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Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Lying to Feds about Connection to Trump Campaign Aide; White House: Trump Tough on Russia. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: I'm now going to turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Mueller's next move. The special counsel gets a guilty plea from the lawyer accused of lying about his ties to a former Trump campaign aide. But has Robert Mueller gotten everything he wants from him? And what signal does this send to others?

In denial. With President Trump seemingly in denial about Russia's meddling, the White House echoes his latest Twitter tirade, falsely saying he's tougher on Russia than President Obama and telling the FBI to stop focusing in on, quote, "a hoax."

Anger and action. Students who survived the massacre at their high school take their outrage to Florida's state capitol, demanding lawmakers do something about gun violence. But are Russian social media trolls already using -- trying to use this slaughter to divide Americans?

And banning bump stocks. Present Trump tells the attorney general to propose rules that would ban bump stocks which can turn legal weapons into the equivalent of machine guns. Will that change anything?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has just obtained another guilty plea as a lawyer with ties to former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates and ties to a Russian billionaire pleads guilty to lying to federal investigators.

But there's no clear indication, at least not yet, that he's fully cooperating with the special counsel.

President Trump is still not publicly condemning Russia's attack on the U.S. election, and the White House is now repeating his latest Twitter rant, blaming his predecessor for the election meddling and falsely claiming that he's been much tougher on Russia than former President Obama.

I'll speak with Congressman Ted Lieu of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with today's guilty plea in the latest indictment brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Let's go first to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, take us through this case involving a Dutch citizen, Alex Van Der Zwaan.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is what we know right now. Van Der Zwaan, 33-year-old Dutch citizen, he pled guilty this after after being charged earlier this morning by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, this for lying. It appears two instances of lying. Lying to investigators about his discussions with Ukraine with former campaign Trump aide Rick Gates; also another instance of lying about his failure to turn over an e-mail communication.

We should mention that Zwaan, his father-in-law, I should say, is a Russian billionaire, German Khan, one of the most prominent billionaires in Russia, tied to Russia there. It's not clear -- there's no evidence, I should say, that his tie to Khan is related to his charges in this case.

BLITZER: So can we read between the lines here, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, Zwaan is not, it appears, a big fish in this investigation. But knowing the way Mueller operates here, a possible attempt to put further pressure on Rick Gates.

CNN has reported the end of last week, my colleagues, that Gates is in negotiations for a possible plea deal to plead guilty. You'll remember that last fall, he was charged with a number of crimes, including money laundering. This relating to his work with Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, regarding pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine between 2006 and 2015. Those charges carry more than ten years.

In addition to that, of course, the enormous legal bills here that Gates would be facing. So pressure on him for possibly cooperating with investigators. But of course, if he is cooperating, that would be of enormous significance.

BLITZER: It certainly would be. The president for months and months has been calling this overall, this whole Russia investigation a hoax. But yet, now this Russia investigation gets yet another guilty plea.

SCIUTTO: Listen, this is a frequent point. You hear it from Trump. You hear it from Trump allies. Let's just do it by the numbers now. We're about nine months into the special counsel's investigation. So far, charges now against 22 people and entities. The most recent, on Friday, those 13 Russian individuals.

But let's look at the Trump associates. There are four Trump associates who have been charged. Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman. Rick Gates, his former deputy campaign chairman. Michael Flynn charged with lying, as well as former national security adviser, as well as George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser. All of them have been charged.

In addition to that, you now have four guilty pleas, and those guilty pleas include Michael Flynn, former national security adviser, Papadopoulos, Zwaan, as well.

BLITZER: It's -- it's a very serious development. I know you're working your sources. We'll get a lot more on all of this. Jim, thank you very much.

President Trump is still downplaying Russia's assault on the U.S. election. And the White House is repeating his false claim that he's been tougher on Russia than his predecessor.

[17:05:08] Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what's the latest over there?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, press secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed at least one of the president's tweets over the weekend when it came to the FBI being distracted by the Russia probe, but she maintained what the president said this morning on Twitter, that he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor, despite the fact that he has not condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the 13 indictments of Russians.


BROWN (voice-over): President Trump back in the White House today and still tweeting about Russia, writing, quote, "I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Just look at the facts. Total fake news."

But the president has yet to condemn Russian interference in the wake of the evidence laid out in last week's special counsel indictments of 13 Russian nationals, instead claiming it demonstrates a lack of collusion between his campaign and Russia. The White House responding to the criticism.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He called out Russia by name in his official statement that went out shortly after those indictments came down. He called them bad actors and specifically called out Russia as the only individual in that statement. That was the first reaction of the president, so I would disagree with the premise of your question. He's also, again, been extremely tough on Russia in a number of different ways, and we're going to continue to do that.

BROWN: Trump's argument against former President Obama centers around these remarks made prior to the 2016 election.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even, you could even rig America's elections. In part because they're so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved. There's no evidence that has happened in the past, or that there are instances in which that will happen this time. And so I'd advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.

BROWN: Those comments were a response to candidate Trump's claims the election was rigged. Not about Russia meddling. And Obama did directly confront Russian sanctions, something Trump has yet to do.

OBAMA: And so in early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn't happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out or there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn't. And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process.

BROWN: But Trump is still blaming Democrats for the Russia investigation, tweeting, quote, "When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed, and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems. Trump's secretary echoing the president argument today.

SANDERS: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions. He's taken away properties. He's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia. Just last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days.

BROWN: Meanwhile in the aftermath of last week's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the president today announcing he is directing his attorney general to take steps to ban bump stocks.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just, a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.

BROWN: Bump stock devices were found on the firearms in the hotel room of the gunman in the Las Vegas shooting last October, where 58 people were killed at a music festival.

TRUMP: We cannot merely take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make a difference.


BROWN: So today, the White House responding to the pressure on the gun issue with this memo, though it is largely symbolic since the Department of Justice has already been undertaking a process to determine whether banning bump stops -- bump stocks would be legal. Today DOJ says that it understands this is a priority for the president.

Meanwhile, the president vowing today to find a solution in the wake of that shooting in Florida. Unclear exactly what those solutions will be, Wolf, but he will be meeting with students, teachers and parents, including those from the Parkland community here at the White House tomorrow to discuss all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House for us. Thank you very much. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He's a

member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story: new charges in the Russia probe. Alex Van Der Zwaan, a lawyer with ties to former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, just entered a guilty plea for lying to federal investigators. How significant is this late-breaking development?

[17:10:05] LIEU: I believe it's significant, because it puts pressure on Gates to actually plead guilty. CNN has reported that they expect Rick Gates to plead guilty.

And what we're seeing is Robert Mueller putting together his case brick by brick, piece by piece. And Robert Mueller's being very methodical. But this guilty plea would almost lock in Rick Gates to go to plead later this week, and that puts tremendous pressure on Paul Manafort. And if he to flip, I think that would be very dangerous for the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Well, if Mueller is turning up the heat on Rick Gates in order to get to Paul Manafort, as you suggest, what kind of information might he be after?

LIEU: So Rick Gates by himself was the deputy campaign manager for the Trump campaign, and he actually stayed on with the campaign even when Paul Manafort was released. So he might have seen a lot of different things. We don't know.

But clearly, the Robert Mueller team is interested in getting a guilty plea and to get Rick Gates to cooperate. And then we know that Paul Manafort, as a campaign manager, had his hands on a lot of different things. So we're going to wait and see what happens. But as a former prosecutor, it is amazing to watch Robert Mueller be so methodical and put together his case brick by brick, piece by piece.

BLITZER: Because the assumption is he's going after relatively small fish to get bigger fish. So you expect Mueller to keep moving up the chain. Do you expect him, perhaps, to move all the way up to the president?

LIEU: It's certainly possible. I do know that he would not have entered into a one-count guilty plea with Michael Flynn in order to get people below Michael Flynn. It would be people at his level or above him. So I expect more indictments to come of more senior people.

BLITZER: Yes. It looks like this -- this investigation is continuing full speed ahead, and there's a lot more work that needs to be done.

Let me get your reaction, Congressman, to President Trump's claim that he's been much tougher, his words -- much tougher on Russia than President Obama was. Do you believe that? LIEU: Absolutely not. And all we have to do is look at the

bipartisan congressional sanctions law that was passed over six months ago. As we sit here today, Donald Trump has still refused to implement the bipartisan congressional sanctions on Russia.

He's also refused to condemn the Kremlin, and he has refused to direct the FBI to prevent another attack on our democracy coming this November.

BLITZER: The -- that bipartisan sanctions law, by the way, was passed 98-2 in the Senate, I think 419-3 in the House. The president signed it into law. It was passed way back in August, as you point out. The president signed it because he knew he couldn't override a veto, but he still hasn't gone ahead and actually implemented any sanctions that are demanded as part of that law. How much longer can he continue to delay implementing sanctions? Because it's the law of the land.

LIEU: The longer the White House and Donald Trump delays, the more suspicious it looks, because it makes you wonder, what does Putin have on Trump where he won't even implement the bipartisan, bicameral congressional sanctions that is now law and is on his desk to implement?

Now, keep in mind that these sanctions, one of the reasons Congress did this was to hold Russia accountable for their attack on our democracy in 2016. So it's not just to deter Russia. It's also to hold them accountable, and so far Donald Trump is refusing to do that.

BLITZER: Back in December of 2016, then President-elect -- he was president-elect -- Donald Trump told "TIME" magazine -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I don't believe they interfered," referring to the Russians and the presidential elections.

How do you believe the Russians are interpreting the various mixed signals now coming from the Trump administration and the White House? All of the president's national security advisors say the Russians did it; they're still doing it; get ready for more Russian interference. But the president holds back. He doesn't go that far. How do you think the Russians interpret those mixed signals?

LIEU: Well, it's very clear that everyone in the White House understands and knows that Russia interfered in our elections in 2016 except for the president. And that's very distressing, because we know that Russia's going to do this again. And for deterrence to work, it has to not only be credible, but your adversary has to think that you're willing to execute it. And if the leader of the United States is unwilling to direct his FBI to prevent another attack on our elections coming up in 2018, it is very distressing. And that's why, I think, we need to keep pressure on to make sure that the president imposes sanctions and take steps to try to prevent Russia from attacking us again.

BLITZER: Even some Democrats, by the way, have criticized President Obama's response to the Russian meddling. Your colleague, Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he has publicly said that President Obama and his administration could have and should have done more. What more should they have done?

[17:15:10] LIEU: So I'm sure in hindsight that the Obama administration would have wanted this to have turned out differently. But they did go to Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, and say, "Look, we want to tell this to Americans."

And Mitch McConnell said, "Do not do that. If you do that, I'm going to say this is purely a partisan political ploy." And so Mitch McConnell had a big hand in stopping the administration from coming out with the truth at the time.

BLITZER: But they did come out in early October with a statement, a formal statement from the director of national intelligence, the secretary of homeland security, saying that Russia was interfering in the U.S. presidential election. Are you talking about something earlier that then-President Obama wanted to release?

LIEU: The public reporting is that the Obama administration was going to be a lot more forthcoming with what Russia was doing in terms of interfering with our elections. And they went to the Senate and House leadership, and Mitch McConnell basically shut that down.

But there's also something else going on. And really, it was the belief at the time. And everyone really believed that Hillary Clinton was going to win. So I think people also were operating under that assumption, which turned out to be wrong.

BLITZER: Yes. That was the assumption, the widespread assumption. You don't have to talk too much about this right now, because Hillary Clinton was going to win in any case, and after the election you can talk about it. But that was obviously a false assumption.

Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks very much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. Robert Mueller seems to be casting a wide net. So what does the latest guilty plea tell us about the extent of the special counsel's Russia investigation?

And student survivors of the Florida high school slaughter take their outrage to Florida's state capitol, demanding lawmakers act to stop gun violence. But are Russian Internet trolls already using the massacre to divide Americans?


[17:21:30] BLITZER: Our breaking news: a lawyer with ties to a former Trump campaign aide and ties to a Russian billionaire pleads guilty to lying to the special counsel's investigators.

Let's dig deeper with our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, after reading through this indictment, what does it tell you about the intensity, the extent of Mueller's investigation right now? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It really says don't mess

with Robert Mueller. This is an office interview where Van Der Zwaan admitted that he lied.

In many cases, in many U.S. attorney's offices, that would not necessarily be prosecuted. They would go back to him. They would say, "You know, you'd better tell us the truth.: They would threaten, but they would not engage. They would not actually charge a criminal false statement.

Here, based on the false statement by -- by this lawyer, Van Der Zwaan, they have charged him with a felony. He's pleaded guilty. And it's a message to everyone who's been interviewed by the Mueller office, and it's a lot of people by now, if you lie, we will -- there will be consequences, and you will be prosecuted for a felony.

BLITZER: So what's the biggest development from today's guilty plea?

TOOBIN: Well, the other thing that's very noticeable about this guilty plea is the intensity of the investigation. It refers to deleted -- that the Mueller office has learned that Van Der Zwaan deleted e-mails. That suggests they engaged in a forensics examination of his e-mails. Something that is pretty unusual and certainly not usually done with peripheral figures in an investigation.

Again, it's another message that, even if you think you are a small fish, we will prosecute you, and we will investigate you using every tool at our disposal.

BLITZER: We've now seen charges against the president's former campaign chairman, the president's former national security adviser, 13 Russians, as well as a few minor characters. Does this give you any clues about where Mueller might be heading next?

TOOBIN: Well, I think the real clue we have, especially from last Friday's indictment, is despite the best efforts of all of us who have tried to find out, we don't know. Because who among us knew that 13 Russians were going to be indicted last Friday? I don't think anybody did.

This investigation has been on total lockdown when it comes to the press. And we don't know where it's going. But we do know they are not close to finishing. You don't indict 13 people, you don't get a guilty plea the next week if you are wrapping up your business. This investigation seems to be dead in the middle of where they're going, and they are not anywhere near wrapping up yet.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. We're going to have more legal questions for you later in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jeff. Don't go too far away.

Also coming up, as new details emerge about the Florida high school shooter, students who survived the massacre take their outrage to the state capitol, demanding action on gun violence. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:10] BLITZER: We're following multiple late-breaking stories including this afternoon's guilty plea in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. A lawyer with ties to a Russian billionaire as well as to former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates just pled guilty to lying to federal investigators.

Let's bring in our political experts. And Gloria, I want to you react to this late-breaking development. What does it mean as far as -- as far as your analysis is concerned to the overall investigation?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all it means that Bob Mueller is playing hardball here. You cannot lie to federal investigators, period. If you lie to the special counsel, you're going to get prosecuted, and that is exactly what happened here.

It's very clear to me from reading the documents, they did a forensic investigation, and they found out that he was lying to them and they said, "Sorry, you can't do that. No matter who you are."

Here's an attorney at a prominent law firm, and it didn't -- it didn't matter. So you can't lie. You can't engage in conspiracies to defraud the United States government. And you're going to be prosecuted as a result.

I think they got the information they needed from him. He pled guilty, and they're moving on.

BLITZER: Yes, he agreed to what they call a proffer agreement...

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... meaning he told what he knows, and now they're moving on. Presumably, he might get a reduced sentence as a result of that proffer agreement, that cooperation. But we shall see.

How do you see it, Nia?

NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The moving on part, that's the part we sort of don't know. Right? Is it moving on? Who is the bigger fish here? Is it Rick Gates? Is it Paul Manafort? Is it someone else? I mean, he's a fairly low-level figure, even though it does send this major message to all the other figures who might be involved, including the president of the United States.

Of course we know his lawyers are signaling there is some nervousness about him talking to the special -- to Bob Mueller. So yes. And I mean, that's the thing. We have this sort of series of disclosures from Robert Mueller. On Friday, those 13 indictments and then the surprising guilty plea here today. So this is in a town that likes to leak. Robert Mueller isn't among those who is leading this investigation where there are any leaks. BLITZER: And Gloria's right. If you're working for a major law firm

like Skadden, Arps, here in Washington, or London, or any of their other offices, you should know better than to lie to a federal official...

BORGER: You think?

BLITZER: ... to the FBI. He should know better but clearly he did not.

You know, it's also interesting, Bianna, that Van Der Zwaan's wife is the daughter of a very prominent Russian oligarch who was named, by the way, by the Treasury Department just the other day, a Russian billionaire. What if any red flags does that raise for you?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, just another reminder that all oligarchs have ties to the Kremlin, of course. This charge that he lied about a client, a former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was a client of Rick Gates and Paul Manafort.

But you also, to go back to Gloria and Nia's point, you see the scope of this investigation. This all happened prior to Trump announcing that he was running for president. This happened prior to Gates and Manafort working on the campaign.

So on the one hand, maybe you could see Trump and his -- his associates claim victory, that this has nothing to do with them. On the other hand, you could say that they're just scratching the surface, and you see how widespread this investigation really is.

BLITZER: But you know, I guess my question is, the fact that his father-in-law is this Russian oligarch, this billionaire named German Khan. That's his name. Was that simply a coincidence, or did that trigger some alarm bells when Mueller and his team were investigating this 33-year-old lawyer?

GOLODRYGA: Well, that's why they call it the Russian investigation. You have 13 Russians who were indicted on Friday. This client, Viktor Yanukovych, was supported by Vladimir Putin. He was a pro-Russian president of Ukraine. So you can see where the ties lie, and you see how oligarchs work in Russia.

The deal with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin is you get to keep your money; and when I need you to do my dirty work, you come in handy and you do that so that my hands are clean. And this could very well be one of those situations.

BLITZER: Ever since Friday, Gloria, the 13 indictments against these Russians were announced by Mueller. The president has been lashing out at everyone as a result of this.


BLITZER: But now he's going after his predecessor, President Obama, tweeting this: "I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Just look at the facts. Total fake news." What is he basing that claim on?

BORGER: First of all, there is this obsession with President Obama. There's an obsession with Hillary Clinton. He ought to kind of get over that, because the Russia investigation is not investigating Barack Obama.

But No. 2, I don't know where he gets it from. This is a president who personally warned Vladimir Putin to stop trying to bless into the election. He imposed sanctions on Russian entities. He kicked out 35 Russian diplomats. He closed two of their compounds in the United States.

We are still waiting for the president of the United States, the current president, to implement Russian sanctions, which he has not done, or to even call out Vladimir Putin maybe...


BORGER: ... in one of his little weekend tweets. Maybe he could have said, "Sorry, Vladimir. This was a big mistake. Don't try and do this to us." Because we consider this, perhaps, warfare." Which is what Bob Mueller called it.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, he has all sorts of nicknames and insults for plenty of people, including Republicans. And obviously, he doesn't like President -- former President Obama or Hillary Clinton. But very few tough words, if any, for Vladimir Putin.

His conversations with Vladimir Putin have essentially led the president to believe Vladimir Putin when he said there was no Russian meddling.

[17:35:06] And it's also not clear what they're going to do going forward. We heard from intelligence officials on the Hill. They said that there is meddling going on currently. There is no clear direction in leadership from this White House in terms of what they're going to do about it to safeguard the elections which are, obviously, coming up in November in very many states, very many elections at the Senate level and the House level.

So that's the big question. There is no consistent leadership, I think, from this White House. There is no calling out the Russians.

BORGER: There is no leadership on calling out the Russians. There is no president of the United States talking to the American public and talking about how serious this is and how it threatens the nature of our democracy. Where is that tweet?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And you know who could very well go after and accuse the Russians is Bob Mueller.

BORGER: Right. GOLODRYGA: I mean, thus far, they have not directly -- they have not directly gone after the Kremlin and the Russian government. They've gone after those around him like Putin's chef on Friday who ran that troll farm.

What's going to happen if -- if the Mueller investigation indicts and accuses the Russian government of doing this and sponsoring this? What is the president's reaction going to be? He can't deny that the Russians weren't involved anymore. He said as much now, except you know, now he's putting the blame at President Obama. So that could be a very tricky situation for the president. Remember, just a few months ago, he wanted to have a joint cyber commission with Vladimir Putin. How crazy is that?

BORGER: Well, you know, I was talking to an attorney today who was very knowledgeable on these matters, who posited to me, "Look, in the end, maybe the Russian will flip on President Trump." Because they're now -- because Mueller has charged a conspiracy in last Friday, for example, assets are frozen. And maybe if the Russians get upset enough, if, for example, the sanctions are implemented, maybe in the end it will be the Russians who say, "Wait a minute. We don't -- we don't want to deal with this anymore. It's not good for us."

BLITZER: I remember, we reported when President Obama met with Putin, he told him, "Cut it out."

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: When President Trump met with Putin, he emerged, and President Trump said, "I thought Putin was sincere in issuing those denials."

GOLODRYGA: Except remember...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And remember last summer Vladimir Putin himself said, "Well, maybe some patriotic hackers did this." So he acknowledged more than President Trump thus far has acknowledged.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. We've got a lot more. Following multiple breaking stories. We'll be right back.


[17:42:17] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. Gloria, let's talk about guns for a moment.

The president today announcing he's ordering the Justice Department to look into a possibility of banning what are called these bump stocks that can make a rifle almost like a machine gun. Where does that go from here?

BORGER: Well, I think that it may move a little faster. We don't know. They were already reviewing this. And the reason that the Justice Department was reviewing it is because

Congress didn't want to vote on it. And so they're proposing it as a rule as opposed to a piece of legislation.

And so now the president is ordering the Justice Department to propose this rule. They still have to look at it.

But what struck me in this release that they sent out and this memorandum for the attorney general, the president stated yet again, "Although the Obama administration repeatedly concluded that particular bump stock-type devices were lawful to purchase," blah, blah, blah. So in other words, one more shot at the Obama administration even in proposing this rule.

BLITZER: Yes, interesting. Even if they do do something about the bump stocks, are there any indications on a federal level they're going to do much more than that?

HENDERSON: We'll see. I mean, we always come to this point right after some mass shooting, and we've been here too often, a discussion about what Congress will do. We saw that after Sandy Hook. Nothing was done.

And you imagine in an election year, it will be the same thing. It will be very hard to do anything. Maybe background checks has been a bill floating around the Senate that would make it a little tougher, that would make sure -- or incentivizing local authorities to put more information into the background check system. We'll see if that happens.

But anything beyond those kind of small measures, and it's not even clear that a measure like that would have prevented this young man from actually getting all the weapons that he had. Some of them seemed to be maybe he got them illegally. Some he seemed to have gotten legally. So it's not clear that even something like that would have...

BLITZER: What about renewing the assault weapons ban?

HENDERSON: Doubtful. I mean, because the NRA is still very powerful. It's an organization that gave $30 million to President Trump. You haven't heard him talk about that. And it's very difficult to see folks, particularly in the House, doing anything on the assault weapons ban. Because they essentially feel like anything will be a slippery slope in terms of gun control.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, referring to the assault weapons plan. Even as these students who survived this massacre down in Florida were in Tallahassee going to -- trying to lobby lawmakers in the state capital, the first order of business, the Florida House voted down just now a motion to take up a ban on assault weapons, including the AR-15-style rifle that was used at that high school in Florida.

The vote was 71 to 36. A pretty lopsided vote against renewing any ban against assault weapons. Bianna, what's your reaction? GOLODRYGA: Yes, even with the pressure and the shaming that you could

say that these students were trying to put on these lawmakers as they made that symbolic gesture going to the state capitol.

Look, I think that's why you're seeing a lot of politicians, John Kasich on CNN over the weekend, saying it's going to have to come down to the state and local officials. And we saw it not go through in Florida to the direction that many of these students had hoped. But in other states, you are seeing changes.

But, you know, the President also plays a significant role on this issue. Like many others, he's been mercurial. He's not an ideologue as other Republicans have been. Thus far, he has not said, to those who support any sort of changes, enough on this issue.

We'll also see these children, how impressive they are. How the momentum that they've started, will it continue for this march that they have set up next month? I mean, there's going to be a lot of pressure on politicians from both sides now, as we mentioned, this being an election year.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following, including more on today's breaking news. Another guilty plea in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Plus, new developments in the investigation of the Florida high school massacre.


[17:51:14] BLITZER: We're following breaking news ahead of tomorrow's groundbreaking CNN town hall on guns.

Late this afternoon over at the White House, President Trump announced he's directing the Attorney General to propose regulations banning devices which effectively turn semiautomatic rifles into machine guns. That would include what are called bump stocks used by the gunman who killed 58 people and wounded nearly 500 last year in Las Vegas.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with more on the gun debate which reignited in the wake of the massacre in Florida at that high school late last week.

Brian, there's growing demand for action on guns and new developments in the investigation.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Tonight, we're learning as the students arrived at the Florida capital -- students from Douglas High School arrive at the Florida capitol to lobby for gun control, the Florida legislature showed just how tough changing those laws is going to be, voting to not even take up debate on an assault weapons ban.

Meantime, we're learning more tonight about the threatening behavior exhibited by the Florida shooter years before that massacre at Douglas High School. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In Florida tonight, anger and action.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I just want to thank you guys for coming out.

TODD (voice-over): Busloads of students who survived the attack at Douglas High School in Parkland are converging on Florida's state capital with a clear and passionate message.

They want tighter gun control laws, a ban on assault-style rifles and high capacity magazines.

CHRIS GRADY, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: If you aren't with us, you're against us. We're trying to save the lives of innocent children, so -- and if you're not for that, then we're going to vote you out.

TODD (voice-over): The student-led call for change comes as investigators are learning more about Nikolas Cruz, the confessed mass murderer.

Ariana Lopez, a former friend of Cruz's, tells CNN, back in 2015, he asked her to be in a relationship with him. When she refused, she says he stalked her.

In a new interview today, she said Cruz's behavior raised alarms with her and others who knew him.

ARIANA LOPEZ, FORMER FRIEND OF NIKOLAS CRUZ: He just pulled knives out of his lunchbox, which I thought was, like, insane because you can't have knives. This is a school. He's like, hey, guys, want some knives? He talked about killing our parents, our friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends.

TODD (voice-over): Cruz's behavior raised red flags with social workers as well.

A 2016 report from Florida's Department of Children and Families, based on an in-home visit by social workers, says Cruz's mother said he had started cutting himself after a breakup, that he'd gotten into a fight with another student over a girl, and that Cruz was depressed and wanted to buy a gun.

But it concluded, at the time, that Cruz's level of risk was low because, an official of that agency tells CNN, he was living with his mother and getting counseling.

As frustration grows over missed signals on the ground, CNN has learned there's new evidence that pro-Russian social media trolls are trying to capitalize on the shooting from cyberspace, using the massacre to divide Americans.

The trolls, some of them automated, jumped on the story last week with a spike in tweets according to disinformation trackers at the firm, New Knowledge. Many tweets were pro-gun, like this one that red, after 11 U.S. school

shootings this year, is it time to arm teachers?

Others were more conspiracy oriented, such as, it's only a coincident the shooting in a gun free school is in a Democrat county run by Democrats and very close to a large FBI office.

JONATHON MORGAN, CEO, NEW KNOWLEDGE: Ultimately, the goal of this type of attack or this type of influence operation is to sow discord.

So we have a group of accounts that are trying to basically pit Americans against each other because, ultimately, that destabilizes the country. So we see them hop on to stories that are hot-button issues, that are very divisive.


TODD: That tracking firm tells CNN the same accounts those tweets came from had previously sent out tweets seeking to undermine the Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling and had sent out tweets looking to divide Americans over the issue of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

[17:55:09] Those pro-Russian accounts, Wolf, always seeking to divide Americans on these issues, and they jumped on it right after the shooting.

BLITZER: Yes, to sow dissent, one of the goals. Brian, thank you very much.

Tomorrow, CNN hosts a nationally televised town hall with the school massacre's victims' classmates, parents, and both of Florida senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

Please be sure to watch, "STAND UP, THE STUDENTS OF STONEMAN DOUGLAS DEMAND ACTION." Jake Tapper moderates, tomorrow, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up, breaking news, the Special Counsel gets a guilty plea from a lawyer accused of lying about his ties to a former Trump campaign aide.