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White Houses Says Age Restrictions on Guns Not Trump's Priority; Austin Police Chief Speaks After Deadly Package Blasts; U.K. Spy Attack Called Outrage by White House, But No Blame on Russia Made; DeVos Says Will Not Intentionally Visit Under-Performing Schools. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Reporters pointed out, despite what the president said to the shooting survivors who went to the White House in the wake of Douglas. Let me ask the two of you ladies to stand by. A couple of other issues that came up, including the news that we've been reporting on, just talked to a correspondent out of Moscow about how now you have the British Prime Minister Theresa May connecting that nerve agent that was used to poison this former Russian spy and a daughter connecting it to Russia. Did Sarah Sanders jump in on the Russian criticism? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right, we're back. Let's just chew on a little bit more of that White House briefing, I've got Gloria Borger and Dana Bash back with me. Gloria, let me start this to you, a couple of things I wanted to ask you ladies about. But let's go straight to where the briefing ended, which was a couple of questions on the president's whereabouts tomorrow, namely the state of California and looking at these border wall prototypes. Also keeping mind that tomorrow is the big 18th congressional district special election in the state of Pennsylvania. Yes, we saw the president there over the weekend but what do you make of the timing of this trip to California tomorrow?

[15:35:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's not in Pennsylvania.

BALDWIN: No, he's not.

BORGER: Just in case that doesn't go so well. I think the president wants to distract, in a way, wants to talk about issues that he wants to talk about. And one of them is prototypes for the wall. You know, the wall is a big campaign issue. He's not answering questions about Stormy Daniels. His press secretary is kind of deflecting what he's going to do on guns. I think he's retreating to sort of the safety of the base and talking about I'm doing what I promised I would do for you, which is build a wall and we just have to see what kind of wall it is.

BALDWIN: OK. Dana, quickly on the point about this former Russian spy and the daughter being poisoned by this nerve agent in Salisbury, England last week, now you have the British Prime Minister Theresa May coming out and very strongly saying it was Russia, that's the only place this nerve agent could be manufactured. When Sarah was asked about this, she said outraged, reckless, our condemnation, I heard no mention of Russia jumping in on that.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. And she was specifically asked about the fact that the British believe it's Russia and she punted. She said that well, they are not entirely sure they are not finished. But to have the British prime minister say what she said means that they're pretty sure. Just put this in the giant pot of things that any other U.S. president would be talking about through his spokesman or even himself about Russia and this one isn't.

BORGER: And you have to assume that U.S. intelligence and British intelligence have been communicating on this and that the United States would be very, very well aware of exactly what Theresa May is talking about and might try and say, you know, we support what she's doing because we believe, as does she, that the Russians are behind this. But that didn't happen.

BALDWIN: Right. Gloria and Dana, ladies, a pleasure. Thank you. We need to talk Austin, Texas here. We're following this story out of Austin where these packages have -- three separate instances, have exploded upon delivery to someone's home. Two people have been killed. Police are about to hold a news conference. We're going to take that live coming up.

[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Weeks after a school shooting in Florida left 17 people dead, the White House has just announced a new federal commission on school safety, they have tapped Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to oversee that. But her leadership is being called into question today after stumbling through a tense national television interview. DeVos really struggled in answering some basic questions about schools, including underperforming schools back in her home state Michigan. Here is just a piece of her interview on "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESLEY STAHL, 60 MINUTES HOST: The whole state is not doing well.

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where the students are doing well and --

STAHL: But your argument that if you take funds away, the schools will get better is not working in Michigan, where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.

DEVOS: I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.

STAHL: The public schools here are doing worse than they did.

DEVOS: Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.

STAHL: Have you seen the really bad schools, maybe try to figure out what they're doing?

DEVOS: I have not -- I have not -- I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

STAHL: Maybe you should.

DEVOS: Maybe I should, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Maybe I should, yes. Todd Spangler is with me, he is the Washington correspondent for the "Detroit Free Press", and Todd, listen, I know a lot of people are already pointing back to her confirmation hearing, and saying this is part two of what we witnessed there, but the notion of not visiting underperforming schools as the chief of education in this country, why is that priority numero uno?

TODD SPANGLER, CORRESPONDENT, DETROIT FREE PRESS: You would think she would get out and visit these schools particularly in areas where there is controversy, especially over school choice. You have various particularly like in Michigan where you have seen that school choice hasn't resulted in better outcomes for the public schools themselves. There's a lot of research that suggests that performance proficiency among third graders is down in reading and math. As education secretary, you would think that Secretary DeVos would get out and see some of those areas.

BALDWIN: The other question is about these gun-free zones. Is she almost contradicting the president on this? Because the president tweeted out this morning if schools are mandated to be gun-free zones, violence and danger are given an open invitation to enter, almost all school shootings are in gun free zones. Cowards were only go where there is no deterrent. And around the same time of that tweet, DeVos said this on the "Today" show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, HOST TODAY SHOW: Do you think they should be -- teachers should be able to carry assault weapons since presumably they may face assault weapons? Do you have an opinion on that?

DEVOS: I don't think assault weapons in schools carried by any school personnel is the appropriate thing, but again, this is an issue that I think is best decided at the local level by communities and by states.

GUTHRIE: But a student could legally carry an assault weapon, a student over 18.

[15:45:00] DEVOS: Not in schools they can't.

GUTHRIE: You still want the schools to be gun-free zones except for the teachers?

DEVOS: I think schools have to be protected like every other large gathering place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And thus, the question, is this administration on the same page, Todd?

SPANGLER: It seems that there's some gaps there between the White House and Secretary DeVos. It's -- you can see what she's trying to say, like airports and other places that people shouldn't have guns but that's in direct contradiction to the sort of things the White House is talking about. It seems like she's trying to have it both ways.

Todd Spangler, thank you for coming on and talking about the education chief. In the meantime, we have some news on Stormy Daniels now offering to return the hush money that $130,000 that she received from President Trump's attorney. What CNN learned from the porn star when we -- how shall we say this -- caught up with her this weekend less than an hour away from Mar-A-Lago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN, TEXAS POLICE: At a residence in the 6700 block, a few of those calls indicated that there was a victim that had been injured in this explosion, we had multiple units respond from both the police department, the fire department and EMS that responded immediately to the scene and started providing care to the patient that was injured in this explosive blast.

As you all know, we were already on the scene of an explosion that occurred earlier today at a location up north. So many of the other resources left the scene of that incident to come down here. What we know has happened on this incident, similar to the other two incidents, the one both from this morning and the one that occurred back on March 2nd, is that the victim in this incident came outside of her residence and found a package out front.

She picked up that package and at that point the explosion, the box detonated at that point. She was significantly injured in that explosion. She is a 75-year-old Hispanic female. She was transported to the hospital by emergency medical services and is currently listed in critical but stable condition and her injuries are considered life threatening at this time. So, we again are praying and thinking of her and hoping for a recovery from this incident.

[15:50:00] This again is again is the third in what we believe to be related incidents that have occurred over the past ten days, and similar to what we have said in the earlier instances, we want the community to be aware of what is going on because, again, based on evidence that we have at this scene, as well as at the other two scenes where we've had these explosions, this evidence makes us believe that these incidents are related.

We do not have a specific victimology or ideology that we have identified, so assigning a motive to this at this point is not -- were not possible to do that based on the stage that we're at in the investigation. We are not ruling anything out at this point because when you rule something out, you limit your focus of the investigation and you might miss something. So, at this point we are willing to investigate any avenue that may be involved in behind these attacks.

And we are imploring the community, if you know anything about these attacks, it is imperative that you come forward and that you let us know. We are having innocent people getting hurt across this community and it is important that we come together as a community and solve this. We have the continued support and partnership with all of the agencies. The Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives Division is here, along with the FBI, the United States Postal Service, and many other agencies are working with us.

We currently have the evidence response team from FBI San Antonio and Austin. Do now have their Dallas team coming here to assist us as well. And the ATF is bringing in their national response team to Austin in addition to help support as we go through this investigation. We are putting together a task force that will work jointly until we conclude this investigation and we arrest the person or persons responsible.

And we will leave no stone unturned because we are not going to allow this to go in our city. That being said this will be a lengthy investigation putting all of this evidence together as we work towards a conclusion. All three incidents that have occurred to this point have all occurred at residences. And we don't want to have people be overly alarmed. But it is important that people be vigilant and be aware for things that look suspicious.

If you had a package show up at your home and you were not expecting a delivery. If the package delivered to your doorstep looks suspicious in any way. Call 911 and report it. We will respond. It may take a little while to get there because we are getting several calls. We've had all of our law enforcement partners join us in this effort.

We have explosive and canine teams joining us from the ATF, from the Department of Public Safety, and we're pulling resources from other Austin areas as well. Because we want to should ensure this community that we are going to do everything we can to keep you safe while this investigation is ongoing up until that time that we concluded with an arrest.

And we don't know at this point what that time line looks like. We also know we've got a music festival in town and we've got a lot of visitors. It is important for those that are here in Austin, that are here for the spring festival, to be aware of what's going on. Enjoy yourself. Have a good time. There's no reason to believe that you are at any greater risk other than look for things other than be aware, look for things that are suspicious.

We've been putting the message out repeatedly. If you see something, say something. If you see something that looks out of place, if you see something that's suspicious, it is important that you call us. And for any residents that have these suspicious packages, under no circumstances should you touch them, move them or handle them in any way. But instead, make that call and then, if you can exit the residence or go to the back of the residence until that time that we can get there and deem that safe.

Again, this investigation is ongoing. We do believe it is related to the other two incidents that have occurred in this city. But again, we have no specific ideology or victimology behind this and it will remain an ongoing investigation while we pursue any and every lead. So, with that I will open it up for questions, however remind you again that we are in the preliminary stages. So, there is not a lot of information that we can either put out or that we will put out to protect the integrity of this investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: [inaudible]

MANLEY: We do not know yet whether the victims are the intended targets on these cases, again they are being left at homes where there are user multiple residents, or it might even be left at the wrong address. So that's part of the investigation that's going on now.

[15:55:00] And that's what we are trying to identify is what is the victimology and what might be in common amongst these victims?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any evidence that is similar to the devices that have been exploding in the package wrappings?

MANLEY: These are box-type deliveries. And so again that's why we are saying, if you receive a suspicious package, a suspicious cardboard package. But really, I don't want to limit this to anything. If you receive a suspicious package, then call us and let us come out. Because a device like this can be hidden in many different ways. And so, it is important again, if you're not expecting a delivery and yet one shows up, and it is not from someone that you do business with or you were expecting, it is important that you call us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- explosion more seriously. We heard the term isolated incident during the first explosion on March 2, here we are three instances later.

MANLEY: Correct. on the first one, we did believe it was an isolated incident. We had nothing that made us believe in that moment that it was part of

anything larger than an isolated incident. Standing here today, having had the two incidents that we have had today, in being able to do an initial review of the evidence that we have, we do believe that these are related at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you describe the packages and tell us what they might look like?

MANLEY: We were not going to go into the specifics on the actual package because of the protecting the investigation. And that's why it is important for the community. Any package that you were not expecting or that looks suspicious, call us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it hurt APD's resources that "South by Southwest" is still going on? MANLEY: We're luckily a large city with a large police department and we will manage this. I will say we've had offers for assistance from other agencies to bring in help if needed, and we've actually received a call from the governor's office as well already, asking if we see any assistance. So, we're working through that right now. We're putting our plan together.

As I mentioned earlier, we brought an additional explosive canine teams into Austin, so we can respond to these calls coming in where individuals have reported suspicious packages. It is not time to panic but it is time to be vigilant and it is time to pay attention, it is time to pull together as a city and a community and solve this. So, we need the community's participation. If you see a suspicious package on your porch or somebody else's, let us know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The third package, was it left by UPS, by the Postal Service, you said the second one was not.

MANLEY: No. We do not believe that this here today was left by any of the official mail delivery services whether it be the United States Postal Service, UPS, FedEx or DHL but that will be part of the investigation. Standing here today though we do not believe this was carried by any official delivery service.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: All right, so the quick headline there listening to the police chief in Austin, Texas. In the last ten days, these boxes, these packages have been delivered to people's home. Through different homes, all happen to be people of color who have been affected. One person killed, a teenager. And they are now conclusively linking all three of these explosions. Obviously, they're investigating and still no motive. A quick break. Back with more CNN in just a moment.