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Nashville Shooter Legally Bought Guns; Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is Interviewed About Guns in America; Pence Ordered to Testify. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Jessica Dean.

And we are following several major stories this morning.

First, in Nashville. New details about the shooter who killed six people at a Christian elementary school.


CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, METRO NASHVILLE POLICE: And we've determined that Audrey bought seven firearms from five different local gun stores here legally. They were legally purchased. Three of those weapons were used yesterday.

But her parents felt that she should not own weapons. They were under the impression that was -- when she sold the one weapon that she did not own any more.


SCIUTTO: I said Thursday. Of course, it's Wednesday.

The parents of Audrey Hale also gave critical insight into Hale's state of mind. We're going to be live in Nashville with details just ahead.

Plus, an unprecedented ruling and a new setback for Trump's legal team. A judge has ordered former president -- Vice President Mike Pence to testify. A federal grand jury is now getting a chance to ask Pence about his conversations with the former president in the days leading up to January 6th.

DEAN: We begin this morning, though, in Nashville, where CNN's Carlos Suarez has been following all of the developments in the last 24 hours.

Carlos, what are investigators focusing on as we start today?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Jessica, good morning.

No doubt authorities here in Nashville are still focusing a part of their investigation around the 28-year-old's social media. Yesterday, the chief of police said that investigators were still going through cell phone records. And they are no doubt still trying to learn more about what they're describing as an emotional disorder that the shooter was being treated for.

"The New York Times," this morning, is reporting that a college teacher at Nossi arts school, that's an art school here in Nashville, said that about six years ago the 28 year old was a student in her class. The teacher went on to describe essentially the 28-year-old as having had some sort of emotional breakdown in class. Now, part of the article reads, quote, Ms. Colomy, that's the college instructor, recalled that the student's difficult first day of class. It was the first - the student's first day at the college. And Ms. Colomy noticed that the student was beginning to cry in the front row. The student, Ms. Colomy said, was having difficulty creating a password for the online student portal.

Now, the instructor goes on to tell "The New York Times" that in the time since the 28-year-old was a student in her classroom, the shooter apparently had posted on social media about grieving the death of a partner and that sometime after that had asked to be -- had asked to be identified rather with male pronouns.

Jim and Jessica.

SCIUTTO: Tell us more about what we're learning about folks inside that school, including teachers and their interactions, maybe even confrontations, with the shooter.

SUAREZ: Yes, Jim. So, we're getting a little bit better idea, a clearer picture, of some of these encounters that happened inside of the school itself. We now know that it appears that the head of the school, Katherine Koonce, the 60-year-old, may have, at some point, either made her direction towards the shooter because of the way that her body was found. Police did not want to confirm exactly whether she tried to stop the shooter. But they said that based on the location of Ms. Koonce's body, they do believe that some sort of encounter did take place as that shooting progress.

We also know that 61-year-old Mike Hill, he is the custodian, we're told he was most likely the first one to die because he was at the front entrance of the building where the shooter first made entry. We're told he was inside of those two glass doors that were shot out. And they believe he was killed almost instantly.

Now, the CNN affiliate here in Nashville reports that Hill leaves behind seven children and 14 grandkids.

Jessica and Jim.

DEAN: Absolutely heartbreaking.

SCARBOROUGH: The human toll. DEAN: Yes.

Carlos Suarez for us in Nashville. Thanks so much.

And he talked a little bit, Carlos did, about the victims. We're learning new details about some of them.


He talked about 61-year-old Mike Hill, a beloved custodian at the school who was known to the kids as "Big Mike." Like Carlos said, he was a father to seven children, a grandfather to 14. His family says the faculty and students at Covenant, quote, filled him with joy for 14 years.

SCIUTTO: All those poor families left behind.

Among those killed as well, school head Katherine Koonce, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak. She was just there for that day. And those nine- year-olds, those little girls, Hallie Scruggs. Also a little boy, William Kinney.

The family of nine-year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus released a statement saying in part, our hearts are completely broken. We cannot believe this has happened.

I can only imagine.

Her pastor had this to say this morning.


CLAY STAUFFER, PASTOR FOR EVELYN DIECKHAUS' FAMILY: She's amazing. A shining light. I know her family is going to want to tell her story at some point. And right now we're giving them time to grieve and to be surrounded by their family and friends.

I think that our children deserve to be able to go to school and come home in the afternoon.

I don't have all the answers. It's -- this happens all over our country. And we've seen it. But then when it happens in your neighborhood, in your backyard, we've got to find a way to do better.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, that last point, a clear call for change.

Congress -- and Congress, hearing a call from President Biden, to take action, specifically on assault-style weapons, like one of those used in the shooting on Monday. President Biden has reignited his call for a total ban. Republican resistance continues to stand firm.


REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): We can pass all the laws we want, but somebody's going to 3-D print a book, somebody's going to get ammonium nitrate, like they did in Oklahoma, and Timothy McVey, completely evil. Didn't have an assault weapon.

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Look at the murder rate in some very poor areas of Chicago. They're not using AR-15s, they're using handguns. So, ultimately, we need to stop the violence by making sure we take violent criminals off the streets and addressing the mental health issue that we face.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): We don't need more - more - more gun control, we need more -




SCIUTTO: With me now is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Senator, thanks for taking the time this morning.

Might have an audio problem.

Want to try again?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Jim, good to be with you. Sorry about that.

SCIUTTO: There you are. No problem. I do the same thing all the time.

First, you heard what Republican lawmakers said in response to this. It's familiar. Frankly, we hear similar after the many, many other shootings we've seen in recent years. What's your response?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Jim, this is a national disgrace. The United States is unique in having this problem. These mass shootings, the daily toll of gun violence. And there are things we can do.

President Biden's absolutely right that we should reinstate the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. We had that in our country decades ago. We can do it again. We should also look for some of the things Congress is prepared to fund for states. And one of the big issues in this terrible shooting in Tennessee was the absence of red flag laws. There had been red flag laws proposed in the state legislature. They were -- they were knocked down. But that could have provided the kind of warning in this situation to prevent the shooter from being able to get a gun.

So, there are a number of things we need to do on an urgent basis at the national level, and certainly at the state levels as well.

SCIUTTO: Sad fact is, don't have the votes, right, to move on things like the president has called for, reinstating the assault weapons ban. In private -- we hear their public comments. In private, do any of your GOP colleagues expressed any willingness to negotiate on guns?

VAN HOLLEN: Some of them sometimes, but they seem to have gotten in this mindset where they have this automatic response, this automatic refrain, we're hearing it right now, you just played some clips, that shuts down the conversation. And what we need is continued pressure. And it is -- you know we just passed the anniversary of the March for Our Lives, a student movement that has made some marginal, small progress. And we did pass, of course, the Safer Communities Act. But what we're witnessing in Tennessee and other places around the country just shows how far we still have to go in passing common sense gun safety laws.


SCIUTTO: For folks who are watching at home right now, this is familiar territory, right? They've seen this before. I've seen it before. You've seen it before. Republicans and Democrats. I think about my kids, and I'm sure many folks watching here think about their kids in the wake of anything like this. Is there anything to give folks hope that this time will be different, or any time will be different?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the hope here is that on occasion in the past, when there's been a national uproar and national outrage about the lack of progress at the national level on gun safety, there has been some action in Congress. Again, the Safer Communities Act was a small step, but it was a meaningful step, especially in the area providing more funds for mental health and aimed at school students and others in the community.

But without these other measures that President Biden, myself and others have called for, I fear that we're just going to - we're going to see this repeat itself over and over again. So, small steps hopefully can add up to bigger and faster steps, but it -- the public continue -- needs to really be engaged. You know, the student movement did help bring about some changes in the laws, both in Florida, after the terrible shootings in Parkland, and at the federal level. But we need folks not only to be outraged about what's happening, as we all should be, but really decide to make this a voting issue.


VAN HOLLEN: I mean this has to be an issue that people decide is a priority when they go to the polls.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I want to ask you about banking. You're a key member of the Senate Banking Committee. Got a lot of attention yesterday. We heard top banking regulators take the stand yesterday. They blamed bank management for the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and others. Did the regulators fail too?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Jim, I'm listening to all the testimony here, and there's no doubt that the bank executives are the primary culprits here. They obviously took a lot of risks they shouldn't have. It turns out from the testimony that the Fed regulators were

monitoring Silicon Valley Bank. They were very worried about it. They had provided certain directives to the bank. And then the question is, could they have taken more recourse earlier?

But the reality is, we're still getting to the bottom of this. I hope there's going to be emerging, bipartisan consensus that at the very least we need to change our laws so that we can claw back any of the (INAUDIBLE) compensations, you know, from the chief executive officer, to top executives, that they -- where they cashed in just before the bank collapsed because of their own incompetence.

So, we have some laws on the books to reclaim those monies from the very big banks, but there is a loophole here that I and others are working to close right now.

SCIUTTO: Beyond that, if I can just quickly, do you believe there should be criminal consequences as well?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there's certainly should be an investigation. And I believe the Justice Department and the FBI will look into whether or not there was insider knowledge of what was happening and that people cashed in, for example, the CEO sold $3.6 million of company stock 10 days before the crash. Now, if you can -- if they can demonstrate that he sold that, you know, knowing based on inside information, then clearly there's criminal culpability.


VAN HOLLEN: But, Jim, I think regardless of whether or not there was criminal culpability here, nobody should be able to profit from their own mismanagement. And that is why we need these claw back laws in place for banks the size of Silicon Valley Bank and other sized banks, not just executives at the very biggest banks.

SCIUTTO: Senator Chris Van Hollen, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

VAN HOLLEN: All right, good to be with you. Thanks.

DEAN: Still to come, it's time to testify. Why Mike Pence is being told to testify on conversations he had with then President Donald Trump in the build-up to January 6th, and where he could still draw the line. That's next.

SCIUTTO: Plus, CNN is live near the frontlines in Ukraine where the anticipation for tanks from western allies runs high. The latest movement there as the Ukrainian president sends his own invitation to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

And several high-profile Fox News hosts could be headed to the stand.


Why both Fox and Dominion Voting Systems want the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity to testify and how likely it is we'll actually see that happen. That's coming up.


DEAN: This morning, former Vice President Mike Pence is in Iowa, just hours after a federal judge ruled he must testify before the special grand jury investigating former President Trump. It's all connected to Trump's actions surrounding the January 6th insurrection.

SCIUTTO: CNN's senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us now with more.

So, Katelyn, Judge says Pence does not have to answer questions about his own actions on January 6th when he was presiding over the certification, but what does he have to testify for the special counsel here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, what is so contested here in this court case was whether or not Mike Pence would have to share those one-on-one phone calls that he had with Donald Trump. No one else on the call but those two men leading up to January 6th.


And our sources are telling us that the judge's order in this case on Monday is that Pence must testify about those things, partly because the judge found that what Mike Pence will have to discuss to the grand jury in this criminal investigator in D.C., in federal court, are moments where Donald Trump may have been acting corruptly, or even potentially illegally. So that's what Mike Pence is going to have to talk about, even if there are certain things he might be able to decline to answer because the judge is giving him some protections as a quasi-member of Congress, the vice president who was overseeing the Senate on January 6th specifically.

But one of those phone calls between him and Trump has been hotly pursued by a lot of investigators. We've never heard from Pence under oath on it before. It was that heated phone call between him and Donald Trump the morning of January 6th.

Here's what other witnesses had to say when they remembered that call for the House January 6th investigators.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But at some point it started off, it was a calmer tone and everything and then it became heated.

IVANKA TRUMP: The conversation was - was pretty heated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So as I was dropping off the note, I -- my memory, I remember hearing the word "wimp." Either he called him a wimp. I don't remember if he said you are a wimp, you'll be a wimp. Wimp is the word I remember

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I apologize for being impolite, but do you remember what she said her father called him?



POLANTZ: Now, Pence, in his book, previously wrote that wimp was the word that Donald Trump used there, that he would be remembered as a wimp. But, of course, he's never said that under oath.

And we do have to wait and see how Pence is going to respond to this court decision. He is making public appearances this week, including in Iowa and on CNN.


DEAN: All right, Katelyn Polantz, with the latest reporting there. Thanks so much for that.

And joining us now to talk about all of it is CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers, former Democratic South Carolina state representative, and Sarah Longwell, executive director for the Republican Accountability Project, and publisher of "The Bulwark."

Good morning to both of you. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Sarah, let's start with you.

We now know that Pence will be required to testify. This news is coming, as we noted, while he's in Iowa, not officially announced as a 2024 candidate just yet, but clearly his guys are looking -- are there and he is physically in Iowa, which tells us a lot.

How critical will his testimony be? And what kind of an impact is this going to have on the 2024 race and how he might try to handle all of these issues at once?

SARAH LONGWELL, PUBLISHER, "THE BULWARK": Yes, well, it would be very critical. And look, the reason that Mike Pence hasn't wanted to testify, and he's been fighting it so hard, is that he's under the impression that there is an appetite for Mike Pence to -- you know, a Mike Pence run in 2024. And he's wrong about that. You know, I talk to voters -- Trump voters, Republican voters every week in focus groups and there is very little appetite or interest in Mike Pence. In fact, he's kind of in the sour spot with voters where they either don't like him because they don't think he stood up for Donald Trump, or they think he was to sycophantic to Donald Trump.

And so what Mike Pence, I think, really needs to do here is focused on what's best for the country, and that means going in, testifying, telling the truth and ultimately doing what he can to block Donald Trump from becoming president again in 2024. That is a service to the country much more than a Mike Pence 2024 presidential campaign.

SCIUTTO: Bakari, any decision on indictments regarding Trump's role in January 6th or attempts to overturn the election in the state of Georgia, it's going to come in the midst of a presidential race. I mean the presidential race is already underway. Trump has announced. We've already seen him predict violence in response to a possible indictment in New York. And perhaps we can show the picture again of him with that baseball bat.

What kind of reaction does the country need to prepare for if Trump is indicted for his role in January 6th, or the efforts to overturn the election in Georgia, which are arguably more serious charges?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I actually think he has more criminal exposure in Georgia, as well as with the classified documents in the special prosecutor than he does with the efforts to -- of January 6th and the insurrection. And I think that the Department of Justice and Merrick Garland are going to have to make a tough call. They're going to have to rely on the overarching principles of our democracy, and that is that no one is above the law. This is going to be a very, very, very difficult decision for him to make because, as you say, Jim, the country may tear apart at its seams. I think we're stronger than Donald Trump. I think we're stronger than Donald Trump -- an indictment of Donald Trump, and I think we can stay together.

However, there are going to be people out there that are royally mad and upset thinking that we're persecuting someone who they adore.


He got 74 million votes. And so I think that that is something that will weigh heavily on the Department of Justice as we go through this process and the district attorney in Fulton County. But, at the end of the day, I think they fall back on the overarching principle, which is that no one man is above the law.


DEAN: And, Bakari, I'd like to stay with you for just a second. You mentioned the -- all the different cases. There's so many investigations swirling around the former president right now. But he came out. He said that in this one in Manhattan, the Manhattan DA's potential case against him, or the potential indictment against him, he thought he'd be arrested last Tuesday. That never came to be, but yet we talked about it for a whole week. He was able to go to Waco, Texas, and say that he was a victim, that he's being persecuted.

Is this just another example of him kind of playing everything to his strengths, inserting himself back into the conversation? And how do you think he continues to deal with that moving forward in this race?

SELLERS: So, I don't give Trump that much credit of being this genius that's able to manipulate everyone around him and take these moments and utilize them to this advantage. I think that he's a sociopath. And I think that what you're starting to see is that behavior as he has his back against the wall.

You know, I'm not sure how strong the cases is in Manhattan, but, again, no one man is above the law. But I think that as the pressure begins to squeeze Donald Trump, his back gets against the wall, with that type of psychopathy, no telling what this man may do.

SCIUTTO: Sarah, just quickly, before we go, you talk to focus groups all the time, is Trump still the most likely Republican nominee for 2024?

LONGWELL: Well, here's the thing. So, Republican voters, there's a big chunk of them that do want to move on from Donald Trump. And they've really identified Ron DeSantis as the person they're most interested in moving on to. The problem is, is that the relationship with Ron DeSantis is quite shallow. And as they start to see more and more of him, you see that some people say, oh, maybe he's not as good as I thought he'd be.

And one of the interesting things is, we always ask them, well, if it's not Ron DeSantis, if you decide you don't like him, he flames out for some reason, what do you do? Do you look for somebody else in the field or do you go back to Donald Trump? And they usually say, ah, back to Trump.


LONGWELL: And I think that's one of the things that gives him a lot of strength because the relationship between voters and Trump is very deep.

SCIUTTO: Sarah Longwell, Bakari Sellers, thanks so much to both of you.

SELLERS: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Please don't miss former Vice President Mike Pence will join Wolf Blitzer on CNN primetime for a wide ranging interview on his own political future, the multiple investigations surrounding former President Trump as well. That's tomorrow, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

And this just into CNN, as drug overdose deaths hover near record levels in this country, the FDA has now approved the first over the counter version of the opioid antidote Narcan.

DEAN: The nasal spray will come in a package of two, four mg doses in case the person overdosing does not respond to that first dose. The product can be given to anybody, including children and babies. Opioid deaths, as a reminder, are the leading cause of accidental death in the country.

SCIUTTO: The numbers are just astounding.

DEAN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Well, still ahead, President Biden prepares to lead key allies in the second summit on democracy, right, as tension is percolating with Israel's prime minister over moves there that some see as anti-democratic. We're going to live at the White House, next.