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NYT: Trump Attorneys Sent 20-Page Letter to Mueller Arguing A President Can't Obstruct Justice; Months Later Puerto Rico Death Toll Still Unknown from Hurricane Maria; Historic Meeting of Trump, Kim No Longer Canceled; Hawaii Residents Ordered to Evacuate or Be Arrested as Lava Flows; Is There a Strategy or Method Behind Trump's Pardons; First Lady Missing from Public Eye for 23 Days; Thousands of Criminals Cleared to be Uber Drivers; Stoneman Douglas High Graduates Full of Sadness, Resolve. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired June 2, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00] ALLIE LAFORCE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: For Steve Smith, I'm Allie LaForce. It's been fun. We'll catch you later.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It is 3:00 eastern, noon out west. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. So glad you could join us.

Our breaking news, in the Russia investigation, the "New York Times" reporting this hour, President Trump's attorneys sent a 20-page letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller arguing why a president can't obstruct justice. The paper reports this letter was hand delivered back in January and was an attempt to head off a possible subpoena for Trump to testify.

I want to get straight to our CNN senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, you're just getting a chance to digest this reporting from the "New York Times." Tell us more about the contents of this letter and why it's important.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the contents of this letter really spells out what we've been reporting, Ana, that the president's lawyers believe that he does not have to sit down with Robert Mueller's team. And that he did not obstruct justice because he's the president of the United States, and under the Constitution, he is allowed to fire whoever he wants. In this case, the former FBI Director James Comey. And then under the Constitution, as a result of the lawyers' interpretation, that the president can stop an investigation if he wants because the Justice Department is under the executive branch. So, certainly, the lawyers are spelling out in this 20-page memo that was handed over to Robert Mueller's team, according to the "New York Times," in January, a very broad interpretation of presidential powers. And they make the case in this letter to Mueller's team that they have already been so transparent with handing over documents beyond what they really had to do, they make the argument, that there's really no need for the president to have to sit down with Robert Mueller's team.

Now, for context here, Mueller has made the case to the president's legal team that he does need to interview the president to understand his state of mind, his intent, to see whether he intentionally obstructed justice. But the lawyers actually cite a case called Esby, in which they say that under that case, the president must demonstrate with specificity why it is likely that the subpoena materials here in this case, the testimony contain important evidence, and why this evidence or equivalent evidence is not practically available from another source. So they are basically making the argument, look, we've handed over everything to you, you don't really have to sit down and interview him, or you haven't shown why you need to beyond the information we've handed over to you.

So what is significant, too, is the timing of this being handed over to Robert Mueller's team, Ana, because it comes at a time when the two sides were discussing a specific date in late January for a potential interview. As you'll recall, CNN has previously reported that. And then at the same time, around the same time, when these negotiations about a specific time to interview the president at Camp David for several hours, the lawyers made this decision apparently -- and at that time it was John Dowd, who's since left the team -- to send this 20-page memo to Robert Mueller's team and say, look, we don't believe he needs to sit down and do this interview.

CABRERA: Right.

BROWN: And it's the first time we're seeing definitively that they told Robert Mueller's team that an interview wasn't going to happen or they don't believe it should happen under the rules, the Constitution -- Ana?

CABRERA: Also interesting to get a glimpse into what they are actually saying to Mueller's team versus what they are telling us publicly they are saying to Mueller's team.

The president also sent a mysterious tweet earlier this afternoon. It now appears to be a reference to this breaking news that, actually, I think, dropped shortly after the tweet came out. What is he saying?

BROWN: Right. We were all sort of scratching our heads, Ana. I was actually anchoring at the time, and when this tweet came out, we were all sort of wondering, what is he talking about, leaking my lawyers' letters. And now it does make sense in this context of the "New York Times" reporting the 20-page memo.

In the tweet, he reiterated what we've heard time and time again, no collusion with Russia, except by the Democrats. He says, "When will this very expensive witch hunt ever end? So bad for the country. If the special counsel, Justice Department leaking my lawyers' letters to the fake news media? Should be looking at Dems' corruption instead."

There's no evidence the special counsel leaked the letter. For context, this letter was sent by John Dowd, the former attorney for the president, to Robert Mueller back in January. And so the president is making a baseless claim sort of raising the question of whether the Justice Department leaked the letter. But certainly it gives insight into the legal team's strategy that we've been reporting on and what exactly they have conveyed to Robert Mueller and just basically laying out why they don't believe the president should have to be interviewed.

I can tell you from talking to sources, Ana, that there's a consensus that the president should not sit down with Robert Mueller. There's concern it could be a perjury trap. And that, if anything, they would only allow written questions. But then it raises the questions about a potential subpoena fight. And Robert Mueller certainly has it within his jurisdiction to issue a subpoena if the president decides not to sit down for an interview.

[15:05:27] CABRERA: I'm just thinking of what Rudy Giuliani said a couple days ago about what they were thinking they might be doing this weekend in preparing for a potential interview. But now, with the North Korea summit, that had been sort of pushed on the back burner.

Pamela Brown, thank you for this reporting and for doing a quick turn for it. Appreciate it.

Also new information painting a dire picture of death and misery in Puerto Rico, where people are just now bracing for another hurricane season without having recovered from the last one. The death and human suffering were shockingly plain to see in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria back in September. But now we're learning the true death toll may be astronomically higher than first thought. The initial estimate was 64 deaths, but now Puerto Rican officials just released numbers showing upwards of 1,400 additional deaths in the months after Maria, compared to the previous calendar year. Their numbers follow a Harvard study that put Maria-related deaths at more than 4,600, and they say that's a conservative estimate.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is joining us now.

Leyla, how can there be this much confusion over the death toll nine months after the storm?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Listen, there was confusion immediately after the storm. There's still confusion today. And much of that has to do with the protocols in place to counting those deaths and also the devastation that came with Maria. As a result, Ana, not only is there confusion, there's also anger, and there's also a demand for answers.

Where I am standing right now is the picture of that. There are now more than 1,900 shoes in front of the capitol building. This has been put out here by Puerto Ricans themselves. Each one of these representing a death, a loved one, a friend, a Puerto Rican who died as a result of Hurricane Maria. We should say, not just because of direct deaths, but also indirect deaths. I can't tell you how many doctors I've spoken to who say lack of power is a factor.

Now, as I go around and sort of look at some of these, the messages that come with them are so interesting to me. I took note of this one here, and it says, "Victor." He says, "There was a study that says it was 4,465. The government says it's 64, but here your daughter misses you every second that passes."

That is such an indication as to how people feel, that this might not be about a number, because every single shoe is about a life here eight months after Hurricane Maria and on day two of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. People still don't know how many deaths there were. And again, not only is this about a number. Not only is this about a life, this is also about preventing deaths in the future.

I talked to one expert that used to work with the CDC and she said something to me that put it all in perspective. She said, if you don't know who died, how, when, how could you possibly prevent this in the future?

And at a time when Puerto Rico is trying to prevent a catastrophe from coming, should another storm come through these waters on to the island of Puerto Rico, this is part of why Puerto Ricans are demanding answers -- Ana?

CABRERA: Puerto Ricans are demanding answers, and yet these numbers are a stark contrast to President Trump's self-congratulatory statements in the wake of the storm. We remember him going there and touting his administration's response. He tweeted stuff like this, "We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the fake news, politically motivated ingrates."

But the new numbers, Leyla, they beg the question, could this now be a slow-motion disaster in Puerto Rico? Could it be Trump's Katrina moment?

SANTIAGO: You know, I think a lot of people here are acknowledging, including the government of Puerto Rico, FEMA -- I talked to them this week as well, as they sort of showed off a warehouse with tons of supplies ready to go, 6.5 more water on the island before a storm compared to Maria, seven times more food on the island before a storm compared to Maria. So I think everybody that has been working the logistics and the coordination and the efforts between federal and local has acknowledged that there are lessons to be learned.

Now, FEMA, when I spoke to the coordinating officer on the island, he stood by the response of Hurricane Maria but, again, acknowledged that mistakes were made and must be improved upon should another storm hit this.

But should another storm hit, we're not talking about category 5, category 4, Maria-like conditions. This island is so vulnerable, Ana, that any storm would have an impact. To date, there are more than 11,000 customers without power. You fly into this island over San Juan, you'll see blue from the air, and that is because of the blue -- the 30-day blue tarps that are still sheltering homes on this island as we are preparing --

[15:10:43] CABRERA: Wow.

SANTIAGO: -- on day two for the Atlantic hurricane season.

CABRERA: Talk about a reality check.

Leyla Santiago, thank you for your reporting.

Right now, meantime, President Trump is at Camp David, back in North Korea prep-mode since he announced the Singapore summit with Kim Jong- Un. A meeting Trump himself canceled is back on the schedule. This moment here in the Oval Office before the president made it official, a North Korean representative hand delivering a personal letter from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. No word from the White House yet on exactly what the letter says.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is here. Also with us, CNN national security analyst, Kelly Magsamen.

Kelly, we are now just 10 days away from the summit. Lots of logistics, obviously, go into a meeting like this. This meeting being completely unprecedented. Do you think there's enough time? How do you expect it to play out?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think right now there are several sets of talks happening. Of course, in Singapore the talks between the two sides and the logistics of the summit. There are talks going on in Seoul right now with Ambassador Kim on the substance of the agreement. And Secretary Pompeo's talks in Washington. There's a lot of work to be done. The negotiations at this stage are going to focus on a few things. First, the scope of denuclearization, what it means for each side. How much will Kim Jong-Un give up, if anything? Second will be the pace of negotiations. I know the Trump team really

wants denuclearization to occur as fast as possible. Kim Jong-Un has no reason to do so. So that will be a sticking point. And finally, what the United States is willing to offer in return, both on the economic side in terms of relief from sanctions, but also a security assurance for Kim Jong-Un.

CABRERA: Elise, we've heard some critics of this meeting, a few critics of the meeting happening itself, but the fact this meeting gives legitimacy to the North Korean leader. Has North Korea made any real concessions at this point?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not in terms of these negotiations, Ana. I mean, it's obvious that the North Koreans are engaging. Kim Jong-Un sending, in effect, his deputy to Washington. Clearly, the North Koreans are engaging in a way they've never before. But in terms of committing to what Kelly was talking about, denuclearization, committing to a timeline, allowing inspectors into the country, that kind of historic gesture the United States was looking for as a condition for the summit, and none of that has really come to fruition yet. I think the president and his aides realize they need to scale back their ambitions. And these are some of the things that they are going to have to negotiate over time now. I think some of those, you know, the specifics and the timeline, that's unrealistic at this point to think we're going to get out of the summit. Perhaps the best everyone can hope for is for North Korea to agree to a road map of what they are willing to do in theory and what the U.S. is willing to do in theory. I think to expect by next week that they have all those details hammered out is a little bit unrealistic at this point.

CABRERA: Kelly, North Korea in the past has been deceitful, has not kept promises. Now we're learning that nuclear test site that reportedly blown up in North Korea, according to the experts who analyzed the images from that, they say it's just a show, there's no way they actually completely destroyed a tunnel there. The North Koreans also have now a photo op in the Oval Office. The president saying no more maximum pressure. The U.S. is going to hold off on more possible sanctions. What do you think of the strategy leading up to the summit?

MAGSAMEN: Listen, I think the president of the United States has given up a bit of leverage on the front end of this. He's making a bargain or a bet that's going to produce an outcome on the other side. I'm very cautious on this front. Many presidents have reached deals with the North Koreans and the problem has always been in the follow through. The problem has always been in the verification of the steps. And this is where the rubber meets the road. Of course, it is going to be a challenge to get that kind of agreement ahead of time of the summit. I think we'll see some sort of agreements and it will be along the lines of a road map, like Elise said, or potentially the parameters for a deal, but really the challenges, the follow through, and the verification.

CABRERA: Do you see the U.S. having leverage right now?

[15:15:02] MAGSAMEN: Well, I think the United States, of course, has leverage, has economic leverage. I think the president of the United States has significant leverage. But at the same time, he's offered up a lot of it up front. He's offered the summit, which is something Kim Jong-Un, it gives him international standing that he craves and desires, and recognition at home politically, so the president has given up leverage on the front end. But he's wagering that's going to produce an outcome on the back end, and that's where I'm not so sure.

CABRERA: Quickly, Elise, you point out to me that while we have been down this road before, what's different this time is that it's the top of these countries, at the top, the president and Kim Jong-Un, who are leading the negotiations. Could that result in a different outcome? Is that what people are hoping?

LABOTT: Well, it could result in a different outcome in theory. And you're right. These negotiations usually happen from the bottom up, and the negotiators meet for weeks or months to hammer out a communique and then the leaders show and shake hands and sign up. So I think the two leaders -- you know, President Trump calls this a get- to-know-you-plus. They could get together and agree to some broad strokes. But then those negotiators are still going to have to get together and hammer out the kind of technical details. And as we saw with the Iran deal, those kinds of negotiations could take years. That doesn't mean that's a bad thing in terms of, you know, we're still far away from where we were several months ago, which is headed towards some kind of military confrontation. But to expect some kind of grand deal with all the technical details is going to be hammered out at this summit, that's not going to happen.

CABRERA: Elise Labott, Kelly Magsamen, thanks so much, ladies.

Up next, escaping the flames. Stunning new video showing an up-close look at a raging wildfire in New Mexico. Flames so close the heat is overpowering.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:21:00] CABRERA: In the west, wildfires are wreaking havoc. Take a look at this video. A man in New Mexico captured these images on Thursday as he drove out of the area past the flames of the Ute Park Fire. He is one of 1,100 people who have been evacuated since this fire began. High winds and dry conditions are making things really tough right now for crews trying to battle the flames. And so far, this fire's burned more than 27,000 acres and is zero percent contained.

There's another wildfire not far away in southern Colorado. The 416 Fire, this is near Durango. Cooler temps overnight may have helped, but it's also zero percent contained. The 416 Fire has burned more than 1,500 acres since it started yesterday, and officials say nearly 1,600 structures are threatened there.

To Hawaii now. People who live near the Kilauea Volcano have basically two choices, evacuate or risk getting arrested. Officials have issued a mandatory evacuation order nearly a month after the volcano first erupted. We're still seeing fast-moving, scorching-hot lava continuing to flow into the nearby residential neighborhoods. More than 80 homes have been destroyed so far. And now officials are worried about people losing their lives. What's more, first responders say they have no plans to rescue anyone who stays behind. Now dozens of families are having to come to terms with being left homeless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VERA TIMKO, HAWAII RESIDENT: There's no home. It got took away like all the other homes. And right now, we don't know. I just want a little corner for my family and a little yard so my kids can play outside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: CNN's Scott McLean is joining us now. He's live in Pahoa, Hawaii.

Scott, did everyone heed these mandatory evacuations?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can only hope so, Ana. We have no way to go in and verify. But we did see a lot of trucks the last few days coming out from this checkpoint where the neighborhood is located, the one with the mandatory evacuation notice. They were carrying furniture, appliances, personal belongings, seemingly with the idea they realize they know there's a good chance they might not have a home to go back to. The reality is, people in that neighborhood are dealing with a volcanic fissure that's shooting at times some 200 feet or more into the air, and that is a heck of a lot of lava. Of course, it has to go somewhere, and where that is, is constantly changing.

Some of the people inside that neighborhood tell us if it's not the lava that forces you out, it might be the gas. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM MCCORMICK, HAWAII RESIDENT: You live on a volcano, you have to expect this in your lifetime.

The fumes get so bad, I don't want to be in there even with a respirator. Your eyes are burning. The hair is getting in your eyes. It's miserable. It's hell on earth inside there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLEAN: So, Ana, assuming that most people got out or all people got out of this neighborhood, the most pressing threat at this point is a stream of lava that is heading east towards the coast that is threatening to cut off entire communities along the coast of southeast part of the big island where we are. That lava is now, at latest word, about 150 yards away from a main highway in that area. And if it crosses, it will essentially strand all of the people on the other side. And it is a pretty big chunk of land. So those people would have lava on one side to contend with and the ocean on the other, and really no escape route. So, obviously, officials there have been pleading with people to get out. They were asking them to get out by yesterday afternoon. Hopefully, if they haven't already, they have plans to quickly.

[15:24:43] CABRERA: All right, Scott McLean, in Hawaii, thank you for your ongoing reports there. We know the conditions certainly are tough right now. We appreciate it.

Coming up, on a week full of policy wins for the president, he throws out a wild card. Why is he now floating the idea of pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich? We'll discuss.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:33] CABRERA: It's one of the president's single greatest powers, and President Trump is clearly not afraid to use it. I'm talking about pardons. He's pardoned five people so far. The most recent, a conservative writer, Dinesh D'Souza. And there could be more coming. The president says he is considering pardons for Martha Stewart and a commutation for former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich. Both appeared on his show "The Apprentice." So is there a strategy or a method behind who he's pardoning?

[15:30:00] Joining us to discuss, CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, and White House reporter for "The Daily Beast, Asawin Suebsaeng.

Guys, look at this. President Trump's predecessors didn't issue their first pardons until they were nearly into their third year in office. But here we have Trump has issued five pardons. The first came seven months in.

Sarah, why so many and so quickly?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: President Trump has never been one for observing norms, and he's picked particularly controversial candidates to extend his first acts of clemency to. Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff accused of flouting a judge's orders. Scooter Libby, someone accused of lying to investigators. And it's interesting with the criminal justice reform his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is doing, trying to bring attention to cases where people are locked up, for example, for routine drug offenses for long periods of time. President Trump seems to have no interest in looking at using his pardon power for people who don't have recognizable names, but he is going after people who have been, according to their supporters, the victims of political persecution or at least whose cases have been highly politicized. That's where his interests seem to lie and raises a question whether he's trying to raise the groundwork for people caught up in the Russia investigation.

CABRERA: As you point out, people he has pardoned have pretty high profiles. Some of them are celebrities themselves.

Asawin, Democratic Senator Mark Warner hit on that last point. We just heard from Sarah, the vice chairman he is of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He thinks there's a method to Trump's pardons. He writes, quote, "The president's ad hoc use of the pardon power is concerning enough, but the possibility he's sending messages to witnesses in a criminal investigation into his campaign is extremely dangerous. In the United States of America, no one is above the law."

So do White House aides you've been talking to think that's a possibility?

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, certainly, it's not just White House and Trump critics who believe that could be a possibility and a message President Trump is trying to send. There's certainly plenty of Trump supporters within and without the administration who believe in and hope that to be the case. Former Trump adviser, Roger Stone, told us in a story we wrote about this very issue that he hopes fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is next. But beyond the possible pseudo legal strategy or political strategy that could be coming out of this, there certainly seems to be a nexus of celebrity and personal fixation when it comes to whatever sort of formula or strategy there's been for these rash of Trump pardons. As you mentioned earlier, it wasn't just a conservative commentator and star, Dinesh D'Souza, who was issued a pardon by Trump earlier this week. When asked on Air Force One about it, the president also said he's considering pardons for Martha Stewart and possibly a commutation for Rod Blagojevich --

CABRERA: Right.

SUEBSAENG: -- both of whom have been a part of Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" franchise. So --

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Does seem to think that they would be allies of his, should he, obviously, give them a chance, a second chance, shall we say.

Sarah, I want to ask quickly about Melania, because today marks 23 days since we haven't seen Melania Trump following what should have been an out-patient procedure. She didn't go to Camp David this weekend. Do we have any idea where she is, how she's doing, what she's been up to?

WESTWOOD: Our colleague, Kate Bennett, reported Melania Trump remains at the White House. She is in good spirits, continuing to take meetings related to her Be Best campaign and other issues she's been working on. But it has been interesting that the White House has been really reluctant to shed any light on her medical condition after she did spend nearly a week in the hospital for what should have been a routine out-patient procedure based on the information that was provided publicly. Other members of the first family went to Camp David this weekend with President Trump, Donald Trump Jr, his daughters, Ivanka and Tiffany, joined the president there. Melania Trump notably absent. The White House said, though, she is still feeling great, relaxing at home in the White House with Barron.

CABRERA: Asawin, quickly, why not end all the speculation and make an appearance?

SUEBSAENG: Well, I mean, the White House has been pretty open about this. And they are trying to -- not open, but they've been branding all the speculation about this as, quote, unquote, "conspiracy theories" regarding first lady Melania Trump. But to be a little fair to her and her office for a moment, it's not just the absences that have come after the surgery. Melania Trump has taken a smaller presence as a first lady in this country than, say, some of her predecessors have in recent history. So it's just a -- it's following the script if Melania Trump is taking on a reduced role as first lady of the United States.

[15:34:57] CABRERA: A lot of people thought maybe she turned the corner when she came out with the jaw-dropping, show-stopping white hat when the Macrons were visiting from France.

Asawin, thank you. We appreciate it.

As well as Sarah Westwood.

Always happy to have you on, especially the weekends.

Still ahead, thousands of criminals cleared to be Uber drivers. What a CNN investigation discovered next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:39:56] CABRERA: A Colorado Uber driver is under arrest, accused of fatally shooting one of his passengers. Authorities suspect Michael Andre Hancock of firing at least 10 shots at the man who was found dead on the floor of his car. Uber says it is deeply troubled and disturbed by these events and that company policy prohibits both drivers and passengers from carrying guns.

This shooting is the latest incident to raise concerns whether Uber is properly vetting its drivers. CNN has uncovered troubling records that show thousands of criminals have been cleared to drive for the company.

Senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has more -- Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Ana, the ride- share company demands it alone conducts its own background checks on its drivers, but as our investigation found out, in thousands of cases, that process is not working. Uber's background checks are failing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Colorado's Public Safety Commission (sic) heard about a man who was allegedly assaulted by an Uber driver, he demanded a list from Uber of all its drivers with disqualifying records.

DOUG DEAN, DIRECTOR, COLORADO PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION: Frankly, we were shocked by what we found.

GRIFFIN: The list Doug Dean got from Uber included 12 Uber drivers convicted of felonies and others with DUIs or driving on suspended licenses.

(on camera): What does that tell you about the background process?

DEAN: It tells me the background process, as it is in law right now, doesn't work.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): According to Uber, the company's policy disqualifies drivers convicted of felonies, violent crimes and sexual offenses, as well as major driving violations. Yet, in case after case, convicted felons have been approved to drive anyway.

In Maryland, California and Massachusetts, government agencies did additional screening and found what add up to thousands of drivers with disqualifying criminal records, even sexual offenders, approved to work for Uber.

In Texas, approved Uber drivers included a murderer on parole and a convicted felon once accused, though not convicted, of seeking to smuggle rocket launchers in the Middle East. He is now sentenced to 25 years for sexually assaulting a passenger.

Uber sexual assault victims, like this woman, say Uber most improve how it screens drivers.

UNIDENTIFIED SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIM: If they really want to put themselves out there as the safe ride home, they should really make sure that they are putting these people out there that are going to get you home safely.

GRIFFIN: Uber's response to the problems in its background checks is the company has made, "significant investments and improvements and will continue to work with state and local governments to get it right in the future."

To conduct its background checks, Uber and Lyft both use a company called Checker which uses a potential driver's name and Social Security number to search federal, state and local courts and other databases for disqualifying records. Regulators tell CNN that is not enough. And that government-run background checks that include fingerprinting potential drivers would go further in discovering histories of violence. But Uber says fingerprints don't offer a complete picture of arrests and convictions. And Uber has gone to great lengths to fight any government-run background checks.

MATT DAUS, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NEW YORK CITY TAXI & LIMOUSINE COMMISSION: That's their game plan in every single city, every single state, we're going to get a law passed that's just for us. It's their own special law for Uber and Lyft.

GRIFFIN: A CNN investigation tallied more than 400 lobbyists across the country hired by Uber, mostly to fight stricter oversight. In many states, even writing the laws. CNN's investigation reviewed all 43 states that have laws or rules on driver background checks. And they are strikingly similar. All but Massachusetts leave background checks up to Uber. And in 31 states, the laws passed reflect Uber's recommended wording on driver screening, in some cases, almost word for word.

This e-mail from an Uber lobbyist to a Wyoming lawmaker shows just how influential Uber can be. The Uber lobbyist writes they have two major issues with a draft of the bill, including the criminal background check provision. The lobbyist tells the lawmaker, "Change it back to the model language." It was.

Three former Uber employees who worked on policy tell CNN Uber wants to control its screening process to get drivers on the road as soon as possible.

Georgia legislator, Alan Powell, says Uber's attitude is states have no business screening its drivers.

STATE REP. ALAN POWELL, (R), GEORGIA: It's, oh, no, we're above the government, we run our own background checks.

GRIFFIN: In response to its lobbying efforts, Uber says, "Everybody lobbies and we're proud to work with elected officials to develop common-sense regulations for a new industry."

(END VIDEOTAPE) GRIFFIN: And, Ana, what Uber has yet to explain is why so many of its drivers, whose criminal backgrounds should disqualify them from driving, are still on the road -- Ana?

[15:44:54] CABRERA: Wow.

Thank you, Drew Griffin.

Still to come, it was supposed to be a joyous occasion, but now Parkland high school seniors are preparing for a bittersweet graduation without four of their classmates. To Florida next, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:49:57] CABRERA: Welcome back. It's supposed to be a day of celebration, but for the class of 2018 at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduation, it will be mixed with sadness and resolve. The shooting on Valentine's Day that took 17 lives hangs over the proceedings.

And as CNN's Dianne Gallagher reports, this graduating class is all too aware that four of their fellow seniors will not be attending tomorrow's ceremony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been doing graduation for two decades now.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: This is not your typical graduation.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: It's kind of hard to be really excited about it, because not everyone's here.

ANDREW POLLACK, FARTHER OF PARKLAND VICTIM: It's the same every day. It's no different because I think we're here because it's graduation. I lose track of days I work so much, but every day's been the same since February 14th.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Because Andrew Pollack has spent every single one of those days without his daughter, Meadow, and it will be a graduation without Meadow Pollack, without Nicholas, without Carmen, without Joaquin Oliver.

SAM ZEIF, STUDENT: It's just not fair, and it's very angering. They worked just as hard if not harder than us to do this. And they can't, for no reason.

UNIDENTIFIED STDUENT: When I heard the gunshots, I was in denial that this was real.

GALLAGHER: Seventeen lives were stolen in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Four of them, seniors.

POLLACK: Meadow was my youngest child and she was the most like myself, and she was looking to -- she was going to graduate now like we're here, and she was going to be enrolled in Lynn University. She wanted to be an attorney.

GALLAGHER: Since his daughter's murder, Andrew Pollack has immersed himself into carrying on Meadow's legacy.

POLLACK: So I channel it on things that are positive, flying to Texas, talking to the governor, putting a fund-raiser together for the families. And I'm just going to keep doing projects like this that are positive for the country.

My beautiful daughter never going to see again.

GALLAGHER: He's passionate about making schools safer, telling everyone from the school board to the president his thoughts on adding metal detectors and armed guards. He wants to set up a nationwide survivor to survivor support system.

POLLACK: I'm going to do that with my nonprofit, too. If a kid gets murdered, we could send a team of parents to help.

GALLAGHER: But Andrew's ultimate goal is for no parent to experience what he has. He did prom this year, a special request from Meadow's friends.

POLLACK: I wanted to see them get dressed. They wanted me to come see them, and it killed me, but I did what I had to do, and I was happy for them that they were going.

GALLAGHER: But Andrew won't be there to see the class of 2018 on Sunday.

POLLACK: No, I don't feel it that much of an attachment to go for graduation. And I've been working so hard on other stuff, I can't even stop to go to a graduation right now.

ZEIF: Woke up to the news that my best friend was gone.

GALLAGHER: Some graduating seniors, like Sam Zeif, whose best friend, Joaquin, is now gone, feel detached from the ceremony.

ZEIF: I'll really just be walking across a stage and be handed the piece of paper.

GALLAGHER: The school says it hopes it's found a way to delicately balance grief and graduation.

JEFF FOSTER, A.P. GOVERNMENT TEACHER, MARJORY STONEMAN HIGH SCHOOL: We're going to run through the whole gamut that day. It's going to be sad. We're going to look back. We're going to honor the kids that perished. And then we're going to try to end it on an upbeat by bringing someone in that's going to hopefully lift the spirits of the kid kids a little bit. But it's always bittersweet. It's hard to watch the kids go, especially with the connection we've had. -

ZEIF: We're really going to have a graduation like no one's ever had. I don't know. I have no idea what to expect.

GALLAGHER: For Sammy Feureman, there's no expectation.

SAMMY FEUREMAN, STUDENT; I'm looking forward to graduating on Sunday.

GALLAGHER: He's putting on that cap and gown for his best friend, Joaquin, who can't.

FEUREMAN: I'm going to graduate for you, for myself, for all of us. We're all strong. We love you. And oh, it's just tough, man, but we're going to do it for you.

ZEIF: I don't know. Maybe my -- I was thinking about doing some stuff for him on my cap.

GALLAGHER: And while Andrew Pollack won't be there, he does have some advice for the graduates.

POLLACK: Vote for what you believe in. Get involved in your local community. And be watchful of wherever you go.

GALLAGHER: Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Parkland, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Our hearts are with them.

Meantime, in Santa Fe, Texas, last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jacob Andrew Brown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Graduating seniors and faculty wore white stoles in honor of the 10 people killed by a gunman at Santa Fe High School two weeks ago. Listen to what class valedictorian, Corrigan Garcia, told his classmates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORRIGAN GARCIA, VALEDICTORIAN, SANTA FE HIGH SCHOOL: Moving on will be tough. Nothing will ever be the same for any of us. But we all have a choice to make. And with the support of the Houston area and Texas and the nation as a whole, we'll make it through to the other side, just as we have time and time again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:55:09] CABRERA: Wise words learned in a painful way by someone so young.

Congratulations to the class of 2018. Our heartfelt well wishes as well.

Up next, the story behind this wild scene. But first, during his medical training in Peru, this week's "CNN Hero"

noticed sick children sleeping on hospital floors, waiting to get help. So he created a nonprofit for desperate families. Meet Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RICARDO PUN-CHONG, CNN HERO: The journey, it's very difficult.

They come here, and it's very expensive to stay here. They don't have enough money to continue their treatments. Sometimes families, they have to sell everything they have. They feel helpless.

(CRYING)

PUN-CHONG: So, I decided to do something for them. I want them to know that they are not alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: To check out Dr. Ricardo's program, head to CNNheroes.com. And while you're there, nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero."

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