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Mueller Brings New Charges Against Manafort & Gates; Trump Reiterates Idea to Arm Teachers; NRA Chief Lashes Out at Moves to Reform Gun Laws. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. More Mueller charges. The special counsel drops a new bombshell with more charges against President Trump's former campaign chairman and a close aide.

[17:00:13] Call to arms. The president pledges to take action on gun violence, offering a flurry of ideas, including raising the purchase age and expanding background checks, but why does he seem so set on arming teachers, even paying them extra to carry weapons?

Not backing down. The NRA dismisses the president's claim that it could soon accept some gun reforms and goes on the attack, smearing Democrats as socialists out to take away weapons from gun owners.

And Ivanka's Olympic mission. After North Korea's dictator sends his sister to the Olympics, where she was publicly ignored by Vice President Pence, President Trump sends his daughter to the closing ceremonies. Can Ivanka Trump smooth out any new tensions?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller brings more charges against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his close associate Rick Gates. The 32-count indictment includes bank fraud and tax charges related to their Ukrainian lobbying business.

Also breaking, President Trump is vowing to do something about gun violence, floating suggestions from boosting background checks to raising the purchase age for rifles, but he's also focusing in on the idea of paying teachers extra to carry weapons.

The president suggests the National Rifle Association will go along with some gun law reforms, but the NRA says its position has not changed, launching a new attack on Democrats, calling those Democrats socialists.

I'll speak with Congressman Ellison. He's singled out for attack by the NRA. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.

But, first, let's begin with the new indictment against President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his top aide, Rick Gates. Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has been going over the new 32-count indictment. Evan, update our viewers. What are the charges?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these charges are adding pressure to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates ahead of a possible trial later this year. The charges that were unsealed today in Alexandria, Virginia, include 16 counts of false income tax returns, seven counts of filing -- failing to declare foreign bank accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts of bank fraud.

Now, what this means, Wolf, is that these talks have been going on in the last couple weeks between Rick Gates, in particular, attorneys for Rick Gates in particular, and special counsel have clearly now fallen apart. This means that there is no deal, and the special counsel has now gone ahead and brought these 32 charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.

We expected that these charges would be coming against Paul Manafort, in particular. What we didn't know was whether or not Rick Gates would be included in the charges, Wolf, because we knew there were talks going on between Rick Gates and attorneys representing him, and the special counsel where a possible plea agreement in the waiting here. What this indicates is that there is no deal, and that these two men are now preparing to go to trial, perhaps as soon as later this year.

These charges have to do mostly with fraudulent loans according to the special counsel, that were taken after 2015 and up to this year, which allegedly, according to the special counsel, were used to cover for home renovations and other things that were not to be paid for by these loans, Wolf.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz and Jeffrey Toobin are with us, as well.

Jeffrey, 32 counts, that's a lot.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It is a lot. Paul Manafort is 72 years old. Based on this case and the case that was filed in Washington, if he's convicted after trial in both of these, he is going to die in prison. I mean, that's really what the stakes are for Paul Manafort right now.

And Rick Gates, who is younger, is looking not at years in prison, at decades in prison if he doesn't plead guilty. So this is an enormous step up in terms of the pressure on both of them to plead guilty and cooperate, because the stakes couldn't be any higher.

BLITZER: We had reported, Shimon, that there were serious talks involving Rick Gates and his new set of attorneys to work out some sort of plea deal that would avoid anything along these lines. Clearly, that has collapsed, according to Evan.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, as Evan said, it appeared to have collapsed. We've been seeing some pretty strange behavior from Rick Gates the past few days. He was showing up in court on his own without his attorney, with filings, and we've all have been wondering what is going on. Those filings are sealed. So we don't know what he's been doing there, and, certainly, this new indictment, as Evan said, seems to indicate that the plea deals, any sort of cooperation deal that may have been in play is now dead.

[17:05:08] PEREZ: And what's interesting, Wolf, is that the decision of the special counsel to go to another court to file these charges. Keep in mind, Paul Manafort filed his taxes in Virginia, in Florida, and New York, not in the District of Columbia where he was previously indicted on 12 counts.

So the question has been how could they possibly add additional charges, add more pressure? According to the special counsel's office, Manafort refused to waive venue. In other words, they refused to allow these charges to be brought here in D.C. This is why the special counsel decided to go to Alexandria and bring these charges.

TOOBIN: And another significant aspect of the fact that these charges were filed in Alexandria, not in Washington where the other case is, is that it extends the Mueller investigation. The first Manafort- engaged trial has been tentatively scheduled for May of this year.

Obviously, this new case can't go forward while that one is going forward. So this is now starting to look like an investigation that will go into 2019, which just means it will go until 2019, and that's certainly going to be a burden to the president.

BLITZER: If you go through the lengthy charging document and try to get through it -- I haven't completely gone through it -- but there's so much, Shimon, incredible detail here on research they've done, the reporting they've done on all these financial transactions is enormous.

PROKUPECZ: Look, I think after the indictment from last week of what we saw with the FBI, was capable of doing with the Russians, can you just imagine what they're capable of doing here? It's clear they are all over Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, and they have been, from their financial records to other information.

I think in the end, I think most people are asking what does this have to do with Russia? Right? And I guess we can get into that. But it's clear that they spent an enormous amount of time building this case. It is very complicated. It is very tangled. And on first read, you can't really understand what's going on.

But you're talking about money that's been put in offshore accounts, millions of dollars. They were then using some of this money, this indictment says, to live their lavish lifestyle, not paying taxes on any of the money. And it also goes on to say that this -- some of this money was made when they were doing their work as political consultants for the Ukrainian -- former Ukrainian leader. So perhaps that's how it ties into some of this Russian investigation.

BLITZER: and it shows that -- that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, he took very serious that recommendation to him, you can go after Russia collusion. You can go after connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, but if other developments emerge, you can go after that, as well. TOOBIN: Well, and it's also true that Manafort was under

investigation before Mueller was even appointed. That was, in part, why he was forced to step down as campaign chairman, because thanks to the reporting of Evan and others, it became known that he was under criminal investigation.

But, you know, it is obviously clear that the plea talks with Rick Gates have fallen through for the time being. But given the magnitude of these charges, I think it is not at all clear that these cases will...


BLITZER: Just Rick Gates or Paul Manafort, as well?

TOOBIN: Absolutely Paul Manafort.

BLITZER: At some point, they can clearly say, you know what? Cop a plea, plead guilty, get a reduced sentence, and fully cooperate.

TOOBIN: Correct. Both of those are possible.

PEREZ: As Jeffrey points out, I think -- that's, I think, part of the goal here. This -- the special counsel saying, "Look, we're not going away." You know, we don't think that the trial's going to happen in May. It looks like perhaps later this year, Wolf.

And now they've basically just doubled down, doubled the number of charges here with this -- with this new indictment. And what it shows is that not only are we looking at this -- this Russia investigation overhanging the administration into 2019. It shows that there's -- they're going to keep putting pressure on these men to provide information.

If they're not going to provide information, they're going to go on trial. And Rick Gates is -- he's not as old as Manafort, but he's got young children. He keeps saying to the court that that's the reason why he needs to go to their soccer games, their baseball games and so on. So the pressure is, indeed, very heavy.

TOOBIN: And the idea that this is unrelated to Russia, I think, is false. Remember, Yanukovych is the Ukrainian leader who was closely in line with Vladimir Putin. That's who Manafort was working for. Manafort was deeply in hock financially, morally, in every way, to Yanukovych, who was a Putin ally.

So the fact that he -- so the fact that he was involved in, according to this indictment, a corrupt relationship with Yanukovych does relate to the broader investigation of the Trump campaign being aligned with Putin.

BLITZER: Good point.

PROKUPECZ: It's also clear and based on reporting that we've done that Manafort may have a lot of information that the special counsel wants. Because if you keep looking at these indictments, they keep putting -- there's mounting pressure, as we've been saying. And it appears that there's -- they must want something from Paul Manafort.

[17:10:13] BLITZER: They're squeezing him, because they think he has something that could help the broader investigation. For example, what?

PROKUPECZ: We don't know.

PEREZ: But we know, Wolf, we've reported previously that the U.S. intelligence was able to get interception, which Russians are talking about conversations that they said they had with Manafort. And, you know, they were looking, again, the Russians were talking to each other. We don't know whether or not that's accurate, and I think that's the kind of thing that they want to hear from Paul Manafort.

They haven't been able to talk to him, obviously. He's represented by an attorney. And until they're able to debrief him, they're not going to know exactly what occurred in these conversations, if they did occur, and according to the information we've talked to sources about, you know, some of these conversations have to do with information that the Russians said that they possess that could help the Trump campaign.

TOOBIN: Manafort...

PEREZ: Ties back to the Russian campaign.

TOOBIN: Manafort was the campaign chairman.

BLITZER: He wasn't the campaign manager. He was the campaign chairman.

TOOBIN: Chairman, right.

BLITZER: Meaning he was reporting directly to the then candidate.

TOOBIN: Correct. And if there was collusion with the Russian government, he would know about it. That's why he's such an important witness.

PEREZ: And keep in mind that Rick Gates, even after Manafort gets bounced as chairman, Rick Gates stays on with the Trump campaign. He ends up being part of the inauguration effort, the -- part of the transition, later during the transition. So he had information that extends beyond the campaign. He ends up working with the inauguration that, you know, there was financing issues that they were having, as well.

BLITZER: This case is continuing. And the special counsel, by no means, indicating he's done with it. There's clearly a lot more going on, and we probably only know a tiny little bit.

Stand by. More on this breaking news coming up, but I quickly want to go over to the White House right now and another major story that's breaking right now. President Trump, moved by the latest mass shooting, is vowing to do something about gun violence here in the United States. Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what is the latest?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president delivered tough talk on school shootings there in that listening session, reiterating the idea of putting more guns in schools by arming, quote, "highly adept teachers." He even suggested the idea of giving teachers bonuses if they went to firearms training.

But, today, the White House would not offer specifics on how this might work and where the money to pay for that would come from.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a tremendous feeling that we want to get something done, and we're leading that feeling, I hope, but there's a great feeling, including at the NRA.

BROWN (voice-over): President Trump is pledging action on gun violence in the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school last week that left 17 dead.

TRUMP: For many years, where people sitting in my position did not take action -- they didn't take proper action, they took no action at all -- we're going to take action.

BROWN: But what that action will be is still unclear.

Trump unleashed a series of tweets on guns this morning, saying, "I will be strongly pushing comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health, raise age to 21, and end sale of bump stocks. Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue, I hope."

The president says he is working the phones to rally support for his ideas.

TRUMP: I called many senators last night, many congressmen, and Jeff and Pam and everybody in this room, I can tell you, Curtis, they're into doing background checks or they wouldn't be thinking about maybe two weeks ago.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO/EVP, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.

Reporter: Even as Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, blamed Democrats and the media for turning a tragedy into a moment for political gain.

LAPIERRE: The elites don't care, not one whit about America's school system and school children. If they truly cared, what they would do is they would protect them. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms.

BROWN: Despite those objections, the president says he believes the NRA will join him in reforming the country's gun laws.

TRUMP: I don't think I'll be going up against them. I really think the NRA wants to do what's right. I mean, they're very close to me. I'm very close to them. They're very, very great people. They love this country. They're patriots. The NRA wants to do the right thing.

BROWN: At the same time, the president is doubling down on his position that some teachers should have guns in schools, an idea raised during a listening session with Parkland students and parents at the White House Wednesday.

TRUMP: If you had a teacher with -- who was adept at firearms, it could very well end the attack very quickly.

[17:15:02] BROWN: Today, Trump insisting attacks would end if teachers were armed, adding that they would need regular training and would get paid bonuses.

TRUMP: These people are cowards. They're not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns, maybe 10 percent, maybe 40 percent. And what I'd recommend doing is the people that do carry, we give them a bonus.

BROWN: The president saying schools that remain gun-free zones are open targets.

TRUMP: I think we need hardened sites. We need to let people know, you come into our schools, you're going to be dead, and it's going to be fast. And unless you do that, you're going to always have this problem.

BROWN: That idea echoed by the NRA today.

LAPIERRE: It should not be easier for a madman to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store or some Hollywood gala. Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country.

BROWN: But the White House says it doesn't expect to agree with the NRA on every issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he willing to go against the NRA ultimately, because the NRA is standing firm that it does not support age limits for semiautomatic rifles. Is the president willing to stick with his...

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSES DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: He's willing to do what's right to ensure safe -- to ensure we have safe schools.


BROWN: And, today, the NRA continues to rally, reject the idea of raising the age limit for those buying semiautomatic rifles, despite the president continuing to support it.

Also, today, Wolf, the president said that he doesn't like the idea of active shooter drills. When we asked the White House about that, Raj Shah, the press secretary said that he was more concerned about the branding of it, not the actual drills, saying he would prefer the name "safety drills" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Pamela Brown over at the White House.

The National Rifle Association stayed quiet for a week after the Florida school massacre, but now it's lashing out against any move to reform gun laws here in the United States. The group's CEO, Wayne LaPierre, delivering an aggressive speech before the conservative -- before a conservative gathering outside Washington.

Our political reporter, Rebecca Berg, is on scene for us. Rebecca, doesn't sound like the NRA is open to much compromise.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, Wolf. Quite a contrast in what we heard today from Wayne on this stage behind me at CPAC, and the president's suggestion that he would be open to changing some of the nation's gun laws.

LaPierre was hard in his stance, said not only did the nation's gun laws not need to be reviewed, but, also, that Democrats and the media were the ones pushing for changes as part of their agenda to eventually eliminate the Second Amendment.

Let's take a listen to some of what LaPierre had to say today.


LAPIERRE: Evil walks among us, and God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids.

Obama promised a fundamental transformation of our country, and you know what? It began with his own national party. A party that is now infested with saboteurs. Even the FBI is not free of its own corruption and its own unethical agents.

What if all your medical records, perhaps your conversations with your doctor, your prescription information, do we really want all that on a government list?

This growing socialist state dreams of manipulating school children to squeeze and squeeze information about their parents. They'll be asking your kids if mommy and daddy spanked them.

And all that private information will be entered into that ultimate list that cloud of data storage. And then it's just a short hop to the systematic destruction of our most basic freedoms in this country.

I even heard a television pundit recently suggesting that people seeking to buy a firearm should be interviewed first. I mean, interviewed first? Who is going to conduct that interview?

You should be anxious. And you should be frightened.

And it's all backed in this country by the social engineering and the billions of people like George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and more.

On college campuses, the Communist Manifesto is one of the most frequented assigned texts.

To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun. Thank you very much.


BERG: So a lot to unpack there, obviously, but one thing LaPierre did not mention today was the president's suggestion that the laws in this country should be reviewed, could be strengthened as regard guns in this country.

And it sets up potentially, Wolf, a major political clash between the National Rifle Association and the president and even Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, many of whom have received donations from the powerful gun lobby.

Trump will be speaking here tomorrow. We will hear from him directly in front of this very pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment crowd. And we'll be watching to see what message he brings to CPAC, whether he mentions any of the policy changes that he tweeted about today.

But, clearly, the president recognizes the political peril here, the needle he needs to thread. Because in addition to his changes he tweeted about today, he also tweeted his praise for LaPierre, saying that he was a great American patriot and wants the best for the country.

So we'll be standing by, Wolf, tomorrow, for more here at CPAC.

BLITZER: We'll hear what the president has to say. Rebecca, thank you. Rebecca Berg, over at the Conservative Political Action Conference over there.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. He's also the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee. One of the number -- one of a number of lawmakers accused by the NRA chief, Wayne LaPierre, of pushing, a, quote, "socialist agenda."

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: You bet, thank you, Wolf, for being here.

BLITZER: All right. Let me begin with your response to what the NRA chief had to say. Among others, singled you out by name. Listen to this.


LAPIERRE: But how about Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bill De Blasio, Andrew Cuomo, Cory Booker, Christopher Murphy, and Keith Ellison? They are not Democrats in the mold of John F. Kennedy or Tip O'Neill. They hide behind labels like Democrat, left-wing, and progressive to make their socialist agenda more palatable, and that is terrifying.


BLITZER: LaPierre also said your party, the Democratic Party, Congressman, is infested with saboteurs. What's your reaction?

ELLISON: Well, he's trying to use fear to manipulate people, but, look, you know, the last thing he wants to talk about is the 17 dead students at Parkland, the 20 dead children and seven more dead teachers at Sandy Hook. He doesn't want to talk about the fact that, since the assault weapons ban lapse in 2004, we've seen a 238 percent increase in gun-related deaths.

He doesn't want to talk about the blood that is spilled all over his hands because of the lax policies that he's pushing. He wants to make people afraid, and he wants to tell people lies and distortions rather than deal with the fact that he is essentially trafficking in fear in order to line the pockets of his clients in the gun manufacturing industry. It's really horrendous.

And yet, you know, we've got to challenge him. We've got to confront him, but we've got to keep the focus on the families, Wolf. Because he wants to get this into a tennis match between he calls me a name, I call him a name. No, this is about the families, and that is where we're going to keep our focus.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some of the substance. As you know, President Trump is considering several measures he thinks potentially could curb gun violence in the United States, along with arming teachers, he says. He's also proposing better security at schools, raising the minimum age to buy certain weapons, banning what are called bump stocks that could take a rifle and make it almost like a machine gun. Did anything the president propose today sound reasonable to you?

ELLISON: Well, of course, it did, but, you know, this is not the first time the president said something that sounded reasonable and did something very opposite.

I mean, he said he was going to protect Social Security. He's not. He said the tax cuts were going to be for the middle class. They're for the very rich. He's always saying stuff.

If the president wants to get a little bit more credible, he needs to get behind these policies like lowering the -- like raising the age for having an assault weapon, having background checks. If he actually puts his shoulder behind these things, he'll find people supporting him in Congress.

The fact is, though, he's got to make what he has to say a reality, and not just sort of messaging on tweets. I mean, he said on the whole DACA fight that he would vote -- he would sign anything that they put in front of him. Then the meeting's over, and then he won't sign unless it has a very narrowly-prescribed things that are unreasonable. I mean, the president says a lot of stuff. It's time for him to make

his word and his deeds match together, and if he does that on this gun issue to save lives, he'll find me somebody who will vote in favor of those sensible policies.

BLITZER: As you know, the National Rifle Association, a very powerful lobby here in Washington, almost certainly going to have a say in any gun-control legislation that passes a Republican-controlled House, a Republican-controlled Senate. Do you believe, Congressman, you and other Democrats can work with the NRA?

[17:25:09] ELLISON: Well, you know, who knows? But I'll tell you who I can work with. I can work with the March for Our Lives.

The March for Our Lives, these are a group of high-school students who said enough is enough, and they are coming to Washington, D.C., on March 24. And I know I can work with them, because these are the young people who suffered the tragedy directly. And they are leading the way. They're leading every town. They're leading Moms Demand Action. They're leading people all over this country who are sick and tired of the daily, almost daily reports of mass shootings.

You know, I think, Wolf, it is not an exaggeration to say a mass shooting happens every three or four days in America. And people are tired of it.

The NRA is behind the times. They are not in step with the American people. They have an extremist position, but here's the other irony. Most members of the NRA actually agree with the American people. It's just the leadership of the NRA and the manufacturers that they represent who will stop at nothing to sell more and more and more guns, which is why they want to arm teachers now, because that means more gun sales for them. That's all -- that's what's behind that.

But I believe we can work with these young people and Americans all across this country. There is a movement here, Wolf, and I believe that that movement is going to bring us the change we've been praying for for so long.

BLITZER: Congressman, as you know in recent days, you've come under some new sharp criticism for contacts you've had with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who frequently makes anti-Semitic comments.

You said back in 2016 that your relationship with Farrakhan ended long ago, but you attended a dinner that's now been widely reported back in 2013 where Farrakhan was president, and Farrakhan himself, claims you paid a visit to his hotel room. What exactly is your relationship with Farrakhan?

ELLISON: No relationship. My political opponents keep pushing this out there in order to try to smear and distract from the key issues, but there's no relationship, Wolf.

I mean, look, my -- I have a clear record. I have always fought for equal rights for all people. I will continue to do so. I've always denounced and been a fierce opponent of anti-Semitism from whatever source. I'll continue to do so.

But in this political environment, Wolf, you can expect people to try to say anything they want to try to distract from the core issues. What are the core issues? The core issues are making our streets safe. The core issues are getting health care to Americans. The core issues are raising pay of Americans. The core issues are making college affordable. These are the key issues.

And there's folks out there who don't want to talk about those things. They want to talk about anything to distract. And so, you know, I'm going to keep fighting the smears. And I'm going to keep talking about the issues that Americans care about every day.

BLITZER: Congressman Keith Ellison, thanks so much for joining us.

ELLISON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're covering multiple breaking stories right now, including some dramatic new developments in the wake of the Florida school massacre. I want to go to our correspondent, Martin Savidge. He's outside the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School down in Florida, the site of the attack. You're getting new information. What are you learning?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this truly is a stunning development in the investigation post the shooting now. It's coming to us from the Broward County sheriff. That is Scott Israel.

And questions have been raised about Scott Peterson. He is the school resource officer, a deputy, who was in uniform, who had a gun, who was on campus assigned to this school. What was his role? What was he doing during all of that shooting?

It's now been reviewed, and he has been suspended and gone into retirement. Apparently, it has been learned that, despite the statement he gave, the officer did not go into the building where the shooting was taking place. He did not engage the shooter. Here's the sheriff talking about this stunning turn.


SCOTT ISRAEL, SHERIFF, BROWARD COUNTY: We're not going to disclose the video at this time, and we may never disclose the video, depending on the prosecution and the criminal case. But what I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of Building 12, take up a position, and he never went in.


SAVIDGE: The sheriff said, looking at that made him sick to his stomach. When he was asked, "Well, what should the officer have done?" the direct quote was, "Went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer."

Now, behind the scenes, there had been reports that families of those young people who had been killed in the attack had become aware of Scott Peterson, and the fact that he had not gone in, despite the fact he was outside the building. They were tremendously outraged. Pressure's been building, and now we understand that the sheriff first said that he was going to suspend Peterson and launch into an investigation.

Peterson, apparently, with the seniority said, instead, he was resigning and going into retirement.

Two other officers now have also been put on a restricted or restrictive duty. These officers apparently had been involved in investigations with Nikolas Cruz, the shooter in this case, dating back some years. As we know, there were close to two dozen calls since 2008 that authorities have been going to Nikolas Cruz's home. And it's felt that at least in two instances there were two deputies that the sheriff believes they could have or should have acted more strongly to intervene, and they have been put on restrictive duty while that is being investigated. So, three officers now being disciplined. One of them has been fired as a result of inaction on that terrible day, Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, very disturbing developments indeed. Martin Savidge on the scene for us in Parkland, Florida. Thanks very much. As young mass shooting survivors push for reforms in the nation's gun laws, President Trump is vowing to take action, but the National Rifle Association is gearing up for a huge fight. Joining us now, the author of New York Times, columnist, Thomas Friedman. Tom, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So, you run a very sharp, strong column today in the New York Times entitled, "Get out of Facebook and into the NRA's face." Are young people needing this moment?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the issue I was trying to raise, Wolf, is that it's really important. What social networks are good at is really galvanized people and getting people out in the street, but they can also create an illusion of faux activism, you know, I tweeted about it, I blogged about it. And I think what really comes through from this whole affair and the NRA's comments today, there's only one thing to do, Wolf, vote, OK? Vote, run for office, help someone run for office, fund someone running for office, help someone get to a voting station, register someone to vote, because the only way we're going to change the gun laws is when a majority Americans or like the majority of representatives at the state and national level to change those laws. It's very clear that persuasion is not going to do it. Repeated mass killings are not going to do it. There's only one thing to do, and that is vote. Focus on taking power. That's how the NRA wins, that's how it asserts its position and its opponents have to do the same thing, only better.

BLITZER: You and I have covered a lot of these -- unfortunately these school shootings, is this time different?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, it feels like it. I happened to been in Broward College last night speak and actually met a young woman who was from the high school, and also attending the junior college there. I think it is different. It's different, not only in the size of itself, but it's come after just a series of these things, that people are just fed up, Wolf. And to hear up here, the head of the NRA, say this is about freedom. Well, I don't have the -- I don't have the freedom, Wolf, to have an F-15 in my driveway and tell my neighbors I'm fertilizing the backyard with a fighter jet. I don't have the freedom to have an M1A1 tank in my driveway.

OK, this is not about freedom, this is about balancing the legitimate rights of Americans who want to have guns, to hunt, to do marksmanship, or to protect themselves and the need to make sure those guns don't fall into the hands of people who would use them in these kinds of massacres. You know, just looking at a story about Japan, 2014, there were six gun deaths in Japan, a country of 127 million people, in a year that we had 33,599. So, the idea that gun laws don't matter is ludicrous. Is Japan not a free country? I don't think so.

BLITZER: It is a free country.

FRIEDMAN: Exactly, yes.

BLITZER: I want you to compare. I assume you saw our town hall last night on CNN, it was very incredible,


BLITZER: Very good. There was a spokeswoman for the NRA, Dana Loesch. She was there last night, and she was empathetic, she spoke, it was good of her to come and show up, and it was clearly an unfriendly crowd as far as she was concerned, but look at the very different message she was sending today at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference outside of Washington.


DANA LOESCH, SPOKESWOMAN, NRA: Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. Now, I'm not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media in the back.


BLITZER: You know, it's pretty shocking to hear that. But what's your reaction?

FRIEDMAN: It's just disgusting. That is just disgusting.

[17:34:58] BLITZER: Yes. It's hard to believe she could say something like that about, you know, whether you're on the left or the right, to say -- to suggest that the legacy media loves mass shootings, crying white mothers to you and that means the legacy media because of ratings. I mean, it's -- we're sick whenever we see those shootings. FRIEDMAN: Well, what a -- what a courageous woman. Why didn't she say that last night when you were facing those students? You go before a hyper-conservative convention and say that, Wayne LaPierre, what a tough guy, what a tough guy. To be able to give that message to super conservatives, not stare those parents in the face, what a -- it's just disgusting, Wolf.

BLITZER: It is. It's really amazing that she can smear journalists like that because we're covering a story, and think we welcome these --

FRIEDMAN: What it shows you, Wolf, is they're out of arguments, and all they can do is to deflect on what is the honest situation, which is the vast majority of Americans do not want to eliminate the second amendment, they don't want to take away guns from people who want to hunt, use them for marksmanship, or protect themselves. They just want to make sure that people who do that have -- are -- that is controlled in a way that people use them in these kinds of mass shootings or reduce the option for that, and as I said, countries that do that, I give the example of Japan, have massive reduction in gun violence.

BLITZER: But the NRA's influence here in Washington is enormous right now. Do you see that changing at all?

FRIEDMAN: Well, as one party is completely sold their soul to them. That's what the Republican Party has done, and there's only one way to defeat them, and I go back to where I started. Don't tweet about it, don't Facebook post about it. Register to vote. Run for office. Help someone run for office, funds for someone running for office, help someone get to the voting booth. You got to take power. They have power. They're not winning in the chat room, they're winning in the cloak room, OK? They're not on Facebook. They're in people's face. Get out of Facebook. Get in their face. And the only way that counts and that's by winning elections and electing people for same gun laws.

BLITZER: Do you think there's a serious chance the President of the United States will lead on this and irritate the NRA, but work to get some sort of new measures in place?

FRIEDMAN: Well, that would be a total surprise, to me, Wolf, and if that happened, it would be the first time Trump has surprised me on the upside.

BLITZER: You wrote a column earlier in the week on New York Times digital, and it went viral, very powerful column, an op-ed. Let me read a couple sentences from it: "Our democracy is in serious danger," you write, "President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool or both, but either way, he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy." Tell us more of what you're thinking right now.

(CROSSTALK) FRIEDMAN: Well, see, what triggered that column -- yes, what trigged it, Wolf, is we have last week you reported it, our three leading intelligence officers in the country, the head of the CIA, NSA, and FBI tell us that Russia had been intervening in our elections since 2014, that it did so in 2016, both to divide and poison our politics and to tilt the election toward President Trump. They told us that they're continuing to do that, and they're planning to do that in the 2018 election. That's what they told us. Then we have Robert Mueller, the special counsel, indict 13 Russians for doing that as well as several organizations.

In the face of that, the President has done absolutely nothing, so what does this tell us? It tells us two things, Wolf, that I think are very important. Trump has violated the norms of being a president since he's become President. The tweeting, the constant lying, the attacks, personal attacks on his own cabinet secretaries, he's violated the norms. But when he doesn't lift a finger in response to his own intelligence chiefs, telling us that a foreign country is trying to poison our politics and distort our elections, he's not violating the norms of his office, he's violating the oath of office, to protect and defend the constitution. That is outrageous.

And that's what I think has really -- it's as if George Bush after 9/11, an imperfect analogy but not entirely off, said after 9/11, you know what, I think I'll go down to Mar-a-Largo for the weekend and not call together my national security adviser. Or, my national security adviser is over in Europe, I think I'll criticize his speech rather than galvanizing the country together. What would a real President do, Wolf? What would a real President do, Wolf? He would -- first of all, he'd get all the stakeholders together, OK? Right.

First of all, he'd give a speech to the country, saying, here's the challenge we face, and create a public awareness of the problem, really educate the public, then he'd get the stakeholders together. He'd get the social networks together, he'd get the political parties together, he'd get state and local election officials together, he'd get national election officials together, and create a plan of defense. So, what our intelligence chiefs have told us is happening won't happen. Then he'd get his national security team together, and say, look, Vladimir Putin is using these social networks in order to poison our politics and pervert our democracy by spreading lies.

[17:40:11] What we're going to do is spread the truth about Putin and go on the offensive against him. We're going to throw a high fastball right at his head. That, Wolf, is what a real President would do, not a President who's basically running the Trump organization from the White House and moonlighting as President of the United States.

BLITZER: The White House now says that he has been tough on the Russians over these past 13 months, since taking office. The President actually said earlier in the week he's been tougher on the Russians than his predecessor, President Obama. You buy any of that?

FRIEDMAN: That's nonsense. I mean, it's just -- it's just complete -- Obama, you know, threw out these Russian diplomats and close to their spy nests in the country, he sanctioned them, and Trump has done none of these things. He hasn't even imposed the sanctions that Congress --

BLITZER: Why do you think that has a --

FRIEDMAN: Because he just makes stuff up, OK? It's just simply making stuff up, and, unfortunately, enough people believe it.

BLITZER: Tom Friedman, thanks for coming in.

FRIEDMAN: A pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, there's more breaking news, the special counsel drops a new bombshell with more charges against President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his close associate, Rick Gates.

ANNOUNCER: THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer brought to you by IBM.


[17:45:50] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories including special counsel Robert Mueller's decision to file a new indictment with new charges against President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates. Let's bring in our experts and analysts. Phil Mudd, it looks like Mueller is playing hardball right now.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Hardball? Listen, this guy just threw a grenade in the room. I mean, look what happened here. We -- look, we have what appeared to be conversations about a plea bargain with Gates in this situation, that appears from the outside to have falling apart. If you look at the detail, not only in these indictments, but incredible detail in those indictments of 13 Russians, I can guarantee you what's going on here. This is a game of chicken where they're walking in the room, that is Manafort and Gates saying, let's see what you got.

The former director of the FBI walks in the room and says, I got page after page after page of not general allegations, but incredible detail about your financial transactions. If you don't give me what I want, I'm not going to fold. I'm going to keep nailing you to the wall. So, I'm sure there are conversations that were moving forward over the past weeks, but today, this is a message from Robert Mueller that says cooperate or you're done.

BLITZER: Yes. If you read this lengthy 32-count new indictment, the old adage, you know, follow the money, there's a lot of money that's been followed by the special counsel.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: 30 million -- check my math but I think that's right -- $30 million in alleged illegal bank loans, basically hiding income as loans from shell companies over and over and over and over again all under the auspices of the money allegedly Manafort and Gates took out of Ukraine for consulting fees. I'm with Phil, this certainly seems as though it's a power move by Mueller to say, oh, you want to call my bluff, here you go. Because if convicted on this number of charges, you're going to be incarcerated. I mean, for an extended period of time. So, I think my guess is we are seeing this move, we're seeing the indictments to the Russians last week, we've seen the lawyer earlier this week. Now, this. We're starting to see this thing pick momentum up. My guess is in the next couple of days, we'll hear from Gates or Manafort, or both on what their next play is because the ball now is quite clearly legally speaking in their court.

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the argument that you hear from team Trump is all of this happened before they worked on the campaign and more importantly at this, as far as we know, didn't have anything to do with Donald Trump, his orbit, or the campaign, which might be true as far as we know now, but it seems just echo what we just heard. It seems pretty clear that this is a push to get either one or both of them to plea to help with any informations they might have about the Trump campaign. The other -- only other thing that I would just say is, yes, Paul Manafort didn't work for Donald Trump for very long -- that is true. And it was after some of this started to come out in The New York Times that he was fired. Having said that, just like a basic background check before he's hired by the Trump organization, and by the Trump campaign, I should say, I would think would have at least put some flags out there.

CILLIZZA: Yes. His judgement remember --

BLITZER: Who's judgement?

CILLIZZA: Donald Trump's. We're going to hire the best people, believe me. Paul Manafort, yes, Dana's right, he wasn't involved in the campaign from day one until the end, but he was the campaign chairman brought in specifically to bring order to the process that Corey Lewandowski had run, and to win the delegate fight. This is someone who the most basic google searching would have turned up, Paul Manafort had a lot of dealings in these countries and even the most basic opposition research, it might not have turned this up, but would have suggested, oh, this might not be the best people.

BLITZER: Bianna, what do you -- what do you make of these new charges?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, don't forget, Paul Manafort was brought in to run the campaign for free. He worked pro bono even though he was largely indebted to a lot of these Russian oligarchs that he had worked for. So, you follow the money, you follow the money directly to Cyprus, which is a favorite laundering site for banks -- for Russian bankers and Russian billionaires and oligarchs.

[17:50:08] You look at who Manafort and Gates had worked for, that was the former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Where is he now? He's in exile in Russia. He was a pro-Putin President in Ukraine. You remember the ties that Manafort had with various oligarchs, including Oleg Deripaska once again tied to the Kremlin. And then, you look at Gates' legal team seemingly crumbling. You saw three of his attorneys leaving. There appeared to be some sort of deal that they were coming close to settling. That's blown up. So,

you see the wide scope of this investigation that Mueller has taken. And anybody that thinks it's near the end is quite mistaken.

BLITZER: You know, clearly, Phil, you used to work at the FBI, squeezing Manafort, Robert Mueller, big time. Manafort, as Jeffrey Toobin pointed out, is 70 years old. If he's convicted on all of these charges, he could wind up spending the rest of his life in jail. He wants Manafort presumably, correct me if I'm wrong, to cop a plea, to cooperate, because there are others he's going after as well.

MUDD: No, that's right. And I agree with the comments earlier. I don't think we're close to the end of the investigation. We may be months away from concluding the investigation itself, but the number of people who might be implicated over those months is pretty broad. I don't think this is just about Manafort and Gates. This is about following a money trail. If you look at both the Russian indictment, but if you look at both the Gates and Manafort indictments that includes many millions of dollars. One more thing I'd say about this, going back to the creation of the team that surround the special counsel, Mueller, some of those folks are involved in very complicated previous investigations like the Enron Investigation. Anybody who's facing that team ought to know, when they walk in that room, those lawyers at the other side of the table know how to find a dollar and they will not stop.

BLITZER: Chris, let's switch gears for a moment. What did you make of the speeches that were delivered today at the CPAC conference outside of Washington by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch?

CILLIZZA: I mean, I've seen Wayne's speech, it doesn't change that much, candidly, basically, every year at CPAC. This was a very similar speech to the ones he's given before, which is essentially, they, the elites, which by I think he means Democrats and the media, are trying to take away your law-abiding citizen right to bear arms. We can't let them. We're in danger like never before. I mean, there's a lot of similarities in the speech he gives. I think what you see between that, between what Dana Loesch said to Jake last night and then today at CPAC, and between the NRA taking the position that they oppose the proposal Donald Trump has at least floated. He supports raising the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21, that the NRA is sort of hunkering down. The NRA is not going to just let this go. I mean, they are going to fight this.

BLITZER: Let me guess, he told me that --

CILLIZZA: And if that's going to make it very difficult for Republicans --

BLITZER: Bianna, go ahead, what did you think?

GOLODRYGA: Well, it was just heartless for Dana to say that we in the media look forward to mothers crying over these mass shootings. Compare that to what she said last night to mothers and friends and loved ones of those who were killed. It was just cold, it was heartless. And by the way, it wasn't true. We would much rather be covering other stories than mass shootings. You don't have to be a parent in this country or a gun owner or not to say that these are horrific stories and I, for one, along with many others, put my journalism hat aside, would rather not send my kid to a fortress.

You know, you have plenty of concerns about teachers who are understaffed, underfunded, can't provide the adequate school supplies as needed, and yet now they're going to require training to carry guns? Where are these guns going to go? Are they going to be holding them -- holding them the entire day at school? I mean, there are so many questions that these ideas just are being thrown out, without any concrete details. And I just imagine what the rest of the world is thinking, looking at us, dealing with this crisis that continues to happen on a daily basis and it's a uniquely American crisis.

BLITZER: Very quickly, anything going to emerge from this?

BASH: Unclear, I just do think that what was different about Wayne LaPierre's speech today is that I don't think he ever imagined that it was going to be clearly directed at President Trump, who his organization spent $30 million plus to help elect.

CILLIZZA: That is true, yes.

BLITZER: Yes. There's clearly a difference between Wayne LaPierre and the President seems to be developing right now. We'll see if that lasts. There's more breaking news we're following. The special counsel drops a new bombshell with more charges against President Trump's former campaign chairman and close aide. And vowing action on gun violence, President Trump suggests arming teachers.


[17:54:56] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we need hardened sites. We need to let people know, you come into our schools, you're going to be dead. And it's going to be fast.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news: new indictment, stunning charges just reveal against former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his co-defendant Rick Gates. The special counsel playing hardball with two prominent figures in the Russia investigation. What's his end game?

Arming teachers, President Trump is arguing that attacks on schools would end if any educators carried concealed weapons. Tonight, he's all over the map tossing around proposals to address gun violence.