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Students and Teachers Return to School After Shooting; Dick's Sporting Goods Will Stop Selling Assault Style Rifles; Is Bob Mueller Overstepping?; Evangelist Billy Graham Honored at U.S. Capitol. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 28, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Emotional words there from the fathers of Jamie Guttenberg and Meadow Pollack, two of the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Today, students and teachers who survived that massacre, two weeks ago, returning to class. And this is what it looked like inside the school.

You can see a sign that reads "MSD Strong", an empty student's seat, classmates gathered together in the hallways.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is now outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Kaylee, an emotional day. Take us inside the mood there.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, today it was a roller coaster. As one teacher just described it to me, emotional for sure, cathartic for many. Some students quieter than others, but there was a shared moment of silence as the school day began. Seventeen seconds of silence, one for each victim.

That moment followed by the singing of the school's alma mater. As one student told me, he doesn't think anybody really knows the words to that song, but today he heard it sang louder than ever. The pride that these students have for being an Eagle, tremendous.

The freshman building where the attack occurred still stands, and students have to walk by it. A reminder of February 14th. That building eventually will come down though.

But also, empty desks that those 14 students whose lives were lost, once sat in. But as one student, a tenth grader, Tanzil Philip, described to me, they're not trying to ignore what happened here.


TANZIL PHILIP, SURVIVED FLORIDA SCHOOL MASSACRE: My English teacher, she was grazed by a bullet. She showed us her wound. She talked about what happened.

And I think it's important that we all talk about it. It's really painful to talk about, but the more we talk about it, and the more we get our message out there, the more impact it's going to have.


HARTUNG: Tanzil went on to tell me, tomorrow won't be any easier, but so many of these students continue to channel their grief into their passion, demanding change. A meeting this afternoon for students to discuss that march on Washington, John.

KING: Kaylee Hartung in Parkland. Kaylee, appreciate the reporting. Tough day. Thank you so much.

Back here in Washington, the big conversation is, will the student survivors get what they want, which is not just in Florida but national action on gun control. The president meets later this afternoon with some lawmakers to talk again about this.

The administration has been all over the map about what it wants. Sometimes they're for this, sometimes they're for that. What are we expecting?

I'll start with you, Jeff, since you covered the White House. The president said initially, let's raise the age limit. He met with the NRA over the weekend. They specifically asked them, according to our reporting, please don't do that, sir.

And he has -- even the White House says he's still for it, he hasn't mentioned it in a long time. And most Republican sources on Capitol Hill say they're getting no pressure from the White House on that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He hasn't mentioned it. So either he's sort of doing a quiet legislative strategy here and allowing it to be worked on behind the scenes, or he's dropped it. But he is going to have to be the first example of something he said the other day, don't be afraid to stand up to the NRA.

If he does want the age limit to be raised, he will have to lead the way here. We saw an example in the business community this morning. The CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, the largest sporting goods store, saying we are going to raise the age limit and stop selling some of these assault weapons.

We'll see what the president does. He's hearing from a lot of advisers on all sides of this. It's sort of the typical lines of advice, but it's up to him what he decides to do here.

But there's not a lot of sense that he's pushing Congress at this point. But keep an eye on that meeting this afternoon around 3 o'clock or so to see what he does.

KING: When you mentioned Dick's Sporting Goods, I want to show a map. After Sandy Hook, they stopped selling most of these weapons in suburban areas I'll say, in blue state areas largely.

Field and Stream is owned by Dick's Sports. And we can put that up. If you look at these stores where is they're going to do this now, this is a more quote/unquote risky business decision, if you will. Because you're talking about Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Michigan, Iowa, Texas, New York, and Oregon.

Until New York and Oregon -- and even in Oregon, you're talking about -- even upstate New York, you're talking about gun rights areas. What is it that is driving the business community to say, we want out of this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, I think it's the contentiousness of this debate. You heard from the CEO there who said he didn't want any of the guns he sold to someone to end up in a headline, and end up in a headline like we got from Florida.

I think one of the interesting things to watch from this president, if this is something that he wants to do, change the age limit, he could invite the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods to the White House. He could, you know, praise him and say, this is something that maybe other private businesses should do.

I mean, we've seen him kind of wade into private businesses before and kind of congratulate them or urge them to do something or rebuke them. So, I mean, that's one way he can do it.

It looks like there's probably not going to be any movement on the legislative side. But, you know, I think if the president really wants to stand up to the NRA, there are ways that he can do it. It doesn't seem like this is something he really wants to do.

The most time I think he spent on is talking about arming teachers. And this is something that the NRA is for. It really, I think, advances some of their big causes, which is expanding concealed weapons, concealed carry and also possibly expanding gun ownership among women because most of the teachers in the school systems are women.

[12:35:04] So he really, I think, is living up to this idea of what he said, is he's a really big fan of the NRA. So he's really I think using their play book.

KING: Are these conversations helpful? Just so people can air out their ideas. Or these conversations cynical in the sense that there's zero indication, especially on Capitol Hill, that anything beyond maybe a mine or tinkering with the background check system is going to move in this election year?

So are we having these conversations just so people can maybe start to build respect. Or are you fooling the student survivors by saying, oh, there's the president meeting with lawmakers, and then (INAUDIBLE) to all of them, not any one of them, that they don't do anything.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: I think a lot of this is cynical on both sides, frankly. And that a lot of people are being sold a bill of goods, that there's going to be some giant national change.

There may be changes. I think the bump stock legislative fix as opposed to regulatory is something the NRA is not super fond of but most people in Congress would be a-OK with. Dick's Sporting Goods I think is getting a lot of credit for something it basically did after Sandy Hook. And it's the same decision basically announced again with 35 more stores, I think.

And one of the reasons that that flies is because people who are in favor of gun control don't follow these things as closely as people who are in favor of gun rights. So people who are in favor of gun rights knew that Dick's Sporting Goods did this a long time ago. Many of them stopped shopping there as a result. And so they were not allowed to make that fly with them.

But that intensity problem is the problem that gun control advocates face every time. And it may be evening up for the moment. The question is whether that is sustainable.


ZELENY: -- it's not just guns. I mean, Dick's Sporting Goods store is a huge suburban thing. It's not just assault weapons.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And also not to give Congress a pass on anything, but I think the difference this time is everybody knew the second that tragedy happened that Congress probably wasn't going to do anything because of Sandy Hook. What you had that was difference is a whole bunch of kid victims come out, because they're older than six years old, which was a terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook, and say, look, we're almost at voting age, we're adults, we want you to do these specific things on gun control.

And so we kind of raise a head a little bit. We're in the discussion of divestment campaigns that are on social media right now for various companies. Delta is getting flak in Georgia about it. There's other pushes --

HAM: We've also had 24/7 coverage of these students who asked for those things and not nearly as much coverage of those students who have other thoughts.


HAM: And that is part of what is pushing this forward.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, certainly, but the point is nobody is kind of sitting back and waiting for Congress this time, period. Whatever side of the debate they're on. And so that's why, yes, I mean, you can say it's not very much, but the point is it's faster to have the not very much happening outside of Capitol Hill than usually the way it goes.

KING: It will be interesting, both in the business sphere and especially in the political sphere. We're still talking about this in September, October, into November. Does it (INAUDIBLE) continue, we'll see.

Up next, shift back to the special counsel probe. Steering towards the president's finances. Is that fair game? We'll ask someone who has deep experience investigating a president.



[12:42:22] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do you believe this investigation will reach its conclusion?

TY COBB, TRUMP'S LAWYER: There's no reason for it not to conclude soon.


COBB: Well, soon to me would be within the next, you know, four to six weeks.


KING: That prediction from one of the president's private lawyers made exactly six weeks ago today. Sorry, Mr. Cobb, that one didn't hold up.

In fact, it seems there are daily developments suggesting the end is nowhere in sight, including this from CNN last night. Robert Mueller's team has now started asking questions about the president's business interests in Russia, dating back before the election.

Joining me now, the former number two to the independent counsel Ken Starr, Solomon Wisenberg.

So, I want to start with your former boss on CNN this morning. Some Democrats who remember the Clinton days are going to find this a little rich. But here's Ken Starr saying he thinks Bob Mueller might be going a bit too far.


KEN STARR, FORMER CLINTON INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I think it's beyond his mandate. The mandate is what happened during the 2016 election in terms of collusion, that's the key idea. So here's what I think is happening. The American people, I think, want to know was there collusion. Let's get that answered, would be my sense if I were at the Justice Department.

My sense would be -- but I don't have all the facts, Bob, I love you, but let's just stay focused on what the issue is. And that's collusion in the campaign.


KING: Do you agree that Bob Mueller's gone too far? And I added the rich part because you remember all too well a lot of Democrats rolled their eyes saying you guys started in the Whitewater real estate transaction in Western Arkansas and ended up at Monica Lewinsky.

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, I think the key here is authorization. We had authorization for everything we did. Either from the Department of Justice or from the special panel.

In here, I don't think Bob Mueller is doing anything that he doesn't have authorization for.

Now, Judge Starr is certainly correct that his mandate does not specifically include -- Mueller's mandate does not specifically include looking at, for example, the finances of Manafort and Gates or of President Trump. But there is that provision that says any crimes that they find directly arising from their investigation can be looked at.

Now, how is that mechanism operated? According to Rod Rosenstein's testimony several months ago, if Mueller feels he has something that is directly arisen from the investigation, he goes to Rod and he gets authority from Rod. So we can assume that Rod Rosenstein has already authorized anything that Bob Mueller is doing.

So, yes, it's technically not written into the mandate, but we can assume he has that authorization and that he crossed President Trump's red line quite some time ago.

[12:45:09] KING: So take us inside the room when that's playing out. Again, you started with Whitewater, and as information comes in, you do an investigation. Other things come up, and you say, wow, this is important, this could be a crime, this could be something wrong. Your choice is, we should look into this, add it to our portfolio, or hand it off to somebody else.

Take me inside the room when you're sitting around with Judge Starr, others on your team saying, we need to go to Janet Reno, we need to go to the panel because this is a big deal. How do you weigh the sensitivity of all that?

WISENBERG: Well, I think you try to find -- when you say it arises from, that can either be a wholly unrelated crime that you stumble across, which could still directly arise from the investigation, right. You're looking at a particular person. And when you're looking at him, somebody tells you, oh, here's a completely separate crime that he committed three or four years ago.

The second example would be something that you can tie more directly or that you think may tie directly to the core items you're looking at. And you would say, look, Rod, we want to look at this because clearly this could be a crime, and it may lead us to something.

An example would be, if you had information -- and I'm just taking this out of thin air. If there was information developed about some potential blackmail the Russian government might have on President Trump and you find it during your investigation. That may be something you want to look at because it may relate to the collusion issue. It may relate to the election aid, if any, that the Russians gave to Trump's people.

KING: What impact does it have inside a sensitive investigation like this where the president of the United States is among those involved? When you have, in this case -- this isn't exactly how it played out in the Clinton administration, a lot of Democrats were harshly critical of your work.

This in the Twitter age, the president of the United States attacking his attorney general. Sometimes attacking his deputy attorney general. Often attacking the FBI, often attacking the whole witchhunt, the whole thing is a hoax, the whole thing is a mess.

How does it impact the work not only of those of you at the top, Judge Starr, yourself, the top two or three guys involved, but the worker bees doing the daily work? What do you have to do to sort of put the blinders on and keep going?

WISENBERG: I don't think it affects the worker bees that much at all. The typical line,. assistant U.S attorney, has a lot on his or her plate. I think you'd be surprised that out in the field, a number of people don't even follow the daily tweet storms. And they're not looking at CNN and the other networks.

And to the extent that they are, they've got work to do. It's not affecting them. They don't like it when their attorney general is attacked. Even if they didn't particularly support this administration or this attorney general.

I can guarantee you they don't like it when the deputy A.G., who's a lifetime professional, is attacked. I think it's something more that affects the people at the higher levels. It's got to be very demoralizing.

Now, if you're on Mueller's team, you already -- you've already been attacked so much that you ought to be being very careful about every decision you make. You want to make sure you can justify it, and it appears they're operating that way now.

KING: Sol Wisenberg, always appreciate your important insights. We'll bring you back as this story continues to develop weeks, if not more ahead. Appreciate it again.

Up next, a personal goodbye to America's pastor from the president of the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My father said to me, come on, son -- and by the way, he said, come on, mom, let's go see Billy Graham at Yankee stadium. And it was something very special.




[12:52:49] TRUMP: We can only imagine the number of lives touched by the preacher and the prayers of Billy Graham. The hearts he changed, the sorrows he eased, and the joy he brought to so many.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: President Trump there paying tribute about an hour ago to the Reverend Billy Graham, whose casket will be on public display at the U.S. Capitol until 8 o'clock this evening.

Just the fourth private citizen in history, United States history to lie in honor inside the Rotunda. Graham will be laid to rest Friday at his library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Time to check some other stories on our political radar. Today, new polls suggest most Americans are getting frustrated with the president's handling of immigration. You can see right there, 60 percent disapproval in that category.

The president, however, is celebrating a judge's ruling that could help his plans for a border wall. His tweet, however, failed to mention the judge was Gonzalo Curiel who you might remember President Trump attacked during the campaign as being biased against him the president thought because of his Mexican-American roots.

John McCain's wife and daughter responding to the president's latest attack on the senator. He's been home in Arizona battling brain cancer

Last week at CPAC, you might remember the crowd booed Senator McCain after the president teased him, though not by name, for that vote that saved ObamaCare.

On ABC's "The View," Meghan McCain said after a recent phone call with the president, she thought the feud was over.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: It's still incredibly hurtful, especially after I had this conversation with him on the phone, to have this moment of booing at CPAC which is supposed to be the mother ship of conservatism, and the Republican Party and to sort of see booing at this specific moment in time is incredibly hurtful.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: You know, we have much bigger things to worry about right now than to worry about what the president says.

But more importantly, from my own feeling, we need more compassion. We need more empathy. We need more togetherness in terms of working together. We don't need more bullying. And I'm tired of it.


KING: Bullying. That's a reference to the president of the United States.

ZELENY: It's a direct reference, and from someone we don't hear talking all that much. So I think those words will resonate, at least with some. Not perhaps with the president's base, who of course no fan of John McCain. [12:55:05] HENDERSON: Yes. And that's the thing. I mean, if after a talk with the family he couldn't hold his promise to not do these kinds of things, it's unlikely that he'll stop doing this. It's almost like he can't help himself. And It goes back to the empathy thing.

He seems to lack an empathy gene. John McCain is battling cancer. He's very ill. And the president just can't help but kind of tease him and criticize him in front of a crowd.

KING: He did cast a vote. He did cast a vote the president didn't like. Policy is fair game. Was it the idea he shouldn't in a public crowd just because he should have the empathy to know in a public setting (INAUDIBLE). Is that the line?

HAM: Well, I think he likes a crowd, and he probably knew what he was going to get. And some of that is on the crowd as well.

Yes, look, if you start with criticizing someone over their POW time, then the chances it's getting better are not great.

KING: Excellent point. We'll close there.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf starts after a quick break. Have a good day.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.