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Trump's Muddled Message on Guns; White House Silent on Interim Security Clearances; Hope for Calm in Syria. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:12] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. We have it fight them every once and a while. That's OK.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says he is willing to fight the NRA, but now appears to be backing off the proposals on guns after meeting with NRA brass.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Does Jared Kushner have access to classified information? The White House won't say even after the deadline to deal with clearance has come and gone.

BRIGGS: And a pause in fighting in Syria ordered by the Russian president. Why isn't it Vladimir Putin's call and is it holding on the ground?

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to have you back after a little R&R.

BRIGGS: Good to be back my friend.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, February 27th. It is 4:00 a.m. exactly in the East.

Lawmakers in the nation waiting for clarity from the president on guns. They're still waiting. The president mentioning a few possibilities when he spoke to governors at the White House. He was firm on one issue, the issue of bump stocks.


TRUMP: By the way, bump stocks, we're writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself, OK?


ROMANS: President Trump also told lawmakers he is willing to stand up to the NRA and they should be too.


TRUMP: Don't worry about the NRA. They're on our side. You guys, 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 and a while. That's OK.


BRIGGS: Despite that, the White House is backing away from the president's call to increase the age requirement for buying some weapons to 21.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want to raise the age of --

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: They did not bring up the age raising one time in that meeting. And again, the president is listening to the stakeholders here, the governors at the local levels. When they don't bring it up, that's very telling to him.


BRIGGS: Not as telling to us.

The president suggesting raising the age last week before sitting down with NRA leaders over the weekend.

ROMANS: Now the president is standing by his proposal to arm some teachers. At least the ones he says can handle it.


TRUMP: I want teachers to have guns. I want highly trained people that have a natural talent like hitting a baseball or hitting a golf ball or putting. How come some people always make a four-footer and some people can't even take their club back, right? Some people can't take their club back.


ROMANS: The president did renew his push for stronger background checks, but lamented the lack of better options for dealing with mentally ill.


TRUMP: We're going to have to start talking about mental institutions, because a lot of the folks in this room closed their mental institutions also. So, we have no halfway. We have nothing between a prison and leaving him at his house which we can't do anymore.


BRIGGS: The president also made a bold claim when he discussed a sheriff deputy who wanted to enter Stoneman Douglas High School while the mass shooting was under way.


TRUMP: You know, I really believe you don't know until you are tested. But I think I really believe I'd run in even if I didn't have a weapon. I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.


BRIGGS: CNN's Jim Acosta asked White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to clarify that remark.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was stating as a leader, he would have stepped in and help the number of the individuals that were in the school, the coach and other adults. And even a lot of the students stepped up to protect other students.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is he trained in firing a weapon? Is he trained in using a handgun or firearm of some sort?

SANDERS: I don't think that was the point he was making. He was saying that he would be a leader and would want to take a courageous action.


ROMANS: Critics pointing out five draft deferments?

BRIGGS: Bone spur.

ROMANS: Right. President Trump's suggestion of arming teachers troubling many officials including Washington state's Democratic Governor Jay Inslee.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen that educators should educate and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes. Now, I understand you have suggested this and we suggest things and sometimes we listen to people about it and maybe they don't look so good a little later. So, I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here and more listening and let's take that off the table and move forward.


ROMANS: It is not only Democrats who have concerns this morning.

For more this morning, our Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump is said to be with Republican lawmakers today at the White House from the Senate and the House of Representatives. Of course, one key topic on the agenda today is gun policy. The president has been talking about that for days here at the White House, of course, holding a listening session last week, meeting with the nation's governors here on Monday, talking specifically about gun policy.

[04:05:08] And, of course, he's talked a lot about arming school teachers. He believes that is a deterrent and way to keep people safe. One Republican governor, Florida Governor Rick Scott who was visiting the White House on Monday said he disagrees with his president's proposal.

Governor, you believe arming school teachers is not the way to go. Why?

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I believe you should make sure you have law enforcement. I'm going to work with my legislature. We're going to make sure there is significant law enforcement presence in all the schools. So, law enforcement is going to protect the schools, along with hardening, rather than having teachers. I want the teachers to teach.

ZELENY: Now, the White House is clear they have been in favor of many potential issues. They are just putting ideas on the table for discussion. But it does seem like the idea of arming teachers certainly is taking up the majority of the president's time. There is criticism of that idea on both sides. Of course, the NRA does support that plan.

On Wednesday here at the White House, a bipartisan meeting of legislators, specifically on guns. This suddenly is a priority for the White House and president -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you, sir.

An overwhelming majority of Americans say they want tougher gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting. But there's not much movement on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana repeating a line he's used before, insisting we need, quote, idiot control more than gun control.

ROMANS: Even modest proposals ran into roadblocks on Monday, including a plan to tighten reporting to the nation's gun background check system. House and Senate Republicans will hold closed-door meetings today, simply enforcing current background checks laws is not enough for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat says stopping there would be a dereliction of duty.

BRIGGS: The sheriff deputy who stayed outside Stoneman Douglas High School during the massacre says that state investigation will ultimately cleared him. Scot Peterson resigned after the shooting. He was armed but never entered the building.

Listen to what President Trump said about him and other deputies whose actions are now under scrutiny.


TRUMP: I got to watch some deputy sheriffs performing this weekend. They were not exactly Medal of Honor winners. The way they performed was, frankly, disgusting.


BRIGGS: The attorney for Scot Peterson says the attacks against the former officer's character are unwarranted. He says, quote, the allegations that Mr. Peterson was a coward and that his performance out of the circumstances failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue. Mr. Peterson is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate.

ROMANS: He said that there were reports of fireworks outside first. It sounded like the gunfire was from outside. He was trying to ascertain where the shots were coming from and he says he did everything by the book.

BRIGGS: A long way to go for public redemption though.

ROMANS: All right. Delta's decision to sever ties with the NRA may cost it a generous tax break. Delta is based in Atlanta, over the weekend. It stopped offering discounted flights to NRA members. That prompted a backlash from Georgia Republicans threatening to kill part of a current bill eliminating a state tax on jet fuel. That would save Delta millions of -- tens of millions of dollars.

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle tweeted this: Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back. Delta is one of a dozen companies breaking up with the NRA because their customers frankly are demanding it. They will no longer offer discounts -- special discounts to members of the NRA. The NRA calls this political cowardice, but Delta says its choice reflects its neutral status in the current gun debate.

Other companies are keeping NRA member discounts like FedEx. It says it never changed rates due to the customers' politics, beliefs or position on issues. But it did distance itself from the NRA's views. FedEx opposes assault rifles in the hands of civilians.

BRIGGS: Melania Trump says she is encouraged by students nationwide speaking up after the shooting in Florida. The first lady making a rare public appearance, addressing spouses of the nation's governors and she urged them to help America's young people find their voice.


MELANIA TRUMP, U.S. FIRST LADY: It's important that as adults, we take the lead and the responsibility in helping our children, manage the many issues they are facing today. This means encouraging positive habits with social media and technology, even limiting time online and understanding the content they are exposed to on a daily basis.


BRIGGS: Cheers to that.

The public comments from the first lady were her first since scrutiny of the marriage began over her husband's alleged affairs.

ROMANS: The White House is refusing to say whether any interim security clearances who were revoked last week. Earlier this month, Chief of Staff John Kelly ordered a stop to all interim clearances pending since June 1st.

[04:10:02] That includes Jared Kushner's. And that deadline passed on Friday. So, did anyone get their interim clearance revoked?


SANDERS: As we said many times before, we're not going to discuss individual clearances. That goes to a broader number or an individual number. So, I'm not going to get into that today just as I haven't in the past.


ROMANS: Kelly ordered the revocation of all interim security clearances and fallout from the Rob Porter scandal. That former White House aide served for one year under temporary clearance despite domestic abuse allegations against him.

BRIGGS: White House communications director Hope Hicks set to appear in a private meeting in the House Intelligence Committee. She is one of the president's longest serving aides. Her appearance delayed over whether she could discuss the transition and time at the White House. Hicks appears to have knowledge about the key events in the first year of the presidency. That includes the initial misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower.

Look, the House Intel Committee hasn't been instilling confidence in what Congress can do today based on the memos back and forth. She is claiming executive privilege.

ROMANS: We'll have to see.

BRIGGS: And we'd expect.

ROMANS: Eleven minutes past the hour. The decision to send Ivanka Trump to the Olympic closing ceremonies not sitting well with some inside the White House, including the chief of staff. We are live in Seoul, next.


[04:15:34] BRIGGS: The decision to send Ivanka Trump to South Korea for the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games is not sitting well with some senior officials in the West Wing. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Chief of Staff John Kelly was not enthusiastic about sending the president's daughter. With tensions looming over North Korea, the stakes were considered far higher and more complex than a typical closing ceremony. And overnight, we learned a key figure in the relationship between the U.S. and Pyongyang is leaving his post.

Let's go live to Seoul and get the very latest from CNN's Ivan Watson.

Hi there, Ivan.


That's right. The diplomat's name is Joseph Yun. He is the point man in the State Department dealing with North Korea, a veteran diplomat with more than 30 years in the Foreign Service. He insists he is retiring and that it's entirely due to his own decision. A State Department says, you know, Rex Tillerson, accepted that resignation with regret.

Former diplomats and colleagues of Mr. Yun, they're saying that this is a big blow to the State Department, that he is the best of the best, extremely experienced man who speaks Korean who had the very delicate assignment last year of going to retrieve Otto Warmbier, that American University student held for more than a year in North Korea. And then they discovered that he was in a coma and essentially dying when he was brought back to the U.S.

And they're saying that at this time of tension on the Korean Peninsula, you need experienced diplomats with their influential voices in Washington. This is a loss of yet one more. It also comes after Victor Cha, who was talked about as a possible U.S. ambassador here in Seoul, he has been overlooked for that job and warned about the threat of violence here on the Korean peninsula. To this day, there is no U.S. ambassador here in the Korean capital -- Dave.

BRIGGS: And we are left to wonder after the games, where does this relationship go from here?

Ivan Watson live for us, thank you.

ROMANS: The White House is demanding the Syrian government honor the cease-fire and stop bombing so humanitarian aids can get through. The calls come amid reports of chemical attacks begin launched against terrorized civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering a daily five-hour pause in hostilities in the battered Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. It runs from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Sam Kiley monitoring the latest developments live for us.

Sam, is the pause holding? And more importantly, why does Vladimir Putin get to call the shots. Does this show us just how much power and influence Putin has over the complex there? SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, the question of the pause. It is not holding. There has been at least one death according to multiple sources in the town of Douma in east Ghouta, very close to the capital. Damascus. There have been five surface-to-surface missiles fired into another neighborhood. There is skirmishing going on along the frontline.

There is less violence and there is less violence because Vladimir Putin has literally called the shots or at least instructed his effectively client state, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, to dial down on the violence, to allow this five-hour humanitarian pause.

This may well be international window dressing. Remember, there are 19 hours in which the whole area of East Ghouta has been turned into a kill zone for the rest of the day. It has had a devastating amount of fire power rained down upon it. Nonetheless, it does indicate that the Russians have great influence over the Damascus regime, not least because without the Russians, Damascus regime arguably would have collapsed about two years ago and Russians sent ground forces. They sent the Russian air force and above all, air defenses. And that has meant that any other international efforts put pressure on the Damascus regime have effectively been sideswiped.

ROMANS: All right. Sam Kiley for us in Istanbul -- thank you, Sam.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, how would you like it if you were on a plane and saw this right out the window. Fire from the engine on the Southwest jet, that's next.


[04:24:20] ROMANS: All 680 public schools in West Virginia are closed for a fourth day by an ongoing teacher strike. The walkout is affecting more than 277,000 students. Nearly 20,000 teachers hit picket lines last week demanding higher wages, better benefits.

West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation for average teacher salary. Governor Jim Justice signed legislation last week raising teacher pay, but teachers say it simply not enough. It doesn't address other concerns like health care costs.

BRIGGS: A terrifying ordeal for passengers and crew members on the Southwest Airlines flight. The plane just taken off from Salt Lake City for Los Angeles Monday morning when passengers heard a loud explosion.

[04:25:00] Next thing they knew, an engine was on fire.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have shooting flames on the side of the engine. I mean, it's crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got really, really scared and I started crying and I just started praying, holding my sister's hand. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Very composed young one there.

Passengers say the pilot remained calm as he completed an emergency landing. Another jet was brought in and passengers were flown to LAX.

All right. Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade getting emotional after learning Joaquin Oliver, one of the 17 people in the Parkland shooting, was in Wade's number three Heat jersey.


DWYANE WADE, MIAMI HEAT STAR: My mom always told me that my life was bigger than basketball, and I always carried that around. And I also understand the position that I'm in. This ability, that God has given me this unbelievable opportunity to play at this level. And, you know, I understand what comes with that, from the role model standpoint.


BRIGGS: Wade also tweeting in part, this is why we will not just shut up and dribble. That last part a reference to news host Laura Ingraham who suggested Wade's former teammate LeBron James should stop commenting on social issues.

ROMANS: And our hearts go out to the family of Joaquin Oliver.

BRIGGS: Yes, devastating.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump says he would have been ready to act at Stoneman Douglas High School.


TRUMP: I really believe I'd run in even if I didn't have a weapon.


ROMANS: All right. Now, the White House is suddenly backing off a proposal to raise the minimum age for owning certain guns. Just what is the president's position on gun safety and violence?