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Trump Doubles Down on Guns in Classrooms; Former Trump Aide Pleads Guilty in Russia Probe. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And so all of this plays into that.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's also worth noting, Wolf, the president was not asked about this today at a press conference. He -- he hasn't had a real press conference in over a year.

So, it's -- the opportunities to ask him about this stuff are few and far between.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He was shouted questions at the end of the photo-op in the Oval Office, when he was there with the prime minister of Australia.

They shot him questions about Rick Gates. The president ignored those questions. And was the pool escorted out of the Oval Office.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This could be a long weekend for tweets.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We are going to continue our special coverage right now.

Brooke Baldwin picks it up -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, we will take it. Thank you so much.

We are going to continue with breaking news. Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has just pled guilty to two criminal charges in Robert Mueller's wide-ranging investigation into Russia's election meddling. Gates revealing in a letter to family and friends that he had a -- quote, unquote -- "change of heart" and would not be fighting these charges against him.

This guilty plea is a sign that Gates is now willing to offer up incriminating investigation against the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

So, Shimon Prokupecz is with me, CNN crime and justice reporter.

Evan Perez, our justice correspondent, just came out of court. So, Evan Perez, let me begin with you. Tell me what happened.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, it was a surreal scene.

I was here when Rick Gates was charged. And the scene was quite different today. He sat quietly, listened as the judge read from these court documents. And then he said, "Yes, Your Honor," repeatedly, as she asked him he understood that what he was doing was pleading guilty, and he was giving up his right to certain rights, exactly, especially the fact that he might not be able to appeal the sentence that he is about to get.

He said he understood, for instance, that his cooperation with special counsel Mueller would affect his sentence. At this point, the judge told him that he could get between 57 and 71 months in prison. He is a man in his 40s, Brooke. He has kids. This is something that has been weighing on him.

We know that he has been in talks with the special counsel's office for well over a month over whether or not to do a plea agreement. And it is during one of those meetings with the special counsel on February 1, during what's known as a proffer agreement meeting, that he lied, according to the special counsel. That's one of the two charges he pled guilty to.

One of them is to defraud the United States. The second one is a false statement charge. Again, that false statement, according to the government, came and Rick Gates now admits came during a meeting with the government earlier this month, where he was being interviewed by the FBI and the special counsel as part of a prospective plea agreement.

Now, we do have a statement that just came in from Paul Manafort. And he says -- quote -- "Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled guilty, I continue to maintain my innocence. I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have the strength to continue this battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface, he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled-up charges contained in the indictment against me."

Brooke, he's referring to, obviously, the fact that not only does he face 12 counts here in this court here in Washington, where I'm standing, but also 32 counts that were filed just yesterday in Alexandria, Virginia. Paul Manafort maintains his innocence.

BALDWIN: OK.

So, Shimon, so we have the statement that Evan just read from Paul Manafort. We know that Rick Gates was basically Manafort's right-hand man for years and years, had a front-row seat to a lot. What does this guilty plea mean for Paul Manafort?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and also a front-sow seat or at least a seat during the Trump campaign. What does this mean for the Trump campaign? For Manafort, he knows everything. Right? If you read these

indictments, in these two indictments, one that was handed down yesterday, you learn a lot about this scheme, this alleged scheme certainly that Manafort was involved in.

He knows a lot. But the key question, I think, as Evan has said, is what exactly does the special counsel, what does the FBI, what do these prosecutors that are assigned to special counsel, what exactly do they want from him? Yes, it's his cooperation against Manafort, but it's also every indication that they want to put pressure on Manafort.

There just seems to be a mounting amount of evidence now where, for Manafort, perhaps, it could be very difficult for him to win a case at trial. Now, while the statement from Manafort certainly indicates he has no intention of pleading guilty or cooperating, we will see. There could be more information that comes out down the line.

And certainly, based on a lot of the reporting that both Evan and I have done, there has been a lot of focus from the FBI, from the investigators on Manafort, because there's every indication that he has information and that they need, they want the information that he has.

[15:05:00]

And if you look at how they have been proceeding in this case and how they've been going, sort of chipping away at different people, gaining cooperation, and let's keep in mind that is this now the third person associated to the president's campaign that has pleaded guilty and is cooperating.

You have George Papadopoulos, the former campaign adviser, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and now Rick Gates. That's three people who had a seat at the table, who were part of the campaign are now cooperating with the special counsel.

BALDWIN: These smaller fish leading to the even bigger fish.

Shimon and Evan, thank you so much for all of your reporting.

And just for some perspective, I have with me now CNN contributor and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean.

So, John Dean, first just on this whole letter we have seen now from really a more emotional Rick Gates, this whole I have had a change of heart and now the guilty pleas, how often do you see something like this? And what does it indicate to you?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You generally don't see letters published like this, because most cases where people plea don't have this kind of attention on them. And it's done privately and quietly.

But he obviously wanted to send a statement to a broader public here. That's why it's happened in this case. I'm sure it happens often. I'm somebody who pled guilty at one stage and indeed warned my family beforehand, exactly. But I didn't have a change of heart because I felt that way for a long time.

BALDWIN: On Gates' flipping, help us understand what kind of information he can will be able provide to Mueller team to help them in their larger investigation.

DEAN: Well, it's clear that they want Manafort, and they're putting a lot of pressure on him. They have got indictments in two different cases, one in the Eastern District, one in the District of Columbia, tax evasion, tax fraud, money laundering. It's serious stuff.

And the government is very good at proving these cases. Manafort knows he's got to make a choice of trying to get a technical error or some kind in his case or something and prolong it and defer getting to jail or he's going to have to decide to cooperate.

But if he is convicted, they can still get his testimony. He can be summoned in front of a grand jury, immunized for further liability, and then forced to testify.

There also is, of course, the Gordon Liddy option, which is you never talk to anyone under any circumstances until after you write a book seven or eight years after the fact. I don't think he's going to do that, though.

BALDWIN: Of all what Rick Gates has seen, right, whether it's having worked for Manafort for years, being part of the Trump campaign, one key moment that seems central to a lot of this is that Trump Tower meeting, right, with the Russians that was orchestrated by Don Jr.

And I'm wondering, if Rick Gates now cooperating, John Dean, might they get more information because it was Manafort who also sat in on that meeting?

DEAN: Yes, that's possible. It's very possible he knows a lot.

He certainly has Eastern European connections, Russian indirect connections. He certainly was in an interesting situation when he joined the campaign. He needed money badly. And suddenly after he joined the campaign, lots of money started coming his way. There are lots of things going on here.

His statement last night was very curious, in that he raised the fact of collusion, in saying that he would not address all these situations. So, that was kind of -- could be read almost as a threat to Trump that he knows a lot and he can talk about a lot.

BALDWIN: We talk about the smaller fish and then the big fish, right? So, you have Papadopoulos. You have Flynn. And now you have Gates, all of whom are cooperating with the Mueller team.

If you are Paul Manafort -- and, again, there is so much we don't know. But if you are advising him, what are you telling him right now?

DEAN: I think you have to tell him that he has a great likelihood he is going to spend the rest of his life in prison, that Mueller looks like he has a case beyond a reasonable doubt, even before Gates pled.

And now, with Gates pleading, his business partner, I mean, this is really trouble. So, we may hear more about this.

[15:10:02]

The other thing that is not resolved right now is his bail situation.

BALDWIN: Right.

DEAN: Since he pled in October, they haven't been able to get the right security for the bail.

Now, the courts will give him every break they can, because our system, we provide bail and we don't put people in jail. And the standard is pretty high to actually confine somebody. But if he doesn't come up with some resources and some reason for them to believe he is going to show up at trial, he may well get confined even before his trial.

BALDWIN: Before I let you go, I want to ask one question on that news conference between the Australian prime minister just president, where President Trump was asked about this whole security clearance situation over at the White House, and he was asked specifically about Jared Kushner, who we all know doesn't have full security clearance because of this Mueller investigation.

Let me just play part of that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, General Kelly, who is doing a terrific job, by the way, is right in the middle of that.

We inherited a system that's broken. It's a system where many people have just -- it's taken months and months and months to get many people that do not a complex financial, you know, complicated financials. They don't have that. And it's still taken months. It's a broken system.

And it shouldn't take this long. You know how many people are on that list, people with not a problem in the world. So, that will be up to General Kelly. General Kelly respects Jared a lot, and General Kelly will make that call. I won't make that call. I will let the general, who is right here, make that call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So he started by saying, you know, he feels like Jared Kushner has been treated unfairly, that he's not making a dime for his work there in the West Wing, and, as you heard him, he believes Kushner's future is up to General Kelly. What did you make of that response?

DEAN: Well, I'm not exactly a Trump fan. But I have got to say that was a presidential answer, and that's exactly what he should have said.

Kelly's authority in this area stems directly from the president. The president has the power to issue a waiver. He could cut Jared slack and give him a clearance. He is doing it properly in this instance. And something has gotten in his mind that he should do it properly.

I don't know what that is, because most things he doesn't do properly.

BALDWIN: But this one, presidential answer.

DEAN: This one is good.

BALDWIN: And it's up to the chief of staff.

John Dean, thank you so much, as always. Appreciate you.

DEAN: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here, President Trump also doubling down on these insults for the Stoneman Douglas school resource officer who failed to enter that school as those shots were fired. Moments ago, the president saying school security guards -- quote -- "don't love the children."

We will get reaction from a man who used to be one.

Also ahead into CNN, past 911 calls from the Florida gunman made talking about his own emotional state, in his own words, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:15]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Moments ago, President Trump wrapped up his joint news conference with the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The two leaders stood in contrast, President Trump in the wake of the deadliest shooting since Sandy Hook standing next to the leader of a nation that has been hailed for addressing its own gun problem.

In fact, taking you back, 1996, a single shooter murdered 35 people in Australia, leading to major changes in gun laws there. Thousands of guns were bought back. Background checks were strengthened. And now Australia is actually among the high-income nations with fewer gun deaths.

President Trump did speak of gun reform today, pushing once again for select, well-trained teachers, perhaps former military, to also be armed. But he made the case while pointing out that the one armed officer on site during last week's massacre failed to enter the building as students were under siege.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And, frankly, you had a gun, and he was outside as a guard and he decided not to go in. That was not his finest moment. That, I can tell you. He waited and he didn't want to go into the school. I just heard this. And it's a terrible situation.

But we need people that can take care of our children. We're not going to let this happen again. See, a security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn't love the children, probably doesn't know the children.

The teachers love their children. They love their pupils. They love their students.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Joining me now, CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of "SMERCONISH" right here on CNN.

And, Michael, I just -- I want to begin with that comment from the president, right? He was talking about specifically about this armed deputy who did stay outside the school, a man the president referred earlier today to as a coward.

The president's argument is arm teachers, arm former military, and you heard what the president said. But we dug up some sound. This is actually from this specific school deputy. This is back in 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: We will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older.

Let me repeat. We will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older.

TRUMP: And, frankly, you had a gun, and he was outside as a guard and he decided not to go in. That was not his finest moment. That, I can tell you. He waited and he didn't want to go into the school. I just heard this. And it's a terrible situation.

But we need people that can take care of our children. We're not going to let this happen again. See, a security guard...

[15:20:01]

SCOT PETERSON, SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER: I'm Scot Peterson. I have been a police officer for 30 years. I have been a school resource officer for 25 years.

And go Eagles, anyway. And I have also been a ROKS (ph) officer at Atlantic Technical Center for the past 15 years. I'm almost on my way out. I'm 30 years.

So, I have other police officers that they have made homes there. You know, they're part of that community. We're all here for the same goal, to protect our kids, to protect our property.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: There he was. That's Scot Peterson. That's the deputy who didn't go in.

And I just wanted you to comment on the president's comments about how these you know, these school deputies don't know, don't love the kids. How do we know that? Is that a fair comment?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I sure hope we get to hear from this deputy before all is said and done, because you're right to use that C-word, coward.

That is the way in which he has been portrayed not only by the president, but also by law enforcement in Broward County. And I keep asking myself, is there a benign explanation?

I don't know what it might be for his inaction. Perhaps, Brooke, he knew what he was up against. I presume that the deputy only had a firearm, only had...

BALDWIN: He had a handgun.

SMERCONISH: ... a handgun and was up against an AR-15.

BALDWIN: That's right.

SMERCONISH: But I think it's a leap of faith to say as a general proposition that someone working in that capacity doesn't have the love that a math teacher, a librarian or a cafeteria worker would have.

Perhaps what is concerning of the president is that it defeats the argument, the idea that if only there were someone in that school with a weapon, then this could have been averted. I suspect that he's trying to thwart that observation.

BALDWIN: Yes. I would like to hear from the deputy, too. But it sounds like, if he has been part of this community for years and years and years, how could he not care about these young people?

Let me ask you about the Florida governor, Rick Scott. He has this whole gun proposal. He is this hard-core Republican. He's a friend of the president's. And he said some things that even Republicans in the NRA won't like, most notably -- and this was agreeing with the president on this -- raising the age limit of purchasing any firearm.

Michael, that is significant.

SMERCONISH: I think it's significant.

I think it's the second time this week, the first being the CNN town meeting when Senator Rubio reversed a position that he has held for a long time. It shows that there is some movement on an issue where heretofore there's been no compromise from either side.

So I'm heartened by the fact that Rick Scott and Marco Rubio seem headed in that direction. Still, I think there's more that should be done. And I don't think it's even that controversial.

I don't think we have to get to the real rub of the Second Amendment to figure out what this case really represents. And what it really represents was a failure of data integration and data management. This was not Ted Kaczynski.

This guy was not only on the grid. He was so well known to law enforcement. In fact, Brooke, he was even well known to the aforementioned deputy officer who didn't take action. That individual had been specifically warned about this particular student, whose name I don't want to use.

BALDWIN: Right. No, but I watched your whole video on Facebook. And your whole point going all the way back to Mississippi when the FBI banged on the door of the YouTube poster, all the way through.

The calls came, the law enforcement going to school -- to his home, rather. And the point is, you know, we live in a Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple kind of world where this isn't a Ted Kaczynski. This guy was totally on the grid.

And your point was maintaining respect for civil liberties, but law enforcement needs to do better on managing data.

SMERCONISH: This is an incomplete list.

But consider that the FBI was twice warned specifically. Social media, he had a profile where he was threatening -- 23 police calls to his House, a DCF file that was extensive, an expulsion, fighting, and, not the least of all, the purchase of the murder weapon and the purchase of other firearms.

Of course, we don't have a national data list for the purchase of guns. That's a flash point. But, as I like to say, catching this guy in advance was a keystroke away. And to your observation, it is a Google, Amazon, Facebook type world in which we live.

And I have to believe if there were a better cross-tabulation of information about someone like him, that it could have been averted.

BALDWIN: I know. It makes -- your point makes total sense. I know you're going to get into it on your show tomorrow morning.

SMERCONISH: I am.

We watch you, "SMERCONISH," 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Thank you so much for your time.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I always appreciate talking to you.

Coming up next here on CNN, we are going to hear the voice of this Florida shooter in these chilling 911 calls that were just released. And the reason why we're playing these is just to help people hear his emotional state. This was just a couple of months ago. I will also be joined live by a

teacher who survived the shooting -- what she thinks about guns in the classroom and the changes proposed by Governor Rick Scott.

[15:25:01]

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: President Trump is doubling down on his proposal today to arm teachers, suggesting -- quote -- "Adept and highly trained teachers with guns would help prevent future school massacres."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This may be 10 percent or 20 percent of the population of teachers, et cetera.

It's not all of them. But you would have a lot. And you would tell people that they're inside. And the beauty is, it's concealed. Nobody would ever see it, unless they needed it. It's concealed. So, this crazy man who walked in wouldn't even know who it is that has it. That's good. That's not bad. That's good.

And a teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: This as teachers and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are returning back to work and walking through the very same very halls where so many were killed last week.

Holly Van Tassel-Schuster is an 11th grade English teacher at Douglas.