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New Poll on Russian Election Meddling; Trump Appears to Back Off Age Limits; Kelly Irked by Ivanka's Olympics Trip; Top U.S. Diplomat Retires; Parkland Massacre Revives Vegas Survivors' Trauma. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sixty percent say that the president, despite waking up talking about Russia, is not doing enough to prevent future influence. And one really fascinating point, 80 percent of Republicans, though, say that he is.

Lynn Sweet, that's a staggering split.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": And you have that divide, the partisan divide, in other parts of your new poll, too, which is very informative of the gap that exists in this nation when you talk about the perception of President Trump. You know, these elections are going to start rolling out in the weeks and months ahead when we have these primaries, Texas, Illinois and so forth. So this isn't just now an abstract issue about election security in 2018. We're actually heading into the first polling. And the White House, the voting apparatus in different states have to convince people that the vote is going to be legitimate and it's not being infiltrated in any way. So that is a reason, perhaps, why you have this partisan divide because President Trump has resisted this. Remember just a few months ago he had a voting commission that he had to disband because he wasn't setting up something that was seen as bipartisan.

BERMAN: Yes, it's fascinating to think back. It was only 2012, Sabrina, you know, Mitt Romney said that Russia was the greatest existential threat to the United States. He was mocked for it. So you go, though, from the standard bearer of the Republican in 2012 saying Russia's the greatest existential threat, to 80 percent of Republicans in our poll saying, you know, they're not concerned at all about Russian meddling.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, absolutely. And that's part of why you've seen this president try and cast the entire investigation as a witch hunt because it deflects from one of the core issues at hand, which is his own foreign policy toward Russia. Congress overwhelmingly passed on a bipartisan basis last year new sanctions against Russia, and the Trump administration moved last month to delay the implementation of those sanctions, which is something that has gone somewhat overlooked as a lot of the scrutiny has instead been on the particulars of the special counsel's investigation into whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow and whether or not the president obstructed justice. Now that, of course, is still significant. But in many ways it's

enabled the president to fixate more on the politics of the Russia investigation and not whether his administration is taking any serious measures to prevent foreign interference in the midterms and future elections, which it doesn't appear that they've taken any concrete steps to do so.

BERMAN: So, Molly, if we can talk about guns for one second, because one of the very few concrete proposals that the president supported in the days after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, was, you know, raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21. And it was so notable because the NRA was against it. Nevertheless, the president said it, said it again, said it again, and he tweeted it. But now it seems to have disappeared some. And our Jim Acosta is reporting that the president seems to be backing away. That's the sense that Republicans on Capitol Hill are getting right now.

I know you've been skeptical from the beginning that Congress would take any action, Molly. Is this a sign perhaps of the imminent inaction?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Potentially. I mean, look, we just haven't seen this president able to exert focus and sustained leadership on the details of policy at any point in his presidency. It's not really his strong suit. And so, you know, you say concrete proposal. I mean it was something he said, but it isn't something that the White House put in writing as a proposal.


BALL: It isn't something that the president took to Congress and said this is the thing that I want you to do and here's how. He's floating a lot of things. And, to me, they're just trial balloons. And he's seeing what people like and people don't. He's hearing back what feedback he gets. In this case, potentially that feedback from the NRA saying we can handle some of the other things that you're talking about. Even things that are somewhat in the territory of gun control, but we don't like this one. And so he is potentially trimming his sails.

But the bottom line is, Republicans in Congress are just sort of sitting on their hands until they figure out exactly what he does want them to do and what he's going to give them political cover for. And when he hasn't made up his -- seemingly hasn't made up his mind and the White House hasn't committed to anything, Republicans in Congress are definitely not wanting to go out on that limb for fear it's going to get sawed off behind them, as it has before.

BERMAN: It's an interesting idea.

Lynn Sweet, we're going to hear from the House speaker, Paul Ryan, in just a few minutes right now. So you think he's going to come out, speak to cameras in this moment where everyone's saying, what are you going to do, Congress, and he's going to say, not sure yet?

SWEET: I think that's what he will say. But the other thing to keep an eye out for, John, is whether or not President Trump decides to use executive actions to make some changes. President Obama did that and -- because he couldn't get Congress to act. And we know that executive actions can be voided by the next president. So there is something that Trump could do if he wanted to.

That's why the longer you wait until after one of these tragedies, the harder it is to keep this momentum going. The only difference here, I think, is that you have these students who have emerged as very articulate spokesmen for the cause of doing something. And Trump now -- this is one of the issues, because it's a -- it is clear-cut when he tweets the age is 21, I think it's easier for people to measure, will he do something on age or not. This is not a complex question, this one.

[09:35:27] BERMAN: Yes. It will be interesting to watch. We should note, the president says he is going to use executive measures to ban bump stocks. That is something that the processes have begun. That also is concrete. We will see when that is completed.

Sabrina, if I can, I'm going to switch gears now to Ivanka Trump because yesterday we saw her in an interview. Remember, she was over in South Korea as an official representative of the United States. She flew over there on taxpayer dollars. She's a senior adviser to the president, whose last name happens to be Trump, and she didn't think she should answer questions about accusations against the president because she was the president's daughter.

This morning we're learning from CNN reporting that there's some dissent from inside the White House about the very fact that Ivanka Trump was sent on this very important trip to South Korea given, I think, the sensitivities right now on the Korean peninsula. Maybe John Kelly didn't want her to go, but he was told, hey, don't fight this fight, you're not going to win it. Do you think there is that level of tension inside the White House?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that there has been some tension certainly that we're aware of between Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and other factions within the White House who have been more skeptical of all that they've played. But I think that there has been a blurring of the lines within this administration where you have someone who is not just a senior adviser to the president, but also a member of his family, taking very high profile positions.

You know, you recall in one of the foreign trips, she sat in the president's seat. That was another move that drew criticism. And I don't think that in the scheme of the news cycle and many of the issues that at any given hour we're talking about, these little nuances, get the same attention that they would had this been any other administration.

But I think that, more importantly, in this critical moment on the Korean peninsula, I think there are many people who would, of course, argue that there should have been a representative from the administration who had more influence in foreign policy, particularly at a time when there are escalating tensions and you don't know what could transpire during that visit. BERMAN: All right, Sabrina, Molly, Lynn, thanks so much for being with

us. Appreciate it, guys.

SWEET: Thank you.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

BALL: Thank you.

BERMAN: The United States top diplomat in charge of North Korea says he is out. This was a surprise retirement. What does it mean as the U.S. puts, quote, maximum pressure on the North Korean regime.


[09:41:46] BERMAN: All right, breaking news. We are hearing from the White House that the president has struck a deal with Boeing to order some new jets that will serve as the new Air Force One. Two jets, to be clear. He wants them ready by 2021. That's a little bit earlier than had been previously determined before.

Now, one key here is the price. The White House says that this will be a deal for $3.9 billion. You'll remember some time ago, as the president was coming into office, he tweeted -- he complained that Boeing wanted the deal to be for $4 billion. The president thought $4 billion was too much for the Air Force One jets. He negotiated them all the way down to $4 billion, essentially, $3.9 billion. I should note now, though, that the White House says the original estimate was more than $5 billion. So they say -- the White House does -- they're saving more than a billion dollars. They want the jets by 2021. We'll have more on that.

In the meantime, a huge shakeup at the State Department as one of the nation's top diplomats suddenly calling it quits. Joseph Yun, the key figure in charge of North Korea policy, retiring at the end of this week. Very quickly.

Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson joins us now with the very latest.

Ivan, what have you learned on this?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of State, he has reluctantly accepted this resignation coming from Joseph Yun, the man who was the special representative since 2016 on North Korea. Now, Yun tells CNN that this retirement is completely his own decision. A lot of his colleagues are saying this is a big loss to the State Department because Yun is a more than 30-year veteran of the U.S. foreign service with a lot of experience here in east Asia. He had that delicate and ultimately tragic assignment last year of traveling to Pyongyang to try to retrieve the imprisoned American university student Otto Warmbier, only to then learn that he was basically dying of brain damage, in a coma.

And so some of the former State Department officials that we've talked to are saying this is a setback because now diplomacy is more important than ever here in Korea after a year of missile launches and nuclear tests, personal insults hurled by the North Korea leader, by President Trump, and now North Korea indicating that it -- the doors are open to talking to the U.S. And, recall, there are a lot of diplomatic posts still vacant right now, including the U.S. ambassadorship here in Seoul, still empty.


BERMAN: Ivan Watson for us in Seoul, South Korea.

Ivan, thanks very, very much.

This morning, new images days before the deadly ISIS ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers in Niger. National Geographic has been airing never before seen footage prior to that deadly mission. In it, 25-year-old Sergeant La David Johnson, you can see him laughing, enjoying a meal with his unit. The footage also revealed that Johnson was not only a mechanic, he also worked as a barber.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did you learn to cut hair?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you serious?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, YouTube. So I watch videos. I sat here and just cut my own hair.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keeping it regulation.

[09:45:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there something you haven't been able to fix or do that you've been asked to do on this trip?






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when you figure out what that is, let us know and we'll make sure you get trained on it. Or you can just watch YouTube, like you did with hair cutting.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: We're told that U.S. officials are focusing on Mali as they hunt for the attackers who killed La David Johnson and his fellow soldiers.

This morning, a Harvard educated doctor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remains missing. Dr. Timothy Cunningham disappeared without a trace, last seen on February 12th. That's when he left work complaining that he felt ill. His family tells CNN, they noticed something was not right after a phone call with their son the day before his disappearance. Cunningham's parents have been told four times that a body has been found, only to find out each time it was not their son. God, that's horrible. There's a $10,000 reward for any information about this case.

All right, we are watching Capitol Hill very, very closely. The president's key aide, Hope Hicks, due to arrive any second to testify behind closed doors. How much will she be willing to say? How much will Congress try to force her to say? Stay with us.


[09:50:40] BERMAN: Tomorrow, in Parkland, Florida, students return to class for the first time since the mass shooting there. The challenges they face being acutely felt by survivors of another shooting just months ago. Fifty-eight people killed in Las Vegas. Now the survivors of that massacre are telling the Parkland students, we have your backs.

CNN's Sara Sidner has their story.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, yes, these survivors were brought back to their most terrible place after seeing what happened in Parkland, but they do want to let the Parkland students know that indeed they will heal. But it will be a very long road.


CHELSEA ROMO, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: My cheek was shattered. So my scar is my eyebrow and then it goes over a little bit further.

CHRISTINE CARIA, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: When you see somebody get shot in the head, you want to get involved.

HEATHER GOOZE, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: There was no life left in this boy that was with me.

SIDNER (voice over): Gunfire altered all of their lives during the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Nearly five months later, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, brought their terror right back.

CARIA: I had an automatic reaction. I couldn't control it. I went into the bathroom and I started vomiting. I was on the floor in a fetal position for two hours. SIDNER: they know what these children are going through, and the long

road to recovery. Mother of two, Chelsea Romo, still has many surgeries to get through after shrapnel tore through both of her eyes, initially blinding her.

ROMO: I thought about, as my daughter grew up and not seeing her get married or seeing her become a woman and seeing her face as she matures, like, oh, it crossed my mind, and that's why now I thank God every day.

SIDNER: She is now laser focused on simply seeing her children grow.

Survivors Heather Gooze and Christine Caria are helping other survivors, while nursing psychological wounds. Gooze spent hours holding bullet-riddled strangers as their lives slipped away.

GOOZE: He got shot in the back of the head. So I reached under and I was holding a jeans jacket to the back of his head. The jacket had dropped and my finger was in the bullet hole in the back of his head.

SIDNER: Paige Melanson was hit in the elbow. Her mother, shot in the chest. She's still in the hospital, awaiting her tenth surgery.

These survivors agree, America's leaders have not done enough to tackle a uniquely American problem.

PAIGE MELANSON, LAS VEGAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I mean after the Las Vegas shooting, they said it's not the right time to talk about guns. After the Texas shooting, they said, it's not the right time to talk about guns. After Parkland, oh, let them grieve, they don't -- it's not the time. When is going to be the time?

CARIA: We all don't want to see babies die. We don't want to go to a concert or a church and feel like we're going to get killed. We can do better than this as a nation.

SIDNER: Caria, a mother of two, is convinced a ban on semi-automatic assault style weapons and bump stocks is a good start. Her conviction so strong she became the president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Brady Campaign against gun violence.

GOOZE: I'm very pro Second Amendment. I love guns.

SIDNER: Heather Gooze never thought new gun legislation was need until being covered in the blood of strangers.

SIDNER (on camera): Do you have a problem with AR-15 assault style rifles?

GOOZE: Yes. I have -- I have a problem with any -- with a killing machine.

SIDNER: You have a problem with bump stocks?

GOOZE: One hundred percent.

SIDNER: And why is it hard for you to say we need to ban AR assault style weapons?

GOOZE: If people hear us say we want to get rid of one certain type of gun, all they hear is, you want to take my guns away.

SIDNER: Are you trying to take their guns away?


GOOZE: No. One hundred percent no. But is this a killing machine? Yes. Is it being used to commit mass murder? Yes. You know what, we need to start somewhere.


SIDNER: But not all of the victims of the Vegas mass shooting believe that new gun legislation is the answer. Heather Gooze knows that all too well. She says she's lost some friends over her new stance on guns. She's also been trolled quite strongly online. And it's really hurt her as she tries to heal from the psychological wounds of that day.


BERMAN: Sara Sidner, thanks so much. What important and yet what painful insight to have.

All right, we're just moments away from two big events on Capitol Hill.

[09:55:01] First, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, no one, no aide closer to the president over the last two years, she will testify before the House Intelligence Committee. We're getting word they expect her to answer every question. Really?

Plus, House Speaker Paul Ryan about to address reporters. What will Congress do, if anything, to make gun safety a paramount issue? We're following it all very closely.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

[09:59:57] A big moment in the Russia investigation. The White House communications director, who does virtually no communicating in public at least, is set to appear in private before the House Intelligence Committee.