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Officials Urged School to Investigate Anonymous Tip From Parent Who Feared "A Repeat of Columbine"; Biden Tops New Poll in Crucial Early State of New Hampshire. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 9, 2019 - 16:30   ET



[16:31:06] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our national lead today, months before the shooting at STEM School in Colorado, an anonymous parent said he or she feared a repeat of Columbine. District officials urged the charter school to investigate the disturbing December phone call, and CNN's Scott McLean is looking into whether warning signs were missed.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surfacing in this Denver area community, still mourning the latest school shooting, potential signs missed that warned of a Columbine-style attack months before this week's tragedy.

A letter obtained by CNN shows the Douglas County School District urging the STEM school to investigate serious allegations, listing more than a dozen complaints from an anonymous parent, including concerns about student violence that could lead to a repeat of Columbine. The parent called the situation at the school "the perfect storm", blaming a high pressure environment and citing an alleged recent bomb threat and added that several students have reported sexual assault in school and that nothing is being done.

It was sent in December, five months before the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch left one student dead and eight others injured.

CAMI BRAINARD, STEM SCHOOL HIGHLANDS RANCH PARENT: It's extremely disturbing, but I haven't heard of anything like that, you know, through my son at all.

MCLEAN: The school's principal Penny Eucker called the allegations at the time an attack in a letter to parents, saying they were false accusations and that an investigation by STEM board and staff leadership revealed no evidence of these allegations.

The school even filed a defamation lawsuit against a Jane Doe since the parent remains anonymous. The grounds of the lawsuit are far from clear, and school administrators have not returned calls to clarify. In December, a group of parents wrote a 240-page report asking the county to intervene, describing an atmosphere of distrust, uncertainty and hostility about issues ranging from safety concerns to special education programs. The county board of education even wrote: We urge you to consider a

change in leadership.

Meanwhile, students gathered to mourn the loss of Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old killed trying to tackle one of the shooters. The vigil quickly turned political as students walked out in protest when some speakers pressed for more restrictive gun laws. At one point, students were chanting --

CROWD: Mental health! Mental health! Mental health!

MCLEAN: But with just three days left of school, students are pledging to push on.

CHRIS ELLEDGE, STEM SCHOL HIGHLANDS RANCH STUDENT: You don't stop your life just to -- just because of one bad thing. You can't let that get in the way. You have to band together as a community. You have to stay strong. STEM strong.


MCLEAN: And the county school board had a public meeting scheduled for this afternoon to discuss Tuesday's shooting. That meeting has now been canceled because of logistical challenges.

And, Jake, we are also learning that, according to a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation, the 18-year-old suspect had gotten the two handguns in this case from his parents who had purchased them legally. Both suspects are due back in court tomorrow -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Scott McLean in Colorado, thank you so much.

A new look at the 2020 race from the first primary state. That's next.


[16:38:45] TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, a brand-new look at the Democratic presidential race from the crucial early state of New Hampshire. A Monmouth University poll released this afternoon finds Joe Biden with a commanding lead and with double the support of Bernie Sanders, 36 percent to 18 percent. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg rounds out the top 3 with 9 percent support.

And as CNN's Jessica Dean now reports, President Trump is clearly taking notice.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With his political star on the rise, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg headed to Hollywood today.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, and good morning! DEAN: Buttigieg headlining five Los Angeles fund-raisers today alone,

ending at an event hosted by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Whitford.

BUTTIGIEG: Based on the reception we had so far in L.A., I think this is going to be a great area for us to build support.

DEAN: The pull of Tinseltown also drawing in former vice president Joe Biden, as he continues his swing through L.A., stopping for tacos yesterday with Mayor Eric Garcetti in between two big money fund raisers attended by Hollywood heavyweights like producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He'll headline a third fund-raiser today.

Back in Washington --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really do appreciate Alexandria and working with me on this issue.

DEAN: Senator Bernie Sanders joined with New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to unveil new legislation targeting the credit card and banking industries. The bill would cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): We think that some things are just wrong to make a buck off of.

DEAN: And would allow for Post Offices to provide banking services for low-income Americans who otherwise wouldn't have it.

Reining in the financial sector is a hallmark issue for fellow 2020 candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has used it to criticize Biden.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Biden is on the side of the credit card companies.

DEAN: Warren appears on the new issue of "TIME" magazine with her signature slogan "I have a plan for that." And she does have a lot of plans, rolling out 12 policies or proposals since entering the race, including yesterday's plan to combat the opioid epidemic.

But will policies help her break through in this crowded field?

A new Monmouth University poll in New Hampshire shows Biden maintaining a double-digit lead among likely Democratic primary voters. Biden polling at 36 percent with Sanders at 18 percent, Buttigieg at 9 percent and Warren at 8 percent, just some of the 21 Democrats trying to unseat President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll take any of them. Let's just pick somebody n let's start this thing. Let's start it.


DEAN: Back here in Los Angeles, we're just now getting word. A source telling CNN that Biden pulled in over $700,000 at that fund- raiser last night.

And I talked to a campaign strategist here about the fund-raising dollars in Los Angeles of which there are many. They told me big donors are taking one of two approaches. They're either hedging their bets and donating to several candidates or they're waiting, they're kind of hanging back and just seeing how the field will narrow.

But, Jake, the one thing that person told me they're on the lookout for is how do these candidates combat with and interact with President Trump.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean, thanks so much.

Let's bring our experts back.

Kristen, as the pollster in the gang, is there anything in this new New Hampshire poll that shows Joe Biden with a commanding lead that stands out to you?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's just one more data point that shows that former Vice President Biden's entrance to the race, it wasn't just sort of a temporary bounce that he's really in a commanding position, and not just in these national polls, but in places like New Hampshire where you can bet that the name ID of someone like Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders is pretty high. This is their turf. This is their media market.

So, the fact that Joe Biden is in such a commanding position not just nationally but in a crucial early state has got to be very positive news for him. That poll standing where you had that top four or five folks matches what you're seeing nationally. It's also very good news for Mayor Pete.

Again, there was some question whether his sort of early flurry of support rise in the polls was that just temporary? Was that just a sort of viral moment that would fade? But he's looking like more and more that he has some staying power. But we'll see how this lasts until we get to the very first debates.

TAPPER: And, Paul, in this poll, more than half of the Democratic candidates got less than 1 percent. Joe Biden suggested last night that the field could slim down pretty quickly. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This field is going to be winnowed out pretty quickly. Here in California as well. In order to get any delegates from a congressional district, you've got to get 15 percent of the vote. Coming out of Iowa, you need 15 percent of the caucus.

So, look, this is going to -- it's going to work its way through relatively quickly for all of us.


TAPPER: Paul, do you agree? You think after the first contest or two the field will go down from 20-something to maybe even under 10?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It will come down significantly, yes. I mean, keep in mind when Joe Biden ran the last time, he didn't make it past Iowa. He didn't make it to New Hampshire.

This has got to be pretty gratifying, by the way, for Joe. He's still on the ballot in New Hampshire and got like 638 votes in 2008. Hillary won the state with 112,000. Now, he's got a commanding lead, whereas Bernie, who ran the last time in New Hampshire, got 60 percent of the vote. He's down to 18.

But the most important number in the poll, Kristen will agree with this, is the date. We're a long, long, long way from that primary.


BEGALA: So it's interesting to look at, but it's still anybody's race right now.

TAPPER: And, Nia, Senator Elizabeth Warren on the cover of "TIME" magazine this week. Her cover includes a caption, "I have a plan for that". You just heard Jessica mention the dozen proposals that Warren has put out this election cycle. But in CNN's latest national poll, Warren is nearly even with Mayor Pete Buttigieg who has been criticized for talking more about values instead of going into any sort of policy detail.

Is there an exchange here? Is there a risk for Buttigieg to not follow Warren's lead on policy?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, we'll see. So far, it's worked for him. I think his issue is he basically does well with about 30 percent of the Democratic electorate, primarily electorate.

[16:45:00] A primary electorate is about 30 percent college-educated white voters and that's where he is able to do really well. So I think the question for him is whether or not he's going to be able to expand beyond that.

That's one of the reasons that Joe Biden is doing so well. It's because he's able to do well with black and brown voters who about 40 percent of the Democratic electorate and whites who went to college as well as non-college whites so I think you know, Pete Buttigieg is doing well. He's obviously out in California vacuuming up some money out there which will do him some good.

He'll be able to hire folks. But I think the question for him is where is he going to be able to win some states, right, in those early contests. How does he broaden the base that he has so far which is this kind of boutique liberal college, white college elite kind of voter at this point, you know, but he's hanging in there so far so we'll see what he's able to do.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around as North Korea defiantly test-fires new missiles is a major announcement coming from the Pentagon. Stay with us.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: President Trump says he's not happy after North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles overnight. The launch has come just five days after Kim Jong-un tested several new weapon systems which has not happened since 2017. And just moments ago, President Trump announced he will nominate Patrick Shanahan, the current Acting Secretary of Defense and former Boeing executive as the permanent defense secretary.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, there's so much going on in the world. Is Shanahan going to be another yes-man to President Trump?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is really the question at hand, Jake. Shanahan is talking to reporters just a few minutes ago and said his biggest challenge in his own words is going to be balancing all the things going on in the world against other long-term priorities like defense spending.

But that is exactly what you pay a defense secretary to do to balance it all. And Shanahan has had a very tough couple of days as crises around the world have emerged. First up, of course, Iran the rising military tensions. He has sent troops into potential harm's way 5,000 troops aboard the Aircraft Carrier Lincoln. Dozens of Air Force cruise for the B-52 bombers that have now arrived in the Middle East.

He says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have an additional statement on the Iran situation upcoming. So that will be one thing he is going to have to continue to deal with, Venezuela. Look, Pompeo, Secretary of State Pompeo, National Security Advisor Bolton hardcore on military action possibilities, the Pentagon not so much. Will he be a yes-man to whatever the White House wants?

TAPPER: Mattis, of course, had said nice things about Shanahan so I guess we'll see. Barbara, what about this latest missile test by North Korea? That must be alarming individuals in the Pentagon. They haven't done that since 2017, North Korea.

STARR: A couple of additional short-range ballistic missile launches by North Korea. Shanahan's job now is to keep the military ready to defend if the North Koreans take additional steps. He is saying that he will defer to Pompeo on the diplomacy question. That is pretty much the position that the Pentagon has had, but behind the scenes very concerned that the North Koreans aren't about to make additional moves. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much. Let's bring back former CIA and FBI Analyst Phil Mudd. And Phil, you've been saying on the show for years now that North Korea to you is the most pressing threat. It's what Obama told Trump was the most pressing threat.

If you were advising President Trump right now, what course of action would you suggest they take in response to this news? PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: First, keep talking. I don't dispute what the President has tried to do, but you got to make a couple changes. Number one, they're pressure valves for the North Koreans, that's the Chinese and the Russians. No surprise that Kim Jong-un goes to Moscow after the failed talks with the president last time. That's pressure valve for him.

So you got to figure out how to bring the Chinese, the Russians, and the South Koreans in. And number two pretty easy. The American people and the President won't like this, but we're the big dog on the block. The North Koreans are the Pekinese on the block. They're going to mistrust us. We're going to have to show some leg to persuade them that we're serious and that means doing something on sanctions early I think.

So are we going to give something without getting a lot? I think we're going to have to -- we're going to have to face up to that one, Jake.

TAPPER: North Korea has not conducted a nuclear test, rather they have done these missile tests. As an intelligence analyst, is that intentional and is that significant by North Korea?

MUDD: Both intentional and significant. I wouldn't view these as tests per se. They're indications of intent. That is the North Koreans are saying look, we're going to -- it's like a high school kid. We're going to break curfew by an hour. We're going to test the limits. We're not going to go out and disappear for three days. We're breaking curfew. Let's see if the Americans come back to the table. If they don't maybe it's more serious missile gets launched into the ocean.

Right now they're just testing the limits, trying to see -- because they need us. They need us for sanctions relief, trying to see what will bring us back to the table. If this doesn't work, maybe it gets ratcheted up a little bit more.

TAPPER: And President Trump, of course, tweeted last weekend after the North tested its weapons system "I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea and will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me."

So you know, President Trump puts out this conciliatory note and then Kim Jong-un more missile tests.

MUDD: I think this is pretty interesting. I think it indicates how Americans typically mirror-image. They think the other guy thinks like we do. Look, Kim Jong-un, I don't think has any interest in dumping missiles and nuclear weapons but he has to for money's sake, and that's where this is going. If we give him money, he'll show up, if not no deal.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: It's been two years to the day since President Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, and the President is still talking about him. It happened again today. So there will be a lot to talk about tonight on a special CNN live town hall event with former FBI Director James Comey. Anderson Cooper will moderate at 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage continues right now. Have a great night.