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Trump Jr. Pushing Conspiracy Theories About Florida Shooting Survivors; Students Advocate for Gun Control; President Trump Lashes Out. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 21, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The world was his family. His ministry was his family, in addition to his kids and his beautiful wife.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Ninety-nine. We can all -- if we can all be so lucky. You're so right.
PHILLIPS: Good living.
BALDWIN: You're so right.
Kyra Phillips, thank you so much.
PHILLIPS: You bet.
BALDWIN: We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
And this is our special coverage today of students not just joining, but leading the gun reform debate like we have not seen before, just one week now after they survived the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students are right now at the Florida state capitol meeting with lawmakers demanding changes to gun laws.
But the teenagers, they're already feeling resistance, as they expressed just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALFONSO CALDERON, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We will not be silenced. It has gone on long enough that we -- just because we're kids, we're not allowed to understand.
But, trust me, I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours, with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it's like to text my parents, goodbye, I might never, ever get to see you again. I love you.
I understand what it's like to fear for your life. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: As survivors are standing up, fellow students are walking out in solidarity all across the country. And all these voices will continue to be heard tonight.
More than 5,000 people are expected to attend our CNN town hall at 9:00 Eastern time tonight, including students from Douglas.
Joining me now, the host of tonight's event, CNN chief Washington correspondent and host of "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION," Jake Tapper.
Jake, I mean, so far listening to all these students, having spoken with these lawmakers in Tallahassee, you know, while you, of course, admire them for getting on those buses and going, I'm also hearing though a lot of disappointments, a lot of them feeling like these lawmakers are dodging their questions.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: They have an opportunity to ask questions directly this evening.
We will be hosting the students of the high school this evening here, along with faculty and parents of some of the children who were killed one week ago today, and they will have an opportunity to directly ask questions of lawmakers, Congressmen Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents this area, as well as two the U.S. senators from Florida, Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican.
So, they will have an opportunity to directly talk about whatever is on their minds in terms of anything that might prevent incidents like this in the future, whether it's expanded background checks, whether it's gun restrictions, whether it's to do with school security. Whatever they have on their mind, they will be able to put directly to the lawmakers that will be here tonight.
BALDWIN: Before you host this town hall, we know in just about an hour the president will be holding his own listening session, right, listening to people from Douglas, from Sandy Hook, from Columbine.
What do you make of his moves so far, whether it's the listening session or the promises on bump stocks or background checks?
TAPPER: Well ,it's difficult to know.
We heard a lot from a lot of politicians about bump stocks back in October after the horrific massacre in Las Vegas. Everyone expressed outrage at the fact that these were devices that could purchases to turn semiautomatic weapons into more lethal automatic weapons. And yet nothing was done about it.
Now the president is talking about doing something about it. We also hear him talking about the need of Democrats and Republicans to come together to strengthen background checks, in his view. But it's difficult to know what he means by any of it. And it's also difficult how much of it is actually going to intended to become law, as opposed to just talking about it or using language that sound good, but when you get into details it doesn't actually change anything.
I'm reserving judgment. As you heard, a lot students seem to think that it's a step in the right direction from the young lady you interviewed before. That seems to be the response here in Florida with those I have spoken with. They're pleased the president is listening and trying to make moves.
And there is a school of thought that in the only Nixon can go to China way, that only President Trump, who enjoys stronger support from the NRA than any previous U.S. president, that only he could actually maybe get some of these reforms enacted. But it's tough to know what's actually going to happen.
BALDWIN: And just quickly more on tonight, talk about a huge opportunity for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, given the criticism he's been facing over his own hesitation on changing gun laws.
TAPPER: And you have to give him credit for showing up, I have to say, even if you disagree with him wholeheartedly on his position on this.
And we invited President Trump to the event tonight. Keep in mind, we're facilitating here. This is an event for the community. The students, the faculty, the grieving parents and siblings, they're the one asking questions.
And we're facilitating this opportunity. We invited President Trump. He declined even to do it by satellite. We invited Governor Rick Scott, who declined even to do it by satellite from Tallahassee.
We invited the Florida state Senate president, the Florida speaker of the House. They declined as well. So, the idea that Marco Rubio, Senator Rubio is coming here, into Broward County, which is a fairly liberal county, to face these questions, again, even if you disagree with him, you have to give him the props for showing up.
BALDWIN: Starts at 9:00 tonight Eastern. Thank you, Jake Tapper.
We look forward to it.
BALDWIN: I want to keep talking, though, to some students. Student survivors faced an immediate setback of course after arriving in the state capital in Florida, in Tallahassee. A lot of these lawmakers voted not to debate this law proposing this assault weapons ban, with Republicans winning out 71-36.
Almost all the lawmakers who voted against the measure have an A rating from the NRA. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN DEITSCH, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I know I have been walking into office, after office, after office, and I have maybe only spoken to three representatives, two of which already agreed with me.
I want to see those people who have spoken out against this. I want to see those people who shot down that bill, who did not let it get past committee. I want to see those people. I'm not here for a fight. I'm not here to argue with you. I just want to speak. I just want to see your face and know why.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Joining me now, 16-year-old Douglas High School student Kyle Kashuv and Democratic Florida State Senator Lauren Book, who coordinated the students today, helping pay for travel costs to Tallahassee.
Thank you both so, so much for coming on with me.
And, Kyle, I would love to just start with you. Just tell me, what has your experience been like so far in Tallahassee, talking to state lawmakers? Has it been encouraging or has it been discouraging?
KYLE KASHUV, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I think specifically today, first thing that came today was, I talked to (INAUDIBLE). And he came out of his way to talk to us. And we had a conversation with him.
And throughout the day, we have just had really good discussions throughout the entire board with legislators.
BALDWIN: To quote your classmate Emma Gonzalez, that speech over the weekend, that whole we call B.S., I mean, after your day, is there anything in these conversations where you want to call B.S.?
KASHUV: I mean, I really think it's a situation the Republicans are put in a pretty tough spot, since, at the end of the day, they do care for the American citizens.
And a little bit of the situation falls mainly on their hands, since they're the deciding factor in this. And then we always have to remember that there are two sides to this story. And, of course, there are situations in which some legislators don't feel comfortable talking about it in some certain situations.
But we're having the necessary discussions to make change as of right now.
BALDWIN: Senator, here you are. You have been listening. You helped facilitate. You have been talking to all these different students.
Your reaction to this young man, who, seven days ago, his probably biggest worry was like not doing his homework, and now look at this extraordinary situation he's in.
LAUREN BOOK (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: These students are remarkable. They are so strong. And they are incredible advocates.
And when I got connected with some of these students, it was important for me to provide them with an opportunity to use their voice. They were asking to be heard and seen. And so, from that time until today, we have worked very hard to help facilitate over 70 meetings, House and Senate, executive branch, Republican, Democrat, to make sure that our students could be heard here in Tallahassee.
Some of the meetings have been tough. But some have been, you know, a little bit easier, and it's open dialogue. And I think it's really interesting. When I toured Douglas on Thursday night, as we were walking away from the building, you know, everything looked still frozen in time.
Bikes were still changed to the fence. Homework and pens and pencils strewn across the circle drive. And I started looking at some of those papers, and it was AP government, and they were talking about how a bill becomes a law, Democrat, Republican, activism, the role that the media plays. And it's just so ironic.
And one of the things that I have said to these kids is that you're the epicenter of the Earth, and we're going to finish that civics class that you didn't get a chance to.
And engaging with the process can be frustrating and difficult. And these students are incredible advocates, but have been through a lot. And so we're working through some of the frustrations, some of the feelings that they're feeling, and giving them a platform to have some of those conversations, to heal.
KASHUV: I just want to say that I just came out of a meeting with (INAUDIBLE) and she was so -- she was so outspoken and she was listening. We were having great dialogue.
And these legislators really do want to make a -- they really want to make a difference. And they want a better community.
In the morning, I talked with Brody (ph). And she's absolutely amazing. She really wants to make a difference. She's really passionate about making a change and making sure that this will never happen again.
BALDWIN: Kyle, just quickly, I understand you consider yourself a Republican. You supported the Trump campaign.
Do you think he has the ability to lead, to make the proper changes that you and these young people want to get this country through this sort of tragedy?
KASHUV: It's a very complex issue for one of many reasons.
The main issue is, right now, there are two debates going on. There's mental health and then plus deeper background checks. And then there's another argument for trying to completely ban weapons.
And I think that Trump can definitely lead the way. But currently, with the Republicans, the biggest fear -- and it's completely understandable -- that they don't want this to spiral out of control.
Trump can definitely lead by example. But we have to currently take in all sides of the argument and make sure that the negative outcomes that are currently happening, that we will have positive outcomes that won't have future negative effects. That's the biggest concern.
BALDWIN: Kyle Kashuv, thank you so much.
Senator Book, thank you. Appreciate both of you standing there and talk with me here in Tallahassee.
BALDWIN: Again, the students of Douglas will be speaking out to demand action tonight. Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have agreed to come and hear them out. The NRA is sending a representative as well. Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, he will be there. It's a town hall, "Stand Up," CNN town hall, moderated by Jake Tapper. It starts tonight 9:00 Eastern.
As we prepare for that town hall, we are also debunking the horrible conspiracy theories that these students are paid actors. Yes, that is what some people are putting out there -- details on how that false rumor got such widespread traction.
Also, President Trump lashing out at his attorney general and calling for an investigation into President Obama, all in one tweet. What we're learning about the president's motivations.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
After experiencing what thus is certainly the worst day of their lives, some of these Parkland shooting survivors are now being told that they're liars.
A former Republican congressman has accused the teens of being coached by and getting talking points from the left. There are even accusations from right-wing media that some of these survivors aren't actually survivors.
The phrase they're actually using is crisis actors. Now, normally, we would never give any sort of conspiracy attention like this. But some of these accusations are now being promoted by the president's own son, Don Jr. Don Jr. has liked at least two tweets that accused one of the students, Dave Hogg, of attacking the Trump administration as a ploy to protect his father, who happens to be a former FBI agent.
Here's how the student responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID HOGG, SENIOR, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: These people saying this is absolutely disturbing. And I'm not an actor in any sense, shape, way or form.
I'm the son of a former FBI agent. And that's true. But, as such, it's also true that I went to -- that I go to Stoneman Douglas High School.
And I was a witness to this. I'm not a crisis actor. I'm somebody that had to witness this and live through this. And I continue to have to do that.
And the fact that Donald Trump Jr. liked that post, it's disgusting to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Hadas Gold, our CNN politics, business and media reporter is with me.
I mean, how much traction are these theories even getting?
HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS, MEDIA, AND BUSINESS REPORTER: These theories are actually getting traction.
And, as you mentioned, there are sort of two theories. One is that these are crisis actors. The other is that these are somehow coached, they're part of the deep state, kind of anti-Trump, that they're not true, just children speaking their mind.
But the issue here is that, back in the day, these conspiracy theories, which have always existed, were to limited to maybe the supermarket tabloid, or through your friends, message board online or something like that.
But now with these platforms like YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, what we're seeing is, if you searched David Hogg, that young man's name just earlier today on YouTube, what would you find is, those first results were some of these conspiracy theories saying that he was somehow planted, that he's been exposed in some way.
And that's sort of an absurd thing to think about, because even if you're just searching for let's say his interview on CNN or some sort of speech that he's made recently, instead, you would find these conspiracy theories.
And this is a big question facing these companies. YouTube issued a statement saying that one of these videos "should never have appeared in trending. Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. And we're working to improve our systems moving forward."
But, clearly, these companies don't have teams of people who are searching through any sort of trending and taking away these sort of conspiracy video. But people are asking, is it now time to have real people sitting there and making sure when there's big national event like this, these type of conspiracy videos, these types of theories aren't popping up for people who are just legitimately looking for real news.
BALDWIN: Insane that we are even having to consider that conversation.
Hadas Gold, thank you so much on that.
Coming up next, President Trump accusing his predecessor, President Obama, of failing to act when it comes to Russian meddling, and calling for his attorney general to investigate the Obama administration. What the president's public request of his attorney general is revealing about their relationship.
BALDWIN: President Trump unleashing an extraordinary act on -- attack on Twitter, this time directed at his predecessor and his own attorney general.
So, here's the tweet. He wrote: "Question. If all of the Russia meddling took place during the Obama administration, right up until January 20, why aren't they the subject of the investigation? Why didn't Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren't Democratic crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions."
So, the president essentially challenging the man he selected to lead the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Obama administration.
A source telling CNN that the president believes that Jeff Sessions is in over his head.
Dana Bash is with me, CNN chief political correspondent, and Norm Eisen, CNN contributor, former Obama White House ethics czar, and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Welcome to both of you.
And, Dana, just beginning with you, and we will get to the ambassador on how sort of extraordinary this tweet is, but to you, there's some context, and you have new details about why the president felt like he needed to say this and specifically about his A.G.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is something that we have seen so many times.
And it all goes back to, I think, probably the best way to put it is the original sin in the president's mind, and that is when Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, which then it sort of precipitated into what eventually became the special counsel investigation, period, end of story.
That really is what riles up the president.
BALDWIN: He is still fuming about it, right?
BASH: Right. Exactly. Exactly.
And so the question that I ask is, well, why now? And the answer that I got from a source familiar with what's going on behind closed doors was that, you know, when there's an indictment or when there's some kind of movement on the Mueller investigation, it's a reminder to the president, it's kind of a trigger to the president, oh, none of this would be happening, from his perspective, had his attorney general not recused himself.
Mr. Ambassador, so she's gone over the original sin, which the president is clearly still irked about. So, he's calling on in this tweet to do something about it.
The doing something about it part, basically, you have the president asking his A.G. to investigate the Obama administration. Does that cross, break ethical lines?
NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brooke, thanks for having me back. Nice to be with you in person.
EISEN: Yes, the president's tweet is the latest crossing of one of the fundamental barriers in our American rule of law system, which is, you don't politicize the functioning of the Department of Justice.
I was there in the Obama White House when the president said repeatedly, you guys do what you have to do. We're not going to interfere with that.
Trump is doing the opposite. And it's so wrong. It's not that he totally without merit is attacking Obama. It's also that he's not calling out the real culprits. He should be talking about, what are we going to do to respond to this Russian attack?
BALDWIN: About Russia.
EISEN: It's as if there were an attack on Pearl Harbor, and FDR had turned around and criticized Herbert Hoover.
I mean, it's so dangerous for the country. But one thing he can't do, he can no longer say the Russian attack was a hoax, because Mueller has put the lie to that with his indictments. That's part of the reason that he's so exercised.
BALDWIN: Right. But still, to your point, it's like, why doesn't he call them out? Where's the issue of revenge, right, against Russia as they are currently, if you listen to the intel chiefs, still attacking us?
Dana, switching gears and talking Jared Kushner, apparently, the president's son-in-law and senior aide and this Chief of Staff John Kelly, they're locking horns over these new security clearance roles.
Give me the background on that first.
BASH: Well, because John Kelly announced late last week that there will be new rules in place, given all of the tumult and the very real problems with the security clearances under Rob Porter, and which then broadened out to questions, again, renewed questions about the fact that a lot of top officials in the White House have only interim clearance.
They haven't gotten their formal, full security clearance yet. Jared Kushner is one of them. And so the question is going to be whether or not, because of John Kelly's own new rules, which effectively says that if you go back in time to June, I believe, and there has -- and this -- you don't have a full security clearance, despite the fact that it has been in motion since before then, then you're not going to be able to have an interim security clearance.
The issue, Brooke is, that this is, we are told, likely related to the Mueller probe, in that the FBI, in order to close a case, in order to close a background check, to say, OK, background check is complete, would need to have all kinds of information.
One theory --