know if you saw, Benjamin, but I was reading over the weekend how this group of fans were actually removed from this hockey game over the weekend after yelling at this one black hockey player who was sitting in the penalty box.

And they were yell "basketball, basketball" at him. And so the Washington Capitals coach actually responded, saying, "There is absolutely no place in the game of hockey or in our country for racism, and I think it's disgusting."

NBA star Dwyane Wade over the weekend tweeted, Benjamin: "They used to try and hide it. Now the president has given everyone the courage to live their truths."

I mean, you have been playing football for a long time.

WATSON: Sure.

BALDWIN: What's your personal experience? Do you think there's any truth to that?

WATSON: Well, again, I do think that we're in a time where, whether it's because of social media or because of the presidency, people are getting outside of, I guess, the pleasantries or maybe the protocol of how to talk to people.

And it's really disgusting on both sides. It's disgusting to look at my social media feed and see people say STFU or people say, go back to wherever, people say, shut up and play. I have had that plenty of times too, depending on what side of an issue that I have come out on.

I do think, however, that the president has the ability to set the atmosphere and the temperature and the climate for how we interact with each other. Whether we agree with him or not, there's always a certain way to speak to people. There's a certain amount of respect we should have for people, for their humanity.

And when you use obscenities, when you say the SOB comments that we talked about earlier this year, that does have an effect on everybody, not just the people that agree with you, but on both sides. It's very polarizing when you have that coming from the top.

And I have said this over and over again. Whether we agree with the president or not, he is our president and he has the ability, the strength to, with one simple word, I'm sorry, I was wrong, I was out -- my tone was wrong, he has the ability to really bridge the gap and bring us together.

BALDWIN: From the top. Benjamin Watson, thank you.

WATSON: Thank you, Brooke. Always good to talk to you.

BALDWIN: All right, we continue on, hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

Here's a quote: "You're either with us or against us."

That's the message to President Trump and other politicians that's being chanted all across the country today, as students and activists continue to protest for more gun safety, six days after 17 people were killed at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA MANNINO, DRAIN THE NRA: There's a time to hold candles and there's a time to raise our voices, and that time is now. And that day is today.

As a collective force of pure determination and action, let's send a message to Congress and everyone running in 2018 that we are the majority.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MANNINO: We demand meaningful gun safety policy and we're not going to stand on the sidelines waiting for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: A source tells CNN the president has seen these protests and says that he wants to do something. We just don't know exactly what that something might look like, but the White House may be signaling some legislative progress, saying that the president, quoting the White House now, "The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system."

This as authorities tell CNN that the 19-year-old gunman had obtained at least 10 firearms in the past year, all some kind of rifle.

So with me now from West Palm Beach, CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez.

And, Boris, just looking ahead also, we know the president has this listening session with students and teachers from Parkland this coming Wednesday. Tell me more about that and how the president is preparing to talk to them.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Brooke.

Yes, at this point we actually don't know a whole lot about exactly who the president is going to be speaking to. The White House not giving us a ton of clarity on whether these students are actually going to be survivors of that shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School.

We only know that the White House promised to give us more clarity on that as we get closer to the listening session on Wednesday. I can tell you, though, that sources tell CNN that the president has been discussing gun control and the issue of gun violence with some of his guests at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, including an animated dinner discussion with Geraldo Rivera and his two sons, Eric and Don Jr.

I can also tell you that the president is apparently considering a piece of legislation that was introduced in the Senate back in November, a bipartisan bill by senators John Cornyn and Chris Murphy. The White House putting out this statement about that bill.

They write -- quote -- "The president spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill he and Senator Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with the criminal background check legislation. While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system."

[15:05:00]

This bill was introduced as a response to the church shooting in Texas in November. It didn't have a whole ton of support back then. Essentially, what it aims to do is strengthen how state and local law enforcement report information to the NICS, the National Instant Background Check System.

That would make it so that it would be tougher for individuals with criminal histories to obtain weapons, as we saw happened in that church shooting in Texas. We can say, though, that we have seen the White House get behind certain pieces of legislation before or at least say they're open to it, like banning bump stocks after the shooting in Las Vegas in October.

That ended up not going anywhere. Even one of the co-sponsors of this bill, Chris Murphy, said that he's enthusiastic about the new urgency that he sees when it comes to pushing for gun control legislation, but he doesn't believe that this bill is enough. He wants to see the White House doing more.

Now, if the president were to get behind this bill, it wouldn't be the first time that we would see a shift from the president on the issue of gun control. If you recall, back in 2010, he wrote in a book that he was open to banning assault weapons and expanding background checks.

So, essentially, we have to wait and see how serious the White House is about pursuing this on the agenda -- Brooke. BALDWIN: Yes, the president has been all over the map in the last two

decades really on issues of gun control. I appreciate that, Boris. Thank you so much.

Let's have a bigger conversation.

I have CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly here with me, CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham, also with me Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show."

Good to see you guys.

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hi, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And to you, sir, first just on what he was just laying out, what the president perhaps could support. What are the chances of that happening?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, if the president weighs in, in a major way, that changes the dynamic.

But I think Boris kind of laid out in good detail why this is a very complicated issue. First, you start with trust. There's no trust on either side right now. On the right, conservatives feel like liberals or people on the left want to take all of their guns away.

On the left, people feel like conservatives are completely beholden to the NRA and have blood on their hands. Neither is exactly true. But as long as that is the baseline right now, that's obviously severely problematic.

Now, the bill that Boris was talking about, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Chris Murphy, the NICS improvement bill, it's small-bore, but it is something that has bipartisan support. However, the House passed that bill and paired it with concealed carry reciprocity, something that has no chance in the U.S. Senate, because Democrats want it to move forward.

However, it is a major issue that gun rights folks really want to move forward. So as long as those two are paired together, there's no future there.

I think the interesting element here is, can you keep the debate narrow? Can you keep it to just a background check over this next bill? And then it has a potential future. If it broadens out and if the passions on both sides start to take over, there's really no chance on the Hill.

And that's not even factoring in election year politics or anything of that nature. I do think, though, President Trump, if he gets behind any specific piece of legislation and really tries to shepherd it home, that changes the dynamic.

Will that actually occur? He didn't actually back the bill that he was talking about. He just said he was interested in some of the changes. So, that's a thing to keep an eye on. BALDWIN: Interested in some of the changes. He was talking to his friend Geraldo Rivera over the weekend apparently at Mar-a-Lago as well about maybe doing something, changing military-style weapons like the AR-15, raising the age of buying them to 21 from 18.

But I actually want to move off of that, because I was just handed a tweet. Here is the new tweet, guys. This is actually -- this is moving to Russia.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: This is the tweet just in from the president, who, as we know, is still down in Florida. He tweets: "Obama was president up to and down the 2016 election, so why didn't he do something about Russian meddling?"

Mary Katharine Ham, this is obviously in the wake of the mega news, right, from the special counsel on Friday, these Russian indictments, and again the president's barrage of tweets over the weekend saying, this happened before me, you know, and I'm president and don't question the legitimacy of my election.

What do you make of this tweet?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's better than the ones over the weekend.

I think he actually -- I think he has not a terrible point. "The Washington Post" has reported repeatedly on how they did get warnings about this, and President Obama at the time was in a very tricky situation, because once you bring this up and how you combat it is very hard during an election while it's happening.

Look, the president is going to be obsessed with how this plays into his legitimacy or lack thereof in the eyes of the American people and in the media. He will continue to be obsessed with that.

BALDWIN: But is part of his obsession, why can't he criticize Russia? That is entirely missing from the fact that the country was under attack and is currently under attack when it comes to this upcoming election.

HAM: I think, as always with Donald Trump, and this is not me making light of what Russia did in the election, it is that Putin says nice things about Trump and, therefore, Trump says nice things about Putin.

I don't think he minds a strongman. I don't think he minds some of those tendencies. And Trump -- Putin is nice to him and that's how you get Trump to be nice to you.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Obviously, that's not good enough when you're the leader of the United States of America and the country is under attack.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Go ahead, Bill.

PRESS: I just want to say, first of all, one question. Should President Obama have done more and informed us more about Russia meddling when he found out about it? Absolutely. I think we all know why he didn't. Everybody thought Hillary was going to win.

[15:10:07]

HAM: Including the Russians.

PRESS: And if he said something there, Donald Trump would have been able to use that to say, I told you the election was rigged. Whatever.

So, yes, but you can't -- let's not change the subject to Barack Obama. The subject is Donald Trump. And I think what is stunning is that he lives in such an alternate universe. I mean, 17 intelligence agencies have told us Russia did this.

The United States Congress, both houses have said, by passing sanctions against Russia for doing it, they believe Russia did it. And now we have got Mueller with excruciating detail about everything they did.

And Donald Trump still has not acknowledged they did it. He has not condemned them for doing it. And he has not suggested any retaliation to Russia.

That is stunning. In fact, he said Vladimir Putin told me he didn't do it so, therefore, I don't believe it happened. Come on, get in the real world.

BALDWIN: Right.

Let me just read another tweet from him. "If it was the goal of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S., then, with all the committee hearings," which you cover all the time, Phil Mattingly, "investigations, party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart, America."

Not -- once again, not once has he blamed Russia, vowed revenge against Russia, or...

HAM: Or acknowledged that he has agency to do something about the fact that they're laughing and we have tools at our disposals with which to do something about that.

PRESS: Yes, right.

HAM: That would be nice.

MATTINGLY: Yes. In fact, Brooke, when you talk to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, which is the world I live in, whether Republican or Democrat, they are, for the most part, and this isn't uniform, but for the most part able to separate what happened in the election and the results of the election from the Russian investigation and Russian meddling.

The president and his aides say this very bluntly, cannot have that separation. He feels like any time you're talking about one, you're automatically calling into question the other.

And I think until that is in some way resolved or remedied, there's not going to be a proper path forward, because if you talk to administration officials, if you listen to senior administration officials, senior intelligence community officials, they're all on the same page with those on the Hill, Republican or Democrat, particularly in the Senate, the Senate Intelligence Committee, who acknowledge what happened, believe what happened, believe what special counsel Mueller released on Friday is the story of what happened, and believe things need to be done not just before 2020, but in the next couple of months, before primaries start before 2018.

And as long as there is no kind of coherent message from the top agreeing with that and pushing forward on that, I think there's a lot of concern regardless of party on Capitol Hill.

PRESS: See, Brooke, Donald Trump hears Russian meddling and then he believes, I didn't win this election on my own. That is driving him crazy, and that's what resulted in this tweetstorm this weekend.

HAM: Can I say I think there is another conflation that happens that exacerbates the president's inability to separate these two things?

And that is the conflation of Russian meddling with the conclusion of collusion. And we can pretend like all of the media coverage has just been very straightforward and about meddling. It has not. Some of it has been wishing and getting out over its skis about the conclusion of the investigation, more of which we know now, not all.

But I do think that's some of what drives his ire as well.

BALDWIN: Yes, meddled, although I have had people over here about talking about cyber-war. They're saying meddling isn't even the right word for it. No, no conclusion on the collusion. Case closed so far.

You got it? Thank you guys so much.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Phil, Mary Katharine, and Bill, appreciate it.

Coming up here: Moments ago, the shooter who took 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, was back in court for a hearing today. And now the couple who took him in after his mother passed away a couple of months ago is speaking out. What they said about the weapons that he brought into their home.

Also ahead, I will talk to two students who survived that mass shooting. They are meeting with state lawmakers tomorrow in Tallahassee, Florida, to demand change. And later, former Trump aide Rick Gates is reportedly taking --

talking and taking a plea deal, and flipping on his old boss, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. What this means, big picture here, in this Russia investigation.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:19]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Appearing in a red jumpsuit earlier today with his wrists shackled to his waist, we just saw the shooter back in a courtroom. And as he looked down, his only words were to answer the public defender's questions, and we are now hearing from the family who took him in after his mother recently passed away.

They say they were absolutely stunned to learn that they were living under the same roof as this young man.

CNN's Alisyn Camerota just sat down with the Snead family, who revealed something pretty surprising about the shooter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES SNEAD, TOOK IN NIKOLAS CRUZ: He told us he was depressed. We knew he was depressed. So...

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And when you say he was quirky, just give us a sense of what that looked like.

SNEAD: He was just -- he's just trying to fit in. He just didn't know what to say or when to say it or how to stay it. And so he'd ask a lot of questions. He'd apologize a lot.

If we told him to do something, if he needed to clean up something after himself or something, he'd apologize and said he was sorry. You don't have to be sorry. Just do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I want to bring in Paula McMahon, who had that first interview with this couple and wrote about it.

Paula, thank you for being with me.

I read your piece over the weekend, and your headline is, "We had this monster living under our roof and we didn't know."

I mean, the question is, how did they not know, because there seemed to be so many other signs? They acknowledged that he was depressed after his mom died. What did they say to you?

PAULA MCMAHON, "THE FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL": What James and Kimberly Snead told me, Brooke, is that they were not aware of any of the warning signs that were reported to the FBI, that were reported to state authorities and to local authorities and the school district.

[15:20:00]

Our newspaper has been reporting on that, of course. They said that he -- Nikolas Cruz was a friend of their son's. They met at school. And after Nikolas Cruz was orphaned in the start of November, at the start of November, their son asked them if Nikolas Cruz could move into the home in Parkland.

They thought they were doing something nice. They thought they were doing a good deed. They set up very strict rules, is what they told me, before they allowed this young man to come into their home. James Snead is a former military man. He's comfortable around guns. His wife is comfortable around guns.

She's a neonatal nurse, a NICU nurse. And they said that they told Nikolas Cruz before he moved in, you need to have a gun safe. They bought it on the way as they were moving his stuff into their home. They thought they had the only key to that gun safe.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Can I stop you, Paula?

MCMAHON: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: They didn't realize he -- it sounds like he had a key. Did they realize at 19 years of age that he had this AR-15-style weapon?

MCMAHON: They did. They knew he had that and they knew he had other guns. He bought that gun legally at a local gun supply store. He went through the background check, and he passed it.

BALDWIN: Right. That's right. And so they thought it was all properly locked up, that the father thought he had the only key, and perhaps it turns out that this young man had one.

MCMAHON: And James...

BALDWIN: Go ahead, go ahead.

MCMAHON: James Snead told me that he asked -- he told Nikolas Cruz that he needed to ask for permission before he could take out any of the guns in their home. And he said in the three months that Nikolas lived in the home, he asked twice if he could take out the guns. One time, they said yes, and one time they said no.

And they were not aware that he was taking them out any more than that.

BALDWIN: And what about this -- his predilection, based upon social media posts, to killing animals? Didn't this family have a bunch of dogs and cats? Something as simple as that, did they not see any signs there?

MCMAHON: They said they saw quite the contrary to what's been reported about him in the aftermath of this tragedy.

They said that they have two dogs and about six cats that come and go on their property. They saw only love shown to those animals. They said he was loving on their dogs and one of the cats used to like to sit on his chest. They never saw -- that's what they told me at least. They never saw any indication.

And Kimberly told me that if anyone came into her home and was mean to her animals, they would be thrown out promptly.

BALDWIN: Wow. How awful for this family. We know they're suffering as well, the son at the school and everything that they're dealing with right now.

Paula McMahon with quite a fascinating picture there in "The Sun- Sentinel." Thank you so much, Paula.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Want to move away from that for just a moment.

Thank you.

Coming up next, let's talk about the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and how he's apparently flipped another defendant in this Russia investigation -- why the president's former advisers, one of, is pleading guilty and who he will testify against.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:30]

BALDWIN: The expansive Russia investigation appears to be picking up momentum, indictments, guilty pleas.

CNN first reported that former senior Trump campaign aide Rick Gates will plead guilty to fraud-related charges unrelated to the election within the next few days. And "The L.A. Times" has confirmed that he has agreed to testify against his ex-boss and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

You know the story with Manafort. He pleaded not guilty to Mueller's indictment and is now preparing for trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign.

So, with me now, John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel.

Sir, always a pleasure.

Can you just tell me, what is the Trump camp thinking when they see now at least three major players plead guilty and agree to cooperate with the special counsel?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, I think the latest one is probably one that will cause them some serious thought.

They're asking themselves, how much does Manafort know and how close was Manafort with Gates? In other words, was he likely to share everything he knew with his longtime business associate?

If that's the case, what Manafort knew will come in, could come into the case through Gates. There are exceptions to the normal hearsay rules when you have a witness who is a part of a co-conspiracy. And that could be a problem for him.

BALDWIN: Do you see any similarities, John, in how Mueller took down the Gambino crime family when he was federal prosecutor, in terms of how Mueller seems to be systematically indicting and then flipping these Trump associates to cooperate?

DEAN: There is.

And this is pretty standard with white-collar prosecutors working on mob cases, particularly, where they go to get the lower-level people first, try to get them to either plead or indict them, and then flip them. And this is pretty standard operating procedure.

And that's exactly what we see in this case, the way he's proceeding. He has spread wide, and he is flipping people as he goes and getting pleas as he goes. So, this is something like a mob prosecution, actually.

BALDWIN: Like a mob prosecution. But we're talking about the president and all these different associates and how they keep flipping.

What about this, John Dean, how the president has been clinging to this whole unwitting part of the indictment from that bombshell news from Mueller on Friday, those 13 Russians accused of interfering in the election?

Do you think Trump should see that as vindication?

DEAN: Well, I think he's pipe-dreaming if he thinks that it's vindication.