Return to Transcripts main page


Ivanka Trump Bristles Over Questions About Sexual Harassment Claims Against President; Trump and Guns; Florida School Massacre: Ex- Deputy Defends His Actions During Shooting. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2018 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says he would have rushed in to stop the Florida gunman even if he weren't armed.

His military academy classmates who served in Vietnam could not be reached for comment.

THE LEAD starts right now.


He's thrown out dozen of ideas, banning bump stocks, arming teachers, reopening mental institutions, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, but what exactly President Trump really is pushing to get done remains a big if, especially as Congress returns to work today.

The Florida school resource officer defending himself today after people all the way up to President Trump criticized him for his decision to stay outside the building, instead of running in. That deputy now says he was just following his training.

Then, she may be a first daughter, but she is also a senior adviser to the president flown around the world with taxpayer money to represent the United States. Do Ivanka Trump's family ties to the Oval Office really mean some questions from reporters should be off-limits?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump is pushing ahead on his proposals to try to prevent any further mass shootings and he is railing against the police handling of the Parkland tragedy.

Today, President Trump said the school officer on the scene choked and he declared that he, the president of the United States and former military academy student who repeatedly sought deferments to avoid service in the Vietnam War, he would have run into the building even if he didn't have a gun.

Those comments came while President Trump told a gathering of the nation's governors that he is ready to take unilateral action on at least one modest measure. And he assured them not to be afraid of the NRA because they're -- quote -- "on our side," as he revealed that he broke bread with three leaders of the gun rights groups over the weekend.

The president also spoke with House Speaker Paul Ryan about gun violence, a source tells CNN.

Let's go now to CNN's Jeff Zeleny at White House.

Jeff, the president spoke before a bipartisan gathering of governors today and one of the Democrats there had a rather pointed suggestion for the president.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that Democrat was Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state. He looked directly at the president standing across the State Dining Room and he said first grade teachers don't want to be pistol packing.

Now, clearly going after the presidents' proposal to arm teachers. He wasn't alone. We caught up with Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott after the meeting and he said he too opposes the president's plan, but he said he believes the president is committed to action.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump questioned the valor today of some police officers at the Florida high school shooting, insisting he would have stormed in unarmed.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe -- you don't know until you're tested, but I think I -- I really believe I would run in there even if I didn't have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.

But the way they performed was really a disgrace.

ZELENY: With multiple investigations under way about how authorities responded to the Valentine's Day shooting that killed 17 people, the president didn't hesitate weighing in during a meeting with the nation's governors.

TRUMP: There weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners. All right? The way they performed was frankly disgusting.

ZELENY: The president renewing his call to arm schoolteachers, who he said love the students and could do a better job protecting them.

Visiting the White House today, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, disagreed.

(on camera): Governor, you believe that arming schoolteachers is not the way to go. Why?

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I believe you ought to make sure you have law enforcement. What I'm going to do in Florida is, I have a $500 million focus. I'm going to work with my legislature. We're going to make sure there's significant law enforcement presence in all the schools so law enforcement is going to protect these schools, along with hardening, rather than having the teachers. I want the teachers to teach.

ZELENY (voice-over): The president also got an earful from some governors, including Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington state, who spoke out against arming teachers. He also offered this advice to Mr. Trump.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: So, I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here, a little more listening, and let's just take that off the table and move forward.

ZELENY: The president also said he wouldn't be afraid to go against the powerful gun lobby.

TRUMP: Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK.

ZELENY: First lady Melania Trump also taking the rare step of weighing in.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: I have been heartened to see children across this country using their voices to speak out and try to create change. They're our future, and they deserve a voice.


ZELENY: Certainly, gun policy discussions are on everyone's mind here from the White House to Capitol Hill as well.

Jake, again important to point out one thing the president did not say during an hour-long discussion on guns, he did not revisit that proposal to increase the age limit from 18 to 21 for buying some type of guns, as he mentioned last week.

Of course, we know the NRA strongly opposed to that, even though it is being proposed in Florida by the Republican Governor Rick Scott. The president, we're told, still supports it, but, Jake, he is not talking about it, at least in public -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Let's bring in my political panel for more on this.


It was such a stunning statement. I want to play it one more time. President Trump criticizing the response to the shooting from the sheriff's deputy and talking about what he would have done.


TRUMP: I really believe -- you don't know until you're tested, but I think I -- I really believe I would run in there even if I didn't have a weapon.


TAPPER: Kaitlan, can you explain? You have been following Trump for quite some time now. Does he really think that, you think?


TAPPER: Does he really think that if he had been there, he would have run into the site of a school shooting even if he weren't armed? Do you think he really believes that?


And as you saw, the press secretary said he wasn't saying he would have been able to use a firearm in that situation when Jim Acosta was asking if he's trained to use that, but he would like to think he would have done something courageous in that situation.

He's hampered that deputy, that sheriff's deputy, time and time again, calling him disgusting and going after him for not entering that school when he did. I can't personally speak to the president's courage in a situation like that. He said you don't know until you're tested, but he certainly likes to think that that's something he would have done.

TAPPER: I'm not going to defend the deputy, but I'm just wondering what you think about his comments there.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, the president -- a normal president, if I can put it this way, would have praised other people who have acted heroically in this situation.

And there were people at that very school.


TAPPER: Other deputies.


KRISTOL: Another policemen, other Army soldiers and Marines who acted heroically both here at home, Private Mensah. Remember that case in the Bronx in December when he ran into a burning building and saved four lives when he was off-duty I guess back home?

Anyway, that would be what a normal president would -- he wouldn't make it about himself.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you brought up the Army. So I hate to do this, but I think the reality of it is, Donald Trump can't talk about the Army and being courageous, because that leaves him very vulnerable, right?

We know that he skirted military duty. So, I'm interested to know just what he would do running into a situation.

TAPPER: He sought deferments during the Vietnam War.

RYE: Absolutely. I just would wonder why we think he would now run into an active scene, an active shooting scene, when he ran away from military duty.

I think also that regularly we see him running into conflict when it's electronic, but running away from it when it is real life. So I don't know what record we have to stand on there.


KRISTOL: One other point on that. Jake, you know an awful lot of young Marines and soldiers, and I know a few.


TAPPER: Your son is one of them.

KRISTOL: It is the last thing any of them would say. Right? An actual person who has...

TAPPER: Who has done it.

KRISTOL: Who has done it.

TAPPER: Yes. No, that's true.

Let's talk about where this is actually going in terms of legislation. Minutes ago, Sarah Sanders was asked about the president's proposals on gun legislation. It still does seem rather unclear. Take a listen.


QUESTION: The president did not mention whether he actually wants the age limit still lifted to 21, and yet previously he spoke about it. Can you clarify, is that still his position?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Something still being discussed. But a final determination and legislative piece has not been determined on that front yet.

QUESTION: Does president believe that background checks should apply to gun shows and Internet sales?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president believes that we should look at strengthening background checks. And we're looking at all of the different ways to do that and haven't made a final determination on what that should look like.


TAPPER: Kaitlan, does this sound at all like he's backing some of these things, especially raising the age limit to 21 for purchases of semiautomatics? COLLINS: She wouldn't even explicitly say any longer that the

president still supports that. And as we know, he's not brought it up in recent days.

But we're getting to the point where the White House is going to have to start offering specifics on what legislation they want to see. And we have got no specifics from that briefing there just now, not even on what he wants the background check system to look like.

He's been calling for it to be improved. They couldn't say explicitly that he still supports raising the age limit to 21. And I should note that he had lunch with several members, several officials from the NRA at the White House on Sunday who have roundly rejected that idea.

But also they couldn't say that. So far, his biggest idea has been arming teachers in schools with guns, and they still haven't been able to offer specifics on what that would look like. The president even admitted during that meeting with governors that he doesn't think there are that many people who he thinks are qualified to have a gun in a situation like that.

So there are still many, many questions left about what the White House is looking for. And I'm sure Republicans on Capitol Hill are wondering what those specifics are going to be before they get behind something.

TAPPER: Speaking of Republicans on Capitol Hill, Congress is back in town today.

Will the extraordinary response by the Parkland High School students push lawmakers to act or will any of the measures Trump is proposing?

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly joins me now live.

Phil, now Senate Republicans say they are trying to fast-track a measure that will strengthen background checks. Does it have a chance of passing the Senate and the House?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, the answer is no, Jake, and not because of the substance.

This is a bipartisan measure. And just to kind of clarify what this bill actually is, it's not a comprehensive universal background checks bill. This is the fix NICS bill. It is a bipartisan measure that essentially incentivizes better compliance with the existing background check system.

Why this doesn't have a clear path forward tonight, at least as Republicans are trying to move it, is twofold. One, there's a couple of Republicans, I'm told, who have some issues with the legislation, but there are also Democrats, most notably Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, who says this isn't enough.


In fact, Schumer, who is a co-sponsor of this bill, says passing the Fix NICS bill would be only "an abject failure" given everything else that they believe needs to be in this debate.

It really kind of underscores where this debate currently stands. Democrats want much a more full, a debate that involves a lot more specific proposals, a lot wider-ranger proposals. And Republican right now I'm talking to who still don't have a great sense of where the president stands are looking for more limited responses to what they've seen over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Where does that leave things? That's a very open question right now. Obviously, Republican in a very different place than Democrats. If they can't agree even on this small-bore proposal, Jake, it obviously raises questions about any future, any pathway forward over the next couple of days.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's take a look at some brand-new CNN polling that seems to show there's a surge of support for new gun laws, gun control laws. And 70 percent of the American people polled in a new CNN poll favor new stricter gun control laws, 27 percent oppose.

In October, after the massacre in Las Vegas, the number was just 52 percent support. And the 70 percent figure includes a majority of people who live in a gun owning household, as well as majorities across gender, race and age categories. It's the highest level we've seen since 1993, when of course there was the big push in the Clinton years for the Brady bill and what was called the assault weapons ban.

RYE: Yes. I think it what is interesting is, it's very clear that the American people are shifting, based on the number of tragedies we have seen.

I don't know what the tipping point was for this particular shooting, except for the brave kids. Right? The fact that they can take time out of their grief to say enough is enough. We don't want to lose anyone else. Even if they're people that we don't know.

I think what is unfortunate about this is, instead of the NRA leaning into saying, you can you know what, maybe we need on press reset, maybe there are some things that we have advocated for as a lobbying group that aren't right, maybe the fact we have written big checks to support candidates who normally support our policies isn't enough, maybe we need to really take another look.

And I think the fact they don't have a real pulse on where the culture is, is problematic. Just because you lobby for specific interests doesn't mean you can't ever change course when it is costing lives.

TAPPER: Bill, take a look at this. Among voters who say gun policy is extremely important when deciding whom to support for Congress, that's gun policy, not necessarily gun control, 62 percent are Democrats, 40 percent are Republicans.

This is a complicated issue for a lot of the red state Senate Democrats up for reelection this year who traditionally vote against gun registration when it comes up before them in the Senate. KRISTOL: Yes, they killed the last bill attempt under President


TAPPER: In 2013, yes.

KRISTOL: Gun legislation. It was about a dozen, I think, Senate Democrats voted against legislation supported by President Obama.

I mean, the conventional wisdom would be, you show that number now and right after Parkland, where Democrats say they care a lot about it. But at the end of the day, NRA members and supporters gun rights advocates will be the ones who Vote on that issue and the huge majority of voters will vote on the economy and many other issues.

I'm not so sure that hasn't changed. I sort of agree with Angela. Maybe it is different now. But I guess we will see. But the administration does, if they want something to happen, they have to take the lead.

I think the congressional process by itself is unlikely to produce legislation. It is complicated, gun policy legislation. I would have thought the age little of 21 is the one thing you could have come to agreement on. It is already, as I understand it, a 21-year-old federal law.


KRISTOL: For the purchase of handguns.

To say you should be 21 to purchase a semiautomatic rifle wouldn't seem like such a big step.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, President Trump keeps on saying, even though he didn't mention raising the age limit today, he keeps on talking about disagreeing the NRA when he thinks they're wrong. He did say that today.

I think there's part of him that wants to be a deal maker and would even possibly like to have taken on the NRA on one issue. But there's also part of him that so loyal and appreciates loyalty that maybe he's really torn here.


He certainly does feel the urge to do something here. That is very clear, that he is eager to do something. And it is interesting to see if he is going to put the NRA into a corner, because he keeps saying they're good people, they're on our side, they want to do something.

So what is going to happen when it comes to a head and he proposes something like raising the age limit, seriously he proposes it, and that's they disagree with? Because as the White House said last week, they don't expect to agree with the NRA on everything, which is an interesting thing for a Republican president to say.

And then today the president echoed that same sentiment. He doesn't know if they are going to agree on and everything. And if they don't, he will argue with them over it.

TAPPER: I want to show you guys this. I'm not sure if you saw it.

The president's reelection campaign sent out an e-mail using a photograph of President Trump with a 17-year-old survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It's Madeleine Wilford. In an e-mail, it does ask for donations to the Trump campaign.

Bill, any thoughts?

KRISTOL: One would wish that politicians, including the president, didn't use that kind of -- those photos or those kinds of appeals in e-mails for campaign donations.

[16:15:05] But I suppose they work.

But just to your point, I think it's -- you think about it. There are two big issues now when the president has shown some instinct to want to compromise and there's maybe, or retreated before pressure from what he cause his base, immigration and guns.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: And both are pending. DACA, which remains an issue that could be dealt with over the next couple of months. And now on guns. And it will be interesting to see which way the president goes as a political matter and as a substantive matter on both of these issues.

TAPPER: Angela, I want to give you a chance to respond to that fundraising appeal.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is absolutely disgusting. And there is no place where that's appropriate. I'm just grateful to the teen who was I think a close friend of that survivor saying I don't appreciate you using my friend's photo this way on Twitter. It's just like, again, thank God for the courage of these young people who are standing up and challenging us to be our better selves in this moment.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

As for the investigation in Florida and that school resource officer, the deputy who never went into the school, we're hearing his side of the story for the very first time and that's next.


[16:20:07] TAPPER: For the first time since the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, we're hearing the defense from the former Broward County sheriff's deputy who's been criticized for not entering the school as the massacre began to unfold.

Today, former deputy Scot Peterson's attorney explained his client's thoughts that the gunman was outside the school, not inside. Yet, Peterson has been assailed, not only by Broward County Sheriff Scot Israel who is fighting for his own job, frankly, but also by President Trump who today called Peterson's actions disgusting.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live for us in Parkland, Florida.

And, Martin, this defense of the former deputy comes almost two weeks after the tragedy. That's quite a while.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is quite a while. Yes, in fact, Jake, today, we got to hear from two voices, actually for the first time since this tragedy happened. One of them, a recovering victim. The other one, Scot Peterson.


MADDY WILFORD, STUDENT VICTIM: And I just would like to say that I'm so grateful to be here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Less than two weeks after she was shot, at least three times, student Madeline Wilford sending her appreciation and love to friends and first responders.

WILFORD: My mom said times like these when I know that we need to stick together. And I've seen a lot of like positive posts about what's been going on in the school. And I just love the fact that we're sticking together.

SAVIDGE: A contrast to controversy over what armed deputies did or did not do in the first moments after the shooting.

SCOT PETERSON, EX-DEPUTY: I've been a school resource officer for 25 years.

SAVIDGE: Former school resource officer Scot Peterson paints a very different picture than this one from the county sheriff.

SHERIFF SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: It makes me sick to my stomach that we had a deputy that didn't go in because I know if I was there, if I was on that wall, I would have been the first in along with so many of the other people.

TAPPER: I think there are a lot --

SAVIDGE: In a statement from his attorney, Peterson says when the shooting began, he received a call of firecrackers, and not gun fire in the area of 1200 building. Peterson says he ran to the 1200 building and upon arriving heard gunshots but believed those gunshots were originating outside, from outside of any buildings on school campus.

The statement goes on: Consistent with his training, Mr. Peterson took up a tactical position between the 700 and 800 building corridor corner.

The attorney also says his client did take action, saying that he was the first to notify the sheriff's office of shots fired and initiated a code red lockdown of the entire campus. The attorney also says the former school resource off her the presence of mind to tell authorities the review the school's security cameras to locate the gunman.

Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims that day.

ISRAEL: No, you --

SAVIDGE: Sheriff Israel told Jake on "STATE OF THE UNION" he's investigating reports that other deputies, also declined to go in. He was pressed on whether the sheriff didn't tell family sooner.

TAPPER: The families who are the CNN town hall and you could have disclosed --

ISRAEL: That's not -- we didn't -- I couldn't disclose it then because there was no corroboration, Jake. There was no confirmation.

TAPPER: Peterson's attorney says any talk of his client not meeting the standards of police officers are patently untrue.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was murdered in the attack, says Peterson's statements and the fury over Israel's leadership as sheriff changes nothing.

FRED GUTTENBERG, FATHER OF JAIME GUTTENBERG: I don't have sympathy for anybody right now that, you know, unfortunately didn't do what they needed to do to save my kid.


SAVIDGE: And Scot Peterson, again, through his attorney, Jake, is saying that he looks forward to testifying and talking with the FDLE, that's the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that's investigating the whole police response -- Jake.

TAPPER: Martin Savidge in Parkland, Florida, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

Phil, the attorney for Peterson says that he originally got a call for firecrackers, not for gunfire. And he thought the shooter was outside. Do you buy his excuse and explanation? Do you think this is going to change anything?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't buy it or not buy it. I don't care. I don't care about the sheriff saying he provided amazing leadership. I don't care about the excuse via a lawyer mouthpiece about what happened with the individual on the scene.

If you're involved with a crisis like this, I feel like from heaven, there are 17 souls looking down saying there's a simple question. It didn't work, what are you going to do? Instead, less than two weeks out, we have people saying, I didn't do anything wrong. I provided leadership. I didn't do anything wrong. I thought it was firecrackers.

Those kids are dead. The right question is, I'm sorry, it didn't work right. Let's take some time, it will probably take months, and determine what happened inside that school. I don't buy any of it.

TAPPER: Peterson's attorney also making some strong accusations against his former boss, Sheriff Scot Israel, including that the sheriff omitted facts about the response. I'm going to ask if that makes a difference when we come back from this quick break.


[16:29:02] TAPPER: And we're back with the first defense from the former sheriff's deputy who resigned after the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd is back with me.

And, Phil, despite mounting calls for him to resign, Sheriff Scot Israel, he's defending his leadership. Take a listen.


ISRAEL: I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence. I've given amazing leadership to this agency.

TAPPER: Amazing leadership?

ISRAEL: I've worked -- yes, Jake.


TAPPER: Your thoughts?

MUDD: I'm not sure what to say to this when there are 17 dead people. And this -- what I saw yesterday, what I witnessed in the interview, tells me he's got to go, not because you can guarantee that in an event like this, somebody is going to storm the building. What would do I? What would -- I'm not sure what I would do.

But I think when you saw that interview yesterday, when you saw his comments, the question is, going forward, when you have to look face to face at the families and say, we must do better, the answer yesterday was instead, we've got amazing leadership. I think he should go for one simple reason. As you go forward, how is that department, that county and those parents and children, are going to move forward when the sheriff is saying this went pretty well?