Return to Transcripts main page

HALA GORANI TONIGHT

White House Briefing To Begin Any Time Now; Eastern Ghouta Suffers Worst Bloodshed In Years; Is Florida School Massacre A Turning Point For Gun Control?; Netanyahu Slamming New Graft Investigations. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:00:15]

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I`m Hala Gorani.

Tonight, some call it a massacre. Others simply have run out of words. It been one of Syrian war`s deadliest days. We are looking at the ongoing

horror in Eastern Ghouta this hour.

Also, ahead, students from the Florida school shooting are driving to the state capitol. They want to tell lawmakers face to face about the need for

gun control. CNN is live on the bus.

And members of Benjamin Netanyahu`s inner circle are arrested in a corruption probe getting ever closer to the prime minister. Those stories

and more coming up.

But we begin in Washington, big new developments in the Russia investigation growing demands to tighten laws on gun control and lingering

controversy over the handling of domestic abuse claims against a top former aide to Donald Trump.

Some of the pressing issues facing the White House today that are likely to be brought up in a briefing any time.

Let`s bring in White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond, while we wait. Jeremy, so it`s been a week, I believe, a little more since the last

briefing.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That`s exactly right. Given this past week and the amount of news that we`ve seen coming out of the

White House, out of Washington and, sadly, out of Southern Florida, this press briefing is expected to be extremely newsy.

This is going to be the first time, of course, that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders takes questions in the wake of this Parkland school

shooting. We`ve seen deferring reactions from White House in those days since.

Initially, the president pointing to mental health, making clear that he wants to engage in that kind of a debate rather than one over gun laws.

And then came this weekend and we saw these powerful cries from a number of these student survivors of this school shooting demanding action on gun

legislation.

We`ve seen that conversation kind of pick up a little bit since and go beyond Florida and come into Washington, of course. The president

signaling over the weekend in private conversations that he, you know, polling various members of the Mar-a-Lago Club, that of course he owns,

where he spends some of his weekends in winter, asking them whether or not he should support some more kinds of gun control legislation.

But we haven`t seen what exactly he would be willing to support. The White House did signal that the president was open to supporting a bill by

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican that would strengthen the background check system.

But it is unclear still what exactly the president would support, including in that bill, and how expansive it actually would be. And as you

mentioned, of course, we`ve seen a number of developments with regard to the Russia investigation.

Those questions also expected to come to light as well as these ongoing questions about General John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and his

handling of these security clearance issues.

He did put out a memo on Friday seeking to kind of quell this controversy announcing an overhaul to the way that the White House handled this

security clearance process. The White House was hoping that that would kind of help them push beyond this controversy, but we`ll see if some

questions will continue to surface today -- Hala.

GORANI: And so, you mentioned the investigation and Donald Trump, of course, called it at one point a red line, investigators looking into his

campaign`s contacts with his family`s finances. CNN exclusive reporting finding that Jared Kushner`s business dealings are now under scrutiny. So,

this is something that`s going to -- what is the reaction at the White House to this new significant development?

DIAMOND: Well, the White House hasn`t yet reacted to that reporting from my CNN colleague here about Jared Kushner and the Mueller investigation.

That could be a question posed to Sarah Sanders. But again, a number of questions are going to need to be posed today.

And so far, the White House`s reaction, of course, to these latest developments in the Russia investigation, particularly those 13 indictments

against three Russian individuals and three Russian entities was really to claim vindication.

We saw the president taking to Twitter repeatedly over the weekend to press that narrative forward. As he suggested in one tweet even that the FBI`s

focus on the Russia investigation had detracted from its ability to prevent this terrible shooting in Florida.

That tweet, of course, receiving widespread condemnation in the wake of this school shooting. We`re seeing these students reacting to that saying

let`s keep the focus here on this school shooting and on ways that we can work to prevent those in the future.

GORANI: Sure. All right. Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much. We`ve got an inkling of what Sarah Sanders will probably tell reporters based on the

tweet storm from the president over the last several days.

Now to that fresh horror unfolding in Syria. If you thought the war there was slowing down, let me tell you it is not. Right now, in Eastern Ghouta,

we are hearing about some of the worst bloodshed in the conflict.

I want to show you some video shot in the rebel-held enclaves by the White Helmets, a group of volunteers, rescue workers. A warning, it is very

graphic. Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: As you can see there, this is a suburb of Damascus. It`s not very far from the center, just a few kilometers. Utter devastation, rubble

everywhere, children being carried out of bombed out buildings.

Observers say more than a hundred civilians have been killed in a 24-hour period. Activists and residents there say there`s been constant

bombardment from Syrian government air strikes. The likes of which have never been seen before and a reminder, this hell on earth is meant to be a

safe zone.

CNN`s Ben Wedeman has been covering the Syrian war since it began. He`s closely following developments from Beirut. Some of the images coming out

of there -- and we are not showing the worst of what`s been coming in are absolutely harrowing.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Hala. Some of the images we`ve had to go through today really are horrifying.

We`re in the fortunate position of being far away from that, but what we are seeing is the worst fighting in Syria in more than three years.

Talking about the death toll, the death toll yesterday was more than a 100. So far today, it`s well over 50 and seems to be climbing steadily. Now we

did get a statement from the United Nation`s humanitarian coordinator for Syria, who said that in $e 48-hour period, six hospitals in the Eastern

Ghouta had been hit by airstrikes and artillery.

He ended his statement by saying this nightmare in Eastern Ghouta must end and must end now. But by the looks of it that nightmare has no end in

sight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Nidal (ph) weeps over the body of his daughter, Farra (ph). His other five children are missing. Syrian government

subjects the Eastern Ghouta rebel held suburb of Damascus to the most intense bombardments since the war began.

Bodies line the floor of this hospital`s morgue. The bed sheet, this child`s simple death shroud. It`s the children that suffer most in this

war without mercy. According to local tradition, Ghouta was the original Garden of Eden. Now it`s perhaps the closest thing to hell on earth.

(Inaudible) as many as 400,000 people, it`s been under siege for years. Tuesday the United Nations Children`s Fund, UNICEF, issued a statement on

the situation in Eastern Ghouta, small footnote at the bottom explains, we no longer have the words to describe children`s suffering in our outrage.

To those (inaudible) the suffering still has words to justify their barbarism.

CNN reached out to the Syrian government for comment. They had no words. These are the worst days of our lives, this doctor told CNN by phone from

Eastern Ghouta. It couldn`t get worse than this, she said. She may be wrong.

It`s widely believed the bombardment is a prelude to an offensive to retake Eastern Ghouta, one of the last opposition strongholds. Many of these

disturbing images are captured by local civil defense units, the so-called White Helmets, rushing from one bomb site to another.

Here there are no bomb shelters. People huddled in their homes and all too often die in them. Beyond that, there are no words.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: And Hala, today, the Syrian Arab news agency, the official news agency of the Syrian government said that five civilians in Damascus were

killed, 20 wounded when rebels fired missiles from Eastern Ghouta into the Syrian capital -- Hala.

GORANI: Why is this happening now, this intensification of these air strikes on this rebel enclave?

WEDEMAN: Well, I think the Syrian government will justify the level of violence by pointing to the not-infrequent incidents where the rebels are

firing into the very heart of the capital.

[15:10:10] For instance, they hit the Omayad Square, which is really right in the middle of the city in an area of embassies and other government

buildings. So, they`ll point to that on the one hand.

On the other, what is increasingly clear is that the Syrian government backed by Russia, Iran, and Lebanese Hezbollah, has the upper hand in this

conflict and sees the end is near and now is the time to press their advantage at whatever the cost -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Ben Wedeman live in Beirut with the very latest. We`ve going to be speaking with the head of the Syrian-American Medical

Society, who has been talking to some of these emergency personnel and rescuers inside of Syria and who follows closely, of course, the

humanitarian disaster unfolding there in a little bit.

Still to come tonight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the system is going crazy as even more corruption investigations surface.

We`re live in Jerusalem just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Welcome back. Continuing our coverage of what`s going on in Syria. We were talking about what was going on in Eastern Ghouta. This is

bombardment that isn`t being carried out in some far-flung corner of the country.

In fact, it`s a suburb of the capital itself. Let me show you on this map. You see the area on the left is Damascus. On the right is Eastern Ghouta,

five kilometers from the city center, and you`re in rebel-held territory. If you`ve been in New York City, that`s little more than the length of

Central Park.

I`m joined now by Ahmad Tarakji. He is the president of the Syrian- American Medical Society. He joins me here in the studio. What are we seeing going on here in Eastern Ghouta as we continue to watch these

harrowing images sent to us from the ground?

AHMAD TARAKJI, PRESIDENT, SYRIAN-AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY: I think Lavrov was very clear that this is a replay of what happened in (inaudible) more

than a year ago trying to force people to get displaced out of their hometown in Eastern Ghouta right now.

GORANI: Because it`s rebel held, it`s meant to be a safe zone, an enclave, yet it`s being bombarded relentlessly.

TARAKJI: Absolutely. And we`ve seen that, you know, (inaudible) from my colleagues in the field right now as they`re watching the drones actually

chasing the ambulances and then the ambulances getting struck as well as the hospitals at the same time.

GORANI: And I want to show you some of the images. What you`re saying and what some of the people on the ground are telling us is that medical

facilities and the medical vehicles are being targeted deliberately?

TARAKJI: That`s absolutely true. So, I`ve chatted with my colleague, the head of the White Helmets earlier today. They have most of their

ambulances and evacuation cars getting out of services because they were attacked.

They have one or two cars running around right now in Ghouta. For us, we have at this point seven medical facilities being targeted. Five of them

are hospitals including the major women hospital in Ghouta. All of that out of service.

[15:15:07] GORANI: And you believe it`s deliberate?

TARAKJI: Absolutely.

GORANI: Because the regime says, you know, we are not deliberately targeting medical facilities.

TARAKJI: Well, those (inaudible) were before (inaudible) U.N. agencies when they were delivering the U.N. convoy. So, they were known to the U.N.

agencies and --

GORANI: They know the coordinates.

TARAKJI: Absolutely.

GORANI: What about medical facilities who are "operational," quote/unquote, do they even have the medicine, the personnel, the

equipment?

TARAKJI: The personnel is very committed to continuing to serve communities over there. They don`t have enough equipment to run surgeries,

give antibiotics, sedation or medications, and even the blood bank was hit earlier. So, they have no resources and the chance of people dying from

even minor injuries is very significant right now.

GORANI: So, what do they do then? You speak to these people. Just on a human level when you hear what they are telling you over the phone or Skype

or whatever? What are their options?

TARAKJI: So, their opinions exactly what the Syrian regime want to do, they want them to surrender, they want to displace them out of Eastern

Ghouta. That`s the price they`ll be paying because they`re staying in their hometown of Eastern Ghouta.

The doctors right now have to make difficult decisions of whom to treat and who can survive with limited resources, and they are under extreme stress

from family (inaudible).

GORANI: Because the Syrian government is saying, well, there are rebel- lobbed mortars and you know, artillery hitting civilian areas inside of Damascus. They will say that.

TARAKJI: Then they can attack those armed groups. That`s completely fine.

GORANI: Do you think they`re deliberately targeting civilians?

TARAKJI: Absolutely. They`re going to markets and schools and hospitals as we`ve seen and (inaudible) before.

GORANI: And what -- do you -- what about the international community? Do they, the people in Eastern Ghouta -- I kind of know the answer, but I want

you to say it in your own words -- believe the international community has failed the people of Syria and maybe even all of humanity in a sense

because this is unfolding? We can`t say we didn`t know what was going on.

TARAKJI: So, there are two parts to that. So, right now, everybody is looking at the Trump administration as failing in responding to the

situation in Syria.

GORANI: But Barack Obama didn`t do more.

TARAKJI: He failed as much as Barack Obama failed in responding to Syria. We`ve seen chemical attacks taking place under their administration without

meaningful response. We`ve seen displacement happening at this time. But also, at the same time as you pointed out earlier, the U.N. is not even

able to deliver food truck to the siege area.

GORANI: One other thing the U.N. is not able to do is actually find words to describe the situation. I don`t know if you saw that they issued a

statement from their Minna (ph) office, and it`s blank. So, they basically said, you know, there are no words to do justice to the children killed,

their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones, and then there`s this big blank page, and then it says end. That`s usually how you signal that

you`ve ended a press release.

TARAKJI: And probably their task should end. They should all go home. If they`re not able to perform -- if we as NGOs are still able to respond and

the U.N. is not, probably it`s time for them to reform or go home because they`re not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

The U.N. has to be reformed and countries like the U.K. and the United States and Europe, they have to work on the reform. Unfortunately, this is

not what we expect from policy makers.

GORANI: Where are you from in Syria?

TARAKJI: Aleppo.

GORANI: OK. And what does it feel like personally seeing this coming from --

TARAKJI: This is very stressful and disastrous personally for me as I see my families and classmates being displaced. And now this is awakening, the

stress that I had last year, it may make my colleagues (inaudible) more painful because we know that we are living the same crisis over and over

and nobody cares about people inside Syria.

GORANI: Ahmad Tarakji of the Syrian-American Medical Society, thanks so much for joining us to discuss this important story. It`s not always in

the headlines anymore. I think people have become numb a little bit. We want to cover it today.

An update now on an encounter between Russian and U.S. forces in Eastern Syria a couple of weeks ago. U.S. air strikes targeted militia who were

attacking a base where Washington had military advisors.

A hundred fighters, more or less, were killed including some Russian contractors who were killed there as a result of American fire. The

Kremlin had been tight-lipped about the incident, but now for the first time acknowledges that Russians were killed, and dozens wounded in classes,

and emphasizes none of its troops were involved.

I want to mention Florida as we are waiting for this press briefing to start in Washington. Anguish is turning into action from some very young

people. It is, of course, supposed to be one of the most carefree times of their lives.

But students in the Parkland area have been going to funerals and vigils instead for the 17 classmates and adults killed in last week`s school

massacre. Today about 100 teens are heading to their state capital. They want to speak to politicians face to face.

[15:20:07] They will meet the governor and other lawmakers and call for tougher gun laws. Can young people succeed where so many grownups have

failed? Dianne Gallagher is on one of the buses with these students and she joins me now live with that. What do these young adults telling you

about what they hope to achieve, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Hala, they we`re having a roll call right now because we just had a quick stop on this seven-hour

trip that we are taking to Tallahassee. I`m going to let one of the students actually tell you, Hala. This is Dmitri. He is a senior.

Dmitri, Hala, wanted to know what are you trying to accomplish going on this trip?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re just trying to accomplish change. I think any small step is a step for the larger purpose, which is hopefully to have gun

reform and common-sense gun control so that tragedy like this one will never happen again.

We live in America. We live in a first world country. We don`t live in a country where you need to have assault rifles. We don`t live in that type

of society where we are constantly being put in harm`s way to have a need for those types of guns and weapons.

So, for me, that`s unacceptable that our society to this day hasn`t placed a ban or a restriction or more strict control on those types of weapons.

For me that`s our main goal for going there, is to get stricter gun control so that people can`t just go into gun shops without permits and purchase

these weapons and put them on payment plans and go and shoot a school.

And it`s unacceptable, and we have to (inaudible) because obviously our elected representatives aren`t doing it for us, so we have to use our own

voices. We have a lot of voices and we`re going to do it.

GALLAGHER: Thank you very much, Dmitri. I mean, Hala, the thing is a pretty fluid event here. Some of these students, I mean, we left a little

later in the afternoon because they`re still going to the funerals of their friends. This is still a community that is grieving the loss of 17 people.

There are still -- some of their classmates in the hospital that they`re visiting and worried about. But many of them seem to realize that

unfortunately because there have been so many of these shootings in the past that they fall out of the public conscious.

So, they`re trying very hard to make sure that they strike while the iron is hot, if you will, that they keep it on the forefront and start working

this movement from the beginning before people unfortunately forget.

GORANI: But it does feel like this is different, though, Diane, right? I mean, usually, these mass shootings, I mean, even after Las Vegas, after

about a week I think people started covering other things especially related to Donald Trump and the Russia investigation. In this case, it

seems like there is life in this movement, in this story, in this tragedy.

GALLAGHER: Yes, you know, Hala, I think that part of it has to do with -- I was speaking to some of them. Some of the students mentioned it`s

because we have social media on our side too. We know how to do this. We know how to do videos. We know how to get it out there.

We know how to organize by using social media and get our message out there. It seems like really they`re kind of using the method of we are not

going to go away. So, you can`t forget if we don`t go away.

They`re continuing to make sure they`re visible. They`re using all forms of media, traditional television, newspapers, magazines. They are going to

alternative types of media. So, they can reach any American or anybody worldwide that they can to understand that they don`t want to back down.

They don`t want to be the group that people forget or talk about, yes, remember when that happened back then. You mentioned Las Vegas, Hala, some

of the survivors from the Pulse Nightclub shooting, which here in the state of Florida, of course, in Orlando, came and spoke to them on the bus before

they left.

Telling them we see you, we hear you, we love you, we`re with you, we support you, and they gave them letters from survivors from the Las Vegas

shooting saying the same thing. This is a very sad and unfortunate fraternity that nobody wants to be a part of, these survivors of mass

shootings.

To see that kind of camaraderie between them and see that support for these young people on this bus heading to go talk to their state lawmakers, it

really is moving to watch them come together like that.

GORANI: Yes, especially that young. You know, everybody thinks back, what was I like at 16 and 17. I`m not quite sure we could have been this

composed and this well-spoken at such a difficult time as well. Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much. We`ll check in with you a little bit later

once you reach your destination.

Back to the Middle East, Israel`s prime minister is blasting two new corruption investigation saying, they`re part of an orchestrated campaign

against him. Benjamin Netanyahu himself is not a suspect in these latest probes, but members of his inner circle have been arrested on charges of

bribery, fraud and more. Mr. Netanyahu posted a message on social media a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): What`s happening in the last few days is the system going crazy, scandal, two

false claims were brought up in the framework of a witch hunt against me and my family that has been going on for years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:25:11] GORANI: Well, Mr. Netanyahu is already fighting to clear his own name in the court of public opinion after police said there`s enough

evidence to indict him on corruption charges.

Let`s bring in Oren Liebermann is live in Jerusalem. How close are these people to Netanyahu himself, those who have been arrested?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some of the closest. Netanyahu does not have a large inner circle, and this gets right at some of those members

of the inner circle. One of those arrested not only in the latest investigation, but also in the one before that.

So, the two we learned about this last week is a man named (inaudible), a former family spokesperson that worked for the Netanyahu family for years.

That`s about as close as you get to Netanyahu, which is why this is very serious.

It is today for Netanyahu, more so than it was a couple days ago. Certainly, more so than it was one week ago when as you point out police

said they have enough evidence to indict him in two separate cases.

Hala, that`s now five cases that hit directly at Netanyahu himself or his inner circle. To say that the pressure is ramping up around the prime

minister would be a bit of an understatement at this point.

GORANI: But this particular set of arrests and investigations does not involve him directly, right? When we heard from the police that there`s

enough evidence for an indictment, what does that tell us about what`s going to happen next?

LIEBERMANN: Well, in those cases, it`s up to the attorney general as to whether or not he wants to indict him, that process could take months.

You`re absolutely right. These two latest investigations we`ve learned about this week, Netanyahu himself is not a suspect.

So, the real damage could come, as you point out, in the court of public opinion as well as the pressure on the political parties that support him

in his coalition. Do they feel they can no longer do that with a possible shift in public opinion?

And that`s the greater concern right now. The attorney general will take months to make a decision. It`s a question of do his key coalition

partners decide they can no longer support him. That is the biggest threat to Netanyahu right now and that`s the political calculation everyone is

looking at this moment.

GORANI: Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem, thanks very much.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is calling for an international conference on Middle East peace later this year. In a rare speech to the

U.N. Security Council, he says it`s critical to involve world powers in a peace deal that would lead to Palestinian statehood.

It`s the first rhetoric we`ve heard before. Palestinians no longer consider the United States a legitimate neutral broker after President

Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed Abbas` speech, accusing him from running away from peace. Not much new there in that exchange.

Still to come, the Brexit secretary made a speech in Austria. Why did he bring up a famous movie franchise? We`ll explain next.

And leaders of the British charity, Oxfam are grilled in Britain`s parliament as fresh sexual misconduct allegations against Oxfam emerge.

We`ll be right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:30:26] HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders is in the briefing room taking questions. It`s the first briefing

in a week and there have been major developments through latest in the White House in the last few days. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- great men and women of law enforcement have the president`s full support. And it extends

to our schools where teachers across our nation invest their lives in their students. No parent should ever have to wonder if their child will return

home from school at the end of the day. The president has expressed his support for efforts to improve the federal background check system. In the

coming days, we will continue to explore ways to ensure the safety and security of our schools.

As you`re aware later today -- actually right now in the east room, the president will award the Medal of Valor to 12 public safety officers. They

include law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel and firefighters. And the president looks forward to recognizing them for

risking their lives to protect American citizens and communities. The honorees are individual who have exhibited exceptional courage regardless

of personal safety to save or protect human life. And with that, I will take your questions. Mostly because we`re matching myself. She earns the

right for the first question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Thank you. Does the president now acknowledge what the special counsel`s indictment has made clear, which is that

Russians not only tried to meddle but interfere and influence the 2016 election?

SANDERS: Absolutely. And the president has acknowledged that multiple times before. He acknowledged it during the transition. He acknowledged

it during a press conference in Poland. And he acknowledged it for a third time at a press event in Poland. He has stated several times -- I think

one of the places where you guys seem to get very confused and it seems to happen regularly, the president hasn`t said that Russia didn`t meddle, what

he`s saying is that it didn`t have an impact and it certainly wasn`t with help from the Trump campaign. It`s very clear that Russia meddled in the

election. It`s also very clear that it didn`t have an impact on the election and it`s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn`t collude

with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If that`s the case, why hasn`t the president implemented the sanctions which congress passed last year?

SANDERS: Look, frankly, that`s not completely accurate. Look, this president`s been tougher on Russia, far tougher --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sanctions --

SANDERS: Well, there`s a process that has to take place. And we`re going through that process. That that law also says that the countries have to

violate something in order for those sanctions to go into place and that hasn`t necessarily happened. But what I can tell you -- hold on, that the

president has been extremely tough on Russia. He helped push through $700 billion to rebuild our military. I can assure you Russia is not excited

about that. He`s helped export energy to Eastern Europe.

I can assure you Russia is not excited about that. He has upheld sanctions that the Obama administration put in place. He`s upheld those. He`s

closed three diplomatic properties that were Russia`s here in the United States. He has taken number of actions against Russia and put pressure on

them. He`s helped arm the Ukrainians. There are a number of places that Obama was too weak and refused to take and put pressure on Russia where

this president has.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats and Republicans said the Republican could be why not tougher --

SANDER: Sorry, I`m sure he`ll pick up where you left off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. First, a clarification from some of the president`s tweets over the weekend. The president doesn`t really think

that the FBI failed to stop the Parkland shooter because it was too involved with the Russia investigation, does he?

SANDERS: I think he was speaking not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a

deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. That is the responsibility of the shooter. Certainly not the

responsibility of anybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he said he missed. When he said that, he`s pretty direct. He says, "This is not acceptable. They`re spending too

much time trying to prove Russia collusion."

SANDERS: I think he`s making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of

investigating the Trump campaign and its involvement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he`s agreed that the evidence is there, that the Russia has interfered with our election.

SANDERS: I said that the Trump campaign interfered --

[15:35:53] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because this investigation is obviously about what Russia did. It raises the question now that you said the

president agrees the national security advisor says the evidence is un- controvertible. What is the president going to do about it? What is he specifically doing about the fact that Russia interfered with our election

and has every intention we are told of doing it again? What is he doing about it?

SANDERS: Look, just last week, the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with a number of relevant stakeholders.

They are discussing this process and going through and looking every single day at the best ways forward. Everybody wants to blame this on the Trump

administration. Let`s not forget that this happened under the Obama administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was over a year ago. What`s he thought about it?

SANDERS: We have spent a lot of time working on cyber security, focusing on protecting the fairness on our elections. And as I just said, the

Department of Homeland Security met with state and local officials just over the last several weeks along with election vendors to make sure that

our election system is secure. Last week, they met with state and private officials on how best to secure this election system from foreign

interference. We`re not the only targets of foreign interference. We`re working with our allies on the daily basis to make sure that we`re

following best practices.

This has been a topic of conversation with multiple foreign heads of state. President Trump and the administration have made it clear that interference

in our elections will have consequences. And we`re going to continue to impose consequences in response to Russian cyberattacks. Just last we

called out Russia by name. It was one of the first times that you`ve seen something like that take place. We`re going to continue doing things like

that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He hasn`t even called out Putin. He criticized Obama, he criticized the FBI. He didn`t even criticize Vladimir Putin.

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`s 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 and another way that this president was tough on Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last week, the Florida governor, Rick Scott called for the FBI director`s resignation, the governor and the president were

together over the weekend or last week. Did Governor Scott talk to him about that? But more importantly, what does the president think -- he

obviously tweeted about this, but what does he think about the director go? What is the consequences of their missing the tip on the shooter?

SANDERS: I`m not sure if it came up in the private conversations between the governor and the president. I would have to check and get back to you.

In terms of the action or the inaction of the FBI that`s currently being reviewed and investigated. And I can`t speak to it at this point. I

believe it`s internally. At this point, there`s not a lot I can say. But I do feel and believe that we`re looking at what action could be taken and

certainly what actions can be taken to prevent that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) direct it?

SANDERS: No changes in that. We`ve answered that question a number of times. And I don`t have anything to do with that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What you said before about the event tomorrow, you mentioned who was coming. What is the topic exactly, is it mental health?

Is it guns? What are they going to be talking about with the parents and the students about?

SANDERS: I think it`s a wide range of issues. You have a number of people that have unfortunately been through a horrific tragedy like the one that

we saw in Parkland, Florida, last week, as well as some that hope they never have to go through that. We`ll have a number of parents and teachers

and students from schools in the local area as well. And this is a listening session to see what can be done better, what the actual concerns

of the students are, what they would like to see. One of the things that the president wants to do is make sure that he sits down with a number f4

people from across all fronts.

Unfortunately, when horrific tragedies like this happen, everybody wants a quick and a simple answer, but there isn`t one. There`s not a quick and

there`s not a simple answer. But we want to make sure that we`re addressing the problem. And we want to make sure that we`re meeting and

talking with this many people that not only are affected, but that plays a role in this process as possible. That`s why he`s sitting down with the

parents, the teachers, the students. And then he`s going to sit down with state and local law enforcement officials and then he`s going to sit down

with the nation`s governors and bring all those conversations together and look for the best path forward and make sure we`re doing everything we can

within every capacity from a state local and federal level to make sure incidences like this don`t happen again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Sarah. The president in 2000 did support an assault weapons ban. What`s his position now? Is he open to

reinstating the ban?

SANDERS: I don`t have any specific announcements but we haven`t closed the door on any front. Again, that`s what the next several days and weeks will

be to have conversations and to see what this process looks like and to see what areas we can help make changes to and in what places that we can do

better.

[15:40:07] Specifically, I know background checks or something that the president is supportive of making more efficient and looking at their ways

to improve that process. And we`re going to continue to look at a number of other factors as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks a lot, Sarah. In the aftermath of the indictment which was handed down by the special counsel Bob Mueller`s

office on Friday, the president tweeted quite a bit and tweeted quite a bit over the weekend. He was critical of the FBI. He was critical of

democrats, critical of the ranking member of the house intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, even critical of his predecessor, but he was not

critical of Russia. He was not critical of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. I didn`t get a sense of outrage in what the president put out there

in his tweets that he`s angered that another country, Russia, tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

SANDERS: He actually 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. It was 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he angered by this or outraged by the fact that Russia tried to interfere in our system?

SANDERS: He`s angered than anybody would try to meddle into our system. But again, I think it`s important to remember that we are looking forward

too on figuring out the best ways to make sure that that doesn`t happen again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) first, you mentioned the president for the background checks. The house passed a bill includes that concealed carry

reciprocities. Is that something the president would consider after the tragedy?

SANDERS: I haven`t spoken to him about that specific procedure. I know he spoke with Senator Cornyn on Friday. The senate version is a little bit

different and he is generally supportive of that. But we`re going to continue those conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Separately, last week, there`s a news that made by Mr. Pruitt, as well as Secretary Shulkin. They both have the president --

they`ve got their private travels and use of (INAUDIBLE) federal resources. Do both of them still have the confidence of the president?

SANDERS: I have no reason to believe otherwise. As we`ve said many times before, if somebody no longer has the confidence of the president, you guys

will know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then finally, the chief of staff on Friday should (INAUDIBLE) by the end of this week that the whole hectic standing should

secure last year with their access of two classified information, one of those we know, his attorney and his adviser, Jared Kushner, if you talk

about whether or not how he`ll deal with it. Is there a senior job in the White House if he does not have access in classified information?

SANDERS: I can tell you that no decision within the memo will impact anything that Jared Kushner is working on. In terms of specifics on

security clearance. I can`t get into that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do not need classified information --

SANDERS: I can`t answer whether someone has security clearance or not. As we have addressed many times before, that I can tell you that nothing that

has taken place will affect the valuable work that Jared Kushner is doing. He continues and will continue to be a valued member of the team and he`ll

continue to do the important work that he`s been focused on with the last year. John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, you mentioned a deranged individual took the lives of 17 people at Parkland. That`s after a deranged individual took

dozens of lives in Las Vegas in the wake of which the president offered some support for the idea of banning bump stocks, which then seemed to have

fallen by the wayside? It was proceeded by a deranged individual snuffing out the lives of nearly the entire classroom and Sandy Hook, et cetera.

Other than supporting the bill that would encourage state and federal governments, the government agencies to do what they`re supposed to do.

Does the president have any ideas, any ideas at all on how to address this or is he starting from scratch?

SANDERS: I can tell you that the president supports not having the use of bump stocks and that we expect further action on that in the coming days.

He ordered the department of justice and the ATF to review the regulation of bump stocks. My understanding is that review has been completed and

movement will take place on that shortly. But the president, when it comes to that, is committed to ensuring that those devices are -- again, I`m not

going to get ahead of the announcement, but I can tell you that the president doesn`t support the use of those accessories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And on the broader problem of deranged individuals getting a hold of weapons and killing people indiscriminately, does he have

any ideas on how to deal with this?

SANDERS: Well, look we`re having -- again, that`s part of a lot of the conversations that we`re going to have over the next -- on mental illness.

[15:45:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re suggesting he`s starting from scratch here. If he has to listen to a bunch of people and he doesn`t have any

ideas of his own, that would suggest that he doesn`t have any ideas.

SANDERS: You`re taking my words out of context. Well, I was trying to before you interrupted me. But the president is very focused on mental

illness, working with the health and human services department to determine the best path forward on that and what is available and allowed under the

law. Certainly something that we take very seriously and something that we want to address and that we`re working hand in hand with both the federal

government as well as state and local law enforcement officials on what we legally can do. Unfortunately, we can`t just flip a switch, but there is a

process. We are a law and order country and the president is trying to do everything that he can under his capacity to address these concerns and

certainly when it comes to mental illness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would the president consider granting Mr. Kushner a full clearance even if the red flags and his background checks suggested

otherwise?

SANDERS: First of all, I`m not aware of any red flags and I think it`s irresponsible to suggest that without having seen any individual`s file.

And secondly, I haven`t spoken to the president about whether or not that would be necessary. But again, as I said, Mr. Kushner`s work that he has

done will not be impacted. He`s going to continue to do the work that he`s done over the last year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ever overrule security office on --

SANDERS: I`m not aware any of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Former speaker Gingrich has put forward a proposal that he started promoting quite a bit about training more teachers and

administrators to use firearms and having more people with firearms in schools. I`m wondering if that`s in the range of ideas that the president

is open to. And if you could explain a little bit more about how the president, how the White House is going to run this process in terms of

taking in ideas from everybody and having listening sessions.

SANDERS: I haven`t spoken with him about Speaker Gingrich`s plan, so I`ll see you back to you on that front. Over the next several days and weeks

how we`ll run that process has take in a lot of information from individuals that have been affected specifically by school shootings, as

well as those that hoping never have to be in that same situation and talking to state and local law enforcement officials, state and local

elected officials on what we`re legally allowed to do and what areas that we feel like we can help move that forward. David.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does the president think about the Secretary`s Shulkin`s handling of his travel, where all the tickets and all that thing?

What did Trump think about that?

SANDERS: Look, this is still has the -- I think there`s a 97-page inspector general report. And until that there`s a secondary review that

takes place and until that`s completed, I can`t comment on further. I`ll take your last question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president believe there should be an age limit for those who buy an AR-15? As you know the shooter in Florida was a

teenager when he first bought the AR-15.

SANDERS: Another currently logs in place in certain states that restrict that in terms of whether or not we make that federal policy, that hasn`t

yet been determined. But that`s something that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is not something --

SANDERS: I think that`s certainly something that`s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me just ask you. Over the weekend, he tweeted about his national security advisor H.R. McMaster suggesting that he seemed

to forget to say that Russia didn`t impact the outcome of the election. Has he spoken to him since? And does he still have confidence in him to do

his job?

SANDERS: He still has confidence. And General McMaster spoke to him specifically about that answer. He said that he likes the general`s

answer, but just thought that little addendum would be helpful to add. Thanks so much, guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: All right. Sarah Sanders there, the press secretary at the White House. She was asked about Donald Trump`s position on Russian meddling as

a result of the new development of 13 Russian nationals indicted for interfering in the U.S. election and spreading fake news. She replied

Trump was tougher on Russia in one year than Obama was in eight years. That is not supported by the facts. Also, she talked about the ways to

reduce gun violence. That the president is willing to look at options. One question asked was, do you believe there should an age limit for people

to buy semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15? She said this is something we could look at and consider and options are on the table and that there

should be or we should expect some sort of announcement in the next couple of weeks.

And speaking of Donald Trump, he`s walking up to the podium. There is a Medal of Valor ceremony at the White House and we`re expecting him to say a

few words.

[15:50:56] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you very much. And thank you. Please. And thank you to Attorney General

Sessions and to Secretary Mnuchin, Director Pompeo, Congressman Issa for joining us to this very special ceremony to a very, very incredible group

of heroes who we`re celebrating today. Welcome all to the White house. Incredible job. Thank you.

To the families who are here with you each of you also serves and sacrifices for your country. And so I want to thank all of the families,

the great families. Because you`re being honored also. Thank you very much. Thank you. Great job.

(APPLAUSE)

We`re also so pleased to be gathered here today to recognize 12 really extraordinary law enforcement officers and first responders and to award

them the Medal of Valor and that`s a big deal. As we come together to recognize these brave Americans, I know all of us here today and across the

entire nation are grieving for the community of Parkland in the great State of Florida. We`re working very hard to make sense of these events. On

Saturday, I met with some of the survivors and their families and I was moved, greatly moved by their strength, their resilience and heartbroken

for the families whose loved ones were so cruelly torn from them forever, forever and ever. We cannot imagine the depths of their anguish, but we

can pledge the strength of our resolve. And we must do more to protect our children.

We have to do more to protect our children. This week, I will be holding a number of discussions with students, local leaders and law enforcement to

develop concrete steps that we can take to secure our schools, safeguard our students and protect our communities. School safety is a top priority

for my administration. That is why when governors from across the nation visit the White House next week, we will be discussing a great length what

the federal and state governments can do to keep our students safe. This includes implementing common sense security measures and addressing mental

health issues, including better coordination between federal and state law enforcement to take swift action when there are warning signs. In

addition, after the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, I directed attorney general to clarify whether certain bump stock devices like the one used in

Las Vegas are illegal under current law. That process began in December and just a few moment ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney

general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be

finalized, Jeff, very soon.

The key in all of these efforts, as I said in my remarks the day after the shooting, is that we cannot merely take actions that make us feel like we

are making a difference. We must actually make a difference. We must move past cliches and tired debates and focus on evidence based solutions and

security measures that actually work and that make it easier for men and women of law enforcement to protect our children and to protect our safety.

In the aftermath of this evil massacre, our spirits have been lifted by the accounts of bravery at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Coaches,

teachers, students, law enforcement officers and others who have shown us that the forces of love and courage are always stronger than the forces of

evil and hate. It`s this truth that brings us together today. The 12 patriots we honor come from many places and serve in many different roles,

but they all share one thing in common when faced with danger, they each put the lives of others before their own. It`s very brave people that I`m

standing with today.

[15:55:57] Here with us are Lieutenant William Buchanan, and emergency medical technician Sean Ochsenbein. Where are you two? Yes. That`s what

I thought. Good looking guys. That`s good. They were both off duty near Elizabeth on in the great State of Tennessee, and it is a great state, when

they saw a smoldering car with a passenger trapped inside. They braved smoke, fire and the danger of explosion to rescue the man and they saved

his life. People thought it would be impossible to save his life. William, Sean, thank you both very much. Great job. Great brave one.

(APPLAUSE)

Fire engineer Steven Gunn is also here. He was first on the scene of a dangerous fire started by an arsonist in Phoenix, Arizona. As flames

engulfed the home, Engineer Gunn charged inside to save an unconscious man. Within seconds, Steven`s helmet began to melt and his skin began to burn.

Not good. But he carried the man out before the house collapsed. And that`s by seconds. Engineer Gunn, I understand you keep your melted helmet

as a reminder.

GORANI: President Trump there. He`s going to be pinning Medals of Valor on law enforcement officials and other community service personnel. He

made a couple interesting remarks about the high school massacre in Florida. Interestingly, though, he didn`t mention gun control as one of

the measures that the Trump administration would be looking at and discussing with Capitol Hill. He mentioned concrete steps, but will

discuss with lawmakers ways to protect schools and ways for state and federal law enforcement to cooperate on spotting warning signs of mental

illness of people who might be, perhaps, incline to commit these types of crimes, these types of mass shootings. But the word gun control -- the

words gun control were not spoken in this particular address at this ceremony at the White House.

We`re going to take a quick break here on CNN. Thanks for watching us. I`m Hala Gorani. I`ll see you same time same place tomorrow. But do stay

with us. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" will be coming up next after a few minutes.

END