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Student Hold Gun Control Protests; Russia Investigation. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You understand what's going on here, which is the fact that President Trump has said so many times, I don't think anyone knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC.

How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. This entire thing has been a witch-hunt. The Russia story is a total fabrication. Russia did not help me. I call it the Russian hoax. They made up the whole Russia hoax. That was a Democrat hoax. It's a Democrat hoax, et cetera.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Look, he's never embraced this narrative as being definitive.

Back more than a year ago, when the intel guys went up during the transition to brief him on this, there was a reluctant, grudging acceptance that they got the briefing, and we have got a cyber- problem.

But in the announcement after that, they never even mentioned the word Russia and then said without saying who the actor might have been, it had no impact on the election and we're moving forward.

Last week, when you had the leaders of the American intelligence community in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and to a person, each of them said, this happened. It continues to happen. And it will happen again.

And then, Jake, each of them were asked individually, have you been given instructions about what it is you're to do about this? No, no, no, no, and no.

TAPPER: It's just shocking.

And listen to the White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley speaking about the Russia investigations and the special counsel indictments that were dropped last week. Take a listen.


HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians, and that's the Democrats and the mainstream media, who have continued to push this lie on the American people for more than a year, and, quite frankly, Americans should be outraged by that.


TAPPER: So, Hogan Gidley saying that Democrats and the mainstream media have created more chaos than the Russians.

HAYDEN: So, the Russians are playing to cleavages in American society.

I think you and I may have talked about this on an earlier show about covert influence doesn't create fractures. It exploits fractures. We've got fractures and we need to tend to those, all right?

But what he was pointing out was simply I think the American response in the media and in the American political process to what the Russians did and, frankly, to what the Trump administration refuses to admit the Russians did.

So he's pointing out as a weakness of American society the intense debate that is taking place with regard to what happened, why, how do we stop it from happening again.

TAPPER: All right, General Hayden, always good to have you here. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Students and survivors from the Parkland shooting on their way to the Florida state capitol right now to make sure adults and policy-makers start listening.

We're going to talk live to one of the student organizers on the bus next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Breaking just minutes ago, President Trump announced that he is directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose a regulation to ban bump stocks.

Those are modifications to make a gun automatic from semiautomatic, similar to the one used by the Las Vegas gunman in October. This surprise move comes just days after the Parkland school massacre in Florida that has turned young survivors into passionate activists.

Right now, busloads of them are bringing their message from the scene of the latest senseless massacre directly to lawmakers in the state capitol.

I want to bring in CNN's Martin Savidge.

Martin, students from Parkland, they are not the only ones protesting right now from that one school.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, that's right, Jake. And good afternoon to you.

It seems this activism is spreading. This time, there were about 1,500 students that walked out in solidarity and in sympathy at Boca Raton High School. They're of course acknowledging the tragedy that has happened here at Stoneman Douglas High School.

In fact, there were about 300 of those Boca Raton students made their way here to Stoneman Douglas. It's a distance of about 12 miles or so. Every time a new student showed up, they were greeted by other students that were here cheering them on.

And now we, of course, know that there are survivors from this school on buses headed up to Tallahassee to meet face to face with lawmakers for change.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): These students are on a mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone here today is here to effect change and put a stop to this.

SAVIDGE: Traveling to Florida's state capitol to ensure lawmakers hear their voices.

Governor Rick Scott is hosting workshops on gun violence and mental health today. And he is also expected to meet with students. Former Broward County school official Dottie Provenzano says saving lives is about more than just changing gun laws.

DOTTIE PROVENZANO, FORMER BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL OFFICIAL: Not just the education system. It's everyone. The FBI, the local DCF and the mental health agencies and the school. Everyone. We can't bring those kids back. But maybe we can make changes.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Were there warning signs? Did you see danger?

PROVENZANO: I don't think I have ever seen anything that as scary as this. To me was the profile of a mass murderer.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The FBI admits it failed to follow up on a January tip Cruz wanted to kill people in a school shooting.

In response, President Trump attacked the agency for spending more time investigating Russia collusion than school shooters.

The tweet hit close to home for survivor David Hogg.

DAVID HOGG, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I think it's disgusting, personally. My fathered is a retired FBI agent. And the FBI are some of the hardest-working individuals I have ever seen in my life. They work every day, 24/7, to ensure the lives of single every American in this country.

SAVIDGE: Now right-wing conspiracy theorists are tweeting out charges that the 17-year-old is a coached anti-Trump mouthpiece for the FBI. There is no evidence or truth to back up this claim. Yet, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., liked the post on Twitter, expanding the conspiracy theory.


Today, Hogg and his classmates are turning their attention to stopping other schools from becoming a target.


SAVIDGE: Nothing, Jake, that there were funerals for four more students today.

So despite all this talk of activism, this is still very much a community deeply caught up in grief -- Jake.

Martin Savidge, thank you so much.

I want to bring in one of the students will be talking to Florida lawmakers. Her name is Sofie Whitney. She's one of the organizers of this bus trip and the March for Our Lives movement.

Sofie, thanks for joining us.

Just minutes ago, President Trump said he is going to direct his attorney general to propose a ban on devices that turned semiautomatic guns into automatic guns like the one used in the Las Vegas shooting.

What's your reaction to that news?

SOFIE WHITNEY, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: Well, I'm not going to lie. I just heard of that news? Did it just happen?


WHITNEY: Apparently.

I mean, obviously, that's a step forward, but there's still so much more to be done, because even though that would -- that would have stopped just in Las Vegas, it still wouldn't help when it came to my school.

TAPPER: No, it would not have had an effect in Parkland. That's true as far as we know.

What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish in your meetings in Tallahassee?

WHITNEY: I think the biggest goal that we have in going to Tallahassee is just having a conversation with our representatives and our senators, talking about mental health, background checks, assault rifles.

Just getting our voices heard face to face, so they can't hide from us.

TAPPER: President Trump has been known to watch cable news on occasion.

If he were watching right now, what would you want to say to him?

WHITNEY: President Trump, I think that it's really important that you listen to us, because we are your constituents. You are working for us. 3 And kids are dead. And you're avoiding us. I would really like to talk to you.

TAPPER: Many Americans felt after Sandy Hook that there were no there were -- since there were no stronger restrictions on gun ownership in the federal level after Sandy Hook, that that was the end of the line, that it was clear that American society, the American political system wouldn't act on this.

Obviously, you and your classmates and your schoolmates hope that that's not the case. How do you plan on trying to have an impact when the horrific deaths we saw at Sandy Hook didn't?

WHITNEY: I think the difference between us and Sandy Hook is that those kids were not old enough to speak their experiences and their tragedy.

But here we are, a hundred of us about to go to Tallahassee to talk to our government. And we're running the Never Again movement. We're running the March for Our Lives, all student-led. And I think it's really symbolic that we're the ones doing it because we're the ones who experienced it.

TAPPER: Some of your classmates have been facing some criticism from gun rights enthusiasts, fringe conspiracy Web sites.

One former Republican congressman even suggested that your movement has been hijacked by left-wing groups exploiting your grief. What's your response to that and how are you dealing with these criticisms?

WHITNEY: I think they're really insensitive for saying those things.

And I also think that -- I completely forgot what you said, but I'm trying to remember.

TAPPER: Just that there have been a lot of attacks on you guys, and I'm just wondering how you're dealing with it.


WHITNEY: I know what I'm going to say now.

There's been such an overwhelming response of support that we don't even have time to listen to people that are against us, because the fact that someone is against us when we literally just lost 17 people that we used to see every single day to gun violence, I just -- I can't fathom how people have the mind-set like that.

TAPPER: Sofie Whitney, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it. Good luck to you and your classmates.

WHITNEY: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in tomorrow night for a very special CNN town hall, "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action."

I'm going to moderate the live event in Florida with students and parents from Parkland who will get to ask Florida lawmakers, including Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, Congressman Ted Deutch, questions about what now, what can be done to stop these mass shootings?

I'm going to host a special live tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Coming up next, conflict of interest watch -- why Donald Trump Jr's trip overseas is raising new questions about power and influence and blurred lines.

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now, we're back with our "MONEY LEAD." Investors in India today hailing the arrival of a famous real estate tycoon named Trump, but it's not the President, it's his son Donald Trump Jr. who's there to drum up interest in a Trump condominium project outside New Delhi. But when you're the President's son and you're selling The Trump brand, his brand, a trip like this might raise some concerns about the line between private enterprise and American diplomacy. And this the latest in our "CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH" series. CNN Money and Politics Correspondent Cristina Alesci joins me now for more. Cristina, this India deal was made before the President was elected so what's the problem?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: The problem is that Don Junior and his Indian business partners are actually selling the Trump name today while his father is in office. Now, let me take a step back and put this into context. The Trump business has five projects in India and some of those deals were signed to your point years ago but the condos are actually ready for sale today. And if the condos sell well for high prices, then the Trump business and his family could benefit financially. That's why you're seeing this aggressive marketing push. Now the ads technically are encouraging buyers straight up to sign up for Trump branded condos and in exchange, they get a conversation and dinner with the President's son. Now, wealthy investors in India might take as their chance to get access to the President. And even if, Jake, there isn't this blatant exchange of favors, ethics experts say Americans should not have worry whether U.S. foreign policy is up for sale, whether these condos sales are somehow influencing policy. Now, making this trip even more controversial is that fact that Trump Junior is talking geopolitics on this trip. He's saying for instance that India is a much better place to do business than other countries like China.

[16:50:53] TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci -- well, I do have one other question. Does White House have a response to any questions about this trip?

ALESCI: Well, in this case, we heard from don junior himself take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: When people talk about it these days, you know, profiteering from the presidency and all this nonsense. I said, wait a minute, I can't do deals? I've spent over a decade creating relationships. It's sort of a shame because we put on these impositions on ourselves but essentially got no credit for actually doing that and for doing the right thing.


ALESCI: N0ow he seems to be indicating that his family is making a personal sacrifice by not doing new deals, but Jake, this seems a little tone deaf because Americans expect the President and their families to make certain sacrifices. That's number one. Number two, old deals are still active so there's still very much an opportunity for corruption in those old deals because they're selling the condos today.

TAPPER: Cristina Alesci, thanks so much. My political panel is here for more. So what do you make of this, Amanda?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is about as smart as I think that Donald Trump Jr. likes on Twitter. I mean, hello, your family is being investigated. Robert Mueller has a whole team of lawyers who specialize in corruption and financial crimes. This seems like an incredibly boneheaded move but he seems like he's having fun.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER AND NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, MOVEON.ORG: I think -- I think -- look, I think Donald Trump and his family, they're just a walking talking conflict of interest and they take any opportunity that comes their way to profit off the presidency. And we see it time and time again. I mean, it violates, it's unprecedented, they cross every line, and they don't seem -- they have no shame doing it.

TAPPER: This really does seem to be setting a precedence that I mean, how can any Republican in the future complain about any conflict of interest when they allow this to happen?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think that it also highlights the need for a lot of these sort of ethics issues to be codified better than they are. I think we have gone on faith that the people in office and their families will do what's right for the sort of American institution and I think the Trump family is pushing the boundaries of that. They don't think that they need to do any of these things. They think they should just be trusted and I think you know, the history of our country has been that people often do more than they're supposed to or they follow the norms.

TAPPER: Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm.

PHILLIP: Exactly.

TAPPER: He sold his peanut farm.

PHILLIP: He sure did. His family does not want to follow norms. They only wanted to what they're required to do and when they do more, they want credit for it. Like he just said, he doesn't think they're getting enough credit for it and the reality is they're probably not doing enough given the scope of their potential conflict.

TAPPER: Amanda, I do want to ask you because you raised the issue of the likes of Donald Trump Jr.'s tweets. He liked two tweets from fringe Web sites, both of them attacking one of the Parkland survivors. The student who told -- who says out loud that his -- you know, on T.V. that his father used to work for the FBI and these tweets allege a conspiracy that somehow this kid is, I don't even know. I can't even really follow it because it is too dumb but in any case, when the President's son who is certainly widely respected by the President's base, likes something like that, he amplifies it.

CARPENTER: Absolutely. And there is a broader effort right now to dismiss the kids that went to Parkland saying that they've been through a trauma. You hear that they shouldn't be exploited by the media and they're not gun experts. I couldn't disagree more. They became gun experts the day they saw the carnage that was unleashed by the barrel of that gun. And if you do not listen to their cries, to take them seriously, there's something seriously wrong with you. And so, when people do listen to these students, they need to do more than listen. They need to have very real, very specific answers on what they're going to do to keep them safe in the future.

PHILLIP: And it is incredibly condescending. These are -- these are not kids. In a year or two, they're going to be voting so --

JEAN-PIERRE: And they're victims.

PHILLIP: -- they have the right to speak out.

TAPPER: Everyone, thank you so much, Amanda, Karine, and Abby. Next in the "SPORTS LEAD," talk about a bracket buster. An NCAA team stripped of its title over a sex scandal years later. Stick around.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: In the "SPORTS LEAD" today, a sex scandal which already cost Louisville Basketball Coach Rick Pitino his job is now costing the school a national championship. After losing an appeal, Louisville will have to vacate more than 100 wins including its 2013 title. The penalties came after an NCAA investigation found Louisville staff had arranged strippers and escorts for potential recruits. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THE LEADCNN. Join -- remember to join me tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for a very special CNN "TOWN HALL," Stand Up, the Students Of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action. I'm going to host the live event in Florida with students and parents from Parkland who will ask Florida lawmakers questions about gun violence. And now I'm going to turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching