Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Polls Say 62 Percent Say Inappropriate for Kushner To Play White House Role; Parkland Students Rally to Demand Gun Reforms at State Capitol; UNICEF Issues Blank Statement as Words Fail to Describe Horror in Syria. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 21, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The issue, Brooke is, that this is we are told, likely related to the Mueller probe. In that, the FBI order to close a case, in order to close a background check. OK, background check is complete, would need to have all kinds of information. One theory was positive to me that perhaps, even if it's likely, that the FBI can't close it when there's an ongoing investigation that maybe even the rank and file who are doing the background check can't access because the Mueller investigation is so tightly held. So, this could be an example.

Another example of how the Mueller investigation is having ripple effects throughout the White House, even unintended ripple effects, that affect how people in senior positions are able, maybe in this case, if he loses his interim clearance, people like Jared not able to do their day-to-day jobs.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Well, OK. Here's how many Americans aren't feeling so great about having this, you know, senior adviser not getting his full security clearance. This is according to latest numbers from Quinnipiac, Mr. Ambassador, 62 percent of Americans think it's inappropriate for him to have a role in the White House given the fact that he hasn't properly, you know, jumped through all the appropriate hoops to get this full clearance. Is it an entitlement issue? What's this about?

NORM EISEN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC: If you want to talk about original sin, the original sin of President Trump was that he sought to use the presidency not to benefit the country but himself and his family. Of course, he held on to his businesses. That's part of it. Tremendous conflicts there, constitutional issues. But he brought in his son-in-law and his daughter to be top advisers. Brooke, there's an anti-nepotism law on the books. And not just me, but bipartisan, my counterpart from the Bush White House said, wait a minute, we couldn't even bring in a kid for a summer internship. Your going to make these two top advisers.

And that original sin has led to a cascade of illegalities with Kushner reportedly under investigation. It's to be expected because he feels privileged like the rules don't apply to him. That's the situation we're in. It is a gross like Trump's failure to call out Russia, having Kushner in the White House without a proper security clearance at this point in time is a gross danger to our country. He has our nation's secrets. No wonder Chief of Staff Kelly finally said, enough. It's about time. It's past time.

BALDWIN: Ambassador Norm Eisen, thank you so much. Dana Bash, thank you.

We'll continue on and talk about Parkland, Florida. We've got some live pictures inside CNN's Town Hall tonight. They're estimating 5,000 people will be attending this thing. We have survivors, parents, lawmakers, NRA spokesperson, will all be there joining Jake Tapper for this mega discussion. That's at 9:00 tonight. This as a new poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans support changes to gun laws. We will debate why Congress has yet to listen.

[15:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin. As students in Florida are pleading with state lawmakers for stricter gun laws. We often hear from gun rights activists that it's better to enforce the laws we already have than pass new ones. And I just wanted to take a moment today to parse through some of those laws just to better understand where changes maybe introduced.

And so, to do that I have the help of two great legal minds. CNN legal commentator, Ken Cuccinelli and Jennifer Taub, she is a professor at Vermont Law School. So, Ken Cuccinelli, let me begin with you here. You have Republicans facing all this pressure, to move in some sort of direction on gun control. Comes down to the second amendment, this guarantee to keep and bare arms. And so, I really wanted today to talk about the Heller decision. Right? This is the Supreme Court's 2008, landmark decision, which among other things essentially said that the right to keep and bear arms subject to reasonable regulations.

So, let me just quote the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia here. Who said, like most rights the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited, the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner, whatsoever and for whatever purpose. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

So, does that then leave the door open for any sort of legislation that we're seeing pushed in the wake of this school shooting?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: For some of it, sure. Like, banning bump stocks would not be impaired by Heller. The common discussion about bringing guns on to government places is explicitly addressed by Justice Scalia in the Heller decision as being allowable under the Second Amendment. States of course have their own constitutional protections in addition to that. But most states have more or less conformed themselves to the Second Amendment.

And I would note, the critical element of that decision was the right to keep and bear arms it's a personal right. It's not some group right or militia matter. It is a personal right. As you noted Justice Scalia also said, like other rights, these just example being the first amendment, you can have some restrictions on it. The first amendment classic example is you can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater because of the danger imposed by it. Those opportunities exist.

[15:40:00] Obviously, people like me believe we ought to be very restrictive in how we go about restricting second amendment rights for law-abiding citizens. And you want to see more vigorous enforcement and following of the procedures we have in place, and we saw that failure by the FBI sadly in Florida.

BALDWIN: Jen Taub, to you, just again, and I hear Ken being on the more restrictive side. But just so everyone understands, with this Heller decision, the notion perhaps that some people are floating of banning let's say a semiautomatic weapon, that door is open, yes, respecting the second amendment but that door is open because of Heller.

JENNIFER TAUB, LAW PROFESSOR, VERMONT LAW SCHOOL: Absolutely. I think, I'll add on to what Ken said, I look at Heller as being slightly more narrow. He's absolutely right that it was the first time the Supreme Court recognized that the second amendment right is available to individuals, but it's not sort of -- it's not as broad as he would suggest. It's really about the individual right to own a handgun in one's home for personal protection. That's what Heller spoke to. And Heller leaves open the door to regulate and even restrict or ban for automatic weapons, such as AR-15s and similar types of weapons.

BALDWIN: Which is part of what is being discussed. I just wanted to get into Heller. Ken, to you, looking back to 1994, we find an example of Washington jumping in on this issue, that was when President Clinton signed into law the public safety and recreational firearms use protection act, outlawed more than a dozen types of semi automatic weapons similar to the one that was used last week that Douglas high school. But that expired in 2004. So, talk to me a little bit more about what happened then.

CUCCINELLI: They also, if I remember my history correctly, I'm going back 24 years, they also instructed state officials, sheriffs in particular, that they had to do certain things. And those pieces were found unconstitutional. Because the federal government can't tell state officials to do things even in the area of the gun control or I should say including in the area of gun control. And I really think you're going to see a more, if we're ever going to impact the particular problem, the tragedy we saw in Parkland, remember we had Virginia Tech and Virginia, we had similar failures in our mental health system.

If we're ever going to address this, it's going to be a lot more comprehensive than any one single type of solution and no gun ban under the second amendment with the protection I should say of the second amendment, and with American society and history will ever be effective in doing this. All the people who have been calling for that are hard pressed to articulate a gun restriction, a gun law that would have stopped a tragedy like we saw in Florida, like we saw in Sandy Hook and even like we saw -- BALDWIN: I don't know if we know that. Your shaking your head. With

all due respect, I don't know if we know that definitively. I mean go ahead, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: I mean only because you can't disprove a negative.

TAUB: Yes, so I mean, I want to say it, we have to be really careful to distinguish between legal arguments and policy arguments. So, I just want to break this apart and to say as a legal matter, the Supreme Court in November declined to -- to hear a challenge to Maryland's ban on assault weapons. And they made that choice similarly just yesterday, the Supreme Court also declined to hear a challenge to California's ten-day waiting period. So, I do think that the supreme -- by the way, several other states, in cases that have come up to the Supreme Court where the court can't get those four votes it needs to grant certiorari.

So, I do think as a practical matter where the court is right now and also what Heller allows as a legal matter, an assault weapons ban would be permissible. As to the policy question as to whether it would be sufficient, I find it really odd that is seems to be only in the area of gun control that we demand a particular, perhaps incremental solution to solve everything. I can just give you a few examples.

We do have nutrition labels on packaged foods even though that hasn't fully addressed the obesity epidemic. I'm required as I imagine you are to, to take off my shoes at the airport, although that does certainly not protect me from for example domestic terrorism when someone is shooting a semiautomatic weapon through a hotel window. I don't think that policy argument really holds water.

BALDWIN: OK.

CUCCINELLI: Brooke, if I could.

BALDWIN: Quickly, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: None of those examples touch on fundamental and I use that word intentionally, fundamental constitution rights.

[15:45:00] And the constitutional right of to keep and bear arms was found to be a fundamental right in Heller in addition to everything else that we have talked about. That's a major difference when we're addressing policy opportunities that might solve problems or at least make them less likely like the Parkland tragedy.

BALDWIN: OK, I wanted to start the discussion. I feel the disagreement on both sides, but we've got to leave it, Ken and Jennifer, thank you.

CUCCINELLI: Thank you, Brooke.

TAUB: Thank you. BALDWIN: This debate continues this evening right here on CNN. The

students of Stoneman Douglas High School speaking out to demand action and an end to the violence once and for all. It's a live town hall moderated by Jake Tapper. It is airing at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time right here.

Also, today, can we talk about Syria, the U.N. Secretary General says, quote, hell on earth is unfolding. More than 300 people killed in just the last couple of days as the brutal Assad regime intentionally bombs hospitals and clinics in what was once a safe zone. The images that we should not ignore, amidst everything else. Next.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: A familiar sight. Government warplanes scattering bombs across another Syrian town. This time it is Ghouta. The thick plumes of smoke only momentarily shielding the world from the horror of what is left behind. Just a warning the massacre on the ground is sickening to watch, but necessary to show.

A hero in a white helmet grabs a screaming child from a surreal landscape of rubble and dust. Today, yesterday and tomorrow, the images are the same. But the headline has been and will be the same, children slaughtered. Words that fail to describe the horror of what is unfolding each and every day in Syria. So, UNICEF has resorted to 10 empty lines in an extraordinary footnote. UNICEF is issuing this blank statement. We know longer have the words to describe children suffering in our outrage. Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts they ask. CNN reached out to officials in Damascus for reaction, they had no words. If

CNN's Ben Wedeman has lived in Syria, was in Aleppo in 2012 when the fighting broke out there. Ben, what do you make unprecedented statement from UNICEF?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I certainly think it just reflects their utter frustration, Brooke, with the fact that the situation in Syria has gone from bad to worse and in the words of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to hell on earth. There have been endless attempts to try to somehow bring this war to an end, but no one either has the will or the ability to do so.

And what we've seen in the last three days is an unrelenting bombardment by Syrian air strikes, barrel bombs, missiles, rockets, mortars on this suburb of Damascus which has been held by the rebels roughly since 2012. The death toll so far in these three days is at least 300. Many of them women and children. The Red Cross says that the medical supplies in the area are perilously low, that wounded are dying because doctors and nurses are simply overwhelmed.

Now, we've heard for instance the French President Emmanuel Macron, the Red Cross, calling for an immediate humanitarian cease fire to allow supplies in to evacuate hundreds of people who are in desperate need of medical care. The Russians are calling for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. But so far it is all words. But there is another indication of what may be to come.

[15:55:00] Today Damascus newspaper reported that Syrian forces are preparing for a final offensive to retake this area which has about a population at this point of about 400,000 people. And they say they will do so within days. And if that comes to pass, Brooke, what we're seeing now may be just the beginning of hell.

BALDWIN: Ben Wedeman, thank you. Thank you.

Moments from now, President Trump will meet with some of the survivors from the Parkland shooting as well as victims from both Sandy Hook and Columbine. That about to get started at the White house. Stay right here.

[16:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Survivors of the Florida high school shooting today are balancing their newfound activism with the reality of more funerals to attend. Chris Hixon, an athletic director who also served as the school's wrestling coach was laid to rest today.

Survivors tell the story of Hixon speeding in a golf cart toward the sound of gunfire. And later this evening a visitation for Aaron Feis the coach who is remembered as a hero. Just last week when I was down in Florida, I talked to one of his former students.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAD LYONS, STUDENT OF SLAIN COACH AARON FEIS: I began my life with a bunch of difficulty, growing up I was in and out of foster care, in between shelter homes, foster homes. 22 foster homes. And four shelters and whenever I just felt unsafe or I felt the need to do something better with my life, which means playing football, and also just getting treatment and just a bunch much things he did in my life getting me out of negative situations and taking me to church on his regular day basis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Coach Feis' funeral is tomorrow. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being here. "THE LEAD" starts right now.