Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Nashville Police Says Shooter Legally Bought 7 Guns Despite Emotional Disorder; Republicans Blame Mental Health After Shooting, Not Guns; House Republicans Keep Trump Updated on Probes; Pence Ordered to Testify January 6th Grand Jury. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 10:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. So glad to have you with us. I'm Jessica Dean.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to have Jessica with us. I'm Jim Sciutto.

As investigators continue searching for a motive, new details are emerging about the shooter who killed, murdered three children and three teachers and staffers at a Christian elementary school. A former teacher says the shooter was suffering years ago.

All of this coming to light as the community tries to respond and take care of each other to face the painful reality.


CLAY STAUFFER, PASTOR FOR EVELYN DIECKHAUS' FAMILY: At the time like this, you love each other. You support each other. You're there for each other, and nobody is walking through this alone. But this has been a tragic and horrible situation.


DEAN: And the lines of communication open with former President Donald Trump. Top House Republican lawmakers regularly reporting to him as his enormous power with them on Capitol Hill endures. Plus just months after walking out a freeman, Adnan Syed, the subject of a popular podcast "Serial" faces a new legal challenge in his case. Why a Maryland appellate court has reinstated his murder conviction.

But first this morning, we're going to go live to Nashville, where CNN's Carlos Suarez is monitoring all of the developments.

Carlos, what more are you learning about the investigation and also the victims this morning?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica and Jim, good morning. No doubt, authorities here in Nashville are still focusing a good amount of their work taking a look at this mental disorder that the 28-year-old was being treated for. Now CNN earlier today was able to talk to an art teacher at Nossi Art

School here in Nashville, Tennessee. This art teacher tells CNN that back in 2017 she taught the -- the shooter rather at the time for two semesters, and according to this teacher, she described the shooter as, quote, "whimsical and childlike," but that there was one incident in the classroom on the very first day of class where the shooter had some trouble trying to log into a student portal.

The student showed a great deal of frustration, and the teacher said at one point was asked to leave the classroom. Now the two of them apparently stayed friends on Facebook and at some point last year, according to this teacher, the 28-year-old shooter posted about the grieving, the apparent death of a former basketball teammate, and a short time after that, the teacher says that the 28-year-old shooter asked to be referred to as he and him when it comes to pronouns.

Now earlier today, we also heard from some witnesses who were here the day of the shooting and described hearing the gunshots and then helping parents as well as kids. Here is what one man told us this morning.


JASON HOFFMAN, HELPED KIDS FLED NASHVILLE SCHOOL SHOOTING: They came all the way down the hill to the road, and jumped out in a four-lane highway basically on the road there, and I stopped the car immediately. We jumped out. The people to the left of me stop, get out. And once they see these kids crossing the road, everybody stopped and got out, and made sure they were safe.


SUAREZ: Yes, so that man at one point described seeing kids running through a forest just near this school -- guys.

SCIUTTO: To run into the forest. Lord help us. Well, Carlos, there have been some details coming out about the victims, including the possibility that one of them might have confronted the shooter? What do we know?

SUAREZ: Yes, so we are learning a little bit more about some of these victims and some of the encounters that they may have had inside of this school. We know that the custodian here, Mike Hill, he was shot dead at the entrance of the building where this gunman was able to get in. He was described as a man who leaves behind seven children and 14 grandkids. His family told a CNN affiliate out here that he was known as Big Mike around the school and that he loved his job very much.


We also heard from the governor of Tennessee. He said in a video statement last night that him and his wife knew Cynthia Peak. She was one of the other victims in this shooting. Peak was a substitute teacher at this school, and the governor said that the couple were supposed to have dinner with her Monday night.

SCIUTTO: Carlos Suarez, thanks so much.

DEAN: On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers are resisting calls for more gun control legislation after the Nashville school shooting. They're saying instead the focus should be on mental health.

SCIUTTO: A familiar refrain in the wake of shootings like this.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now.

Manu, you spoke with lawmakers representing Tennessee, which we should note in the state legislature there, they're actually got laws moving to further reduce gun restrictions. What are the lawmakers from Tennessee you spoke with say?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're reflecting the view within the broader House and Senate Republican conferences, which is opposed to any further gun restrictions. You mentioned mental health. That was one component of what was considered the most ambitious gun legislation that was enacted in the generation just one year ago.

That measure also dealing with providing states, giving them more incentives to try to develop so-called red flag laws to try to go after guns of people who are -- should not have them, who are deemed risky. Also enhancing background checks for people who are under 21 years old, but stopping short of some of the other, more aggressive gun reform measures, such as imposing a ban on semiautomatic rifles and creating universal background checks, two things that Joe Biden has called for.

But in talking to those Tennessee members, as well as other Republican senators and House members, it's clear there is no appetite for further restrictions.


RAJU: What about banning those weapons that were used in attacks like these?

SEN. BILL HAGERTY (R-TN): I'm certain that politics will wave into everything. But right now I'm not focused on the politics of the situation. I'm focused on the families.

RAJU: Why not ban AR-15s?

REP. ANDY OGLES (R-TN): Why not talk about the real issue facing this country in regards to the shooting, which would be mental health?

REP. TIM BUTCHETT (R-TN): The laws don't work. Until people change their hearts we're not going to see a change.


RAJU: And the leadership in the House and the Senate, the Republican side, also echoing that. John Thune, the number-two Republican, telling me yesterday that it's, quote, "premature to talk about any gun restrictions even as there's been 130 mass shootings in the United States through yesterday, and the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, has yet to answer questions about the shooting or indicate any endless interest in moving ahead with legislation.

So the divided Congress unlikely to change the dynamic here, which has been for the most part stalemate on Capitol Hill. Those Republican leaders in the House did oppose that bipartisan measure that became law last year on gun safety. Kevin McCarthy voted no against that package.

DEAN: That's right. All right. Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much for that reporting.

And let's continue this conversation now with CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

Juliet, it's always great to see you. We just heard Manu walking us through talking to those lawmakers about banning AR-15s, which are used in so many of these school shootings. They are weapons of war, and the fact is they simply destroy bodies a lot faster than other types of guns. Do you think an assault weapons ban or a ban on those types of guns would make a difference going forward?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely, and decades of legislation and people who studied crime and gun control proved it, and I think just to your point quickly, six people -- three children and three adults died at the school. No one made it to a hospital. In other words, these are meant to kill. There's no recovering from this kind of weaponry.

So what the data shows us is, first, that if you make gun owning harder, you will limit gun violence and we've seen it in this country during our assault rifle ban, but you've seen it in New Zealand, Scotland, Canada and other countries. So the numbers are there so people -- legislators who say it doesn't work that has just defined the numbers and facts.

The second is just crying generally. We know from decades of study of crime that all crime are crimes of opportunity. You allow someone, you make it permissive for them to do something. And they will do it. So that's why we fortify banks. And that's why we, you know, put locks on our doors, and so if you can, the more guns there are the more violence there is, and so you take away that opportunity. I'm not saying ban everything. I'm just saying you make it harder, more regulations.

And then the third piece, and this is important to remember because everyone's going to get legalistic and focus on mental health. None of these are a total cure, but it's society can either make gun ownership permissive or less permissive, and we have essentially made it like chewing gum at this stage. It is too permissive. And you heard the mayor from Nashville say, you know, maybe we just need to make a statement, right?

[10:10:01] Make this stuff less permissive. And then people will, you know, have less opportunity. There'll be fewer guns on the street and then it works, and the -- I just want to make clear that data is clear. The nihilism you hear from these legislators just defies decades of data.

SCIUTTO: The other piece of this is the feasibility of red flag laws. There's not one in Tennessee and there were warnings about it, even her family had warned about her state of mental health, and apparently she had sold one gun but still managed to buy seven others legally here. So does this show that red flag laws at least have a function? Right, not to say that they would catch everyone because you're in effect putting the onus on everyone out there to warn about everybody else. But that they have a function and the potential to work.

KAYYEM: Yes and the data also from localities that do have red flag laws. If they're enforced, because if they're on the books and no one's doing it, it doesn't work, actually work. And why is that? Once again get to opportunity. What you essentially want to do is someone who's having bad thoughts. Someone who is made do a crime. You want to create barriers for them to commit the kind of crimes that we saw at the Nashville school and we see every day now in this country.

And so the red flag laws take away the ability of them to easily purchase guns, and they also engage the community in this common effort. I want to be clear. I'm not -- you know what? You know, I'm not naive. Laws alone will not change conduct, but they are part of an overall package of looking at mental health issues, of fortifying schools and protecting our students when they are at schools.

All of them are necessary. But to simply say, well, you know, we don't need laws. We need to just focus on mental health, that denies any acknowledgement that the common thread we see in all these cases isn't, you know, it is basically the use of mass of wartime weaponry in our classrooms against our kids.

SCIUTTO: And by the way, those reflective comments and criticisms, they're not true because there is data, as you know note.


SCIUTTO: The banning some sorts of weapons, and instituting red flag laws having it, but they don't ban everyone nor does any law, you know, robbing a bank. You know, it doesn't stop every bank, but they do have an impact.

KAYYEM: Yes, that's exactly right. So, I mean, we call it in regular -- you know, regular security just call it layered defenses. You just want a bunch of different things in play that will stop this person from doing this horrific thing, and so red flag laws, gun control laws, all of them work, and as you said, the data is clearly. People who just sort of throw out they don't work, it's just a lie. I mean, the data is clear that gun control laws work.

SCIUTTO: Juliette Kayyem, thanks for assessing it out for us.

DEAN: Still to come this morning, former President Donald Trump is wielding his power on Capitol Hill. We'll have details on the backchannel communications between the former president and current GOP lawmakers. That's next.

SCIUTTO: Plus, former Vice President Mike Pence must testify to a grand jury about conversations he had with Donald Trump leading up to January 6th. We're going to discuss the extent of the judge's ruling just ahead.

DEAN: And right now the House taking its turn questioning federal regulators about the recent bank failures and what has to be done to prevent that from happening again.



DEAN: On Capitol Hill, House Republicans attempting to stay in former President Trump's good graces routinely updating him and his closest advisers on the peace and progress of some of their investigations.

SCIUTTO: CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona has the details.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been regular communication between Trump world and GOP investigative committees on Capitol Hill. In some cases, those communications are occurring between Trump allies and advisers and committee staff or legal counsel. But in many cases these communications are occurring directly between Donald Trump and members of Congress.

That includes Elise Stefanik. She is a member of GOP leadership. She also serves on the so-called Committee on the Weaponization of the Government. Jim Jordan and -- Trump are also close to Jordan, of course, is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which is overseeing a number of these investigations related to Donald Trump.

And then, of course, there's Marjorie Taylor Greene. She is a key Trump ally who now serves on the House Oversight Committee. She has been trying to use her platform to relitigate the events of January 6th. And I want to read you what she told me about Trump. She said, I keep him up on everything that we're doing. Sometimes I am shocked at how he knows all these things. I'm like, how do you know all this stuff.

And so a lot of the communication according to this reporting that I did with my colleagues Annie Grayer, Alayna Treene and Kristen Holmes, is centered on trying to keep Trump up to date on the pace and progress of their investigations, but in some cases Trump world has tried to exert influence over the direction of these investigations. In fact, last month, a Trump lawyer, Joe Tacopina, sent a letter to Jim Jordan requesting that he opened an investigation into the Manhattan district attorney's office, which is investigating Trump or his hush money payments. And of course, that is exactly what House Republicans ended up doing.

So this is just one example of how Trump is still continuing to exert influence over the GOPs' investigative priorities, and it shows just how much influence he still has on Capitol Hill -- Jim and Jessica.

DEAN: Certainly does. Melanie Zanona for us, thanks so much.

A federal judge has ruled former Vice President Mike Pence must testify before the special grand jury investigating former President Trump.


It's all connected to Trump's actions surrounding the January 6th insurrection. And joining me now to talk about all of this is CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, great to see you and good morning. I want to talk first with you about how we expect this to play out with the former vice president. He's going to be compelled to testify. We know that. We saw Trump's lawyer, Evan Corcoran, tried to fight this. The appeals process was quite fast. It was like overnight and then he was testifying the next day, it seemed like.

Do you expect it to go that quickly or how do you see this playing out over the next several days and weeks?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Mike Pence has a decision now. He can try to appeal this or he can just go testify. If he appeals there's no guarantee it would be as fast. The appeal will go to a randomly drawn three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, so we don't know that they will get a panel that would move it as quickly. And also there's not a date scheduled for his testimony, as there was for Corcoran. So probably it won't be as fast as that's really the big decision point for Pence here. Does he try to appeal or does he go ahead and testify?

DEAN: Right, and the president has been trying -- the former president has been trying to exert executive privilege time and time again to keep a lot of these conversations out of court and to keep people from testifying. That has just simply not worked. But you say in terms of what Pence exactly will be forced to talk about that -- if I'm understanding it right, the judge will be able to determine that and the exact language of this we just don't know yet. So we don't know exactly precisely. We just know it'll be kind of broadly on this topic, right?

RODGERS: That's right, Jessica. So all of this is under seal. Judge Boasberg did issue an order about the testimony but we don't know exactly what it says. So it's a little bit unclear right now, the exact language, and so we don't really know the questions that prosecutors will be able to ask, and that Pence will have to answer.

The reporting is that it is generally speaking. He can hold back testimony pursuant to the speech and debate clause about his actions when he was president of the Senate on January 6th. But more than that, we don't really know. There are also with some reporting saying that he would have to testify about Trump's illegal actions, so all of that is subject to interpretation. If that's in fact what the order says, and they may have to go back to the judge with respect to specific questions to get a ruling on whether or not Pence has to answer.

DEAN: And this ruling comes amid a separate ruling that all of these former aides, including Trump's former chief of staff, very close aides, are also going to be compelled to testify. What does it tell you about this case that they're building, that they are able to really win these various rulings and compel these people to testify?

RODGERS: Well, the executive privilege arguments that Trump has been making with respect to all of these witnesses was always a weak argument. The Supreme Court ruled a long time ago that when you can demonstrate the need for testimony that that will overcome a claim of executive privilege if it's in the context of a criminal investigation. That's why the January 6th Committee didn't have luck with these people. But Jack Smith is having that luck.

What it tells me that they're now moving forward to actually get these people in the room, in the grand jury, is this is the end of the game. I mean Mark Meadows and Mike Pence are the two most important witnesses here who know the most about what actually happened in the days leading up to January 6th with respect to this scheme, so the fact that they're putting them in the grand jury in short order means that they must be getting to the end, at least of the evidence collection period of this case.

DEAN: Yes, that's a great point, and I -- that's obviously a federal probe. I want to talk briefly with you about the case that's here in New York with the Manhattan district attorney. That's about the hush money payments with Stormy Daniels. At this point, no one knows if they're going to indict or not. They've been taking some breaks, and they haven't been meeting which again all pretty customary as they kind of try to wrap things up and make their decision one way or the other.

Do you have any sense about how that might be playing out or what they may be weighing right now, specifically the district attorney as he tries to make this decision?

RODGERS: It's so hard to tell. You know, Alvin Bragg and his team can't speak about what they're doing in front of the grand jury right now. So you have this information asymmetry, right, where Trump is out there talking about it, and they can't respond with what's really happening. And so, sure, it may be a bad sign if they're rethinking things for the indictment or that they brought David Pecker back because the grand jury had concerns.

All of that could be happening. It also could be the case, though Jessica that they never intended to indict before next week or the week after. There are a lot of logistics that have to happen in terms of when the former president would appear. Security measures to be put in place. So we just don't know. I think it's safer at this point to wait and see what the grand jury does.


DEAN: Yes. Jennifer Rodgers, thanks so much. We always appreciate your expertise on this stuff. Thanks for joining us this morning. And don't miss this. Former vice president Mike Pence, joining Wolf

Blitzer on "CNN PRIME TIME" for a wide-ranging interview on his own political future and the multiple investigations surrounding former President Trump. That's happening tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

SCIUTTO: The FAA's acting chief is linking the alarming string of runway close calls to the pandemic, claiming some pilot skills and muscle memory have been lost during that time. We're going to have his remarks ahead.